Personal Growth

Incredible Women in my Life

I know this is a bit late for International Women’s Day, but I thought I would post it anyway.

Some backstory - I used to do a lot of art and painting in my younger days, but haven’t really done anything for the past 3 decades or more. Work, life, music, everything else simply got in the way and I never put pen or brush to paper in all that time.

Until this year, when I decided to try my hand at painting again. But the next problem was - what subject matter? I decided that I would focus on women in my life who have had an impact on me. Not just my immediate family, which consists of strong women anyway, but rather my friendship circle, in which I have many women who I think are totally amazing.

(Note: I have held back from mentioning names in this post. Mainly because I want to protect the privacy of my friends. Most of them are really humble and wouldn’t like to be called out for their strengths, but I think their story deserves to be told).

Here are my (rusty) artistic impressions of my heroes:


IMG_0011.PNG

I first met E when she worked at a client site that I was doing some consulting work at. She always had the brightest smile and a genuine “Hello, how are you?” that went beyond mere politeness and showed an actual interest in the answer, which in turn showed the depth of her soul.

E does it hard raising two very young kids as a single mother, but she does not let that hold her back from showering her children with an abundance of love. And she always has time for others.


IMG_0017.PNG

J was a good friend of my younger sister and spent a lot of time at our house when growing up, and so I consider her another little sister of mine as well as one of my best friends. Many years ago, while in the prime of her life, she suffered an aneurism which nearly took her life. She still suffers many permanent after effects of that incident to this day, including short term memory loss, but she does not let that hold her back, and she still retains her delightful, happy personality.


IMG_0023.PNG

M was another client who turned into a friend. A few years ago she was diagnosed with having multiple brain tumours. Because she lived across the country, I could only follow her journey of fighting through this via Facebook, but I was amazed at her strength, resilience, and most importantly, her absolutely candid sense of humour while going through the worst of times. That is priceless in my opinion.

Even during her recovery, there was no hesitation in outlining funny things that happened as a result of the multiple surgeries and procedures that she underwent - for example, she suffered balance problems following her release from hospital, but she regaled us all with the funny story of how she tripped and fell flat on her face outside her favourite pub when she was on the way to celebrate beating those pesky tumours. It takes someone special to always see the funny side of something so serious. Thankfully M is doing well now and enjoying a full and healthy life.


IMG_0026.PNG

J is a long time business colleague whom I have a lot of respect for. I have known her for many years, which includes the time encompassing two marriages that didn’t work out. What I really admire about J is how she doesn’t let heartbreak hold her back. Every time she met a new love, she would throw herself heart and soul into the relationship with no cynicism or negativity. That kind of bravery, to risk your heart over and over like that, is rare.

More recently, J also came down with breast cancer and battled through that with silent courage. She is now in marriage #3 with her soul mate and is blissfully happy living the life of her dreams.


IMG_0030.PNG

S is a relatively new friend, but has already astounded me with her spirit of generosity and her willingness to go above and beyond to help a friend out. She is an avid traveller and is not afraid to explore the wilder side of places she visits on her own. She is a super smart former lawyer. She is also a former MMA cage fighter, so she is one tough lady that stands for no nonsense. A serial entrepreneur, I always enjoy spending time with her talking about startup life and travelling.


IMG_0033.PNG

D is another friend of my sister who is like a little sister to me too. Always ready with a delightful smile. She is a beautiful soul. She has 2 children with special needs, but I have never heard her complain once - she showers all 4 of her children with boundless love. Tragically, she recently lost her young son, and my heart goes out to her, because of all the people in the world, D does not deserve this. She also had her own personal battle with cancer a couple of years ago, but that never stopped her from being there for her own family. For me, D is proof enough that no higher deity exists, because any god that can put someone as amazing and compassionate as her through such life trials really does not make any sense to me.


I hope to add to this list over the coming months, and I am realising how lucky I am to be surrounded by such strong, inspirational women almost everywhere I go. They have all played a part in shaping me into the person I am today.

People have asked me “Aren’t there any men who have inspired you the same way?” and the short answer is yes, but apart from my own Dad, I really can’t think of any other male figure in my friendship circle who has been through the sorts of battles that the women above have. I am sure there are though, and as soon as I find them, I will do something similar.

