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The adventure of grief

I’m a fan of day dreams.  As a teenager I was often told there would come a time when I would need to stop day dreaming.  That day hasn’t come yet.

I used to – still do – dream of rollicking good adventures, and those day dreams sometimes end up being reality.

Grief is one of those adventures.

It’s not, however, a rollicking good adventure.

If grief were a movie it would be less Pirates of the Caribbean and more Good Will Hunting.  Worthwhile, but deep and profoundly moving rather than frivolous and fun.

When someone dies there is often reflection about the Meaning of Life, which usually ends in  YouCan’tTakeItWithYouWhenYouDieSoDon’tWorkSoHardWhileYou’reAlive.

I wasn’t ready for my father’s death earlier this year – or that of our baby in 2005 – but once it happened I thought I was ready for the aftermath.  I wanted the revelation of a changed perspective.  I figured turning forty in the same year my dad died positioned me perfectly to contemplate and re-examine life.  We returned home after the funeral and I mentally geared myself for a time of navel-gazing.  I dreamed of arriving at the other side of grief with the grace of Audrey Hepburn and the wisdom of Yoda.

Of course it hasn’t happened like that.

I spent most of my teens and all of my twenties swimming in a big pot of self-indulgent post-modern angst; it’s possible I’ve already used up my quota.  Instead of contemplation, it seems I’ve embraced pragmatism.  Life, unsurprisingly, does in fact go on.  It’s weirdly the same but different.

Sometimes grief reminds me we’re still on the adventure together with bittersweet gentle memories.  Sometimes it knocks me on my butt, leaving me breathless and stunned.

Either way, it’s not the journey I thought it would be.

One day I may attain the wisdom of Yoda.  The grace of Hepburn is unlikely.

But a girl can dream.

Bigger isn’t always better

A good coffee is not necessarily the largest.

As the cup gets larger, the quality and strength of the coffee often decrease exponentially.

A good leader is not necessarily the busiest.

Busy may result in ‘getting the job done’, but sometimes at the cost of effectiveness.

Leaders need to do the functional aspects of their jobs well.  Effectiveness is increased (in this utopian dream) when they also demonstrate sustainable, ethical work practices, and care about the people with whom they work.   That’s difficult if they’re in a cycle of doing busy.

When I stop doing busy and choose to be sustainable I always still get the job done but, importantly, I’m more effective.

Regardless of your sphere of leadership – because actually, we’re all leaders – let the how you want to be and the why you do what you do determine how much you doNot the other way around.

It will make a positive difference for you and the people you’re with.


So will the quality of the coffee you provide.

Clumsy running has more benefits than I imagined

This morning I was inspired to go for a run.  Some people, when they run, are graceful and elegant.

I am not one of those people.

Nevertheless, this morning the muse descended, so off I trotted toward the beach.

I don’t engage in conversation or think deep thoughts when I run.  I’m only capable of concentrating on the basics required to move the physical body forward: put one foot in front of the other and remember to breathe.

This is A Good Thing.  I’d spent the last few days trying unsuccessfully to de-clutter my mind from the week that was. I needed to shift focus; if my mind is a room, the attempts at sorting stuff did not result in a neat arrangement of storage boxes with everything in it’s place.

It more closely resembled the jumbled mess of my 16 year old self’s bedroom floor (because – hair flick, deep sigh – thinking about how I was going to change the world was, like, – eyebrows raised - way more important than, you know, cleaning my room – hands on hips).

Last week as my colleague and I drove between meetings, we witnessed a motor vehicle accident.  We did what we could until the emergency services arrived, then on we travelled to our next meeting as if nothing had changed.

But it had.

What we experienced that afternoon resulted in the usual ‘life can be turned upside down in an instant’ reflections.  It also reinforced two things, with a metaphorical punch in the stomach to make sure I was paying attention:  first, the importance to communities of our emergency services.  Second, why we do what we do.

Western Australia’s police, fire & emergency services, and ambulance service cover over 2,000,000 square kilometres.  Across metropolitan, rural, and remote locations volunteers and paid staff work together to ensure our communities are provided with vital services.  It’s humbling and inspiring.

Over 900 years ago the Knights of St John were borne from a hospital in Jerusalem offering healing and respite to all, regardless of nationality or religion.  They couldn’t know where their path would take them or what their legacy would be; they simply saw a need and did something about it.

In 1891 St John saw a need in the colony of Western Australia…and did something about it.

