It's happened all of a sudden that family christmas is filled with little ones and water pistols, sprinklers and pulling faces, nudie runs and horsey races... of a different kind.
Gee they're good for a giggle.
It's happened all of a sudden that family christmas is filled with little ones and water pistols, sprinklers and pulling faces, nudie runs and horsey races... of a different kind.
Gee they're good for a giggle.
You know that feeling when you spend two entirely life-affirming days with a bunch of people who totally get it?
Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a bit of a junkie for these kinds of gatherings. For me, it is so important to spend time with people who understand where you’re coming from, and this is especially true for people working to make the world better. It can seem an insurmountable challenge when you’re working in isolation - and sometimes (actually, often!) you need an injection of energy and perspective from others moving in the same direction.
Unsurprisingly, I have lots of thoughts / ramblings / opinions about the goings-on of the last two days, and in the interests of sorting through the mess of them - and creating some kind of sense - I’ve written some things down here. There were a few key themes that resonated for me, many of which are threads of ongoing conversations, some of which were entirely new (and very timely). If you were there too - or equally, if you weren’t - I’d love to hear what you make of all this…
Let’s break this down from the top…
The Global Context
We’re in a period of immense change. We know this. If you’ve read arguably the two biggest books of the last couple of years (Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century and Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything) you’ll know that the systems that govern us are at breaking point - and the two big feedback loops (the economic system we created and the environment we rely on) are sounding major alarm bells.
Matthew Bell from EY threw some macro trend stats around in one of the first sessions. There are a lot of us. We’re younger and more connected than ever. Almost 50% of occupations will be replaced within the next 20 years. We’re becoming highly urbanised, and the shape of the global economy is shifting quickly away from the West. It’s predicted that global water demand will outstrip supply by 40% within the next 15 years. Ballpark cost predictions for climate adaptation are in the $70 - $100 Billion range - per year. And really, the only ones with the capital and agency to do anything about this are a bunch of rich (mostly white) people (mostly men) who own most of the world’s assets and capital, and who seem pretty comfortable in their ivory towers (my words, not Matt’s). Our very humanity is being challenged by inequality.
Back to First Principles
Piketty, Klein and many others argue that we’re faced with a HUGE opportunity to reengineer the systems we’ve created so that they actually serve us. I couldn’t agree more.
So if that’s the case, I think it’s really useful to step back and think about what we value. What is actually important? What do we want to happen? What are we working towards?
The accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, to the detriment of equality, the environment and actual wellbeing? Because that’s what’s valued in our current economic system… And Piketty and Klein have shown that these outcomes are actually part of the design of the system (and Marx actually articulated this long before either of them did). So if they’re not the outcomes we want, we need to design a new system that supports what we actually do want. Amanda Keogh’s simple question about what we’re actually working towards - what is the metric we’re trying to shift? - was a killer. Jeremy Mah’s innocent question about whether we had defined “Purpose” for everyone in the room at the event touched on this too. They’re smart those kids.
You know that old saying “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”? (It was William Bruce Cameron who said that, not Einstein by the way. Thanks Matt Wicking for that little tidbit.)
As the wonderful Jane Gleeson-White explained to us in her opening keynote, we’re dealing with the result of many years of outdated systems. Accounting frameworks that were created to keep track of the financial and manufactured capital of Agrarian England, Medieval Italy and the Industrial Revolution are not working for the world we live in today.
Social capital, human capital, intellectual capital and natural capital need to be added to our accounting frameworks. Unless we learn to value what is actually valuable it is really hard to make values decisions. Without metrics and measurement, we’re flying blind, and prioritising outcomes that aren’t financial and/or measurable will continue to be a challenge.
Sharing is caring
One theme that came through loud and clear (much to my delight) is the need for organisations to become better collaborators. We’ve seen over and over how easy it is for profit based organisation to find a way to collaborate - it’s easy when there’s money at the finish line, but we need to get much better at doing this for the benefit of shared values.
Some great examples of that were showcased over the 2 days of Purpose. I am super excited by the work being done by the Future Business Council, the B Corp movement, and Conscious Capitalism, but I think it is really critical that we get better collaborating on issues based work too. Collective Impact is more than a buzz term, and it should be getting air time beyond the NFP sector. There’s no reason purpose-led for-profit businesses can’t be supporting Collective Impact goals in a more substantial, collaborative way. The whole of Purpose was a testament to this - and I’m so grateful for the amount of work that organisations like Wildwon put into the ongoing development and facilitation of this space. Forums like this are so critical if we’re going to succeed on this front!
It is so easy to forget that an organisation is a part of the community, not apart from the community. It’s also easy to forget that unless an organisation can truly provide value to the community it serves, it won’t be around for long. I was delighted to witness many a conversation which totally flipped the “build it and they will come” mentality into something far more interesting.
Lauren Capelin spoke in detail about what it means to harness the power of community to build something meaningful, and this is something we’ve been talking about a lot on the work I’m doing currently. There’s no denying that doing this kind of work is much harder than the “transmission model” we’ve become familiar with over the last 50 years, but it has the potential to be so much better!
One of the greatest things about operating in any business right now is that you can have real, meaningful connections with the people you’re working for - your community. Make the most of these opportunities. Get to know them, and not just in a “market research” kind of way. Start a dialogue, and be grateful for any lessons you are able to learn.
If the lessons aren’t quite what you wanted to hear, you have to be flexible enough to change tack. You’ve got to work where you find yourself and be humble enough to recognise that being in business is not a static exercise.
If you’re to actually have impact you need to lead, support, enable - build capacity in your community. If you’re lucky you’ll gain a whole cohort of long term committed brand ambassadors. If you don’t succeed on that front, then with any luck you will have still built something great.
One gem that was echoed a lot by the likes of Ben Burge, Simon Griffiths, Abigail Forsyth, and of course The Unfuckers, is that the “holier-than-thou” model of cause-led marketing is a dead horse. It does your organisation and (and the sector at large) no help to be continually relying on the heart strings to sell an inferior product or service. Whatever you’re selling needs to be superior to the alternative on as many possible fronts - quality, price, transparency, brand + identity, value. If you’re struggling to get there, then you’ll struggle to hit any kind of scale, because the market for bleeding hearts is small and shrinking.
Organisations need to change
Uncle Jason Clarke, the founding father of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, and the “mind” of Minds at Work, talked about how organisations that exist to serve egos, to build status and to create hierarchy are entirely at odds with actually doing good work.
The business world is certainly not alone in this. There are so many “impact” organisations who trumpet “values”, but get tripped up by the unspoken stuff (shadow values) that are really driving them. It’s only when you call this stuff out that you can set it aside and actually move on to doing the work. This is an uncomfortable process. It takes leadership (which seems to be desperately lacking across the board) and it takes courage. But as Hello Sunday Morning’s Chris Raine explored, we’re in a hugely fortunately position - and we can afford to take some risks for the sake of our collective future.
But this shift is easy to talk about and much harder to do. Many excellent speakers talked about how much easier it is to start from scratch with values at the forefront, rather than trying to bolt a values framework on to an existing organisation. The classic Buckminster Fuller quote applies here. “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Build your best case scenario. This goes for culture, business model, or system.
Something that I know resonated with everyone in the jam-packed Eternity Playhouse Theatre at the end of a very intensive 2 days, was Jason Fox talking about finding ways to create a sense of progress in the work you’re doing, and Kyra Maya Phillips talking about pirates.
The blessing and curse of doing purpose-based work is being one of those people who questions - everything, incessantly. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, to question the value of the work you’re doing on a many-times-daily basis.
Find a way to create a sense of progress. Create feedback loops (metrics and measurement if possible) so that you can see it. Help yourself to get a sense of momentum and strive for continuous improvement.
But what do you do when you’re in overwhelm mode? When you feel stuck or unsure and you don’t know what to do. You do something. You have to do the work. Chunk it down systematically and move through the steps in as logical a fashion as you can. And then give yourself a high five.
I loved Kyra's advice to move your thinking away from SHOULD - what should I do - which comes loaded with a sense of obligation and fatigue before you've even started, and towards CAN - what can I do with joy, passion and drive.
Freedom comes from focus - my new life’s motto.
For me, the final session of the 2 days was an absolute killer, with truth bombs exploding right in front of my eyes. Matt, Kyra and Jason got right into what it takes to sustain ourselves in doing this work, and this was a surprisingly common topic of conversation at the after party.
Having lived through a pretty horrendous burn-out experience (and I continue to work through the impacts on a daily basis), I really can’t reiterate this one enough.
You have to pay yourself first - and not just in cash-money. If we’re to be able to truly sustain the kind of change we want to see, then I think we have to model a more conscious way of working. Fast-paced, hyper-connected, convenience culture is leading to an awful lot of negatives. The antidote is not more and faster - it’s time to unplug and reconnect - with ourselves, our values, the people and the world around us.
I didn't make the most of it (silly me), but I was delighted to see Walkshops in nature as part of the 2 day program. The wonderful Jane Spence from the Hello Nature Project and the crew from The School of Life Australia, and my dear friends from The Centre for Sustainability Leadership were the perfect antidote to a full on couple of days. The wonderful Josi Heyerdahl from WWF spoke about this in more detail in one of the main sessions, and it made an awful lot of us think about exactly why we're here.
Remember to schedule moments of quiet. Build in mini rituals. Celebrate when you knock over a goal - big or small. Do things that make you happy - no matter how small it is in the grand scheme of things. One thing’s for sure - it doesn’t matter how much good work we do - if we make ourselves miserable, cynical, strung-out assholes in the process it’s not going to be worth it in the long run…
Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately - which was nicely crystallised in some beautifully articulated words from Jirra Lulla Harvey - is how late to the party the western world is to a lot of the ideas that indigenous cultures have been using for years.
I feel like you if you look closely enough you’ll find the germs of much of the thinking embedded in the latest business literature is stuff that people much older than us, and much more connected to themselves, each other, and the land have known for millennia. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
I’ve got the nugget of a project along these lines forming. Will see how it evolves…
And along the same train of thought, I was really impressed with the effort Wildwon had made to acknowledge a diversity of opinions, particularly with regard to gender balance. I think we all know that by excluding a bunch of people from the conversation (unconsciously or otherwise), we’re the ones who lose out. There is no lack of talent out there, if you know that it might look different to what you expect. It is so important to acknowledge your own prejudices - often - and to get comfortable with staring directly at them. I’d love to see this continue to be proactively tackled by us as a Purpose community. Affirmative action can’t go too far in my view.
The one thing we didn’t discuss at Purpose (not that I’m suggesting we should have necessarily, that certainly wasn’t slated as something that was to be discussed in this forum - it is an ongoing conversation in other forums) was the lack of leadership at a policy and government level. In my opinion, just like the thoroughly outdated accounting systems we’re dealing with, we’re also dealing with thoroughly outdated modes of government.
I saw Yanis Varoufakis speak at The Wheeler Centre’s Interrobang recently, and I feel like this was the central thesis of his talk. He can see that a globalised society needs vastly different governance, feedback loops, accountability and responsibility than what was required in the past. He spoke at length about the difference between being in power and being in government, and the fact that the influence of our economic system seems to be trumping our political system. Democracy is a tricky thing, and so far it has been incapable of dealing with the huge challenges thrown up by how fast we’re running at our environmental limits, and the slight inconvenience of discovering at the exact same moment that our economic system certainly has it’s limits too.
In the absence of a government (national or international) to articulate our goals as a society, I think it is super critical for us to do this as a community. This is an ongoing iterative process, and I think the media have a super important role to play here, but I’d love to see our little emerging community taking a stab at it too. I feel like everyone is hesitant to take ownership of this as a task - and understandably in a lot of ways, it’s a big one and I don’t know how anyone acquires the kind of credibility required to do it with legitimacy and a sense of collectivism - but it’s worth having a crack, isn’t it?
