on birthdays with a zero…

My youngest is just days away from a very special birthday. The one in which she reaches the magical double-figure mark. She’s bounding around the house with barely contained excitement, the anticipation of the big day breaking forth in unexpected moments as she thinks about a party with her friends, a day with her family, and her first electronic gadget (the iPod has become a de-facto rite of passage at age 10 in our house…please go gentle on the judgement of our parenting choices!).

Lots of birthdays hold significant meaning when you’re young. Double figures. Teenager-hood. Sixteen. The 18 year old adult. The 21st. Time honoured significance in each of those birthdays.

It seems that once you reach a certain age though, birthdays lose something of that magic. Sure it’s nice to have a special dinner with the family, and to receive some best wishes from friends, but it’s not quite as enchanted as when you’re a kid.

Except if the birthday in question has a zero in it.

Maybe its just not possible to keep up the enthusiasm year-in and year-out for birthdays, so we ration it to once every ten years instead. Turning 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and the grand old century mark, these are special days.  Often we think of them as marking a transition point too, onward to the next stage of life.

Zero birthdays give us pause to reflect not just on the last year, but on the last stage of life, the last decade or more. And to think far more than 12 months ahead, pondering what is to come, what choices we’ll make, what the next stage of life holds in store for us.

Anniversaries are a bit the same. Oh Sheri and I will definitely mark the passing of our 22nd anniversary later this year, but we’re already planning toward the 30th in a much bigger way.

A zero is just one number among ten, but somehow the zero makes it special

All of which comes into sharp focus this week.

Continue reading

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on leadership…again

If you’ve hung around here for a while you might recall that this is far from the first time I’ve posted about leadership. This time though, I’m not writing, but talking. And sadly for you all, it’s on video! ūüėČ

Recently I sat down with Ben Rogers, editor of Journey magazine to record a chat about leadership – and specifically about Christian leadership. ¬†Below is the video of our chat, and here’s the article that precipitated the conversation. ¬†And, if you’re a glutton for punishment, here’s some more of my potentially¬†baseless musings on leadership.

Your comments are welcome.

choosing drama

Recently I was sitting with the 13 year old at a high school subject selection evening. She’s preparing for year 9, and has a couple of elective choices to make, so the school puts on an evening where all of this is explained to parents and students.

Helpful.

There are two things you need to know about this particular 13 year old. First, she’s very academically oriented (and I’d say gifted too…but them I’m biased). Second, she has inherited an intense introversion and dislike of public speaking from her parents. ¬†We’ve both learned to do it, but it hasn’t been a fun ride.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, right, subject selection.

In the end she had one choice left to make, and the list of options was long. A whole bunch of arts subjects, some industrial tech stuff, and geography.

I thought the choice was simple. She loves geography, would do well at it, would find it relatively easy. An easy choice.

Naturally, she didn’t choose it (I mean she could have, but then this would have been a dull story, right?).

She said to me “Dad, I’m going to choose drama”.

“Drama?”, I thought to myself. ¬†“Drama? Seriously? What about geography?”

“Oh, that’s good” I said out loud, desperately trying to play the cool, supportive, helpful parent. ¬†“Tell me why¬†you’re thinking drama?”.

The answer, when it came, floored me.  Stopped me. Confronted me. Challenged me. Then and now.

“Because I know I’m not good at speaking in front of groups. It makes me nervous, and I’m not good at it. I think if I do drama for a year, it will help me to find my voice. I can always do geography later”. ¬†Such is the wisdom of the 13 year old.

Now let me hasten to say at this point that I have no objection whatsoever to drama as a subject. I wish I had the courage to do it (I would be hopeless, but I still wish…).

It’s a choice that impressed me, and for several reasons:

  • She chose the unexpected
  • She thought it through enough to not just take the obvious choice
  • She chose to be challenged (and believe me, she will be challenged)
  • She chose her weakness
  • She chose to grow a new strength
  • She knows that choosing one (drama), involves letting go of another (geography)

So many of us (I raise my hand high) don’t take those kinds of choices. We stick with what we know. We stick with what we have already learned. We stick with what we have proven we can succeed in. We stick with the safe, the obvious. ¬†To choose challenge, growth, weakness, risk? ¬†That’s unusual. ¬†Most of us would choose geography over drama every day of the week (it’s a metaphor…go with me):

  • We take a holiday to the same place (or at least the same kind of place).
  • We stick with the same kinds of food.
  • We make the safe, obvious career choice.

