Pamela French was working on the security team in Afghanistan in 2005 while not having a military background. This is her story and she is resilient.

Trigger Warning: The Resilience Project provides an open space for people to share their personal experiences. Some content in this podcast may include topics that you may find difficult. The listener’s discretion is advised.

About the Guest:

Pamela French is the Chief Empowerment Officer of Empowerment is Everything and co-founder of Authentic Relating Ottawa. As an alumni of the Tefler School of Business at the University of Ottawa, Pamela has worked with the United Nations in Afghanistan, the World Bank in Washington D.C., and the Canadian Federal Government in various policy and managerial roles over the last twenty years. She is passionate about creating experiences where participants develop their relational intelligence skills, especially where creativity, fun and laughter collide!

Over the last ten years of leading events, consulting for organizations and work teams, and private coaching, she has seen firsthand how these communication skills cultivate inclusion, welcome diversity, resolve conflicts quickly, and foster authentic self-expression.

Pamela has over two decades worth of trainings, conferences, and spiritual/wisdom traditions under her belt and brings her unique core values of PLAY and EMPOWERMENT to every coaching or facilitation experience.

Social media links:

https://arottawa.ca/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/authenticrelatingottawa/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authenticrelatingottawa

https://empowermentiseverything.ca/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/empowermentiseverything/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/EmpowermentIsEverything

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Transcript
Blair Kaplan Venables:

trigger warning, the Resilience Project provides an open space for people to share their personal experiences. Some content in this podcast may include topics that you may find difficult, the listeners discretion is advised.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Hello friends, welcome to radical resilience, a weekly show where I Blair Kaplan Venables have inspirational conversations with people who have survived life's most challenging times. We all have the ability to be resilient and bounce forward from a difficult experience. And these conversations prove just that, get ready to dive into these life changing moments, while strengthening your resilience muscle and getting raw and real.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

And here we are with Pamela French. Hi, Pamela.

Pamela French:

Hello Blair

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Oh my gosh, I'm so excited. So I've never met Pamela in person. And we were in the same kind of cohort for mentoring in the publicity space. And we had this connection call. And I just felt like this soul soul connection to her family. She's like a big sister, like in another life, maybe like we were like best friends or family. But I am so excited to have you here, Pamela.

Pamela French:

Oh, my gosh, I'm so excited to be here. And I remember from the moment I first saw you in that group have we met, I was like, I'm pretty sure I know her. And I spent weeks trying to figure out where I knew you from? And yeah, I feel that resonance, too.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

I love it. And you know, you have such a fascinating story. And I would love if you can share it with us.

Pamela French:tions in Afghanistan, for the:Blair Kaplan Venables:

whoa, whoa, first of all, a What did that even mean security team be like Ottawa, for those of you who don't know, I was very far from Afghanistan. And like, I don't know how easy it is to get a government job. But I don't imagine it being very easy, because everyone wants one for the stability.

Pamela French:

Yeah, yeah, I had spent almost four years in temp jobs with like, six weeks, placements. Just trying to get enough experience so that someone in government would want to hire me full time. And so yeah, it was a big deal. It was a big deal to have this job. And, but also, I was like, I could see what my life would be like, because I've been around lifelong public servants for four or five years, and so I was like, Nope, I'm gonna go work with the United Nations and Afghanistan. So like, You

Blair Kaplan Venables:

got presented this opportunity. What was like, the process that went through your mind? Like, did it feel like fuck yes. Are you like, oh, maybe like, No, I can't like walk us through, like, the process you went through? And then what happened when you made the decision?

