After meeting Saara Sabbagh, founding director of Benevolence Australia a few years ago it quickly became clear that we shared many of the same values – particularly around the need to, as she describes it, ‘raise the bar of human consciousness’. We have since been privileged to work with Saara and her organisation on strategic planning, board development and mentoring. This month we asked Saara to introduce her wonderful organisation via a guest post – Gayle.
Since its inception in 2008, Benevolence Australia has been quite clear in its vision of bringing our shared humanity together through the timeless wisdom of the Islamic spiritual tradition, with the intention of raising the bar of human consciousness.
For the past 10 years, Benevolence has served the Muslim and broader communities with a firm and unwavering determination. Whether it’s creating an alternative space where people from all walks of life feel welcomed and a sense of belonging, or uplifting and striving for a higher practice of spiritual refinement, or indeed navigating the complexities that come with being an Australian today – Benevolence has evolved to continuously meet the challenges of our Australian community with our core values of Khidma (service), Rahma (compassion) and Ihsan (spiritual excellence) at the essence of all that we do.
In a time of increased polarised views, lack of moral leadership, economic and social divides, environmental disasters and social isolation, all with the backdrop of an ego-centric culture devoid of spiritual refinement, the message of Benevolence Australia found its calling.
Grounded in the principles of the way of Muhammad (peace be upon him), Benevolence has created a community where spiritual refinement and character development are integral to one’s identity.
Shifting the discourse on Islam and Muslims has been integral to our work. Muslims make up only 2.6% of the Australian population yet, according to a recent study on Australian identity, ‘51% of Australians had unfavourable sentiments towards Islam’. This is the case because the bulk of people’s knowledge about Islam and Muslims is derived from news and social media – not through experience, research or indeed engaging with fellow Australian Muslims.
It is with the intention of bridging this divide, of breaking down the ‘othering’ that has become normalised in our Australian political landscape, that Benevolence Australia’s programs reach widely into schools, service providers, faith communities and the public and private sectors. We deliver arange of programs and services on understanding Islam in an Australian context, as well as programs on building cultural competencies, understanding global politics, the history of the Muslim world and complexities of the current narrative on Islam and Muslims in relation to social cohesion.
The challenges of our time are many. However, it is not up to one person or one organisation to find the solution. Just as we, as a global community, have contributed to the darkening of our world, it is up to all of us to be part of the awakening of our humanity. There is no room for bystanders, we must all be responsible for shifting the many narratives that are no longer serving us. Benevolence’s contribution is the opportunity to rediscover our spiritual potential, to bring awareness to the oneness of our humanity, and essentially to raise the bar of our human consciousness.
I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Kenya. It was experiencing the wonders of Africa as a child that ultimately drove my passion for nature and led me to choose to study marine biology and zoology at university.
Not long after graduating, I started to understand some of the many human-created threats to our marine environment. Many I witnessed first-hand, including reefs being blown up by dynamite (by fisherman simply trying to feed their families) and commercial trawlers with kilometres of nets emptying the ocean of fish and other marine life.
The most devastating event I have seen was one of the first global bleaching events in 1998 in the Philippines. It turned one of the most beautiful and pristine reefs, filled with colourful fish and corals, into a brown rubble graveyard without much life at all. The scientific consensus is quite clear that events like this are a direct result of elevated sea temperatures as a result of global climate change.
Healthy coral reef ecosystem
Dead coral reef following mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef
I have since witnessed this same bleaching story repeated over and over in places including on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and in the Solomon Islands.
I also have seen, again first-hand, turtle nesting beaches and hatching nests completely washed away because of severe storm surges. I’ve seen increasing tide levels wipe out coastal community fishing villages. Both of these have occurred at locations where I had been working hard with a team to create marine reserves or conservation areas. Our efforts felt fruitless.
Leather nesting beach (Qeuru) on Tetepare Island, Solomon Islands
Qeuru beach, following storm surge and flooding that destroyed all leatherback nests for that season
It is when I have seen and felt these things, and the impact they have on local communities, that I have felt most frustrated with those – especially (usually unqualified) politicians and other ‘leaders’ – who still raise doubts about climate change and the authenticity of climate science, and who are failing to make the changes needed to prevent further and much more dangerous levels of global warming.