Successful Simplicity Revisited

I am a big fan of Derek Sivers, and have subscribed to his email newsletters since I met him at the Business of Software conference in Boston a decade ago. Last month, a newsletter came from him titled ‘Successful Simplicity’. The crux of the newsletter is explained well in the following video:

Basically, people find complications in things that they don’t want to do, and dismiss those same complications if it is something they want to do.

To bring this concept back to my own world view: This reminded me of several discussions I have seen on music forums I frequent about changing guitar strings. Lots of people seem to find the task of changing strings quite arduous and something to be avoided unless really necessary.

I will admit, I used to think the same way, but I have learned to overcome these ‘complications’ and inconveniences and embrace this particular task lately. And believe me, I had to. With over 20 guitars around the house, and a professional musician for a son that I act as roadie/guitar tech for, there wasn’t much choice.

Sword_polish.png

It goes back to a book I was reading many years ago about the ancient Samurai warriors of Japan. Because the feudal system of the time meant constant battles against Daimyos and duels between blade masters, their long and short swords (which were considered the ‘soul’ of the warrior) were constantly getting damaged in combat, or by body oils and blood! Contrary to what is shown on the big screen, these swords needed constant care and attention to prevent corrosion and cracking of the blade. Almost every time a Samurai stopped at an inn or a castle, he would have to get out his polishing kit and perform maintenance chores on his swords.

But the way they approached the task was what intrigued me. Because the sword was considered their ‘soul’, they treated the blade with reverence and utmost respect. Any work done on the hardware was treated as a sacred duty. Inspecting the sword for chips or nicks was a loving action that increased the warrior’s familiarity with his blade and gave him a chance to bond with an object that was considered an extension of his own body and consciousness.

IMG_2299.JPG

I decided to adopt that same philosophy with the routine task of changing strings on my guitars. Nowadays, I usually set aside about 20 to 30 minutes for the exercise, and I clean up a spot on the table on our deck (where I can experience the breeze and hear the birds in the trees) as my workbench, and inform the family that I am not to be disturbed for a while. I set out all my tools in an orderly fashion, and select the guitar that I will be working on.

Much like a cha-no-ryu tea ceremony, I tend to deliberately emphasise every movement. Almost theatrical. I force my mind to be present to the task at hand, rather than wander away. I bring my full attention to every dent, blemish and scratch on my guitars while working on it or cleaning it - not in an accusatory or critical manner, but simply as an observation and part of the process of becoming intimately familiar with my instrument.

In a lot of way, it is like a meditative practice, that forces me to be ‘in the moment’ and to appreciate every nuance of it.

Just reframing this regular task in this way has turned it from a chore to be put off, to an activity that I actually look forward to nowadays. So much so, that I started applying the same philosophy towards other mundane tasks that I have to do on a regular basis. Still got some troubles applying it to things like doing my taxes, but I will get there eventually.

Have you tried a similar technique to turn onerous tasks into joyous ones? Let me know.

On Friendship

Ned and Jane, high school friends whom I have known for over 30 years now…

Ned and Jane, high school friends whom I have known for over 30 years now…

I was lucky enough to have spent the Australia Day long weekend just gone hanging out and playing music with old friends. Strange to think that aside from 2 people who I only met in 2017 (you know who you are Kendra and Fiona), that most of my closest friends who I would consider in my ‘inner circle’, I have known for more than three decades. Some of them, over four decades!

I guess that is the nature of my personality. I find it hard to actually make friends in the first place, but once I do make friends whom I connect with, I would gladly take a bullet for them and will be friends with them until the end (or they do something to shatter my trust in them). Those in the ‘inner circle’ are as dear to me as family.

I met friends on the weekend that I hadn’t spoken to in over 10 years, but we still took up where we left off as if it was just last week. And that made me think how lapse I have been over the past many years keeping up contact with my old friends. I have just been too caught up with work and other things going on in my life, that the nurturing of old friendships has been left to wallow in the weeds.

To that end, in 2019 I am intending to put a lot more effort into (a) tightening the bonds of friendship with old friends and (b) casting out the line to create some new friendships with like minded people. As an introvert (INFP), I usually find it difficult to reach out and form new friendships, but I am determined to overcome that and end this year with at least one more person in my ‘inner circle’.

