Conscious capitalism: generating business from belonging.

Conscious capitalism, ‘woke’ CEOs and millentrepeneurs (hashtag optional). Business is changing – it’s no longer good enough to sell a product to meet a need (perceived or real), you have do business for the greater good.

But what is the greater good? Is my idea of the greater good the same as yours?

Well, it’s probably a bit different to be honest… for example, I don’t think worldwide veganism is the answer to world peace and nor is Donald Trump. Maybe you agree with these things, maybe your opinion is ardently opposed to mine or maybe you just don’t give a shit about fad diets or fad leaders.

If you’re in column A or B, you’re likely to see these topics pop up in your social media feed occasionally. It’s likely that those posts fit with your column A or B beliefs. After all, it’s nice to be around people who think the same as us; there’s something innately reassuring when we read a newsfeed post that affirms our opinions. Such is the nature of the Zuckerberg algorithm. Confirmation bias and validation. Validation in a world where young people entering adulthood are “feeling anxious, confused, lost, frustrated, depressed and unworthy.”

Savvy millentrepeneurs are catching on. Reading that bastion of privileged young female wisdom, Marie Claire, I learned about a ‘quarter-life-crisis’ retreat in Spain, run by a 28 year-old. Young women who are “over-schooled, overwhelmed and under 30” pay upwards of $800 to embark on a week-long retreat that includes yoga, meditation, plant-based meals and a tribal rave.

Now I’m not about to completely shit all over retreats; I’ve done my fair share of yoga and meditation retreats and found value in all of them. Regardless of whether it’s a gruelling bootcamp in Bali or an inner city, digital detox yoga retreat, the formula is the same…

  1. Gather a group of people with a similar interest but slightly different circumstances
  2. Remove them from their usual support networks and mechanisms (be it family, Facebook, Netflix or icecream)
  3. Engage in several activities that everyone can do
  4. Ensure a minimum amount of ‘unplanned free time’ per day
  5. Serve everyone the same food (paleo, vegan, it doesn’t matter as long as the same food is available to everyone)
  6. Conduct a ceremony of some sort to signal the end of the retreat where people give thanks, share how it’s changed them etc.

Back to our quarter-life-crisis retreat story and one of the participants, after spending a week with her similarly-minded soul-searchers, had an epiphany; “I wasn’t actually broken in the first place”. Another said, “I learnt it’s ok to not be ok. I don’t know what I want to do and that’s ok too.”

Sounds an awful lot like validation, doesn’t it? That’s not a bad thing. What happened was that a COMMUNITY was created.

Community (noun):  a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common; the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.

Take away our online communities – our Instagram hashtags, Facebook messenger groups, Snapchat friends – and us millenials have less of a sense of community than our Baby Boomer parents did at our age.

As our capacity for transience in our habitats, workplaces and friendships increases, the way we create community evolves. In essence, how we feel like we belong where we are. In education theory, belonging is central to a child’s success. Feeling like we belong requires trust, trust takes time to build. Is it any wonder then that in our fast-paced world, millenials and Gen Z are feeling increasingly alone? Skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety and suicide lead some to say that this generation is “on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

Enter conscious business. Or how to make money by creating community. Not necessarily a bad thing (for the greater good or individuals). An article on Virgin’s website entitled ‘How to engage millenials: build a community’ nails it.

By building a community first and engaging with your early users even while you don’t have a launched product, you’re starting from a good place: you can test the whole idea behind your product, help to spread awareness through word of mouth, and of course capitalise on the ubiquity of social media and its ability to connect people around common interests.

Pre-social media, this ‘building a community’ would be called ‘talk to your friends’. In relationships – be they romantic, platonic or business – honesty and trust is key. Honesty in expressing thoughts and feelings and trust in that what is expressed won’t cause persecution.

If only the same was true for social media. Any expression of algorithm-adverse opinion and the keyboard warriors and trolls jump aboard! There’s no tangible consequence to making nasty comments online. Huzzah, everyone’s a soldier on the internet.

