Why my creative career needed Mental Spinach

I fell out of love with music after about 5 years as a professional artist. I burnt out. The passion I had felt for music when growing up had run dry and I was anxious. So anxious in fact that I wanted to withdraw from writing, performing and singing almost entirely. I had lost touch with the joy and meaning that had inspired me to pursue a career in the arts. I needed to press pause.

So I did. I had been touring with a band for around 2 years and my musical collaborator and I took a conscious time out. Many of the lessons contained in Mental Spinach are a product of lessons that I learnt through research and reflection when I had to reassess what it meant to live a fulfilling and sustainable creative life. In short it was a journey to rekindle my relationship with my own creativity. The book also contains many of the tools that I saw propel artists around me and enabled them to sustain successful careers in the arts in Australia and abroad.

Mental Spinach is the toolkit I wish I had had when I began my life as an artist.

  On tour with Rufus at Falls Festival.

On tour with Rufus at Falls Festival.

When you begin your career as an emerging artist you would be one of the lucky few if you managed to find a mentor who you could guide you into and through a career in the arts. These individuals are brilliant, but difficult to find. There is also no set path or guidebook to follow and I can’t remember anyone in my 9 years of formalised music education ever asking me to explain what I believed it meant to live a creative life. On top of this no one let me in on the secret that I actually had the power to set the rules for what I wanted in my creative life.

Only after I had been working as an emerging artist for years did I realise that, like 76% of other artists in Australia, I was a small business owner and entrepreneur and that I needed to develop the requisite skills to grow my own business. Even after finishing a degree at arguably the top music conservatorium in Australia, I had not encountered a single tutor whose job it was to discuss these topics. Nor had any of our tutors talked about how to begin building the mental, physical, social, spiritual and financial framework to weather the challenges that go hand in hand with working in the arts. Mental Spinach is just one contribution towards filling that space.

My hope is that through the changes and evolution that take place in your artistic career Mental Spinach will be there to prompt thoughts, additional perspectives and creative solutions to the challenges and opportunities you will undoubtedly encounter. In many ways I believe a career in the arts is survival of the fittest and the fittest are those who are mentally, physically and spiritually prepared. Mental Spinach is part of that preparation.

  On tour with The Jungle Giants around Australia.

On tour with The Jungle Giants around Australia.

 Why Four Lenses and how could Mental Spinach help me?

Mental Spinach offers a framework for thinking that can be used for decision-making and for spotting opportunities in the world around you. It brings together a broad range of concepts from psychology, business management and personal development. Our goal in writing Mental Spinach was to streamline and distil these mega-industries into four simple themes. The tools and questions in each theme aim to give you an increased chance of picking the best path forward and some tools to pursue that path in a authentic, effective and sustainable way.

It can be easy to rush past big decisions or to ignore significantly limiting habits and mindsets. Many of us don’t take the time to stop and think critically and creatively about our options, our potential and how we might maximise them. You can use the Four Lenses (the Identity Lens, the Opportunity Lens, the Impact Lens and the Sustainability Lens) as a way to enrich your decision making and strategic or creative planning.

Each of the chapters can help you to more successfully reflect on and navigate important creative processes, like your:

  • practice technique and routine;
  • time management;
  • promoting and extending the reach of your art;
  • managing creative and broader relationships;
  • philosophy on what it means to live a creative life;
  • mindsets and habits for surviving a fluctuating financial life;
  • ability to avoid burnout;
  • understanding and navigation of your creative expectations;
  • ability to fearlessly say no and set your own creative boundaries; and
  • understanding of your own overall concept of life balance.

At the end of this blog is a streamlined list of questions/tools which can be easily applied by those building a creative career or business.

How do I incorporate Mental Spinach into my creative practice or into my community?

We recommend a range of ways in which Mental Spinach can have a positive impact on your creative practice and in your creative community. It can be used to empower individuals and groups through one or more of the following ways:

  • individuals can have a copy on hand to inform day-to-day decision making (that’s why it’s pocketbook size);
  • mentors, mentees and coaches can use Mental Spinach to enrich conversations about specific projects, creative practice or broader concepts; or
  • teams can use Mental Spinach as a resource to incorporate diverse perspectives into decision making processes.

Singing for the 2018 #ABCYours Campaign. 

That’s it for now...

We are so excited to be able to share Mental Spinach with the world. If you are an artist I would love to hear which parts of the book resonate with the creative questions you’re currently asking. Stay in touch and we would love to hear what you think of our green pocketbook!

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Appendix: Big creative questions and where to find them in Mental Spinach

The following list highlights a range of questions that emerging artists often face and links them to pages in Mental Spinach.

The Identity Lens – Why am I an artist and what does success look like for me?

  • What is my own definition of creative success?
  • How do I measure my own success?
  • What creative patterns are ruling my artistic life?
  • Where is the zone in which I will create my best art?  
  • What are my creative priorities?
  • Where and who are my creative supporters?

