Kintsugi repair heartache and resilience

Kintsugi: a copy of my speech from STOP Domestic Violence

Ive always been encouraged by strength.

Where others may be impressed by a person’s charm or accomplishments (or how many likes one can get on Instagram), I’ve always felt drawn to the silent strength that sits inside us.  I spent my childhood reading books about strong women, the story of Helen Keller and Anne Frank’s diaries; with equal parts horror that the human spirit could be tested so far, and hope, that the human spirit could endure so much.

When my friends cited Madonna as their hero in grade five, I referenced Martin Luther King.  I was born in the 70’s and lived through all of the Superman movies but didn’t know who Christopher Reeve was until he broke his back and became an advocate for stem cell research.

Strength to me has always been something of a mystery and a marvel.  So its no coincidence, that I now work in the area of resilience and post-traumatic growth.

I spent my entire twenties working with people and families who had lost a loved one through homicide. It was a wonderful learning ground, where I could test out the greatest question I had at that time – What is it about those who thrive? Why is it that some fall apart after adversity and some seem strengthens by it?  What is it about those people.

And I had a really personal interest in this because I had that shared experience of losing someone I loved to homicide, both my sister and father had been murdered in the year 2000 when I was just 21 years old.  I knew both perpetrators, trusted both men. It was the greatest violation of trust Ive known.

For the purpose of today I’m going to mention my sister.

She and Kris met in the heat of summer.  She was a young single mum who had recently separated from the father of her child, and he was a charming guy who made her forget her troubles.  He was supposed to be a rebound guy, a fling, but by winter that year when everything else was cooling off their love had raged into an inferno, which now seemed to me impossible to extinguish.

And I did try to extinguish it.  I would throw words out like buckets of water trying to tame their obsession for each other, and when that only drove her further into his arms I’d extend the olive branch only to find that the fire engulfed that too.  Their love was intense, and I felt singed by it, until all I could do was back away.  I was young, and completely ill equipped to deal with someone like him, a man whose weapons of choice was manipulation and control. He never hit her, I never even heard him put her down.

Just four months into their relationship, when she tried to leave his fire exploded when on the 30th July, he stabbed her to death in what police described as a frenzied attack.   He was taken into custody that day, charged and convicted of her murder.  I haven’t seen him since.

When we lose someone we’re told that our lives shatter, but no one talks about how it shatters.  Its not like an immediate bang, like a cricket ball through a window.  Its more like a chip in your windscreen.  You see it, but you kind of keep driving hoping that it wont get worse.  You lie, to others and yourself that everything will be okay and keep forging forward despite the crack that’s now peeling across the glass.  Every time you hop in your car you remind yourself that you need to have that looked at, but there’s always somewhere to be, something more important to do.

When a person you love dies we say that we’ve lost them, but we don’t lose them at once, we lose them in pieces.  The way the phone doesn’t ring for them anymore, their mail stops coming, and their scent disappears from their clothes.  The day you decide not to continue renewing their phone account and their voice finally disappears.

The first rock only weakens your windscreen, and its often the second rock that shatters it.  It’s the chipping away at someone’s strength, their heart, their very being that wears people down.

I wish I could tell you that in my personal experience I was mature and proactive and got the windscreen repair person out to fix my chip, but I didnt.  In the end the lense through which I saw the world was so completely altered I couldnt see anymore, until all I could do was lean back, raise my feet, and kick my windscreen completely out so I could see and start driving again.

But sometimes that’s okay. When something shatters there’s grief and loss, but there is so much more, there is freedom and opportunity.Kintsugi repair heartache and resilience

Earlier this year I wanted to fulfil my bucket list wish of learning the
traditional Japanese ceramic process of Kintsugi.  The term may be unfamiliar, but Im sure you will recognise the end result shown here.

Now, not many people have even heard of Kintsugi, very few people teach it in fact no one in Australia teaches it, I found out I would need to go to Japan to have a lesson in this practice. Few would travel overseas for an art class but as Ive said, Im infatuated with strength and there’s few processes as strengthening and fascinating as that of the Kingsugi process.

And so, I did, and this is me.

Kintsugi involves the reparation of a broken object. Urushi, a lacquer that hardens like cement is applied bonding the broken edges of a piece back together, this process looks simple but requires patience as there are several steps each one taking a day to complete.  Traditionally gold-dust is used to finish the process, an artistic twist that doesn’t seek to disguise but rather to highlight the cracks.  This finishing move incorporates the blemishes of the piece into its broader story.

The Japanese recognise these pieces not as broken or disfigured, but as lived, and experienced and perfect.  The Kintsugi concept is both simple and powerful. That shape and form is dynamic.

The application of kintsugi has some incredible nuances.  Firstly it’s dangerous. Urushi is traditionally made from poison ivy and many if not most artists have deliciously awful reactions to its touch.  The instrument of urushi is powerful, and not for the faint-hearted.

Likewise, the change that comes after adversity can be painful. There’s a fear in the unknown, an avoidance of further pain and suffering that can slow us and stop us completely.  We’ve been conditioned socially to believe in the black and white of life.  Good and bad. Love is good, pain is bad.  Happy is good, loss is bad.  Intactness is good, brokenness is bad.

Kintsugi is about the grey of life.  In fact it doesn’t deal in binary concepts at all.  Where life typically is about the boxes we can put concepts in, Kintsugi is about bowls, representing freedom and eternalism.

Ironically, Kintsugi is concerned with perfectionism.  Now, google “perfectionism” and you’ll be met with images for cosmetic surgery.  The word perfection however is derived from the Latin word “perficio”, which means “to bring to an end”.  Perfection literally means “a finishing”. There is a recognition with Kintsugi practitioners, that before an object can be transformed, there must be an end to an original state.  There must be a willingness to let go.

Author and Psychotherapist Mark Epstein tells the story of meeting the Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah, he writes:

Before saying a word, he [Ajahn Chah] motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked us. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

There is an enviable lack of attachment involved in this mindset and one which extends to the practice of Kintsugi.  When we un-tether from our belief that life should be predictable and ordered and even just, we’re left with the reality that the only thing we can control in life is how we respond to it.

Resilience then becomes our inner elasticity, our ability to stretch beyond our comfort zones and still return to who we really are.

The greatest lesson from the Kintsugi process is this, broken objects are not restored to their original position, they are transformed into something else.

There is absolutely no attempt by the artist to return the object to its former state, and actually there is no grief for what was, but an anticipation of what could be.

Without doubt, the greatest struggle that I’ve witnessed in secondary victims of homicide is that of identity.  Ive worked with mothers who have asked. “what do I call myself now” in the aftermath of their son’s death. “Am I still a mother?”

Ive worked with many people who considered themselves happy before they lost a loved one to homicide, and are now struggling to incorporate anger into their emotional life now.  “But Im always the happy one – people wont like me if Im angry, and Im just so angry all the time”.

The philosophy of post-traumatic growth seeks to make meaning from these changing identities.  It aims to retain the parts of a person that make them unique, and yet still build on that through the experience of hardship, transforming a person into someone thats remarkable.

The presence of pos-traumatic growth isn’t an outlier, its the norm.  Studies occurring since the 90’s have found the presence of post-traumatic growth in 65, 75, 80% of those who have experienced trauma.  Returning war veterans, victims of domestic and sexual violence, those who have lived through catastrophic natural disasters.  Maslow found in his very early studies of high achievers that they all shared one commonality – adversity.  Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers cites research that 85% of all American presidents have experienced the death of at least one parent.

Often when we’re working with people in crisis, whether we’re frontline first responders, social workers or academics our perspective is narrowed by the experience of people in crises.  It can seem that the world is full of heartache and injustice and despair but there’s so much more to tragedy. The beauty in working with a support group like the homicide support group which supported people for years, decades, was that I bore witness to the metamorphosis we go through after adversity.

Yes, tough times bring great hardship. But they also bring significant transformation. Incredible hope, gratitude, strength and conviction.  Adversity helps people refine their values, to connect with who they are at their worst and significantly, who they can be at their best.

How do we as workers in the area of domestic and family violence inspire resilience? Two ways: Firstly we simply believe in it.  Beyond the theory, beyond the rhetoric and far beyond quotes like “God only gives us what he thinks we can handle”, we have to believe that people experiencing adversity can not only be restored but can actually transform into something greater.

Secondly we have to offer it as an option.  We need to pull people out of their mammalian brains, activate their pre-frontal cortex and provoke them to start thinking about meaning-making.

Lets not treat a person’s PTSD and encourage them to return to the baseline  – lets be fearless enough to remind them that they’re greater than the baseline.  That their experience, their challenges have the potential to transform them.  Let’s not simply erase the outliers because it doesn’t fit neatly into our data set and instead focus on the average – lets celebrate the outliers that create action through adversity.

When I was very early into my grief I met two professionals, and I’m indebted to them both.  The first one said to me ‘you will never get over this’. I’m indebted to her because she frightened me. I wanted to prove her wrong.

The second worker offered me a quote, I’m indebted to him because it changed the entire way I looked at my loss.  The quote is this: “be my reason, not my excuse’.

These two experiences became the bookends for me in my grief.  At one end I had the choice to believe that life would never be the same, and in fact it would actually be terrible.  At the other I had this highly aspirational idea, that I could in fact use my grief and my experience generally as a motivating force to be a greater, stronger, kinder, wiser version of myself.

Surviving victims of crime have within them an amazing reservoir of resilience, even when they don’t feel that they do, perhaps particularly when they don’t feel that they do.  In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor and Psychologist Viktor Frankl talks extensively about the adversity advantage, and that rather than viewing mental states of depression and anxiety as a by-product of trauma and something to be managed and medicated, we should encourage society to see these illnesses as achievements. A sign of survival, and triumph and conviction and determination.

Im going to finish on a final observation.

A Google search of synonyms for the word “victim” pulls up the following:

Sufferer. Injured. Wounded. Dupe. Easy target. Fool. Stooge. Prey. Object. Pushover. Chump. Helpless. Passive. and Scapegoat.

Its no wonder, victims of violence don’t want to ask for help.  Of course our experience of working with victims probably looks significantly different than this, we see bravery and endurance and courage.  Lets make sure that we take the time to reflect what we see in our clients back to them and start to challenge the stereotype so they too can see themselves as a courageous and resilient survivor.


This was taken from a speech I delivered recently at the STOP Domestic Violence Conference in Canberra, Australia.  I regularly give keynote speeches, plenaries and workshops on the topics of resilience and post traumatic growth.  To speak with me about your upcoming event, contact me here.

Creating moments to be present in a noisy world

Creating moments in a world that consumes

Have you ever read a quote that takes your breath away?

When I stumbled on this beautiful quote by Alan Wilson Watts I could feel the world slow down around me.  How incredibly true, I thought.  As someone prone to consuming life I could relate to the words I was reading.

All too often I catch myself saying “done that, tick that off the list” when it comes to things in life that shouldn’t be accomplishments but rather experiences. Moments.  But I work through them efficiently like a mechanic runs through their list of points to inspect in a car.  Reviewing, assessing, ticking … and then moving on in the hope that once complete the whole unit will run smoothly.

But Im never complete.  each time I reach the end of my to-do list I find another one, each one more ambitious than the last, each one more exciting and eye-catching and distracting from things that mean something.  Each one promising a sense of fulfilment to which Im genuinely surprised when it doesn’t.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away states Vicki Corona, and how poignantly true.

Ask me what I did at midday last Tuesday and I couldn’t tell you, but ask me about the last time I belly-laughed, the last time I jumped on a trampoline with my daughter, the last time I cried watching a movie… now those things I can recall and recite as if they happened a moment ago.

So why do we push incessantly, trying to cram more into our days without stopping to think what moments we’re sacrificing in the pursuit of accomplishment.  When we lay our heads on the pillow each night, smug in the knowledge we’ve ’had a busy day’ how often do we stop to think whether we had a meaningful day.  Not me. Not often enough.

Finding the space to slow down is hard.  In a word that baits us to speed up it takes a rare person to swim against the tide and practice saying no.

We’re living in the noisiest time in history,

When even moments of silence are punctuated by iPods, or Facebook updates, where our need for instant gratification is met.

This year is my year of saying ‘yes’.  A year of saying yes sooner, of not doubting myself and of prioritising the things I cant live without accomplishing. Its been an awesome year where Ive gone for things I usually wouldn’t, and tried out things I usually wouldn’t but the sacrifice of creating the big moments often means that the little everyday moments get squeezed out.  It’s a work in progress, but isn’t life?

when everything is broken

When everything’s broken

I remember the exact moment my worldview was altered.

It was during the first twelve months of working with victims of crime – surviving family members of homicide precisely – that I felt the ropes which firmly bound my world-view together weaken, threads individually fraying until finally they snapped altogether.

I was talking to a mum at the time, although now she didn’t know how to describe herself.  Her only child, a son, had been murdered. The boy who inspired her to rise up each day, the boy who gave her the identity of ‘mum’, the boy who carried a thousand hopes and dreams was gone, taken prematurely and violently.

We were sitting together, tears slipping as she recited memories, hoping to keep him alive for just another moment.

She turned and said, “tell me it will all get better.” And I couldn’t.

Snap. I was at saturation point with others’ pain and the unfairness of life didn’t seem to end.

I’d been bought up with the belief that if you’re a kind and gentle person, than good things will happen.  When my sister and father were murdered, that belief was challenged, but I endured.

Surprisingly it was others’ pain that broke me.  Repeated exposure to stories of good people experiencing horror beyond imagine, with no logical way to reconcile it led to a gradual unravelling of the unspoken belief I had that being a kind person would offer a form of protection from hardship.  The day I accepted this wasn’t universally true, hurt.

It took months to work through this. And its with this experience of sitting in the darkness and pulling back together the shattered pieces of my beliefs that I offer the following advice.

Remember who you are

In a world of instability, one of the few things we can control is the person we want to be.  Its not easy, particularly when you feel that you’re being tested, but reminding yourself of the qualities you possess, the qualities that make you you, those that you admire about yourself and others admire about you.  Establishing a firm footing on you will help stabilise a shaky time.

Its okay to grieve for what you’ve lost

Society doesn’t always do a great job of supporting those who’ve lost something, urging us to ‘move on’ and ‘look on the bright side’. There is a grief process which kicks in when something we value is lost, including our long-held beliefs.  Having our beliefs tested or broken is significant!  Taking a moment to acknowledge and nurture yourself through that will help you process the full impact of your loss before moving forward.

Notice what you’re feeling

Grief of course is an process containing a whole bundle of emotions that pour out when something we love is gone.  Being able to notice and name your emotions is a form of affect labelling, a therapy which helps us identify our feelings without feeling absolutely caught up in them.  Hurt, despair, regret, anger, vengefulness, hopelessness, fear, guilt…. there are a number of valid and acute feelings that fall within the grieving process, being able to name those may feel painful but its the door through which recovery can begin.

Look for positive learnings

We all like to look for the learnings in challenging times.  Being able to make meaning from an experience is critical to eventually moving forward, and its important also to focus on the positive learnings.  Many people Ive spoken to about this will describe things like ‘I’ve learnt never to trust anyone again’, or ‘Ive learnt to just simply not expect things to go right’.  When we’re clouded by sorrow its hard to see the bright side, it will take work on your part to actively reframe these into learnings that will help and support you moving forward.

Managing anger positively

Reversing our relationship with anger

Its a scene often played out in public. The stage may be a supermarket, a sporting ground, the schoolyard… the actors are typically a child and an adult whether its a parent, teacher or someone else in authority.

The scene involves the censorship of anger, usually where a child is reacting angrily and the adult is responding with something along the lines of “calm down, don’t be silly, don’t raise your voice at me, stop that or you wont get xyz’.*

I was young when I was taught to censor anger.

I realised early that becoming agitated only resulted in my parents ignoring me, refusing me or yelling back, it never resulted in feeling heard or understood, and it certainly never resulted in getting my way.

The problem however, was that whilst I learnt what not to do, no one ever showed me what to do with anger.  Whilst I learnt anger wasn’t a useful social response, I never quite learnt what I do with that big ball of rage and frustration that filled up inside me.

So I dealt with it to the degree that my six year-old self could.  I stuffed it down inside.  I solemnly stewed, or I would whisper to myself scripts that would later turn out to stick (I hate you, they hate you, no one listens, no one cares).  When I got a little older (and really angry) I would punch my thighs, scratch myself or pinch my skin until the pain drowned my frustration.

It was only years later that I learnt I wasn’t the only one using self-harm as a method to soothe (until then I just added my scripts to my growing list of inner critiques “oh my god what have I done’, ‘there’s something wrong with me’, ‘maybe I am crazy’)

It doesn’t take  a Psychiatrist to work out that I’d developed some pretty maladaptive ways to manage anger.  In fact the relationship I had with anger went something like this:

Burying anger


Yep, let’s just bury this sh*t down and hope it doesn’t come back as some awful zombie-fied version of its former self!

It was, ironically, only when I had something to really feel angry about that I learnt how to cope with anger.  And, what a powerful and motivating force it could be!  It was only when I experienced an anger so overwhelming that I decided to roll up my sleeves and find a new relationship with anger.

Read on to see how that worked out…

Positive way manage anger

Can anger actually be good for you?

Reversing how we look at anger (part two)

In my earlier post I shared some of the detail around my maladaptive relationship with anger.

On the inside whenever I felt like this:

Positive ways to deal with anger
Yep this was me


What you actually saw on the outside was this:

Positive ways to deal with anger
Nothing to see here people


And predictably this disjunct between how I felt and how I presented to the world led to feeling shame, concealing and not really living honestly.

It was, ironically, only when I had something to really feel angry about that I learnt how to cope with anger.  And, what a powerful and motivating force it could be!  It was only when I experienced an anger so overwhelming that I decided to roll up my sleeves and find a new relationship with anger.

Anger gets a bad rap, but really its an energy, like joy or excitement. It simply is.  But its often our reactions to anger that frighten us.  I use five powerful visualisations which help me understand anger.

Anger as a warning light

Imagine anger as a warning light on your dashboard.  Its often our bodies first internal response that something is upsetting us.  And anger can manifest in many ways.  You know that choking sensation, the crimson that creeps across your chest and face..?  Thats anger.  When I ask you how you are and you say “oh Im fine, just a bit stressed / frustrated”… um nope, you’re angry. And that’s FINE.

(I love Plutchik’s wheel of emotion, it helps me to understand and name emotions much sooner)

Recognising emotions
A great way to compartmentalise emotions

Anger as a compass

Anger is a powerful compass which points us in the direction of our values.  It may feel that an event has triggered your anger, but usually that event points directly to towards something you value that’s been harmed.

Anger as a blinker

So let me explain, a blinker (or blinder) is that pirate-patch thing that goes on a horse’s eyes.  They’re worn to help the horse focus ahead and not be distracted by whats behind or to the side of them.  Strangely, anger can have a ‘blinker’ effect. Many studies have shown the clarifying power that anger has including this seminal paper published in 2007 which revealed that contrary to popular belief that anger clouds our judgement, those experiencing a short bout of anger are actually much greater at thinking analytically and deliberately.

Anger as a springboard

Sometimes you need that ‘thing’ to propel you to greater heights.  Anger can be that thing, sometimes we need to reach a point of such discomfort that we’re motivated to do something about it.  Viewing anger as an apparatus to propel us forward can be really empowering, motivating us to make big choices and changes.

Anger as an optimiser

Interestingly, research reveals that people who experience anger are optimists.  Don’t believe me?  Then check out this link I’ve embedded to show you I know what Im talking about.  Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that getting angry makes you more optimistic, my interpretation of the study is that optimists are more likely to become angry at situations (opposed to pessimists who are more likely to experience fear), so anger is more of a barometer of your optimism rather than the cause of it.

So next time you’re mad, remember its because you’re actually this:

Perseverance climbing mount kilimanjaro

The lesson in perseverance I learnt from Mt Kilimanjaro

 (hint: its not what you think it’ll be!)

In 2006 I decided I would climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  Yep, like that.  I had just finished watching Kochie (from Sunrise) summit Africa’s highest peak and whether it was the chance to see snow in Africa or the opportunity to test myself physically and mentally, right there on my second cup of coffee I decided that year I would climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

And I did.  But it was hard.  Bloody hard.  Not just ‘ow I have sore feet’, or ‘this bag’s heavy’ kind of hard… more like the ‘I seriously think I am going to die”, “where has all the oxygen disappeared to”, and “there is no fucking way Kochie did this unassisted” type of hard.

Perseverance africa
Where the f*ck did Kochie go?

The “perhaps if I click my heels three times and wish hard enough I will wake up at home.  Or in Kansas, or in freakin Oz for all I care just get me off this mountain” type of pain.

To put it into perspective, Kilimanjaro reaches temperatures of -30 degrees celsius.  Summiting at a height of nearly 20,000 feet you will well and truly experience altitude sickness, in fact around half a dozen people die each year attempting to climb this mountain.

Prior to the climb, the greatest mountain I had summited was Mount Coolum with a girlfriend and a can of rum and coke to watch the sunrise when I was nineteen.

After being assured by my travel guide that it was a non-technical climb, I proceeded to not train and not purchase any technical equipment, unless you call Kmart’s fleecy jumpers technical?

Now you’re probably thinking that I am about to launch into a blog on preparation, and yes you’re right I could and should and one day will… but this is not THAT blog post.

This is about perseverance people.

One of the greatest things I learnt climbing Mount Killi, and it in fact applies to any mountain with altitude, is the need to push hard, and then retreat for the night.  In order for your body to adjust and respond its not uncommon for mountaineers to push up 1000 metres in a day, before retreating 500 metres (in altitude… not actual length) to sleep for the night.

It might feel like a counter-productive move, but this strate

Perseverance in Africa
No, the tents on Mt Kilimanjaro were NOTHING like this!

gy pushes the body to an extreme level, before giving it a chance to rejuvenate overnight.  It may take longer to reach the summit, but your chances of summiting are vastly improved by having the diligence and maturity to recover.

Our daily activities may not take place in Tanzania, but many of us continue pushing onwards and upwards, ignoring our mental and physical need to rest and rejuvenate.  Prolonged stress demands that we take a step backwards sometimes, but we live in a society that loves the extreme (even our recovery activities are extreme… um, think Bikram) and devalues rest.

When I was a child I remember my dad pottering around the garden and watching AFL on his weekend’s, and I wonder how our kids view me as I rush from one errand to the next, couriering them from netball, to birthday parties to the supermarket.

I respond to rest in almost the same manner I responded to Mount Kilimanjaro (oh my God, I am so out of my comfort zone) and have to remind myself that that is PRECISELY the reason I need to practice.



Jonty is still in recovery from learning how to recover, and would love to hear your strategies on how you take time out.  Connect with her on Facebook.

Speak up at work so that people notice you

Speak so others listen

I’m one of the privileged few who’s had the ear of important people.

People who have influence, those who are decision-makers and whose influence can shape the way our country responds to a particular social issue.  Few have this chance, fewer still who are women, and very few women who came from humble beginnings with odds stacked against them.

Despite what others’ have said, I didn’t get those meetings because of my looks, not because of my qualifications, and not even because of my passion or enthusiasm because lets be honest – there are plenty of enthusiasts out there who never get past a Minister’s policy advisor.  I’ve learnt to speak so that others listen.

  1. Be disruptive

It may defy intuition to disagree with someone holding power in a meeting, but you’re aim is to be memorable, not agreeable. History tells us that change is made via those of us who dare to be unreasonable, who offer a unique view of a problem and are courageous to speak up about it.  Clearly that doesn’t mean being aggressive, controlling or condescending, but you can simply and gently present counter-arguments that help you stand out as an expert in your field.  Approaches I’ve used successfully have been:

“I disagree, what I see is…..”

“Can I offer a counter-argument…?”

“I wonder if we’re not looking at the whole picture here…”

“That’s interesting you say that, I’ve actually noticed something different…”

Speak so that your boss listens

2. Sell the problem, offer the solution

Was it a coincidence that the term ‘male-pattern baldness’ was first noticed during the same time that Bayer were promoting their hair-growth formula? Before then baldness wasn’t a problem, some men simply were bald and not much was thought of it.  The cosmetic industry relies on continually finding new problems for women to fix; fine hair, dull skin, dark eyes, thin lips, sparse lashes… can you imagine Maybelline succeeding in a society where women felt okay with who they were sans-makeup?  I think not.

3. Do your homework

Never walk into a meeting without some preparation.  Nothing will undo your good work more than making an ill-researched comment, and often if you attend a meeting feeling under prepared you’ll be less reluctant to speak up and speak out.

4. Learn (even a little) about NLP

I was lucky to learn about neurolinguistic programming early in my corporate career. Matching your colleague’s body language can help establish quick rapport and build trust particularly in a meeting where you’re short for time.  I love love love it. NLP is something I regularly practice in lower-level meetings and I’m always surprised at how effective and easy it is, within a minute sometimes you can have someone mirroring you back – give it a go!

5. Know your position

I would never walk into a meeting without being acutely aware of a few things:

a) What my desired outcome is

b) What I would be happy to accept

c) My non-negotiable

d) What unique aspects or strengths am I bringing to the agreement

e) My archilles heel in the conversation

Being armed with a complete 360-degree view of your position both prepares you and reduces the chance that you’ll be caught off-guard during the conversation.  Many advocates I’ve observed have clearly given much thought to what they want, but less thought to observing their limitations. As a result they’re often ill-prepared for any conversation that doesn’t go 100% to their advantage.  Decisions can be made quickly at a Ministerial level and having the information, confidence and authority to negotiate those agreements is critical.


Finally, don’t underestimate yourself.  Remember Speak up in the workplacethat decisions are made by those who turn up (and have an opinion)!

Let go of blame and forgive

Break the blame hypothesis

I have a vivid memory of blame…

I was in early high school, an awkward time made worse by attempts to form new friendships with a particularly bad / cool  group that I knew would cause my parents to die if they found out what they did.  And for this same reason I was desperate to win their approval.  I would flank them at lunch, trying to join in the conversation where I could, laughing where I felt I should and trying to master the easy flip-of-the-hair move that the other girls seemed never to struggle with.

I clung like a barnacle to a ship, never really part of the group but doing my best to blend in and escape being scraped from the side.

I remember going home upset, frustrated and dare I say… angry… that I wasn’t more popular.  That I wasn’t funnier, more attractive, more carefree, more anything other than the person I was.  I’d search my developing brain for someone to blame, and settled finally on my parents.  If only my parents were more popular, wealthier, had funnier friends, or more interesting careers then I would fit in.

I of course didn’t realise it then, but this had become my first blame hypothesis.  The first place I could shift blame away from myself and onto another.

The blame hypotheses was coined by Frederic Luskin who specialises in forgiveness.  He deliberately calls it a hypothesis as its a guess really.  Often when we’re upset at something going on in our life, something inexplicable, we search for an answer for our emotions.  Of course we may never really know why we feel like crap, so we settle on the best approximation we can make.  We hypothesise why we behave a certain way, why we cant break a certain habit, or why we can’t attract something into our life.

In matters of the heart, its hard to find precise answers but its what we as humans crave.

And the most dangerous thing about the blame hypothesis it that it can feel so damn good.  Its comforting to be relieved of responsibility.  Its simpler to not accept the power to change.  The long term consequence however is that we’re left feeling frustrated, disempowered and often angry at others and with a strong dislike of ourselves.

Now I feel like a reformed smoker!  I can pick a blame hypothesis in people a mile away and I find the barb in a person’s blame stinging. I’ve learnt to catch myself mid-blame, learnt to question the wording I’m using either aloud or in my mind.  I’ve learnt to reframe my messages to sound something like:

“Irrespective of XYZ, I am going to…”

“Although this has/hasnt happened, my plan is to”

“I can see this occurring, and rather than wait for that I’m going to head it off by…”

I’m still not the funniest person I know, but I can bring a smile to my loved one’s lips and I’ve learnt that that’s more than enough.  I never learnt to flick my hair, which is fine because now I’ve cut it off I dont need to bother.  I’ve learnt to accept who I am without the pretence and importantly without the blame.

Luskin’s book Forgive for Good is a great read and is available on Amazon here.

Belle Gibson public speaking Cosmopolitan

How Belle Gibson flourished

Over one-million Australians tuned in to watch Belle Gibson get grilled by Sixty Minute’s Tara Brown on Sunday night.

Despite rumours of boycotting the show, many were curious, mesmerised and then dumbfounded by the contradictions and stunning lack of insight and empathy that Gibson showed during her infamous interview.

I was one of them. Although not a fan initially I became aware of Gibson ironically during her fall. I was hooked not on her ‘story’ of survival, but on the stark reality of what one person can do if they continue to run unchecked.

Belle Gibson meme
One of the many meme’s now circulating on Instagram. Source: @butcher_insta

During the past five years as a speaker and writer Ive regularly been presented with Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion in Outliers, that practicing something 10,000 makes you an expert.

This statement of Gladwell’s seems to have become the bloggers doctrine, extending it to say that if practicing something for 10,000 hours makes you an expert, and you write several posts a week then over time you’ll reach expert status.

And of course once you’re an expert then you can write a book, conduct news interviews, get on the speakers circuit…before long the world’s forgotten that you aren’t actually an expert, what you are is someone who has written a lot about a particular subject.

Do you have an interest in the subject – sure. Are you knowledgable – absolutely. But an expert – well, maybe not!

The ease at which we can setup a free website still stuns a Gen X’er like me. Anyone it seems can start typing and with a bit of training on SEO and some social media know-how can find an audience starving for an alternative position on almost any topic.

And I would know because I guess Im one of them. I am what Becker would call a Moral Entrepreneur. Okay, let me back that up.

So during the 1960’s Sociologist Howard Becker observed a number of people organising themselves into lobby groups, and using those groups to apply social pressure for people to behave a particular way. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was one of the early pioneers in this. When I kickstarted the One Punch Can Kill campaign I joined these ranks also, convincing people that violence is never a solution.

Belle Gibson also falls into this definition. She may not have overtly been telling cancer patients to refuse medical intervention, but certainly she implied that a healthy lifestyle was curing her when medical intervention had proved insufficient.

Moral Entrepreneurship is nothing new, but unlike the 60’s we’re now in an era where anyone can find a public space for their opinion, and where audiences are hit with so much information we’re struggling to find a way to censor and scrutinise.

Think I’m over-exaggerating…then how do you explain people preferring the views of ex-supermodel Miranda Kerr on anti-vaccination over medical and scientific research?

I recently launched an online program encouraging those with a personal message to take it to the stage. Even that there is a market for this demonstrates how audiences are yearning for compelling stories from everyday people. People who may not necessarily be experts in their field, but who can break down some complex issues into a story that is relatable and meaningful. Human’s are optimists, programmed for survival and sometimes that emotional pull to survive overrides our own common sense.

We ‘moral entrepreneurs’ are obligated to remember that. We’re obligated to treat a person’s following with care and respect, and to know when we’re stepping into territory we shouldn’t be messing with.

The myth we tell ourselves about purpose

The myth we tell about Purpose

I have such a love hate relationship with the word purpose.

Such an emotionally heavy word, we attach so much meaning to having a purposeful life, a purposeful job, a purposeful relationship, it goes on until all I can think is that perhaps my purpose is to find my purpose (perhaps its hanging out in a bar waitlife-not-twerk-quote-pics-quotes-picturesing for me).

I remember when I was the CEO of a victim support group, people would remark that I had ‘found my purpose’, like it was something out there hidden to be discovered. I would nod and agree, desperately wanting to reassure them that I actually had some idea what my purpose was but actually the truth looked more like “I am in a job that I love right now, and when I stop loving it I will find another one that I love, and on that will go”.

Because thats just it… purpose is not some stagnant object that once found can be ticked off a list.  Its not ‘out there’ waiting for you (damn, I was slowly working my way through every bar calling its name).  Its not a destination that you arrive to and stop, and its certainly not a particular career.

The reality is that purpose is dynamic, and there are moments we’re really in the ‘flow’ of life, times when we’re living in awesome alignment to our values. And there are times when we feel like we’re losing our way, but to quote Chris Martin “just because we’re losing doesn’t mean we’re lost’.

Making the decision to resign from my CEO job was one of the hardest things I’ve done (yep, one of the hardest!)  I’d worked there for eight years, and loved it for seven.  In the eigth year, despite the fact that my career was at an all-time high, I didn’t feel connected to the work anymore.  I kept myself going by telling myself lies, that this was my ‘purpose’ but that sinking feeling in my stomach grew each day.

I asked a friend of mine, if I’m not the CEO of this organisation, if I’m not this crusader for victims’ rights, then who am I..?  Her response was beautiful. And in ten simple words she’d convinced me to resign:

“I dont know,” she said “but aren’t you curious to find out?”

The day I walked away from that job I realised that I decided what my purpose would be.  Not some random twist of fate, not a happy coincidence that I fell into the right job, and certainly not someone else’s notion of what it was I should be doing.

That was the day I started to worry less about ‘what’ I would be when I grew up, and started to care more about ‘who’ I was going to be.