And so on. Geography over drama, every time.

In the organisation I work in, we are under some degree of stress. Our future is clouded. ¬†Under such stress, we choose geography time after time after time. We choose what we know. We choose the obvious. We choose to keep doing what we’ve always done.¬†I can’t help but think that at this point in our life cycle, we should be consciously choosing drama.

It’s left me both (a) incredibly proud of this child (even more than before…true); and (b) challenged in the way I go about my choices as a person, husband, father.

I’m wondering what it means for me to choose drama. I’m a little nervous about the next choice I have to make. And if I’m honest, a little sad too….because I quite like geography!

 

first comes hope…

Change management is the new black.

You know, the in thing.  Everybody is talking about it, wants it, needs it, is doing it.

And that’s ok because change is perhaps the defining characteristic of our day. ¬†That’s not for a moment to say that at other times, in other places change hasn’t been significant, or real, or rapid, or hard.

But the breadth, and scope and speed of change in our society is breathtaking. Technological, moral, ethical, political, cultural, economic, relational.

Everything.

Breathtaking.

Some of it, of course, we choose.  But some of it chooses us. Sometimes the world changes around us in spite of our best efforts to keep things steady, or to hold onto days past.

If we eventually can accept that there’s no going back, there comes a time when we have to figure our how to respond, to react, to accept, to embrace, to thrive in the new.

I’ve been thinking a little about this question this week. ¬†And like everybody, I have a theory.

So I’m going to test it on you.

All 3 of you. ūüėČ

My theory is this: Continue reading

did you hear the one about…

Did you hear the one about the psychologist, the musician and the golfer?

It started a couple of weeks ago:

I was sitting in a meeting that included a guy whose profession¬†I would describe as an ‘organisational psychologist’. By that I mean he specialises in understanding how organisations and groups develop, how they deal with changing culture and context, and what kinds of steps an organisation and its leadership can take to move from one place to another.

We hadn’t met before, and I hadn’t seen him at work prior to that meeting…but it very quickly became evident that he is brilliant at what he does (at least from where I sit). He was sharp, direct when required, tactful when that was helpful, and immediately able to pinpoint key issues under discussion in the meeting. ¬†It was a short, chance encounter that left a deep impression on me. ¬†I went away inspired.

And then last week:

IMG_3063[1]On Thursday night I went to see musician Stu Larsen ply his trade at Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge. I’ve written about Stu before, here. If you haven’t heard of him before, go and read that story for a little introduction and then come back. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Stu’s life is that¬†of a wandering storyteller. A¬†guitar and a¬†microphone all he needs. On Thursday night, he held the audience spellbound as with¬†voice and string he wove a tale of place, of people, of life. ¬†This room, packed to the rafters, was still and silent as he shared his trade. And full of voice as he invited us to join in song. ¬†We wandered from King St Sydney, to the 101 Highway San Francisco, to outback Queensland and continental Europe as Stu’s¬†stories and songs took us places that we had never been (and yet seemed strangely familiar).

In a former life Stu was a bank worker…and I’ve no doubt he would have done a good job at that. But here, on stage, singing stories, inviting responses. It’s where he belongs. He’s found his place. Storytellers, in my experience, do two things with their words. First, the words create images that pop up, unbidden, into our minds. We create for ourselves the images, the video that accompanies the story. ¬†And second, they evoke in us, invite from us, our own story. They make us wonder. Stu does that every time I see or hear him play. And Thursday was no different.

And yesterday:

IMG_3071[1]I trooped down to the Gold Coast with a bunch of family and friends to watch one of our own, Matt Guyatt, play in the final round of the Australian PGA golf tournament. Matt was well placed and backed up a big month with a good finish. He played yesterday alongside recently crowned Australian Masters champion Nick Cullen. ¬†It always strikes me as a strange profession (like music or any other ‘performance’ profession) when members of the public come along to watch you do your job. But that’s the daily reality for some, working live in front of an audience. ¬†Matt (and Nick) put it all on the line yesterday, at times quite brilliant, and at others caught out by the gusting wind and fatigue on the final day of a heavy season.

