Look How Far You Have Come!

Riding a bike is easy, once you know how. When you know how, it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to not be able to ride a bike. It’s something that you never forget how to do, it’s like, well, riding a bike.

It’s not until someone points out to you that there was a time that you didn’t know how, that you can stop and see just how far you have come.

It’s the same with anything in life. Each day we learn and grow and it’s not until someone creates a space for us to stop and reflect on where we have come from and what we have achieved that we begin to understand how far we really have come. I’m not the same person I was 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 10, or 5. I’m not the same person I was 12 months ago. My hope is that my life will always be like that as I continue to grow and learn.

If it’s true for me, it’s true for you and for our world. In relation to some of the big issues in our world we have come such a long way. Take poverty for example: since 1990 over 1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty, a larger percentage of girls are in school, about 50,000 less children under the age of 5 are dying every single day because of hunger and easily curable diseases. We have made some incredible progress.

The journey is far from over though, with much work to do (jump on board and help us out!), but we have great reason to hope and to take time to stop and say, look how far we have come.

What Does it Mean to Be Australian?

I don’t know. I seriously don’t know anymore.

I used to think we were a laidback country that gave everyone a fair go, supported the underdog, and were amazing at cricket that we watched on Channel 9.

It turns out that most of these things are not true, or are less true than they used to be. Aussie cricket and the channel swap fiasco aside, it certainly feels that as a country, we are not as laidback as we once were. In fact, we are becoming increasingly un-laidback, or stressed and anxious. I feel it myself, most days as I go about my general life, I sense that there is a communal angst. If you don’t believe me, head to Google and type in “Australian Outrage” and scroll through the results. Sure there are some links that are things that we should be genuinely outraged by but they are side by side with stories on sport, comedians saying un-funny things, and other subjective opinions.

Perhaps the problem is do to with the word “Outrage”. Maybe it is getting overused, or maybe we can make some changes to it to give differing levels of angst. Perhaps we can try (in order of severity):

Outannoyance

Outdisappointment

Outslightlyput

Outsocialmediaworthyanger

Outtempertantrum

Outfurioustodaybutnotcaringtomorrow

Outraging

Outofcontrol

OutAngryAnderson

But, if finding new words doesn’t solve the problem, then perhaps we can change some actions. Our journey from laidback into outrage requires that we find an enemy, someone that is truly against us and everything we do. Honestly, most of our “enemies” don’t live up to that definition and we have to fudge over those parts that we have in common to make it all the way to outrage. To overcome that and find our way back to being laidback requires an act of generosity. A conscious effort of listening to hear rather than listening to judge and condemn. It needs a wisdom that says “Agree to disagree”, meaning that we don’t have to agree with everything a person says or does to share a country of residence with them. It’s a knowledge that understands that we have more in common with people than we have differences and chooses to focus on the common ground. It is a life not borne out of fear. That is what generosity looks like and that is how we claim back our laidback mantle. Generosity overcomes outrage.

Happy Australia Day!

Tonight, I’ll Be Eating.

What happens when the extraordinary becomes normal?

Human history is littered with examples of people who have come into a large increase in income, won the lottery or had their life dramatically changed beyond what they could hope for, only to become so accustomed to this new life that it becomes normal. They then forget what life used to be like and take their extraordinary circumstances for granted.

Australia is a prime example of this en masse. The way we consume food has changed so significantly over the last 40 years that it beggar’s belief. Preparing family meals looks very different now, if it happens at all. Not only has the increase in the prominence of super markets changed how we access food, but the introduction of fast food restaurants has impacted how and where we consume it. Not to mention the ease in which we can access freshly prepared meals from a range of providers delivered to our door through the use of an app on our phone. We don’t even have to move off the lounge to organise dinner. Amazing – what a journey of food consumption.

As we become more and more accustomed to this new reality it is easy to forget that hunger is still the biggest killer on the planet. Whilst we can have food delivered at the tap of a smart phone, 10% of the global population are suffering from chronic hunger and for them the extraordinary is not about choice or ease of access but of finding a meal for their family. So next time your delivery takes a few extra minutes or the line at the fast food restaurant is slow stop and reflect on how things have changed, but also how things are for those living in poverty. Perhaps every time you eat out or order in, set aside some money to donate to making our world a better place.

