Almost Forty

I realised today when it happened. Ageing that is. It happened when I finally started living a life that made me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who appears to coast through life in a state of ease and joy. I’ve had more than my share of hard times as have most of us. But now, acknowledging the times that have come before makes me more grateful for today that I think I have ever been in the days leading up to today.

What strikes me most clearly is that as soon as I got genuinely happy and stopped being what other people wanted (or what I thought other people wanted) everything started to move as though on fast forward. The days, adventures, laughs, even tears sped up with an enthusiasm that would make roller coasters look like the lazy river.

Alice

Equally notable, is the snail’s pace that the hard times seemed to take, even in my memories. I’m amazed by how absorbed I was with how other people perceived me and how I wanted them to perceive me in my twenties. It seemed to last forever. It certainly felt like a millennium of repeated bad days.

The gaps between should be and perceived by cost me hours (weeks and months in some cases) of trauma that not only moved slowly, they seemed to trap me in neutral. Even when I reflect on them the scars still seem fresh. Normal, I suppose, but when contrasted with the laughs that happened just yesterday already fading away, it seems cruel.

That is the thing about the good times, they fly quickly and without the internet reminding us of fun moments we had back when we can easily forget they existed. Strangely, the moments of turbulence seem etched in my memory in a high definition familiarity I wish I had with today’s breakfast.

So that is what I am going to talk about. Questing for good times every damn day. I know that my life is flying past and that each second is fleeting and precious. Time is not on my side (Sorry Mick) and soon enough my almost forty will become one of the things in my not so recent history so I better get started.

Why today?

I asked myself this too. One answer is that I have the confidence to put my words in the universe because I don’t care if you like them. The alternate is that I am old enough to have experiences worth sharing to those who follow in my footsteps.

Both are bullshit.

Maybe you are asking why you decided to give moments of your precious time for this garbage. My ego tells me that you did because this tome is only going to be read by people who know me and most never made it far enough into this post to see these words.

That being said, if you are someone who gave money to travel the internet and somehow arrived here for my words: Thank you. Send me your postal address and I will mail you a card saying something clever about how you help me to be myself. I will probably need to write it out a few times, edit, and rewrite before I feel good enough to tell you such things, but that is the power of the voices in our heads.

In the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer, but… I soon realised that writers don’t often make a great living and so decided to go a different way.

Fuck You pragmatic ten-year old self.2017-09-24 08.24.24

Sidebar: I think I was actually 6 in this photo and the fat lip is courtesy of my older sister and the teeter-totter.

Seriously. Growing up in a world where struggling to make ends meet and “broke” stole a dream and traded it for self sufficiency is just plain old shitty. For the record: we need to do more to support the working poor.

Well here is the thing about being a grown up: You can change your mind if you want to so that is what I have done. I am now self-sufficient, I have gathered up some confidence in my words, and today I am going to share them even if it doesn’t make me rich, because satisfaction cannot be purchased at any price.

Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing-Benjamin Franklin

In the last couple of years I was inspired to start writing in a way I have always secretly hoped to. My friend Anna makes me feel good about the ideas in my head and the words I assemble onto uhm paper? Digital documents? Whatever. You get the idea. She said nice stuff, I gained confidence, I wrote more stuff. Now you are reading said type of stuff.

Why we face complicated ideas such as what and who we should be so early in life and follow that decision made in the midst of hormone fuelled chaos for decades is beyond me. Shouldn’t we be happy? Shouldn’t success be defined with experiences instead of things you can buy at a store?

So hey there ten-year old Erin, better late than never right?

Onto things of more value: My next steps

When I was young I used to think that I knew the path I was supposed to take. I was supposed to find a good guy, get a job that pays the bills, buy a house, live the life. Happily. Ever. After.

I did those things. I hated my life.

My entire existence was muscle memory the way you continue to read the instructions on a bottle of shampoo as you go through the motions in the shower each morning. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

That is decidedly not living.

