A tale of two tattoos

19621799_10155696127454050_225050555_n.jpg

We’ve done something a little different on the blog today: two companion pieces. Ellen Fussell pens the first piece, and Belinda White responds. 

Ellen: My physical appearance means it’s no surprise to many people that I am strong. My inner strength is less obvious to the outside world.

One of my gym buddies commented to me recently “you are just so strong in your mind, you never doubt yourself”. It led to a conversation about how I only wished that was the case in all areas of my life and not just when lifting heavy things. But it started me thinking, and I realised how much an increased confidence in my physical abilities has slowly permeated into so many other parts of my world.

Generally speaking, I have never been a risk taker. I feel a great affinity with the Disney Pixar character “Fear” from the movie “Inside Out”. In fact when Fear spoke about only attempting something where the probability of success was greater than 50% my girlfriend nudged me and chuckled in recognition of my modus operandi.

A few years back if someone had asked me to run 5km I wouldn’t have even started. I would have happily walked it, but never run a step out fear of failure. If my husband had asked me to help out by mowing the lawn, I would have just said “I don’t mow lawns” rather than give it a shot out of embarrassment that I wouldn’t actually be able to do it. I refused to line up at the start of a triathlon out of debilitating worry about not being able to make it through.

But it wasn’t just physical challenges I commonly approached with trepidation. It was even sampling new tastes. I had never eaten peanut butter and would steadfastly refuse to go near any egg that showed even the remotest tendency to being runny. Neither for any good reason, other than it was what I had always known.

I’m not sure how or why it happened, but I realised that by not taking leaps of faith I was often missing out on plenty of good stuff. I was letting the fear of failure steal joy . I was missing out on friendship, adventure, the satisfaction of achievement and even tastes. And for what? Just to keep the status quo of success? But is success even success if you didn’t even have to try?

I slowly chipped away at trying things that petrified me. I took bite sized chunks which helped keep the feelings of failure to less suffocating levels. I ran the 5km, I did a triathlon, I ate peanut butter and then eventually a runny egg.

And with each small challenge conquered, I raised the bar just a little. I ran 10km, then a half marathon in a massively crowded event. I learnt to ride a bike with cleats, and fell off lots and lots. I slowly lifted heavier things, in different ways and more regularly, and plenty of times I dropped them. I mowed the lawn all summer, and missed lots of spots. I ate peanut butter and runny eggs every day. I pierced my ears, again (sorry Mum). I got a tattoo (sorry Mum).

I learnt to deal with the moments of failure and recognise them as part of my success. I would embrace the fun and friendship that usually went hand in hand or instead let it fuel my level of determination in conquering whatever it was that needed conquering. I learnt to laugh at myself when I made silly mistakes, at least most of the time.

And slowly, as I conquered all these physical and tangible challenges, I grew faith and confidence in my whole self. And suddenly my physical and mental strength were in balance. And that doesn’t mean that I have achieved resounding success in my life, but instead that I enjoy the attempts regardless of the outcome.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Belinda: Fear has never stopped me from doing things. I think it’s an innate confidence or optimism – I assume everything will turn out great. Sometimes I have moment of doubt right before I take a leap, but it never stops me. I shut that bitch up and do it anyway.

So I was interested to read Ellen’s experience, and hear how other people’s internal monologues work. Ellen and I have a lot in common but are vastly different. (Fun fact: we dated the same guy, consecutively, long before she married my cousin.)

Our lives have turned out so differently. I’m single, childless and live in the city, whereas Ellen has built the dream house in the suburbs with her kids and husband.

But we are both overachievers, avid writers, thinkers about life, and – in the last few years –  fitness people. The  annoying ones who want to eat particular amounts of protein and carbs at each meal, who want to tell you about the PB they just achieved, and who like to get up and train before everyone else has had breakfast.

Difference is, Ellen is really good at it. She started a few years ago and her body responded quickly and enthusiastically. By contrast, I’ve been hanging around in gyms my whole adult life, but am not really very athletic. I have been seriously powerlifting for about three years, and have fought for every tiny gain.

