Endurance and Allegiance

These are two words that had nested themselves into my vocabulary over the last 6 months. When I sweep over the words, they seem refined and charming, like something out of an old novel or play. Somewhat lofty and spoken from the moustached mouths of an elite few, over brandy and cigars in a wood panelled room. Given I have no moustache and I am one of many, why and how do they relate to me?

I think the reason they kept popping up is due to an inordinate sense of adversity on a global scale. I’ve been following a few stories about fragmented communities fighting and at war over details and rights. I’ve watched with keen interest the leaders who plyed minorities with false news and influence to sway votes at the expense of a united and humanitarian whole. Whilst trying to stay a compassionate course, until poor leadership is held to account and rectified, I’ve needed two nouns, endurance and allegiance. At times I’ve even walked them as verbs. Although my concerns have been at a global level how do you apply these high-falutin words when adversity strikes at a grass roots level and it gets tough? I don’t mean the “I’ve run out of mascara” or “my custom shoes are not the right tone” kind of tough… I mean my kids father stopped paying child support, I’ve been diagnosed with a fast-growing tumour, my sons partner is pregnant at 15 or any one of a million really tough challenges life serves us; it is only really then that these two words bare their open palms in surrender to take on the weight of burden. That is when you can draw on their noble strength.

Endurance… such an old school word. It speaks to me of making the integrous decision, not the easy one, and sticking to it through whatever the next stage deals out. Until you get to the end. When you look at the word it begins, ironically, with the word end. End urance.  Endurance doesn’t offer a choice. It pushes and aches along, tears streaming, feet kicking or teeth silently grinding until the finish. A truer sense of endurance is the acknowledgement of no completion and the potential that there is no finish. We rely on a great deal of faith to endure something tough. Not religion or absent minded no questions asked following, I mean the kind of faith that sits solid in your gut. The faith of fortitude and stern talking to yourself and holding your chin up to get you through to the next moment for no other reason than you simply have to. Endurance is staring down the adversity, eyeballing it close enough to feel the warmth of its acrid exhalation on your cheeks and whispering on trembling breath – I won’t give in… e v e r! This is the stuff of breath taking inspiration. It’s commonly beautiful and it’s happening every second. People with this level of endurance are the stable and solid types that sit you on your complaining and whinging arse and through their actions compel you to see through your problems and realise that there is much more to be done – not just saying it, not whinging, not procrastinating, not putting it on a to do list but actually just doing it. Endure whatever it is you need to get this thing done. That tiresome and relentless action is endurance… and I’m reminded of it daily in listening and paying attention to the real and ordinary stories of people who are leading their lives, knowing they are themselves suffering and knowing that they have issues but enduring them none the less as best as they can. That right there, my dear friends, is endurance…

Allegiance is another one of these old-fashioned words that superficially sounds like a salute or a military command. Somewhat like “Ahhh ten shun” that is shouted at a flag in staccato, spit flying from the lips of passionate fighters. If you slow the pronunciation down and let the flick of your tongue slowly slide its way from the L to fill your mouth with the G and release through the S, it is a warm, rich and generous word. It feels more like the slow spinning of a wheel, the weaving of a basket or an intricate knot. Something that swirls and doubles back on itself with no beginning or end. An infinity symbol or the sight of fingers interlaced whilst holding hands. In my mind allegiance is about knowing your curves and your edges. Knowing your values and sticking with them even when challenged. At a time when statistics and data are a lubricant for fast and slippery populist opinion, allegiance heralds and calls out lived experience and it relies on a deep trust in oneself. I don’t believe it is a rigid position that reserves room for a select few who dig their heels in. The word begins with all. All egiance. It is an acknowledgement of the collective and an acknowledgement that we cannot all be the same but we will stand united despite it. When brash loud voices are staking fence posts and stringing barbed wire around small, hateful and fearful ideas, allegiance is called upon to throw blankets over the wire to enable escape. It gives voice to the sensibilities and the needs of the quiet ones. Allegiance is a calling to all, with honest voices shaking and eye brows and voices raised an octave too high that gives way to the vulnerability of unplanned passion rather than stoic position. It’s a cry to question and challenge whilst soothing and holding community. If we continue to fragment society over small, data driven, populist sentiment we will lose the qualities and benefits of connecting to the core of being human. Allegiance asks for hand holding, interlacing fingers and threading back on itself, for finding a commonality by which we all are made stronger individually and as a society of equal human being.

