Taking time

Do it

I wrote at the start of the year about all of my many plans for 2014.

Predictably though, I’m realising now – just a month in, that I probably over committed, and as expected I’ve already failed on a few fronts. And even though I started the year full of good intentions, goal setting and big ambitions, I’ve hardly even noticed now that I’m not striving so hard to meet them.

Instead of stressing and feeling guilty, I’m just letting things go, relaxing into the year. Taking time.

And you know why? I’ve finally realised that I’m always learning and growing, even if I’m not trying – even if it doesn’t feel like effort. Just because I’m not striving, stretching, pushing, doesn’t mean I’m not getting somewhere.

I’ve also been reminded that there is much to learn from doing exactly what feels good, instead of what feels like work.

So I’ve been spending time listening to music, watching movies, some great reading, thinking, being with friends, planning, wanderlusting, moving my body, listening, talking, stopping. Taking time.

And it feels good.

Play this. Seriously.

staralfur - sigur ros

Next

A new year and a clean slate holds a certain appeal. I always appreciate a fresh start, and the chance to pause and reflect on my goals and recalibrate my focus. The new year feels like such an opportunity to dream big and use your imagination to do some futures forecasting for your own life. What a fun opportunity!
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Rarely do I stop to reflect on past achievements, but today I’m glad to see I’ve knocked over a few major goals in the second half of 2013, with still a few more to tackle in the coming year.

2013 Wins

  • Taught myself that I’m a good saver when I put my mind to it by doubling my goal of 5K.
  • Made great gains in my adrenal fatigue recovering journey by taking control of my own health, and getting support from the professionals, which I’m looking to build on in 2014.
So, to 2014. I’ve already set some goals for my job, but it is nice to look beyond that and reflect on personal goals for the year.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a perpetual planner and a chronic goal setter. So I’ve come up with a mix of big ambitious goals and rituals to form my fairly comprehensive list. I tend to aim big, but try not to beat myself up too much if I don’t meet all of my goals. I feel like there’s a whole lot of value in the process, but too much pressure makes things get stressful, and a perfectionist like me tends to get overwhelmed. I prefer to think of these as ambitious guidelines.

Goals and Rituals for 2014

Academic

  • Finish my first Masters and get Distinction or better for my last few subjects.
  • Knock 26 books off my reading list by reading one a fortnight.
  • Make time to write and publish a blog post a week, either a book review or a reflective piece.
Health

  • Lose 20 kgs by finding balance with my eating habits and losing the all-or-nothing mentality.
  • Work out every day, over and above my daily bike commute with a mix of crossfit, bikram and running, or even just a dance class, a long lazy ride or a walk – just as long as it is something.
  • Run a sub 60 min 10 km race. Aiming for Run Melbourne on July 27.
Money

  • Remain debt free and stick to a budget to save another 20K by October.
  • Finish renovating Curracloe Farm and have both it and our apartment done.
  • Simplify all our finances.

Work

  • Confirm my next move for study and get accepted into my new course.
  • Explore the ethics/economics space more and refine my goals and next steps.
  • Get some funding for my research project idea.
Personal

  • Refine what I own down to essentials and only things I really love.
  • Go to Beyonce dance classes to get my sass on.
  • Get up at 5.15 with Marcus every weekday morning.
Rituals

On top of this long list, I really love the idea of sprint goals – extra points of focus over a short term which are designed to shake up and reshape your habits. They say it only takes 30 days for a new habit to be established. I’ve been brainstorming a list of habits I’d like to form that I’ll attempt throughout the year:

Sprint Goals

  • Do at least 1 page of journalling everyday.
  • Get out of bed before 6 am everyday – not just week days.
  • No TV.
  • Meditate for at least 30 minutes daily.
  • No sugar.
  • Bikram 30 day challenge.
  • Practice spanish for 30 mins daily.
  • Photo a day challenge.
  • Practice guitar for 30 mins daily.
  • 30 min walk every evening.
  • Eat only food made at home.
  • Make the bed for 30 days in a row.

So there you have it. A long, ambitious list of targets for 2014. It feels good to do some longer term thinking and planning. Don’t forget to have fun, be happy, and appreciate how amazing life is.

Bring on 2014!

What are you celebrating in 2013? What are you looking forward to in the new year?

