Women in leadership – a wicked problem and an immeasurable opportunity

A wicked problem can be described as having “innumerable causes, is tough to describe, and doesn’t have a right answer”. (Strategy as a wicked problem, HBR).

I think this is a good description for the women in leadership conundrum with continuous waves of progress made and then setbacks. To this complex problem we need to continuously apply fresh thinking. As Einstein famously said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

With lots of new year leadership team kick offs taking place across organisations currently, I’ve been hearing multiple references to 50:50 women in leadership quotas as discussion points. With females approximately 50% of the global population this makes sense to most (the share of the population that is female – varies across the world. And globally in 2017 the share of women in the world was 49.6% – https://ourworldindata.org/)

But is it that simple?…..

One of my good friends is in a multinational leadership team here in Australia with a 50:50 all company gender split target. We were having a good debate with our spouses recently about what this means in practice. Particularly the conundrum about what happens if there are two candidates left in a recruitment process with the male being more suited than the female for the role, yet they are pressured to hire the female to get closer to their target. Not an unusual situation in the corporate world.

Julie Bishop is a voiced fan of ‘meritocracy’ and lots of senior females I know would not want to get the job just for meeting a quota (myself included). The problem is in some sectors there just are not enough qualified women in particular fields, particularly in cyber security which I saw when I was working in executive search.

I think a big key is developing the next generation of female leaders to help close the gap so there are enough women for competitive recruitment processes. I am encouraged to see more grassroots problems like ‘Girls who Code’ to try and address this issue and reskilling programs for older women. Harvard Fellow Claudio Fernández-Aráoz describes hiring for potential and I do think this is an important factor for women in particular, especially when some have had time out for childbirth. When working at IECL I remember a reference to a corporate study in a large bank where they found the most productive team members were the 3 or 4 day a week return to work mums.

In our 50:50 quota debate it was pointed out that whilst females are responsible for carrying and delivering babies there are going to be delays in female career progression.  I do see this valid point and have had conversations with female elite athletes around the challenges of trying for a baby in their athletic prime with the break a potential to end their sporting career. In the business world, I do think there are ways we can help mitigate this however which will explore further on.

I feel it is also important to note that this is not to say success for many women is prioritising children and being the leader of the family which my wonderful mum did whilst working two shifts a week. I think celebrating and acknowledging this experience with return-to-work parents is a crucial part of the equation. As mentioned in a letter to Fi and Jane in this Fortunately podcast episode it would be great to have a societal matrix for success where this is recognised as much as the top corporate jobs in terms of the functioning of society. I do believe however we can be loving, present parents and advance our careers with a lifelong learning approach. I was fortunate that my husband could take two lots of 6 months paid paternity leave from the University where he works for both of our boys which enabled me to continue pursuing my career. It has been most encouraging to see a rise in the number of men taking paternity leave to help their female partners return to work.

The data

When you look at the ASX data in Australia the stats are pretty dire, currently only 5% of the ASX 200 companies are led by a women the last I read (ASX200 report reveals number of female CEOs in Australia is falling). We’ve found a more positive story in multi national subsidiary leadership generally but still a long way from 50% representation at the top. I don’t have an overall stat but in our Tenfold membership, 28% of our multinational CEOs are female. The story for ASX Boards is more encouraging too. KPMG’s article on ‘Building Gender Diversity on ASX 300 Boards’ shares – “The 30% Club Australia launched in May 2015 with the primary objective of campaigning for 30 percent women on ASX 200 boards. As the decade ended, for the first time, women made 30 percent of board seats on the ASX 200 – evidence that meaningful change can be achieved through voluntary targets.” A key learning of the power of focus and what gets measured gets managed, also perhaps the role of a Board Member is more suited to females in general than an ASX 200 CEO position? The WGEA insights are a great resource and their 2020 analysis of data revealed a key message, More women in key decision making positions delivers better company performance, greater productivity and greater profitability.

When you look at other sectors including small business owners and not for profits however there are more examples of females leading. In our Tenfold NFP community for example 59% of the CEOs are female. Perhaps traditional listed corporate environments largely set up for men by men do not suit the average female? It would be interesting to survey the next couple of layers down in these ASX companies and ask females do they want the top job (if anyone knows of this data please let me know!). It leads to a point that I think there is a great opportunity for current Boards, Shareholders, Executive Teams and other stakeholders to really listen to their senior women and ask what they would like. Maybe it is not the top job, maybe it is.

All in all though the research shows and I do believe the world will be a better place with more females at the helm (just look at Jacinda Ardern) as well as other diversity demographics being represented.

For me, a key part is developing the next generation of exceptional female leaders and young female leaders taking responsibility for this development. From my own experience as a female leader with two young boys of 5 and 3 here are 10 ways (in no particular order) that I believe can help grow and nurture more female senior leaders:

  1. Role Models – “You can’t be what you can’t see” as the saying goes. This is why I believe more positive female leader role models are essential to inspire the next generation. I was fortunate to have Aunty Julie as a role model in business who I looked up to as a young girl. After an opportunity to join her in Hong Kong for my year 10 work experience I knew I’d like to work in the business arena to help create positive change. The more women we do have on senior leadership teams the more a relatable path there is for aspiring leaders. One reason for quotas and targets.
  2. Mentoring and Coaching – I’ve been grateful to have had a formal mentor (thanks Alison) and a bench of informal mentors (thanks Meredith, John of late) to help navigate my career so far as well as executive coaches (Thanks Oscar, Jill, Monica, Ros and Des). At career crossroads mentors have help guide me with standout quotes being “back yourself” (thanks Gaby) and “think yes…and” (thanks Rich). Coaches have helped stretch my thinking with powerful questions including what would you do if you weren’t scared?. It is great to see more mentoring programs emerge for both males and females including through the Public Education Foundation which I am looking forward to being part of this year and mentoring a high school student. I also think the role of peer mentoring can be just as powerful. I’ve made a point of connecting with peers regularly throughout my career to learn leaning and support each other (Thanks to Tricky, Rebecca, Emily and Dave in recent times).
  3. Playing sports – EY came out with an insightful piece of research last year highlighting the positive impact of sports on women and leadership (Why a female athlete should be your next leader | EY – Global). From my own experience playing field hockey through school, college and university in the UK and then getting into triathlon in Australia feel I have learnt invaluable lessons including resilience, perspective and discipline (you can read about my learning from doing an Ironman back in 2014 here).
  4. Shared responsibility – For more women to be in leadership positions it does mean more shared responsibility at home. I’m grateful my husband takes at least half the load and it’s been great to see more dads at preschool pick-ups. However, I often see over 90% of females picking up children from school in my area. Also, mums on average being responsible for more of the school admin and parties, play dates and extracurricular activities. I think shifts in this area will compound over time.
  5. Leadership development – As women I think we can get ahead by investing in ourselves, putting our hand up for leadership development opportunities and not waiting for a manager to always do this. One of the best things I did as a young leader was apply for a scholarship for Avril Henry’s ‘Great Leaders are Made” program which gave me invaluable development. We have to take responsibility for our learning.
  6. Taking risks – I do believe sometimes you need to take risks to get ahead. After my maternity leave with our second child I took a risk in leaving my stable wonderful job of six years to try out my own digital coaching and consulting business. I learnt a lot in the process which lead me to work at Gartner, then Derwent and then Tenfold. These last few were relatively short tenure positions (which may not look great for a traditional CV!) but they taught me lots about myself and what work aligns to my purpose.
  7. Celebrating each other – Those females who have their tribe of girlfriends will know of the wonderful support and encouragement this can yield. I love sharing learning and accountability regularly with some wonderful ladies including Myza, Zoe, Ingrid, Shaneen, Leanne, Tam, Nes, Bel, Tracey and Tracy. When this ethos is carried through to workplaces great things can happen with women sponsoring other women, backing their ideas, ensuring they have a voice at the table and paying it forwards. There has been too much talk of the ‘queen bee’ phenomenon where senior women distance themselves from junior women which I think we need to dispel through more acts of sorority. What’s one thing we can all do this week to pay it forward to another female?
  8. Male champions of change – Males of course are a key part, if not the key part in the women in leadership advancement. I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing male leaders, coaches and mentors including but not limited to JRay, PD, Tony, Cai, Warwick, Rich and Steve who I’d like to express sincere thanks. The Male Champions of Change initiative is an example of men stepping up beside women on gender equality.
  9. Networking – Joining external organisations can be a huge support to women looking to advance their career. Instrumental to me early on was Network Central which was run by Kim McGuiness, I loved her approach that she only connects with people who do things from the heart. For many the term ‘networking’ is a turn off, yet when reframed as meaningful connections based on mutual value adds it seems more appealing. One CEO I spoke with recently sees networking when done right as ‘paying it forwards’ which I love. I have recently joined the International Cycling Executives (ICE) group which is a wonderful supportive business community with the mutual passion of cycling. Who is your tribe?
  10. Prioritising Mental health – I believe prioritising mental health as much as physical is key for both female and male leaders to thrive over the long term. Life changing for me was going through the Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program when I was pregnant with Ethan (Thanks Kate) and then training in Vedic meditation (Thanks Cathy). I now draw on these techniques as well as guided daily meditations on Insight Timer, the Chopra app and Wim Hof’s breathing technique.

I am inspired by the next generation of female leaders coming through including my Tenfold buddy Amy, goddaughter Kya and friend Bri and I hope these thoughts may be useful to some on the journey. In this current career phase I have a strong yearning to give back which is also one of our tenfold principles. My New Year evolution (inspired by this Rich Hirst blog) is ‘positive impact’ which I look forward to kick starting with some pro bono coaching and mentoring and opportunities this month.

As an aspiring leader what can you do today to take control of today to own your own development? It could simply be reaching out to someone you admire and asking to share learning over a coffee. As a senior leader male or female, what can you do today to pay it forward and help develop a female leader?

Love to hear any thoughts on this important topic. What resonates, what doesn’t, female leaders what has helped you on your journey? What has gotten in the way? By having more discussions and taking actions through the year as a collective, not just around International Women’s Day I believe more change is possible. At Tenfold we are bringing together CEO members of our multinational and NFP community this week and will listen and learn from them in how they can thrive as leaders in this current environment.

To finish with this Seneca saying that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Be prepared for when that unique opportunity arises. Anything is possible. Reach for the stars!

I appreciate depending on where you live at this current time including the UK and Europe where I have dear family and friends that there may be a lot more pressing issues on hand, thinking of you.

Reading I have found useful in this area:

Accepting what is

This morning I listened to a beautiful, short meditation on the Chopra app ‘Accepting what is’.

Their Chief Impact Officer Devi Brown has been leading a series of meditations building up to the US election to help support people that may be anxious. A quote she shared at the beginning of the meditation resonated with me and reminded me of Jon Kabat Zinn’s wise words that “we only have moments to live.”
“Whether it’s the best of times or worst of times it’s the only time we’ve got”
Art Buchwald
The meditation went on to say, “Accepting what is, doesn’t mean we are indifferent to the world, it means we remain steady in the face of pleasure and pain, wins and loses, expansion and contraction. In accepting what is we ride the fluctuations of emotions and experiences with equanimity, a calm even state of mind.” Equanimity is one of one favourite words and states when in it. I felt very inspired after this meditation and started writing this blog only to be interrupted moments later by my little boys wanting to play outside with their new big dinosaur egg from Halloween. I took a breath, accepted the moment that was and we had a fun time playing with the new toy.

It was great to have this inspiration for the day ahead as later that morning we battled through the rain to make it to Huw’s Little Kickers session. It seems very quiet on arrival and we shortly realised it wasn’t on and the hall was empty. I later discovered a text had been sent to cancel it which I didn’t receive as we were making up a class.