In the Absence of Data…

I used to love writing stories when I was little. Tales about forest dwelling people and stories of weird animals, and bizarre worlds. I think I was quite a creative little guy. But I grew out of that, or so I thought. I discovered recently that I am still strongly involved in creating stories – about people mostly, and their motives and thinking.

Studies suggest that we spend up to 80% or our time each day in some form of communication. Only a small part of that is via speaking. Most of our communication is non-verbal and even when we do communicate verbally we can’t possibly say everything that is going on in our mind. So, for the majority of the time, people around us don’t actually have any idea what we are thinking or feeling.

Brene Brown, the well-known researcher and speaker, says that ‘in the absence of data, we always make up stories’. Meaning that if we don’t know what someone is thinking or feeling about us, we create a story around that – we make up what they might be thinking or feeling. Most of the time what we make up is much worse than reality. But until we get the real story confirmed, we live in a make believe world where our made up version is non-fiction.

One of the greatest acts of generosity to ourselves and those around us is choosing to assume the best. Notice when we are making up stories about what others are thinking and feeling, and seek out the data. Seek to find out what the truth of the matter is. If we must make up a story because we don’t have the data, let’s make up positive ones.

Fa-la-la-la-la La-la-la-la-ing

I am not a Christmassy type of person. I don’t mind this time of year, the decorations are okay, although they don’t put me in a joyful mood like they do for some people, the food is good although it doesn’t excite me a great deal, and the carols I can leave – I certainly don’t get too involved in any fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la-ing.

What does excite me at this time of year is the idea of giving. We have a special season where we think about what others would like to receive. Now, that can be stressful, but we can also look at it as a great opportunity to put a smile on the face of someone we care about. The reason it is stressful, perhaps, is that if we don’t spend much time throughout the year thinking about what others would like, it is very difficult to switch that part of our brain on in December.

Often I hear people talking about becoming the best version of themselves, something that I am striving for also and I think that we go a long way to being the best version of ourselves when we are giving. When we are generous to others and giving back.

So, use this Christmas time to be the best version of you. Be generous to those around you, give great, well thought out gifts to friends, family and people you don’t know – like a chicken, for example.

Charity Case

Asking for help can be one of the most difficult things to do. It requires us to put our need out in the open and be vulnerable about a short coming we have.

In a world that seems to value independence, creating our own path and not needing anyone, asking for help is a sign of weakness and vulnerability is a dirty word. So those that do ask for help are seen as lazy, unable to help themselves or even called a charity case.

That’s an interesting term. In our language today it is a negative phrase that we use to put people down with, to write them off and not have to think too deeply about what is happening for them. But its true meaning is basically someone in need of help.

I am going to say, even at the very least, we all need the help of someone else once a year. It’s most likely much more often than that, once a month, once a week, probably at least once a day.

Why do we carry shame around that?

Shame is about fear and judgement based on the idea that being in need is weakness. But I see that asking for help is the most courageous act a person can be involved in.

I speak to many people who are generous to organisations that assist those in great need, not because they judge the recipients, but because they have been in a place of need themselves, or can at least imagine what it would be like, so they give.

Being in need is not a sign of weakness. Acknowledging need and asking for help is a sign of great strength.

Philanthropist

Philanthropy is a strange word. It can be hard to say…

Philanthropy, Philanthropist, Philanthropic…

It also carries with it connotations of meaning which may not be accurate.

When we hear the word Philanthropist in can conjure up images of older (normally white) men who have made their millions and have now decided to give a tiny portion back. Most people don’t connect with that imagery, which is fair enough because it is not a true indication of what philanthropy is.

The true understanding of the term is that it is someone who has a strong desire to promote the welfare of others – usually through a generous donation of money to good causes.

Philanthropy has no gender, no specific cause and no specific amount tied to it. Really, if you care about people and give some money to charity, to see the closest philanthropist who is making a difference in the world take a look in the mirror. You are most likely one already.

Responsibility

I was born in a little town called Naracoorte, in the South-East of South Australia. Nothing I did had any bearing on where I was born, that is literally where I popped out.

Through no effort of my own, I was born within the borders of this country we call Australia. As a result of that I have managed to live the life that I have so far. I got an education, went to university, had a family, travelled, lived interstate, and created a life for myself and a future.

If I am honest, very little of this has come as a result of my intelligence. Sure, I have a debt to pay to my ancestral line, but if I was born in Indonesia, for example, where nearly half the population live in poverty, there is no doubt my life would have taken a very different trajectory.