Hello Sunday Morning

I woke up this morning – the final Sunday of the year and last weekend of a 12 month self-imposed drinking ban – and thought it was high time I wrote a few words about it. Depending on what the silly season has been like, this post could be either perfect timing for those teetering on the edge of a dramatic new years resolution or an uncomfortable discussion to be having at this stage of the year. But first…

The Back Story

Most people who know me think the idea of me not drinking is a bit of a joke – kind of like someone who doesn’t eat sweets taking a year off chocolate. This is not my first no booze stint, and not the first time I’ve written about not drinking. Growing up, alcohol was barely on my radar as my mum doesn’t drink, and my dad only rarely. During high school I was too worried about what I might do if booze got the better of me at a weekend party, so I stayed away from it when everyone was “experimenting”. Even after I turned 18 I was usually the designated driver when one was needed. I remember calling my mum not long before I turned 18 to ask if it was ok for me to go and have one drink at a pub with my boyfriend, and then answering my own question before she even had a chance. “You’re right, bad idea, I’ll just come home.” Too sensible for my own good.

My 22nd BirthdayThat changed when I found myself single and working in hospitality in my early twenties. I needed liquid courage for flirty nights on the dance floor, and a way to excuse behaviour I probably would have been very embarrassed about in the sober light of day. I became a loud, proud, beer drinking party girl – if only for a short time, building my identity as a twenty-something around nights at the bar, outlandish stories of drunken exploits, and good times on the dance floor with girlfriends. It was great fun, but looking back now I’d say it was an easy way for me to avoid dealing with things that were sitting just under the surface for a long time – the residue of a bad break up, unexamined body image issues, probably a lack of self confidence, loneliness, a way to avoid thinking, feeling, and actually addressing these issues. Why take the hard road when you can just go to the bar, have a few drinks and strike up a conversation with a handsome stranger, or failing that, the bar staff?

Since then though, I’ve mostly given it up. It wasn’t the hangovers, drunken social mistakes, inappropriate behaviour at work functions or anything else of the sort that made me consider a solid 12 months off. It was an observation that so many people I know tend to drink as a way to avoid actually thinking and feeling. A chat with a good friend almost 2 years ago about his drinking habits really started my brain ticking on whether or not I was using booze (or other things) to numb anything uncomfortable. The realisation that I had certainly so in the past, and that I was probably still doing it in my own strange (mostly sober) way prompted me to actually do something to investigate.

I’ve been a frequent non-drinker, so I’m quite aware that officially abstaining is not as intimidating a proposition to me as it seems to most people. Even still, that chat forced me to make a conscious decision that I want to be the sort of person who “gets in and under things” rather than just covering them up. I want to actually tackle moments of discomfort rather than just avoid them.

So with that, I signed up for another 12 months with Hello Sunday Morning.

The Bigger Picture

Hello Sunday Morning (HSM) is a non-profit based in Brisbane, and founded by Chris Raine. Chris woke up one Sunday morning in his early twenties after an epic night out with a hangover, a fuzzy memory, and a resolution that he wanted to do something more with his life than spend his Sundays recovering from the night before. So he decided to take 12 months off drinking, and began documenting the process via his blog. From this small start, HSM has gone from challenging individuals to change their relationship with alcohol, to forcing policy makers, health professionals and others to examine the way drinking is embedded into Australian culture.

One notable HSM participant is Jill Stark, a Fairfax Health Editor and former-Scot, who was ironically also a closeted weekend binge drinker. After a similar experience one New Years Day, Jill took 12 months off booze, and wrote about it, resulting in her acclaimed book High Sobriety.

First Tuesday Book Club - High Sobriety

Watch this very tidy little wrap up by the guys at First Tuesday Book Club.

As the panel discuss here, the book is an interesting exploration of the way drinking has been so cleverly embedded into Australian culture, and also looks closely at the way this impacts on each of us as individuals, with Jill laying herself bare about her own habits. (On a side note: I’m a big fan of Marieke Hardy, but I was almost put off her when I read her book and saw the way she admonishes her friends for inevitably giving up drinking in their thirties as they grow up, have babies, etc. I was thoroughly impressed to hear that she stopped drinking after reading Jill’s book and was forced to examine her relationship with alcohol – along with fellow panellist Paul Dempsey and Cate Kennedy – and I think that demonstrates just how much of an impact a book like this can have, and why it is such an important piece of writing. I’m intrigued to know how long their dry stints lasted though…)

I went along to hear Jill speak at The Wheeler Centre in early in 2013, at the beginning of my own 12 month HSM. She spoke very articulately on some of the themes raised by the Book Club panel in the previous video. Her talk is below.