I spent a majority of my early career in marine park management. While I loved the work, I soon grew frustrated with the bureaucracy of government. I realised that I needed to create my own leadership journey to get exposure across other sectors, including with Global Leadership Foundation, and to work in various leadership roles so I could be in a position to effect change.
What I have come to learn on this journey is how important ‘visibility’ and ‘strategic communication skills/tools’ are – as well as courage. This is what led me directly to here and Homeward Bound and HB4. In my application for HB4, I said I wanted to increase my strategic visibility and communication skills so I could influence global environmental management and policy in a leadership role.
I am lucky to be have been (and continue to be) surrounded by many others who are passionate about the environment, though at times this has caused me to assume – wrongly – that the wider community also care about its future. Seeing the many counterproductive global decisions made, and actions taken, by individuals, companies and countries constantly shows me otherwise. It is this that drives me to want to be able to make change.
What I know I can do as a future leader is influence the way we manage our environment as individuals, countries and globally. My continuing Homeward Bound journey is one step in this direction, and I hope you will continue with me on the way.
To be in the space with so many people who are connected to each other through ‘using their business as a force for good’ was not only inspiring but also heart-warming. We were continually reminded why we belong to this movement by the generosity of spirit, the curiosity and genuine interest in each other and our organisations, and the humility as people shared amazing stories of what is being achieved.
Along with many other highlights, one of the important milestones of Encuentro+B was the presentation of an open letter to governments of the G20 nations, a meeting of which was taking place that same month in Argentina to discuss the global economy. In this letter, a group of business leaders, purpose-driven entrepreneurs and impact investors came together to summon G20 countries to help build an economic system that is useful to people and the planet.
However, even with all of this, some of our greatest learning and inspiration came from an organisation that is not yet a ‘B Corp’. The company is called Mainstream Renewable Power and it became clear to us that their purpose, principles and practices come from the same context, and that they are truly leading by example in their actions and work. Let me share that story.
Mainstream are installing renewable energy generation all over the world, including some very large projects in Chile. That is noteworthy on its own, however the way they are going about their projects, and in particular the way they are partnering with indigenous peoples, is truly impressive.
To be really honest, the idea of an energy company paying respect and attention to indigenous cultures as part of their work doesn’t quite fit my experience. However, we were able to hear the unfolding story of Mainstream’s approach to a new wind farm project, to see the trust and genuine respect in the relationship between the community liaison team and the indigenous elders, to hear the stories of the significance of the country we were on and the genuine concern from Mainstream for the protection of the sacred sites. And we were able to see how all of this is being incorporated in an agreed and sustainable plan for everyone. This was humbling.
We were invited to attend a two-hour ceremony, meeting and meal hosted by the native Mapuche community. At this gathering, conversations about relationships and sustainability of the community were the main agenda items, which told us a lot about the culture of Mainstream. We are not so naïve to suggest that the overall plan for the wind farm and its commercial viability was not at the back of everyone’s mind, however it was part of the consultation process rather than the whole story.
What is also wonderful is to know that after three years of collaboration and joint representation, approval for the Puelche Sur Wind Farm has been obtained and Mainstream’s community relations team are continuing their work in connecting the next phase of this important project to the overall life of the Mapuche community.
To us, this is a real example of a ‘for purpose’ organisation living what it believes in and leading by example. The sustainable focus and relationships that are being built and the engagement of the community in co-design and decision making are genuine and respectful.
You don’t have to be a B Corp to use your business as a ‘force for good’ – you simply have to make that commitment.
One of the first topics we are delving into as part of the Homeward Bound project is ‘Visibility’. This is something I have looked forward to. Scientists like me are often behind the scenes, playing our part feeding information to inform policy, for example. One of the things I want to achieve as part of my Homeward Bound #HB4 journey is to increase my visibility – not as an end in itself but for a purpose.
One of the take-home messages that really struck me in the ‘visibility’ module was that you don’t have to wait to be confident – you just have to find courage. This is a game-changing thought for me as I keep thinking I need that bit more experience, or to learn just one more thing, before I will have the confidence to present myself publicly as an expert. What I’ve learnt is that really all I need to do is be more courageous. They say you must be vulnerable to be visible … so it’s time to be brave!