Birthdays have been something that I have spent most of my life ignoring and just let them slip by. I don’t know exactly when, but at some point in my late teens I decided that they shouldn’t be such a big deal and that making yourself the centre of attention just brought on criticism.

Since then both the big and little numbers have skated quietly by for almost two decades.

20 came and went to an unhealthy relationship and what I remember being a pretty massive fight. I recall coming up on 30 and after a friend made an absolute spectacle of their big day all I could think was how I didn’t want to be like that. Because of him that milestone went all but unmarked with a partner who forgot.

When I turned 30 I made the decision to redefine what I wanted my life to look like. What I wanted it to look like was not the life I had spent time building. It wasn’t a collection of pretty things or looking the part. It was experiences. It was people I loved that made me laugh so hard tears stream down my face. It was adventures and unexpected items around corners I got to explore because I was busy living life.

It was certainly not life on autopilot.

That being said, 35 was sucked into the vacuum of days at the start of my MBA and a new job, though there was a particularly fantastic meal at Jacob’s …..mmmm steak.

That’s what makes this year important to me to mark in some way. I’ve decided that it is not about the particular day, but rather how you fill the ones that aren’t as discernible. I am now a distance that can be counted in hours away from my next milestone and am doing everything I can to relish the moments that are passing in memorable ways. I’ve spent the last few months working to capture mental pictures of flashes that make up who I am today and who I am yet to be.

To start this next batch of ~3600 days I thought I would reflect a little on the growth that got me through the last decade.

  1. Physically: I have challenged my body by training, running, hiking, and endurance cycling. Even better, I haven’t once died or failed to find the finish line.
  2. Mentally: Yup, all it takes is three post graduate efforts and a little collection of letters after my name in order to remind me that I am smart enough.
  3. Professionally: by having a chance to expand my skills across countries and continents with people from different cultures and experiences, I am a different and more balanced person.
  4. Emotionally: learning to overcome the voice in my head that said I couldn’t as well as through pushing my own limits to discover empathy and human capacity that had long since been tucked away.

This type of stretching matters because we naturally become comfortable doing what we know, with people we know. Committing your life to remaining flexible means more than just being able to touch your toes.

It means that you are willing to try, to fail, and sometimes to flounder in uncertainty while figuring it out as you go.

Today we are faced with ever lengthening life spans and I don’t want the next sixty plus years to look the same. I refuse to allow myself to get too comfortable.

My promises to myself and you.

More languages and more cultural explorations

The goal for now is German, French, and Te Reo (Māori), after that maybe Japanese and sign language… we will see. I can’t guarantee what is coming up around the next corners and am prepared to adapt my plans on the fly as I go.

More physical challenges

Despite what the voice in my head might say I am strong and capable. Our bodies are something that with care can last the hundred or so years I plan to be on the planet, so if I treat this almost forty year-old body well, it will continue to serve me for the rest of my time. A couple of weeks ago I climbed to the top of a volcano in Indonesia. A few weeks from now I will tramp Old Ghost Road in New Zealand. I haven’t made too many plans for 2018 yet, but I promise there will be time spent exploring both new and familiar mountains, forests, and beaches.

Erin Burrell Mt. Batur Bali
This is what you do to welcome 40

More letters

I love learning and my academic endeavors are far from over. I really do want to be a polymath.

More words

I abandoned writing in my teens and have rediscovered a passion for sharing my thoughts and ideas in both formal and informal forums. That is going to continue for sure, you don’t have to read them, but I know that I do have to write them.

More collaboration

It’s not a secret that I am not a big people person. However, I love the way working together can create amplification and multiplication of ideas as smart humans build from one another. The world is full of complex problems and to start solving them we need people with broadly different paradigms to tackle them together.

More failures and confusion

Failing and stumbling are critical parts of learning and growth. Confusion is simply our brain finding ways to connect knowledge we have with new ideas or things we are being exposed to. Instead of considering confusion as something that shows us as less than, consider it watching your brain creating new pathways between what it knows about and what it is discovering in real time. (You want to try it right now, don’t you? It’s ok. I will wait…).