The Opportunity Lens – How do I grow my creative world?

  • How do I spot and pick big creative opportunities?
  • How do I come to terms with and learn from the creative opportunities I’ve missed out on?
  • How can I make the most of my daily creative habits and mindsets?
  • What does it mean to be part of an artistic community and how do we embrace reciprocity?

The Impact Lens – This creative opportunity has just become possible, how do I make it as successful as possible?

  • How do I create a routine that gives me maximum creative bang for my buck or effort?   
  • How do I supercharge my creative cycle so that it keeps growing?
  • I’ve just hit a creative road block, now what?
  • How can I keep learning and being creatively curious?
  • How do I find the maximum amount of time and energy for my creative practice?

The Sustainability Lens – How can I make my creative life sustainable and avoid burn out?

  • How do I balance and juggle different creative interests and areas of my life?
  • I’m a perfectionist. Please help!
  • Help me explore what a sustainable relationship with my creativity looks like?
  • How do I know when I’m moving into unsustainable creative patterns where I could be inching close to burnout?
  • Can I learn to switch off?
  • How do I build gratitude and mindfulness into my ongoing creative practice?

Two Factors That Will Put You In The Driver’s Seat Of Your Career

I (Jess) read an article in the Weekend Australian called Future Shocks describing 12 future technologies linked to ‘the fourth industrial revolution’ that it is predicted we’re about to encounter. I had only heard of three of them! I could barely even understand the description of what ‘ubiquitous linked sensors’ and ‘blockchain and distributed ledger’ technologies were. The feeling that life is getting out of control and that we’re moving into a world where driverless cars and virtual doctors/lawyers are going to be normal, can lead to an utter confusion as to how and where I will fit.  What if I don’t know how to code?

While most conversations in this area talk about the chaos and uncertainty this causes, there is also another story. The story of great opportunity – the opportunity to have more autonomy, more flexibility and to be part of a huge global technological boom.  Rewards come from getting down and dirty with the task of creating the life and career you want for yourself. It has never been easier to start your own business, to retrain or work remotely. Research by McCrindle suggests that young people today will experience 15 jobs and 5 different careers*. This is an example of the interesting paradox of work today. While the diversity of work experiences and industries you will encounter is unprecedented and exciting for some, it can also feel precarious and uncertain for those hoping for a little more certainty and stability. So what can you hang your hat on? What is a constant in the changing world?

The answer is you. More so now than ever it’s up to you to manage your career and your life. With all of these new choices and changes, where do you focus your energy and attention? You can’t control industrial shifts, the jobs that are available or how your company is going to restructure, so where is your energy and attention best focused? As I collect and analyse literature and research on how people thrive in today’s job market, two influential factors that are in your control stand out.

These are that your mindsets and skill sets are your greatest GROWING and EVOLVING resources!

This might not seem revolutionary, but too often we leave these two controllable factors to chance, depending on schools and employers to skill us up and our mindsets to develop naturally. Alongside this, we spend excessive hours and energy focusing on things beyond our control.

Taking back a little certainty in your career can be as simple as bringing the focus back to where and how you can grow adaptable mindsets and skill sets.

Your Mindsets

Your Mindsets = the attitudes you typically hold which filter how you see the World

Your mindsets are hugely significant as they infiltrate all aspects of your life. Every decision, action, relationship, learning or behaviour is influenced by these deep grooves of thinking. The recurrent impact of these habitual perspectives makes them fertile ground for potential life changers. When it comes to your work they are also deal breakers. More jobs than ever are seeking cognitive skills fostered through your mindsets. Big data analysis by The Foundation of Young Australians of 4.2 million job searches showed a huge growth in the proportion of jobs seeking skills founded in your mindsets including:

  • 158% more requests for critical thinking
  • 65% more requests for creativity
  • 47% more requests for listening
  • 42% more requests for strategic thinking
  • 33% more requests for self starters
  • 26% more requests for problem solving **

Employers are increasingly valuing not just your technical skills or credentials but also how you think and relate to others. The best part of this is that these are skills you can build everyday and often for free. Let’s explore two mindsets that you can cultivate that will hugely impact your career.   

The Growth Mindset 

Coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, a Growth Mindset is the belief that you have the ability to learn and develop new skills. This is also often called being a lifelong learner. A Growth Mindset acts like a domino in positively impacting other mindsets. This is in contrast to a Fixed Mindset, which considers skills and aptitudes to be genetic or static and has a negative domino effect on other mindsets. Do you believe your aptitudes are inherited or learnt? Believing you are able to learn and grow is a fundamental plank for growing your world and being able to adapt flexibly to changes. So it’s in your court and all that remains is enough motivation and a good plan.