I admire your endurance and I would like to ask for allegiance from men and women to support one another. If we are continually pitted against one another, we are distracted by the act of fighting in gutters that were built for clearing runoff and waste and not for the collection and re-distribution of feminine wisdom and female empowerment. How can we lift each other and build gender equality if we are bringing one another down? We can choose to build allegiance to womanhood, femininity, the sisterhood, the divine, call it whatever you would like… we are all in this together and we are striving for an existence based on equality. So, I’m reframing allegiance as a strong and elegant ownership of truth. Allegiance is the display of daily acts of living respectfully for all women. It’s a commitment to knowing who I am, warts and all, and offering my hand to another warts and all woman so she can feel my presence and strength when she is in need. And you know, we all need that warm friendly hand at times. Right there… that’s allegiance. What do you think grass roots endurance and allegiance require? Let us know your story…

 

Photo by Kristina Litvjak on Unsplash

Advertising with an extra bite of almond croissant

As I sit contemplating my recent experience developing our advertising standards I am feeling quietly content. This is in part attributable to the warm sun on my back as I write, but mainly because of the ridiculous almond croissant I recently had at the Rocklea Markets this morning. I feel cocooned by the buttery layers of crispy pastry and almond cream which linger on my mind and taste buds. In this state it’s harder to recall feeling overwhelmed and confused as I did on the outset of the task, unsure how to approach the project, as well as progress it.

For context, it’s worth noting I am a finance and economics student with no advertising experience. However, having recently learnt about the importance of framing, I would say it presented an interesting challenge and opportunity for growth. Or, alternatively a welcome distraction and procrastination of my impending university assignments.

Advertising standards are important right. In fact, in a society where we are STILL flooded with undermining, objectified and 2D portrayals of women, strict advertising standards are critical. Given this, it makes sense to ground our standards and begin with our values; integrity, transparency, diversity, connections, conviction and quality. From here, I was able to combine the Saturday pleasure of browsing through articles, with research on some of my favourite publication’s advertising offering and media kits. This provided me with a skeleton structure, but I was still a long way off. In fact, we as an organisation are a long way off being able to replicate the advertising offering and ask of well-established publications. So, where to next? How to next?

Deciding to give the project a rest for a few days and mildly complaining about my dilemma to a few people, I was reminded of a fellow incubator participant and mentor whose background is in advertising. She, provided the flesh to my skeleton, she was the almond to my croissant. Off the back of her extensive knowledge and ideas she openly shared I was able to enhance the advertising strategies. They connect our advertising offering from a startup stage, to our advertising vision all whilst maintaining our values. Once we start publishing and collecting data, our media kit will also take shape. It’s looking like an interesting shape. A reshape on mainstream offerings and something authentic – Halleluiah! All in all, this process highlighted to me the importance of space, reflection and relationships in work and in life.  Happy Thursday.

 

Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

 

Musing and Meaning

I love the word ‘musing’. It has a quality of meandering wonder about it. It is a process that comes very naturally to me and, as I write this, I realise it is the way in which I experience and act in the world. So here I am musing about musing!

The verb ‘to muse’ means to think about something very carefully in a detailed way or to be ‘absorbed in thought’; the word’s meaning from around 14th century*. It is derived from an Old French word ‘muser’, which means ‘to ponder, dream, wonder, loiter and waste time’.

Interesting that the thoroughly satisfying pursuits of wondering, pondering and dreaming were somehow classified as being frivolous and lazy. I wonder, if in the Middle Ages, whether the average woman had much time for musing? I suppose her thoughts may have been taken up with questions of survival. Perhaps this is why the definition seems to suggest airiness and flippancy. I feel confronted by this superficiality – this is not my experience of musing. For me wonder, dreaming and pondering are an integral part of living – being well – because they help me to make sense of the world, how to live in it and define my action.

My musings over the years have become bedrock. They have been responses to challenges and difficulties eliciting questions to gain understanding. The questions that have risen large in my mind have lead to hours of thinking, years of exploration and a lifetime of learning about what it is to be a human being. I have not only mused privately but have undertaken tertiary studies to find some answers to many questions pondered. I continue to envelope myself with content through books and media streams to gather what the musing quest needs to yield clarity and comprehension.

Musings have given me the tools I have needed to raise my children, create and nurture close relationships and support a myriad of people that I have had the privilege of serving in the community. The questions pondered have enabled me to build connection internally, discovering the values by which I live my life today. I rely on these values to guide me through tricky decision-making as I wade through life’s challenges. The richness of the responses to questions and layers of meaning and knowing, that sit deeply within my being, are the rewards derived from musing that so whole-heartedly supports living.

