Presents v Presence

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.

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:

The historic Harvard Quad awash with Autumn colour.

The historic Harvard Quad awash with Autumn colour.

Lots of quality time in the parks throughout Boston.

Lots of quality time in the parks throughout Boston.

The Jimmy Rooftop in NYC - the most spectacular views of the city at dusk, complete with gorgeous drinks.

The Jimmy Rooftop in NYC - the most spectacular views of the city at dusk, complete with gorgeous drinks.

Over the Brooklyn Bridge on an overcast Columbus Day.

Over the Brooklyn Bridge on an overcast Columbus Day.

Park Slope in full colour.

Park Slope in full colour.

More colour in DC.

More colour in DC.

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.

I could not stop gaping at the trees in Canada. Perfect time of year for it.

I could not stop gaping at the trees in Canada. Perfect time of year for it.

Cottage Country - Muskoka in the Lakes District.

Cottage Country - Muskoka in the Lakes District.

St Joseph's Oratory in the suburban streets of Montreal.

St Joseph's Oratory in the suburban streets of Montreal.

Toronto's answer to the Yarra Valley.

Toronto's answer to the Yarra Valley.

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!

Old Havana.

Old Havana.

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:

  • The Motorcycle Diaries - a feature film starring Gael Garcia Bernal exploring Che Guevara's adventure through South America, which was the foundation of much of his philosophical and political thinking.
  • The Buena Vista Social Club - a beautiful film about the rediscovery and reconnection of many of the legendary musicians of Cuba. Really gorgeous stuff and incredible music if you don't already know it.
  • Che - a 2-part film by Steven Soderberg and starring Benicio Del Toro. It looks closely at the unfolding of the Cuban Revolution, and also at Guevara's work in Bolivia where he was eventually assassinated.

(EDIT: It was announced today that the US are resuming diplomatic contact with Cuba. Hate to say I told you so.)

Musings Salon - September 2014

The first Musings Salon held this week was a quite a wonderful thing really.

As I've explained, my idea for a Salon was mostly selfish - an opportunity to get some of my clever friends in a room to discuss topics I'm interested in. 

And it was great. I loved it. And part way through, it got even better, because I was reminded that the other people in the room genuinely enjoyed it too. The collective experience of a passionate but respectful discussion about something interesting is a powerful thing. Discovering that others share your opinions, or that they are able to respect you and your perspectives even if their views are different is magical.

And better yet when the topic of discussion is Queen Bey. 

This month's provocation was my piece about our favourite feminist gateway drug, Mrs Carter Knowles: 

On Feminism and Femininity: Beyonce, feminism and the whole damn thing

Having already exorcised many of my opinions on the subject, I was intrigued to see the conversation move beyond Beyonce to Emma Watson's recent speech at a UN Women event, the public reaction, and specifically an article by Clementine Ford downplaying it's significance.

The consensus seemed to be that we - all of us - need to embrace imperfection, as Beyonce implores. We cannot let perfection be the enemy of good as we strive for equality and better understanding. Because every time a step in the right direction is admonished for not being big enough, or for not being the right approach, it alienates an audience and prevents someone from making any kind of attempt at progress.

I think it's useful to remind ourselves that feminism is about freedom. Freedom for women, and men. Freedom that allows us to be ourselves, and feel confident and comfortable in ourselves and in a community of others like, and unlike us. Lena says it best:

Happily, we also began to explore a couple of future Salon topics, looking at how gender inequality impacts on men, and how the way we represent ourselves online is changing the way we relate to ourselves as women. More to come on both of these.

Some further resources that emerged during our discussion.

The illustrious attendee list:

Thank you to these gorgeous ladies for their attendance and their contributions. Looking forward to continuing the discussion at our next Salon.

On Feminism and Femininity

Beyonce, feminism and the whole damn thing


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism, and I blame Beyonce.

The discussion of the tension (or contradiction) between feminism and femininity has reached fever pitch in the last few weeks, and it’s forced me to really think about what resonates with me and what my take on it is.

Firstly though, some definitions from

Feminist: Advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

Feminine: Having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, such as sensitivity or gentleness.

To be one's own woman: (of females) to be free from restrictions, control, or dictatorial influence; be independent.


Fem(me) vs Fem(me)

It seems we can’t go a day without someone with a public profile weighing into the debate around femininity, sexuality and a woman’s sense of agency, usually in relation to other women with a public profile, typically those who are (arguably) most visible to the masses - pop stars.

This week, it was Mayim Bialik - a star of The Big Bang Theory and 90s teenage fashion icon thanks to her show Blossom, a mother of two who holds PhD in neuroscience, and by her own admission a “socially conservative liberal”. She penned a piece asking if Ariana Grande “has a talent (is she a singer?), then why does she have to sell herself in lingerie?” 

Cast your mind back to the hoopla surrounding Miley with the release of her Bangerz album and her VMA’s performance with Robin Thicke. Her many public appearances prompted a heartfelt open letter (several in fact) from Sinead O’Connor imploring Miley not to let herself be sexualised, taken advantage of, and exploited. This spurred very well articulated counter response from Amanda Palmer, and a whole lot more controversy. 

As far as I can tell, this discussion is about the tension between commodification and femininity, and the notion of control. As Amanda Palmer says, “being a female musician/rockstar/whatever is a pretty fucking impossible and mind-bendingly frustrating job… we’re either scolded for looking sexy or we’re scolded for not playing the game.”

We see women trying to take ownership of their bodies and their creative and sexual expression, making it central to their brand or public persona. These women are dismissing the more demure and socially approved version of what a publicly visible female should look like in favour of more openly sexual, visibly powerful, and direct personal expression. And with that comes body shaming, slut shaming, the waves of public opinion, popularity and controversy. See Gaga, Nicki, Katy, et al.