Other people who lift for three years might be squatting twice their bodyweight by this point – I’m still trying to nail 100Kg.

It’s the first thing I’ve ever really committed to, despite a clear lack of talent and aptitude.

When you’re a nerd, you can learn your way to good results in most things. Like, I’m not a massive numbers person, but I studied hard and read a lot and talked to people, and now I have a finance career and am, in some quarters, called an ‘expert’.

But lifting doesn’t work like that. The iron doesn’t care whether you got a distinction or not. It only cares whether your muscles fibres have grown or not.

And so, one of the unexpected outcomes of lifting, for me, is that it keeps me humble. I am not naturally good, but I show up, do the work, never miss a lift, and do what I’m told by my coach.

It can be frustrating, when I see people around me who smash their goals all the time, while my 100kg squat has been on chalkboard, waiting to be ticked off, for more months than I care to remember. But it reminds me we can’t all be good at everything, and sometimes there is value and dignity in simply doing the work.

And despite our different lives, experiences and ways of thinking, Ellen and I ended up getting similar tattoos, weeks apart, by sheer coincidence. They mean different things to us, but both speak to a decision to mark our bodies, as a way to mark our lives and achievements.

So many times in life, we realise what we have in common with others is just as strong as what separates us – whether it’s under a barbell, under pressure, or under a tattooist’s needle.

20170528_123745

Road Trippin’

road trip - 1

If you had asked me two weeks ago where I’d most like to be travelling in the world, I’d have said, “Driving along that twisty road beside Lake Garda, through those tunnels, beside the mountains that plunge straight into the lake. Drinking an Aperol Spritz in a bar by the lakeside.”

But I’ve just been road trippin’ in good old Oz.  The charms of Italy notwithstanding, I reckon we had as good a journey through north-eastern Victoria as we’ve had anywhere in the world.

And it was comparatively easy:

  • Pick a primary destination/occasion for motivation – in this case the Bright Autumn Festival
  • Do some Airbnb research a couple of months out and lock in some enticing venues
  • Pack a couple of bags, the esky and your trusty co-pilot
  • Sling the bike on the back of the car
  • Pull out of your driveway and point the car south.

No passports, visas, hep A-B-C shots, foreign currency or just-in-case antibiotics required.   No airport transfers, security checks or dealing with yet another public transport system.  You just leave.

You can take your choice of scooting down the freeway or taking roads less travelled.  Google Maps will show you three different ways and the time differentials in following one or the other.  We took the fastest way just to get out of town, even though the Hume is a pretty boring (though efficient) drive these days with every town along the way by-passed.

After a few magical days in Bright we opted for the back tracks; that plan took us on roads with a “C” prefix which seem to guarantee a continuing vista of classic Australian rural countryside, and the blink-and-you-miss-them small towns.  Through places with intriguing names like Wandiligong and Violet Town.  Along gunbarrel-straight stretches where there won’t be a bend for 30 k’s and the speed limit is, unofficially, at your discretion.

Here are a few surprises we uncovered about the joys of road tripping in rural and regional Oz:

  • Everywhere we stayed had at least one craft brewery – you can map your trail by the beer you’ve drunk.
  • “Cellar door” has gone beyond wine – we picked up olives, olive oil, pickles, jams, cheese. Oh, and wine of course.
  • Good coffee is becoming ubiquitous – any place with more than a few hundred people seems now able to support a caffeine infrastructure. Try that in Europe.
  • You can bring all kinds of stuff home with you, rather than being restricted to the 2 litres of singe malt from the duty free on the way back into the country, or paying the ridiculous price of Fed-Exing.
  • Victoria in particular has a fantastic array of rail trails that encourage exploratory but laid-back bike riding.

Once upon a time, all we could afford (and all we wanted) was to strap the surfboards onto the roof of the VW, cram in a tent and and a couple of the boys, and take off.  Recapturing just a little of that was, perhaps, the best part of all.

rail trail - 1

Rail Trailin’

Photos by David

 

 

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like

XXX E0 MCKELLAN WOOD LORD RINGS 14 A ENT

“I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

“So do all who live in such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work, Frodo, than the will of evil.”