There’s no shortage of millentrepeneurs making money by creating community – Peta Kelly has even branded hers into Jeaniius and the Earthess Co. A shared purpose? You got it! What is it exactly? I’ve got absolutely no idea… seems like a new kind of religion. Which not-so-coincidentally, is also on a steep decline amongst millenials yet it provides a sense of community. Hmmm.

Making the world a better place is a humble goal, both personally and professionally. We all have different ideas of how we do it but along the way, we’re bound to find others who share our vision. Community is a great thing, but let’s be aware of our confirmation bias and how it can be manipulated – after all, the quarter-life-crisis is only available to the privileged few who have the time, money and energy for self-actualisation. Challenge your algorithm.

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Gendered guns in the gym

“I’ve seen women start [lifting weights] and leave their husbands.” 

I clearly remember the now Creative Director of Les Mills International saying this to our BodyPump training module in 2013. Unsurprisingly, I had just parted ways with a man with whom I’d had a ‘complicated’ relationship. I WAS STRONG, INDEPENDENT WOMAN and nobody was getting into my heart again in a hurry.

My BodyPump career – or as I like to call it, ‘my angry phase’ – lasted three months. After that I continued teaching BodyBalance, a yoga-based group fitness class and resumed weight training in the gym, on my own. I was still strong, but the need to publicly assert my strength had passed.

Overt displays of physical strength aren’t associated with femininity in our Western culture. Softness: feminine. Hardness: masculine. The gender binary is everywhere. From flowing dresses that emphasise child-bearing hips; to business shirts with pressed collars that exemplify rigidity. But strip everyone back to their Lululemon (yes, men wear them too) and herd them into a sweaty room filled with exercise equipment, and that’s where it gets interesting.

Twenty kilogram plates loaded onto the barbell, the weight borne on the shoulders of a gym-goer. Muscles straining against an external force. Depending on the gym, there’s a near equal chance that the weight lifter could be male or female. Yet the training objective remains the same – more weight, more reps, more muscle, more strength, more endurance.

Thanks to centuries of patriarchal wisdom, these qualities of strength and power are perceived as inherently masculine. Never mind the undeniable strength and power of childbirth, nor the endurance of 48 hours of cramps every month.

The number of women in this arena of strength and power has increased greatly since I first entered the fitness industry almost 15 years ago. At age 17, I’d just returned from being the US and Europe – first working as a nanny then eating my way through Italy (who cares about calories when you’re greeted with “ciao bella” at every corner) – about six kilograms heavier than I was when I left. The solution was to join a gym pronto.

Shortly after joining, I was offered a job there because I talked a lot – thus began the ‘crazy fitness’ years. A 1200 calorie diet, discounted personal training sessions with one of the muscle-bound male trainers and exercising every spare minute assisted the transformation. Suddenly I was little and lithe and toned, but with hips and breasts and blonde hair still. The physical form of femininity, or rather femininity as defined by the culture of Perth’s affluent Western suburbs.

The truth was that there was an extraordinarily high degree of control associated with maintaining this ‘feminine’ form – nutrition diaries that recorded food intake to the nearest gram, exercise classes were prioritised over beers at the university tavern. Control, strength and discipline. I had bucketloads to assist me in maintaining my physical ‘femininity’.

Yet the intangible ‘feminine’ qualities were missing. There was no compassion for self, tenderness was absent. My restrictive diet was hardly nurturing. But I looked feminine… and I was also one of the few women who worked out on the weights floor.

Fast forward to today and with FitBits, 24-hour gyms and Insta-celebrity workouts, there’s more women than ever on the gym floor lifting weights. Kayla Istines, Ashy Bines and all the hashtags. Lifting weights makes us feel strong regardless of our sex and, let’s be honest, it’s really good for us to maintain a minimum amount of lean muscle mass.