Musing feels soft and comforting at first, but with time I have discovered that it contains the stuff of courage and perseverance. Musing is not an optional extra or a nice thing to do – it shines a light on us so that we can see reality clearly and make hard choices. There have been times in my life where musing was necessary for survival. It was the reflection needed to help me gain clarity when living became difficult. This was not a quick, lightning-bolt experience of revelation. It was more like slow-drip coffee – a little increment of knowing, a small clearing of insight filtering through my mind. With time musing aided healing and reconnection and opened doors for a greater appreciation of truth.

Musing is so bound with my experience of life that it has shaped my path and written my story. I was born to muse and will continue to question, reflect, wonder and ponder in service of being and bringing the fruits of this process to benefit others. I wonder…do you muse? What’s your experience of musing? I invite you to reflect on how musing serves you.

* https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/muse
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/muse
https://www.etymonline.com/word/muse

 

A story from Sa Pa

I have recently spent four days in a town called Sa Pa, which is poised on the Hoang Lien Son Mountains of Northwestern Vietnam. To reach it you ascend a narrow, windy mountain pass with an incredible view of rice paddies, which have been carved out of the landscape to form pyramid like tiers. Sa Pa is not only famous for its vast, breathtaking views and trekking trails, but for the eight traditional tribes which still live in the valleys and mountains surrounding it. Whilst we were there we did a two-day trek with a beautiful guide called Little Chi who is from a tribe called the Black Hmong. Chi’s knowledge of the land that she traverses every day, as well as the insight she gave us into the day to day lives and struggles of the people there, was (both) rich and eye-opening. For me, it also highlighted the inequalities women in her tribe face and spoke to the bigger question of how cultural norms of sexism and inequality are overcome.

 

Before we had booked our trek, I was given a recommendation for a company called Sapa Sisters. It is the only female-founded and run trekking organisation in Sapa, which employs English speaking guides from two of the tribes; Black Hmong and Red Dzao. Reading the information provided on the website we learned how important providing a fair and above average income was for these women to help them escape domestic violence, save for their children’s expensive university education, and be less vulnerable to human trafficking across the Chinese border. Through Sapa Sisters, employees can also get access to interest free micro loans- helping them improve the livability of their houses amongst other things. These reasons underpinned our choice of Sapa Sisters over other companies and were reaffirmed upon hearing Chi’s story.

 

Let me introduce Little Chi, as per her name suggests she is a 4.5 foot, bubbly and youthful looking woman, who is also a mum to a two-year-old boy. Her smiley demeanor matches her bright pink and green bandana and velvety black pants indigenous to her tribe. Chi is 25 years old and married to a man from her tribe of her own choosing, a recent luxury. She has been trekking with Sapa Sisters for four years, having learned English from following other tourists and guides.  Whereas a lot of guides carry their babies on their backs, Chi tells us that her little boy is with her mother in law, as he is most days and nights while she treks with customers. When her clients settle in for the night at home stays, she will often try and visit her son to feed him milk, but this is not all always possible and she knows he wont sleep well. Matter of factly, she tells us that her husband doesn’t look after their boy, and that men in her tribe spend most of their time drinking, smoking marijuana and gambling with their friends. It’s a cultural thing that women are expected to do all the work, whilst the elder women who can no longer work look after the children.This inequality is also perpetuated by women who have suffered from it, exemplified by Chi’s mother in law chastising her for telling her husband to be less lazy. It is an accepted belief here that men need more free time than women, and whilst she has no resentment in her voice, she agrees it isn’t fair. Men also inherit all the land and valuable possessions from their parents, making it harder for women to act independently.

 

When I asked Chi if she see things getting better for women in her tribe, she had hope. Her steady employment and income gives her more respect and independence as a woman, and she aims to teach her son that women and men are equal. Education which acts as a vehicle for gender equality, is also free and of much better quality now than when she went to school, with teachers who are able to read and write. In spite of this, young girls are still being discouraged to attending school in order to help with family farming.

 

Chi’s story and the information provided by Sapa Sisters draws parallels with the struggles women in other poor and rural parts of the developing world face. The solutions are also similar; education and empowerment of women. A 2014 study by the World Bank Group found that girls with little or no education are far more likely to marry before the age of 18, suffer from domestic violence, live in poverty, and lack a say over household spending and their own health care than better-educated peers *. This, in turn, affects the health and well-being of their children, as uneducated mothers have less power to act in their children’s benefit. Education provides hope and opportunities for women to earn income, with one extra year of primary school boosting a girl’s future wage by 10 to 20 percent, and an extra year of secondary school increasing her earning potential by 15 to 25 percent **. Alternative ways to empower women include social businesses such as Sapa Sisters, as well as certain aid programs. I am particularly interested in cash transfer programs, which have been trialed and implemented with success globally. The simple idea behind this type of aid is to put choice directly in the hands of the poor through cash handouts. In addition to reducing child mortality rates, malnutrition, teenage pregnancy, and truancy, research has shown it to improve school performance, economic growth, and gender equality. In a case of Malawi, school attendance amongst women and girls surged 40% regardless of whether the cash came with or without conditions ***. These findings demonstrate how powerful the link between women’s education and empowerment is from both directions, and ultimately, how important these two factors are in overcoming the devastating issues associated with cultural inequality and sexism.   