The other (related) elephant
I have a HUGE amount of respect for many of the amazing entrepreneurs who spoke at Purpose. There were some really great companies represented. Marque Lawyers, Who Gives A Crap, Keep Cup, Powershop… We heard many, many tales of successful entrepreneurs folding purpose into their business and they are to be hugely commended. *rapturous round of applause*
BUT I feel like the challenge of running a successful business, that meaningfully delivers impact, pays their staff enough, hits scale, makes money, markets itself well (without guilt tripping), measures their impact in a transparent and integrated way, and finds the time to bring other fledgling impact entrepreneurs along for the ride, while avoiding career burnout, is an entirely unfair responsibility for individual entrepreneurs with limited resources to have to shoulder.
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m trying to shirk responsibility - I know we operate in a space of immense privilege, and perhaps I’m giving our power as individuals too little credit here, but I really feel a far greater degree of responsibility has to fall to the large corporations and wealthy individuals who have benefitted most from the mess they’ve created, and to the political bodies that have let them get away with it.
And as proud I am to see each of these guys up on stage talking about their successes, I can’t help but feel that it is just like a bandaid covering up a slashed artery. I want to know what real game changing stuff looks like. What does it take to actually hit the systems level and see real change? Perhaps it is already happening around me, but I’m just struggling to see it?
What I do know is, we can do both - and we can definitely be better on both fronts if we’re pulling in the same direction.
Based on the conversations that have taken place over the last two days, we know that purpose-led business is the future of business - no longer just a fringe modus operandi. At a time when there is such a high degree of cynicism of the business community, it is incredibly inspiring to hear from a bunch of people who genuinely care about doing good in the world, about doing it at scale, and about finding a way to do it for the long term. Purpose 2015 genuinely feels like ground zero for a cohesive team of people taking this to the next level here in Australia - and making the most of the incredible good fortune we have in this country to expand the Purpose way of doing things far and wide.
So I put it to you - Purpose 2015 attendees: How do we build on the momentum of an event like Purpose - how do we meaningfully facilitate collaboration opportunities to scale this kind of purpose-led thinking from fringe to mainstream? What role can you play in helping Wildwon and others make this happen?
I was seriously impressed by every single person who was in the room at Purpose. From the attendees, to the suppliers, to the sponsors, to the volunteers donating their time to be a part of it. This was by design too - with Wildwon taking a very curatorial approach to getting good people on board. I was so happy to see so many CSL Alumni. A real family reunion!
I need to make mention of a particular few though.
Matt Wicking - for facilitating the whole event with authenticity, empathy and beautiful sense of quiet humanity he brings to every room.
Jason Fox - for really putting things into perspective, and bringing a great sense of humour to what could be a heavy conversation.
Sarah Fortuna - for her lovely, effortless facilitation and conversation throughout the two days, and for some delightfully honest chats.
And finally, to the ever wonderful Sally Hill (and her partner in crime Yvonne Lee, and their incredible team). For being such an amazing human being, for leading a movement with quiet determination, grace and such a clear vision and sense of self. And for one of the best possible speeches on the subject of #justinbieber #myreasonforbeing #myonetruelove #purpose2015.
All image credit goes to the amazing Jarra Joseph McGrath for Wildwon. Whatta guy.
After 6 months of photography study at PSC, I totally understand why they warn us that our photos will get worse before they get better.
I feel like I've learned a great deal. The Dunning-Kruger effect also dictates that I've also learned just how much I don't know - how much more there is to learn. Any sense of illusory superiority has been thoroughly shattered - but that excites me!
Here's a handful of shots from Semester 1.
I turned 30 this week.
The week prior, and the beginning of this week was uncomfortable - because of the incremental realisation that I am simultaneously exhausted and bored. Exhausted because I feel like there is a disproportionate amount of attention and drama given to things that don't at all warrant it, and nowhere near enough focus on things of actual consequence. Bored because I feel like there's so little around me that actually inspires me in a way that nourishes my soul. Melbourne feels tedious - though this is much more a reflection of my headspace than what's actually going on around me.
I'm sick of people who treat seeming to be doing good work as as important as actually doing it. More activity than action.
I'm sick of people who are so concerned with looking a certain way, rather than being how they are. More appearances than substance.
And I'm petrified that I'm one of them.
There seems so little work of consequence, that when I do stumble across something that resonates I'm overwhelmed with enthusiasm, but I rarely give myself time to absorb all the subtleties and nuances of it - to really learn from it and let it nourish me - before I'm off searching for the next one to inspire me and make me feel like there is something worthwhile to be found amongst the mess and noise. It's like I'm bingeing on all the sugary-sweet information I can get my hands on without even tasting it on the way down.
The problems is I'm consuming so much - critique, opinion, armchair journalism that barely skims the surface - that I'm not getting to the good stuff. Doubly problematic is that instead of inspiring me and focusing my thoughts, this information is creating paralysing doubt.
I'm craving the time and space to do the work, rather than just thinking and talking about it and second guessing it.
15 or so months ago, I had a lovely chat with the extraordinary Ming-zhu Hii which prompted (for better or worse) some kind of shift for her in the way she approached her work as an artist and activist. She wrote about it here. (Seriously read it.) About giving up talking about her work, and instead letting the work do the talking. I'm belatedly having a similar feeling.
We know about Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours principle. But what about when all your time and energy is spent on thinking about it, rather than actually developing your practice. Well, it will certainly take you a lot longer to get to mastery that way I imagine...
When Ming-zhu wrote about her own realisation, there was a strong sense of responsibility and obligation. As I've finally realised that this same sense has been stopping me from letting go too. As people who advocate for change, I think many of us have a feeling of responsibility to bring others along with us - and I don't say this to be sanctimonious. But as Ming-zhu realised all those months ago, I now see that as long as we're just talking about it - rather than diving headlong into it - we're really just playing on the fringes. Perhaps the only real way to create change is by example and let your work speak for itself.
So what to do? 30 seems too early to pull up stumps and just settle in to a life of simultaneous overwhelm and underwhelm - a life of mediocre change making. (What a funny contradiction in terms - but an all too common occurrence in my opinion.)
Though it feels quite trivial, my first step is to cull the information I'm exposed to and become far more selective about my media diet. This means deactivating my Facebook account, giving up social media and online news, getting rid of the tv, and severely limiting the amount of time I spend online - reserving the internet for creating rather than mindlessly consuming. This represents quite a fundamental lifestyle shift for me - someone who spends 10+ hours a day staring at a screen poking around the internet.
It means being very mindful of the quality of information I'm still allowing into my life. That goes for everything - writing, films, music, events, people and conversations.
Short of going on an epic wild global adventure that takes me entirely out of my comfort zone and reminds me how very small our problems are, I'm striving to find something real - something I can tangibly contribute to. Quieting the noise, taking small steps to achieve small goals - after all it is better than no steps toward big goals I think...
I was really floored when reading through the tweets celebrating the end of Tony's reign as King Idiot of Australia, and heralding the arrival of our new progressive leader, Malcolm Turnbull.
When I wrote a blog post two years ago now when the Coalition came to power I was despondent. I was so shocked that the whole country could prefer this elitist, nonsensical, scatter-gun slogans policy approach, and willingly put such a fool at the head of this country. To actively choose cruelty and short termism and vote in the Coalition off the back of Abbott's ego driven grandstanding. (Granted there wasn't much of an alternative, but that's another matter...)
I'm still stunned that my largely progressive friends and colleagues seem so delighted by Malcolm's new job. Although I suspect it has more to do with a sense of schadenfreude than anything else. I must admit I felt vaguely smug to realise that Tony has fallen 5 days short of the required term to take a 600K annual "former prime minister" pension. That sucks Tone.
That said, I really think any of us who truly care about a fair and equitable society need to be a little careful and wait to reserve judgement on our fifth fearless leader in five years. Turnbull is after all, still an enormously privileged, wealthy, white man, with a firm belief in the free market system we know is rapidly failing. Those of us who would traditionally sit on the Left side of the political spectrum have been primed to think of Turnbull as the progressive saviour of the Right. And I have a really hard time believing that to be the case.
Ultimately I don't care about which political party our leader belongs to. I care about their ability to form clear policy and to create positive change for the electorate they serve - informed by best possible knowledge from science, industry and the community. I care about their ability to gain support for decisions that may be unpopular in the short term, but are in fact best for Australia and the global community beyond the next opinion polls. I care about dealing with our dual major challenges of rising global inequality, and rising sea levels. I care about a return to a society who values people over things.
I'm stuck somewhere between feeling like this is how politics should work - the people are the ones running this show. Screw election terms - as we seem so be intent to do in Australia, at least for the last 5 years or so - let's get the best person in the job. But I also feel like the 24 hour news cycle, and a hungry and polarised Australian media is the biggest winner out of this whole circus, and that the formal democracy mechanism we've relied on all this time is fundamentally broken. Let's not forget too, that we've elected the party - the person who runs it may not be as significant a factor as we've been led to believe. As my friend Craig commented at the time of the last election,
"Elections are just there to give the illusion of choice and change. The 'machine' will just keep chugging along as normal."
Could the same be said for leadership changes?
Where's the leadership? Where's the long game? Where's getting on with the difficult job of actually being in government - of implementing intelligent policy, and bringing the Australian and international community along for the ride?
Maybe I should give Turnbull more credit. He has sat patiently for quite a while now, toeing the party line, and actively avoiding creating controversy... But it remains to be seen whether that tactic was a means to a political end, or whether that same patience and persistence will also serve this country.
I'm not doubting that he seems vastly more capable to lead our country than his predecessor, but it remains to be seen in which direction.
This past weekend was spent in the Barossa - the perfect opportunity to test out my highly underdeveloped landscape photography skills in time for something to be submitted as part of my first semester folio. 8 weeks to go...
These photos prove a few things:
Those who know me know I am a long time and avid consumer of podcasts. They’re oh-so-wonderful for oh-so-many reasons, but mostly because you can concurrently do other things while listening to podcasts. Walking to work, working, falling asleep, running, etc. For an aural learner like me, they’re such a great way to pick up tidbits of information and to learn from experts from all over the globe. Plus they’re way better than listening to the radio.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said something like “you don’t know about podcasts?!!!” - but then I have to stop myself from being such a patronising cow, and remember that not everyone likes to live their lives with headphones in, walking around with other people’s conversations drifting through their head.
However, since The Great Serial Revelation of 2014 (the podcast formerly known as Serial), and since I can barely hold a conversation without the words “I listened to a podcast about…” passing my lips, I’ve often had people asking for my recommendations and I thought it was about time I put them down in pixels - categorised for your listening pleasure, complete with links to stream or subscribe via iTunes. There are a lot. You have been warned.