Forget now the labels of masculine and feminine – lifting weights is healthy for males and females. But what are we doing to cultivate the opposing qualities of strength, dominance, power and stability? Is there a place for qualities such as weakness, vulnerability, receptivity and flow in the gym? There has to be an outlet for these qualities in order to realise total potential strength.

The explosive power required to propel yourself up from under 60 kilograms of metal and plastic comes from muscles contracting concentrically. The more muscle fibres you recruit, the more powerful you are – yet it is possible to move that 60 kilograms using limited muscles fibres in a muscle, for example adductors. How many muscle fibres are recruited depends on many things; one of them is proprioception or body awareness.

Stretching, be it after a workout or in a yoga class, elongates the muscle. Go deep enough into a stretch and hold it for sufficient time and you can’t help but feel more of the muscle, thus assisting in proprioception – which is required to elicit more strength and power.

Who do you usually find in the stretching area of the gym? Mostly women, sometimes men for about two minutes after a workout. Women dominate many yoga classes. Five or so years ago power yoga was all the rage (no pun intended, given rage yoga is now a thing). Yoga is a broad church… personally I prefer a balance of Vinyasa, Hatha, Iyengar and Yin yoga. And I’ll often settle myself in a passive pigeon pose and 30 seconds in, out of nowhere, tears will come to my eyes. My hips sink closer to the mat. Why does this happen? I don’t know, I almost don’t need to know, it just does – and it’s pretty common amongst yoga-goers.

Crying on a yoga mat is very different to the grunting exhalation used to power that 60 kilograms upwards. Both are forms of physical activity, both are forms of expression – and if you want to apply the gender binary, feminine yoga tears vs masculine grunting. And mate, I can grunt pretty damn well as my PT discovered a few years ago when she jokingly said I had to top the bloke next to me. Challenge accepted.

Of course, yoga isn’t the only way to feel physically vulnerable. When you’ve got 60 kilograms on your shoulders, you’re two reps away from complete muscle fatigue and at the bottom of a squat, you’re going to feel pretty vulnerable. The difference here however is that you’re going to try your bloody hardest to overpower that feeling of vulnerability by exerting effort. Similarly in Yin yoga, effort is required to stay in the pose despite the discomfort – the effort is mental and passive, rather than physical and active.

We’re all capable of both forms of activity and expression. We’re stronger and more powerful when we use both. What appears feminine in form may not be so underneath. And not being a male, yet knowing many muscle-bound men whose perfect pecs protect their big hearts, I’ll hazard a guess that the same appears for masculinity.

The gym is a hotbed of power, activity and strength, but without the cultivation of the opposing qualities of vulnerability, passivity and weakness, we will forever limit our true potential.

Why a cost-benefit analysis is a compassionate action.

“Empathy minus boundaries is not empathy” – Dr Brene Brown

I am a proponent of ‘tough love’ (or rather, honesty) but it has taken me ages to learn how to say no… and I know I’m not alone in this. Saying no to a person/task/idea that we don’t like is easy; saying to no to something or someone that we deeply care about is much, much harder. But surely we should say yes to those who we care about, in order help them? Time to do a cost-benefit analysis!

Well, that’s what I should have done before I burnt out at age 23 by working myself to the bone in Marketing. Saying yes to every demand my micro-managing boss placed on me got me nowhere – but I loved my job, it was my identity. Would saying no to it be saying no to, well… me?

To ease my frustrations, I used my most practiced coping mechanism of exercise. Not alcohol, not drugs, not binge-eating but exercise… that’s pretty healthy, right? Wrong. Too much of anything isn’t great. Too much high-intensity exercise caused my already-piqued endocrine system to produce more endorphins, cortisol and adrenalin to pick me up out of those deep valleys filled with negativity… and without adequate rest periods, cortisol levels won’t fall back to normal so, in a self-induced state of elevated stress, I pursued more and more high intensity exercise to release more feel-good endorphins. This doesn’t actually work FYI. It means you end up killing someone (ONLY JOKING).