I’m biased, but Matt is quite clearly¬†an¬†extraordinary golfer, with all the technical ability to play the game, shoot the low scores required to be successful in that particular career choice. ¬†But more than that, it was obvious as I watch that he¬†understands he’s¬†in the entertainment and the ‘people’ business. There was constant interaction with the crowd. A chat here or there, a ball or glove given to a child, a joke quietly shared with those nearest the green to lighten the mood at a tense moment.

What I noticed in each case, was a person who had very clearly found their place. Who has discovered and put to good use a unique and delightful talent. That through doing and being what they are cut out to be, makes the world a better place.

We’re not all, of course, going to be pro golfers, travelling musicians or even organisational psychologists (does the world really need more psychologists? Probably!).

But I got to wondering, as I watched these four in action, what a difference it would make to our world, and to us each as individuals, if we never gave up and ‘settled’ until we have found our place. Until we are sure and certain that what we do (whether as a volunteer at nights or on weekends, or in a professional sense) makes the most of our God-given potential. ¬†Jesus told a story about that once…go google the ‘parable of the talents’.

At each place, in each person, I¬†found my own story being drawn out. My own sense of wondering, of self. That’s a powerful gift given when someone who is very good at what they do, simply goes about doing their thing.

And of course I got to wondering…have I found ‘my thing’ yet? At 43 years of age, husband, father, participant in multiple hobbies and community groups, and in my 3rd totally different career…am I in the right place? Am I making the most of what I have?

And….how about¬†you?

let the horizon be your guide…

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You know sometimes you find yourself in a moment that catches you by surprise? A time when an unexpected thought or encounter stops you in your tracks, or takes your breath away?

I had one of the those on the weekend.

I was helping to host a training course for church leaders, aimed at encouraging imagination and creativity as churches find their place in the modern world.  Towards the end of the day we invited participants to share something of what they were thinking about, stories from their local communities and churches about imaginative and creative fresh approaches to the age-old calling of the church.

One lady stepped up and shared her story. She’s from Barbados, and is currently in Australia for the Pan Pacific Master’s Games. She had visited a local church on Sunday and they’d invited her to come and join them as they participated in the workshop. Her story was of a group that decided to walk non-stop around Barbados, praying for the communities through which they passed as they travelled along.¬† The walk took 23 hours…impressive!

What caught my attention was her description of their walk and how they chose where to go: as they walked, they quite literally ‘let the horizon by their guide’.

Let the horizon be your guide.

I can’t quite say why exactly that phrase stopped me in my tracks: Let the horizon be your guide.

Maybe because some of the most enjoyable running or riding experiences I’ve had have happened when I’ve followed a coastline, and the simple pleasure of letting the horizon be my guide has been true in those moments.

Maybe it’s the very notion of living on an island, one small enough to walk around in a day, a community small enough to know and be known as opposed to the anonymity and closed-ness of life in a big city where the horizon (literally and metaphorically) is often not within my field of view.

Or maybe because in our culture and community today (or maybe just in my own life) we don’t tend to pay a lot of attention to the horizon. We tend to look down at our feet, just trying flat out to deal with what’s right in front of us. The big picture barely gets a look in.¬† The horizon seems to far away.

The very idea of letting the horizon be my guide….in many different aspects of life….encourages me to lift my eyes, to see the big sky, to look beyond the stereo-typical navel-gazing.

It’s almost, I think, a notion to live by.

Let the horizon be your guide.

workshop description: the art gallery

I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with ministers and leaders of Uniting Churches in a Queensland city in recent months as they work together to try and figure out what the future looks like.

It’s been enjoyable to be a small part of what is a gentle process of sharing stories, getting to know one another, and slowly activating an imagination about a shared future.