 

More broadly, these links between education and empowerment exist in all cultures and countries, including our own. Feathersome aims to be part of this solution in Australia, and it is with great excitement that I invite you to help us with one of our upcoming initiatives Feathersome Journal. We are in the last week of our crowdfunding campaign for the journal, which resources women with other women’s authentic stories and information so that they too can recognise and build their leadership capacity – be it in their family, their community, or in their workplace. Check it out, thank you.

*(World Bank Group, 2014)
**( Koppell, 2013)
***(Just Give Money to The Poor, 2010)

 

A son’s question

My 12 year-old son asked me a question on the long weekend: if I could make a wish to eliminate one of these three global problems entirely, what would I wish for?

  • End all war.
  • Stop global warming.
  • Cease all forms of discrimination.

 

What a gift he gave me! It made me think about what I truly believe because I would want all three of these problems to be eradicated. It offered me the chance to think deeply and quickly to respond.

 

Before you read on, I offer you the opportunity to ponder this question for yourself. Which would you eradicate? Do you know why you chose this?

 

My response was to cease all forms of discrimination. A lack of empathy, acceptance and openness to diversity is ultimately the cause of many conflicts, in private and public spaces. I believe these deficits are at the heart of the fear that keeps discrimination alive in all societies.

 

Imagine being open to another person’s point of view, without judgment, so that you have an appreciation of the other’s true experience. Imagine being listened to in such a way that you are really heard. Imagine these skills being used by all people in government, workplaces, schools and households. How different would be the expression of alternate points of view? Would conflict as we experience it today even exist?

 

With a lack of discrimination, the most influential decision-making forums would be comprised of a far better representation of the communities they serve. There would be more women participating in key decision-making roles as well as more people from currently perceived minority groups. We know from experience and research that decision-making forums with greater diversity make better decisions that serve their constituents better. For example, the speakers at the UN International Women’s Day Breakfast shared that once women become a part of the decision-making governing group in the refugee camp the high level of conflict and violence in the camp declines.

 

Imagine living and working in places where respect is the norm and violence non-existent. That is the world I want to live in. It is the world I try to create through my life’s work – be it as a parent raising three sons to be whole human beings; be it as a social entrepreneur to enable human flourishing and global wellbeing; be it as a partner joining together with purpose to support the journey of life; be it as a friend sharing my life and endeavours to uplift another life.

 

From where I stand, if discrimination is eradicated then wars won’t happen because people will listen to seek to understand and will be open to (not fearful of) difference. In such a world we would also be able to deal with global warming because our major decision-making forums and institutions will make better decisions. Upholding diversity will make a world of difference to our world – it will end so much suffering.

 

My wonderful son just reaffirmed to me what is important. His challenge has shone the brightest spotlight onto why I do what I do every day through the act of living – my purpose is to enable people to live with greater social, emotional and mental wellbeing to enable communities, societies and this whole world to become more peaceful.

 

As part of this purposeful pathway I am tackling discrimination and violence against women. This has opened doors for me to be become involved in some uplifting global events, such as the Women of the World Festival (WOW) at the Brisbane Powerhouse this weekend (Friday 6 April – Sunday 8 April). I feel so privileged to be able to offer my resources to enable others to live a little more courageously, safer, more peacefully, healthier than they had done in a previous moment.

Showing up, sharing the lead

It is beautiful to watch reciprocity in all its forms.

 

I recently read a scientific study about strapping little GPS back packs to 14 birds for the duration of a flight to find out which one was taking the lead in the flock. Contrary to the commonly held selfish gene theory, where the largest and strongest compete for the leadership job, it was found that these birds actually share the role quite evenly. Within their formations, they pair up and take turns sharing the hard work of sticking their necks out and then the relative respite of the slipstream when following. It is an interesting read and makes me consider how my leadership journey is progressing.

 

Now 8 weeks in a wheelchair and recently graduating to about an hour a day on crutches I’ve relied on the slipstream of a few and I’ve been disappointed at the absence and subsequent leaving of some. These big events really do sort the chaff from the hay and I’m dealing with the learning of that reality. It hurts some days. I have lost mobility but not my strong mindset. I have diminished capability in some areas but increased empathy in so many others. I’ve been questioning reciprocity and the nature of this mutually beneficial act.

 

Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

 

I have lived my life so far with a keen sense of giving and at times over-offering support. Pouring into full cups spills runoff into the saucers and that’s a messy clean up. I realise I can only pour from my own lived experience and am always learning layers of empathy that create new opportunities to support others. Sometimes I get it right and fill my cup first, other times I really make a mess. Such is the process of becoming wise. At this stage though, rather than pouring, I feel like I’m tapping teaspoon to cup rim and asking for milk, sugar and biscuits to get me through.

 

Honestly it is with a heavy heart at times, that I try to place myself in other people’s shoes and reflect upon why they are leaving. Especially in my time of high need. I’ve had a crash course in asking the right questions and I am getting clearer in my requests. Why is this ask too much for them at their stage of life? “Why” questions are a lovely start to reflection but I tend not stay too long without jumping to the more productive “How” questions. I have the wisdom to know that I can only work on me… So how am I reacting? I know I am growing and changing. People who have known me for the endlessly offering, giving, smiling, listening soul are now being confronted with a very real, needy, hurting and sometimes demanding person who is literally in the throes of working out how to do the next step. For some people this is too much to sit with my flipside – understandable. Gee sometimes it’s difficult to sit with myself, but I am. It’s true that fair-weather friends are stepping out my revolving support door but it is equally true that others are stepping in and up in different ways. This teaches me about support and what people can reasonably offer. It is a cycle. It is normal.

 

In the temporary void after some friends have stepped away, is an opportunity to assess how much I have given out to others and how much I have sacrificed by not giving to myself. Sipping this tough reality burns a bit. Maya Angelou said “I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’ … There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” Note to self – I’d better pack a cardigan because I’ve been known to strip down and get chilly. Cold hands warm heart is not going to cut it anymore.

 

Another reflection is that I’ve never really asked people to show up in the first place. Some business and personal relationships I have been in for a while have been built on imbalanced foundations. I’ve poured smooth concrete for others to walk on and left a half a square metre in the corner for myself. It strikes me hard that I’ve confused giving away too much of myself with being capable and strong. How can I hold people to account if I didn’t ask for what I needed? The point now is that I can’t keep doing that. It’s obvious my needs are high and plainly I need other people to give to me. I cannot continue to fly up the front, stretching my neck and relentlessly tiring myself with others in my slipstream. It’s dangerous and not sustainable and reduces everyone’s chances of reaching their destination fit and well. I simply can’t carry them any longer and have to learn to the art of reciprocity.

 

The standard and style of accountability by which I hold myself is now a strategy and an essential for my “life tribe” moving forward. My life tribe includes my children, family, friends, beloveds, colleagues, damn it… it includes leaders and society as a whole. I hold you to the same account because I have been in the lead and it’s now my turn to flow in the slipstream to receive the benefit. There is a natural cycle, an ebb precedes a flow. That’s what reciprocity is about. If we all take small consistent turns, we can all uplift. Quite opposite to being selfish, reciprocity is grounded in equality, deep self-loving and is an act of building supportive relationships that enhance supportive communities.

 

Of course, not all my requests can or will be met but I am secure in the knowledge that different people will partner and swirl in and out of my flock at times. To those who are flying closely ahead or behind I feel your strength and I thank you so much. To those who are flying their own course, we still share the same beautiful sky and I truly thank you for the perspective.

 

So, my leap and lesson this fortnight has been to keep myself and my own nest warm before I can offer to others. How can I truly love and lead anyone without deeply loving and leading myself? I’m not talking distracting and superficial love. Not that shallow love that lights up an app screen or sits pulling on me from a retail or pantry shelf but the deep and true love that finds me sitting still in my own self-respecting heart. It has been beating for so many others for so long and now needs to pump and circulate for my own benefit first. It is uncomfortable to write this blog and I do fear that familiar friends will walk out the door though I have to trust that in doing so I am acknowledging and powering the renovation of my solid loving foundations and inviting solid loving people to reciprocate in a natural balance of equal leadership and followership.

 

Leadership is a relationship that requires self-respect, clear requests, boundaries, reciprocity and accountability. In my deeper appreciation of this, it is difficult to balance the weight of reciprocity but I’m following along and giving it my honest best.

 

See you tomorrow at WOW Festival at the powerhouse for Journaling Courage and discovering that you are the leader you have been searching for.

 

Waking up to unicorns

It has been a particularly challenging week. Just a month after my car ran over my lower legs, I’ve had to ask for assistance more vigorously than my independent head desires and I find through this healing journey I am exposed and vulnerable. Deeply held beliefs and prior behaviour around “doing it on my own” are being melted down like cold butter in a warm pot and leaving the lighter mass of my optimism under a much darker layer of heavy yellow oil. The two parts look quite separate from their prior block solid state. Not at all something I’m comfortable with but something I have to endure as the process of reduction is proving to be an elemental ingredient for the future recipe of  ‘me’.

I’d been given the okay to leave hospital after skin graft surgery and 5 days of bed rest. That made it 4 weeks of complete reliance on other people for my nourishment and mobility. Indeed, there’s a lot that can waste and congeal whilst on extended bed rest and many times a good cry has eased and loosened that hard mass. Post discharge though I was excited at the prospect of facilitating an event that was negotiated and agreed upon last November. This was something I’d conceptualised, designed, planned and had a super outfit picked for. Whilst waiting in the 14mins for the ambulance to arrive after the accident I knew I had to be at the event. This was my stretch goal. To keep my bright mind from sinking under the dark liquid I’d suctioned my focus to this date like a barnacle to rock and I was going to be there no matter what. My optimism and expectation were in firm defiance of my body and it’s diminished capability but because I knew my responsibility to leading a team, and equally the business of leading my own recovery down a path with purpose, I needed to stage how far it was until the next bench seat under a shady tree. To a place where we could all take out a water bottle and rest a moment. A spot where we could breathe in the view and marvel at our creation. That’s what I wanted and in my head it was all planned out. The reality was something quite different.

On International Women’s Day and the day of our You Me and a Cup of Tea event with State Library, I had placed myself into the wheelchair and was rolling at a snail’s pace down the hall at home. The walls began to warp and my stomach was disputing strongly. I willed myself to the bathroom and at the same time my mum had arrived to make me breakfast. At this point even dry toast was causing a tsunami in my stomach. I had factored in my lack of mobility, the pants I’d need to wear to accommodate the surgery wounds, my pain threshold, the effect of too many painkillers on the quality of my conversation, even a really cool shoe for the foot that could but I had not considered that I may be vomiting or passing out. The nausea was quickly replaced by the intuitive knowing that I was going to miss the parade. It felt worse than the pain, the nausea and the spinning all put together. I knew I was not getting to the bench seat, no sunlight sprinkling itself through the shady canopy and I had to pass on the one thing that I’d really wanted. For those who have been in this position, you know what I mean. It truly is like handing over a baby. I knew it was right, I knew I had support and an incredible team that have shone like diamonds through this entire ordeal but I was just so sad to not be able to share in it like I had hoped.

The expression ‘give until it hurts’ followed my heart as it fast tracked south to become roommates with the acrid pit of my stomach. I let go. I said farewell. I cried… a lot… but I let go. Surrender is a gift. Surrender is not a seat, it is a warm bed with lush blankets on layers of cotton wool and if you truly release you can feel beautifully supported. So, with tender heart and surrender as my guide I telephoned each of the team to action Plan B. The plan we’d had the foresight to quietly develop a week after the accident but honestly had kept it in the pantry… shoved waaayyy up the back. None of us wanted it in the mix and here we were dealing with what could have easily been perceived from the outside as a substitute. It was not and here’s why…

True leadership is an act of service and a response to circumstance. High performing teams rise with a challenge. I asked myself “How was I to best serve the team in this moment?” My answer was resolute and rock solid – I was to empower them to leap and to fly. To package and pause my own grief for just a moment and have them understand their own capability. They themselves had done the work. This event had been fed, grown and protected under their wings for the last few months as well. The only thing left to do was push them out of the nest and watch them fly. And oh how they did! It was truly uplifting to witness from my bed and feel the quality of conversation and the impact it has made.

The following Monday morning, after a wet weekend of grieving and emotion that left my eyes puffy, my youngest daughter came to my bedside. There was a unicorn in her soft little hand. The rainbow patterned and sparkly horned creature asked me via the voice of my child, “If you had only one wish what would it be”. I responded honestly with “I’d like to be up and walking”. To my disappointment the unicorn erred. It was taking longer than I’d hoped to respond and then said coolly… “Well, ummm… No, I can’t make that wish come true”. My own little girl heart slid south again to curl up foetal next to my navel but in the time it took for me to consider from where my daughter’s pragmatism and wisdom had grown the unicorn added. “… buuut… what I can do is bake a cake and put a lot of candles on it so you can make all the wishes you want.” Phew, my heart uncurled and climbed back up my ribcage to it’s previous position.