 

Now older and somewhat wiser, I use an emotional cost-benefit analysis pretty frequently: “If I do this activity, how does it impact my ability to fulfil my other priorities?” Priorities might be tangible – for example, cleaning the house on Sunday before the week begins. The ability to fulfil these priorities depends on behaviour – behaviour is our values in action.

For example, integrity is a value (integrity: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles). A behaviour of integrity would be to do what you say you will, or to take responsibility for your actions. A concrete example would be to mop the floor as you’d promised your partner you would. Values in action.

Ok so back to the emotional cost-benefit analysis; “If I go to the BBQ this afternoon, how does it impact on my ability to mop the floors?” Will the floors get mopped or not? If the answer is no, is that behaviour in line with my value of integrity? How does being untrue to my values that make me feel? How does it make the person I’ve promised the clean floor to feel? Don’t know about you, but it makes me feel preeeeeetty shit to be living life inauthentically (that was my 2012, a GREAT year). Bingo, that’s the emotional part. Suffering.

The emotional cost-benefit analysis is a tool to help clarify our boundaries. Because, let’s be honest, who can say they’ve always been good at saying no AND not been a complete prick the whole time? Not many people. Boundaries take practice, years of practice.

Children need boundaries; adults or parents usually make boundaries (rules) for them. Whether it be don’t feed your dinner to the dog (at home), or don’t touch other students whilst sitting on the mat (at school), rules assist children in navigating their way into the adult world. Like anything, too many or too few boundaries can be detrimental but overall the literature supports children having boundaries. As a non-parent, I’d like to be able to show my future children how to make boundaries, as this is a skill often missed in some authoritarian households (note that authoritarian is very different to authoritative). In my tenure as a primary school teacher, I’d collaboratively make a list of ‘classroom rules’ with input from the kids – the discussion about what was ok and what wasn’t ok was often very enlightening.

What happens when a child pushes up against a boundary set by their parents or teacher? Confrontation, upset, discomfort. A two year old who has just been told they can’t play with their toys whilst eating breakfast is going to show their dissatisfaction about this quite clearly. Cue a tantrum. Tantrums aren’t pleasant for anyone, least of all the new mum who’s running on four hours sleep and is six months pregnant.

Kids need boundaries and they usually have no qualms in finding out where those boundaries lie – often this isn’t the case if the punishment for crossing a previous boundary has been too severe. A child isn’t going to continue to push his or her boundaries – and pushing boundaries is a normal part of growing up – if they cop a giant walloping  every time they cross one. Punishment could be biting your grandchild back when he bites his sister (a tough way of developing empathy in a two year old perhaps, I can’t say what my grandmother was thinking). A more severe example may be the physical abuse of a child by their drug-addicted parent. Once bitten, twice shy. Trauma can be accumulated over generations.

 

cross-boundary

 

Asserting our boundaries isn’t comfortable. Saying, “No, sorry I can’t help today,” brings temporary discomfort. We’re social creatures, we instinctively want to help others and seemingly denying others our help doesn’t immediately feel good. But choosing discomfort over resentment is a long-term choice. Speaking up to feel that (temporary) discomfort beats years of resentment and unspoken judgement, because at some point all those repressed feelings end up exploding out. Emotions are sometimes just like farts, better out than in.

Those whose job is to help people – teachers, social workers, nurses, doctors even fitness instructors – will likely experience compassion fatigue during their working lives.

nurse-boundariesThis extends to anyone who helps out others, especially family members, relatives, and other informal caregivers of patients suffering from a chronic illness.

I will never forget the healthy lifestyle workshop I was running for teenage parents a few years ago. There was a social worker in the room who had been assigned to help ease the session, given there were some girls exhibiting particularly challenging behaviours. Out of all of the workshop participants the social workers’ behaviour was the most challenging; she took a keen interest in the workshop material (a good thing!), applying the concepts to her own family and asking so many questions that it required more facilitation skills than I had to turn the discussion back to the topic and make it an inclusive activity. All the while, the supposed purpose of her presence was to support the teenage mums in the group and assist them in their learning.