Stuff You Missed in History Class
This was one of my first podcast addictions, but I confess I enjoyed the earlier episodes far more than more recent ones. Crazy obscure european royalty, exhumations, and sassy amazonian warriors. Yes please! Stream / Subscribe
The Memory Palace
The perfect mix of unheard moments in history and narrative, Nate DiMeo’s occasional podcast is full of personal idiosyncrasies and intrigue. Stories of neighbourhoods, families, and memories - they’re such tiny treasures. Stream / Subscribe
Short, conversational, practical explorations of current economic issues delivered in a playful and digestible way. Covering everything from the supply chain of a t-shirt to which subject you should major at uni in for best returns. Stream / Subscribe
Using economic theory to pull apart the intricacies of human behaviour and have you questioning everything. Features pretty topics - from interviews with the President of the World Bank to dating as an economic decision. Stream / Subscribe
An in-depth deconstruction of current economics issues and theory, featuring interviews with academics and theorists. Really interesting discussions on everything from African economic growth to the morals of development. Stream / Subscribe
Weekly Economics Podcast
Produced by the New Economics Foundation (who I LOVE), this covers progressive macroeconomic issues in the UK and beyond. From the philosophical foundations of economic theory to ideas around feminist economics. Stream / Subscribe
Point of Inquiry
The Centre for Inquiry encourages a society based on secular knowledge away from religious dogma, and their weekly podcast explores secular ethics - everything from drug policy, abortion and terrorism - with balance and insight. Stream / Subscribe
Michael Sandel: The Public Philosopher
Political Philosopher and Harvard Lecturer roams the globe facilitating conversations about modern day ethics, and we are lucky to be able to witness it. My favourite is the one about whether a banker should be paid more than a nurse. Stream / Subscribe
Amanda Vanstone was never a favourite of mine - let’s face it, she’s not from my side of politics - but that’s exactly why this Radio National program is so interesting. She has rational and practical conversations that form a counterpoint (get it?) to the ABC’s supposedly leftist bias. Stream / Subscribe
Big Picture Politics
Guardian Politics Editor Lenore Taylor talks to key players about the biggest policy challenges facing Australia right now - with journalistic rigour. Only a few episodes in, but already a part of my regular listening habits. Stream / Subscribe
As I’m not about to move to the UK to do an Economics Masters (as much as I’d like to), I spend a lot of time listening to the public lecturers the school presents. Touching on geopolitics, banking, economic theory, futures and more, they sure know how to put on a good chat. Stream / Subscribe
Krista Tippett talks to thinkers exploring life and it’s meaning. My particular favourites are Maria Popova (Brain Pickings) and Pico Iyer. They also do some great written content which is regularly published on the website. Stream / Subscribe
The Lively Show
Jess Lively chats to a bunch of interesting folk - touching on money, relationships, wellness, business, and more. Not every conversation is for me, but I’ve found by cherry picking I’ve come across some real gems. Stream / Subscribe
This one has been an absolutely pleasure since being recommended to me by Lani Holmberg. Honest conversations with women working in all forms of media - film makers, photographers, writers, producers, creators. So good. Stream / Subscribe
The brainchild of Melbourne entrepreneur (and fellow former Intrepidite) Nathan Chan, Foundr is a wide ranging series of chats with entrepreneurs and innovators about all elements of their business and personal lives. Stream / Subscribe
Here’s The Thing
Alec Baldwin uses his celeb status to snag interviews with some of the world’s most intriguing characters including Julie Andrews, Lena Dunham, Paul Simon, Ira Glass. He doesn’t muck around - gets right to the good stuff. Stream / Subscribe
Stuff Mum Never Told You
Two clever gals put a feminist spin on current events and cultural phenomena. They’re sassy, funny and take no prisoners, but they’re also balanced, informed and personal. If it’s relevant to women, they’re on it. Stream / Subscribe
Pop Culture Happy Hour
One of my greatest weekly pleasures, this is a clever, comical and cutting conversation about all things movies, tv, books, music, comics… It often gives me new threads to follow and pieces of entertainment to chase. Stream / Subscribe
A podcast about contemporary issues and the arts featuring conversations with some really clever and creative peeps. Host Terry Gross is so damn good at her job and the subjects range from entertainment to ethics. Stream / Subscribe
Chat 10 Looks 3
My two favourite ladies (and my future best friends, I’m sure of it) Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb talk about books, food, pop culture, fun stuff, etc. Lots of jokes and insights leaving me full of wonder at these two awesome women. Stream / Subscribe
A video podcast of the ABC’s monthly book club. Hosted by Jennifer Byrne and featuring Jason Steger and Marieke Hardy, along with a rotating roster of literary types, and critiquing one new release and one classic each month. Stream / Subscribe
I discovered this one thanks to a recommendation from Jessica Stanley, and it is so good. Local peeps talking about pop culture, literature, and the arts with a series of clever guests. A firm favourite. Stream / Subscribe
Broadcast of the stories presented at Sydney’s Story Club at the Giant Dwarf Theatre. So far has featured Annabel Crabb, David Marr, Zoe Norton-Lodge and others. All hilarious and incredibly human. Stream / Subscribe
This show dives into the beliefs, assumptions and underlying factors that influence our behaviour and what it means for who we really are. It mixes psychology and science with narrative and personal stories. Stream / Subscribe
99 Percent Invisible
This little treasure explores how design impacts on our behaviour, even in ways we barely notice. Like how the design of shopping malls influences our choices, and how else we might design our calendar. Stream / Subscribe
This one is a beautiful mix of narrative and investigation, telling amazing stories with sounds, voices and great production. They cover all manner of topics, and even those I wouldn’t normally be interested in sucker me in. Stream / Subscribe
This American Life
Also a long time favourite, TAL covers one theme each week and tackles the theme from several angles. It is such good oral storytelling - deservedly iconic. Start with recent episodes on racism and school segregation. Stream / Subscribe
Deconstruction of familiar songs in the most literal sense of the word - pulling apart production and the stories behind hits and more obscure musical creations. So interesting, particularly for anyone who loves music. Stream / Subscribe
Desert Island Discs
A BBC Production that dives into the record collections of notable public personalities. Host Kirsty Young manages to weave personal anecdote between musical recommendations which add an extra dimension. Stream / Subscribe
All Songs Considered
If you want a quick and easy way to inject your life with great new music on a regular basis, All Songs Considered is your go to. Mostly music with integrity, with the occasional mainstream stayer thrown in. Stream / Subscribe
Mornings with Zan
I rarely listen to the radio these days, but as Zan Rowe is one of my enduring lady crushes, I like to get in some quality time with her from now and then. She talks new music, interviews people, and is generally quite wonderful. Stream / Subscribe
No Such Thing As A Fish
Much to my husband’s delight (ha, jokes), I’m a huge fan of Stephen Fry and his show QI. The show’s researchers do a regular show where they share the strangest nuggets of information they’ve discovered recently. Stream / Subscribe
Dear Hank & John
I’m also a big fan of Author and general internet superstar John Green and his brother Hank. They get together occasionally to talk about anything interesting - and they do it with such cleverness and humour. Stream / Subscribe
Ask Me Another
Again my affection for quiz shows rears its ugly head. This one is super fun and recorded live in Brooklyn. Part word play, part trivia, part nonsensical musical mystery challenge, it is witty and unexpected. Stream / Subscribe
Given how lazy I am at keeping my 10 years of french study current and (ahem) intelligible, listening to the occasional broadcast in french assuages my guilt somewhat. Local stuff, but communicated en français. Tant mieux! Stream / Subscribe
WTF with Marc Maron
Comedy mixes with philosophy and a healthy dose of celebrity / comedian guests (from Ian McKellan to Kim Gordon) thrown in. Looking forward to diving into this as there are many episodes to filter through! Stream / Subscribe
Death, Sex & Money
This one explores the things we would typically dance around in polite conversation (which my friends know I love to get into). Also featuring celebrity guests including Margaret Cho, Dan Savage and Cindy Chupak. Stream / Subscribe
Three Month Vacation
The experiences of entrepreneur Sean D’Souza who has structured his work and professional life in such a way that he can take 3 months off every year, and has successfully done so for the last 10 years. Yes please! Stream / Subscribe
The Slow Home Podcast
Led by Australian downshifter Brooke McAlary, this features conversations with others who have elected to live their life at a slower-than-110%-pace. Trading experiences, insights and pieces of advice to join them. Stream / Subscribe
This long running show now has an impressive reputation for live storytelling, with featured speakers presenting alone on stage in front of a standing room audience, with no notes - just a microphone and spotlight. Stream / Subscribe
Happier with Gretchen Rubin
Gretchen Rubin runs a blog that explores happiness and the habits that create it. Her podcast features her sister as cohost and looks at psychology, science and practices that can create a lifelong practice of habits. Stream / Subscribe
Any podcast wrap up would be incomplete without mentioning Serial - the one that seemingly exploded podcasting. Definitely an interesting piece of oral storytelling and apparently season 2 is coming soon. Stream / Subscribe
If you got seriously addicted to Serial, you might like to dive into this series about the intricacies of the Adnan Syed case that weren’t explored in the podcast itself. Conspiracy theories, further explanation, more mystery. Stream / Subscribe
At the Movies
If you’re still mourning the end of David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz’s reign on Australian TV, you can podcast video of the show and relive all the great memories and discover great films old and new to you. Stream / Subscribe
So there you have it. Some I’ve listed here I dip in and out of. Some I find myself waiting impatiently to hear the next episode. All have given my joy and insight in some way. I hope you find something you love here.
Are you a fellow podcast addict? I’d love to hear about your favourites. Or do you podcast? I’m always looking for recommendations!
Sometimes you just need to look around you to find something that makes your heart skip a beat. This is a shot taken on our farm. Isn't nature amazing?!
I've been thinking an awful lot lately about our constant need for "more". By more I don't mean more things necessarily (we already know we have a serious problem on that front). I mean more of everything. I feel like we've been tricked into thinking we need to care about the latest everything - cafe, film, super food, business theory, hashtag, whatever - in order to be a successful human being. But actually, I'm realising that we need to care less.
This month I'm practicing "less" - less doing, more being - hence, fewer links below. The ones that are there are an interesting starting point if you'd like to be reminded how wonderful you are, just as you are. Without having to do anything at all.
Happy hibernating. xx
I've been reminded this week just how lucky I am to have a few people in my orbit who I really connect with, and how lucky I am to come across new ones from time to time. It's a special thing. Read more. >
If you need an antidote to our impossibly cool hipster ways then this article should help. Glasses of wine on the footpath? This is what Tyler Brulé wants us to struggle for? | The cycle of letting go. | Ending the tyranny of cool. | As I plan a celebration for my impending 30th birthday, Chris Guillebeau's idea of a quiet dinner on the beach by yourself certainly has a certain appeal, except my version would be a country vista somewhere. Maybe somewhere like Arles, Provence. | Against Productivity - the essay that took 4 years to write. | The Aesthetics of Silence - the role of silence in creative culture.
These photos of gypsies - beyond stereotypes - are incredibly compelling. | If I have't already convinced you to get to Cuba (before everyone else does), these photos of beautiful Havana interiors should do the trick. | 5 years of train hopping captured in gorgeous photos. | The traditional lives of Siberian nomads. | I love these photographic explorations of texture via Storehouse. | These stunning shots of unforgettable summer holidays feel so real that they are managing to soothe a very cold winter soul.
I feel like I've been having lots of conversations with some of my favourite people (hat tip Rachel Service, Rebecca Lovitt, Sally Hill, Laura Camelliri and Ben Grosz) about the importance of the process, rather than just the outcome - when it comes to change, design, thinking. As someone who is very preoccupied with and motivated by a thorough process, I love hearing this sentiment echoed in unexpected places. | Tim Minchin on the BBC's Desert Island Discs. What would be on your list? | Explorer of "The Global Soul" Pico Iyer in conversation with Krista Tippett.
"I don't want perfect. I want honest."
- Not sure where this one originated, but the more times I hear it, the more I feel it resonates.
I had a lovely experience this week when I met a fellow inquisitive human who seemed as pleased as I was to skip through all the pleasantries that typically come with meeting someone new. It was a delight to avoid that stage of getting to know someone via the all-too-common questions. You know the ones. What do you do? Where do you work? Where did you go to school? Blah, blah, blah.