I’d have to say that 2017 has in so many ways been a  bugger of a year. I’d like to say it’s getting better. Maybe that’s just around the corner. In the meantime, life has been delivering some interesting lessons, particularly around leadership.

I have the privilege of chairing a small not-for-profit board, comprised of people all with well-honed skills and good hearts. Our little enterprise has faced a torrid couple of months as one decision we made, following the best of due process, nevertheless turned sour. It provoked an external reaction that could have caused us some lasting damage. And it was happening on my watch.

As the crisis blossomed, our protagonist sent frequent and forceful proposals that made our staff feel intimidated and threatened. There was no choice but to call the behaviour, to stand up for our values and support our people. I had to decide how that intervention should be shaped and expressed, and the consequences would be on my head.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – standing up for your people.

The response to my calling-out got personally and publicly offensive. There was an array of possible reactions, many of which would feel good, lashing back in justified self-defence. The best advice was to do nothing, to suck up the offence for the good of the organisation and let it fizzle out for want of oxygen.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – taking one for the team.

There were plenty of tactical decisions to be made in managing the crisis. Many of them weighed heavily on me, but I knew I could always get wise counsel, or just a shoulder to cry on, from my board colleagues.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – getting great support from a talented team.

The matter played out briefly in the court of public opinion. The fronting of the media fell primarily to me and I was lucky to be able to call on the PR A-Team who (pro bono) wound back my indignation, aligned my messages, massaged my tone, rehearsed me and turned me loose.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – getting the benefit of first class professional advice and support.

We met in a critical board meeting, to make the important decisions going forward. Three options, each of which had support around the table. We thrashed out the alternatives, and in the end coalesced around one.

Oh, so that’s what leadership feels like – finding consensus in a sea of troubles.

Ultimately, the episode was mostly about accepting that this hobbit had ended up with the ring. When faced with hard decisions as a leader, it always helps to ask, “Who better to deal with this than me?” Having the confidence in your skills, experience and support teams – I guess that’s what leadership really feels like.

david white

 

When the sadness bird leaves

tumblr_mpqb5qx5jL1qam6uto1_1280

By Belinda White

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her life during divorce as a ‘piece of dropped pie’ – all in pieces on the floor.

I hear ya, sister. The thing about divorce that  makes it different from a regular break-up is the broken promise. The failure. Not only is there the loss of your partner; there’s the admission that the promise you made – publicly and privately – is now broken.

If you’re the one who leaves, you’re the breaker of that promise. So you end up dealing with more than just heartbreak – you shoulder a huge burden of guilt too. I left because I couldn’t take the loneliness anymore. I couldn’t live within the confines of a marriage where I didn’t feel loved. (Whether I was indeed loved, but just didn’t feel it, is  an apparently endless dispute). But to me, it felt like I wasn’t the one who withdrew first.

And yet, the act of leaving was mine, so I took the guilt onto myself.

That guilt takes so much time to push your way through. I was swimming underwater, with the weight of it pressing down on me. But I kept going, heading upwards and fighting off the current. I had help too – hands pulling me up, currents pushing me up.

Until I broke through the surface, emerging from the ocean, exhausted but alive.

God, I’ve been writing this post for so long. I’m still scraping off the guilt, like a crust of ocean salt. Sometimes I catch myself feeling happy with my life, and just as swiftly comes a question. What about him? Have you bought your happiness at the expense of another’s?

And I how can I know this for sure, since it’s more than a year since we spoke? Certainly that was the narrative he laid out for me. I left him with no warning, I didn’t explain why, and I didn’t give him a chance to fix things. It’s a such a common refrain heard from those who are left, that it verges on cliche.

And my alternative version of events is that I asked, begged and pleaded for him to act, to engage and to work on the marriage. But he ignored it, paralysed by the enormity of the task at hand.

Don’t we all weave narratives to help us make sense of events, and sometimes, to protect ourselves? I would argue that he saw my heart breaking, and heard me ask for help, but he turned away from the work – because he didn’t know how to do it or at least to start it.