Last night was the next step in the process, and a fun way of encouraging imagination, creativity and building something together.¬† We had about 35 present for an evening event we dubbed “The Art Gallery”. Read on for a description of what was a fun, creative and imaginative night of resourcing leadership. Continue reading

the pothole

The pothole (the geological kind, not the road traffic kind) is, I think, an interesting phenomenon.

A little pebble gets caught in a crack or depression, swirls around and gradually, bit-by-bit, grinds away the underlying rock. It digs deeper and deeper, over hundreds, thousands, even millions of years.

I quite like potholes because they remind me that with persistence and time, even a little gravel can make big changes.

But the metaphor works the other way too…that over such a long period, a little pebble can do a lot of damage.

I’m starting to wonder more and more if there’s a sad, disturbing kind of pothole forming in in our (western, mainstream, Australian) culture. Here’s a couple of symptoms:

The vast majority of climate scientists are very clear about anthropogenic climate change. We are heating up our planet with our insatiable desire for burning fossil fuels, and we will pay a heavy price. More frequent, more intense weather events, rising sea levels, loss of habitat and flora/fauna, people dying. Those that are best placed to know, appear relatively certain that this is all true.¬† Almost every counter-argument has been demonstrated to be false.¬† And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, be held hostage by big business and declare “climate change is crap” because “I know a guy who said….”

Immunisation rates are falling, with the result that herd immunity against long-ago contained diseases is now at risk in parts of Australia.  Medical experts (those that are best placed to know) are clear about the value of immunisation, and the tiny risks involved in it. And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, to deny our own children (and other children) this safety net.

Politicians are almost universally disliked and regarded as untrustworthy.¬† For non-believers the same is true for religious leaders. And probably a long list of others.¬† We who sit at home and google conspiracy theories feel quite justified in declaring that we know better than those best placed to know…about nearly any topic we care to name.

I personally am the “World’s Expert” (TM) on medicine, climate science, national leadership, international relations, economics, search and rescue for lost aircraft,¬† Formula 1 Team Management, Australian Cricket team selection, NRL refereeing standards…and plenty more.

And so I make  up my own mind, irrespective of the views of those who are best placed to know.

I’m not (really) interested in debating the pros and cons of climate science, religion or immunisation, but I am wondering whether these things are symptoms (rather than causes) of a bigger issue:

The erosion of trust.

As a society I can’t help but wonder if we are becoming a place in which trust is an ever decreasing commodity.¬† With the rise of the individual and of self-determination, comes a first subtle, but now accelerating erosion of trust.

I don’t trust politicians, I don’t trust the media, I don’t trust scientists, I don’t trust religious leaders…on and on it goes. I don’t trust my neighbours enough to let my kids walk to school alone.

And sure, let’s be fair and honest, some of those whom we no longer trust bring it on themselves (I’m looking at you Australian politics), but just as often it’s because I get an idea in my head that I know better.

I know better than the climate scientist, the immunologist, the referee, the footy selector.

And so the next time we disagree, I’ll trust them a little less.¬† And a little less. And a little less.

Until there’s just not a whole lot of trust left.

Mis-trust might just be the pebble that is digging away at the bedrock, forming a deeper and deeper pothole.

And trust, it seems to me, is one of those things that is self-fulfilling.¬† If I exhibit trust, then those I trust are more likely to act in a a trustworthy way, and so I’ll trust them more (and so on).¬† Could the reverse, I wonder, also be true?

If my pondering has any merit (and lets be frank, as I’ve already announced, I’m the World’s Expert (TM), so it must) the question must be, what to do about it? How to remove the pebble of mistrust and start to repair the damage?

Is the answer to try harder to trust the people around me? The people who are best placed to know? To explicitly put my trust in them and demand trustworthy action?

Perhaps.

But just as important, it seems to me, the answer is for me to act in a trustworthy manner myself – to build the pool of communal trust that is going around, by ensuring that my family, my friends, my colleagues, those I support in my daily work, my neighbours (those I encounter as I live my life)…they can trust me.

To trust, and be trusted.

Sounds like community.

(p.s. just so we’re really clear…the “World’s Expert” (TM) claim is an attempt at humour…)

 

the joy of the job: a new beginning?

I was chatting with Mitch the 10-year-old this week.