Fixed Mindset

I believe that my (Intelligence, Personality, Character) is inherent and static. Locked-down or fixed. My potential is determined at birth. It doesn’t change. I:

avoid failure

desire to look smart

avoid challenges

stick to what I know

take feedback and criticism personally

Growth Mindset

I believe that my (Intelligence, Personality, Character) can be continuously developed. My true potential is unknown and unknowable. I:

desire continuous learning

confront uncertainties

embrace challenges

am not afraid to fail

take constructive feedback well


The Player Mindset

When a problem arises, do you typically see yourself as a victim of circumstance or of others’ actions or as a player with the ball in your court? Similar to a Growth Mindset, if you learn to take ownership of your attitudes, decisions and situations, you have the best chance of dealing with and learning from the things, good or bad, wonderful or terrible, that cross your path. Typical responses of a victim include: ‘it was her’ / ‘there was nothing I could do’ / ‘I feel as if the world is against me’. These responses close off the window for learning and wipe the victim’s hands clean of any obligation to act or learn. This is a missed opportunity. In contrast the player is always asking: “What is my role in this and what can I do about it?”

During his internment in four concentration camps, psychologist Viktor Frankl witnessed the most desperate and unimaginable circumstances and the way he and others handled them. Amidst the horror some uplifting signals stood out, like:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread…  

leading to his Lightbulb:

“…They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” 

This Lightbulb was a factor in Frankl’s survival and foundational in his approach to psychological healing, as described in his book “Man’s search for meaning.”

At times you might feel like a victim, with no positive way to see the situation. Take a step back, examine your role in the situation as objectively as you can, and there will be a chance to step up and be a player. 

How Can I Shift My Mindset?

Humans aren’t perfect or fixed in their ways. As works in progress it is up to each person to create a system in which we check in with ourselves to see what mindsets we are feeding through our thoughts, actions and reactions. It is through this process that we can forge our own deliberate individual neural pathways. So what are some of the key questions you can ask yourself?

What are the mindsets that are running my life right now? Am I:

  • Pessimistic or optimistic?
  • Apathetic or enthusiastic?
  • Close-minded or open-minded?
  • Rushed and stressed or calm?
  • Judgemental or non-judgmental? 
  • Individualistic or collaborative? 
  • Fighting to stay in a comfort zone or willing to take measured risks?
  • Afraid of being wrong or willing to be wrong and learn?
  • In conversation focused on talking or in conversation focused on learning? 

Alongside this, ask yourself:

  1.  Is there a mindset I could cultivate that would drastically change you my life and career prospects? Hint: your ability and love of learning is a key to changing the game.
  2. What mindsets would I like to work on strengthening and where can I find opportunities to practice that in my everyday life?
  3. Are some mindsets easier to change than others and are they worth focusing on first?
  4. Are there any hurtful mindsets that I can’t seem to kick? Can I fight fire with fire and work on strengthening the opposite mindset?
  5. (After picking one mindset and committing to work on it for a week)  How has thinking actively about that mindset shifted how I think and behave? 


Your Skill Sets

Think of your skill sets is like a giant basket that is continually expanding and shrinking over your life. In it you will collect:

  • Foundational skills of learning, reading, writing, communication, numeracy and digital literacy
  • Technical skills relate to a specific task, role or industry. These often involve licenses, certificates and degrees, but can also be learnt on the job.
  • Enterprising or soft skills that are transferable and often learnt through social and environmental interaction. One simple system that breaks these skills down is the Six C Model of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, connectivity, creative and culture.
  • Career management skills of self-awareness, decision-making to build your career, job-seeking, use of career services/information, life long learning and work-life balance. 
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  Source: Soft Skills needed for the 21st century workforce - the six C's.    https://infogr.am/the-6-cs-of-education-for-the-21st-century

Source: Soft Skills needed for the 21st century workforce - the six C's.  https://infogr.am/the-6-cs-of-education-for-the-21st-century

In school we traditionally focus on foundational and technical skills, but global research ** is strongly in agreement that, if you want to be prepared for the future, developing your enterprising skills should also not be left to chance. A 2015 study called The New Basics has estimated that the future will demand 70% more enterprise skills and that jobs requiring these skills will also pay more***. Today this can be seen with jobs that request presentation skills paying an additional $8,853 dollars per year, problem solving an additional $7,745, financial literacy $5,224 and creativity an additional #3,129 ***. The most amazing part of these skills is that they can be cultivated every day if we are deliberate in seeking out opportunities to learn. Every conversation is an opportunity to learn and improve your skills, every budgeting question a chance to improve your financial literacy.

The next step in making the most of your skills (and the often overlooked part) is learning to communicate that you have these skills. It is really easy to breeze over or forget some of your most vital and valuable skills. The following exercise can be done with any of the above skills (technical, foundational), but first let’s focus our energy on the big-paying enterprise skills.  

This is a great exercise to help you to source and identify your enterprise skills. Using a table similar to below think of a time when you have demonstrated that skill. If you can’t think of a time, ask for help from someone who believes in you and your potential. 