It seems the ingredients on my recipe for recovery include surrender, support and cup loads of trust and loving myself for how this is playing out and how I’m sitting or laying down with it. It also includes the support of a harras of horses. These are the powerful, soft and willing people who are carrying me down the path on their backs. I am so very grateful. My team are flying, my course is true.

That was last week… so today I sit journaling about this and at another stage of my adversity and my leadership journey. I’m feeling stronger by the day, the graft is doing well, and we are crowdfunding the print of our first journal. It’s a new learning experience and another stretch goal. We will continue forward and together uplift women’s voices. The team here are so proud to offer you an opportunity to add to the mix and support a simple vision. Please pledge and share generously.

My thanks and my love

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Choirs are Cool

Bear with me today as I explore a topic I honestly don’t know much about, but which after a recent experience, I feel drawn to talk about. Today I want to unpack singing and choirs, as forces which can uplift us on both an individual and community level.

So, as part of this path I find myself on this year; stretching myself with new endeavours and hobbies, I decided it was time to give singing a go. Why singing over anything else, well there are few reasons, but definitely not because I am musical or have any natural singing ability at all… In fact, whilst I absolutely love listening to other people sing, I am very self conscious of my own voice, and aware of my inability to clap a beat, remember lyrics, or hold a note haha! Rather, it’s the refreshing presence of my best friend Eb and boyfriend Sean, who have brightened my life in the last few years with their uninhibited and unapologetic singing that prompted me. They use singing to express themselves, for comfort and for company, and beyond anything to do with talent, I have begun to see the possibilities that singing offers as an outlet for emotion, connection and communication.

My opportunity came in the form of a local women’s choir which I had heard about from people in my community. Setting aside my nerves and trying to embrace the immense sense of vulnerability I felt, I attended my first choir session on Valentines Day. The experience was something quite magical, to be so warmly welcomed by a group of diverse women whose only clear common denominator was the desire to sing. It affirmed to me that there are good things to be realised from putting myself in less than comfortable situations, and more than that, the ability of singing to transcend age, background and personality.

Once we were broken off into four different groups; high and low melody, and high and low harmony, I was able to relax more, letting my voice mirror as best it could, those around me. It proved a great exercise in learning through listening, and highlighted how I would benefit from emulating this more in my day to day life. This same point was brought home to me later, as I watched in wonder as one of the quieter woman moved the group with an incredible solo; exemplifying how less-heard voices can shine when louder voices aren’t dominating.

It was obvious too upon settling in, that the quality of my singing didn’t really matter at all; whilst we all play a role, the whole of the choir is greater than the sum of individual voices. This feeling of being apart of something bigger than myself and surrendering to the movement of the group, is something special, something that I have come across rarely in my life, and something I am motivated to continue coming back for.

Whilst I didn’t leave the choir last week feeling particularly more confident or skilful in my own singing ability, I left there feeling uplifted and invigorated; from the bodily act of singing itself, from connecting with a new group of interesting women, and from riding the current of emotion and energy that our voices created. Sean’s words to me “singing is good for the soul” have definitely landed with me, and I’m excited to keep seeing where this path takes me. On a wider note, this experience has also made me reflect on something I read last year about the Choir of Hard Knocks; a choir which formed in 2006 for people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage. It described how through being part of a regular choir, the attendees began to develop new relationships, build up their conference, and 10 years on have a much greater livelihood including decreased homelessness and increased employment. Since then, it has also inspired a worldwide movement of ‘street choirs’.

So there you have it, choirs really are binding and powerful forces in our lives and communities, choirs really are cool. Voices need to be heard.

Photo by leonie wise on Unsplash

Learning from the knowledge, acts and voice of women

During the 10 days leading up to and including International Women’s Day on 8 March I had the privilege of hearing many stories that placed women at the centre, from a range of diverse people. Here is a little of what I learned…thank you to all the teachers I encountered during that time…

Day 1: Women are willing to write and draw a story of hope to uplift a woman who has experienced domestic violence. Their hearts are open despite being lost for words before they pen something so simple and real that it is profound. The start of 10 days of One Hope Two Give at SLQ.

Day 2: The State Library of Qld is a place full of female stories, from the tea cups in the Queensland Terrace to the books on the shelves to the amazing women organizing community events. It is a community hub for women to connect, access knowledge, develop skills, have a dry, safe place to be and to lead. Being able to connect with members of the SLQ community was a joy for which I am grateful.

Day 3: Parents of daughters have something to say to ensure these future women’s journeys are paved with hope, respect and peace. We can all come together to uplift women leading and support women who have experienced violence as the many parents showed – and some with the help of their young ones.