It was such an uncommon pleasure to spend a rambling few hours discussing all matter of things that feel honest and important - no preconceptions, no judgement.
It makes me kind of sad to realise how rare these kinds of encounters are. How unusual it is to connect with someone to that extent that you both become more yourself over the course of a conversation. These experiences - and the people who illicit them - should be treasured. Those who are prepared to disregard pointless social conventions that prevent us from truly connecting with each other are a special breed I think.
It has reminded me just how important other people are in our happiness. For the last little while, I’ve been so focused on getting my own head straight that I think I’ve forgotten how big a factor other people are in the way we experience the world.
It has also reminded me that in many ways that’s what this whole game is all about. Isn’t that what we’re all after? Connection with another human being that goes beyond the trivial and cuts straight to the core of who we are? Helping each other experience true connection with ourselves and others? Recognising the humanity and wonder in another person, and experiencing it in yourself through someone else’s eyes?
This experience shouldn’t be as elusive as it is. But like other things, it takes practice. It takes being in the moment, and making no judgement of yourself or others. It takes an ability to truly listen. It takes a willingness to let down your own walls, and to keep an eye out for others who might be prepared to do the same. They appear where and when you least expect it.
I’m convinced that this sense of empathy and connection is a severely depleted resource in the world right now, but the good thing is, it is also renewable, and all it takes is a willingness to cultivate it.
Here’s to more of it.
A few resources I’ve stumbled upon on this subject.
Title image: the frosty mornings may have only just started in the city, but they're common in the High Country. This is a gorgeous February morning at Farmhouse Dederang.
Welcome to a very wanderlust-y Musings. Travel is always on my mind, but it has certainly been even more so the last little while. Perhaps it is the days getting shorter and colder...? Does this happen to you too, or am I the only one? Write to me with your travel plans for this chilly part of the year so I can Instagram stalk you and live vicariously through you as you frolic in warmer climates.
In the meantime, we had an amazing Salon on the topic of Intimacy v Internet. As always, it was so great to have such incredible people in the room. You can read more about the insights from our discussions here.
Hope the Easter break was good to you. Can you believe we're already a quarter of the way through 2015? What is it they say about the years getting faster as you get older..? xx
Most of what you do today is not essential. | I've been reading a lot on the future of tech and humanity thanks toRebecca Lovitt and my work at Be Collective, and these two on The Shut-In Economy and What Blogging Has Become were both brilliant and scary predictions of what the future holds for us. | This pair of articles on why we should at persist in our attempts to create a better world were even better though. Why Not Utopia by Mark Bittman+ The Most Important Thing We Can Do to Fight Climate Change is Try by Rebecca Solnit. | Laura Marling does Walk Alone from her new album (which I love, unsurprisingly) as part of the SXSW Lullaby Series. Divine. | Richard Denniss wrote a great piece for The Monthly on how "economic modelling" is being used to fuel dodgy policy debates. | The Radical Humaneness of Norway's Halden Prison. | In Defence of Boredom - 200 years of ideas on the virtues of not doing. | Movies, art and money - Kristen Stewart on the actor's dilemma.
It seems like so much of my day is dedicated to simultaneously piquing and satisfying my wanderlust. I'm not sure if these photos of the Eiffel Tower as seen through various windows in Paris are helping. | The lovely Eliza Elliott's photos from her trip through Canada aren't either. | I finally watched Roman Holiday this week and this perfectly cute trailer will make you want to too. | I love this gorgeous piece by Alecia Wood about mushroom foraging. She sure is a talented lady. | Monique Welker's The Sunday Best blog is filled with everything I wish I spent my Sundays on. So lovely. | Broadsheet sent five photographers to Tasmania and the resulting images are just gorgeous. | A 5000 year old underground city was recently discovered in Turkey. | I've also been accumulating some really lovely photos over on my Pinterest board dedicated to just that.
Johann Hari discussed The Falsehood of Addiction and the War on Drugs on the Point of Inquiry podcast. It is some of the most intelligent and empathetic discussion of the topic I've come across. Read it with the stunning piece by Richard Butler on the ice epidemic destroying families and you'll start to think very deeply about what is creating this epidemic (hint, it isn't drugs). Heartbreaking stuff. | This RadioLab podcast on Los Frikis shows just how complex and fascinating the history of Cuba is. Punk, aids, rebellion. Go there, seriously. | I'm so glad the ABC put Making Australia Great on our televisions. Public broadcasting for the win! | Beyond Right and Wrong - Stories of Justice and Forgiveness. | A great super-short film by Matthew Frost entitled "Aspirational". Kids these days. | If you like this curated newsletter, you'll probably like Sophie Benjamin's even more. She does a great job - and she's much more consistent! Here's hers from this month. | The Rereaders is a recent podcast discovery thanks toJessica Stanley. It is so good. (Subscribe to her newsletter too.) | Wonderland - A short form documentary on creative commerce. I really enjoyed this but I'm pretty perplexed by there being only one woman featured (as part of a male/female partnership). | I love this interview with Fran Lebowitz about her daily uniform.
"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."
Our Musings Salon for February was on the topic of Intimacy v Internet, using a rambling essay I wrote recently as the jumping off point.
As always, it was absolutely delightful to have such clever people take part in a conversation about something that very much impacts our daily lives. A big thanks to Cameron Elliott, Sally Hill, Julia Sharwood and Rachel Service for their insights and their wonderful company. I feel so very lucky to get to spend such quality time with these wonderful humans:
A few notes from our discussion:
We spent a lot of time discussing how our relationship with our digital selves is evolving in an interesting way. In the early days of the social web, the people we connected with felt very authentic, but are becoming discernibly more curated and contrived. The more channels for "personal branding" and monetising personalities and influence emerge with digital media, the harder it is to figure out what is real and what isn't. The more corporatised and money making it becomes, the harder it is to find authentic connections and individuals amongst the noise.
Sally mentioned, "it's now second nature to us to 'manage' our profile / brand / image online. Those who don't seem to be doing so are actually the real pros." By that logic, perhaps it is actually people who are not concerned about accepted social media etiquette, often late adopters who haven't figured out the nuances, or who just have no interest in observing the idiosyncrasies of social media use. She recommended this piece on why your mum's Facebook use is likely to be more authentic than yours. As Sal said, "perhaps they're not so great at being humans on the internet but great at being humans". Maybe we can all learn a lesson from our mums in this regard.
While it wasn't what I was specifically hoping to address in my essay, we did talk a lot about connection, and whether true connection is possible digitally when the idea of authenticity is so problematic. Since we discussed it, I've noticed a rash of articles published on this very subject, many of which I've included in the further reading below.
Despite all the risks, we did all acknowledge the positive impact being digitally connected has had on our lives. To use Julia's words: "The good old days could be cruel and itchy sweater. Social media is more egalitarian. You can put your passion into making vines, or writing about culture, or taking beautiful party pictures and you'll find your tribe. They'll celebrate you for the things you love."
At the end of the day though, what really matters is that your nearest and dearest know you - the real you. And does digital help this? We didn't necessarily think so. As Sally said, "Although we had a lengthy discussion about authenticity, I think the outcome was that to be truly authentic we had to be disengaged from social media and not publishing or 'publicising' anything about ourselves."
All of us acknowledged that for the most part, that digital communities are only as good as the opportunities it presents to connect to connect with people in person. So if in doubt, remember to sit down and chat to people face to face - that way you can skip the life airbrushing and be sure you know exactly who you'e talking to.
Further reading / listening:
Title image: The driveway at my parents' house in Moama, Victoria. More shots from my break here.
We're already well into 2015. I hope January gave you a break and that this time of year has been relaxing and filled with beautiful memories for you and your family.
If you're like the average person it was probably also filled with reflection and goal setting for the new year. I did my own version of this with a roll call of the people I'm grateful to for catalysing change on a global scale this past year, and the people who made my life better personally in 2014. I also made a list of the things I'm excited for in 2015. Do you do an annual review? I'd love to read it. Send it to me!
I'm pretty excited for the year ahead, with quite a few new opportunities on the horizon and some pretty big changes happening, including the move to Curracloe Farm - I hope you'll come visit us! The things I really want to focus on this year is eliminating the word "perfection" from my vocabulary and practicing being ok with things just as they are. How about you?
Something else I've been thinking about a bit lately is exploring how to use the internet to be more myself, and whether our increasingly digital lives prevent us from being truly authentic. I wrote about it (below), and it will be the topic of our next Salon on Wednesday February 18. If this is something that piques your interest I'd love to hear your thoughts so I hope you can make it.
I hope this year brings exactly what you need, and maybe also presents you with some wonderful things you hadn't even dared to dream of.
Bring it on! xx
I've been thinking a lot about how much my degrees of transparency and honesty are different in my digital life and in my "real" life. It prompted me to write some words about whether or not our increasinly digital lives allow us to be more authentic, or if they're actually helping us avoid authenticity and intimacy. Read more >
I have feel extremely uneasy saying 'no' to things, even if I really don't want to do what I'm being asked, so I found this suggestion from Economist Tim Harford really galvanising. Well, more like reverse galvanising as it is encouraging me to do less really. | Stop trying to save the world - big ideas are destroying international development. | I found this article on why Tony Abbott left the priesthood very creepy and prescient. | The dis-ease of being busy. | I can't tell if it is just where I get my news from, but I'm noticing the predictions of a paradigm shift are reaching fever pitch, like this one from Rebecca Solnit. | Smelling the things she dreamed of. | Gee I love Maria Popova of Brainpickings. And I love this piece (even just the title!) - A sweet celebration of inner softness in a culture that encourages hard individualism and prickly exteriors. | Bertrand Russell on 'fruitful monotony' and boredom. | How aboriginal Australians saw the stars. | I love this reading list from Longreads about our prehistoric past. | Why do Australians hate thinkers? by Alecia Simmonds. | The myth of multitasking - longing to be absorbed wholly.
Sex, plants and Frida Kahlo via Planthunter. | These are such gorgeous photos of summertime in the country. | I feel like an Australian summer has such a distinct look and feel, so I tried my best to capture mine this year. | 31 rolls of undeveloped film shot by a World War 2 soldier were discovered and processed - incredible stuff. | I've been completely blissing out on Kien Lam's amazing Where and Wander - completely made for a travel and photography nut like me! | Unsurprisingly, I also can't get enough of the emails I get from Ewen Bell of Photography for Travellers. | I think former Neighbours starlet Caitlin Stasey is a really interesting woman, and I think she should be really proud of what she's done with Herself. Am I wrong to be incredulous that she's just 24 years old? | I'm in love with this beautiful project by photographer Tara Pearce, and can't wait to meet some of the people she's profiled. Outer-Towners. | Two very talented friends of mine have been honeymooning in South America and documenting everything. | I can't get enough of beautiful Monique's blog - and her instagram.
I've been watching with interest to see what's happening with the Greek elections. Perhaps the tide is turning... | I'm really glad to see this conversation being had - Tim Winton on Class in Australia. | Do you subscribe to Invisibilia? I loved this episode about synesthesia and how we're impacted by the people around us. | An interesting chat with my sister-in-law over the break prompted her to send me this article about women who don't want kids. | I revisited this TED talk by George Monbiot when I included him in an earlier blog post - and I must say, the idea of Rewilding certainly appeals to me. | I always love This American Life, but I particularly enjoyed the first episode of 2015 - Wake Up Now. | I highly recommend Michael Sandel's podcast The Public Philosopher. His latest episode is a great testament to his formidable intellect and and his ability to engage members of the public in philosophy, morality and matters of public interest. And I'm so glad to see an opportunity for these discussions to be had, especially with him at the helm.