The interesting thing is, this isn’t new - you could argue that Madonna has been playing with the commodification of her sexuality, a different kind of femininity, and ideas of control for years. Many a lady pop star has been there, done that.

Where it gets interesting though, is when the other f-word: “feminism”, is brought into the conversation.


Enter Queen Bey

As has been very well documented by now, Beyonce was honoured with a Video Vanguard Award at August’s MTV VMAs and performed a medley of the already iconic self-titled album she released without warning in December last year. This moment was revelatory, not because she’d earned herself the title of video innovator thanks to one epic visual album, but because she ended the 15 minute performance with the word “feminist” projected in bold bright writing behind her, in what was possibly the strongest public feminist statement in a generation.


When Beyoncé dodged the traditional media circus and announced her self titled visual album was available to download in the iTunes store via Instagram, industry folk called it "game changing”.  Music insiders, indie and mainstream journalists, pop-culture commentators, and almost every pop music punter on the planet lapped it up.

And the accolades flowed in. In April, Beyonce was featured on the cover of Time's 100 Most Influential People issue, (a coveted spot previously held by Mark Zuckerberg and the Pope) in acknowledgement of the influence she wields.

Beyonce’s feminism: It’s complicated

I remember when Beyonce’s Run the World (Girls) was released back in 2011. The strong female empowerment message of the song and sexy styling of the video prompted many an interesting conversation. Along the lines of, “she’s such a hypocrite to be trumpeting women’s empowerment and wearing that”, or “I’d believe her more if she covered herself up.” These discussions really stuck with me. 

Fast forward to December 2013 and the launch of her visual opus. As a long time committed fan I was not exempt from slightly ridiculous levels of excitement. I had watched the whole album no less than 10 times in it's entirety in the week after it's release. There were tears. At track 1. (Yes, really.) 

The album opens with Pretty Hurts (written by incredible Australian Sia Furler), and a video which points directly at all the trappings of celebrity in a culture obsessed with looks, femininity and ideas of how women should look. The clip doesn’t pull any punches, tackling many of the issues connected to our beauty obsession - eating disorders, body dysmorphia, hyper sexualisation, and plastic surgery in pursuit of perfection - and looks beyond it to dig into exactly what’s behind this obsession. It’s scathing, confronting, and eerily familiar, and perhaps for this reason watching it for the first was a profoundly moving experience. Hence the tears.

(The official release of this clip also coincided with a campaign around redefining what pretty means :: Join the #WHATISPRETTY conversation. Upload a photo or video to Instagram tagged #whatispretty that captures what the word 'pretty' means to you.)

But I couldn’t ignore the apparent contradictions as soon as Haunted rolled around. It’s unbridled sexuality and hyper stylised aesthetic seemed in direct contrast to Pretty Hurts. I was frustrated, and I felt almost insulted, to have identified so much with the “perfection is the disease of a nation” message of the previous track, and to now see Beyonce seemingly perpetuating the problematic sexualisation of women and embracing the pursuit of this perfection, almost in the same breath. 

This contradiction wasn’t lost on Muslim-American spoken word poet Bhatti, who says "if she was a boy even just for a day, she wouldn't have to crawl on all fours to crawl up the charts." As Bhatti says in an interview with Mic, ”You can advocate for social justice and still be complicit in systems of racism, patriarchy, exploitation.” 

And in some senses Bhatti is right. But here’s the thing, Beyonce does what she says, not what anyone else says.


The bit where I finally get it

It took me a while to get my head around it. (Clearly I should have taken Gender Studies or Women’s Studies at uni - I’m still quite new to this and I’m a bit slow on the uptake.) As I made my way through the album I finally began to understand. 

The contradiction is the point. 
The multiplicity of the female experience is the point. 
Beyonce’s ability to do this in such a way that she is in such supreme control of her own experience and her own image is the point.

The way she released this album all at once, rather than drip feeding singles as other artists might, reinforces that this is a complete piece of work. Each song is intended to be taken as part of a whole, complementary and contradictory sides of the same story.

There are elements of the album that I still find slightly problematic, particularly a reference to domestic violence in the Ike and Tina Turner film in What’s Love Got to Do With It from Drunk In Love. (Jay-Z’s verse: I'm Ike, Turner, turn up / Baby no I don't play / now eat the cake, Anna Mae / Said, "Eat the cake, Anna Mae!) 

The thing is, I don’t have to be totally ok with it, let alone like it, and nor does anyone else, because this is Beyonce's experience - no one else’s, and to see someone like her fully exploring and embracing the apparent contradictions of being a wife, a mother, a business woman, a creative, a human being, is intimate and empowering in a very contemporary and unusual way. Seeing a woman with such supreme control of her own brand being unapologetically vulnerable, sexual, in control, controlled, playful, strong, sexy - to me, it epitomises modern feminism.

Fans will be familiar with the struggle she’s been through to separate herself from her father and manager Matthew Knowles and become the controller of her own destiny. She documented this in her docu-film Year of 4, for those of you playing at home. (See also album bonus track Grown Woman.)

Her ability to come out of that experience, to step out of the control of a man (or anyone, for that matter), and to document her personal narrative about the complexity of her experience in musical and visual form is the reason why this album is kind of a big deal. The fact that she’s done it entirely on her own terms (without the publicity, distribution, media circus we’d normally expect) makes it all the more significant.

To quote Jamia Wilson in Rookie Magazine’s Great Big Beyonce Roundtable:

“This album is about being the CEO of your own life, not rising to the top of someone else’s industry. Beyoncé moves the conversation from “run shit within someone else’s institution” to “RUN YOUR OWN SHIT,” and that is the goal for real. This is something I’ve seen mischaracterised as selfish, but it is necessary and smart. People spend their whole lives toiling away on things that have nothing to do with their real purpose and joy and regretting it. Beyoncé worked hard to get where she is, and it took decades.”