I can’t – and don’t want to – shake the idealism of my messy, passionate 16 year old self.  Contributing to the Greater Good matters.

I returned from this morning’s ungainly gait red of face and weary of leg.

Most importantly though, I returned clear of head.


Painting a picture of the Knights

When I began reading The Siege of Malta by Ernle Bradford, it was with mild curiousity.

About a third of the way through the book, that curiousity left;  it was replaced by a compulsion to know why the 1565 siege ended the way it did.

With my post-modern Gen X perspective on life – developed in a middle class Australian upbringing completely devoid of civil or national unrest – I lack the experience and qualifications to comment on the strategy or morality of war, whether it be modern or in the middle ages.

That’s not what this is about.

I’m driven to better understand the skill, commitment and faith of the Knights of St John of 500 years ago, and to apply that understanding to my experience in the St John of today.

I’d like to paint a picture because art sometimes expresses things words cannot.  I am, however, not artistic. Not even a little bit.  I had a brief teenage foray into sketching which ended in a tantrum of pencil throwing and paper ripping.

I can’t draw but I can write, so I’ll stick with that; it’ll be better for all of us.

It will take more than a 500 word blog post to develop deep knowledge.  Just as it will take more reading than one book.  Just as it took more than one battle to define the Knights of St John.

I’ll give it a red-hot go anyway.  Here is a word painting of my newly acquired knowledge about the Knights of St John:

The Knights were courageous, strong and skilled.  Their leader at the time made tough, sometimes unpopular but almost always effective,  decisions. He was well-prepared.  He kept his knights, soldiers and subjects informed and engaged.  He was resolute in his mission.  He did what had to be done.

Among their ranks were highly trained warriors and strategists, theologians, and physicians.  Faith and politics of the day aside, they existed to serve humanity.

Fast forward to 2014.

I haven’t done enough research yet to fully comprehend the journey from that siege in Malta to the St John of today, but what I know so far is this…

Whatever form St John takes across the globe, faith and politics aside, we still exist to serve humanity.  Our leaders still show courage.  The value of being the best at what we do so we can better serve others still permeates our organisational culture.

And we still stay true to our purpose and mission.

I choose to work for St John because something in me resonates with the core values of this organisation.  It, like me, is imperfect.  We use our strengths and abilities to participate in the Greater Good.  That’s who we are.  Based on my limited one-book-and-several-documentary knowledge, that’s who the original Knights of St John were too.

I look forward to sketching in the detail as I learn more.

There will be no pencil throwing, I promise.

Inspiring audits and compromising coffee

My husband has wanted a Nespresso for a while. I’ve been resolutely, scornfully anti pod coffee, but – because I am occasionally selfless and thoughtful – last month we bought him one as a birthday gift.

My desire to serve him resulted in me being epitome of Fabulous Wife. Or if not the epitome, at the very least I became my own made-up definition of spousal brilliance …. so in this instance I’m probably I’m not as selfless and thoughtful as I give myself credit for.

The people with whom I work serve others. They think and care about how they can assist everyone achieve their goals. The why and how of what they do matters to them. This is business as usual.

Sometimes though, something happens which highlights the values and consequent effectiveness of our team, which in turn humbles and inspires me.

This week the ‘something’ is an audit. I know, right? Audits aren’t often the first things which spring to mind as inspiring.

Technically, the audit rested with one particular team member who used his extensive subject knowledge and expertise to successfully complete the task.

Functionally though, our entire team did whatever they could to assist.

One colleague used her exceptional ability in developing processes and managing detail to guide the audit preparation. One screened phone calls so those working on the audit could be uninterrupted. Others provided bad jokes or entertaining stories to alleviate tension. We made sure there was an appropriate supply of coffee and chocolate.

Our team’s commitment to the goal was impressive, but what inspired me was the commitment to serving each other.

Serving others didn’t mean ignoring our own roles or workload. It simply meant making time to offer assistance in areas of strength and within the time available. There was no compromising; it was actually a perfect example of integrated values and work ethic in action…

…Unlike purchasing the Nespresso, which required flexibility in my coffee values. However, while I still maintain it doesn’t taste as good to me making coffee from scratch, I can see its value.

Compromise is like that sometimes.


The Crusades and the Power; the influence of our roots

I’ve got AFL on TV and I’m immersed in a book detailing the seige of Malta in 1565. It’s an oddly palatable combination. Like salted caramel, or chilli chocolate.