Pamela French:

Yeah, absolutely. So those two things I want to share with you about that. The first one was, it was absolutely the first ever fuck yes, I'd experienced in my life. I did not hesitate for a minute. Yeah, like I moved with velocity. I made it there in 12 days, they still gave me the job. It only took me 12 days to quit everything. Like leave my boyfriend tell him to sell the house we own like I packed up in a hurry. And then the second thing I want to share is that while I was there, I can't remember I was there for about seven months for the election. And and I'll talk more about security later. But I had this moment where I was coming into work one morning, and I was being greeted by all of the people at the front gate. And then as I was walking to the security building, which was at the back of the compound, everyone's saying Good morning, Miss Pamela and I'm having all these wonderful, good mornings. And I realized I am walking my own personal red carpet right now. I am exactly where I'm meant to be doing exactly what I'm meant to be doing with exactly the people that I'm meant to be with right now. Wow. Yeah. And that set a bar for the rest of my life. I was like, Is this a red carpet moment? Yes or no? And that's how I make decisions.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

That's I like that even better than like, is this a fuck? Yes. Like, is this a red carpet moment? Yeah. So tell me more about your red carpet moment. And like how you got there? Like, what what tell us like, what is that job? Does that mean to do security? Like, did you have like, a badge and a gun? Like, what does that even mean?

Pamela French:

Well, it's kind of funny actually. Because I was working with a whole bunch of like ex Special Forces from Australia, Canada, and the US, and the UK, because they'd all been hired or contracted out to be in the security team. And they needed someone who could project manage and organize. Because they just wanted to be running around with their, you know, guns and stuff. I love it. And so I was responsible for all incoming security briefings. So the moment any other staff member landed, and I've get in Cabo, I was the first face they got to see. And I would give them their walkie talkie and teach them about the rules, and you know how to stay safe. And I was responsible for knowing where every staff member was at the end of every day, throughout the country. So if you had to travel for any reason, then you went through me for clearance to move. And, and I put out all the call lists for the duty officer. So Afghanistan was not a safe place to be at the time, and sadly, not super safe right now for many people either. And so we had nightly calls, everybody would call in to say that they were safe and accounted for. So I was responsible for those lists.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Wow. And how long were you out there?

Pamela French:

It was seven months, the I landed there in in April, or May, I think, and the election was in September. And then there was a closeout period of a couple of months. So I got home just before Christmas.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Can you walk us through? Like, what a day in the life of your life, there was like, like, walk us through it?

Pamela French:

Yeah, there was a lot of work. Like six days a week, I would go into the office and work and one day we would have off. And there wasn't a lot of places that we were allowed to go other than work and our homes. So work was like, the only thing to do. Electricity wasn't reliable. So there wasn't a lot of entertainment, per se. But the beauty was that we had an Afghan family that looked after us in our home. And so they would, you know, bribe the guy who would give us electricity, so we can have hot showers and, and take care of us. And so I'm still in touch with that family today. Wow. Yeah.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

I, I know, you said back then, and I know now it's not safe, either. But back then it wasn't safe. Did you have any moments that you felt like your safety was compromised?

Pamela French:And so I was there for about:Blair Kaplan Venables:

And that's so what did the flag mean? What happened?

Pamela French:

It meant someone in their family had died. Oh, I know. That's sad. Yeah, it was a flag of morning. Interesting. I know.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Wow, thank you for sharing that story.

Pamela French:

Yeah, you're welcome. You're welcome.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

It's interesting, right? Because like, what you just said is like, you know, your rationale there was that you guys weren't a worthy target. But then we talked about how our worth, like our worth as humans. So it's interesting how you can like flip so fast to be like, you know, I am worth it. I am worthy, too. We're not worth it. That's, that's interesting. I like that. You know, this is, this is an interesting conversation. So you live in a house with five people. And you're not really allowed to do anything except for work and be at home? Yeah, what was your time off? Like, you're one day off? Like you just hung out at home? Are you allowed to go anywhere? Experience the culture.

Pamela French:

So there were markets at the local, like military base that we could go to on our days off. And to be honest with you, I think I might have bought bootleg DVDs of the television series called 24. And rewatch that, like seven or eight seasons. of real time. Yeah, and I mean, it's, I'm not gonna I'm not gonna color it pretty. There was a booze was very cheap. And so there was just a lot of house parties, at other people's homes, where you drink and talk. And that was about it.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Yeah. Sounds like growing up in Winnipeg. He's got a lot of house parties. So when you're I don't know, is it called an assignment when your assignment was done? Your listing your posting? My posting? Yeah. But when your posting was done, what was it like? Coming back to Ottawa? Like, how did you integrate back into Canadian life?