Another lesson about visibility that resonated with me was the importance of authenticity. Last December I attended the Global Leadership Foundation annual fellowship event. Because the Foundation is supporting my #HB4 journey, I was given the opportunity to make a short speech. As I told my story and shared why I care so much about the need for action on climate change, I became, well, more emotional than I had intended to be. At the time I worried that this was making me come across as unprofessional, but the feedback I received immediately afterwards – probably from some of you reading this now – was so encouraging that I was convinced that showing authentic emotion is really a positive thing.
Visibility is also about being honest with yourself first. One of the questions I am asking myself is ‘Why do I want to be a leader?’ The obvious answer is because I want to influence change, but I can’t help thinking that it’s also because it makes me feel good.
I ask myself whether the fact that I enjoy playing a leadership role diminishes my dedication to doing good for the planet, though I am starting to accept that it quite possible for both to be true. I want us to take better care of the world than we do, and I want the environment to become as important as the economy. When I am able to have influence and help inspire these changes, that gives me a sense of achievement and makes me feel good. It should be obvious that there is no conflict between the goal and the emotion it creates for me.
I have worked in climate change since 1998. As a marine scientist I witnessed one of the first, and then worst, mass coral reef bleaching events in the world in waters off the Philippines. I saw the reef destroyed by elevated water temperatures, and I witnessed the flow-on effects of this devastation on communities dependant on those reefs. I saw this story repeat in 2004, 2008 and 2012, and then in each of the last three years. I’ve also seen the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo Reef and reefs in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea badly damaged or completely destroyed due to climate change.
I don’t want to be the scientist just feeding information anymore. I want to be the person influencing the policymakers and making the decisions. As part of HB4 I am going to do a ‘Visibility Audit’ and create a strategy to increase my visibility – and I’m going to find the courage to do it.
Read more about Gillian’s Homeward Bound experience in her other posts collected here.
Last week I received an email from my colleague Huw Kingston letting me know that he was stepping up to a new challenge, one that was very different to any he has undertaken to date.
Huw describes himself on his website as ‘an adventurer, speaker, entrepreneur, former cafe owner, event director, environmentalist, writer, ski guide, mountain bike guide, tour leader and grandfather’ – and even that list only seems to touch the surface.
You might wonder what challenge could possibly be so unusual to someone like Huw given what he has accomplished so far. And then the next sentence of his email said it all: he is standing as an independent candidate in the coming Australian federal election.
Just to be clear – this is not a political blog post. I am not here to suggest that if you are in the right electorate then you must vote for Huw. What I want to write about is my response to Huw’s news and the fact that he is ‘stepping up’ when others are stepping away.
As I read the reasons Huw put forward, I experienced a deep sense of his commitment to the ‘greater good’. He wants to do what he believes is best for the whole community, for his children and grandchildren, and for the environment and the planet.
He talked about being angry at what he has seen happening in parliament, however his anger was not directed at specific people but at a culture of ‘playing a game of party politics’ rather than governing and remaining clear about the critical matters we face. He was focussing on the issues, situation and behaviour rather than on the person. All of this sums up exactly what we would expect to see from someone who is demonstrating a high level of emotional health.
We often find ourselves looking for examples of what it means to live a life of Social Value (emotional health level 3) – a level at which a person has a greater range of behavioural freedom and starts to move their concerns to others and what is important for society. As this person starts to lose more of their self-centeredness there is a natural tendency to embrace the social aspects of their community and want to make a difference. They use their emotions constructively. They still experience the full range of emotions but they use the energy from them to take action and lead by example rather than blame, defend, deny and justify – which is the focus at lower levels of emotional health.
As Huw says: ‘I could of course shy away from this madness and carry on with what is, by any measure, a good and happy life. I could continue to take my grandkids out into the bush, the snow and down the rivers. But in reality, I couldn’t quite deal with them and all younger generations if I didn’t at least try to effect positive change for the future.’
Having the courage to ‘step up’ independently and recognising the critical importance of governance and working with the community around you to find answers and solutions to the issues we all face – these are clear markers for a different, style of political leadership.