This month, our Salon will be held in Richmond, and we're talking Intimacy v Internet, with my thoughts on it as a primer. If this is something you'd like to discuss with a group of intelligent people with some interest in the subject, we would love for you to join us. Numbers are limited.
"To make living itself an art, that is the goal." - Henry Miller
A little while ago now, when I was deep in burnout mode, I had some really interesting conversations with a few great people in my digital community about how to be vulnerable and authentic online. Some were prepared to embrace it wholeheartedly, sharing their most personal struggles openly. Others felt that the lines between their personal and professional lives were sufficiently blurred that it could be a bad career move to reveal too much too honestly. And I totally understand where they're coming from. Being open and honest with your nearest and dearest is a completely different thing to being open and honest with thousands of followers across multiple platforms, especially if your business presence and next paid contract is contingent on maintaining a reputation as a thought leader, strategist or otherwise all-knowing type.
So does that rule it out entirely? Does it mean you’re only ever able to be honest and vulnerable in private, remaining stoic and upbeat in public? Is this only the case for people who have heavily digitised public persona? What does this mean for the quality of the connections we’re able to form with people in the digital age? Will every interaction be coloured by “brand alignment”?
I'm intrigued by the sense of digital isolation we feel in the era of the "personal brand", the way we construct our personas online, and whether or not we're truly able to be honest and vulnerable when people know us from behind a screen. I feel like there has been quite a bit written on this phenomenon of late, and I wanted to write a few things down about my take on it, as I do.
People often say to me that I don’t have ‘filters’, and I’m not convinced it is always intended as a compliment. I strive to be always honest, always up front, and always transparent across all areas of my life - digital and analogue. But in my experience so far this can create as just many problems as it solves. Not everyone is so comfortable with intimacy, I’ve discovered.
As R J Magill Jr explores in a wonderful piece for Salon, intimacy wasn’t always so idealised. Throughout the 20th century as social protocols began to relax, consumer culture took hold allowing us to “create” our public identity rather than just stick with the one we were born with, we began to get the hang of a greater level of intimacy in our public lives. Magill argues that when the counter-cultural movement took off in the 60s, emphasising a more genuine and authentic self than mass consumption offered, it brought a desire for intimacy that never really disappeared. In fact, as so many of the ills of modern life seem to increasingly be the result of everything becoming impersonal and industrialised, our desire for intimacy has grown.
Fast forward a few decades and a digital revolution, and still not everyone has got the hang of this degree of intimacy and transparency, and especially not those who don’t spend a lot of time on the internet. Does that have to do with them perhaps spending more time among those older social protocols - in a corporate or hierarchical setting? Are those who live active digital lives more prone to be “early adopters” with a stronger appetite for change? Is it possible that the radical transparency afforded to us on the internet is too much for the real world? Or am I just a compulsive over-sharer?
Those moments when I am sharing too much for someone else’s intimacy threshold aren’t just uncomfortable for them. When people I know from “the real world” tell me they’ve read my blog or saw something-or-other I posted on Instagram I feel a little nervous. And I think I’m nervous because I’m worried that people outside my digital universe don’t understand that it really is ok to be so honest in a public forum, or at least that people on the internet seem to be ok with it.
As old social conventions - manners, protocol, class and caste systems - deteriorate, we’re free to embrace new ways of interacting with each other. The invisible line between intimate disclosure and inappropriate oversharing will be different for every individual. But with the loosening of these expectations, and the emergence of new platforms and opportunities to engage with others, we have much greater freedom to determine what authenticity will look like for us.
Like most internet users, it isn’t uncommon for me to occasionally spend a few idle minutes flicking through the digital profiles of those I know, and those I’m “meeting” for the first time online. From Facebook photo galleries and carefully edited Instagram shots, to witty twittercisms and a trumped up LinkedIn profile. And like most internet users, I occasionally find myself feeling somewhat impressed, intimidated, and even envious when I stumble across a someone who seemingly has it all together - at least according to their online profile. This applies particularly to young overachievers, professional travellers, or impossibly fit and healthy types. Gets me every time.
But then I remind myself that it is mostly bullshit (or in marketing speak - SPIN). You know what I'm talking about. Those oh so carefully edited "about me" pages, strategically courted LinkedIn endorsements, Instagram feeds full of perfectly filtered images of beautiful people on a perpetual holiday. Nary a non-airbrushed photo in site, let alone an an honest confession or heartfelt conversation. We know what our social media updates would look like if they were honest. Something more like this.
I'm not exempt. I've spent long enough time thinking about whether or not to post this particular status update, or that exact photo that I know I’m as much a part of this as everyone else. The subconscious processing of what I should and should not tweet / post / otherwise spread far and wide is more frequent than I’d like. And I think it’s unnatural.
I also think it prevents us from knowing each other. I mean really knowing each other. I know a lot of people. A lot of people know me. Except I don’t really know them, and they don't really know me. They know a digitised version of me, and I know a carefully edited version of them.
So recently, I did a cull. I selectively unfollowed about 1000 people on Twitter, and unfriended about 600 people on Facebook. 600 people - people I know, people who know me. Except they don't really know me. Perhaps they knew me, once upon a time. Perhaps we met and they learned my name. Perhaps they met me in a semi-professional capacity. But they don't really know me. In fact, I'd say very few people do. Maybe a dozen or so in varying degrees, maybe 20 at a push. Facebook stats tell us 120 is the upper limit. Far less than the 400 odd I still have as Facebook friends. There's no offence intended by this cull. All it boils down to is that I want my Facebook "friends" to more closely reflect my true friends, because I want ALL my interactions to be more honest, and that includes interaction via the interwebz.
It can be hard to see the distinction between an edited or filtered online presence and a constructed artificial brand. And I’ve found at times that it is difficult to see the distinction from the inside too. The line between truth and "enhanced" truth can become blurred...
Many moons ago now I struck up a conversation with a fellow tweeter (who I’d not engaged with previously, but who has since become a dear friend) about the idea of a “consume-preneur”. Interestingly, our concepts of the term were different. He thought of it as someone who is active in the “entrepreneurship” space, and consumes all the relevant material, but never actually makes the jump to being a real life entrepreneur because they never actually create anything, instead building a “brand” about knowing all the right people / info / events, etc. And I assure you I’ve met quite a few of these types.
My idea of a “consume-preneur” is best personified by the fashion blogger - a professional consumer who builds a business and a brand out of their edited/curated/donated-by-a-pr-professional tastes and experiences.
(Even mega fashion blogger Garance Dore - who makes a living from a cleverly curated digital image (with just the right amount of carefully planned blog intimacy) - conceded that her digital life doesn’t correspond to the reality of her sometimes up, sometimes down existence. She also reminds us that a digital existence is no substitute for the real thing. “Between Instagram and real life, I say, always pick real life.”)
The thing I realise now though, many years later, is that so many off us fit into this category. The more our tastes and experiences are able to be documented via social media, the more they’re able to be quantified. The more we post the more we’re lauded. The more we’re lauded the more we want. And before you know it, you’ve moved a long way away from your real taste and experiences, and much closer to your followers’ tastes. Perhaps that’s too big a jump to make - but maybe not. It’s dangerous - the construction of a “self” meant entirely for public consumption, or consumption as an act of the construction of the self.
Our last Salon, veered toward the topic of “life airbrushing” - deliberately or unconsciously editing your appearance, interests. I’d argue that this is not a new phenomenon. Editing your preferences, for yourself or an audience would have once been called style or taste. But when the popularity of your edits become visible, and arbitrated by an international audience of anonymous voyeurs thanks to social media platforms, the stakes are raised. It becomes a competition of sorts. Where there had never been a right or wrong answer, just a series of personal preferences, there is now a quantifiable level of appeal - followers, likes, shares. How do you counteract the fact that you’re still being judged on a series of 140 character tidbits, or how many elements of your personality you can cleverly jam into your blog profile (subtly interspersed with gentle wit and self-deprication, of course).
We know it is damaging for women to conceive of themselves only as they look to the outside world. We know this can create insecurities, problems with self image, and a demon of body obsession. Therefore, isn't it possible that being overly concerned with the construction of a false digital identity can lead to preoccupation with our publicly projected image? Where does it end?
Now that our once quirky tastes or persuasions are now able to be tracked, quantified and measured for ROI, the clamour for more likes, retweets and comments feels like a perpetual popularity contest - public validation of your tastes and affirmation of your value.
When our engagement with others is via a third party platform, and filtered by the user for “brand alignment” and to ensure we’re presenting our best angle, we become consumers of media, not individuals. When once upon a time we might have been just two people chatting, our modern day (digital) conversations are able to be quantified by number of likes or number of comments - and these conversations are there for the whole world to see - like a friendship badge of honour.
One of my favourite people on the internet had some great thoughts on this during the week. Brian Bailey is the founder of Uncommon - a digital community that strives to resemble a real (offline) community - “a front porch for the internet” as he says, and one of my ongoing digital wonder-places. Brian’s perspective is especially insightful as he further develops Uncommon into something more focused on the meaning and connection that seems to be missing from so many of our digital interactions.
“I don’t remember counting friends before the rise of social networks. Now, that number is part of our public identity. Profile boxscores quantify our performance and provide easy comparisons with others.
Every photo and thought we share online, from the perfect brunch to a deeply personal essay, has a number attached to it. We're told that what matters is how many people see it, like it, share it, and comment on it.
Higher numbers serve as a proxy for popularity and sometimes, value.
When shown a set of numbers, we can be counted on to find ways to make them go up. These services thrive on our efforts to attract more friends and followers and increase the number of people who see and share our contributions.”
“When Uncommon first formed and our online home was still in the distant future, we decided that the site would not have any numbers. There wouldn’t be totals of friends, views or likes, and no red number telling you that you’re falling behind. The crowd wouldn’t determine what is seen and what isn’t. On a front porch, everyone should have a chance to speak and be heard.
There's a place for counting and competition, but not within the bonds of community and friendship. Uncommon is a neighborhood, not a network.”
Perhaps you can see now why I like Uncommon so much.
And it seems I’m not alone in feeling this - and social media is certainly a great way to see this play out in real time. Like the counter-cultural revolution in the 70s - rebelling against mass consumption and industrialisation, the movement toward a more honest and open presentation of the self has been gaining traction - a response to what I think of as “peak life-airbrushing”. And this movement has found fertile ground in the digital space, where creatives, innovators and provocateurs engage directly with their audience without the need for editorialising by mainstream press.
The likes of Lena Dunham - who takes this approach across her other creative mediums - has become quite a poster child for this movement, despite being lambasted for her honesty in her book “Not That Kind of Girl”. (Which I loved, unsurprisingly.) Her attitude to transparency is refreshing, but it isn’t for everyone.
It has its pitfalls. Dunham has recently returned from a twitter sabbatical after being tormented on social media after allegations of molesting her sister based on a very honest story from her recently published book. (Which I loved, unsurprisingly.)
It isn’t just celebrity tweeters. Just this week I had lunch with a brilliant friend of mine who has also spent a long time working and playing in the digital space, and he remarked how much of a personal and emotional toll it takes to be so open and honest across so many platforms - editing and curating your public persona across 10 different platforms, 10 times over, tweaking it so it is just-so and gives just the right idea you want to portray. “It’s exhausting”, he sighed.
The downside of constant internet use - managing a public persona that can’t be left at the office, but needs to be maintained 24/7, and constantly feeling like you need to be emotionally available to everyone all the time is being emotionally fatigued. Being honest and intimate with EVERYONE is exhausting. Sometimes (often!) impersonal transactional encounters are necessary. But does our increasingly digital public profile allow for that?