Jill Stark at The Wheeler Centre

Watch the video from Jill’s Lunchbox Soapbox talk at The Wheeler Centre.

There are a few things that Jill highlights that I think deserve further interrogation, and at the risk of sounding slightly preachy, I’m going to note a few of them here. Stay with me.

  • Australian identity – alcohol is so bound up with the way we relate to ourselves as Australians. There is not a national celebration (or commiseration) that doesn’t involve drinking. ANZAC day – a day steeped in history, and a central part of the narrative of Australian identity – is the biggest drinking day on the calendar.
  • This is deliberate – alcohol companies know that this is powerful, and they intentionally market their product in a way that creates strong connections between sport, celebration, history, youth, beach culture, summer – all the things we know and love about our country. There’s a huge amount of money at stake, and they’re not silly. (Another side note: I can’t help but observe that something similar is happening with gambling, but that’s a subject for another time.)
  • Costs – the costs of drinking have never been lower, but the broader social and economics costs of alcohol have never been higher. There are huge links between public health costs and drinking, breast cancer and drinking, violence and drinking – and we’re picking up the tab. Anyone who gets the basic principles of supply and demand understands that tax and market mechanisms are actually incentivising the behaviour we want to discourage.
  • Drinks companies encouraging binge drinking in young people – alcopops are designed to taste like soft drink, not alcohol. They’re meant to be drunk a lot, and fast. The debate around taxing these kinds of drinks has been going on a while now, but the broader implications around starting kids on booze young tend to be ignored. Alcopops aren’t the only problem. Young people are being taught that you’re antisocial unless you have a drink in your hand. It is insidious and it is everywhere.
  • Alcohol and friends go hand in hand – young people are taught to use alcohol to deal with confidence issues and unfamiliar social situations. Uninhibited social behaviour is becoming normalised. Alcohol is no longer just something to enjoy, but is now something to need, particularly in a social situation.

I’m not going to go into more depth on these, because Jill does this so well in her book, and because even after 12 months of clearheadedness I still don’t have my head around all the complexities of this picture. But even at a glance, it seems to me like the issues surrounding alcohol are being intentionally avoided by a whole lot of people. And you can kind of understand why. It is an uncomfortable conversation to have over a drink…

On the bandwagon

Jill and I aren’t the only ones giving up the booze. Pip Lincolne from Meet Me At Mikes wrote about her time off booze in a blog post titled “The Cool Thing I Did This Year”. In the gentle, humourous way only she can, Pip lays out her reasons for her time off the drink and a few reflections, beautifully articulating a few things that really resonated with me. Seriously, read her post.

Wendy Squires wrote a piece in yesterday’s Age entitled “Is getting smashed the new definition of socialising?” outlining her experiences this festive season, and why she’s taking a break. She paints a startling picture of excess in inner city Melbourne, and asks “Is this really what a fun night out has become? If so, I’m staying in and staying sober because it not only disgusted me, it left me feeling depressed.” And I feel a bit the same – is this the only way we know how to socialise? Is this what we call fun these days? Is it really so impossible for anyone to have a great time with friends without booze? I just think that’s really sad. Like, sad in my heart kind of sad.

But maybe I’m the only one. I was shocked at the number of people I know who really struggled with the idea of me being sober for a whole year. “But what do you do if you have a wedding on?” “Well, I go to the wedding, and I don’t drink.” “But what if a heap of your friends were coming from overseas?” “Then I’d go to the wedding and not drink.” “Did you drink while you were in Africa?” “No, the same rules still apply if you’re in a different country.” I’m kind of stunned at the number of people who really can not get their heads around being in these kinds of situations without alcohol. And this is not intended to be a judgement on them, but an observation of just how intrinsically linked these kinds of cultural landmarks are to booze. It kind of blew my mind.