This list is often where we stop. Don’t! Now that you know you have some ability in the skill take the time to articulate just how much value you create with this skill. That is where the STAR method comes in. This method is helpful in a whole range of employment contexts (interviews, cover letters, etc) and it’s also really helpful as an antidote to the uncertainty or fear that you won’t be able to adapt to the changing world. In a simple but detailed way put each of the above situations that you listed through the following questions:

  • What was the SITUATION?
  • What was the TASK you performed?
  • What was the ACTION you took?
  • What was the RESULT you created? Be specific!

When you look at these examples what we hope you see is the enormous value that your broad range of experiences can bring to your employability. Everyday is an opportunity to grow your skill basket, especially when it comes to those valuable and transferable soft/enterprise skills. It is not just on the job we learn, but through the diversity of experiences we have in life! 

In a career planning context focusing on skill development is an interesting and flexible approach. As stated by New Basics Report,

 “Rather than choosing an occupation with an unbroken path to seniority, a young person could think about developing a portfolio of skills that opens doors to a group or ‘cluster’ of jobs.”

The clusters that have been created using millions of job advertisements include: 

  FYA (2015). The New Work Mindset. 

FYA (2015). The New Work Mindset. 

The amazing thing about these clusters is that the roles within them regularly require similar skills that are portable across jobs. This is estimated to mean that if you train or work in 1 job, you acquire the skills for 13 others jobs – a great bang for your buck! This perspective on skill building as opposed to picking an occupation for life is a great strategic way to navigate the changing job market. It also gives you a focus on building related skills that can create a wide range of employment options over the long term.

  Source: FYA (2015). The New Work Mindset.

Source: FYA (2015). The New Work Mindset.

The Foundation for Young Australians report is a ‘must read’ for all ages. It gives a refreshing perspective on a whole range of job search questions. From insights into securing early career opportunities, how you can build your skill set based on your interests and how that can open doorways to a broader range of career pathways through focusing on building your skills. Click on the below link to be forwarded onto the report. 

It's a brave new world we are living in and the mindsets and skill sets we create will be the driving forces in determining the opportunities that come knocking. Learning to manage your career will offer the chance to generate a more enjoyable, meaningful, impactful and successful road ahead. Can you plan some time out each week to focus on your skill sets and mindsets?

What is one deliberate action you can take this week to positively influence one mindset and skillset? Can you write a February plan that you read each morning when you wake up to direct your energy and attention towards achieving this?

Jess’s February Mindset and Skill Set Plan =

  • Mindset = to create a regular meditation practice to improve my attention and spaciousness in each moment
  • Skill set = my understanding of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its relationship to STEM career pathways   

Ian’s February Mindset and Skill Set Plan =

  • Mindset = to be less rushed and thereby to be able to focus better on my and others’ emotions
  • Skill set = my understanding and experience in building online communities

We would love to hear yours!

Our next blog will be in March when Jess is back from cycling Vietnam. Thanks for taking the time out to read this and enjoy your week!


* Mccrindle. (2014). Job Mobility in Australia. Retrieved online: http://mccrindle.com.au/the-mccrindle-blog/job-mobility-in-australia 

** Regional Australia Institute/NBN. (2016). The Future of Work: Setting Kids up for Success. 

*** Foundation of Young Australians (FYA). (2015). The New Work Mindset. 



Big Decision #3 - Your First Property – Ready or Not?

When it comes to big decisions in life, the leap to buy your first home is one of the biggest. Taking on the mortgage is the biggest financial commitment you will make, while the house is your biggest investment decision and also a lifestyle decision that will impact everything - from your job prospects and commute to how you spend your free time and your distance from your family and friends. 

It is important to note we are not in the business of giving investment or property advice and many of these questions came from me (Jess) asking for advice on this issue. We are however in the business of proposing questions as they relate to people growing and leading more fulfilling lives. So we have looked through our Four Lenses at this big decision to give you a wider perspective on your current position.

You may be:

  • Close to being able to buy a property but are wondering if it’s too much of a stretch
  • Feeling like you’re well short financially at this stage and wondering if you’ll ever get there
  • Already in the market after having bought your first place

There is an interesting paradox when it comes to property and personal finance. We are saturated with information about the struggles of entering the property market with even smashed avocado having made its way into this national debate. At the same time, most people are quite private about their finances so it’s a topic that not a lot of people like talking about at a personal level. That is why we want to raise some questions that could be of use to you in your situation. So let’s get into the Four Lenses.  

Identity Lens

Who am I and how strong are my foundations? Am I ready to make such a big commitment?