Gone are the days when we knew only a handful of people beyond our own family, or our small village, but it is only so recently that the ability to have direct conversations with broader networks have emerged. The difference is, we’re doing it from behind a screen, with the added benefit of editing available to us. How does this colour our interactions?
As Helena Price reflected in her recent post about her social media purge: “We’re among the first generations expected to maintain connections with every single person we’ve ever met, thanks to the Internet. The weight of our swollen social networks can be super stressful, let alone a distraction from knowing who you want to focus your time on.”
So what it is about the present day that feels like we’re entering some kind of a tech-enabled 70s era cultural revolution where intimacy is the end goal? Is our sense of impersonality and desire for intimacy a logical conclusion given the state of industrialised capitalism? Is our craving for intimacy and authenticity testament that we’re looking for meaning wherever we can get it? Is it a way to foster humanity in an increasingly inhuman (mechanised) world. Are we trying to overcome the distance and estrangement our own inventions have created for us? Or, as Umair Haque ponders in his essay “Youtopia”, “Are we being had by others who are better at playing the game? Is a constructed identity / versions of the truth the key to capitalism’s stronghold?”
But also - The ideology of intimacy - is it real? Why do we crave emotional intimacy with those we don’t even know? Is it that we’re being so severely deprived of it with people in our personal lives? Are we craving the meaning and connection we’re not getting from our working and civic lives?
Do we crave intimacy because we’re self obsessed? Because we would rather find the connection with another unique individual like us than understand ourselves as part of a bigger homogenous whole?
Is it that we’re craving a connection with something bigger than ourselves? Is the opportunity to construct an authentic digital brand the ultimate existential indulgence? And in an age of pervasive atheism the only thing bigger than ourselves is someone else?
According to Adorno (Minima moralia) “A good, honest life is no longer possible, because we live in an inhuman society.” Does this mean that any attempt to “be honest” in a digital world is impossible, as it is deliberate and constructed and therefore far from honest?
The idea of the constructed public identity is problematic. The idea of life-photoshopping the everyday for external consumption is problematic. But the thing I can’t figure out is: are we lying to everyone else or to ourselves?
This week, in a mood of reflection, I spent some time looking back through old blog posts, tweets and status updates. It’s been interesting to observe the shifts in my own digital behaviour as my attitudes to authenticity and vulnerability evolve. I wrote a while back about being very aware that I wasn’t maximising my social media opportunities - instead becoming aware of moments that don’t NEED to be captured digitally, and making a point of keeping these for myself. It’s been an interesting shift. Where I once was looking for interesting things to share, now I try to be more discerning and incidental about sharing things that I think will be of value.
Kevan Lee wrote a great post for Buffer about how to be honest and authentic online and he offered this handy advice.
Always be authentic. Be varying degrees of transparent.
It sounds simple enough, but I wonder if the focus on what’s being publicly portrayed is irreversably damaging our ability to even BE authentic, in favour of always being transparent. It kind of feels like all this is yet another distraction from the job of actually getting to know ourselves, because a cleverly curated digital brand is really just a way for us to be known, rather than a way to know ourselves. The time we spend carefully cultivating a digital presence is time we’re not spending getting to know ourselves - our real selves - personally and intimately. And the time we spend getting to know other people’s digital profiles is time we’re not spending getting to know other people - their real selves. Or is our digital life it a tool for exploring our own identity (and that of others) meaningfully? Can we really use the internet to get under the ego to stare directly at the id, or is it creating an even bigger roadblock than had previously existed.
For me, it comes down to this:
We haven’t figured out how to make this work for us in a digital sense. It’s no different to that awkward teenage stage when we’re trying to find our voice, and to speak in a way that honours who we are, while allowing room for us to evolve. Will it get there? I’m not convinced yet, but there certainly are interesting things happening in some hidden pockets of the internet.
As humans we're very complex. And that complexity is almost impossible to distill down to a series of 140 character soundbites or a carefully curated photo album. Each of us can be simultaneously very wise, and also really struggling with certain things. We can be very together and also trying to figure things out. We struggle with nuance. We might be complex, but we struggle to hold two conflicting ideas in our head at the same time.
We forget that it’s all the stuff between the carefully edited pictures, blog posts, shared links and professional profile that makes us real. Its your tiny insignificant likes and dislikes, voice inflections, language quirks, body language, and all the other bits that you would never think to share. And if you are sharing them to a mass audience then it would be hard to claim intimacy or authenticity. It’s impossible to know anyone entirely from their digital footprint no matter how authentic, transparent and vulnerable they are willing to be.
The thing is: we’re more than what we claim to be and more than we project publicly. We’re more than we can comprehend. The depth and diversity of the human experience is so vast, and there is no way we could possibly distill all that we are, all that we have been and all that we’d like to be into a perfectly considered and articulated personal brand communicated in a series of edited photos and 140 character updates. No one can do that. Not even Beyonce. (And she has a whole team dedicated to it. Plus she’s probably superhuman.) If we can use all the possible channels available to us (yes, including the internet) to explore ourselves and others to the fullest extent possible, then perhaps we’ll come close to understanding this.
A new year, and a new opportunity to reflect and to set some goals for the coming 12 months.
This year, I've done my typical end of year stocktake slightly differently (see previous posts here and here) and I thought it was worth highlighting some great things ahead this year for me personally, to kick off on a positive note.
Working with Be Collective
I’m super excited about the discussions happening around the for-benefit sector in Australia involving both for-profits and non-profits, and I’m especially happy to see an attitude of collaboration and resource sharing really gaining momentum. I’m also thrilled to be spending time with the wonderful people at Be Collective, and putting some energy into building their digital community, and seeing what can be done when a digital infrastructure is built to help foster the kind of collaboration we really need to see significant social change happen.
Taking more photos
I’ve always been a keen photo-taker, but it’s only recently that I’m learning how easy it is to take a better than average happy snap. I’m hoping to fit in some more formal training in photography so I can formally graduate from average to some kind of technique, but in the meantime, I’m really looking forward to recording more amazing moments in my life - especially because it seems there will be lots of good ones to capture in 2015.
Among my favourite photo subjects is our new farm. Our farm dream has been in slow progress for over 3 years, but as of this weekend our house will be (almost) finished and we’ll officially be living on our farm. So all that remains is for us to actually build the farm itself. I must admit I’m well and truly ready for this change of scenery and I’m so excited for this next stage of our adventure as fledgling farmers. Get ready for some chooks, maybe some tasty four legged friends, and a pretty spectacular kitchen garden. Brace yourself for some interesting experiments in preserving and fermenting all sorts of food.
Seeing more of the world
As an incurable wanderluster, I have a long list of places I’d like to see in 2015. At the top of the list is a European summer - another visit to France, a few weeks in Italy, and a quick stop over in the Greek Islands. Bliss. I’m also hoping to sneak in something toward the end of the year. Maybe Vietnam or Morocco to get my food tourist on, or perhaps an island getaway to Ubud or Hawaii. At any rate, I’m hoping there will be plenty of time to keep exploring country Victoria, because we’ve got it pretty damn good in our own backyard, really.
Changing where my food comes from
I know it isn’t an excuse, but living in the city I find I’m far too inclined to shop for convenience, and I really hope the shift out of city schedules means I can break some of my bad city habits. No more getting food from the big two. More picking from the garden, more buying direct from my favourite producers via farm gates and farmers markets. More eating seasonally and locally, and putting my money where my mouth is where food ethics are concerned.
Spending more time with my husband
One of the best parts of my 2014 was being able to spend over a month travelling with Marcus, which affirmed for me that we could really do anything together. One of the great things about the move to the farm is the likelihood that we might be able to see a bit more of each other. I’m also really glad that he will have more scope to spend time on things he really loves, and beyond excited to really get into a pretty huge shared project in developing the farm with him. He’s pretty great.
Spending more time with myself
The older I get, the more I realise I need lots of time on my own. Many of my favourite things are best done alone - reading, writing, thinking, watching films, yoga, wandering around taking photos, perusing the internets, spending time in nature. I’ve amassed a long list of books to read, and I have every intention of knocking quite a few off it this year.
I’ve had so many conversations lately about how many people are doing great things in the country, and I’m so excited to meet some of them now that we’re country folk too. I was so delighted to discover Outer-towners - profiles of country creatives with beautiful photos of their place of work or home. It really inspires me to make the most of this extra space (literally and figuratively) and put some energy into my own creative endeavours. Its such an interesting project - I wish I’d done it first!
Let’s Go Somewhere
Speaking of interesting projects, two that I’m particularly excited about in 2015 happen to be driven by two very clever people that I know, and I can wait to see how they unfold. The first is Let’s Go Somewhere - a beautiful travel site complete with absolutely stunning photos of beautiful Australian locations, perfectly complemented by simple typography and design. It’s the brain child of my friend Andy Braithwaite (a supremely talented fella) and his partner. Gorgeous stuff.
My other project to watch for 2015 is being spearheaded by one of the most dynamic people I know - my personal cheerleader, Rachel Service. This woman is worth her weight in gold, and with CONTNT she’s putting her brilliant business mind, incredible knack for strategic entrepreneurial thinking and relentless pursuit of personal development to its intended us. The site promises to be one that you’ll want to constantly bookmark, and word is there will also be a series of events you’ll want to get in early for too.
What are you looking forward to in 2015? What can you add to my list here?
Driving across burnt landscapes with the cricket playing a timeless summer soundtrack.
Long languid days that end with games of twilight tennis.
Beautiful sunrises on cool mornings shared with new and old friends.
Spectacular sunsets that remind us what a blessing it is to see the horizon.
Lots of babies up to lots of mischief and not much sleeping...
Spoiling winter skin with sunshine and gentle dips in the cool water.
Time to nourish ourselves with lots of beautiful food and reflection.
A new year that brings hope, opportunities and promises made to ourselves.
Rachel is one of the dynamic people I've ever met. Not only is she an amazing operator and great business mind - strategic, entrepreneurial, well connected, and proactive - she's been my personal cheerleader this year, which I'm SO grateful for. Rachel is more committed to personal and professional development than anyone I've ever met, and she has taught me so much about myself, exploring my own potential and working to remove the limitations I place on myself. She is so incredibly herself that spending time with her is always inspiring and enlightening, and every time we catch up I learn something new about myself or the world. And just quietly, I reckon she's destined for big things in 2015 and beyond. Watch this space.
I first met Dave when he was the facilitator of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership Fellowship Program I took part in, way back in 2011, and he became a colleague when I joined their team in 2013. Dave is one of those wonderful people who thinks a great deal about what's important and cares a great deal about good people doing good things, and these traits makes him undoubtably the best coworker I've ever had. The valuable lesson I learned from Dave during the time I spent with him in 2014 is the importance of playfulness in a life that is always pressurised, often serious, sometimes tragic. Dave lives and breathes this in his work and creative pursuits, and he's a wonderful human for it.
I'm so glad to have been introduced to Tammi by my friend Kate so many years ago. Though we've been digital friends for a while now, it was only this year that we met in person. Tammi is a passionate and articulate advocate for food ethics and regenerative agriculture. Her and her husband farm ethical pork at Jonai Farms in Egantown, near Daylesford, and will soon be our down-the-road neighbours when we officially shift to Curracloe Farm. I've heard her speak on food and what can be done by growers and consumers to create a more fair food system, and she blew my tiny mind. This is a woman who absolutely knows her stuff, is also a walking manifestation of her beliefs, and is using her knowledge to bring others along with her. Plus, her pork is damn delicious.