The heavens then well and truly opened outside and we were without a car. I remembered the morning’s meditation and accepted the situation, smiled at the boys and said it’s ok. Then suddenly the centre manager a lovely man called Deano appeared from the office upstairs. Recognising our situation he acted with compassion and gave us four footballs from the cupboard so we could play. Coach mummy sprang into action and we had lot of fun playing on the full pitch ourselves until daddy arrived to pick us up to save us a wet walk home.

I often find that when we give in and surrender to the universe, a way forward unfolds. I feel particularly in this present time, ‘accepting what is’ can help us thrive versus survive. With so many unknowns like changes in stages/tiers and lockdowns, travel restrictions and the uncertainty surrounding the US election. I find it useful to focus on what we can control each day, for example practicing gratitude, meditating, eating well, connecting with family and friends. laughing, not watching the news and exercising. Doing things in our control to strengthen our mind and body. I’m reminded by some wise words I heard from Tony Robbins,
“Trade your expectations for appreciation and your whole world changes in an instant.”
In a recent interview with Tim Ferriss, Matthew McConaughey – shares his one best thought for people right now is to laugh at their own expense to help us navigate through these times. He also shared an analogy of enjoying running downhill and momentum when things are going well in your life as there will always be obstacles along the way. Hope these words resonate for some. Feeling grateful here that I could finish writing this after driving back from a trampoline play with the boys crashed out 🙏 Safe and well wishes to all

Building Mental Fitness

I was inspired to read lots about all the great awareness and action on R U OK? day last week to help promote meaningful conversations and listening to support mental health awareness. A topic close to my heart having a couple of family members affected in this area.

Personally, with two small children, working and training hard I know keeping on top of my mental and physical fitness is paramount to showing up my best self. A few ways that I have found to help manage the mental side:

  • Morning routine – A morning breathing / meditation routine before the world wants your attention – currently I’m doing four rounds of Wim Hof’s breathing exercises and this 10 minute ‘morning ritual’ insight timer meditation. If the boys wake up during this time they now know to leave mummy “who’s doing her meditation”. Sometimes they join too!
  • A couple’s day off once a month – Those with small children will know the weekends aren’t always very restful and it can be hard to get quality couple time. My husband and I have started taking off a day a month whilst the kids are at preschool to get some quality r and r time together.
  • Taking a vacation – Like many of us our 2020 holiday plans plunged into oblivion and we have been powering through the COVID changes. We suddenly stopped and realised we needed a family week away to take some time off the grid and have booked a week away on the South Coast soon. This recent HBR article ‘Thinking of Skipping Vacation? Don’t!’ highlights the power or taking a vacation: “It results in improved productivity, lower stress and better overall mental health. It also spurs greater creativity — for example, Lin-Manuel Miranda conceived of Hamilton while on vacation”. I loved the analogy how elite athletes take the time to recover after working towards a big goal

Through our Tenfold Australia multinational community we’ve been hearing about ‘zoom fatigue’, mental burnout in Victoria from working and trying to school kids at home. In light of this and with Mental Health month coming up in October we devoted our last EA pod to mental health in the workplace.

Here were some tips / resources shared from the collective wisdom in the group that we thought may benefit others:

  • Mental Health First Aid Training – Getting a Mental Health First Aid accreditation was recommended to help both colleagues at work and family and friends outside of work. With COVID the training has gone virtual (you can read more here).
  • Mental Health anonymous surveys – One company shared how through anonymous employee surveys there has been an ability to destigmatize mental health as a subject as others see the results of what their colleagues are suffering with. A question shared that you can use with your people to then do a deep dive: “What is causing you the most amount of worry and stress at the moment?” (choose all that apply): Spouse/partner relationship, Work pressures, Parenting concerns, Caregiving for older parent or loved one, Personal finances, Job uncertainty, Health concerns, Isolation, COVID, Other
  • Care Packages – The importance of “care packages” was highlighted as both a way to increase employee engagement as well as a genuine sign of appreciation. For those in Australia can recommend Pretty Green.
  • Activities to help promote positive mental health – A range of initiatives were shared including the introduction of wellness activities like chair yoga, running a mental health initiative and regular meditation sessions.
  • Purposeful Pause – Notion of the purposeful pause and the Windowswap app to help facilitate this tuning you into beautiful scenery from around the world.

In another recent gathering with our CxO functional heads community we heard some tips from Meredith Hellicar on leading through a crisis, including making time for self-care with ensuring time for exercise, time away from the screen and time for thinking. One idea was to introduce laughter classes into the workplace. In terms of how to manage ourselves at work Meredith shared:

  • Be intentional about How and Where you spend your time, both as an individual and a team. Include in that what you are NOT going to do.
  • Making “To Be” as important as “To Do”. Suggested choosing two qualities to focus on each day to ensure you are more humane, i.e. care, kindness, respect.

What have you implemented for your own mental health personally and / or for your workplace? Love to hear any ideas. It is also great to see some purposeful not for profits in this space including Gotcha4Life and Waves of Wellness helping communities.

Another way I like to try and look after my mental health through learning is listening to podcasts recently listened to Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversation with Deepak Chopra ‘Spiritual Solutions’ which had a lovely quote from Deepak at the end which I thought linked to mental wellbeing.

“how do you begin to lead a more spiritual life?, well the goal ultimate goal of all goals is to be happy, okay so if you want to be happy make somebody else happy, if you want to find the right person in your life then become the right person, if you want to see a change in the world then you become the change you want to see in the world. That’s what Mahatma Gandhi said, so in your personal transformation is the future transformation of the world, in your personal transformation, there’s no social transformation in the absence of personal transformation.”

Wishing you well with your mental, physical, spiritual, emotional and all other elements of well-being. Life’s a journey!

Our Grandma’s Memory of VE Day

As many in Britain celebrated the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) day on 8th May my lovely sister Holly shared this recount from our Grandma with our family which we thought others may find of interest. I thought it was particularly relevant during this time where many in the world are battling COVID-19 and dreaming of a victory day which will come.

