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Why can’t we share?

This afternoon I dragged out and dusted off my social conscience. To make room for it, I had to shove my apathy and cynicism in the back of the cupboard.

I attended a peaceful rally against the Australian government’s current approach to asylum seekers and refugees.

It was quite a gathering of groups who are not always united; the Greens, the Labour party, refugee support organisations, community groups, Atheists, Muslims, Christians, Marxists – across all generations.

I love that a common desire to end an injustice can sometimes transcend religious and political differences.

I know I don’t know all the factors to consider when it comes to resettling asylum seekers and refugees. I know I don’t understand the intricacies of politics and policies. I know it’s not fair to criticize what I don’t understand.

Although it seems to me the way we are currently doing things is inefficient, ethically questionable and financially irresponsible, I accept I could be wrong.

I’d like to understand the other side of the story.

For understanding to occur (for me at least) there needs to be a conversation without political rhetoric and fear-based hyperbole, and that’s what seems to be lacking.

Show me the value placed on humanity. Help me to know how the government’s policies build stronger local and global communities. Demonstrate how offshore processing and onshore detention centres have a financial and social return on investment.

In Australia we’ve got a lot. We have a healthy minimum wage, paid annual leave and sick leave. We’ve got an abundance of land and wealth. We’ve got affordable health care. We’ve got peace and security regardless of our religious or political beliefs.

I’d like someone to help me understand why we aren’t sharing that better.

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Know who you are

Sleep eludes me today.

After half an hour of lying in bed at 2am trying to relax (a counter-productive concept), I got up. I started working and writing.

My dog lies happily next to me, with his head on my leg. My favourite teacup, now empty of it’s first chai for the day, is tentatively balanced on the documents, novels and renovation brochures next to the lamp. A small Shrek figurine lays on my son’s mid-semester report. And three shrivelled tea bags are evidence of my inability to overcome the apparently insurmountable challenge of putting them in the rubbish bin.

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My preference for efficient processes and workspaces comes from a need to balance my natural inclination toward creative disorganisation.

Know who you are; how you operate, what restores and depletes your energy, what drives you, what your values are and what you value. This is how you lead – and follow – with intention.

It’s also how I justify the mess on the coffee table next to my sofa.

Walking the dog

My dog and I are learning how to do the ‘walking the dog’ thing.

We are relatively clueless, but we are determined to get it right.

It seems to me walking my dog well is a little like leading teams well. Both situations require me to have:

1. A clear idea of where we are going;
2. Trust to keep control loose;
3. Strength to pull back if necessary;
4. Flexibility in case we need to change direction to reach our destination;
5. Persistence, patience and resolute optimism.

Finally (and maybe most importantly) a willingness to clean up any mess – metaphorically for a team…literally for a dog.

Pyjama Jedi

I rarely feel like exercising and I don’t look good while I’m doing it. Not even a little bit.

I know it keeps me healthful though, so I’ve developed a habit of working out.

While I got the physical habits sorted years ago, it took a little longer to develop other habits which keep my stress healthy and useful. Stress – like conflict – isn’t always bad. It simply needs to be in balance and channelled toward the Light, not the Dark, Side.

Disclaimer: this post contains mildly inaccurate references to concepts and characters in Star Wars.

I’m usually full of zeal to take care of myself after a stress-filled event.

In these instances The Force is strong in me. I’m like Luke Skywalker when he gets angry early in the Star Wars movies; all fire with little focus.

Inevitably the passion fades over time to a nonchalant, shoulder-shrugging apathy; Luke Skywalker whenever he doesn’t get his own way.

A well-established habit becomes an automatic response to a given situation or experience. It removes ‘I don’t feel like it so I won’t do it’, and replaces it with ‘when x happens, I do y’.

Most habits are accidental. Making habits work for you consciously is a powerful tool for GoodAndNotEvil.

I’ve identified the components of my Keeping Stress Healthy habit:
1. Slouch in my pyjamas and read a book;
2. Sit in a café and read a book (sadly not in pyjamas). There is probably an untapped market for pyjama-accepting-cafés;
3. Write;
4. Be more interested in other people than in myself;
5. Have interesting conversations with friends;
6. Activate my exercise habit.

In any given situation, if I’m being healthy, my habitual response to negative stress is a blend of the above.