Geography is destiny. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

For a while I felt guilty about this fact – but that didn’t help anyone, so I chose to feel pride about my country of birth and take with it a sense of responsibility. To use what I have been given to help others who haven’t had the same advantages as me, purely because of where they were born.

Geography is destiny, unless we act. Unless we use what we have been given to do what we can to create a better world.

Scrooge Effect

One of the most well known characters in Literature is Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the one, the miserly old man who places all his value and effort into the riches he earns and doesn’t care for the people around him, until one Christmas eve he is visited by the ghosts of past, present and future. It’s the final one, which forces him to face the fear of the unknown and to think of what life would look like for others after he died which changes his attitude. A thought provoking fiction and a standard movie to watch at Christmas.

There is such a thing as the Ebenezer Scrooge Effect, which has seen many people change their attitudes towards money and relationships as they get older and think about their mortality. The reality of death can be an incredibly positive thing.

People who have been miserly and greedy have become generous and thoughtful, and as a result their quality of life improves as does the quality of life of those around them.

The good news is that we don’t have to wait until a certain age to start being generous, we don’t have to wait until we are at death’s door  – we can save time and a lot of heartache and begin now, changing the way we think and behave.

It starts with small actions, giving some time, some kind words, some money to an organisation that you like. Doing these things consistently will create the generous quality of life that we are called to.

University: Where Nice Ideas Go to Die

A Keynote Delivered to the Graduating Group from the John Curtin Leadership Academy of 2018

Uni’s are a funny place. I mean that in a nice way of course – they can be the making of people, or they can also be the breaking of people.

For me, they are a place where nice ideas go to die.

My nice idea was to go to university to study a degree in Banking and International Finance and I gave it everything I had…for about a week, until I discovered that I didn’t know anything about economics and even less about accounting. This was not fatal, but my problem was that I didn’t care about those things. This was the start of the death march of my nice idea.

So I left uni after a term and went to work in a bank, can you believe. I spent 5 years working my way up and ended up selling financial products to financial planners. My recollection of that time was that I would meet with people and they would tell me how many millions of dollars they had in funds under management and I would pretend to be impressed and understand what that really meant. One day I woke up and realised that I didn’t care about that either. So I left the bank to find something that I could find purpose in. The nice idea finally died.

There is a difference between nice ideas and world changing ideas. Nice ideas are normally ones that others may suggest for you, or ones that you think will be okay mostly because you have nothing better to do. World changing ideas are the ones that grab you by the scruff of the neck and throw you into a place completely out of your comfort zone. They change your life, the lives of those around you and potentially the world as you know it.

My world changing idea came from a casual job. From the bank I went into community radio for a while, then went back to study at Bible College. At that point I needed a casual job to keep some money coming in, and somehow landed a role with World Vision in their Youth Team. I’m not entirely sure how I got it, I have it on good authority that I wasn’t in the top 8 applicants. (That’s in the top 10, so that is still good…right?)

I spent 9 years engaging young people in the fight against poverty and my world changing idea was created. I studied my Masters of International and Community Development and now with Opportunity International, I continue to find my place and my purpose in the world. The more I learn about development and empowerment, the greater purpose I find in overcoming poverty. You see, poverty has such a devastating effect on people – it makes it impossible to see past your immediate needs today to be able to plan ahead, or hope for a future keeping people trapped and unable to reach their full potential.

There is poverty of the non-poor too. This is where too much creates poverty. This kind of poverty, where there is excess, creates greed, corruption, health issues from too much food, and slavery to the idea of a bigger and better house, a newer car, a faster boat. Somewhere in the middle of nothing and excess there is a balance where we are neither a slave to survival nor a slave to possessions.

Overcoming poverty of the non-poor requires generosity; learning to master the excess and become skilled at giving money away. This also, is how we overcoming the issue of financial poverty. It creates a place where people can reach their full potential. But potential is hard to measure so knowing whether or not we reach it is a little difficult – except to say this, you drastically underestimate what you are capable of and you drastically underestimate what the people around you are capable of. Although to reach your full potential requires good people.

Like Jim Rohn says, you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. So find some amazing people that challenge you and push you beyond your comfort zone and make them your people, because we were designed for growth.

So, do you have a nice idea that needs to die so you can discover your world changing idea?