Especially relevant for these times seems King George VI’s radio broadcast which our Grandma shared: ‘We kept our faith with ourselves and with one another; we kept faith and unity with our great allies. That faith and unity have carried us to victory through dangers which at times seemed overwhelming.’

VE Day Recount from Olwen Eddowes –Written by Holly Gray after interviewing our amazing Grandma Olwen who still has such a sharp memory!

The 8th May 1945 was the day peace emerged after nearly six years of war, so the 75th anniversary on 8th May 2020 represents an important milestone in our history.

Grandma blog

This is our remarkable Grandma, Olwen Eddowes, who is 95 years young. She grew up in County Durham and now resides in the county of Shropshire, in a beautiful village named Edgmond.

In 1943, she had been appointed a place at Queen Mary College in the East End. Due to the threat of bombs, the students were evacuated to different, safer places. For Olwen, this meant moving to Cambridge, a city on the River Cam in eastern England, home to the prestigious University of Cambridge. It was a city she grew very fond of over the next two years.

This is her recount of VE Day, 75 years ago. She still remembers the day like it was yesterday, from memory, but also had her diary on hand for additional details.

Monday 7th May 1945

It was a full day. I was playing tennis at Newnham College with my friend Enid. When we returned, we saw news of VE day on the notice board. We cycled crazily round and round Cambridge before heading back to drink lemonade and eat Turkish delight. We then cycled back into town, to the marketplace, where we saw all the revelry. There was a great deal of noise, crowds of people, people climbing the fountains and singing of all sorts. We got back late.

The spirit of celebration is catching and I feel I could join in the excitement to a certain extent. But I do wish the victory in Burma were here so brother John, and Keith could be home.

Tuesday 8th May 1945

VE Day started off with an hour’s canoeing with my friend Ruth. It was so pleasant and everybody we met was friendly. After lunch, we saw people playing classical music and they were playing their musical instruments, while punting along the River Cam. We were helping to punt and it was great, great fun!

At 3pm that day, we heard Churchill from a portable wireless set announcing the end of the war in Europe. After, we came home to have some tea.

After a couple of hours, we went out again to the marketplace, which was an area of greenery in the centre of Cambridge. We went out to hear King George VI’s radio broadcast at 9pm. ‘We kept our faith with ourselves and with one another; we kept faith and unity with our great allies. That faith and unity have carried us to victory through dangers which at times seemed overwhelming.’

In the evening, we went to a church service and after that we went back to the common for a bonfire, search lights and music! Alfred and John were very kind escorts and looked after us.

It’s a very strange end of war!

Wednesday 9th May 1945

We have spent all of the day on the river attempting to punt down to Grantchester, which is a quaint village beside the River Cam. It has been good fun apart from showers and the fact we kept bumping into trees!

And now all the celebration of VE is over. We really must get down to work and the building up of this new world we talked so much about. Let us hope and pray that something can be done this time.

Friday 11th May 1945

Today, we went to a Victory lunch at the British Restaurant. This is a cheaper restaurant where they serve dishes like bangers and mash. I enjoyed playing tennis again before attending a King’s College service.

After the war, Olwen was reluctant to return to London, as were many of her friends. They had grown accustomed to life in Cambridge. She remembers using a Ouija board with her friends to ask “Will we ever have to go back to London?” Unfortunately the answer was yes!

 

 

Getting MatchFit for Work and Life

Since my last blog ‘Keeping the Hope’  I have been grateful and excited to find a new work opportunity with StriveStronger whose purpose is to help clients wake up to a better way of living, working and leading by delivering a range of innovative large-scale digital well being and productivity programs.

I had met the CEO Andrew May around six or seven years ago when I worked at IECL and have always admired his work. Last year Andrew published a book MatchFit culminating over twenty years of his experience as an elite athlete and corporate performance coach.

MatchFit Image

I recently finished reading MatchFit and discovered some great practical life enhancing tips. As part of the book (available on kindle and in paper) you receive a code to do a MatchFit calculator to see how you’re currently tracking across the six domains of MOVE, FUEL, RECHARGE, CONNECT, THINK and PLAY.

The results of my MatchFit calculator were just into striving at 78/100 which is good but definitely some room for improvement too. After reading through my report and feedback I’m focusing on the below areas over the next eight weeks before a re-test:

  • Eat until only 80% full
  • Reduce alcohol to 2 times a week
  • Incorporate three strength training sessions a week
  • Aim for 10,000 steps a day of incidental activity
  • Reduce processed foods and caffeine
  • Find more time for play

One section of the book that really resonated was ‘through the decades’ with the 30s which I’m currently in described as”Muffin Tops” with an exert below:

“People in their 30s listen a lot more closely when I talk about ageing and the need to focus on managing energy. Most people now get tired more easily, aren’t so inclined to bounce out of bed, and show increasing signs of stress and anxiety. Not only that, their bodies start to change – the technical term for this is the muffin top or love handles. In our 30s we have more responsibility at work and come under more pressure. Some of us settle down with a partner and start a family; some might have ageing parents to care for. And because we’re so busy, this is the decade when most of us stop playing sport”.

I definitely could relate to not bouncing out of bed as fresh as I used to in my 20s and teens and also the extra bit of muffin top and love handles squish! Those distant memories of being young and able to party late into the night and bounce up to play a hockey game feeling pretty fresh early the next day! Time to look after yourself more.

So what are the results so far?

Well I’m waking up before my alarm and feeling energised, not getting the mid afternoon energy crash so badly and am starting to feel sharper and focused. I’ve also started playing tennis again which I hadn’t played in probably six years (could tell by the disintegrating grip!) which has been great from a sense of play and fun. I’ve also tried to have even more fun play time with the boys like this active resistance training!

So how does this translate to the corporate world?

In one of our morning team huddles last week, Dr Tom Buckley from the StriveStronger team (who is also an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney and co-author of MatchFit with Andrew) shared, there’s never been a more important time to for leaders to be MatchFit along with the following points which I thought may be useful food for thought for the Boardroom.