Pamela French:

Well, this is the other story that I really want to share with you, Blair. About two weeks before I was set to leave Cabo and come home, my grandfather in Canada passed away. And my boss said to me at the time, like we can send you home tomorrow, if like, it's okay, you don't need to stay another two weeks. But I said, like, look at the numbers of staff that need to travel throughout the country and stay safe to get to the Kabul airport, that I'm responsible for knowing where they are and creating all those call lists. And that will just be a complete mess. If I'm not around for two weeks, so no, I'm gonna stay. And I will honor my grandfather's death by taking a day off in my own way at home. And so I took like a day off. Like, I never took a day off in seven months, just the one day that we all had off a week. And so I had this day off, and everybody else was at work. And in the whole time of the election, that was the one day that suicide bombers drove into the front of our compounds. And massive explosions from two cars that were loaded with explosives. And sadly, a lot of people who were at the gate did pass away and there was mayhem on the compound. And the security team is you know, getting everyone to safety. And then I know this is gruesome, but you know, running around with garbage bags, cleaning up the mass flow. And like I'm sitting at home in my bedroom, looking at family photos and thinking fondly of everybody who's gathering to honor my grandfather's passing and I was completely spared from any of that experience that would have happened at work that day by taking that day off to honor my grandfather's passing

Blair Kaplan Venables:

whoa your grandpa's energy or spirit like there's there's there's no coincidences. None. The beautiful I mean, it's not a beautiful story, but it's a beautiful story. Like it's a terrible story. How do you even explain that like it's, it's like this. That's a I don't have words.

Pamela French:

I know but it's kind of like another red carpet moment. Like I had said yes. to precisely the things I was meant to say yes to. And I was precisely where I was meant to be.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Wow. And did you have any idea that was happening?

Pamela French:

Well, I got I got some calls from some friends that I had made that were on a nearby compound the moment they heard what had happened, and the moment I told them that I was at home and safe and not affected, you know, they just hang up, click, like they had other people to go save. And so, yeah, like it was.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Wow, cool. Wow.

Pamela French:

And so then I come home. And you know, my family is grieving my grandfather's passing, and it's Christmas time. And this is the funniest thing. I wanted to go to second cup for a vanilla been a hot chocolate for some reason. That was like the first thing I had to do when I got home. And I couldn't even drink half of it. Because there is no white refined sugar and Afghanistan. And I had gone seven months without eating sugar. You detoxed and I had no I'd lost 30 pounds, and I didn't really realize why. And that vanilla bean hot chocolate taught me a lot. I was like, wow, sugar is powerful.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

It was that the last vanilla latte from second cup Have you ever had?

Pamela French:

Oh, no, it? Well, I mean, maybe that particular form of sugar. But But yeah, my tolerance came right back. I think it maybe took three months, before I was probably eating just as much.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

So what do you Okay, so what do you like your experience in Afghanistan? And like where you are now in life and career? Like? What do you think like reflecting on resilience and what you saw with, you know, what you saw with the people of Afghanistan? Sorry, of Afghanistan. That's a tongue twister, the people of Afghanistan and the families like the families you met, and your colleagues, like, what are some of those lessons in resilience that you came away with? Well,

Pamela French:

family is very important. There. And family is very important in my life, and in my family system, too. And so when it comes to surviving in the world, like you've got family, keep those relationships, nurture them. We had to change the frequency with which we paid the Afghan national staff. Because the moment they got paid, they would travel throughout the country and go share their paycheck with all of their different family members. And so they wouldn't report to work, because it was more important to go share the wealth. Wow. Yeah. And so, like, that was an interesting cultural difference. Between between Canada that I noticed and there, and so I realized there's this also like a living for today. Yeah, that happens when when survival is like, really your number one thing to achieve every day? It's what what do I need to do today? And that was a form of resilience. It was like, you know, you didn't get lost in the, you know, what about this? And what about that, and then the paralysis of not doing anything? It was like, no, what do I need to do today to eat, stay safe, have a shelter, you know, that kind of thing. And so there was this immediacy, to choices that kind of felt liberating, and for me personally, having come from, you know, the West, there was no there was no Amazon delivery, there was no bed bath and beyond to go spend my money. I like there was none, there was nowhere to spend my money. And there's, it was, it was really nice to step out of the whole consumerism, like there was there was nothing to do and nowhere to get on my time off.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Interesting, okay, so, you now like adapt to this life there. You know, you're in this new living in the noun you have, you're making money, but having nowhere to spend it. But then you have to enter it back into Canada.