And this exactly why Beyoncé managed to speak to me (and millions of others) in such a real way, despite the vast difference in our experiences and our situation. The fact that she is being exactly herself and being successful on her own terms means she is a feminist role model on another level, and the fact that she has embraced this and brought others along with her is really the icing on the cake.


Next Gen Fem

So why should we care about Beyonce’s feminism?

Well for one thing, Beyonce has succeeded where many a dogmatic feminist has previously failed. She has overcome feminism’s notoriously bad branding and made it totally ok - and actually cool - for thousands of women young and old to identify as feminists. Feminism is now a pop culture phenomenon. All of a sudden, women who would otherwise not have identified with the feminist cause understand how gender inequality impacts on their personal and professional lives.

Beyonce has redefined what a feminist looks like. True, feminism has been undergoing a gentle transition in recent times, but in embracing the title rather than being concerned about it becoming isolating or alienating, she has created a new tribe of feminists. 

The exciting thing, as Laurie Penny wrote in New Statesman, is that:

“Beyoncé, before she is anything else, is an artist of the market. She would never release an album, especially a surprise album, that her public was not in some significant way ready for, and the mainstream, dance-pop listening world was ready for this. It was ready for an album about feminism and sexual confidence and compassion that gets you on your feet and then gets you critiquing beauty culture and then runs through the streets burning cop cars in an insanely glammed-out version of black bloc. Beyoncé is good at giving her audience what they want, and the fact that we wanted this is significant.”

In many ways, this shift could not have come earlier, as it requires a mass audience that can be communicated with directly, easily facilitated by digital technology and social media, but Beyonce has timed things perfectly. She’s perfectly captured the zeitgeist and effectively rebranded feminism (with help from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her TED Talk We should all be feminists, which was sampled in Beyonce’s song ***Flawless).

And the impact has been profound and immediate. Where there was once ambivalence or active resistance from many a pop cultural influencer, the likes of Taylor Swift have joined the cause, with Swift recently saying, “I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means”.

What I find exciting about this is, as The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti explored, Beyonce calling herself a feminist, opens the door for celebrities to support social justice in other ways, beyond tokenistic brand alignment or spokesmodel contracts. It paves the way for women with a public profile - and women everywhere - to be ever more active in important parts of civic life, and to continue to improve the lot of others.

As Beyonce says in the ***Flawless remix with Nicki Minaj, “I’m the shit, I’m the shit, I’m the shit. I want everyone to feel like this, tonight.” It’s this unparalleled opportunity to bring others along with her that puts Beyonce heads and shoulders beyond every feminist before her.



In January, Beyonce Carter-Knowles contributed a short essay entitled “Gender Equality is a Myth” to The Shriver Report on women, gender and equality. In less than 200 words, she officially claimed the feminist title, and was promptly derided for being a pop culture figure, rather than a “real” feminist. (It’s those high heels, sparkly leotards and gorgeous tresses again, isn’t it?)

This blows my mind. Beyonce is under no obligation to be anyone’s perfect feminist. She is not and will never be every woman’s saviour, and we shouldn’t expect her to be.

Is it fundamentally problematic that our most visible female role models are pop stars are not business leaders, politicians, etc, like they are more likely to be for men? Yes.
Is pop music a great access point for women who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to or even interested in feminism? Yes.
Is Beyonce’s message less valuable because she’s a pop culture figure? Is she less worthy of critical and theoretical interrogation because of her relevance to a mainstream audience? I’d argue the opposite.

Beyonce’s feminism is interesting for so many reasons. She shouldn’t be disregarded because she doesn’t she fit the stereotype of earlier women’s lib style feminists. She should be celebrated because she’s has catalysed a discussion beyond the tall walls of academia and social theory. She’s bringing the conversation out in the open, somewhere other than the women’s pages, and this in itself means she is worthy of interrogation.

The fact that she removed the need to ask for permission, the way she moves away from any kind of prescriptive femininity - that makes Beyonce’s feminism accessible in a way previous waves have never been. She has made our own version of feminism AND our own version of femininity, sexuality, power, womanhood, something that we define for ourselves.

In my opinion, the more critical thinking and popular culture interact, and the more we bring this kind of discourse into the mainstream instead of keeping it locked up among a qualified few, the more valuable it becomes.

And that’s entirely the point. Feminism isn’t something that someone else - ANYONE else - defines for us. If we wait for academics, politicians, business leaders, or Beyonce herself to tell us what feminism should look like, then we might as well keep waiting another couple of generations for real equality to be realised.

The kind of feminism I want to see isn’t dogmatic, it is personal. As Harvey Keitel as the pageant king shows in the Pretty Hurts clip, the point is a woman being able to define her own aspirations in life, beyond being someone else’s version of attractive, successful, feminine: "What is your aspiration in life?" And Beyonce's answer: “Are you happy with yourself?”

That’s a kind of feminism I can get on board with: Freedom to figure it out for ourselves, free from any kind of prescriptive finger-pointing.

Monthly Musings - September 2014

This is the first Monthly Musings, a selection of words, pictures and conversations on my radar each month.

If you'd like to receive something like this in your inbox each month, you can subscribe here.


On Feminism and Femininity

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism, and I blame Beyonce. The discussion of the tension (or contradiction) between feminism and femininity has reached fever pitch in the last few weeks, and it’s forced me to really think about what resonates with me and what my take on it is. Read more.