Day 4: Through the effort of purposeful women much can be achieved. Small conversations and invitations can lead to big things with so many inspirational messages collected to place in the hands of women in need.

Day 5: A woman does. Women all over the world do what needs to be done to nourish, to protect, to teach, to nurture, to toil, to save, to heal, to create…women perform such a variety of tasks which gives them great richness. Their stories are laden with knowledge and insight making them a resource to be treasured. I yearn to hear more of these stories steeped in the grit and joy and grind and calm and work of feminine life.

Day 6: A woman’s visionary leadership does not waiver despite the most difficult circumstances. The hospital bed work meetings kept the flow going to enable a whole bunch of good work to be done to uplift women leading.

Day 7: Women show up. Even though life is busy and families are demanding women show up to lend support. Generosity and open-heartedness again fills me with inspiration. And the people who receive that generosity are so grateful and in awe of the gift of being seen and heard. Logan Women’s Health and Wellbeing Centre thank you for your support!

Day 8: By giving women a safe place to go in highly dangerous environments, to connect, to learn and use their skills, women are prepared to take on leadership roles amongst the frightened and displaced. And when women take on leadership roles change happens because women act and connect differently to build community resilience. UN International Women’s Day Breakfast – stories of both despair and hope.

Day 9: Women are willing to get involved and give freely. Thank you to all the women who accepted the invitation to lead through volunteering at the You Me and a Cup of Tea event on International Women’s Day.

Day 10: Women draw on their inner reserves of courage to live through the isolation experienced as a refugee or a member of ‘the minority group’ or as a person who has experienced violence. Their fortitude and determination see them through their adversity – to learn English, to connect, to become educated, to leave the violence. Women are willing to mentor other women so they can take the next steps towards taking action to help others in need. You Me and a Cup of Tea at the State Library Qld on International Women’s Day brimmed with female tales of courage and resourcefulness -thank you Prudence, Nora, Anna and all who shared their voice.

Feathersome Journal is a repository of female voice. The authentic stories of women leading in business, creativity, education, habitat, politics and wellbeing resource other women to lead consciously and courageously. The crowd funding campaign to print the first edition was launched on International Women’s Day and has raised enough to print the covers! To be able to print more pages of the Journal we need your support through sharing and donating. I invite you to share the link http://chuffed.org/project/feathersomejournal with your friends, family, colleagues and connections and take the lead!

Photo by Lisa Verena Pape on Unsplash

Everyday acts of leadership

Some years ago I was a junior solicitor attending the Family Court with a woman and her children. We spent many hours waiting for the matter to be heard. I have memories of simply listening and talking to this woman – I did not do anything momentous. I just waited the long hours with her. About a week later I received a single rose from this lady and an outpouring of her gratitude for me being there, supporting her at a difficult time in her life. I was surprised and humbled by her gratitude. In hindsight I recognise that the mere fact that I did what needed to be done on that day in the Family Court was an act of service and, thus, an act of leadership.

Again, recently, leadership existing in the simplest, everyday acts was brought home to me. When I discovered that Janine had had an accident my mind kept going back to what it would be like for her and what she would need. At the very least, I wondered how she would get up her tall front staircase or alternatively up the gravelly hill to her back door. Within 24 hours I arranged for her and her kids to stay with my family for a week upon discharge from hospital. It was a real family collaboration, with my parents, my partner and kids collectively providing accommodation, meals, entertainment and travel. To me it was just what needed to be done at that time in those circumstances – I was being practical. To Janine it was a relief to think these details through. Reflecting further I realise that I and each member of my family gave what we could freely in that time and that that giving was an act of leadership.

I have since thought more deeply about the times when I undertook acts of leadership; the instances that really stand out – that I really feel within myself were acts of leadership – were also the times when I gave freely to others. Leadership is not about power or its trappings. It is about generosity and clarity. Leadership happens to every person, every day in the small, seemingly insignificant acts we do in our daily lives for others. Theorists would describe this as servant style leadership. But I actually believe it is what leadership is at its core foundation. We cannot lead if we cannot serve – it can only exist if we give.

In the 10 days leading up to International Women’s day on 8 March, the Feathersome team is hosting One Hope Two Give at the State Library Queensland. Our team will be in the Knowledge Walk (plaza) outside the Infozone at the State Library on level 1. To find out more about this event, One Hope Two Give and to register for You Me and a Cup of Tea panel event on 8 March visit www.feathersome.com.

The team and I invite you to engage in an act of leadership by writing a message of hope for a woman who is experiencing difficult times. Through your leadership you will build a resource for women who have experienced violence. We look forward to meeting you. Thank you for giving generously.