Growth as a feminist and advocate for personhood

No, I am not being cheeky. This is not about one thing. Feminism provides a foundation for humanity. It sparks the flame of true equality for so much more than just gender. Our world is not binary and nor should policies be. People need to be kind to one another regardless of things as defined by hashtags as gender or sexual orientation and as complex as socio-economic status. We are now responsible for embracing the realisation that most of us are becoming citizens without a base as we begin to face life as a global community.

There is more on my list to be sure, but these are the road markers that will remind me that I am progressing when I feel insecure and less than. Goals are complicated things that should be written down and reviewed regularly. I keep a list of them with me and while many items stay until I can tick them off the list, others get removed as I evolve.

So.. that’s it. Happy almost birthday to me.

May we all spend our moments creating sparks for the fires that will warm us tomorrow.

 

 

The art of Procrastivity

People talk about how bad procrastination is, but I think that there is a way to procrastinate productively. I dub this effort PROCRASTIVITY and it helps me to do #ALLTHETHINGS!

Yes, that is a made up word…mind you if we look at the way language evolves it might be a real word soon enough. I digress, but really it’s just the synergy of how my avoidance of particular tasks can actually match up with my goals and deliver more outcomes in less time than you might expect.

To be honest I have a lot of things on the go at any one time. Collaborative projects, writing commitments, grad school, work for clients, hobbies, etc. etc. I do a lot of things in my quest to be a polymath and when I procrastinate I have discovered that I often avoid one work effort by doing another.

What? I decide that I don’t want to do my expenses and say…uhm…spend the time instead of doing my expenses writing a blog or doing research for a client. I’m not unproductive, just producing differently. You might be familiar with the feeling of being struck by a powerful need to clean out your closet when you should be doing your homework, or maybe the urgent need to squeeze in that week of meal prep before you can contemplate going to the gym. If you use your desire to avoid a task as fuel to complete another you can be abundantly productive.

While I have to admit that sometimes I do avoid tasks with the help of my couch and Netflix (I’m human people!) when I am avoiding one thing I am primarily working on something else that adds value to one of my goals.

So often we hear about the downfalls of procrastination. We hear stories of how people struggle to accomplish their basic life tasks and rarely hear positive stories. I’m here to tell you about how the act of deferring one task in favour of another can actually help people to deliver more than they thought possible.

Strategic diversity

In order to master procrastivity you need to make some choices about how you want to grow as a person. From making space to develop a creative skill, growing your career, or investing in a dream, your alternate projects need to deliver value to your life plan or personal goals. By doing this you will be assembling items that regardless of what you pick will be doing something good for you.

Think of it like a menu from your favourite restaurant, no matter what you select, it is sure to be tasty and fill your belly. BUT…… you also cannot and should not live exclusively on junk food anymore than you should limit your goals.

Implementing procrastivity

Make the initial list of everything you want to do and prioritise it. Include all the things that you want to do personally, with your loved ones, and professionally. Do not skip concepts like relaxation, fitness, and time with your family as they need to fit in just as much as getting that new certification or promotion might.

Note: The items on your list do not need to add instant value, but MUST add long term value to YOU (nobody else needs to get anything from your goals). Make sure that you are thinking thoughtfully about the things you are adding to your to-do list and how they might contribute to your overall quality of life and personal goals.

An example of this strategic diversity might be goals like learning a language, educating yourself about your professional field, training for your first marathon, doing your day job, and spending time with your family. While this might seem like a big roster of items you can easily slot them all in if you are aware about what items you can be flexible with and what items you need to stick to a schedule with.

Something like education in your professional field could have complete flexibility because you are reading/listening to content about the topic or maybe taking part in a MOOC. These items can be done in the time you wait in a queue for coffee or when you have a few moments free waiting for transit. Comparatively, things like our day jobs can’t be quite as flexible so you have to slot the other items around them.

Most items sit in the middle zone. Training for a marathon for example might require a certain commitment of hours on the road so you need to find a block of time a few days a week before or after work, while family/partner time might be very flexible about the when and not about the how much so you block most of your weeknights to dedicate to your goals and spend your weekend adventuring with your loved ones.