  • Are there other things or events in my life that I need to address before committing to this (e.g. overseas travel, study)?
  • Where does owning my own home rank in my current life priorities?
  • What are the merits/dangers of leaving it a year or two? If I decide to buy a house, what might that mean for me in 5 years time?
  • Why do I want to buy a house? Is it because I think I should (like my parents did or because of the “Great Australian Dream”)? Because my parents think I should? Or because it’s what’s right for me at this time?
  • Have I done my homework? What do I know about buying property? What don’t I know and where can I find it out?
  • Am I looking at this just as “getting myself set in the property market for my own residence” or also as “an investment of capital which should be compared with other alternatives”? After all it’s probably the biggest investment decision and financial commitment I will make in several years.
  • Where does the location rank in priorities? E.g. living near the water? Near a big park? Close to OR not too close to parents or parents-in-law? What are my job options here or elsewhere where property is cheaper?
  • Am I clear on what sort of home I’m really after? Where does the type and standard of property rank in my priorities? Am I really after a “renovators delight”? Or a big garden for the kids? Do I enjoy fixing things up? Or working in the garden? Or is my priority simplicity and ease?
  • Family plans? Given those, how long are we likely to stay in this home?

Opportunity lens

Do I Deeply Understand The Opportunity, Potential Opportunity Loss and Alternatives Available To Me?

  • By buying a house in this suburb at this time, what options does this open? Does it put me in better position to house kids? Or a worse position to afford them? Are there local jobs and schools available?
  • What options does this close? Will I be able to afford to start my new business? My current lifestyle? The ability to retrain? What compromises will I need to make and are they worth it? 
  • What are the alternatives to buying a house? Could I buy elsewhere and continue renting in my dream location? Could I grow my financial assets/ security another way? (e.g. investment in the stock market, building a business)
  • How comfortable and competent would I be at any of these other investment alternatives? Is it time that I start to learn how to invest and build capital?
  • Do I really understand the property options that are available? How do I maximise the number of potential property options open to me at decision time? Even just for comparison purposes? The more information you have the better equipped you will be to understand a good opportunity when you see one.
  • Am I being too narrow in my criteria? Should I expand the options? Could I look at suburbs 5 km further from the city centre? Should I consider house minding in a variety of suburbs to see what they’re like? Should I look at buying a “worst house in a good street” and do it up? Should I consider apartments instead of houses alone (or the converse)?
  • Who have I told what I’m after? How can I optimise my flow of information about what’s available? You never know when a friend or family member might spot the perfect property for you.
  • How can we make ourselves better borrowers from the point of view of potential lenders (e.g. quantity of income, certainty of employment with permanent salary rather than on contract)?
  • What alternative sources of finance are available? Where are the cheapest and most flexible options?
  • Be curious. How are others my age or in comparable situations tackling this and what can I learn from them?
  • Who can I talk to for advice and possible opportunities? This is a decision where getting professional advice could save you a huge amount.
  • Where does AirB&B or leasing out a room fit into my plan?

Impact toolkit

If this property is definitely the one I want, have I spent the time creating a strategy to get maximum return on my investment?  

  • How can I accelerate my accumulation of the relevant deposit? Weekend jobs with Uber? Tighten the belt and spend less? I need to invest my deposit in a relatively risk free and highly liquid manner so I can it when the right opportunity comes.
  • Do I have the confidence and courage to back myself and commit?
  • Do I have a strong vision for what value I can bring to my life by living here? What will be the benefits of being in this location and its community?
  • Do I have a strong vision of what the property can become? What can I do myself? Have I got mates who can help me on some reciprocal basis? (If I’m an electrician, can I do a swap of labour with other friends in trades?)
  • What bits of the fixing up should we do ourselves? Can this DIY experience make the process more enjoyable, satisfying, social and cost effective?
  • If we’re going to fix it up and can afford to do so, can we do it now and start benefitting from it?  
  • How can I maximise this experience as a learning opportunity? Can buying this property set me up with the knowledge to invest further in the future?

Sustainability toolkit

If I buy, how will this impact my life sustainability and balance?

  • What are the factors that can put my home ownership at risk? Job security? Changes in interest rates? In the event of an increase in interest rates what buffers do I have in my capacity to meet my repayments? (eg. only be prepared to go to the level of borrowings you can still service while still having a 2 week holiday each year – the capacity to forgo the holiday creates the buffer).
  • How will the work on this new house and the commute to work affect the amount of free time in my life?
  • What are the motivating reasons for buying this house that I should keep coming back to? Financial? Lifestyle? A project?
  • Am I being objective about my budget? Have I done my homework regarding the maintenance and possible capital costs? Do I deeply understand the rules of my loan?
  • What things am I giving up to make this possible? E.g. holidays or having kids? Deferring starting my own business? Will I be able to keep that up?
  • In sustaining this commitment, how can I make sure other vital parts of my life are still being met (E.g. my relationships, my free time, my health)?
  • Do I need to slow down and reassess? Would taking on this commitment take me into a territory that would be unsustainable?

For a topic like this the questions are unlimited! We hope that this article has helped you to think more deeply about the decision ahead of you. If one particular question spurs on a Lightbulb moment we would love to hear about it and if you know someone facing this decision please share it with them. Tune in on the 1st of February for Big Decision #4 – Picking a career path.  