Perhaps, as Dianne Collins suggested in her response to a previous post of mine on this topic, we are starting to see the rise of genuinely awakened leaders who speak up and stand up for ‘what’s best and right for the whole of their nation’. Dianne confirms that we are in a time of restructuring of our institutions, ourselves and our thinking. She also suggests that ‘the party’s over’: that political parties may no longer be an effective structure for great leadership and governance.
I am sure Huw is not alone in his thinking nor in the action he has decided to take. I welcome the opportunity to hear about other leaders you know who are stepping up for the greater good. How exciting it will be to see them leading by example and taking our nation, and other nations confronting similar challenges, on a different path for the future.
We open this year with an inspiring guest post from our friend, colleague and Tables of Ten participant Alex Mills. Alex is coordinator of the Opening Doors community leadership program and a passionate social inclusion advocate. Based in Melbourne’s east, Opening Doors supports existing and emerging leaders to create stronger, more connected and more inclusive communities.
Every year in the Opening Doors community leadership program, we conclude our opening three-day retreat with a simple, yet challenging, process. We ask each of our participants to write down a strength or asset they’ve observed in every other member of the group. The participants then share their reflections with each other individually.
Our leaders are rarely challenged in coming up with something to say to their peers, but they often feel overwhelmed at the prospect of the feedback they will receive.
The emotions this process elicits never cease to move me. As our participants share their feedback with each other, there are often tears, hugs, laughter and the full spectrum of raw, emergent emotions. To witness these moments between people who only days earlier were complete strangers is a blessing and a profoundly moving experience.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt during my time with Opening Doors over the past ten years, it’s that the world desperately needs more of these exchanges.
As humans, we seem to gravitate towards the giving of feedback only when it is essential, and usually critical: in a time of crisis, when something negative has happened or when we feel aggrieved.
For those who occupy positions of leadership in our communities, this is compounded even further. Often, the expectation placed on our leaders is that they should be all things to all people at all times. It’s not unreasonable that we should hold our leaders to high standards, but the work of leading can become incredibly lonely and isolating when the majority of the feedback you receive is negative, judgemental or even scathing.
When our Opening Doors leaders give this feedback to each other, it runs the full spectrum. It might be something as small as the inclusive language someone used in a sensitive conversation right down to someone feeling truly heard by a peer for the first time in years.
However, no matter the scale of the feedback, the impact of random acts of acknowledgement like this can be transformative.
This process of acknowledging the gifts we bring to our communities not only deepens our sense of connectedness but ultimately offers us the opportunity to reflect on where our individual strengths lie. It offers us the opportunity for wisdom and insight on individual and collective levels.
In my experience, affirmation is crucial to keeping us driven and motivated. Positive feedback can be given in a matter of seconds, but its effects can be far reaching and long lasting. I’ve seen countless leaders feel completely reinvigorated through the simple act of those around them pausing to acknowledge and celebrate their work.
The world needs more of these ‘above the line’ exchanges. If we could all be even slightly more conscious of the impact our positive feedback has on those around us, we could deepen our relationships, invigorate our leaders and create a whole bunch of positive energy in the process. Which, in my experience, can be deeply infectious.
Embracing these opportunities is one of the many gifts that Gayle, Malcolm and everyone at Global Leadership Foundation have brought to the Opening Doors program over the past 10 years. Our leaders wouldn’t be where they are today without these learnings, and we feel deeply blessed to be a part of the change the Global Leadership Foundation is creating in Australia and around the world.
This time of year is often a time we all reflect on the year gone and the year ahead.
I have been able to get a very real glance at what I will be doing only 10 months from now by following the very recent #HB3 Team’s trip to Antarctica, finalising the third year of the Homeward Bound program.
The incredible images of the seascapes shared by the group are nothing short of spectacular. You can feel the serenity. The blue colours in the icebergs are incredible, and the wildlife – just captivating.
As a marine biologist, Antarctica has always fascinated me. Thinking about having a chance to see all those animals (penguins, seals, whales…) up close in their natural habitat is so exciting! It is an incredibly rich ecosystem, existing much like it always has.
In a way it reminds me of Tetepare, an isolated uninhabited island – the ‘last wild island’ – in the Solomon Islands where I lived and worked for 18 months (and where I met Gayle and Malcolm). There, the rainforest and reefs are much like they were thousands of years ago, just as the water and ice is in Antarctica.