This means:

  • Keeping up with our Sunday picnic session on the clifftops at Nightcliff Jetty (as we did all last year)

  • Attending more functions and music festivals with friends

  • Inviting people around to our house for dinner more often

  • Calling friends out of the blue to go out for a coffee or a beer at a pub

I’ll update this post in 12 months to see how I’ve gone with this initiative.

It was so nice to get a handwritten dinner invite last week!

It was so nice to get a handwritten dinner invite last week!

Note that this means less social media. In the past, I have used Facebook etc. as a bit of a crutch and a passive way to keep up with what my friends are doing, but this year, I am actually going to eschew most social media for communication and get back to some old fashioned talking to people and writing letters.

The Disconnectivity of Remote Working

Photo by  trail  on  Unsplash

Photo by trail on Unsplash

Throughout the 30+ years of running my own business, I have explored all aspects of teamwork.  From having my own in house team, to having a totally remote team, to a combined mix of the two.

Which do I prefer? Now THAT is an interesting question.

I would consider myself an introvert, and I do prefer working by myself in my own home office a lot of the time.  However, some of my best working memories have been when I have been in an office situation and working alongside others.

There is something about the human connection of being in the same space as others.  A myriad of non verbal cues and communication that goes on, most at a sub conscious level, which lends itself to a better sense of being part of a community which is pulling in the same direction.

Case in point - my current startup is a fully remote setup.  For the past two years, it was really only myself and another co-founder, who worked in a small town literally on the other side of the world.

Now, my co-founder and I had a great working relationship, and we produced a ton of stuff together.  All communication was mainly via Slack and email, and we used to talk on a daily basis PLUS have a weekly web video catch up.

My co-founder left the startup about 2 months ago.  The first week was really challenging, as I directly missed talking to someone while working away on new ideas.

But by the end of the first month, I started to get used to working by myself again.  After all, I had run the startup by myself for about a year before my co-founder joined me.  So it felt basically the same as it did before.

By the end of the second month, I was actually struggling to recall even working with my former co-founder.  This concerned me, as I always considered myself a sensitive person who liked to reminisce about happy memories.  So why was it suddenly so difficult for me to recall any of those good times we had had?  My co-founder's departure was amicable, so this wasn't as a result of any ill feelings.  Rather it just seemed that those experiences and memories were just floating out of reach, and without anything to anchor them too, they just seemed to waft away whenever I tried to recall them.

Even when I would go back through a Slack conversation to find an old screenshot or idea, I would re-read some of our conversations - but I struggled to actually remember the emotions or personality behind those chats.  Re-reading them seemed somehow cold and impersonal and I couldn't tell if I was tired, or angry, excited or happy while typing those paragraphs.

As a direct contrast to that, I can still clearly recall events that happened in my office over 20 years ago when I worked only feet away from the rest of my team.

Tiny things like a shared look, collapsing on the floor laughing at an 'in house' joke, or the casual punch on the shoulder as someone congratulated you while walking past your desk - all those things just added so much to my working experience that I, even as a self confessed 'lone wolf', missed them terribly.

There is something about being around people who are experiencing the highs and lows of their lives (even outside of work) that is strangely enriching and bonding.

To extend this even further - I was looking through my Facebook feed just this week, and I realised that I have become close friends with a vast majority of people that I have worked with face to face over the decades.  Remote workers much less so.  For some reason when a former remote staff member posts about their family or holiday or other life event, I find myself a lot less engaged with their thoughts and feelings.  There is still an element of them being an unknown 'stranger' so that any such intimate details of their lives instills a sense of guilt that I tend to deliberately avoid seeming too familiar or presumptuous when reading their posts.

While my recently departed co-founder and I had discussed an actual company meetup where we (and potential future staff) could meet face to face, it never happened during our working time together.  And now that my co-founder has moved on, I have accepted that we will probably never, ever meet in real life.

I am in the process of building up a whole new remote team now though, and am looking at strategies to try and counter this feeling of disconnection with those that I will figuratively work alongside for the coming years.

Regular company face to face meetups are definitely on the cards.  But I am also thinking that we might need to put something else in place outside of those times.

But what could take the virtual place of those little moments like tossing a paper plane across the office to see whose desk it would land on, or the understanding look that I would share with a colleague across from me after hanging up from a talking to a difficult client, or the good natured group ribbing that would happen when a co-worker brought a delicious smelling lunch into the office?  I have yet to see a web or mobile app that can replicate this sort of interaction.

Perhaps I have to go and invent it?