Don’t Forget To Celebrate 2016 This Christmas!

It’s that time of year again - mangoes, mince pies and New Year resolutions. You start to dream of new beginnings and make plans to seek out the change you wish to see in your life. This call to action is often so alluring it whisks you into the New Year leaving little time to slow down and celebrate how much you have achieved and what has been really significant for you and those you love this year. Taking the time to feel a deep sense of gratitude for the year that has passed and all it has provided is a powerful way to:

  • Strengthen how you see yourself and your sense of identity
  • Recognise where you have had victories (even amongst many challenges)
  • Notice trends in your thinking and behaviour that can lead to potentially untapped resources, strengths and exciting avenues going forward
  • Give and receive positive feedback helping to strengthen your relationships with those you love

Moving to your New Year resolutions before celebrating the year that has been is similar to trying to navigate a way forward without taking the time to have a look at the map in your hands. Don’t forget to slow down and take time to celebrate this festive season. So what are some simple practices that you can use to celebrate solo or with a group? 

Write a letter to yourself 

Go to your favourite location and spend 30 minutes writing a note to yourself. In this note reflect as deeply as you can on the past year and make a special effort to seek out the things you wish to give thanks for. It may be the effort you put in, the help you provided or the forgiveness you had the courage to move towards.

If the past year has been particularly tough and the idea of going straight to a positive note is difficult, you could take the approach of 10/5/15. This means 10 minutes of stream of consciousness (anything that comes out of your brain), followed by 5 minutes of harsh reflections that you want to get out and finally 15 minutes of positive and insightful things that you would like to congratulate yourself on doing or overcoming.  

Play Build Up Your Family/Mates

Build up your family/mates is a game for when everyone is together. Working best in an informal setting you move around the circle or dinner table deliberately building up members of the group one by one with kind words from every other member at the table. One method is to direct the intention towards “What has X done well this year?” A tactful incentive may be necessary (especially for families), but it will be worth it to hear family members in particular articulating things that the others have done well over the last year and celebrating together. I (Jess) practiced this with a group of 15, 15-year old boys and it was a huge success so I believe with the right approach this can translate into families.  

A Year Timeline 

Get a big bit of paper. Put it in landscape position and draw a line through the middle left to right. Write January One on the left side of the line and December 31 on the right. This is a timeline of your last year and on it you can start to note the events or insights of significance. After putting the event in bold you can write around it a whole range of important details such as:

  • What did that event show you about yourself?
  • What value, strength or passion did it highlight?
  • Who helped make that opportunity come to life?
  • What were your priorities at that point?
  • What emotion was primarily attached to that experience?
  • What was holding you back at that point and why?
  • Is it part of a bigger pattern?

This graphic representation should provide you with a range of strengths, values, resources, relationships, emotions and opportunities that, without drawing out would most likely float by unnoticed. 

Positives, Negatives and Interest Stories of the Year (PNI’s) 

For those wanting a quick way to reflect this solo or group exercise will bring to the surface a brief overview of past year. When sharing positives, negatives and interest stories make sure to focus on one person at a time and try to listen deeply to the story being told. There is often more below the surface and this can be a great opportunity to draw out the strengths and internal resources that the storyteller might not realise are present in the situation. One-word answers are not accepted and try to encourage the storyteller to paint as clearer picture as they can. Note: this is a great exercise for road trips. 

These are just four among many simple reflection and celebration exercises. So please take the time this year to give thanks for the amazing effort you have put in and even better to celebrate together.  


Big Decision #2 - Where should I call home?

It’s time to make a decision. 

Is this the place you want to call home?

This choice has a special significance for me (Ian) as through the years I have noticed the hugely diverging life paths of friends of mine who I studied with in England. Over three years I met friends from all over the globe and have been fascinated by where they later chose to call home and how that impacted the lives they went on to lead.

The most telling contrast was in respect of students from South Africa and Zimbabwe. While this is only my observation those who stayed in the United Kingdom or moved to USA were winners on almost all dimensions (professional opportunities, social stability and security and opportunities for their children). In contrast those who returned to say Zimbabwe and stayed under the Mugabe regime have had limited opportunities on many dimensions. Essentially that country has not has the Social Capital, starting with the rules of law and security, on which people can build sustainable opportunity and wealth.

Not everyone has a choice in this decision. But if you do, then the right choice can lead to exponential changes in the opportunities available to you and those you love - from freedom and the possibility to build a better future for you and your family, to giving you access to a new career or finding a community where you belong. Your home-base matters.

This is also a big decision that you’re already likely to take seriously and think hard about it as it probably involves personal sacrifices (leaving your family, leaving a job, investing money, etc) and a great amount of courage. We hope to add to your reflection by giving you a mental framework to think more broadly about the decision ahead and hopefully giving you the confidence to back yourself when D-day arrives.

Overall the four mains questions that the Lenses will help you to think strategically about are:  


Where can I authentically be who I am and who I aspire to be?

  • What does a rich and fulfilling life look like to me and in which country can that best be achieved?
  • Am I growing in my current domicile? Is it a land of opportunity or not? Does this country inspire my pride?
  • What really matters to me? Will I find it in my current home or in a new country?
  • Where is my community? Is it time to explore and find my tribe?
  • Does this domicile celebrate the strengths, values and purposes that are essential to me as a person?
  • In choosing where to live, what tensions are there between my career ambitions and the lifestyle I want to lead? Is there somewhere where they can be more closely aligned?
  • How will changing my home base impact other areas of my life and how do these compromises stack up (eg health, education, career)?
  • Has moving to another country been one of my dreams? If so, what’s been holding me back?
  • Is it a country that will offer me greater personal freedom? …which will respect the values which are important to me? (eg Is it a domicile which will allow me and my same-sex partner to marry?)
  • What are the implications of this decision for me and who I am connected to? (my kids, partner, dog, friends, family, etc)
  • Who is invested in making this personal decision with me and how do they feel? How can I create the space to have an open discussion with them about it?
  • What are the big reasons for making the change? How do I make sure they come off?


What are the opportunities that become available in calling this place home?

  • Is it a country where the business, economic and social framework will provide wide-ranging opportunity?
  • Does this new home offer the chance for me to drastically increase dimensions of my life that would not be available in other places?
  • How does choosing to call this home compare to other alternatives? Do I need to spend more time exploring other cultures and parts of the world before I choose to settle?
  • Who would have some interesting insights to help me better understand different perspectives on making this choice?
  • Do I understand how much investment is necessary to relocate? Do I have the time, energy and attention to make a success out of this move?
  • What are some of the internal opportunities that making this leap could create for me? (the potential to heal, to create space, to get outside my comfort zone, to challenge myself, etc)
  • In the new domicile will I be able to practice my profession without significant retraining? If not, how much retraining is necessary? 


Would choosing to call this place home help me live smarter not harder - maximising my life, while not draining all of my energy?

  • How much would having this as my new home change what is possible for me?
  • If I choose this new country, what is my life likely to be like in 5 years time?
  • Am I prepared to take the risks of the journey because I believe I will have a better home in a new land? – refugees (whether political or economic)
  • What are the ingredients for success if I decide to make the move?
  • Is the timing good? (Not necessarily perfect!)
  • What are the estimated living expenses in this new home and how will that impact my lifestyle?
  • If my potential home involves a different language am I prepared to give learning the new language a sizeable chunk of effort to give this transition the best possible chance of success?
  • Who are potential role models? …Potential mentors? Do I have the courage and opportunity to speak to them?


Is choosing to call this place home sustainable?

  • What expectations do I hold when thinking about this decision? (my expectations of myself? Of others? Others of me?) And which of those expectations really matter?
  • What does a sustainable life look like to me and in which country can that best be achieved over the long haul?
  • Will I find employment there? Will it be satisfying?...rewarding?...stable?
  • How will this move affect the other people who are really important to me and in part depend on me (partner, children, parents….)?
  • What will give me the resilience and patience I will need in this new country? 

At the end of the day even with hours of reflecting you’ll still have to make this decision on imperfect information and put trust in your intuition and courage to take a chance. This will be easier if you have set aside some time by yourself or with a trusted friend or partner to reflect on your version of the above questions. This is a big decision, the stakes are high and little bit of reflection can help you to uncover the right solution for you.

Good luck!

4 Lenses to help you survive the hurt and disillusion of current politics

Let’s keep it simple. Democracy seems to have gone crazy - globally. You could be forgiven for feeling that we’re all playing our parts in a global 12 month episode of a tumultuous reality TV show - The Apprentice 24/7?

Our favourite learning question, having read a book, had a conversation or meeting, or watched a TV show, is “So what?” How has that book/conversation/show changed our views of ourselves, our relationships or of the world around us?

We’re not political commentators so our aim in writing this is not to dwell on the specific outcomes of recent democracy in Australia, Britain, USA or elsewhere nor of lack of effective democracy in many other places.  Our deep interest is in how individuals, groups and communities learn, grow, build relationships and make effective contributions and worthwhile change. From that lens we note that the democratic process has certainly shown its frailty and new levels of unpredictability; and how consequently we are unable to rely upon democratic government as the core source of the changes we would like to see in our society.

So how has the last 12 months changed you? How do you react to the recent trends of the political process? anger? frustration? lose hope? adopt a victim mindset? become apathetic? not accept the people’s verdict and take to the streets?

The Four Lenses are one way to help you to focus on your own story and your own role – directing your thoughts towards a sense of meaning and your actions towards positive change. You may initially find some of this approach challenging or excessively aspirational, but when you look around your local community you are likely to find people, teams and organisations that are making huge contributions. In writing this we ourselves reflected on the diverse range of people we know who are making an extraordinary impact on the world around them. We hope this sheds some light on a possible framework that you can use to tap into your own unique contribution and as a way to digest and act with integrity through these uncertain times.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead


Identity Lens

One of the most disillusioning things that has come out of Brexit, the last Australian election and the US Presidential election is that our communities seem to hold such divided beliefs, values and senses of identity. It is easy to lose faith that there is a unified way forward. As a first step in trying to come to terms with this, reflect on what you believe and how you have been changed by the events of the last year?

  • Has the last year of global politics upset you? Disillusioned you? If it has, which of your values has it challenged or brought to the surface (equality, empathy, freedom, honesty etc)?
  • Are current media and politics impacting how you see yourself? (As a man, are you involved in “locker room talk”? As a Muslim, how do you feel about how you have been portrayed? As a woman has your belief in the progress towards gender equality been set back? How have you been influenced by the global media coverage?)
  • How does this make your feel? Try to locate your range of emotions - Is it just anger or is it really fear? Is it disillusion or sadness at a shifting in your belief in what is possible? Is it a sense of frustration in wanting to make a difference? Is it a sense of unity in trying to bridge the division?  
  • Might this year’s events have clarified your sense of purpose in the world? Can you identify 1-3 areas that you hope to impact in your lifetime?
  • What are your strengths and passions? How do they contribute to the above purposes?

Can you come away with a clear paragraph that distils how your identity has been or can be made stronger through seeing the past year of events?... or a pathway forward to letting this be an event that positively changed how you see yourself and your role in the world? Has it solidified your belief in the need to fight for equality of opportunity or to have your voice heard?

Opportunity Lens

The world needs change and is full of opportunities to make change – including in the areas that really matter to you. The Opportunity Toolkit is about prompting you to spot those opportunities to be the impact you wish to see in the world.

  • If you could impact one thing in the next year or over the next decade what would it be?
  • What opportunities are already out there to contribute to making this impact? (Don’t try to reinvent existing wheels.)
  • Alternatively do you need to create a new approach to achieve this impact? For example do you need to build a local community group that campaigns for this impact or find a way to connect with people artistically to communicate this idea?
  • Can you brainstorm with others a range of ways that you could have an impact and find the one that offers the “biggest bang for your buck”?
  • Out of the possible opportunities which one has the greatest benefits?
  • Which one is most attainable with your available time and resources?
  • Do your mindsets and habits open you up to be ready for opportunities to make this impact? Do you have an open mind to listen deeply to other sides of the story?
  • Are you sharing your ideas and beliefs in a reciprocal and respectful way? Are you too busy and rushed to really stand for what you believe in?  

Are there one of two clear opportunities for action in your community or organisation that will help to empower you to act in accordance with your values and contribute to positive change?

Impact Lens

If you have identified an opportunity to bring back your sense of agency, how can you work smarter, not just harder, to effect progress and change? 

  • Are you willing to take a risk in really backing this opportunity/action?
  • How can you make sure your opportunity gets off to a strong start? How much time, energy and attention do you need to invest up front to make this opportunity a success? 
  • Who can you collaborate with? Who else is committed to this issue/purpose? Who can you talk to about this project that would have a huge impact on its success?
  • Can you envisage success more strongly by breaking your opportunity up into a number of sub-projects or steps? At each step how are you going to make sure that you’re learning and continuing to extend your reach?
  • What resources are at your disposal to help you to make the biggest impact possible? (social media, your networks, freeing up more of your time and energy to devote to the project?)
  • How often do you have to keep reinvesting in this opportunity in order to help it grow? Is there a way to lower that cost?

The aim of this toolkit is to create a clear strategy to help maximise the impact of your opportunity to contribute given your realistic constraints of time, energy, attention and resources.


"It's stunning to me what kind of an impact even one person can have if they have the right passion, perspective and are able to align the interest of a great team." Steve Case


Sustainability Lens

Now you have made an action plan it is time to slow down and reflect again on how this plan can fit into your whole life. Grounding your actions in the reality of your day-to-day will help to make sure that the actions you take will be able to grow over time and not wear you down or burn you out.

  • What are the different life roles you are playing at the moment? How will this opportunity and strategy fit with those? Conflict with those?
  • What changes do you need to make to ensure you can sustain the momentum over the long term?

Going Forward

Finding a way to move to action can be challenging. It may be helped by thinking globally for inspiration or by focusing locally on what  you can most immediately impact.  We hope this blog has empowered you to  believe that you can make a difference. If you come away with answers to only these four questions this blog will have been a success:

Identity - What has the last year of politics shown me about myself?

Opportunity - How do I take that reflection into one positive opportunity for action?

Impact – How do I create a strategy to maximise the benefits of that opportunity while minimising the strain on my time, energy and attention?

Sustainability – How do I make sure that my actions are fulfilling and sustainable?