Pamela French:

At Christmas time, let the height of consumerism and

Blair Kaplan Venables:n imagine, you know, and like:Pamela French:

Well, relationships, you know, the relationships that I build while I was there, some of them stay with me to this day. And you know, family is not just, you know, who gave birth to you and who you grew up with, it's chosen as well. And so how important it is to nurture those relationships and be real and authentic with people. And to choose like to choose your family. Yeah, to really choose that.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

I think that's so beautiful. Because yeah, you're so right, we have our like, given family, but then we have our chosen family. And it's interesting, you said that because I've had some friends, since I was three, three decades. And one of my good friends who I met in high school, like she's beyond a good friend, she's family. And I was saying to her, she came out to New York with me, she came and met me in New York, and her and another friend and I was not doing well like after the loss of my mom and my dad, and like grief and chaos and life. And, but I was on a billboard in Times Square. So my friends to my friends came to see it, which is amazing. Because if my mom was alive, she probably would have hopped on a plane to come there. And it was nice to have my friends there. And I said, you know, I'm just so lucky to have you as like my forever friend. And they're like, you know, we're more than that. We're not just your friends or your family. And you know, what you just said is so beautiful. And it is about who you surround yourself with? Where do you spend that time? And, like, you know, the red carpet moments who you want to walk that red carpet with? Yeah. Right. So tell tell us, like, what are you up to today? Like, what's life like for Pamela French?

Pamela French:

Oh my gosh. So another skill that I picked up there was reframing, like the power of being able to reframe how I'm viewing a situation. And so I've really taken that to a whole new level in my life coaching. And so like, I can help anyone, anywhere, reframe anything at any time, to an empowering context. And so empowerment is everything has been, you know, a business name and blog that I started when I was like, super young, it's just like empowerment is everything is how I live. Yes, yeah, I love empowerment. I mean, if the world is walking around, and within empowered contexts, imagine the choices that we make and how we speak to each other. And it's, I'm just really excited about that. And so that's I do group programs, and I lead events here in Canada's national capital. And I'm available to do that internationally as well. And I'm looking at some retreats this winter as well, because who doesn't want to go to somewhere warm?

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Sign me up, I'll bring the resilience, peace. Maisel Tate, I'll facilitate. So that's amazing. So you do group coaching workshops, maybe we're all gonna go to retreat somewhere warm, and learn from you. I love that. And I know you have a gift for our listeners,

Pamela French:

I do. So one of the modalities that I work with the most is communication. Because how we speak and listen to one another makes a difference. And we're not taught these things. We just, you know, most of us just speak as we speak, and we don't think about the impact that it has on other people necessarily. And so I've learned and now I share these conscious communication skills so that you can speak and listen in a way that leaves others feeling deeply heard and seen. And so I have this little you know, ebook with five ways to create connection and that feeling of like being deeply related to somebody. And that can happen at work or at home, or even like at the grocery store with someone you meet.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

Oh, my God, that's so good. Okay, so all of her links are in the show notes below. You know, if you're driving, pull over, tap the link, and remember to do it later. I am very honored that you came on our pod radical resilience to share your knowledge, story, expertise, energy, wisdom, everything, sharing you with us. I love it. Like you just have this light about you. Every time you talk. You just you light up and just to be in your presence and your energy is such a gift. So thank you so much for coming on radical resilience.

Pamela French:

It's been an honor thank you Blair.

Blair Kaplan Venables:

And thank you to everyone for tuning in to another episode. Remember, it is okay to not be okay. Life is super hard but can be super fun. You can do hard things you're gonna get through the hard times. I Pinky promise. You're not alone. I'm here for you. Until next time

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