  • Those with a high bio-age (versus traditional age) are some at the greatest risk of COVID-19 complications
  • There is an opportunity for Executive Teams and Boards to use bio age which is part of the Strive Stronger Matchfit calculator score as a metric to assess the health of their leaders and teams. I thought this could be highly relevant for risk management and another key metric to NPS and others on a Board dashboard to see how physically and mentally fit are your team
  • The StriveStronger team have the digital platform, program and resources to help ensure leaders get MatchFit for the longterm with an opportunity to then benchmark your leaders

Andrew Image

A couple of things I’ve started doing in the work week as a result of how the StriveStronger team work is having more walking meetings which is an easy way to get to the daily goal of 10,000 steps and creating your better week. 

In short, your better week is about prioritisation and stopping reacting to other people’s demands and taking control by locking in the activities that are most important to you. For me this starts with diarising a morning meditation, at least a daily exercise, play time with my little boys, a walk and coffee with my husband and time to reflect, connect and learn. Make your version of non negotiables and then the energy truly starts to flow.

Thank you to Andrew and the StriveStronger team to helping me refocus on the brain and body. I look forward to working with you to help spread the great word!

The thing I love about this approach is that where ever you’re at there are going to be a handful of things to implement that can make a big difference to your overall energy to ensure we bring the best of our ourselves to those we love. It’s not about comparing ourselves to others but in a growth mindset style comparing ourselves to ourselves after making some lifestyle tweaks.

“When you change your mind, you change your life”

Love to hear any insights or how you go on your own version of a MatchFit journey to help you better manage stress, stay connected to what’s important in life and achieve all that you want.

 

Dani

 

 

Keeping the hope

Dear reader friends,

I hope you are keeping well during these unprecedented times. I felt an urge to write a post to you whilst on a solo bike ride this long weekend. What an interesting, almost surreal time it has been during this pandemic including the social distancing / isolation measures. As one friend put it, it feels like we’re in a movie.

I’ve been trying to not digest too much news as find it quite overwhelming especially some of the harrowing stories coming out of highly affected areas such as New York. After reading this piece, ‘Coronavirus in New York: A paramedic’s diary’ on the BBC a couple of days ago I meditated on the sadness and pain it evoked which was helpful to lean into it.

What humbling, such selfless acts of courage being conducted across the globe. Being from the UK, I’ve been particularly touched to see all the great support including regular applauses for the NHS and rainbow paintings to thank them. Also I found the Queen’s messages comforting.

There have been some thoughtful and beautiful pieces of writing I’ve come across including this piece in the Guardian, “The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope” and this article, “COVID 19 – The Third Side of the Coin” which concludes with:

“COVID-19 is testing us, our world, and our way of life as we know it. Some of us will not make it out, and none of us will be the same on the other side. As life starts to feel more like a gamble, remember that third side of the coin. Look at what we’ve lost, what we’re losing: heads (COVID). Look at what we’ve gained, how we’re growing: tails (CO-VID). These things are not mutually exclusive. Flip the coin around: look at one side, then the other. Trace your finger along the ring joining the two. Feel the weight of that coin in your hand as you toss it from one palm to the other. It’s all there. We are all there. And we will survive this.”

I also found this HBR article on grief insightful sharing practical tips from David Kessler, “The Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”.

Personally, I’ve been trying to stay grateful and keep mentally and physically healthy. Here’s a short 8 minute meditation on Insight Timer that I’ve found useful, “Re-centering in times of uncertainty”. 

I had a bit of a hit a couple of weeks ago with my role in Executive Search being made redundant due to COVID-19 and hiring freezes. It was a bit of a whirl of emotions starting with sadness, disappointment, relief, acceptance and now meaning and excitement about my next career chapter.

Speaking with my valued bench of mentors, some questions and reflections I found useful that may be relevant to others in the same situation:

  • What can you do with this time to make it worthwhile?
  • What’s one thing you could do for yourself that you’ve never had time for before?
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Look at this in two phases, the short term and the long term.
  • What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
  • How can you look at new opportunities in the mindset of ‘yes and’?

Ever an optimist, some positives I’ve taken out of the current situation have been more regular video calls with my mum, dad and sister in the UK, virtual workouts, more regular check ins with friends, quality time with the boys, a greater sense of community, supporting local businesses and valuing kind gestures like a card and gift a friend sent me when my role was made redundant and our uber aunty food deliveries.

What have you taken out of the situation so far? How can we each become a better version of our self during this challenging times?

To finish in the words of James Lane Allen:

“Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”

Sending lots of love, safe and well wishes

Dani

 

 

 

 

New Year Reflections – Community, Gratitude, Philosophy, No Guilt, Fun, Listening to your Body and Reading to Learn

As 2019 has drawn to a close and 2020 has begun I felt inspired to jot some reflections in our parked car whilst the boys took a nap!

The Power of Community– I can’t start my reflections by not acknowledging the terrible fires that have been raging throughout Australia this summer. Seeing and hearing stories break your heart but also remind you of the power of community when hearing wonderful tales of individuals supporting each other, for example one lady coming back early from her holidays to open her dog shelter for all the affected dogs in a local area.

Our annual pilgrimage to Jindabyne was cancelled with fires in the area and our thoughts go to all the residents and animals affected. The Energylink group of coaches and athletes got together on the day it was decided to cancel the triathlon camp and it was nice to feel part of a community and have conversations on how to help support the crisis. For ways to support some tips can be found here collated by SMH: https://www.smh.com.au/national/here-s-how-you-can-help-australia-s-bushfire-victims-20200104-p53ot2.html

Celeste Barber has also instigated a Facebook fundraiser and is getting close to her awesome $25 million target. Every little helps.

Gratitude – In 2019 I discovered the five minute journal which has been a wonderful way to start and finish the day. Each page starts with an insightful quote and then you scribe:

  • Three things you’re grateful for
  • Three things that would make today great
  • Two daily affirmations
  • Three amazing things that happened today
  • How could I have made today better

There’s lots of science now supporting the benefits of regular gratitude practice and I find revisiting moments of gratitude throughout the day really help when things can seem overwhelming and look forward to continuing the ritual in 2020.

Power of Philosophy – I was referred to the Daily Stoic in 2019, 365 meditations on wisdom, perseverance and the art of living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman and have found the daily wisdom snippets very thought provoking. It opened me up further to philosophical principles as a useful way to frame life including three of the most essential parts of Stoic philosophy shared a couple of days ago:

⁃ Control your perceptions

⁃ Direct your actions properly

⁃ Willingly accept what is outside your control

Guilt as a wasted emotion – As a mum of two young boys it’s easy to fall into the guilt trap, feeling guilty for working/training, giving in to that extra treat demand, having that third glass of wine! As I wrote about previously (5 years ago now!) in ‘Choosing Not to Feel Guilty’ I try to consciously flip out of guilt, as see it as a pointless emotion. This was discussed in this recent Oprah SuperSoul episode. We can either accept the situation / action or look to redeem / change it. Feeling guilty and not being present to what we’re doing doesn’t really do anyone any favours. Easier said than done but something to keep striving for in 2020!

The power of having fun and seeking joy One of my intentions for 2019 was to laugh more – as Gabrielle Bernstein talks about we achieve more when we have fun too! I find being around young children is a great way to add more fun into life and for the last two weeks on our summer holiday my four year old and I made a pact to do something fun everyday which has given us a purpose for the holidays. This has included trips to the zoo, theme park, inside play centre and pool plays at Aunty Julie’s. A simple goal a day which has created lasting memories.

Listen to your body – Last year, I tried to listen to my body more and rest when I felt I needed it and have found regular meditation helps cultivate this. After training for a half ironman last November I felt that I needed recovery and enjoyed some yoga sessions, meditations and naps over more intense training for a good few weeks! Think listening to our body can easily be applied to food too. Whilst at the Billabong Health Retreat for a couple of days of R&R recently, our lovely chef Tash asked us to close our eyes and listen to what food we were craving and then to research that food. For me sweet potato came up which I researched is a root vegetable being a great source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants good for gut and potentially immune health. Fortuitously, lunch that day contained sweet potato 🙂

Reading as one of the cheapest forms of personal development – In 2019 a friend and I decided to adopt a book a week challenge to encourage us to read more. I really enjoyed reading and learning more and would get an endorphin kick whenever a new book arrived from amazon prime in the post, although my husband would say “not another book!” – with our bookshelf and my bedside table overflowing. Note to self in 2020 to join the library! I’m currently switching between three books which are keeping my mind buzzing:

⁃ Winging it – by Emma Isaacs

⁃ The Alchemist by Paula Coelho

⁃ The Opposite of Me – Sarah Pekkanen – our book club book of the month

Now looking forward to 2020, I’m excited for some of our UK friends to visit in April for a week on Bondi Beach (#aus2020) coffees whilst the boys have karate and nippers, learning more about the world of talent and Executive Search and husband and wife team Triathlon goals with the Taupo world age group champs at the end of the year.

Also to learning, failing and succeeding in this life journey we have been granted!

Sending love and prayers to all those affected by the bush fires and a reminder to be grateful and seize the day, in the words of my dad and one of his favourite sayings, Carpe Diem!

I wish you a year of health, happiness, presence and all the best with your goals

Conquering 70.3 miles

Last Sunday I returned to longcourse triathlon racing and completed Western Sydney 70.3 (for those not connected to the triathlon world, this involves a 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and a 21km run). 70.3 miles in total – which I hadn’t initially made the connection to the event name 😂😂.

It had been over 5 years since I raced over this distance before my two little boys were born. The build up involved a three month training program, designed by my husband coach which was a highly time efficient schedule to allow for his training too and all the kids activities. There was a copy etched onto the fridge and if we missed a slot there was no catching up!

I had a few build up events to keep me motivated before the big day, the Sydney half marathon, gears and beers ride (highly recommend!) and Nepean triathlon which all went well.

Race Day

Fast forward to race day and family Matthews decided last minute to stay over in Western Sydney the night before so it wasn’t such an early start on race day. Pretty much all of the good accomodation was taken and we managed to find a motel 16km away. There was no family room available so we all had to share a king size bed! Owain ended up down the other end after being kicked lots! In a funny way, it was actually quite a special moment all being together before the race and it’s interesting what kids remember, after the race Ethan wanted to go back to the holiday home as he’d had a great time 😂😂

On the race day I was grateful that everything came together as planned and I really enjoyed the experience. I finished 14th in my age group in a time of 5 hours and 10 minutes (approx a 43 min swim, 2 hour 38min bike and a 1hour 46min run plus transitions) which was 10 minutes faster than my projected time.

In brief summary, the swim was a rolling start and with this being my most challenging leg I was happy to start in the third group back and not be caught in the white wash. Wetsuits were allowed which helped things with a freshwater swim and I quite enjoyed the straight course, especially swimming under the bridge and seeing the Olympic Rings (the International Regatta Centre venue hosted the Olympic rowing back in 2000). Then onto the bike which I was looking forward to and just get my head down and play catch up. I felt strong and held my power at slightly above what was planned and even managed a few mindful moments to take in the countryside.

Then off the bike and onto the 21km run and my legs felt incredibly stiff for those first few hundred metres! I then settled into a rhythm and it was great to see some of my club mates racing and the awesome support crew, a highlight being giving Ethan a high five. I found the last few kms a punish and had to dig deep, you could see the finish line and it just seemed to keep stretching out! I enjoyed the finish shoot however and it was great to see the boys although Ethan was most interested in my medal (which he then dropped somewhere! I had to practice non-attachment!) and the ice pops I got for them in recovery. It was then great to cheer in a few friends and sit down on the grass!!