A film about Yolngu elder Djalu Gurruwiwi - a spiritual keeper and master didgeridoo craftsman - is in it's final stages. | Research confirms the 1970's Club of Rome predictions that we're headed for collapse. | My friend Rachel Service has been churning out some great content, including this one on 4 ways to break perfection paralysis. | Reflections on three years of farm life from Jonai Farms - Happiness is hard work. | The ethics of travel boycotts. | Ross Gittins explores how ethics, politics and economics are blurring together in Australia. | How to make your weekends more awesome. | The importance of doing things that don't scale. | Research is pointing to conscientiousness as the one-trait-to-rule-them-all in terms of future success, both career-wise and personal. | “Something is always far away… After all we hardly know our own depths.” Brain Pickings' Maria Popova on Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost. | Umair Haque ponders whether we've run out of big world changing ideas.


Paris through the lens of the legendary Pentax 67. | Snippets of 11 movies that will make you want to go travelling, all in one place. | The questions we ask - short film about what pushes us to do amazing things. | Old Habits - a series on the dwindling numbers of missionary nuns living in rural Australia by Lani Holmberg. | This has surely got to be one of the all time cutest little kids you'll ever see. | Time is nothing - a timelapse across 17 countries. | I found myself feeling very jealous of this amazing food tour of the Victorian High Country, all beautifully documented in full colour. I don't feel too bad though, because I did have my own version a little while back... | The last season of HBO's stunning Boardwalk Empire kicked off with flashbacks to the end of the 19th century, and glimpses of 1930s Havana.


Arianna Huffington was recently in the country ahead of the launch of the Huffington Post in Australia / New Zealand. Here she is talking to Marie Forleo about redefining success. | Lessons in reason on the 100 year anniversary of the Great War. | "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" - Amanda Vanstone talks to John Allen Gay about voluntourism, joyful benevolence, and the White Messiah Complex. | Uncommon in Common - a front porch for the internet. | A feminist podcast reading of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's cultural significance. | 20 years since his seminal album Grace was released, and 17 years since his death, Double J profiles Jeff Buckley for their returning J Files series. Still blissful. | Terry Gross interviews one of my favourite film makers, Richard Linklater, about his extraordinary film Boyhood. | Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton announced today that their incredible 28 year run on At the Movies will end in 2014.


“You must unlearn what you have been programmed to believe since birth. That software no longer serves you if you want to live in a world where all things are possible!”

-Jacqueline E. Purcell, via The Mind Unleashed

Title image: A photo of the beautiful spring magnolias at Farmhouse Dederang in Victoria's High Country.

Character Profile

Following on from a conversation with my wonderful friend Katie recently, and taking my cue from the brilliant Eddie Harran, I was interested this week to compile all the results of the various personality tests I've taken over the years to create what Eddie calls a Character Profile that explains who I am, how I think, what makes me tick and how I work best.

Typically, I take these kinds of tests with a grain of salt - in my opinion, the results can be impacted a lot by where you are and what's going on in your life at that particular moment in time. But I must admit that when I take a step back to look at the results as a whole, there are certainly some consistencies emerging.


  • Intelligence strengths - based on Howard Garner, Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983.

My results: Musical, Linguistic, Intrapersonal, Logic, Interpersonal.

People with musical-rhythmic intelligence learn best when music is playing in the background. They may also learn well through lectures, audio recordings, and oral storytelling.

People who are strong in verbal-linguistic intelligence often have a gift for learning foreign languages, teaching, telling jokes and stories, and delivering passionate speeches. They learn best through reading, writing, listening to lectures, and debating topics with others.

People with strong intrapersonal intelligence often have a deep sensitivity to the spiritual realm and make excellent philosophers, writers, theologians and counselors. Because they need a lot of time alone, they tend to learn best when they can work alone in the peace and quiet of their own rooms and offices.

People who are strong in logical-mathematical intelligence are often good at computer programming, playing chess, and accounting. They learn best when they can turn information into formulas, calculations and precise dimensions.

People with a strong interpersonal intelligence often make wonderful teachers, counselors, coaches and therapists. They have a knack for managing others and may also be excellent politicians. They learn best by working in teams with others.

More information -


  • Strengths Finder - based on Gallup Clinton Strengths Finder.

My results: Input, Connectedness, Futuristic, Strategic, Maximiser.

People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

People strong in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.

People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

People strong in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.

More information -


  • Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) - based on Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook (CSV) by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.

My results: Love of Learning, Curiosity, Leadership, Creativity, Perspective.

You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.

Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

You excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.

Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself.

More information -


  • Core purpose drivers - The Purpose Economy - Purpose Imperatives.

My results: Who - Society, Why - Karma, How - Human Centred.

Your purpose is to work to help communities and societies. (Examples: implementing a new policy, conversation with like-minded peers, seeing others promoting your solution/ideas, seeing a community benefiting from a change you made.)

You are driven to create opportunities for success. (Examples: Figuring out a strategy that solves a problem quickly, getting ahead faster than my competitors, finding opportunities to be competitive and win, creating opportunities to change the way things have been done, individual recognition and personal achievement.)

You generate purpose most when you work to create contexts and experiences that address the needs of people and their environment. (Examples: uncovering a new insight about a need or behaviour, seeing an environment transformed, creating an innovative solution, talking to people about a challenge or opportunity, exploring options, seeing someone interact with what you designed.)

More information -


  • Carl Jung Typology - based on C Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers.

My results: ENFP.

ENFPs have an unusually broad range of skills and talents. They are good at most things which interest them. Project-oriented, they may go through several different careers during their lifetime. To onlookers, the ENFP may seem directionless and without purpose, but ENFPs are actually quite consistent, in that they have a strong sense of values which they live with throughout their lives. Everything that they do must be in line with their values. An ENFP needs to feel that they are living their lives as their true Self, walking in step with what they believe is right. They see meaning in everything, and are on a continuous quest to adapt their lives and values to achieve inner peace. They’re constantly aware and somewhat fearful of losing touch with themselves. Since emotional excitement is usually an important part of the ENFP’s life, and because they are focused on keeping “centered”, the ENFP is usually an intense individual, with highly evolved values.