But that’s my version of events, and like every writer, I have the privilege of controlling the narrative.  His version lies elsewhere, unexpressed or at least, unwritten.

Making sense of nothing

In the absence of engagement, everything is understood by intimation, read from between the lines of lawyers’ letters.

He has read my finance blog, and told his lawyers it proves I am hiding assets from him. I am filled with rage. How dare he trawl my online identity and twist it like that.

But then I try and empathise. What did he feel when he read my words? Was he angry that I seem to thrive on my own? That I seem to be happier without him? Does that suggest to him he was making me unhappy, or holding me back? Is he just acting out of fear? It’s a scary thing to be on your own, financially, when you’ve been in partnership with someone most of your adult life.

But I don’t know, because this is a one-way conversation built on hints and supposition, imaginings and hypotheticals. If it’s difficult to know what your partner is thinking when they sleep next to you every night, then it’s impossible to divine it from words mediated by lawyers. Despite the professionalism they lay claim to, lawyers enjoy using words like ‘disappointed’ in their missives.

Who is disappointed, and with whom? One lawyer with another, or one aggrieved ex-spouse with another? At whose feet should we lay the guilt and the blame and disappointment and recrimination.

Today I read something that illuminated this for me. Wilfred McKay says, “Claiming victim status is the sole sure means left of absolving oneself and securing one’s sense of fundamental moral innocence.

“If one wishes to be accounted innocent, one must find a way to make the claim that one cannot be held morally responsible. This is precisely what the status of victimhood accomplishes.”

This I already understood. But David Brooks, who is quoting McKay, provides more illumination. He says that in a post-religious world, “We have no clear framework or set of rituals to guide us in our quest for goodness. Worse, people have a sense of guilt and sin, but no longer a sense that they live in a loving universe marked by divine mercy, grace and forgiveness. There is sin but no formula for redemption.” [italics mine]

And that’s why my crust of guilt feels so hard to scrape off. How must I do penance? What self-flagellation is sufficient for the sin of making my happiness a priority, above another’s? What acts of contrition can resolve the breaking of a sacred promise? How do I redeem myself after ‘ruining’ someone’s life? If I could unlock that answer, perhaps I could move on.

Or is that giving myself too much agency? Do I have the power to ruin someone’s life? Is that my ego talking? I certainly lacked the power to make him happy. No amount of money or gifts could do it. No amount of emotional or financial support could prompt him to chase the dreams he wrestled with.

I comfort myself with the inadequate explanation that he was unhappy even with me, so without me, there is  little difference.

But should I have been more, done more, suffered more, endured more, believed more, to make it work? How does one ever know when the work you’ve done is enough? At what point do we sit back and realise we are  just Sisyphus, rolling that stone up that hill one more time?

The impossibility of forever

I don’t know how people bounce from one relationship straight into another.

I have found the process to be overwhelmingly dispiriting. Not just in the dissolution of the marriage, but in the tentative steps I took afterwards. Every interaction with a man left me disappointed or hurt.

I try to keep my expectations low. But even still, the selfish, unreliable and unpredictable nature of men can leave me breathless. I know, ‘not all men’. So I am told. But let’s just say all men in a 50km radius of Sydney who happen to be single.

Don Draper says in Mad Men that ‘People tell you who are, but we ignore it – because we want them to be who we want them to be’.

We spend a lot of time trying to think the best of people. But when they end up disappointing you, it’s not really a surprise in the end. That kernel of disappointment was always there. It was just waiting for time to water it and help it unfurl.

It’s more than two years since I left, and I’m amazed by the number of people who ask me about my next relationship. Have I met someone? Would I marry again? Am I going to have kids? (Wait, what? You generally need another player for that game.)

Times goes by in a flash. I’ve learnt a lot, felt the love and support from people around me as a warm blanket.  But the girl I was is gone. That girl who thought forever meant forever, that all I needed was  to give love – more love – and I would get it back.  That good people get the love they deserve.

If I have learnt one thing, it’s that love has nothing at all to do with deserving. In fact, here is a list of things that in no way guarantees that someone will love you:

  • Being a good person.
  • Caring about someone else.
  • Having good intentions.
  • Being smart or successful.
  • Being kind.