Lani was one of those people who seemed to be perpetually popping up on my radar for 2 or so years before we finally connected in person, and it was probably the best first friend date I've ever had. Lani is a phenomenal photographer and story teller. Her body of work kind of speaks for itself, but I was especially entranced by her documentary film/photography project And Holland Has Tulips that was released into the world this year. We spoke (very excitedly) about all things story telling, ethics, creating, and I hope we'll keep talking about it for a long time to come. And fingers crossed we'll get a chance to flex our story telling muscles on a shared project one day soon...
Brian is an elusive creature on the other side of the world I know from the internet, and his creation Uncommon has been one of my ongoing digital pleasures over the past few years. Grounded in Slow Web principles (which is quickly becoming a movement), the platform is a rare opportunity for genuine connection with others all over the globe. My most regular contact point is with Uncommon's beautifully considered, thoughtful and intimate newsletters, and Brian's knack for perspective and gentle collective introspection, delicate curation and inherent patience has been an absolute delight, and it has been a timely reminder of my need to slow down in many areas of my life.
It was an absolutely pleasure to have Ben and Laura in my life this year. I was introduced to this dynamic duo by Rachel Service who told me "they just get it" and she was absolutely right. With a really interesting mix of creative disciplines under their belts (dance, graphic design, fashion and costume, illustration, fine art) these two totally embody "multidisciplinary" and really know "collaboration". These two totally get my obsession with creative process, and my belief that the process is the outcome. They're working on a bunch of awesome stuff and I have no doubt whatsoever we'll see more awesome stuff from them in the new year. Can't wait to see what it looks like.
Alberto was exactly the kind of person you want to meet when you arrive in Havana without any money, cards, or way to get around. After I accidentally left our wallet on a plane to Cuba, we had almost resigned ourselves to sleeping in the airport until we could figure out a way to access some cash. Alberto was good enough to take us to our home-stay, saying "we look after each other in Cuba". He and his unbelievable 54 Cadillac (with retrofitted air conditioning) also drove us to and from the Embassy so we could rectify our money situation, and took us back to the airport on our way home - all on trust. Alberto (and our Cuba trip in general) restored my faith in humanity.
Mademoiselle Carroll is my former dance floor partner in crime and an all round wonderful woman. When she lived in Melbourne in my early twenties we were inseparable, and somehow we've managed to continue a version of that now that she's back in her native Toronto. In our first visit there this year she absolutely turned it on - showing off her city and giving us the royal treatment. I can't even describe what a magical thing it is to final be able to spend time with your best friend after a long separation, and how wonderful a thing it is to have such a great friendship persist despite significant geographical barriers. So very grateful to have her in my life, even if mostly via Skype.
This year we've travelled together, embarked on our biggest official shared project and set (very ambitious, but very very exciting) new goals. I remember when I first met Marcus it struck me how proud he was of his family and his background, and how absolutely unapologetically comfortable he seemed in his own skin, and after more than 7 years these are traits I still find incredibly compelling in him every day. His work ethic, self belief, practicality and compassion are things I'm so grateful to have in my corner. Can't wait to see what 2015 has in store for us.
If you're like me and hoping to one day see a world that values honesty, integrity and equality, 2014 has been an interesting rollercoaster ride.
It hasn't been all sunshine and roses, but I think it is important to remind ourselves of all the good stuff that's going on in the world as we tiptoe into the new year. And so, I've compiled a list of people I think have made incredible contributions to the global community here.
Interestingly, none of those I've listed here hail from Australia - that's not to say there isn't awesome work being done locally, but it seems that those who are leading in Australia are doing just that - leading, in Australia, and that is no small feat given the current political dynamic. Anyone who can persist in applying their passion for change to the local environment despite what our leaders are doing deserves a medal in my opinion. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this list, I'm looking at people who have set the bar high and contributed to change on an international level. So in no particular order, the people we should (and will) be grateful for are:
Canadian activist / author Klein has long been celebrated for her best selling critiques of globalisation, neoliberal economics, and the vastly insufficient global response to the climate change crisis. She even placed the blame squarely on Barack Obama at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. This Changes Everything, her novel published in 2014, argues that the climate crisis presents an opportunity for us to examine the pressure our economic system is placing on the natural environment we rely on, and use this as a chance to build a better world - exploring in detail the links that we know exist between capitalism and climate change. A documentary film based on the book is scheduled for a 2015 release.
French economist Piketty had spent 13 years researching his book Capital in the Twenty First Century (a nifty play on Marx' Das Kapital) prior to its english publication earlier in the year. The 800 page novel's central thesis is that wealth inequality and concentration are not an unintended consequence of capitalism, but a feature of it, and that this becomes a risk for a functioning democracy. It shows that when the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of growth, inequality is inevitable. The book became an unexpected best seller, a prompted unprecedented discussion of a global wealth tax, greater investment in education, or other measures to curb wealth concentration, and ensure the spoils of economic advancement are shared. For a book that has been claimed to have been the most unread book of the year, it sure has prompted debate, and Piketty and his adorably thick french accent have been part of these debates all around the world. (Read this handy 4 paragraph summary by The Economist for the shortcut.)
Uruguay's outgoing President has been in the top job since 2010, and since that time has created amazing change in his tiny South American country. A former member of the leftist revolutionary group Tupamaro that formed following the Cuban Revolution, Mujica (who is commonly referred to by the diminutive Pepe) spent over a decade subjected to torture as a political prisoner. He's a vocal critic of senseless consumption and needless growth. Since he was elected to power, his government has overseen incredible reform including legalisation of abortion, a huge upswing in renewable energy and in power export, and amazing results in bringing Uruguayans out of poverty. He's also legalised cannabis, breaking the destroying cycle of illegal drug trafficking so common to South America. Even with this incredible record, the way he lives his life is even more remarkable - simply, frugally, and with a three-legged dog, saying he should live like the majority of people he serves. His unusual living conditions have led to him being called the world's most radical President and the world's poorest President - he donates most of his salary to charity and drives a beaten up Volkswagon beetle. In a recent profile he said, "Living light is no sacrifice for me - its an affirmation of freedom, of having the greatest amount of time available for what motivates me. It's the price of my individual freedom. I'm richer this way."
Following on from his interview with Jeremy Paxton in October 2013, British comic/actor Russell Brand has refashioned himself as the voice of a disillusioned, dissatisfied and disengaged public who want to see real economic and political alternatives, and real change. This year he published his fourth book, which is like a handbook for revolution, aptly titled Revolution. He's copped his fair share of flack, been called a hypocrite and has more than a few dissenters, and he certainly doesn't claim to have all the answers, but few can deny that those he speaks for are joining together, and that the revolution he speaks of is gaining momentum. His YouTube channel and his regular "The Trews" (The news if the news were true) updates are edging close to 1 million subscribers. I certainly don't agree with everything he says, but to me he's like a strange cross between a court jester who gets away with sharp critique because it is said with a sense of humour, and a canary in a mine who acts as the warning that could avert disaster. And you certainly can't fault his passion.
In 2012, when Pakistani teenager Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to insist on an education for herself and her fellow female classmates following the First Battle of Swat, I thought it would be yet another tragedy that we'd hardly hear about again. But this incredible woman has gone on to be the youngest ever Nobel Laureate after being awarded a shared Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. With ongoing support from her father (himself an education activist), she has blogged about her life in Taliban occupied Pakistan for the BBC, written a book, been listed as one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People, and been awarded Pakistan's first National Peace Prize, and set up a fund in her name - all before her 18th birthday. Having fully recovered from her earlier injuries, Malala is now a fully fledged political activist, speaking before the UN, meeting world leaders and campaigning for the rights of children globally, and leaving people everywhere speechless at her maturity and compassion. She gives a human face to what often feels like an abstract political crisis, reminding us that there is hope in the humanity we don't see.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren is a force to be reckoned with. Once a Harvard Law Professor and a specialist in bankruptcy law, she led the team that oversaw the banks bailout in the 2008 Financial Crisis. She is a champion of consumer protection and has been relentless in her interrogation and critique of the US banking system, lack of regulation and need for reform. She is whip smart, and far more concerned with justice and integrity than her own reputation. Having only been elected to the Senate in 2012, she is already recognised as a leader among the Democratic Party, and despite her insistence that she has no desire to run, she has been hotly tipped as a contender for the Presidential election. I say it could make for a very interesting race, and could be the one thing that brings real reform to the US and international financial system.
London business consultant, economist and writer Haque is one of my top tweeters of 2014. He's unflinching and scathing in his takedown of what he calls "The Bullshit Machine". He writes often and honestly (sometimes for Harvard Business Review) about how we're completely missing the point, with some of our generations brightest minds applying their intellect to incremental innovation (apps that help rich white people do rich white things), rather than the real creative and strategic problems of the world that have the potential for real change. He's an advocate for thinking outside the box and doing exactly what other people aren't, and for abandoning our obsession with ourselves in favour of serving others around the world. He talks about a future of business and humanity that actually helps us (the global community) live a life of true meaning. My kind of guy.
English journalist Monbiot is like the squeaky wheel of the mainstream press. He's been doing his progressive investigative journalism thing for many years now, but in 2014 I feel like the rest of the press finally woke up to all the things he's been parroting on about for quite some time. He consistently produces clearly considered writing for The Guardian on everything from corporate regulation to Zoology (he trained as a zoologist), and manages to walk a fine line between urgency and hysteria. His latest book Feral advocates "rewilding the land, sea and human life" as a new way to live and bring wonder back to our lives. Amen.
Those who know me know I'm not a big fan of organised religion (or indeed, any religion), but I'm a big fan of Pope Francis nonetheless. He's had a good year. With his message of compassion, the Pontiff has already gained a reputation for reform - of the church, of catholic attitudes, culture and lack of empathy, of the way we deal with global slavery and people trafficking, of politics and economics, and now of how we approach climate change. He has helped to facilitate the thawing of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, and will now turned his influence to the UN Climate talks in Paris in 2015. So far he has succeeded in diplomatic challenges where money others have failed, so perhaps he is the wildcard non-politician this global problem needs.
The amazing Ms Dunham has been a breath of fresh air and a burst of sunshine in the past few years of my life. I'm so glad that someone like her - young, informed, female, and not the typical blonde-haired doe-eyed Hollywood-skinny type - has found a mainstream audience, if only for some diversity of perspective and experiences, but also certainly for the quality of her creative output. It is so refreshing to see the way she handles herself with such humour, honesty and humanity, and also the way she is unapologetically open in presenting the full spectrum of her own existence - mental health issues, body image issues, crazy family experiences and all. I read her book Not That Kind of Girl while travelling this year and felt by the end of it that I had just made a new best friend, it is so direct, unflinching and intimate, but also funny, engaging and comfortably conversational. Unsurprisingly, as a young woman in the public eye she has her detractors who brand her narcissistic, ugly and humourless, and for someone of her age to handle the critique and scrutiny with grace and such joyfulness, gratitude and good humour make her an absolute pleasure to watch. What an incredible and rare role model for young women and people everywhere. More please.
Title image: A shot from my time in fascinating Havana, Cuba. Full post with reflections here.
Thank you to so many of you who got in touch after receiving my first ever newsletter. And an extra big thank you to those who attended the first ever Salon. Have a read here if you're interested to find out what eventuated in our discussion.
Ok so I know the very title of this email suggests that you should be receiving one monthly (duh) but between our epic trip and our farmhouse renovation, I've been a little slow getting this out. Regardless, I hope you all find something of interest amongst the 3 months worth of musings below. Let me know if you come across something that should be shared.
Feel free to forward this on to anyone you think might be keen to receive this on a (hopefully) monthly basis, or who would be a good addition to our Salon discussions. I've got a particularly juicy topic coming up in the new year...