There is a strong link between Antarctica and places like the Solomon Islands. While both are wild and largely untouched, both are experiencing the impacts of climate change due to the rising temperatures, melting ice and increasing sea levels.
Of course, the overwhelming feeling I have about starting the #HB4 program (and of course going to Antarctica) is excitement. But I also have feelings of uncertainty. There is a lot of work to do between now and November. Monthly assignments, coaching, group meetings and reading to do. It is a year-long program: the trip to Antarctica is only … well … the tip of the iceberg.
I do wonder:
Am I going to have time to do all the theory work and still balance work, family and life?
Will I be able to make the changes I want to make?
Am I going to manage the Drake Passage? (I get terrible sea sickness which causes many people question why I am a marine biologist!)
Will my twin boys, Felix and Jackson, who will be three-and-a-half, and my husband, Michael, be okay while I am gone for three weeks?
I am sure I am going to have a range of feelings throughout the year, but I do know that all the people who have done the program before me say it was life changing.
When I ask myself why I am doing this, I remind myself it’s because I want to be more confident as a leader, I want to increase my visibility and I want to be in the best position I can to influence global environmental policy. This (hopefully) will give me the conviction to do my very best this year.
Follow Gillian’s journey through the Homeward Bound #HB4 program here.
This month we feature another guest post, this time from Tim Giles. Tim has been a social worker for 11 years. After a chance encounter working with men who had had contact with the criminal justice system, he has spent his career working with this population in various leadership and clinical roles. Five years ago Tim had the opportunity to learn and develop an understanding of emotional health with the Global Leadership Foundation. In his words, it has since become a guiding principle in his personal and professional life. We felt Tim’s reflection on the value of emotional health was the perfect message to share at this time of the year.
If we are honest with ourselves, I think we would all be able to identify instances where our actions, or our reflections of our actions, have been self-serving. We might even discover through honest self-reflection that we have approached our lives with a skewed focus towards the self, possibly with totally blinkered attention on meeting our own individual needs even when it comes at the expense of the other.
We forgive ourselves so much more quickly than we forgive others. We reflect favourably on our own achievements yet forget to recognise the contributions of others. Did you take the time to unconditionally appreciate the colleague who emptied the work dishwasher this morning? Were you fair and reasonable in the last argument you had with your partner, your mother, your brother, considering not only your own needs but also those of the other person?
Most of us are so conditioned to meeting our own needs that it can be very difficult to impartially reflect on whether we were fair, for example, when we lashed out at a fellow motorist who we perceived to have cut us off. Had that driver made an honest mistake and not seen us? Is this a section of road that they are less familiar with? Did they really cut us off that badly anyway? We are prepared to paint an unfavourable picture of the other driver and very quickly (with a lot of assumptions) see ourselves as victims of their terrible, inexcusable driving!
We see this on a micro level in individual interactions, however this phenomenon also exists on a macro scale. For instance, human influences resulted in a 50% decline in coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef in the 17 years to 2012. This has been allowed to happen because industries that caused harm to the reef brought us cheaper goods and services than would have been the case had we reformed those industries to protect one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
Recently another common example of self-centredness occurred to me in an interaction with my health insurer. I received a request for feedback from my insurer about their service, to which I responded positively. I wanted to recognise some great support I’d received in maximising a rebate for removed wisdom teeth.
It was only on reflection later that it occurred to me that I had only provided this positive feedback because I’d been asked and because they made it easy for me to do so in just a couple of minutes. Had I had a negative experience, I know I would have been prepared to proactively call, wait on hold, complain and possibly even become aggressive if my complaint wasn’t dealt with to my satisfaction.
Thanks to my exposure to the work of Global Leadership Foundation, I now understand that the self-centredness I’ve been describing – something that nearly all of us possess to some degree – is a reflection of our level of emotional health. If we rise through the emotional health levels, our degree of self-centredness diminishes. With that our interest and concern for the other (our community/those around us) increases. Herein lies the key to improved community cohesion: a capacity to recognise and improve not just our own lives but those of the people around us, from the very important people in our lives to those who we might have a very brief encounter with.
If we can focus on building and developing levels of emotional health across all aspects of society, the potential for improvements in our ability to function effectively as individuals, for interpersonal effectiveness and societal cohesion are limitless.