You also have to accept that the priority must correlate to how much time you can invest in each item right now. Maybe that means that something is not going to get as much attention in the short term because of current demands, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t continue to progress as time allows and may become more focused when something else reduces in volume or effort.

Opportunity for connections

So often when we are in the middle of something specific we develop tunnel vision. We forget about other perspectives or options. It’s not our fault, it just happens.

Procrastivity allows us to see new links between seemingly disparate topics through reflection and new knowledge creation. Personal reflection is often powered by walking away from a task and provides us with chances to let our subconscious brain problem solve as it places the new knowledge into slots in our brains. More often than not something that I have been working on for one thing can serve to inform another when I least expect it.

Learn new things

I know this is a bit overly simplified, but doing more than one thing intentionally helps you to learn and grow as a person. We can never know how a passion to learn to play the guitar might result in finding your dream job because of a connection you make or a place you go. Creating a plan to extend your comfort zone will be sure to drive you forward in more ways than the single skill you are acquiring or developing in that moment.

So, now that you have realised that procrastivity is the way forward what are you going to do about it?

new-piktochart_block_2
#Procrastivity for the WIN!

There are also some great to-do lists that can help you to master procrastivity. I really like this one from That’s what she said.

Dear Sarcasm…..

Ah Sarcasm,

We have had a good run you and I. There have been some fun times, but it’s just not working anymore.

Love Erin

Dear Sarcasm

I read somewhere that sarcasm is the lowest form of discourse (literature scholars please offer a source for this truth). I had always thought that sarcasm was a gift. I didn’t realise that it was one of those gifts that might be best left behind for another to use.

For a long-time I took pride in my fast responses and enjoyed the impact of a well placed disdainful comment. I didn’t fully value the impact that these remarks might have on perceptions.

As a professional I do my best to keep my terminology crisp and clear as so much can be lost in the space between words read quickly on a screen. This has come from some tough lessons of items that have been misconstrued due to language or context being undeclared in the content.

Sarcasm can be a great tool in the right circumstance. When combined with wit or humour a sarcastic retort can be impactful. It can make a story land in a way that makes a listener remember it. Over time I have learned that unlike sarcasm both wit and humour can be used to great impact on their own. Sarcasm can too, but without humour or wit to soften the blow it tends to just sound bitchy.

You will notice in great literature sarcasm is a tool for the supporting characters. Rarely is it used by the hero of the story. Heroes are known to put the villains back in their places without the need for this crutch. So why does this matter?

If you want to be the hero instead of the sidekick, you better get some more effective weapons for your arsenal.

Not too long ago I submitted some writing that I had done for a grad school assignment. One of the items had what I considered a cheeky dig at the opponent’s approach. While my work received a great grade, the point received a negative comment from my professor. At the time I thought that she was attacking my point which was well researched and valid. I was offended that she didn’t get me.

This weekend I went for a hike in the woods and was struck with an epiphany that she wasn’t actually attacking me. She was warning me that I might lose my argument because of the sarcastic delivery.

My work might not win the debate even though I had the better argument because my sarcasm would serve to make the reader stop listening.

People don’t hear your message when you attack them before you share it.

Persuasive arguments are fought on good data and sound logic. Sometimes they may include a witty or funny analogy in order to make the reader engage on a deeper level, but they have no need for bitchy digs.

It’s because of this realisation that over the next few months I am weaning myself off sarcastic comments. I work hard to build credible connections between different data points and should not serve to reduce their impact or risk losing the game by throwing foul balls at the batter.

I realise that it can be hard to change something that I used to take pride in. While I may mourn for the retorts never getting a chance to hit their mark, I will celebrate my ability to articulate an argument and win the debate as the hero of my story.

Critical Thinking this is Beer; Beer this is Critical Thinking

For a long time, I have been an advocate for sharing opinions freely and with honestly. Sadly, honest critique can hurt people you care about and offend others. It seems that finding a balance between honesty and attack is where true critical thought and feedback lives.