Both are strong examples of the power of teamwork, elite athleticism, fanaticism, strategic leadership and faith.

I’m reading the book because I want to better understand the roots of the organisation for which I work.

I’m watching the footy because it’s finals. Port Power are playing and I can’t quite shake my South Australian, AFL-drenched childhood.

Where we’ve come from influences us.

I know enough about where my organisation has come from to want to know more. I want to understand the success and failures of our organisational ancestors. I want to learn from the voices of the past and apply those lessons to the now and the future.

I know enough about influence to know the black-and-white Port Adelaide supporting world of my childhood is etched in my psyche. I invested much of my 20s pretending AFL didn’t exist, so the emotional commitment only comes back when Port Power are winning.

The fundamentals of success and teamwork are always there though, and they are echoed in the actions of the besieged and besiegers in Malta in the sixteenth century.

Commitment to a cause isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.

Teams are greater than the sum of their parts.

Teams need faithful, sometimes fanatical supporters.

Teams need a passionate commitment to their goal or cause, even in the face of certain defeat.

How a team celebrates victory is as important as how they accept defeat.

Finally – and this one is not mirrored in my history book – when children are consistently exposed to AFL, no matter how hard they try to shake it off as adults, they can never truly be free.

Which may not be such a bad thing after all.

Where do we get the good coffee?

Our organisation is filled with folk who are skilled and passionate.

The team in which I work covers many areas of expertise, and our connection to our passion – the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of our roles – helps keep our focus clear.   Our daily Coffee O’clock gathering strengthens our connection to each other, which in turn strengthens the team.

Most of our team are committed to coffee. I’m passionate; possibly slightly obsessive.  Or let’s just call me energetically enthusiastic.

Enthusiasm is important in a team.

In a few months I’ll be travelling to Malta and the UK with colleagues.  The five of us travelling together are a new team.  We don’t work in the same part of the organisation.  We don’t know each other well.  We haven’t worked out yet how we’ll work.  But we will.  We are different in many ways, but we share the privilege of participating in a program which develops leaders, integrates historical values with current best practice and future strategies, and builds valuable networks.

We’re all clever, competent professionals so we will learn useful things.  We’ll add value to each other and the organisation – and we’ll have fun as we go.

At the top of the list of Useful Things to Learn is Where Do We Get The Good Coffee?  Coffee is an experience not just a drink.  It is the font from which creativity, focus, patience, relationship and curiousity flows.  It is vital.  It should never be taken for granted.  And it should never be instant.

It’s possible I’ve put too much thought into coffee.

I’m curious about Malta.  The history of our organisation is intertwined with the history of Malta. I’m delving into history books on my Kindle and BBC documentaries on my laptop.  I’m intrigued by the journey taken by our organisational ancestors, and the connection to us hundreds of years later half a world away.

I’m delving into travel blogs and tourism websites because I’m also curious about the coffee. There seems to be much good coffee on Malta which pleases me greatly.  According to Trip Advisor Piadina Caffe is the best but I’m open to more information.

For the Greater Good of the team it’s probably important to research the answer to the question about coffee.

I’m a way better travel companion if I’m happily caffeinated.

mundaring coffee




ET and sustainability

Excellent coffee is important in my life. Sustainability is important in the Greater Scheme of Things.

For several years now I've been telling myself that by choosing to pay more for sustainably produced coffee, I'm doing my bit for the aforementioned Greater Good.

Yes. I am that person; the one who talks about sustainability, but whose knowledge on how to contribute to global economic and environmental sustainability is limited to buying stuff that says 'fair trade'.

Personal and professional sustainability though - that I know.

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Telling your team’s stories

Our lives are – in part – defined by the stories we tell.

Words paint pictures which show others who we are and what we’ve done.  They lay foundations of what we value and believe.  They build a road and can determine our path.

Our stories matter.

Just as every individual has stories, so does every team. 

What are the stories which chronicle, characterise and celebrate your team?

How do you tell them?


The Shopping Muse, the Gods of Coffee, and adding value…

Travelling in London, Paris and Rome a few years ago I felt like I'd arrived in a place of peace; a place where the Shopping Muse luxuriates in harmony with the Gods of Coffee. The Muse is always there, flitting in and out of doorways, enticing with a wisp of a silk, a glimmer of glitter. The Gods of Coffee called to me from every street.

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