The Roll Down

Before having the boys I had set a goal to try and qualify for the 70.3 age group world champs event within the next few years. With having the boys this was pushed to the back of my mind but with the intention out there to Universe I was hopeful one day this would be achieved. For this race there were 8 qualification spots available for my age group.

I was in two minds about whether to go to the roll down awards ceremony. One because it wasn’t for another four hours after I finished and the boys were tired from supporting and two because with 8 spots available in my age group I didn’t think it would roll down to 14th. Then two things happened, my lovely friends Margie and Tom said they would give me a lift home if Owain wanted to take the boys home and when I took Ethan to pick up my bike in transition I explained the situation to him and asked him what he thought. He said go and try mummy and that he wanted to go to New Zealand 😂

Decision made, I stayed for the roll down and met some lovely people there. The first four ladies in my age group took their spots and I thought there was not much hope. Margie and I were laughing how roll downs could just prolong the disappointment! Then it got to the four women for tri spots and a few ladies had already qualified at the Sunshine Coast event previously and a couple weren’t there. Some hope building. I couldn’t believe it got to number 12 and there were still two spots left. Myself and number 16 place got them and I was in a bit of shock. My hands were shaking when filling in the paperwork (and handing over the entry fee!) and it was a special moment messaging my husband to share the good news who was very happy. Margie and Tom were there for a big hug too.

In the worlds of Ironman, anything is really possible!

Some people have asked how did I do it with young kids and a full time job. The real answer is, it definitely wasn’t easy and there were days where it all seemed too much. I recall a couple of times I really didn’t want to jump on the turbo after a big day at work (having started a new job at the same time as training began) but Owain would give me some tough love and I’d feel better after.

During one of the low points we had a girls’ book club dinner to debrief Mark Manson’s ‘The subtle art of not giving a f**k’. This was the perfect timing from the universe with some of his messages including:

• What kind of pain do I want? What you are willing to struggle for is a greater determinant of how our lives turn out

• If you are able to not give a f*** about the pain your goals require, then you become unstoppable.

After this I got my head down for the last couple of weeks and just got on with the job at hand and tried to enjoy the last part of the journey.

I try to live by not being too fixated on the destination and enjoying the journey to get there. In those last couple of weeks some highlights included finishing Workin Moms on Netflix and starting the Crown whilst on my bike turbo sessions, having a few ocean swims with the Elink girls and my last long ride / coffee with the wonderful Tim Tam who was also training for the event.

So where to from here? Well the next couple of nights there were some Prosecco and Aperol Spritz catch ups with friends and now it’s definitely time to have a rest, enjoy silly season and do some yoga and swimming in December. And how could I forget the BTC beer mile in December, being British I think this may be my calling 😂🍻 We’ll then head to Jindabyne with the Elink crew in January to kick start the New Year.

With the world champs not until late November next year I plan to focus on shorter racing for the first half of the year before building up again for long course after winter (good timing!).

We’ve also tag teamed with Owain now in New Zealand for his Pioneer mountain bike challenge (Good luck team SquareOne!) and then his own 70.3 goals.

The boys have plenty to keep us busy with too with a Sunday filled with Nippers, a city Christmas lights visit and unicorn party today. Never a dull moment 😂

Well done to everyone out racing in Busselton today and wishing you all a great festive period and all the best for any goals you are pursuing. Anything is possible!

The Universe has your back

I’ve just been introduced to spiritual guru Gabrielle (Gabby) Bernstein (Thanks Myz!) and have been devouring one of her books, ‘The Universe has your back’ -Transform Fear to Faith.

It has been a great reminder to love and help spread love everyday and feel what we want to manifest and then not try and control the outcome but let the universe deliver in its own way, trusting the process and having fun on the way!

In the chapter ‘The Universe Works Fast When You’re Having Fun’, Gabby describes the pain her and her husband were having when trying to find a home to buy in New York City. This may resonate with some Sydney Siders with the tight property market here! Gabby shared how stressed they were getting.

They then flipped things and started to think more creativity and remembered they had previously talked about owning a home in the country / mountains. They then broadened their search and found a wonderful mountain pad.

Gabby asked the universe for a sign that this was for them in the form of an owl and after a viewing she saw an owl sticker on the bumper of a car, a sign the universe had their back. Their offer got accepted and she was writing this book from her new home!

I thought this was a powerful reflection as we can get so caught up in a goal whether that be buying a house, planning a dream trip, plotting our next career move, having / extending a family that the fun can get taken out of it and the result shaped.

Stepping back and looking at things differently and being creative can alleviate stress and open up the universe to support possibilities we didn’t imagine. For instance, I had manifested and visualised us living in a spacious, open white house by the ocean rather than our small top floor apartment. Given Sydney rental prices I wasn’t having much luck searching. Once I surrendered, the universe kicked in and a lovely friend recommended the semi house next to them. It was white (well cream), open and more spacious than our previous apartment. It wasn’t right by the ocean but close enough and the distance away meant there was space fora big shared garden at the back which is wonderful for the boys to let out steam. If I would have been too stuck on the idea that it had to be right by the ocean we wouldn’t have grasped the opportunity and who knows how long we would have been in our old environment.

In chapter 6, “Obstacles are detours in the right direction” there is a powerful story about Gabby’s friend Sarah who was desperate to find a man to settle down with. Her criteria of a good looking, catholic, financially secure male who could provide for her didn’t seem to be working with relationships that were abruptly ended. Through coaching with Gabby she realised these were the characteristics instilled to her by her mother of what the “right” kind of man must be like. Sarah’s aha moment and reflection to Gabby was – “Gabby, I agree. For my entire life I’ve been trying to attract the man my mother always wanted me to be with. My father was absent in my life, and my mother taught me that I would be happy only with a successful Catholic man who made a lot of money and provide for me. So I’ve been obsessed with finding the man of my mother’s dreams.”

Once Sarah then released her needs and expectations and used a prayer the universe delivered – “Thank you, Universe, for helping me see beyond my limitations. Thank you for expanding my perceptions so I can attract genuine love.”