Unfortunately being truly unfiltered with your feedback in business or academia can create conflicts with employers, clients, and colleagues. While being too harsh in other areas of life can make you a cruel critic and let’s be honest: friendless.

However, over a pint with a friend or peer a portion of the experience to hearing feedback such as

“You do look fat in those jeans”

and

“Your product is crap”

were decidedly softened because of the informal environment and sensibilities that had been lubricated with libations.

So… what is the point you ask?

I was recently assigned a critical comment on a paper for my MA. It was the act of reading content critically and writing a paper as a critic that I was reminded of a project that had never even gotten off the page.

A few years ago I was having dinner (well…beer and nachos) with some friends who were equally passionate about sharing opinions and ideas without worrying about all of the ramifications. Over drinks we decided we were each able to be the most constructive without being hurtful when we were out for a drink in a safe environment. We decided to create a project that was lost to the path of good intentions until now.

So in the interest of stretching my own boundaries and taking on another project that my professional, scholarly, and personal lives may not love I offer you the first podcast from Critically Drinking.

Remember: I am an amateur in this space and have lots to learn, but it is my own Minimum Viable Product. If you need to rip it to shreds at least offer to buy me a drink first.

 

 

I don’t usually talk politics…

Growing up my parents had opposing opinions on politics and I learned that political conversations shouldn’t leave the kitchen table.  They rarely agreed on much in terms of candidates or platforms, but they always came to the same point.  You could have your opinion as long as you acted on it.

This lesson stayed with me.  You must have your vote placed and counted to deserve the right to an opinion be it good or bad in another’s eyes.

Don’t like your mayor?  Did you vote for or against him/her or did you stay home and eat pizza?

So…why  am I talking politics today?

Too many of us don’t vote.  We don’t voice our opinions where they have impact.  We need to start.  We need the people that we elect to impact what we want our cities, countries and world to reflect.

The magic of living in countries where we can select our leaders is that we can choose the ones that reflect ourselves.

Our world is in trouble.  The resources are starting to diminish faster than they restore.  Our kids are obese and brand logos are more familiar than authors or types of trees to them.  Our politicians select weapons over words. Our food is modified. Our world has changed and the only way to ensure it is changing the right way is by voicing our opinions on ballots.

Please vote.  Vote for your Mayor, the leader of your country and any other role that you can help to select.

I don’t care who you support.

Red, Blue, Left, Right.

Do what matters to you.  But please.  Act on your views by casting your vote.

The Unpopular Opinion

Have you ever been in one of those meetings where everyone knows that the idea being presented is wrong/unprofitable/impossible/full of holes etc? This fill in the blank idea tends to be presented by someone in a power position and thus we are compelled to listen.

After the meeting everyone chats about how this is silly/a waste of time/broken and yet they have their notepads of takeaways and will go about building the business case for executing said imperfect project.

Have you ever wanted to stand up and ask where the idea came from or called out the holes in the theory?

Have you ever actually voiced the questions everyone is thinking and not saying out loud?

Asking the question makes you the face of an “unpopular” opinion. Personally I struggle to think that it is truly unpopular or contrary. More likely what you are voicing is just not the opinion of the top ranking individual presenting it.

Asking the hard questions is often looked at as a career limiting move.

So being the voice of reason may stunt your career path. Hmm. A bit wrong maybe?

This is where you see the difference between a great leader and a person with a great title.

Great leaders encourage having their ideas challenged. They encourage debate and conversations around new initiatives. This is not to say that you will not be asked to leave the room and proceed with building the business case, but you will be welcomed to speak and voice contrary opinions. Discussion about the gaps show us weaknesses that we can identify and correct before putting a product or service out to market and the best leaders know that.

The person with a great title will shut down the debate before it has begun. They are sure that the product or service is perfect and will save the quarter/make the world a better place/end war and they are not willing to have it challenged. So I challenge you to ask the hard questions.