These things may make people like you. But bad people are often loved and good people are often ignored. There is no magical connection between being good and being loved.

So perhaps we need to reframe what we ask people who come out of a long relationship. Please don’t ask me if I want to get married again. I can’t even do third dates.

When the sadness bird leaves

In the times following the break-up, I would be ok for days or weeks at a time, then all of sudden be brought low. I came to see it as The Sadness Bird.

It would come, land on my shoulder, sing mournful songs to me, then quietly fly away. I even found a picture of it (above – sorry I can’t find anyone to credit it to).

I feel like the bird is almost gone now. Its visits are fleeting. It would be naive to think we could live life without any visits from The Sadness Bird at all. In fact, life is sweeter when we experience all of its ups and downs.

When we stand at that altar, offering up promises about forever, we don’t know how they will play out. But all promises are easily made – it costs us nothing to say the words, and we believe them innately at the time.  They are harder to break; the cost is counted in what you lose, and in the way you disappoint yourself.

But sometimes the only way to move forward is to break everything, and start again.

What I’ve learned about love, life and endurance

125291276_e4bb833542_z

By Ellen Fussell

I remember my spirit as a young child: my grandmother described me as “effervescent”, and I have no doubt that as a skinny, unassuming blonde girl of 8, I had limited worries.

While self-confidence may not have been boundless, my entire focus would have been soaking in the wonders of the world around me. This was when I learned about fun.

Only a few short years later my same grandmother pointed out that I had lost my spark. No doubt replaced by a sulky and moody teenager frustrated by the slow ticking of time. Challenged by boundaries that seemed pointless. This was when I learned about patience.

By my late teens I was full of a decent amount of of confidence and a dash of rebellion. But those big life milestones of love and loss combined with the challenges of educating myself had me doubting and questioning again. This is when I learned of passion and risk.

My early twenties were filled with adventures and many roads travelled. Often, when I would reach a junction in the road, instead of choosing a path I would turn around and retreat. This is when I learned that determination would help me travel far, if only I could work out where I was going.

I soon married my best friend and soul mate, we bought a house and a dog and played at being grown ups. We worked hard and slept in on weekends. I became a career woman by day and domestic goddess in my down-time. I learned about responsibility and the value of truth; and that a relationship was about give and take but, above all, required honesty.

By my late twenties I hit rock bottom. Becoming a mum shook me to the core. Suddenly I sacrificed the organised, smart and in-control career woman for a blubbery and leaking mess who never slept. You’d think this is when I learned truly of love, but that isn’t my story. This is when I learned of endurance.

I could endure for days without sleep. I could endure weeks of sickness, the mountains of washing, relentless crying and the sameness of each day. But I also learned of kindness. The impact that it had on me and others; that small gestures could turn around somebody’s day and that it rarely cost much, if anything at all.

It took me ten years to endure that phase. It hadn’t been a waste, just a journey. And over that time I had collected so many strengths. I was patient and kind. I had ambition and passion and was willing to take risks but still responsible. I had fun.

But the best part was I actually learned truly of love. I loved myself for the first time in my life and from that I found the truest love in my husband and the purest love as a mother. But because I loved myself, I realised what it was.

On reflection, I am not even half way there. I’m probably due another fork in my road. But with each step I take I hope I keep moving forward. And as I do, I bear in mind this line:

“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” Ernest Hemingway.

Photo credit

Newsflash! 2017 now to start on 1 February

january-cancelled-1

January in Australia is supposed to be that quiet, relaxed month when the most arduous task is working out the resolutions you won’t be keeping for the rest of the year. With barely three weeks of it gone, that myth has been soundly busted for me, with 2017 morphing into a Greek tragedy whose three episodes make me want cancel this month and have another go at starting the year.

Act 1

As the new year opened, the leader of the clan was felled – my father-in-law Ted was finally cleaned bowled for 99.5, taken out quickly by a massive stroke.  He was to his daughters and his grandchildren a legend, a hero.