Another uncomfortable (but important) element of my 12 months off was how uneasy my non-drinking made a lot of people around me. One of my key motivations for committing to the 12 months off was to see if it would prompt others around me to examine their own behaviour. I’m not sure if it worked, but I can’t tell you how many people felt the need to justify their own drinking behaviours to me when they realised I was not drinking. Just as Jill, Marieke and Paul discuss above, I was very aware of people feeling like they were being judged for drinking, or for drinking to excess. As a seasoned non-drinker, I’m pretty ok with being the only person not drinking at social events, but I still got entirely sick of having to explain and justify myself. And after a while I just stopped trying to tell people that it isn’t me who needs to be ok with their drinking habits. Ultimately, I’m not the one they’re impacting on.

So… How do you feel?

Most people asked me if I felt amazingly fresh, healthy and young without booze. And mostly I felt good, much like I usually feel. It kind of helped that I’m not really meant to drink what with all my crazy hormones. I’ve only suffered one single solitary hangover in all my 28 years, and that was enough. I honestly can’t understand why you would voluntarily make a habit of waking up feeling shitty, no matter how much hazy fun was had the night before. But it really wasn’t about the physical stuff, and the longer it went on, the more evident this became.

This 12 months wasn’t a purely rational, intellectual experiment for me, even if it started off that way – it was a bit of an emotional experiment too. I was vaguely aware of the way I’d used alcohol as a bit of a crutch in the past. But knowing this doesn’t eliminate it, and I was surprised at how many moments of discomfort I encountered throughout the year. The first one was when I found myself stone-cold sober on the dance floor at a friend’s wedding. Self-conscious thanks to recent weight gain and a rushed outfit decision, I didn’t last long up there, preferring to sit alone at the table rather than to move awkwardly among the crowd of unfamiliar faces, even despite knowing that almost everyone dancing had drunk enough not to notice me, and even if they did, would hardly care anyway. This was the first time in a long time that I can recall feeling so self-conscious, and the first time ever that I haven’t been able to nix those feelings with a few shots of liquid courage.

And there were other times like this too. At my 10 year high school reunion, when I really would have liked something to soften the vague unfamiliarity that comes with seeing the people you grew up with for the first time in a decade. At an event with my husband’s ex-girlfriend and her friends who not-so-secretly don’t like me. At fashion week events with a crowd that loves to judge and be judged. At the MCG on election night with a bunch of people who care more about the outcome of a football game than about who would be running our country.

So you know how I felt? Uncomfortable. Sometimes self-conscious, sometimes upset. But you know what, this doesn’t last long. Those moments pass. And if they don’t, it probably means there’s something there that needs to be looked at purposefully and consciously. Dulling that sensation sure isn’t going to help.

So… What did you learn?

Taking a page from Pip’s book, I thought I’d list a few reflections too, in case you’re curious:

  • I’m a chronic over-thinker, and hence I’m super aware of the impact that alcohol has on our community. It is pretty hard to avoid it, and like Pip, I feel guilty about it. Yes, really. I feel better knowing I’m not contributing to this.
  • Drinking reinforces a whole heap of associated behaviours that I really don’t like, as Wendy alludes to in her article. Thanks to some reflection this year, I realise now that in the past when I was drinking, I put myself in situations I wouldn’t like other young women to find themselves in, but I know they’re all too common. I think drinking and the associated state of reckless abandon is particularly problematic for young girls who consequently behave a certain way with men, and other women. And it is an issue for young men who are taught to relate to women and their mates in a certain way. This is certainly not just down to alcohol – there’s a whole other objectification and sexualisation of women piece to be explore here – but I really believe it plays a significant part.
  • Throughout the whole of 2013 there were only a handful of times when I wanted to drink and cursed my sobriety. But they were there. There were moments when I really wanted to taste an amazing cocktail, or when I would have really liked a cold beer, or when a wine with my husband would have been wonderful. I went to more than one wine tasting when I didn’t actually taste the wine – and people did think me a little strange for sniffing other people’s wine. I really don’t feel as though I’ve missed out on anything major, but I do think there is a place for alcohol when it is used for pleasure.
  • Given I’m recently married, have recently gained weight, and am also not drinking, there were far too many times when people assumed I wasn’t drinking because I was pregnant. I actually had to say “that’s not what that is” to quite a few friends. It doesn’t make you feel good. I’ll probably write about this soon.
  • I distinctly remember one night about five years ago as the first and only time I consciously used alcohol to avoid feelings I didn’t want to deal with. I didn’t quite realise though, that I’ve been doing exactly the same thing unconsciously since I was old enough to drink. Not much, but now I feel that doing this at all is too much.
  • This year has helped me reaffirm what I care about, the people I want in my life, and the things I want to invest my time and energy in. I feel free to really embrace and own the things I’m passionate about, and not feel the need to apologise for my choices, just like I did with my sobriety. It is really nice to feel empowered to do exactly what you want to do for no other reason than because you want to, rather than doing what you think you should do because everybody else is.
  • I want to bond over bigger and better things than booze. I want to talk about things that are really important, that really define me, and that really define us as human beings. I want to be able to be myself, my real self, not my boozy, woozy self. I just feel there’s so much more to life than dulling your senses.
  • This may sound touchy-feely, but I think alcohol really limits our capacity for meaningful emotional and sexual relationships, particularly in adolescence. If all our relationships and all our early sexual encounters are based on too many nights out and lots of liquid courage, then what do you think this means for the way we’ll develop as emotional and sexual beings into adulthood? And I reckon there has to be a connection with alcohol and the extended adolescence phenomenon we’re seeing in our generation. Just a guess.
  • There were quite a few times when people agreed with me that their drinking and social expectations around drinking have gone too far, and remarked that it would be nice not to have to drink all the time. What I can’t understand is why more people don’t give it up, even for a while. Just do it! You don’t need a FebFast charity or a reason to do something like this for yourself.

It has been really illuminating, even for someone who wasn’t in the habit of drinking. I’ve been surprised by how much my not drinking has challenged other people. I think taking this time off (completely), has really allowed me to clarify my own attitude to booze – for pleasure, socialising, feeling, thinking – and to define my own sense of balance. For most of the year I’ve hardly missed it, and I thought for a while that I wouldn’t ever drink again. But forever is a long time, and I’m quite looking forward to going on a wine tour in the south of France, or doing a whiskey tasting for the tasting and not the whiskey.

The biggest thing that I’ve taken away from this year is exactly what I took into it – I want to feel like I can really tackle things rather than gloss over them. As Pip says, “I want to live my life with the switch on, with my eyes open and my head clear.” This is part of an ongoing theme for me that I suspect I’ll explore more here in the coming months.

I guess when it comes down to it, just as Mr New York says below, alcohol is just one way to avoid things. And the problem isn’t really that we do it, the problem is that it is so socially accepted, expected, even encouraged. In a lot of ways this experiment has created more questions than it has answered, but that’s kind of the point.

Like this guy says:

HONY

“If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”
“Try your best to deal with life without medicating yourself.”
“You mean drugs?”
“I mean drugs, food, shopping, money, whatever. I ain’t judging anybody, either. I was hooked on heroin for years. But now I’ve learned that every feeling will pass if you give it time. And if you learn to deal with your feelings, they’ll pass by faster each time. So don’t rush to cover them up by medicating them. You’ve got to deal with them.”

Posted on my Tumblr (lalalara) via the wonderful Humans of New York.

I’m curious to see if this has rubbed off on anyone else who would like an excuse to change their own behaviours. 

So what do you think? Could you? Would you? How has your attitude to booze changed as you’ve got older? Tell me everything.

Natural Habitat

I’ve been on safari in Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania with my family the last little while, and it has been absolutely amazing to see the magnificent creatures of Africa in their natural habitat. We were lucky enough to have great guides with us to explain the social, predatory and sexual behaviours of all the different species and the biggest thing I learned from this is that they’re so much like us. The way they interact, learn, look out for each other, the way they team up with other species for mutual benefit. The efficiencies, practicalities, and partnerships that eventuate when living in the wild are really quite amazing. Instinct is so clever!

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What I found even more amazing though, is seeing human beings in their natural habitat. (If that sounds like I’ve been observing people as though they’re displays in a zoo I apologise – that’s certainly not the way I intend it. I mean it with a huge amount of curiosity and respect.)

In Rwanda, we saw people farming the green rolling hills. Every single inch of fertile land was terraced and sown with irish potatoes, maize, and bananas. Goats were tied to trees to make the most of any available shoots of grass. Mud huts were just big enough for a family, with an outdoor kitchen and simple ventilation. The roads were bustling. Every hilly spiralling road was a hive of social activity, as people ferried produce and water up and down, back and forth on bikes or by foot. Kids were playing with friends, walking to and from school. People seem happy and healthy.

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In Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasai are pastoralists, walking their herds of cattle and goats across the flat dry land for the day and taking shelter under trees in the warmest part of the afternoon. They keep their cattle safe from predators or thieves overnight by housing them within their communal village boundaries, surrounded by houses and fences made of sticks and trees. They don’t hunt the game on the reserves, but have a deep respect for their environment and the opportunities tourism can create for their communities. They are joyful – music and dance are a big part of life, colour and movement are everywhere.

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The Maasai and the Rwandans reminded me that we need very little to thrive. We need good food, exercise, strong social connections, something to work towards and something to bring us joy. They also reminded me just how far we in the west have moved away from our natural state of being. I know I’ve written about this before, but I really believe we are not designed to be cubicle bound all day. We are not meant to be controlled by a series of screens in our daily lives. We are meant to use our bodies to challenge ourselves physically, to related to others on a personal level, to look after those we know and to work to find mutually beneficial outcomes in dealings with those we don’t know so well, and to pursue meaning.

There is so much we can learn from indigenous cultures around the world and here in Australia. Lessons of shared history, simplicity, connection to place, resilience, working in symbiosis with our surroundings. Despite the misconception that we in the developed world are “more advanced” than these communities, they are millions of years ahead of us, especially when it comes to respecting the land, and each other, and focusing on the important things in life.

I heard a great definition of indigenous today: meaning “a product of their environment”. In that sense, we’re all indigenous, but all too often we’re moulded by the environment we’ve created for ourselves and not the natural environment we live in. This trip reminded me of the capabilities we all possess to adapt to our surroundings, to find a good outcome – and really, to survive.

Also, here’s a timelapse from Cam of our sunset over Ngorongoro Crater.

If you’re planning a trip of your own, I recommend:

If you’re after a travel agent who can take care of everything for you, get in touch with Encompass Africa who are based in Brisbane. They can work within your budget, preferred travel dates or destinations.

Ideally, go early in the migration season or you risk missing out on seeing the big herds in the Serengeti. If possible, avoid the national parks and spend time in the private conservancies where you can go off road and get up close and personal.

Also, keep enough cash on your for tips, visas, and any incidentals because ATMs are hard to come by.

Key spots:

Unexpected Guru

A video post featuring Tim Minchin kept popping up in my Facebook feed today. You know, this guy:

tim

Not being much of a fan of stand-up comedy myself, I didn’t know much about him, and I’d assumed he was kind of Australia’s answer to Russell Brand (which is not necessarily a bad thing, at all).

This short video was an entirely unexpected surprise. In between musing on the critical importance of the Arts and Sciences together to communicate scientific knowledge despite the “recent, stupid and damaging idea” that the two areas are opposed, Tim taught me 10 life lessons, which I’ve paraphrased for you below:

1. You don’t have to have a dream. It’s very American talent show. If you don’t, try micro-ambition – passionate dedication to the pursuit of short term goals. And keep your eye out for the next thing to capture your attention…

2. Don’t seek happiness. Keep busy and try to make someone else happy and you might find you get some as a side-effect.

3. Life is all luck. Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your success nor truly blame others for your failures will humble you and make you more compassionate.

4. Exercise. Your long, luxurious life is going to make you depressed but there is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise.

5. Be hard on your opinions. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices and your privileges. Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknlowledge nuance.

6. Be a teacher. Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn.

7. Define yourself by what you LOVE. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Be PRO stuff, not just ANTI stuff.

8. Respect people with less power than you.

9. Don’t rush. Don’t panic if you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life. There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence – FILL IT! Life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic. (And love, travel, wine, sex, art, kids, giving, mountain climbing…)

10. This one doesn’t come from Mr Minchin, but from me. Absorb inspiration and wisdom from all possible sources, because you can learn something from every single person in the world, even a musical comedian with crazy hair from Perth.

The awesome thing about this, is at the ripe old age of 27 (for another few days at least) I reckon these would be exactly my handy hints for life too. Glad someone else has gone and put them out there for me, and in a much more clearly and simply articulated way. Now to go and live by this advice…

Watch the full video here:

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Hope For Us Yet

Just when things were getting the better of me and I was starting to think my belief that things will work out for the best was unreasonably optimistic, this past week has restored my faith. After the election result a few weeks ago I was in a vastly different place, but things have turned around for me in a big way.

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I spent most of the week in the Yarra Valley with 50 of the most inspired and inspiring emerging leaders you could ever hope to fit in one room, each of whom is passionate and driven to make the world a better place. This incredible meeting of the minds was all thanks to the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, who hosts this week-long Retreat as part of their annual Fellowship Program.

(In the interests of full disclosure, I need to remind you that I am employed by CSL, and I am absolutely biased because I think what they/we do is amazing. I completed their Fellowship Program in 2011.)

Having attended the Retreat as a Fellow in 2011, and also last year as a Speaker, I had a fair idea what to expect at this year’s retreat. But again, I was blown away by the energy, commitment and steadfast belief in the possiblities. Every year, the people in the room think big, learn key skills, and start to understand what can be achieved when we tap into the the power of cross-sector collaboration. Seriously awesome stuff.

While all this was happening in the Yarra Valley, some amazing things were happening on a broader scale too. My friend Cameron Neil started a conversation about crowdfunding an independent replacement to the Climate Commission that had been axed days earlier by Tony Abbott, prompting a wave of public support. Fast forward 1 week, and The Climate Council has been set up thanks to a huge ground swell of public support, and had collected over $550,000 in donations and 55,500 Facebook followers in less than 5 days. For the record, it is now up to $800,000 + and 63,000 or so Facebook followers, and counting. If you care about unbiased science-based information being made available to the Australian public and you haven’t donated already, I suggest you do.

CC

For me, the fact that both of these things have happened right now, just as the IPCC release their report reiterating the certainty and magnitude of the issues we’re facing, is a welcome relief. It is a reminder that great things can be done by individuals, and even greater things can be achieved when we come together as a collective.

So, go forth and do good stuff.

A Big Life

anais nin

I’ve had three interesting women remind me of a very important lesson recently – one very young, and one entirely imaginary but oddly vivid, and one a cartoon version of me.

Teenage writer, fashion blogger and editor Tavi Gevinson is shown in a recent handout photo.The first was Tavi Gevinson, the 17 year old wunderkind who was recently in Australia for a session at the Sydney Opera House entitled Tavi’s Big Big World* (*at 17). (You can watch her full presentation here. You can also see her Melbourne Writers Festival Talk here.)

Like most of the adult women in the room, I was quite blown away by this incredibly clever girl on the cusp on womanhood. She stated quite plainly how much more satisfying it is to be a creator/curator/observer when you’re free to enjoy the process, rather than worrying about conventional ideas of success (money, fame, power), and how to free yourself from the expectations of yourself or others. She also touched on how important it is to be completely unapologetic about what you like, to love what you love free from irony or the need for an affirmation of “cool” from someone else.

Tavi talked about the idealism of inexperience, and the power of naivety. She recognises that reality will rarely live up to the fantasy, but it is important not to dwell on this, and to enjoy the daydreaming anyway. For me, it was a welcome reminder to appreciate our ability to daydream for the pleasure it brings, and to have the courage to pursue your dreams, even if you know they’re unlikely to be as wonderful as you hoped they might be.

Far from blissfully innocent and unrealistically idealistic, Tavi also spoke about the challenges of acute awareness of self and your place in the world, and her struggles with mental illness, acknowledging that having a vivid imagination, an inclination toward over analysis, and a willingness to indulge both does have a downside.

claire messudThese lessons were reaffirmed by Nora – the central protagonist in Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, whose existence sits in stark contrast to the unbridled enthusiasm of Tavi. She’s a nice, well mannered primary school teacher – good at her job and relatively happy with her life and her circle of friends. She nurses her beloved mother through a terminal illness and then cares for her widower father. She does all the right things and works hard to please everyone around her, but at the same time, she is frustrated, resentful and lonely.

Nora is looking for someone to blame for the fact that she hasn’t followed through with her early creative potential and dreams of living a passionate, colourful life. She didn’t follow the traditional life path and get married and have kids, and seems to resent the fact that her gay best friend has unexpectedly found a partner and raised a child. She’s partially straddling both ideals, and achieving neither, reacting to the advice and expectations of her mother – her childhood almost-feminist role model and herself a repressed creative – and the actions of her conservative, dependable father. She finds herself falling in love with three members of the same family – the 8 year old boy finding himself, the emerging artist mother, and the established academic father – each of whom remind her to be an active participant in her own life, rather than passively accepting and conforming to the expectations of others.

(Jennifer Byrne and the team from The Book Club looked at The Woman Upstairs last month. Watch their discussion here.)

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 6.23.05 PMThe third woman I’ve been intrigued by is Lucy the GYPSY (Gen Y Protagonist and Special Yuppy), literally a cartoon created to illustrate my own demographic as outlined in the Wait But Why article on the Huffington Post recently. (Read the article here.) The article outlines exactly why Gen Ys have wildly inflated ambitions, an overblown sense of entitlement and an absolute belief that they are “special”. Nails it.

As a typical Gen Y – or GYPSY – I’ve been fascinated (ok, obsessed) by the idea of living “a big life”, versus what I call “a safe life” and for me, each of these women – real and imaginary – reinforced the eternal challenge of living your life authentically, and living your life at scale, perfectly illustrating all sides of the story.

What strikes me about Tavi is that she’s been allowed (and encouraged) to pursue her passions, rather than compromising for the sake of meeting expectations. Nora’s life has been a series of compromises, shrinking her creative ambitions until they’re literally in miniature, just like her small scale diorama works of art.

Why I think Tavi is incredible, is she’s interested in how and why the things she likes are specific to her – her thoughts, her feelings, her experiences. The remarkable thing about her is that her inner world has been documented, catalogued, and published online for the whole world to see. She journals obsessively, ordering her thoughts experiences, observations and creative impulses, and she remarked at one point that she is at her happiest when she can forget what she looks like and just be a pair of eyes observing the world around her. Thanks to the internet, her internal world has been scaled, and is now writ large for the world to see. Nora’s world is turned in upon itself until even she is ashamed of it.

To me, a big life is about conviction rather than compromise. It is about accumulating experiences and insights rather than “stuff”. It is understanding yourself, your place in the world and others around you as best you can. It is stretching norms or flat out going against them. At the same time, I recognise that for most of us there is a great deal of comfort and ease in walking the well trodden path. And in reality, the norm is the norm for a reason, and it has to do with simplicity, a lack of friction and our human desire to live life free of tension.

As far as I’m concerned, the easy option is almost never the best one. Always taking the easy option is not what sees us uncovering something significant, travelling to far flung places, meeting the most interesting people, or achieving something remarkable. Taking the easy road may be better for the bank balance, look better on the resumé and feel much more comfortable – in the short term at least – but it feels to me like it is deliberately ignoring our vast human potential to learn, innovate, change and feel something really wonderful. Sure it may be risky, but as any gambler knows, the greatest risks hold the greatest potential rewards.

For the first 5 or so minutes of Tavi’s talk, I felt regret that I wasn’t so wonderful at 17. But perhaps I was. Perhaps we are all so wonderful in our own way before we’ve learned not to be, before we learned to scale down our dreams and settle for safe. So there’s the challenge – to ignore the people following the safe route when they tell you what kind of wonderful you should be, and how you should define success in your life.

For me, no one articulates it quite like Kafka does:

Kafka

Wait But Why offer their own advice:

  1. Stay wildly ambitious.
  2. Stop thinking you’re special.
  3. Ignore everyone else.

I’m onboard with 1 and 3, but I would qualify 2 by saying “define your own version of special”. Remind yourself that you’re unique, but you’re not better than anyone else. Your perspectives and experiences are wonderful. You’re a whole ecosystem of your own and living a big life is all about exploring what your capabilities could create with courage and hardwork, regardless of whether or not it makes you “successful” on someone else’s terms.

Here’s to living a big life – to staying naively passionate, and to filling our lives with as much colour, conviction and insight as we can fit in to one existence. Here’s to living a life free of regret, resentment and the expectations of others.

What do you do to stretch yourself, stay brave and live a big life?