The journey towards improved emotional health is not easy. It is an ongoing journey – one that most of us will never complete in its entirety. It requires hard work including honest and sometimes confronting reflection every day.
I certainly don’t propose to possess any superior level of emotional health, however I do believe that with passionate and ongoing focus and self-reflection, I have become emotionally healthier in myself. The greatest pay-off in all of this is that the more emotionally healthy I’ve become, the more content, satisfied and happy with life I’ve become. I approach life with a greater sense of optimism and positivity and can honestly say that I enjoy life more than ever before. The good news is that I still have a way to go and that if I can continue to nurture my emotional health, my quality of life can continue to improve.
With widespread, societal improvements in emotional health, perhaps we will be able to see a shift in how our major systems and institutions operate to produce a more inclusive society, a fairer distribution of opportunity and wealth. Perhaps we will see a greater tolerance for diversity and openness to new and different ways of doing things which, in turn, could open our eyes to very exciting new ways of thinking about and doing things in – and for – this world.
Eight years ago I met Gayle and Malcolm in the Solomon Islands on one of Global Leadership Foundation’s Leadership Experiences. It was one of my early introductions to leadership development, and also to the work that Global Leadership Foundation undertakes. More recently, they encouraged me to apply for a place on the Homeward Bound program. The program is a strategic leadership initiative focused on women working in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine). It is built on four main pillars, focusing on leadership, strategy, visibility and collaboration.
In June I was proud to learn that I had been selected to be one of 100 women from across the globe to make up #HB4, the fourth of these Homeward Bound programs. Now, with the sponsorship of Global Leadership Foundation and further support of others (including Jadestone Energy and even my twin toddler boys’ day-care centre, Tiny Beez) as well as family and friends I am excitedly looking forward to a year of leadership development culminating in a scientific voyage to Antarctica in November 2019.
With this blog post and subsequent posts over the coming year, I’m looking forward to sharing my journey with the Global Leadership community.
I am a marine scientist who provides leadership in the strategic development and implementation of natural resource management and conservation initiatives across a broad range of marine and coastal projects in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. I have a keen interest in climate change. I like to work with individuals, communities and organisations to build their capacity to better manage their natural resources to achieve positive environmental and social outcomes.
My goal in participating in the HB4 program is to strengthen my science communication and leadership skills and raise my professional profile. I’m hoping to become part of a global network of women in STEMM that is well placed to create a change in how we manage the environment. I want to influence decision-makers and global policy, particularly regarding climate change and a sustainable future.
The initial news that I was accepted into the program was quite surreal, but over the past few months, as I have been working to raise the necessary funds and articulate what the program is and what I want to get out of it, it has begun to feel more and more real.
Although the program is only just getting underway, the collaboration and networking components between the participants have been strong since we learnt of our success. After the release of the latest IPCC report the topic of climate change has featured more heavily in our discussions. I am looking forward to building my networking with other women in STEMM. I am not sure what to expect from that, but I am sure it will only be positive.
I am excited about what the HB4 program will entail. Having an opportunity to re-visit leadership theory again will be fantastic. I’m particularly looking forward to being able to share and discuss what the program teaches and seeing how it relates to being an emotionally healthy leader through monthly catch ups with Gayle and Malcolm.
One of the strongest feelings I have at the moment is one of accountability. With all the support I am being given I feel a strong responsibility to ‘walk the talk’ – in both my career and lifestyle choices. As a passionate conservationist, I live and breathe environmental protection and reducing my environmental footprint … I feel my footprints are more visible now than ever before.
I’m looking forward to joining the Global Leadership community in Melbourne in December at this year’s Fellowship Event. I’m looking forward to building my ‘leadership’ network too. Perhaps some of you reading this will be there too? Either way, it will be lovely to share my progress with you over the next year via the special Gillian Starling category on the Global Leadership Foundation blog.
This month we feature a guest post from Alicia Kennedy. Alicia is a participant in the 2018 Melbourne Table of Ten. Having worked as a veterinarian for thirty years, Alicia was acutely aware there was a growing need for a community-centred veterinary service that provided special support for senior clients. So, in 2015 she founded Cherished Pets, a unique veterinary social enterprise that supports pets and people through all life stages and enables the human-animal bond to flourish.
What a year you’ve been. You took me to my limits, emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially. You have been a year of crisis, celebration, progress, interruption and consolidation. You were unrelenting.
This week marks the end of an extraordinary experience for me as I reflect, restore and prepare to head full-on into 2019 ready for the excitement and challenges of the year ahead.
Over the last nine months I’ve been blessed to take part in the Global Leadership Foundation’s Tables of Ten in the company of eight extraordinarily talented fellow humans. As well as meeting as a group each month, I’ve also had, as part of the journey, an enriching monthly coaching session with co-founder and Tables of Ten facilitator Gayle Hardie.
Each month’s experiences have centred on a theme, and it astounds me how these aligned so well with where I was at and what I was seeking at the time.
Part of our coaching process is to create an intent of ‘how we want to be‘ as we move forward. Over the year we’ve described our intent using three words, which have evolved for me over time – starting with ‘Nourishing’; ‘Balanced’; ‘Powerful’ and finishing with ‘Grounded’; ‘Calm’; and ‘Confident’.
It’s also been a year in which I’ve discovered that seeing the world as a ‘both…and’ person is actually okay. And that, in the words of Brené Brown, we can be “tough and tender; brave and afraid” all in the one moment.
In summary, my year has been Extreme, Supported and with Boundaries. Here’s why.
My team and I at Cherished Pets have been stretched as we’ve continued to grow our groundbreaking bond-centred veterinary and pet care business. With our commitment to making our service accessible to all, we deal with people in crisis on a daily basis. This has required digging deep into our reserves to meet growing demand.
Personal and professional challenges have arisen as the result of some confronting cases. In one case we had to report a situation to the RSPCA in order to protect a pet from further suspected abuse from an owner who was seriously ill, both mentally and physically. Harrowing is the only word for this experience. In another situation a client attempted suicide. One of our team arrived at the scene after the police.
Palliative vet care cases have taught me so much about commitment, the human–animal bond, strength of spirit, life and death and the importance of letting go.
We’ve further extended our resources by embarking on a project to open Australia’s first community pet hub in the face of escalating demand for our services. There have been moments of extreme excitement about the possibilities that abound – the realisation that we are a ‘happening thing’. And, on a personal level there’s been a death in the family and the passing of three very special elderly clients, niggling illness and escalating anxiety that some days grips me and holds me in my tracks.
Dealing with difficult people has tested my emotional health and resilience as I’ve attempted to stay above the line and present in the face of distress, confusion and an ‘inner critic’ who loves to raise her voice when the going gets tough.
It’s in these times that purpose matters most in order to keep you on your path. I’ve been mastering the art of two-minute meditations as one way to stop, breathe and ground myself before moving forward.
Cherished Pets is now in its fourth year of operation and never before have I felt more held. I feel like I am wrapped in a big blanket. Some wise words recently heard at a BCorp workshop ring true: “Community is a safe place to fall”
Cherished Pets is indeed a community. Through our team, volunteers, supporters, donors, business friends, advisors, board, clients, partners and my family and friends, I have never felt safer and more supported as we progress this remarkable venture, driven daily by our purpose and mission. We are holding each other and, most of all, they are all holding me.
As a founder who is always chomping at the bit to be ten years ahead of where we are at now, I have trouble saying no. However, when the ‘hot breath’ of burnout starts to breathe down my neck, I am realising the importance of boundaries: professionally, personally and as a leader.
We are ‘building this plane while we are flying it’ and I need to take stock of the incredible progress we are making. I need to get smarter about what we say yes and no to. It now feels safe to say no, to slow down to speed up. We cannot be all things to everyone and we cannot fix everything. I work to the 75% rule when it comes to fixing the problems in the world. We do what we can, when we can. We always do our best to be what we need to be for everyone we work with … but we cannot be it all.
I am getting better at holding my boundaries across all I do, and better at taking care of me.
So, thank you 2018 for your abundance, your celebrations, your challenge and your lessons.
Just because I am following my dreams doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, I am convinced that I’ve chosen to travel the harder, and lesser, path. But as 2019 looms on the horizon, this is what I’ve got to say:
“I am ready. I am calm. I’ve got this”.
Heartfelt gratitude to Global Leadership Foundation Tables of Ten 2018 for it all.