As my own father was having his capacities relentlesssly stripped away from him, the Colonel was an important role model to me: how to treat your wife, how to guard and defend your family, how to be strong through kindness backed by steely resolve (he was after all a trained jungle killer).  While I had recognised the first two, it was only on his passing that I understood the third one.

Act 2

One of my tenets is, if you do everything you possibly can, and shit still happens, so be it – you can but do your best.  With the year only days old, I thought I had done everything possible to resolve a thorny HR issue, short of capitulation:  I had consulted, empathised, debriefed, placated and striven to have frank and meaningful conversations.  Still we ended up with a result damaging for both sides.

Looking at it a couple of days later, I realised I hadn’t done everything.  I had never said, “I’m in charge here, this is what I expect, and I need you to go away and do it.”  I had parlayed plenty of EQ, but failed to try positional power when its deployment was a valid option.  Yeah, the result might not have been different, but that would really have been doing everything possible.

Act 3

To complete the rout of January, I became embroiled in a media-driven maelstrom following a decision to cancel our Anzac Day marches, because we just couldn’t afford the new terrorist-generated compliance costs.  The backlash from the public against that outcome led to some fast re-thinks by various levels of government and authorities.  For my sins, I was the appointed spokesman, and I’ve consequently copped my share of vilification.

I’ve realised since that it’s not personal – my detractors only vented their dislike because I was out the front of a unified movement, because we were superbly advised (by the co-convenor of this blog), and because I’ve been media-trained up the kazoo.  Because we know how their game is played, and this one time we beat them at it. Maybe then, it’s okay if they don’t like me a little bit, if it’s in a good cause.

So I am pressing reset.  2017 will now start on the first of February.  Sorry, Australia Day and Chinese New Year, you’ll get over it.

david white

 

Xmas on the Coast

img_1718

I’d forgotten what it’s like – Xmas on the Coast, in those sacred Australian days between Boxing Day and New Year. The pressures, complications and emotional overtones of Xmas Day all over, with everyone now free to flee their suburban shackles and go Up or Down or Out To the Coast.

We’re generally never here, Down the Coast, in peak times like Xmas. This time, on a whim, we had jagged the holiday house when no-one else’s name was in the book. We mostly stay at times when it’s quiet, just the locals and the grey nomads and the owners working on their properties.

But now, every house up and down the channel is occupied. Each one packed to the gunnels in fact, with mostly two generations and frequently three. There’s a boat gently rocking at every wharf, four cars on every front lawn, and a gathering down on every waterfront. Fishing lines cast, seeking out the few dumb fish who missed out on the piscatorial smarts generated by natural selection from 60 years of lines thrown in off jetties. Dogs on shore barking at dogs in boats. Kids jumping in the water shouting “Look at me mum/dad/pop/nanna, look at me.”

It takes me back to the sixties. Sure, the kids’ bikes are fancier and there are stand-up paddleboards instead of lilos; the rooster tails of jet skies slowly burbling past instead of the putter-putt of clinker launches. But the feeling is the same, a special, separated from normal daily life feeling. There even seems to be a general outbreak of civil disobedience about the bike helmet laws, involving all but the littlest kids.

These are holy days of obligation when the compulsory religious habit is singlet, shorts, bikini tops. thongs. When you observe the rituals like carving the ham left over from Xmas, for breakfast ham-and-eggs, lunchtime toasted ham-and-tomato sandwiches, and dinnertime ham salads. When you haven’t started the car for days, just strolled down to town for milk and bread.

What are we worshipping here? Our parents or grandparents who had the foresight to buy a little piece of coastal paradise on the water for 500 pounds back in the day, and put up the fibro holiday house, perhaps. The Aussie holy trinity of the beach, the beer and the barbie, maybe. The gift of a few days when all but the unluckiest are off work at the same time. The delights of family, when generations are thrown together and kids start learning their grandparents’ lore, like how to thread a prawn on a fishhook, and how to start the outboard.

May the grace of your early morning swims, and the joy of your families, and the holy spirit of Xmas on the Coast be with you, now and always.

David White

 

 

%d bloggers like this: