EyesUp Rolling #2 – a pinch is not a hill, even though it feels like one

When you travel around Sydney on a bicycle, you suddenly start to realise that very few roads are actually flat at all.  However light your fancy road bike, suddenly every rise and fall in the route is amplified.  Travelling up hill remains my biggest challenge both physically and mentally.

Over a few weeks of training I’ve gained some confidence in my ability to make it, however slowly, to the top of most hills – clip in shoes are a definite help here despite being a serious barrier to my previous hill climbing strategy of just getting off and walking.

On my first proper group ride I was consistently confused by the call of “pinch coming up”, followed by a rise in the terrain and the associated dropping down through the gears and shortening of breath.  I relaxed a little when no one behind me actually used an old fashioned finger pinch to encourage me up the hill faster, but given I couldn’t speak after the climb I kept forgetting to ask for an explanation.  On reviewing my Strava feed later, I could see numerous sections labelled as “Pinch” – I was intrigued. (For those not familiar with Strava, it’s social media for cyclists, perhaps a subject of a future blog!).

I eventually summoned up the courage to ask a riding buddy what a pinch was.  The explanation was simple – it’s the psychological trick cyclists use of not referring to a hill as such unless it is truly worthy of the label.  A Pinch is something you must simply power up and absolutely not complain about.

Armed with this knowledge and approach, I recently completed my first ride of over 100kms.  As I reflected on this achievement, I took some time to ponder some of the reasons I’ve undertaken this Westpac Tour 200 challenge.  Starting with the funerals I wish I had never been to.

The mother of my son’s friend at childcare who lost her battle with breast cancer in her 30s. The father of a family with boys the same ages as mine who died from melanoma in his early 40s.  The amazing woman who would have been my sister-in-law now if she hadn’t been taken at the age of 39 by ovarian cancer.  The friend who undertook radical surgery and treatment to survive many years longer than predicted to just see his son reach 17 years old.

When I think of these people I find both inspiration in their approach to their situations and frustration that an answer could not be found – I want to feel that I can do something, however small, to prevent this happening to someone else.

 

 

The work of Tour De Cure and similar organisations is vital in funding initiatives and research to support cancer patients, their loved ones and work towards better treatments and research, as well as raising awareness in the community of how getting fit and staying healthy can help prevent many cancers.  I have an opportunity to make a difference, simply by putting some time aside to train, enduring some physical pain and fundraising through my network of friends, family and business contacts.

Those fighting cancer have hills and mountains to climb step by step every day.  I have a small, insignificant pinch of 300kms to power up which can make a difference.

I’m looking for 100 people with $100 each to support me as I ride – thank you to those who’ve helped me get 20% of the way there with 7 weeks to go!  I’m sure there are at least 80 more of you out there, so please donate what you can to my fundraising page here and follow this blog to track my progress.

Ride safe everyone and keep those EyesUp!

 

Eyes Up #13 – #MakeItHappen – Hell Yeah!

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As I contemplated the messages from this year’s International Women’s Day, I realised the reason I haven’t been blogging for a few weeks is because of the sheer amount of interesting events I’ve been attending and the interesting people I’ve been meeting and hearing from.  IWD has become a high profile event in the calendar and a fantastic catalyst to examine how we are both recognising the contribution of women in our society and taking personal accountability for championing change.  This theme was highlighted in my last post, and my recent observations have reinforced my belief that we can all Make Things Happen for ourselves.

A year ago my commitment on IWD 2014 was to ensure I started meaningful conversations on how the way we interact is subject to our own conscious and unconscious biases – most of which are a product of our cultural background and upbringing.  Now I used to consider this type of statement as strictly belonging to the school of political correctness and hence having no real meaning in my life – but one incident a few months back made me reconsider.

A work colleague came into the office with her two young children, a girl just starting school, and a pre-school boy.  As a mother of boys, I naturally was captivated by the mini-man figure with all his bravado and apparent technical prowess with my own work computer.  But when the 6 year old girl had finished drawing a beautiful picture on my desk, I was quick to say how great it was.  She then said something that surprised me – “this picture is for you to take home and show your husband”.  Now that was a lovely thought – but the fact is, at the age of 6, she had no idea of my marital status or even my sexual orientation – she simply assumed, from her own stable nuclear family background, that any woman of my age would have a husband waiting at home, just for the purpose of congratulating me on my day.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no wish to question this lovely image in her mind.  But to me, IWD is about the possibilities for all women to be empowered to live the lives they chose at the time they chose in the way they chose – and to be able to fully realise their potential without the hinderance of bias and discrimination.  All of us grow up with our own experiences colouring our view of what we are and what we are capable of –  which brings me to the “Hell Yeah” moment.

Last month I was fortunate enough to attend a function in aid of 7 times World Surfing Champion Layne Beachley’s Aim for the Stars foundation.  Layne was on a panel of illustrious Australian female sporting stars that evening, and she was asked the question of how she choses between the many options she is now presented with of where to spend her valuable time.  I really loved her response, which was that if unless her natural reaction to a request is “Hell Yeah” she really thinks carefully before accepting.

I’ve taken the “Hell Yeah” as a call to action for how I want to progress in my own life and the example I want to give for my children.  If something feels right and I think I have the potential to do it, I will take a chance even though I don’t have the expertise.  If I can help someone else with a difficult time through sharing my own experiences, I will put myself out there and tell my story.  If I can show my children I can exhibit of tolerance and acceptance, I will try my hardest to demonstrate those traits.  I will not live my life wishing I had been something more, I will be something more.  I have a personal responsibility to show the next generation what it means to be the best you can be, however that looks.

It may be one day at a time, but I will not die wondering.  I WILL #makeithappen.

Hell Yeah.

 

Eyes Up #12 – For things to change, first I must change

broccoli

Recent discussion on the numbers of women in leadership has returned to the idea of quotas – including this article:

Quotas will put women of merit in top jobs

I have often pondered why quotas are seen to be evil.  Collectively, I think we believe that we are better than that given we all understand that women are equally as talented and educated as men in Australia today.  Indeed several senior executives I have spoken too would acknowledge that women are frequently more competent and knowledgeable than men at the comparable level in their chosen fields.

My view is that we all like to believe change can happen organically as part of a natural progression, once we all recognise and acknowledge the obvious benefits.  I don’t wish to feel constrained or dictated to by artificial quotas, targets or policies – I want the freedom to run my teams and businesses in the way I think is best – right person, right role, regardless of their gender, culture or lifestyle choices.  So quotas – which are more carrot than stick – are in my view a motivation that can work.  Much as I will tell my children they must eat 2 bites of broccoli before they have dessert.  But the “broccoli quota” doesn’t actually make them like or appreciate broccoli, they just grit their teeth and get through it, or worse hide the green stuff in their pockets, with the ice cream at the end the reward.

I think any public discussion of these topics helps, but I draw the most inspiration where we seek to put responsibility for change in the hands of the individual.  Recent references include Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant’s article:

Speaking While Female

So I ask myself – what actions am I taking to be a catalyst for change?  For a start I’m writing this blog, which is part of my commitment in 2014 to facilitate open discussion on the issue of women in leadership.  I believe real, sustainable change will only happen when we all recognise the need for personal, individual responsibility, including calling out inappropriate behaviour when we see it.  I am a fan of the sometimes controversial Male Champions of Change initiative, because it is leveraging the status of the current male dominated ranks of CEOs in corporate Australia to model behaviour and act as catalysts to initiate change – but as individuals taking responsibility upon themselves.  So I will continue this year to create talking points wherever possible and progress my own career.

But I also recommend we keep an eye on the future and question the way we present ourselves to future generations.  We all have the ability to act as role models day in, day out to not only our own kids but others we interact with, in both the ways we act and the things we say.

I was very proud of my teenage son when he announced last year he didn’t want me to buy Tim Tams anymore because he knew eating 2 packs a week was not healthy for him.  He had taken responsibility for change himself.  I was equally proud when he noted with horror that he had just realised how many mothers of his school mates didn’t work – but told me he thought it perfectly normal that I did.  In fact he thought it was better for everyone!  That moment melted away a decade of working parent guilt.

We should never underestimate the power of the individual – and neither should we abdicate responsibility for change to a system of quotas, targets or endorsement by senior leaders.  We should all just walk the talk ourselves in whatever way we can, and remember that doing nothing is akin to endorsing the status quo.

 

Eyes Up #10 – I believe in YOLO, but I still iron my sheets?

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Yes it’s true.  I iron my sheets…  even on evenings like today when I have better things to do.  We all have things we do that no one else understands, and that is just one of mine.

I’ve found YOLO (that’s “you only live once” in case you’ve been living on another planet recently) a very interesting and useful acronym.  I never really understood the “LOL” plague – which had to be used with caution as it could mean either laugh out loud or lots of love depending on the context.  But YOLO really strikes a chord with me when I’m walking the line between the plan ahead, risk averse culture of my upbringing and the current generation of knowing and doing everything now before it’s too late.

To me it’s the modern version of “don’t die wondering” – if you get an opportunity, take it, as it may not come along again.  Quite a few years ago, after a few drinks, I agreed to go skydiving in place of someone else.  Great idea late one night, not so good when strapped to a madman about to jump out of a plane -I did obtain a new understanding as to why people become addicted to the adrenaline rush – but I definitely won’t be back.  But 3 years ago when I tried surfing, despite not being a water person, I discovered a new passion which has become a life changing outlet for me – all an unexpected side effect of another dare set over drinks (is there a theme there?)

But the other side of YOLO is that we need to consider the way we are living and how it impacts others in our home and workplace.  We really only get one shot at this, so as discussed in Eyes Up #9, do we want to demonstrate generosity of spirit and kindness to others and to ourselves?  In most case the answer is yes.  Particularly in the workplace this can be hard to do – balancing career opportunities with our home lives is another challenge.  I know I’ve missed some of my children’s school events because I was at work, particularly when they were younger, and as they’ve grown I’ve realised those moments will come round less and less.  So whilst I can’t be at every game and every art show, or help out at every function, I now prioritise things differently to ensure I will be involved in their school lives wholeheartedly.

So back now to my sheets – which are still waiting for me when I finish this blog.  Why do I bother to iron them? Because I love the feeling of getting into a freshly made bed with crisp sheets, and if I only live once, I want to get that feeling as often as possible.

 

Eyes Up #9 – Generosity of Spirit, Costco and Current Events

Screen shot 2011-09-14 at 10.10.25 AMI started writing this post some time ago and it was almost finished when MH17 was gunned down over the Ukraine. For most of us, it is impossible to fully comprehend events like this, let alone explain them to our children.  We’ve nearly all flown in passenger planes, many of us on that exact route.   Collectively we all share a shake of the head, murmurs of “what’s the world coming to” and may even shed tears with our family, friends and colleagues – despite the fact the victims may not be personally known to us.

These feelings of despair, though, certainly make me lift my “Eyes Up” and take a good look around at what I have, particularly in terms of human relationships and how I chose to interact with other people day to day.  So I ask myself, am I practising generosity of spirit every day?  Am I treating people the way I would like to be treated?  Am I being “nice”? I do know that I have sometimes felt strongly enough about someone else at work, or in my family, that I approach all dealings with that person with the expectation that they will fail me in some way, or that they are actively trying to undermine me.  As a result I am rude, abrupt, negative and using defensive, barbed language before a conversation even begins.  This open hostility puts everyone on edge, breeds tension in the air, and restricts people’s responses – particularly if they are subordinate in the exchange.   My kids will clam up if they see me cranky about the fridge left open or dirty clothes on the floor – and they won’t open up about their day, tell me any good news or share any issues they have.  At work the fear culture results if team members are afraid to point out issues that invoke a negative response and too many useful comments are left unsaid.

I don’t think being “nice” is purely about wanting people to like me.  I believe it’s ultimately an authentic human way to conduct relationships – even with people who we know are not our closest friends or family.   And so to my experience at Costco – which I visited for the first time a couple of months ago.  Now I was wary of the warehouse shopping experience – expecting something similar to the carnage seen at the Boxing Day sales.  But I was wrong.  Without exception the staff and fellow customers were polite and patient.  It took an hour to get there, there were queues to sign up, you had to fetch your own trolley from the car park, and find your own way around – but everyone EXPECTED this – and they were happy about the experience, as their expectation was this was the trade off for the marvellous bargains awaiting. Once inside the store, there was some sort of strange camaraderie pervading my fellow shoppers – people opening shared overwhelmingly positive opinions on this and that, sought advice from strangers on shoes and offered guidance to the best fresh food or bargains.  Even the checkout guy stopped for a friendly chat – whilst we packed our haul into boxes ourselves.

If a warehouse shopping experience can provide this type of positive human interaction, surely we can all make a little effort every day to be positive in our attitude to all our relationships at home and work.  There will always be difficult moments where anger, conflict and frustration are present.  But this week in particular, try to be human and genuine a few times each day.  Ask people how they are, how their day is going, see what goes unsaid, and be accommodating, polite and courteous.  Chat to a stranger in the lift at work, to the cleaners after hours or the mail man.  Remind yourself that not everything in the world is bad and practise generosity of spirit – and we might all feel a little better about humanity.

Eyes Up #8 – Celebrate Often!

champagneIt was my birthday last week.  I love birthdays, because at some point a few years back I decided that all birthdays need to be properly celebrated.  This is partly a reflection of my desire to feel special, but most importantly, I love to have an excuse to do something different, have some fun, and get together with a few people.

It’s pretty hard these days to keep your birthday a secret – social media has changed things in a way which encourages celebration.  These days I get bombarded with fantastic facebook messages, texts, tweets and emails – all because these systems have built in reminders and flags for people so very little effort is required to pass on the joy.  People have a cast iron reason just to say hi and connect – and I think it feels fabulous to receive these greetings.  Even a simple “happy birthday” from someone on the other side of the world you haven’t seen for years has that feel good factor which makes me smile.