Best wishes for a glorious festive season. xx
It is the festive season. And the last minute present shopping frenzy got me thinking about what it is all for, and what I need most out of a Christmas break. I'll give you a clue, it isn't more stuff. (Seasonal grinchy-ness not intended.) Read more >
Tullia Jack and Michael Leunig on being attractive versus being vulnerable. | Given how much of a fan I am of empathy, I found this perspective on it quite intriguing. | In the interests of simplicity, the thought of having of a uniform is really growing on me. | The push for a shorter working week isn't new, but it has been cropping up in unexpected quarters of late. | I'm a fan of anything that allows us to better understand our own humanity, and I love this perspective on parkour as a tool for just that. | This beautiful profile of Hannah Arendt reminds us of her formidable intellect. | The career choice nobody tells you about. | Read this piece about Tavi Gevinson on the occasion of her 18th birthday and feel both old, and youthfully optimistic about the future. | This gorgeous visual poem called "How to be alone" is perfectly complemented by this piece on the intimacy of solitude. | Andrew P Street's final 10 Things column on The Vine was a reminder of just why we should be hopeful despite the mess.
These gorgeous photos of Cuba had me very excited prior to our visit. | Matt Crump's gorgeous #candyminimal photos have been a source of endless fascination lately. | These photos of old Melbourne buildings and the modern ones that replaced them are intriguing and disappointing. | Not to be too morbid, but I've been thinking quite a bit about how we think about death, and I found these gorgeous portraits of people facing death peacefully very beautiful. | Photographer Nick Hedges photographed people in British tenements in the 60s and 70s, and the resulting photos seem simultaneously so familiar, and eerily ancient. | I finally saw the stunning Charlie's Country which has been selected as Australia's entry for a foreign language Oscar. Beautiful and heartbreaking. Go see it. | My wonderful friend Rachel Service features in this new short film about women who ride fixed by Melbourne filmmaker Raechel Harding. Beautiful shots of ladies cruising the city. Perfectly articulates everything I love about riding.
My friends at Aphra Mag published their first print edition in October. Editor Lucy Macdonald's letter to Creativity sounds like a chat I've had before. | Melbourne philosopher Damon Young spoke to BBC6 about embracing exercise as a physical, mental and emotional pursuit. | I love how the Unfuckers are changing the conversation around behaviour change for sustainability. | I had some wonderful conversations with Laura and Ben from Grosz Co. Lab which prompted me to revisit this piece about the links between scent and memory. | I really enjoyed this discussion about the maker of Wonder Woman, which led me to this article about Wonder Woman as a feminist, and learning about Alberto Vargas.
I've been really enjoying reading the many "Year in Review" posts popping up in my feed. Here are a few favourites and a few ideas if you'd like to do one of your own. Hoping to spend some time thinking about mine over the break. Do you do an annual review? | Garance Dore on things she learned in 2014. | Seth Godin's list of things to read/listen to for the year. | Chris Guillbeau's personal review + his guide on how to do an annual review if you are so inclined. | Thoughts on decluttering from Uncluttered White Spaces and their advice to Slow Down to Go Faster.
"Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?" - Danielle LaPorte
The Festive Season is here again.
And maybe its just me, but I've noticed that perhaps even more so than previous years, there seems to be a palpable sense of exhaustion at the crazy consumer merry-go-round that inevitably takes over what should be an otherwise reflective and peaceful time of year.
On the one hand, I feel like the whole circus is on steroids this year - from magazine spreads touting "the perfect festive table" to online publications listing "10 meaningful Christmas gifts under $10" and "the guilt free Christmas dinner" or "how to survive the festive season".
But on the other hand, I've had so many conversations with people who are altogether sick of it. Not the Christmas part, but the rest of it. It’s a familiar conversation.
I love reconnecting with family and friends as much as the next person - and anyone who knows me knows I really love a delicious dinner shared with those I love. But surely, in our era of hyper connectedness, as consumers we now know too much to stay on the merry go round.
Too much to fool ourselves into thinking that things are what this holiday is about.
Too much about where our cheap and cheerful stuffing stockers are made, and unable to take consumer products at face value without considering all the hidden externalities.
Too much about the implications of unnecessary or unsustainable personal debt and the flow on effects that last long into the year.
Too much to ignore the persistent suffering and going without of others over the globe, and indeed in our own part of the world.
Too much to forget that there are people all over the globe fighting for the right to the kinds of religious rituals we're so lucky to enjoy, but are also too happy to see overtaken by shopping.
Yet we do it.
So knowing all that, how can we approach this time of year consciously, with ethics and empathy? Can we suspend this knowledge and participate anyway, for fun? Does ethical consumption even exist at Christmas time?
For most of us living in times of such abundance (and they are, even despite all the dire financial reports we read in the press), this annual consumption frenzy is almost an rite of passage. The focus changes year on year - from childhood when excitement over the man in the red suit brings you close to bursting, to adolescence when it might be more about the parties or a new gadget in your stocking, through to adulthood when the focus shifts back to the children you or others have added to their family - but still something doesn’t feel quite right.
A dear friend who is driven to create social good in the world recently lamented to me that she wishes she were a better ethical consumer - that she had better visibility over where the things she purchases come from, what conditions they're made in, etc. They say every dollar spent is a vote for the world you want to see. What about at Christmas time? Do we cast it all aside in the name of a Boxing Day bargain?
Many a conversation has been had this week about how to avoid the festive frenzy without feeling like a grinch. And Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist has some simple advice. “Don’t buy what you don’t need.”
As Chitra Ramaswamy wrote this week in The Guardian, avoiding the Christmas consumption circus comes with a strange sense of liberation and lightness. She calls it “replacing shopping with living”. She also noticed that nothing really changed, despite new behaviours she anticipated would take some getting used to. “Life, in other words, is exactly the same as it was when I spent money I didn’t have on Christmas.”
We know that excess consumption leads to less financial freedom, less generosity, less contentment - all the while contributing to greater global inequality, environmental imbalance, and dissatisfaction.
As Ramaswamy notes in her article, “Whatever we’re buying, and buying into, it’s not working.”
I don't want to be the contrarian - and I assure you that is not what this post is about - more a reminder that the festive season is festive regardless of how much money we spend, how many presents we buy, just as long as we remember that.
We’ve been told for so many years that Christmas should be about friends and family not about things, about caring for others not about us, about peace for us all as individuals and for the global community. So this festive season, why not give yourself and your family the best present?
Nothing but love.
Marcus and I took ourselves on a holiday this past October.
Melbourne > Boston > NYC > Washington DC > Toronto > Montreal > Havana > Melbourne
It was so great. Some photos:
Our time in the US was really quite lovely. We were so lucky to reconnect with quite a few wonderful friends living in NYC, and after a few days I thought I could really see myself living there and taking in everything the city has to offer. Thanks to a long list of recommendations from friends we had an impressive hit list of things to see and do, but in the end what we mostly spent our time doing was just wandering and people watching, particularly in NYC. There are no lack of things to see and do on the streets. I do feel a bit bad that we didn't get to any of the museums and galleries I had on my list, but there's always next time.
I had an interesting conversation with our dear friend Kath about the subtle differences in attitude between Americans and Australians. The comment that stands out is her observation that in Australia, our behaviour is regulated (and particularly when it puts others at risk), but in the US opinions and morals are regulated, and behaviour is of less concern. It's like you're free to do whatever you like in the US, and please or upset whoever along the way, as long as it is coming from a place of self righteousness. For us, no one cares about your morals as long as you're not creating unintended negative outcomes. Such a subtle difference in attitude to personal responsibility. It was interesting to observe this nuance in so many instances - work, public liability, alcohol consumption. I wonder if it has something to do with the differences in the way our two countries were founded.
This was my first trip to the US and in NYC I had quite a few moments of feeling like no photo I could take would be original, no observation I would make would be unique, and a perpetual feeling of "oh, that famous place that I've seen in every tv show". It's a strange feeling - and meant I hardly took any photos! But there's also something to be said for being in a city where even the smallest underground ideas are happening on a global scale - NYC really is the world's creative hub.
Canada was pretty special - very postcard picture perfect with Fall leaves in full colour everywhere we went. We got the full Canadian treatment with a visit to Cottage Country, winery tours, a night at the museum. Pretty spectacular. We even walked home on Halloween with the snow falling around us...
And what's better than spending a couple of weeks with your best friend - the hostess with the most-ess - in her home town?! Wish it wasn't quite so far away...
I totally fell in love with the craziness that is Montreal. While Toronto feels very much like Melbourne, Montreal feels like a confused European country - although you can totally understand how that would happen. The language politics are a mess of imperialistic sensitivity, french arrogance and some kind of cultural paranoia - and I mean that in the nicest way possible. I totally understand why the tension between the english and french speakers exists, and ultimately I feel like it creates a pretty fascinating dynamic. All of that said, the city still feels like a bit of a work in progress. I was really nice to get my french out again after far too long in storage. I loved it!
Cuba was a crazy, complicated, illogical dream. It was so full of colour and movement and such good people.
Knowing a bit about the history was barely enough - the years of african slavery and occupation, independence wars, and of course the Revolution have created a layered mess of contradictions that I still haven't really been able to get my head around.
The country was once incredibly rich, and incredibly corrupt thanks to an abundance of sugar and tobacco and a US backed dictator. International trade has almost come to a complete halt thanks to trade sanctions from the US that have been in place for 50 years. This means that Havana is a sight to behold, with beautiful boulevards that could just as easily belong in Paris or Madrid, mixed in with cobbled together streets that look more like Rwanda. The new part of town has barely been touched since the Revolution, and some parts are falling down more than others. Some of the key parts of Old Havana have enjoyed restoration recently - and it is seriously impressive.
Everywhere you turn you see celebrations of the Revolution, and shrines to Fidel, Raul and Che, as well as Independence catalyst Jose Marti, but just under the surface it's quite easy to see that Fidel's Marxist / Leninist regime has created it's fair share of problems. We had some intriguing conversations with some really clever people (over cigars, naturally), and they echoed our feeling that things were certainly bubbling away. Despite that, there is such a sense of pride for their city, their country and their way of doing things.
Where once the Revolution was revered by the people for the positive changes it created (agrarian reform, impressive literacy and education efforts, greatly reduced rural poverty), the positives have slowly become outnumbered by the negatives. Conveniently though, it is hard to tell which of the negatives are as a result of the government, and which are due to the US trade embargo. Their once abundant rations are now very sparse, and basic supplies are almost impossible to get unless they come from Russia or are grown at home.
What's clear though, is that most Cubans see through the propaganda and recognise that the regime as it stands is on it's last legs. While Fidel is apparently convalescing, his brother Raul has been slowly and slightly relaxing some of the most restrictive limitations on private enterprise, and many people acknowledge a change in attitude is inevitable with Obama in the Oval Office.
I must say though, I think in many ways it would be a real shame. There's so much good stuff, and I can't help but feel that a lot of it could be lost if money flooded in all of a sudden. I feel like it would be a real shame to see this country change its ways for the sake of American tourism and earning a buck. Despite the fact they don't have much, people are so generous and so proud of what they have. Their small commercial operations are run with heart at the centre. Trade limitations make for some really beautiful things - their gorgeous and painstakingly restored classic cars, a real pride in Cuban tradition, and a real sense that they're all in this together. They're beautiful people - like I've never seen before, and I'll probably never experience again. My tiny left-leaning mind almost exploded faced with the complexity of how things work in reality when we do things differently.
If I were you - I'd get there soon. Who knows what will happen to this magical little island once the US decides they should be friends again.
In the meantime, I highly recommend some pre-viewing:
(EDIT: It was announced today that the US are resuming diplomatic contact with Cuba. Hate to say I told you so.)