My ideal would be to combine all six, up to and including pyjama wearing for exercise and coffee.

When I’m not clear on the best combination, I’ll try a few until I hit the right one.

Last night was like that. I got home from work, ate dinner in my pyjamas and prepared for a night of slouching. I’d been invited to a friend’s and had declined, but the pyjama slouching wasn’t doing it for me so I dragged myself to her place. I hung out with clever, interesting women. We discussed faith, philosophy, friendship, and the marvel of the Tim Tam Slam.

I think if I could have slouched in my pyjamas at the same time it would have been just about perfect.

As I drove home I could feel the stress inside me turning away from the Dark Side.

Our habits are the sum of their parts. They influence our mental, emotional and physical well-being. They are a powerful force.

Use them intentionally and wisely.

I may secretly be a Pyjama Jedi.

Country, city, coffee

I loved my country upbringing when I was 12, barely tolerated it when I was 16, then escaped and vowed with dramatic sighs never to return again.

For twenty years I was true to my bold teenage declaration, then work led me back to the country.

It was acceptable, but not a great fit. Much like wearing an old school uniform for a fancy dress party; I squeezed back into it, but it was uncomfortable and looked weird.

Two years into our attempt at country living my son was offered a place in a music program at a metropolitan school.

We moved back to the city. Happy dances abounded in our house.

I can breathe in the city.

I still work in the country, and I love it. Living in the city gives me a perspective and balance which was lacking when I did the live-and-work-in-the-country thing.

I totally understand the appeal of country living…it is just not for me. There is great value in the closeness, the intertwined families and social circles, but I felt suffocated. I got slightly too feisty when I felt the pressure of gender stereotypes and the prejudice against anyone ‘different’.

I know these things exist in the city too, but it is diluted.

My experience has been in the city there are more people who are ‘different’ than are ‘same’ so different isn’t, in fact, different at all.

Generally speaking, the coffee is also better.

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…It’s actually all about the coffee. The rest is merely an attempt to justify my coffee snobbery…

Grace-filled volunteering and excessive punctation!

I recently responded with a tentative, courageous ‘yes’ when my son’s school asked for volunteers.

I was expecting an email from the school with information and direction. I nervously anticipated my first foray into this strange new world. I’d cleared my calendar for the first meeting. I was all ready.

Information wasn’t forthcoming. I assumed I was not required so I booked meetings for work instead.

On the morning of the first meeting (for which I was no longer available), I received an enthusiastic email from the teacher saying she was looking forward to seeing us at the meeting this afternoon. I rang my husband. With a reckless volley of exclamation and question marks I verbalised my displeasure:

‘I’ve been waiting!’ I declared, ‘I cleared my calendar and when I heard nothing I made other arrangements!’ ‘I’m disappointed!’ I pronounced, ‘I really am trying to be a Mother Who Volunteers At School. Do they not see I’m secretly terrified and I need to be coaxed along??? Do they not understand how important it is to contact volunteers, give them information, engage them early??? ‘

My husband, to his credit, pretended to care. He did the only thing guaranteed to stop my self-indulgent tirade. In the same voice used in the movies to tell someone to “put the gun down and back away from the table”, he gently told me to sit down and have a coffee.

So I did.

As I recaffeinated, I luxuriated and I ruminated.

My experience with the school was a good reminder that:

1. Volunteers are happier and more productive if they’re engaged positively (we’re people, people like to feel appreciated);
2. Not all organisations know how to do that;
3. Even organisations who do know sometimes forget to, or unintentionally get it wrong (we’re made up of people. People make mistakes);
4. When #2 or #3 occurs, the best response is for the volunteer to show grace and patience;
5. Volunteers need to take responsibility for their own actions (I could have contacted the school much earlier to confirm my involvement. The fact that I didn’t is not the school’s fault);
6. Instead of excessively using exclamation and question marks, I will in future use the interrobang;

interrobang

Maybe also some are destined for school volunteering and some are not.

I think perhaps I am not.

Enjoy the rain…

Imagine you’re walking through mud. There is a strong force around your ankles pulling against any forward movement. It’s raining and fog surrounds you. Each step uses an inordinate amount of energy and leaves you standing with your hands on your knees catching your breath.

While this is at times my experience of the symptoms and side-effects of ET (the weird blood thing, not the weird 80s movie) and hydrea, it isn’t unique to these two things.

There are times when life generally – and leading specifically – can feel similar.

When that happens it’s tempting to go back or flop down in defeat.

The difficulties we face don’t have to stop us.

Instead of flopping in the mud, squelch it between your toes. Reconnect with your strength as you pause.

Instead of going back, simply turn and look at where you’ve been. Be encouraged by your progress.

Instead of hunching over when you’re catching your breath, sit. Be refreshed by the rain.

Pausing doesn’t mean you’re defeated.

Sometimes slowing down creates opportunities for new ideas to germinate, for old junk to be washed clean or washed away. Pausing clears the fog and enables you to clearly see the next steps.

How we handle the rain will influence our experience of the journey.

It’s our progress which matters, not the pace.

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Reflections

The Swan River threads its way through Perth. It is always beautiful.

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In the still of early morning, it also reflects the beauty and bounty around it.

Leaders can do the same. When leaders operate from a place of calm strength others see their value reflected. Team culture is healthier, organisational outcomes are consistently realised, people are happier.

Find the things which help you lead from that place.

…and if you haven’t been to Perth, come visit. Sit by, or take a ride on, the Swan.

See your own calm strength reflected.

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Inspired by an imperfect organisation and perfect coffee

Imperfection inspires me…except when it comes to coffee; then imperfection displeases me.

That being said, when it comes to non-caffeine-related situations, I’m often inspired by imperfect folk and imperfect organisations who are working to make the world – or their part of it – a better place.

I work for an organisation which fits into that category.

Yesterday during a presentation to paid and volunteer staff our CEO drew a thread through our history, weaved in our mission, and joined both to our future.

I’m not naïve; I understand the importance for organisational outcomes of connecting the functional work we do to a vision, an ideal or a dream.

But while I’m not naïve, I am still – and hope to always remain – just a little idealistic.

I like that our organisation has a rich history and a clear sense of who we are. I like that our core values align with our mission. I like that our mission contributes to building resilient communities.

We aren’t perfect, and I like that too.

My coffee this morning is perfect. Smooth, strong and aromatic. So as I drink my coffee I’ll enjoy feeling inspired.

I like being reminded of the why behind the what of what we do. It motivates me.

I like perfect coffee. That also motivates me.

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The broken glass

Bullying breaks people.

Two important glasses of mine broke today, so I appreciate the damage done when something breaks.

I have a favourite glass tea cup. This glass and I share early morning cups of chai. We watch the sunrise together. We have quiet end-of-day moments. My chai never tastes as good in any other cup.

Today that glass was accidentally broken.

The other broken glass was metaphorical. It was the glass of an important-but-not-quite-true internal belief that ‘my body is healthy because it looks healthy’. I was diagnosed with essential thrombocytosis seven years ago. Today my specialist put me back on a strong medication with some unpleasant side effects. Today I was told I needed an iron infusion. Today I was also diagnosed with acquired Von Willebrand disorder.

I keep wanting call it the Wildebeest disorder. It sounds more fun.

The Wildebeest is linked to haemophilia; so in addition to being a ‘clotter’, I’m also a ‘bleeder’. The two combined unfortunately don’t cancel each other out. Silver lining though – nor do they impinge on a healthy, active life if they’re managed appropriately.

Living with a chronic condition has strengthened in me a resolute optimism when faced with a potentially negative outcomes. I rarely accept ‘that’s just the way it is’ in any situation.

And I know when that metaphorical glass breaks, it can be glued together. Although it may never be in mint condition again, it is still effective. Its jagged edges and obvious scars make it beautiful.

I have a responsibility to do what is necessary – and not always easy – to manage my health.

Bullying shatters individuals and fractures teams. If it’s managed appropriately the brokenness can be healed, although sharp edges and scars may remain. If it’s not managed well (or not managed at all) it breaks people completely.

As leaders we have a responsibility to do what is necessary – and not always easy – to manage bullying if we see it happening.

When people who are suffering from being bullied see someone doing something to help them, they strengthen.

They begin to gain a resolute optimism that things can, in fact, be different.

Let’s not let the glass break. People matter too much.

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