For more than a month Sarah recited this prayer daily and started being a superattractor attracting lots of male attention. One persistent guy Michael made no sense to her with no financial security and struggles in his career (also not Catholic!). A few months into dating him however she told Gabby she had never been happier in her life, ten months later they were engaged!

Letting go on what we’re holding onto can unblock and lead us to the result. Gabby says “Whether it’s a romantic partner, a career transition, a health choice, or a cross-country move, how are you controlling your experiences and misaligning the flow of the universe?

Gabby then shared her journey to finding her husband which included declaring her readiness and using creative visualisation and meditation to feel the feelings of romance that she longed for – desire, love, romance and excitement. This helped her become a superattractor. She powerfully writes “If you walk around feeling deflated, doubtful, and sad, the universe can’t supply you with high vibe positivity.

I reflect back to when I met my husband Owain, I wasn’t looking for a relationship and was carefree and happy in myself about to go travelling with some friends. Whilst radiating positive energy, the universe then delivered the wonderful man I would then later marry and have two little Aussie boys with.

What’s something you’re holding onto that you can let go of and put out to the universe?

Some may be thinking it’s easy to accept this approach for the good stuff in life but what about the obstacles? Gabby writes, “What about when you’re fired out of the blue, or when an unexpected health condition shows up? How are we co-creating these difficult circumstances in our lives? The bad times, just like the good, are a reflection of what we believe to be true about ourselves and our relationship to the Universe. Oftentimes our difficult circumstances reflect the stress, fear, and separation that we carry. It’s important to witness the difficult situations in your life through the lens of love. Choose to see them as an opportunity to surrender to your spiritual practice even more. The amount of flow and synchronicity we experience can be measured by the depth of our spiritual connection.”

On this note, I was having a conversation with a friend’s dad this morning who has just recovered from stage four colon cancer. He said many health professionals were ready to give up on him as he also has heart disease. One guy said I’m backing you as you have the will and motivation to succeed. The cancer was cut out and he has made an amazing recovery. I said wow the universe had your back and he said he it was even more than this, he truly believed he could pull through and with the love of his family he did. He has more to offer the world and isn’t done in this life form yet!

Gabby’s powerful commitment in writing this book “is to wake up as many people as possible to their connection to faith and joy. In that connection, we can be guided to our true purpose: to love and spread love. These words can no longer be cute buzz phrases that we merely post on social media. Rather, these woes must be our mission. The happiness, safety, and security we long for lies in our commitment to love.”

Gabby’s new book “Super Attractor, Methods for Manifesting a Life beyond Your Wildest Dreams” is out now which I look forward to reading along with ‘Judgement Detox’ which my great friend Myz has also recommended.

If you enjoyed this post sharing some of Gabby’s wisdom I recommend following her on Instagram (gabriellebernstein) for more regular inspiration like the below.

Too much Mastery = Burnout – Too much Pleasure = No Purpose

The title of this blog was inspired by a quote a friend shared with me during a recent catch up after realising she may have reached corporate burnout.

We ended up having quite a deep discussion and I thought some of the learning may be useful to others.

We discussed how we both had grown up pretty focused in school and mastering good grades and were now doing the same in our careers. We reflected that we spend a lot of our free time on mastery and learning, whether that be listening to podcasts, reading business books or studying.

You can see my quest for mastery from a young age via this year 10 journal entry my mum found!

Whilst this is productive and healthy up to a point, we also reflected on how you can be too focused on mastery and lose the focus on pure pleasure in life. For us that includes being in or around the ocean, reading or listening to fiction, watching some light TV, spending time laughing with friends, playing with little ones or just hanging out with our partners in the moment.

It was an interesting reflection for me. The next night, I had planned to jump on the bike turbo and study a cyber security module (fun sat night!) whilst the husband was away. Instead a friend messaged and asked if I was around. She came over and we watched Wimbledon and ate ice cream, pure pleasure, which is more what I needed.

On the flip side, too much pleasure can be not productive. This article in Psychology Today is an interesting read, “Too much pleasure, not enough happiness.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/longing-nostalgia/201903/too-much-pleasure-not-enough-happiness

The takeaway I distilled was to make our pleasure meaningful. I’ve found that a daily pleasure practice of gratitude and meditation helps give my life meaning.

I think too much pleasure as the title quote suggests could equal no purpose and it’s great to strike a balance being the two which will vary depending on your circumstance.

Also, I do think that there is a sweet spot where mastery can become pleasure when you’re so accomplished and enter a flow state.

With my balance recently being more tilted to mastery than pleasure, I’m looking forward to a pleasure trip at the end of next week to visit our family in Cyprus and to England for my sister’s wedding.

What would you say your current balance is of mastery versus pleasure?

After this conversation I was reading a Peter Cook Thought Leader’s blog which I always find insightful and came across the notion of extreme self care. Whilst I am a big fan of self care and help balance my mastery tendency with meditation, massage, manicures and facials / blow drys I hadn’t heard the notion of extreme self care.

Pete shared this term was coined by Thomas Leonard who came up with an extreme self care checklist. Whilst every item on the 100 point checklist may not relate to everyone, I found this a useful exercise to go through. Interestingly, one of the 10 focus areas is pleasure!

A handful of the actions that stemmed for me were to:

⁃ Book in a nutrition session before I start IM 70.3 training

⁃ Book in annual health retreat date

⁃ Have another massage before our long flight to Europe

⁃ Floss twice daily, versus once a day

⁃ Stretch more regularly

On reflection, I think you could go into mastery mode with extreme self care and get too focused, which might defeat the point, but I think it is useful to think about what time and energy we’re devoting to ourselves to then be our best for others. The classic aeroplane oxygen analogy, putting your own mask on before helping others.

I hope by sharing this at least one person may have an insight and action emerge which was always the purpose of starting to write this blog and sharing some thoughts.

Love to hear any comments / reflections.

(I picked the blog title image as felt it represented my two year old Huw in pure pleasure! I think young kids generally have a good balance of pleasure and living in the moment :-))