Yes, you may be the guy that calls out the elephant in the room, but at least you didn’t pretend it wasn’t there.

You will also be the person that can leave the room with your notepad full of takeaways and in place of the gossiping you would have done, you can continue the debate.

If your boss is merely a Great Title, I don’t think the silly project is your issue. Trade in your “title holder” for a genuine leader and live a happier more satisfying life.

If you discover that you are the title, take this lesson as a step towards becoming a great leader.

Knowledge is power and can propel both you and your team forward.

The Optimized Line Up

Line ups are a part of life.  There is always going to be a situation where you can’t just breeze in and have your needs immediately taken care of.

I hate waiting in lines.  I wait to get on elevators, check into hotels, go through customs, to be seated at a table in a restaurant, to go to the bathroom and so many more occasions I can’t even count.

If I am alone this is usually a dead time.  A time I mindlessly surf on my phone or focus on not making eye contact with those also waiting in line with me.  On a really productive day I may be listening to an ebook so I might be learning something while I wait, but since my attention is only partially on the content, it isn’t a fully valuable spend of my precious minutes.

For the last few years I have been going out of my way to avoid line ups.  I have changed a number of my patterns to eek out more precious minutes in my day that may otherwise be wasted.

I rarely take transit-I walk.  No line ups.  I shop online.  No line ups.  I bank online.  No line ups.

Unfortunately, despite my desire to do it, I am usually unsuccessful when it comes to making my own morning coffee.  So this I have accepted will continue to require adding myself to a queue like cattle waiting for slaughter.  To ensure this experience is the best possible one I can have I have chosen to change my path to coffee.

I used to line up at a chain coffee place and wait to be served while checking my watch and tapping my foot impatiently.  Each moment that would tick by, I would be more annoyed at them stealing my time.

Today I now frequent two different LOCAL businesses for morning coffee and sometimes snacks (Jimmy’s Coffee and the Gabardine) depending on where I am in the city.  A lovely perk is the fact that they both cost less for a fun coffee beverage and snack than say… Starbucks (or fill in the blank corporate chain here) but in addition to being cheaper, they also offer a whole other boatload of values.

1)  Local Business=Local Value: I can’t say enough how much I like supporting smaller scale businesses. They hire local people, buy local ingredients, support local commerce….Yay shop local!

2)  They don’t have an employee handbook: Not needing to conform to corporate norms and rules makes for more fun. This is one of my favourite things about small businesses of all types.  These guys can roll their eyes and not risk being fired.  They can guilt you for that blueberry scone addiction you have and chuckle about how it is their baker’s fault that you are going to get chubby because of said addiction.  They can banter about real news items and tell you a story even if there are more people in line.

3) They remember you and don’t have to stress about the little things.  The other day the credit machine wouldn’t work.  I had no cash so they just gave me my coffee and scone….said…”have a nice day on us”.  They know I will be back.  They know losing my $4 order in the till won’t do anything but drive additional business their way.  They didn’t worry about it.  No risk of a regional manager giving them shit for loss.  You would never have that happen at a chain.  They know I will be back and continue to tell people about how great they are.

4)  Things are fresh: Yup that coffee was made for me, I watched the platter of scones come out of the kitchen still warm.  There is nothing, pre-packaged, preserved or manufactured at these places.

5)  Waiting in line doesn’t suck.  The wait is simply because they are busy having clever banter with another person that you are welcome to listen to.  When it is your turn you will be the one on the receiving end of the clever banter and enjoying your line up experience.

6) They don’t look the same: I love that when I walk through the doors of a small business I can feel their vibe coming through in the surroundings.  It is a representation of what they want you to feel when you walk in the door.  Let’s be honest… a McDonalds in Europe looks the same as the one in the mall… and while seeing something you are familiar with can make you feel safe, there is something to be said for adventure.

So find some places that you don’t hate being in line.  Shop at those boutiques, eat at those restaurants, enjoy being part of the banter and quit hating your line up experience…Don’t get me wrong.. I will never go back to banking with humans… that is not a line up you can enjoy without a lobotomy.