As an aside, how good is it when your kids reach a point where the conversations turn interesting, and insightful and not just about crayons, lego and fart jokes (ok, I confess one of those topics of conversation is primarily my responsibility in our family)?

Anyway…leaving that mental image aside…out of the blue, Mitch said to me:

“Dad, do you enjoy your job?”

Do I enjoy my job.¬† Interesting question. Well…do I enjoy my job?

I made some non-committal answer like “sometimes I do Mitch, and sometimes I don’t”.

Mitch’s response?

“If I had your job Dad, I would enjoy it a lot!”

I’m assuming he was talking about my real 9-5 job, not the other in which I moonlight as a columnist and product tester for a R/C car magazine.

The truth of course, in adult world, is that most of us have parts of our job/life that we thoroughly enjoy, and parts that we don’t.¬† The bits of my job where I’m trying to channel creativity, getting involved in interesting conversations that unfold possibility, that help people (including me) see light…these I enjoy thoroughly. The bits that are administrative, organising events, management tasks…well….not so much.

But Mitch’s question has stuck with me, because in an adult-kind-of-way to brush it off with a “sometimes yes, sometimes no” answer seems to do it (and him) a disservice.

I think the deeper question he was asking might be something like “am I glad I do what I do? is it more than just a job? do I look forward to the opportunities I have in my work?”

Or maybe “you spend a lot of time at work Dad (subtext: when you could be playing cricket with me), is it all worthwhile?”

Maybe the truth is that while I’d like to be a glass-half-full kind of guy, I’ve accidentally slipped into a kind of pessimism about the organisation I work for and it’s challenging future. And from that point of view, the word “enjoy” doesn’t quite fit.

So my challenge, for 2014, is to reshape that attitude, to look for the possibility and the potential in every day. To remember my sense of excitement about my work in this organisation, alongside these excellent people.

To reach a point where I am able to answer honestly the next time Mitch asks if I enjoy my job:

“You bet I do”

How about you…do you enjoy your job?

And just because it’s my role in my family…here’s a little gratuitous dad humour for you:

new world….new tricks

Photo 18-10-13 3 43 09 PMThere I sat in the main lounge at Canberra airport, tired after a long week and ready to head for Brisbane and home.

And in wandered four snappily dressed people, a heap of music and sound gear on their trolley, and started unloading just behind us.

The Griffyn Ensemble – Canberra’s Best Chamber Music Foursome” read the banner as they erected it, and started setting up keyboard, microphones, speaker and music stands in what must be just about the most unlikely setting for such a group.

They slowly set themselves, tuning instruments, and completing little sounds checks as they set and reset volume and listened carefully for the acoustics in this relatively new airport lounge.

It seemed they hadn’t played there before as they experimented with different settings, looking for the perfect combination of sound in an unfamiliar, and unusual setting.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard chamber music live on a Friday afternoon in a busy airport terminal.

What I appreciated about the experience was watching this group bring their skills, gifts, instruments and equipment to a completely new setting.

It seemed experimental, unfamiliar and a challenge for the group (though it looked to be an challenge they were enjoying).

I couldn’t help thinking about other aspects of my life where those same experiences are under-way.

In the church I work with we are constantly wrestling with how to bring ancient rhythms and patterns, treasured gifts and approaches and apply them in a whole new world that is opening up around all of us.

The challenges of this new time and place are profound and unique – just as I imagine playing chamber music in an airport hall must be.

Sometimes we find it all a bit too hard, all but giving in to the temptation to pack up our instruments and head for more familiar territory.

But you know what? The gentle sounds of that soft and somewhat unusual music filled the room, and suddenly it seemed right and natural.

I don’t know whose idea it was, but I was glad for the Griffyn Ensemble that afternoon, just as I am glad every time I see someone experimenting, trying old things in new places, or even new things in old places.

My prayer for the church is the spirit of creativity, of boldness, of risk taking as it seeks to relate to a new and different world.

It might take us a while as we tune instruments, check the volume and get used to a new and unknown acoustic.

But the sweet music of grace, compassion and gospel can just as readily fill the room, wherever we find ourselves – if only we can find the courage and willingness to trust our giftedness…and try.