We should all spread the joy of celebration more often than just birthdays.  It’s always more powerful in our day to day relationships to have a positive reason to connect and share – it helps us remember how many good things there are in our lives.  In my family we are in the habit of going out for BBQ ribs at  the start and end of school terms, or eating special ice cream when someone gets recognised via a merit certificate in school assembly.  Most families have these types of rituals in place for major events and milestones, but what if we take the concept further, and make it a habit to find something to celebrate once a week.

It doesn’t have to be anything big, and you don’t need to justify your actions or set a benchmark on what is worth celebrating.  Celebrate getting a report finished at work, someone going on holidays or returning, your dog’s birthday, a new coffee shop or wine bar opening up.  Jump for joy when your son scores a try at rugby or just because he tries out a new position on the field.  Create anniversary excuses to meet friends and colleagues you haven’t sat down with for a while – “it’s 5 months since you introduced me to ginger tea – let’s celebrate!”.

The lives we lead these days, particularly as busy working parents with hectic schedules, restrict our ability to connect and share informally.  Our time is carefully controlled, and it’s easy to sink into a routine where everything is focussed on things that went wrong or disrupt our carefully planned lives.  We always have too much to do and our tendency is to get grumpy, snappy and feel that the glass is half empty.  Find a positive reason to connect with someone else once a week,  get that glass half full with some metaphorical (or real!)champagne, and practise celebrating the small things so the big things don’t pass you by.

Eyes Up #7 – Don’t forget the “ME” in “TEAM”

ID-10026966There’s no “I” in TEAM – but if you look carefully you’ll find a “ME”…. a few years back, this phrase was often bandied about accompanied by smiles and chuckles – usually in reference to someone in authority who was using the guise of encouraging teamwork to further their own interests.  Jokes aside though, maintaining our individual identities in a team environment both in the workplace and at home is a key factor in finding balance and satisfaction in our lives.  If we lose track of ourselves, we quickly start to feel taken for granted, trampled on, and resentful of others in the “team”.

I’ve always found it difficult to maintain a sense of my own identity at home.  I’m not sure if this is historically due to the hang ups inherent in being a middle child, or just that I’ve always got so much satisfaction from getting things done that I get lost in over organising everyone else and forgetting to do anything for myself.  My experience is that working parents, particularly mothers and single parents, get into the habit of putting everyone else’s needs before their own.  The other team members – in this case in the family – get used to this state of affairs, so it perpetuates – often because it is assumed that the mother or parent enjoys doing things that way, or out of fear of doing something wrong.  As a control freak, I know I’ve often dealt harshly with anyone who messed with my system, purely because I wanted to get things done as efficiently as I knew how with no tolerance for variation.  Over the years I would have snapped at anyone who stacked the dishwasher wrong, folded the towels in a way they didn’t fit into the cupboard, or put the milk in the space the juice should be in the fridge.

At work, teamwork has long been held out as an important behaviour we should display.  Again we women in particular assume that our contributions to the team will be recognised, and we often feel resentful if others are recognised as individuals.  I’ve often felt like teamwork is used as a cover for more “take” and less “give” by some individuals – leading to me channelling a “victim” mentality, withdrawing  myself from the team,  picking up my toys and leaving the playground.

It was a stark situation of personal crisis that changed my view, and with it my perception of how to preserve the “me” in all parts of my life.  As I struggled to recover, I discovered that setting my own boundaries for my interactions with teams was critical.  The boundaries I set helped me foster a feeling of control, which made me more confident.  The boundaries are tested and re-set many times, but  despite initially feeling restrictive, they have made it easier to take decisions and chose when to say yes or no to things (see EyesUp #1 for more on saying No!).

These boundaries started simple – such as controlling communication channels – for example, please text me when you want to talk, and I’ll call you when I’m ready – giving me time to prepare my response.  I’m still using this one in the workplace – screening calls when I’m busy, and only checking my email once an hour instead of constantly.  Does this show a lack of commitment to the team if I prioritise my time this way?  Not when these actions improve my ability to operate efficiently and effectively by ensuring that when I respond, I give other team members my full attention.

Has this made me a more “selfish” person?  I believe it’s actually made me a better team member.  If I feel my life is in balance, and I am in control, I am more present when contributing to the team.  I’m not wasting energy on resentful feelings or self pity, or being distracted by other issues, I’m contributing the best I can at that point in time.

Teams can be greater than the sum of their parts, and one step towards this is to ensure each team member has preserved their own sense of “me”.