An ENFP needs to focus on following through with their projects. This can be a problem area for some of these individuals. Unlike other Extraverted types, ENFPs need time alone to center themselves, and make sure they are moving in a direction which is in sync with their values. ENFPs who remain centered will usually be quite successful at their endeavors. Others may fall into the habit of dropping a project when they become excited about a new possibility, and thus they never achieve the great accomplishments which they are capable of achieving.

More information -


  • Ennegram - based on Personality Types by Don Richard Riso, 1996.

4 - The Individualist.

Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity. At their Best: inspired and highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.

More information -


So with all of this information it becomes quite easy for me to distill some key insights. 

I love learning and crave new information and perspectives. I’m a communicator who loves people, but needs time alone to reflect, create and look for connections and opportunities. I’m strategic, and like to create structure and systems from disparate information. I’m competitive and obsessed with doing things better, and the possibility of a better for future everyone inspires and drives me. I’m excited by new opportunities, but also easily distracted so I need to focus on follow through. Values and purpose are central to how I work, and working collaboratively with (and for the benefit of) others who share my values is a dream come true. I believe in the bigger picture and the power of individuals, and I love meeting and understanding other people.


Those of you who know me - what do you think - is this accurate? Have you taken any of these tests? How you found them useful? Which have been the most insightful for you?

Long Weekend

Long drives through rolling green hills as far as the eye can see.
Frosty mornings and a heavy fog, lifting to perfect weather and spectacular sunshine that warms your back as you read the morning papers. 
Exploring quiet country towns that house decades of stories and local legends.
Amazing food and drink. Lamb shank soup, cheese, mulled wine, apple crumble. (Too much.) 
A roaring bonfire, and camp ovens filled to bursting with juicy meat.
Flannel sheets and electric blankets. Ugg boots, scarves, games of cards.
Smiling babies and a slower pace, both bringing a sense of balance, simplicity and perspective.
Silliness, seriousness, and a long-yearned-for connection with old and new friends.

These shots were taken at the Farmhouse Dederang and Gapsted Wines.



I've had an illuminating series of conversations over the past few weeks, which have culminated in a few uncomfortable, but thoroughly valuable revelations. The crux of it is this:

You can be busy or remarkable - but not both.

- Cal Newport. Read the full article here.

You can churn out a stack of work that meets a client brief or brings in a steady stream of revenue, but it won't be the kind of work that lights you up, or lights anyone else up for that matter.

Why? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that good work - and by that I mean work that is truly personally fulfilling - is expensive. It takes time and free headspace to do work that feels good, and that also touches others in a positive way too. It takes discipline and focus, neither of which are easy to come by in an age of overstimulation and constant connectedness, and both of which are difficult to charge for. All of which are difficult to jam in around work that actually pays the bills.

Good work isn't easy to monetise. Almost all the people I know who are doing interesting creative, academic and entrepreneurial work find it a struggle financially at times. You can't charge for the hours of thinking, researching, analysis, thinking, bursts of inspiration, rethinking and working that go into realising a good idea to the full extent of your capabilities.

Inevitably, financial responsibilities, risk minimisation, and the rules of supply and demand take priority over doing good work. I imagine a lot of people (Gen Ys in particular) start off in their career with grand intentions of doing something great, before the reality of having to pay the bills sets in. Sometimes we don't even realise what's happened, but before you know it, the work you're doing is a pale imitation of what you actually want to do and what you actually could do. If only you had the time, money, headspace...

An awful lot of people spend their time being busy instead of remarkable. We're chasing dollars and racing the clock, and as a result we're doing work that is valuable (in the sense that people pay us to do it), but not enthralling. Satisfactory, but not truly satisfying.

So many work days are filled with activity rather than action - busyness for the sake of busyness, instead of strategic and creative thinking, and doing - for impact. It makes me really sad to see that what's remarkable and what's profitable is rarely the same thing, and there's much that I'd like to say on this subject in general, but I'll save it for another blog post.

So what do I do with this information?

Recalibrate. Cull. Create space and find focus. Play. Strive for quality over quantity. Aim for remarkable.

A dear friend reminded me of the Cal Newport quote just when I needed to hear it. Having adopted this as his motto for 2014, it has catalysed big personal and professional changes for him. In a strange serendipitous twist, he'd originally come across the post via an earlier tweet of mine, which I'd promptly forgotten about. That's what you call coming full circle! He passed the wisdom back on to me, as he was finishing up a consulting role to move back into an impact driven organisation he feels passionately about. Brilliant.

Recently, I've been splitting my work days over two different jobs, with two organisations I believe in. On good days, it is an absolute delight to work with people who are values aligned, on big goals that I feel have real merit. On a bad day, I can't sleep or concentrate for thinking about the tasks I have to complete, the opportunities we have to capitalise on, and the contacts we need to exploit. I've come to realise that despite their big ambitions and fact that they're doing some really good stuff, I'm not actually able to do great work. Too much work and not enough time or headspace to do any of it well equals an unfulfilling work dynamic.

As serendipity would have it, just as I was coming to my busy/remarkable realisation, an opportunity that was too good to pass up presented itself. So, I will be starting a new role at Intrepid Travel from this week. This is really exciting for me, mixing the kind of work I'm passionate about with the global perspective I've been craving. I can't wait.

I'm excited about this change as it also makes space for me to do some other things I'm really passionate about. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to repack that newly acquired brain space with stuff. Instead, I'm going to focus my attention on one job and some study, and on hopefully doing them both justice. I'm going to give myself some time to revisit projects I've put on the shelf. It's been too long since I've given myself some creative scope to explore these things, and I'm excited to be able to start playing with them again. Hopefully this will also include being able to write more on some of these themes. There really is a lot to cover.

But first, some thank yous. It is somewhat bittersweet to leave behind the CSL family, and a massive thank you in particular to Kate Harris, Dave Seignior and the whole team who have made the experience such an inspiring time in my life. I'm also leaving Net Balance after a short but sweet stint and I'm very grateful for the experience and the relationships I've built there. Big hugs to my friends Cameron Neil, Fiona Silke and Alice Howard-Vyse for being wonderful and really helping me get my head around this. And to Amy Bolger for talking me in to applying for her wonderful job at Intrepid in the first place.


Some related further reading from some most excellent people:



I was moved this morning to be among 60,000 odd people attending the Dawn Service at The Shrine of Remembrance.

In record numbers, we stood and reflected on the sacrifices of thousands of service men and women throughout Australia's short history.

Having resisted this very public and very nationalistic acknowledgement of our imperialistic military history for almost all of my life, I went to my first ever Dawn Service last year. I was surprised at my own reaction. I found it an almost overwhelmingly emotional experience to stand in solemn silence for an hour with tens of thousands of others to pay tribute to those who have given their lives for us.

Similarly this year, as I stood there listening to the words of a returned serviceman, I was struck by the way we once romanticised war. Our naive willingness to send healthy young men to fight and die seems absurd today.

The rose-tint of nostalgia that colours the eras of the first and second world war has since worn off. The good-versus-bad narrative that conflicts once thrived on seems far too simplistic today. The era of blind patriotism has passed. We know too much.

Once upon a time, half of all men who we're eligible to serve voluntarily left their jobs and families to fight for their country and to preserve the sovereignty of a country they'd never visited, often against a largely unfamiliar adversary. Off they went to foreign lands with a vague sense of adventure and grand notions of national service.

For every 10 men, two would not return, 4 would return physically wounded, 1 would suffer from debilitating mental illness, and the final three would never be the same - and nor would the people they left at home.

It is still a tragedy. One that continues to impact on successive generations of families and individuals globally. But honestly, I think (and I hope) it is a tragedy that could and will never happen again. To us at least.

While people all over the world are still battling for the freedom we now enjoy thanks to the sacrifices of those so many years ago, surely we know too much to put ourselves a situation of that scale again - both as individuals and as a country.

Yet people still serve. But at least now they do so with their eyes open, unable to avoid the historic (and current) reality that war is a game that can't be won.

In a country like (white) Australia - a young country with so few traditions and rituals - the annual commemoration of our shared history and good fortune is a rare collective experience. The display of empathy and compassion we see on Anzac Day is a reminder of our true nature that is often confused and lost among political rhetoric, and a welcome chance to reflect on what we have, and how much we were once prepared to sacrifice for the freedom and quality of life we take for granted in this country.

And a last word from the brilliant Michael Leunig.


Excellent further reading:

The Anzac tradition is one of justice, of equality and of that much-used term - mateship. It is not the whole story of our nation, but it forms part of our story. Their legacy is not something to be taken lightly.

Statement of Intent

Someone told me once that your professional life only make sense when you look back on it. Though I may be only 10 years in, I find this to be very much the case for my fledgling career. My key areas of interest are ethics, economics and the places of intersection between these two seemingly disparate disciplines. I’m obsessed by why we do what we do, why we often do what is easy rather than what is good, and how we can begin to do things better. I want to explore how macro forces impact on our personal lives, and how our individual values shape the systems that govern us. I want to encourage others to be active participants in their own decision making. And I want to actually do things that go against the common belief that business and ethics cannot coexist.

My inclination has always been to try and make sense of things, and I’ve played with a bunch of different roles and approaches to try and get right to the core of it. My professional background is as a community strategist – bringing people together around a central issue, initiative or organisation using a mix of traditional communications (public relations, marketing, and events) and digital communications (social media, video, community management strategies). Alongside this though, I’m a writer and researcher and I’ve had my work published in a diverse range of print and online publications.

I spent several years embedded in the local fashion industry, developing a reputation as a thought leader for ethics and sustainability in the sector. I assembled an online community of more than 600 people working in fashion, who are working on initiatives or businesses focused on sustainability. I carved out a niche for myself in the industry, acting as an advisor, speaker, lecturer and project contractor to key industry groups (the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia, Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, RMIT University, The Spirit of the Black Dress, Melbourne Bike Fest, Melbourne Tweed Ride, The City of Melbourne, Melbourne School of Fashion, the Clothing Exchange, Kangan Institute). Even now, more than 18 months after I made the decision to leave the sector, I’m often approached to mentor and advise businesses and individuals still working through the complexities of the sector.

My work in the fashion industry allowed me to gain a strong understanding of a complex system, and a preliminary idea of how global economic systems create positive and/or negative outcomes for huge number of people around the world. My decision to leave the sector came from the realisation that the fashion sector is just a microcosm of the larger economic system. I left in search of bigger leverage points.

Right now, I’m really interested in how economics intersects with philosophy, social and cultural theory, and politics, and how it has emerged as the dominant theoretical framework for human systems. I’m acutely aware that where Law might have once been the discipline that governed us, the flow of capital through international markets now serves that a more important role as the law struggles to keep up and effectively regulate.

I fundamentally believe that the field of economics is at a very interesting junction point, and that consumer awareness (facilitated by digital communication) is forcing business and government to change they way they administer economic policy so that it serves the people as a global collective, rather than a privileged few. I am inspired by a business sector that is focusing on new approaches that hold collective benefit as the highest priority (shared value, Benefit Corporations, completely transparent reporting). I believe that active consumers can have a positive impact, but I also think that consumption isn’t going to solve our biggest problems – this is where strategic, practical and ambitious changes will play a role. I’m frustrated by a global political structure that is completely inadequate when it comes to solving the complex problems we’ve created. I’m intrigued by the fact that what we now call “economic theory” was once considered to have more in common with philosophy, than its current perceived companions “finance” and “business”. I firmly believe that our biggest challenges will be solved by people who understand that creativity and strategic thinking are not opposed but complementary. (And that’s why I followed my Bachelor of Arts (French) with a Commerce Masters, and a Graduate Diploma of Economics, and it’s also why I looked for different kinds of training that don’t play to this false dichotomy with the likes of Centre for Sustainability Leadership Fellowship Program and the RMIT Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship Program.)

At 28, my long term professional goal is to use a mix of economics, philosophy and social theory to answer questions that are important to all of us, and to do so in a way that engages those who might not typically be interested in the big questions. I’d like to combine my skills in communications, digital and community strategy to bring cross-disciplinary academic research to the masses, and to find creative ways to engage and interact with the public around these big ideas.

For me, the final piece of the puzzle is our ability to take a global perspective. I believe it is all too easy for us to forget that our incredibly fortunate position also comes with the responsibility to improve the lot of those we’ve stepped over to get here. I know that we have much more to learn from the areas of the world who haven’t built their social, political and economic structures on models that have a finite lifespan. I am passionate about economic justice, and I see global equality as the next major civil rights struggle we will face, and I sincerely hope it is one with will win.

I want to combine my progressive views with academic diligence and in a way that is still engaging and palatable to those with no economics education. My professional role models are people like Michael J. Sandel, Jeffrey Sachs, Stephen Fry – people who use a mix of skills and disciplines to engage the public in discussions about big things – the moral failings of markets, the opportunities and limitations of foreign aid, the role and importance of language, respectively.

Taking time

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.


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!

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


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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 Birthday
My 22nd Birthday

That 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.

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.

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:


"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!


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.


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.

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:

Check out what the awesome people at Intrepid Travel are doing. They have a huge variety of trips throughout Africa.

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:

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:

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.

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.


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

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.

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.

These 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.)

The 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:

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?

The Search for Meaning

The past few weeks have been a really insightful period for me. Since my Adrenal Fatigue diagnosis, I've really been questioning why I've been pushing myself so hard, what I'm ultimately trying to achieve, what I'm stressing about - you know, the standard pop-philosophy "what does it all mean" stuff you do in your twenties. Through a series of surprising conversations with my naturopath, my kinesiologist and my colleague and friend Dave, I've been having insight after insight, some of which has crystallised for me today when I came across this posted on someone's Facebook wall. (Ah, Facebook. Channel of such great insights.)

Perhaps I'm a bit behind the curve here, but I realised today that what this image tells us is entirely right. Because we exist without any inherent sense of meaning or purpose, we spend our entire lives trying to realise or create one. It makes me so sad that in our modern world, purpose is so often misconstrued as making as much money as possible, or feeling as though you can save the world, or receiving the adoration and adulation of thousands that don't really know you. Fame, comfort, money and power are all just substitutes for a lack of meaning.

The very clever Tullia Jack had posted on her blog a while back these very wise words:

‘Them’ is an illusion. There is only ‘Us’. The more strangers you meet, the more you know this to be true.

What I realised upon reading this, is that in the absence of any inherent purpose or meaning in life, our purpose is to make this lack of purpose easier for every other being that exists alongside us - to help them be ok with the fact that their life doesn't have a guiding purpose, and that it never will. We're all in this purposeless life together, and with that fact comes huge amounts of anxiety and uncertainty. But if we know that each and every single person in the world is similarly struggling to come to terms with this it becomes far easier to understand ourselves and be at ease with life, and to know how to relate to others.

For the past little while, this search for meaning has been the source of a great deal of unease for me. But all of a sudden, rather than this knowledge depressing and unsettling me, it gives me more freedom to figure out what I should be doing with my life - to create a sense of meaning in the everyday. And so far I've worked out:

  • Be kind to everyone - like you, every single person is struggling to realise that there is no greater meaning to our being here, and trying to create their own purpose.
  • We're all in this together. If we don't get that winning at the expense of others is actually losing, then we're not a very enlightened species at all, and none of us will ever be truly happy.
  • Take pleasure in the happiness of other people. Try to make things easier for every person you come into contact with, and every person you don't ever see with your own eyes.
  • Nothing is more important than the everyday. Each moment is as important as the next, so be happy as much as you can, especially if your being happy is making others happy.

(An aside: Becoming Minimalist is the credit for the image, and I really recommend it as a great blog for exploring some of these themes, far beyond "minimalism" as it relates to physical possessions and into our place in the world, our collective purpose and the meaning of life.)

Fashion and the Future

I've had this half-written post sitting in my drafts for sometime now, and I wasn't quite sure how to conclude it. Most of you who read this won't care, but I feel that I need to explain what is amounting to a quite substantial change in my professional trajectory, and I need to outline the reasons for my new direction to those I've worked with for the last few years. So, here they are.

Four years ago, when I took my first ever job in the fashion industry as a brand PR coordinator, it was a harsh wake up call and counts as the most upsetting 10 weeks of my life. I learned pretty quickly that the industry was not as beautiful as it appears on the outside, and I thought for a while that it wasn't the industry I wanted to be involved in.

But rather than walking away from it, I threw myself into galvanising the people who are working to create a beautiful industry - the kind of industry I want to see. In the four years since, I accidentally built myself a reputation as someone who knows things about sustainability in the fashion sector. Thanks to a great many conversations over the past few years, I know that there is an immense amount of good intentions, clever thinking and passion in our local industry.

But the longer I spend absorbing the magnitude of the issues present in the fashion industry (and they are enormous), the more I am convinced that these issues are just a symptom of a broader broken system.

Now I know better than most that there are amazing opportunities afforded to emerging economies by fashion and textile production. Many developed economies have grown off the back of fashion manufacturing. The industry employs and feeds millions - from cotton farmers, to garment makers, to the innovative designers working here in Melbourne. But the percentage of fashion companies actually facilitating the kind of economic development I like to encourage are so few that I have find myself in such a state of anxiety whenever I'm faced with the task of making a purchase decision.

With this isn mind, I'm going to be stepping away from the industry I've invested a huge amount of energy into in recent years. Below are the reasons for my decision.

Reason #1: I feel that encouraging fashion lovers to adjust their consumption habits so that they preference "ethical purchases" rather than fast fashion completely ignores some very deep seated systemic issues. It allows us to leave our habits of consumption, patterns of global inequality and resource exploitation almost completely unexamined, because we're told our shopping is actually doing more harm than good. This may be the case, but I'm unconvinced.

Reason #2: Anyone working in the local industry knows that it is facing a really challenging period at the moment. I think that if it does survive it will look vastly different, but there is a very real change it won't survive. There have been political issues caused by fundamental differences in values and opinion and it feels to me that it is creating an even more challenging scenario if real change is to be realised.

Reason #3. In the early days of developing Sustainable Fashion Australia, I thought it would take someone like me to set the agenda. I've realised though, that it isn't enough for me and a handful of other passionate individuals to be campaigning for change. For real change to happen, there needs to be large scale buy-in from industry and consumers - and that would take a lot more of me than actually exist at the moment.

Reason #4. I have run out of energy. I've written about my health here previously, and that is one side of things. But the reality is that what I've done in the last 4 years has also been financially and emotionally draining. I really believe that large scale change will only happen if many become partially emotionally invested, allowing a great number of people to give a little, rather than change relying on the absolute commitment of a very few. I've given what I can, and unfortunately I don't have the skills or the capacity right now to take it the full extent I would have liked to, but for now it is up to others to take it from here.

Reason #5. I am a systems thinker, and as such, I know that the problems with our industry are founded in some pretty serious problems outside our industry, and also that there are more powerful leverage points to be accessed. My interests have shifted to media, policy, economics - I want to understand these as best I can and work to create changes from higher up. Hopefully, this will make the changes easier to realise for those within our industry.

So I am taking a big side step but, I'm not stepping away entirely. I'll be lecturing in Ethical Business at Melbourne School of Fashion and finishing off a few specific contracts in the sector, but for the most part, I'm going to be focusing on my work at the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, finishing my Masters (and maybe starting a new one), restoring my health, and writing. I really hope that the things we've started will go from strength to strength, and that the community and it's goals will continue to move forward. I will observe with great optimism.

The recent tragic events in Bangladesh have shone the media spotlight on something that most of us have been incomplete denial of for far too long, but that those of us in the industry are far to aware of. This isn't new - it is a far too common occurence. What is new is that the media seem to care about it. The response from consumers and industry has been interesting to say the least, and I'm hopeful that it is a turning point for global change.

Happy New Year

My friend Cheryl Lin over at Business Chic inspired me to follow her lead in setting some goals/rituals for the New Financial Year.  (Read her post here.) I always appreciate a clean slate, and I'm using this one to recalibrate and remind myself of where I'd like to be at the end of the year.


Academic - Finish my Masters

My first masters has been ridiculously drawn out, and I'm pretty keen to get it done and dusted. Four finance subjects this semester will be a big test and a huge intellectual challenge, but I'm really looking forward to it.

Health - Lose 10 kgs

I'm pretty sure I've had this goal every six months for the last five or so years (since the beginning of my Adrenal Fatigue issues). This is obviously part of a broader issue, but it is a big indicator for my health in general and I'd like to get it under control.

Money - Save $5000

I'm planning some serious travel next year and need to get some cash in the bank. I'm hoping that these travel goals will help me make some changes small and large, and knuckle down and do some savings.

Work - Make a plan

My work goals have shifted somewhat in the last few months, and I'd really like to develop a clear action plan for where I'm headed in the next 5 - 10 years. I'll get some coaching, and engage in some consultation to get this sorted out.

Personal -  Recover from AF

Easier said that done, but this is front of mind for me, because it will either prevent or permit me meeting future goals. This takes gentleness, self love and a softly softly approach. It also takes planning on being proactive.

So how will I achieve this? Well, they say success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out, so something simple for each area that you can check in on makes sense to me.


Academic -  Read everyday

In the last little while I've been a little lax in actually reading - and I've accumulated quite a bank of content waiting for me. I really believe you learn so much by reading, and no amount of documentary watching or podcast listening can replace it. Fiction, non-fiction, academic, personal, professional, amateur - more of all of it please.

Health - Move everyday

I'm far too likely to baton down the hatches when the cold weather hits, but I've started a new morning routine today - which I'll no doubt write about - and it means I have no excuses for getting up and moving first thing in the morning.

Money - Track everything

In the past I've been willingly ignorant of just where I've been spending my dollars. I'm on the hunt for a good app for tracking spending and maintaining a budget, but in the meantime I'll be writing everything in my trusty notebook, the old fashioned way.

Work - Write everyday

Also part of my new morning ritual is an hour of writing each morning, so be prepared for more entries here. I was reminded this week that writing is a practice, and a regular habit is the only thing guaranteed to improve it.

Personal - Engage the professionals

Like Cheryl, I've realised I can only do so much on my own and I'm working with a few excellent folk to proactively deal with my AF - including a naturopath, a great holistic GP, and a kinesologist. I'm also going to include occasional massages, maybe even acupuncture and a psychologist. I'm allotting myself 1 hour a week to focus solely on having someone else help make me well.

So there you have it. What's on your hit list for the second part of 2013? How often do you set goals and how closely do you stick to them?