Compassion fatigue occurs when individuals focus intently on helping everyone else to the detriment of their own wellbeing. The lack of self care results in their (intentionally selfless) actions becoming quite unconsciously selfish. Compassion fatigue happens when we don’t maintain our boundaries. To use another cliche, you can’t fill from an empty well – un-boundaried compassion comes at the expense of empathy and its precursors.

inforgraphic

Coming back to the ECBA (that’s the emotional cost benefit analysis), what’s this PWC-like tool got to do with compassion?

Generosity cannot exist without boundaries. An emotional cost benefit analysis helps us understand and determine our boundaries. You don’t donate your entire income to charity because it wouldn’t leave you enough to make ends meet. Emotional energy is the same.

The most compassionate people that I’ve ever interviewed… happened to be the most boundaried. They happened to be the people who had very, very clear boundaries about what they were willing to do, what they were not willing to do, what they were willing to take on, and what they were not willing to take on.

One of the ways that shifted for me to be more compassionate is, I kind of struggle with feeling perpetually disappointed in people a lot. Like, why aren’t they living up to their expectations, why aren’t they living up to my expectations, why are they making these self-destructive choices? I can think of people in my life, where it’s like, oh my god it’s making me crazy!

One of the things that shifted for me, was this idea that maybe everyone – myself included – maybe everyone’s doing the best they can. But sometimes, that means that I don’t have to engage.

Dr Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Of course, it’s also possible to be too boundaried too. Learning to negotiate those boundaries with another person (aka ‘how to relationship’) is a whole different journey.

And maybe it’s another blog post, in due course. Until next time…

'I'm sensing you may still have some boundary issues.'

 

And so she began to write…

About what? That I don’t know yet. There are questions, lots of questions. But let’s not start too deep, just yet. Tentatively. Tip-toe.

What if… I wasn’t sick (again)? I’d be douth enjoying the Hens’ Weekend I’m supposed to be attending – instead of watching Quentin Tarantino movies on a rainy afternoon with my flatmates. Definitely drinking more wine than I have today. To open a bottle and only have two glasses from it, including the glass consumed by softly snoozing Jamie on the couch. What a waste! On the upside (?), this year has been the sickest on record for me since 2008/9. Something about 7 year cycles, illness being a natural purging, something something optimism.

But what if I didn’t have a Hens Weekend to miss out on? If I didn’t have my wonderful hippie friend Heather in my life? The friend with whom I read the same book, just a different page. The friend whose wedding I am so looking forward to, just a few days before Christmas, that most magical time of the year… and not just because it’s my birthday but because, love.

What if the Christmas season wasn’t so busy? What if we didn’t have different groups of friends and were more insular, socialised less? Boring. Diversity is the spice of life – sometimes I put a little too much spice in my sustenance though. I love people, people are amazing and they can also be shit (note, I am also a person). Because what goes up must come down. Highs and lows baby, highs and lows. And this is why we meditate, to consciously move between those highs and lows and understand the midpoint of safety.

But honestly, what if the Christmas season wasn’t so busy? For a start we’d all drink a lot less booze, we’d eat a lot less canapés and kebabs. We’d have less hangovers, less guilt. And less hardcore, bust-your-guts, high-intensity cardiovascular exercise to “burn off” the anticipated calorie intake.

I fucking hate this cycle that is perpetuated by popular media and the fitness industry (despite being employed by them).

The last thing, the very very last thing, people need at this time of year is a surge of adrenaline and cortisol rushing through their veins. During the silly season our bodies definitely don’t need to be in fight-or-flight mode. Perhaps those awkward Christmas Day family dinners aren’t just the fault of family dynamics? Perhaps those late night not-so-wise choices weren’t just the fault of wine? Perhaps it’s our obedience to this seasonal binge-purge cycle.

If anything we should probably all be going to 11.15am Restorative Yoga tomorrow morning (rather than heading to the gym) – this is code for lying over cushions, gentle stretches, deep breathing and 75 minutes of mental clarity. Alleluia!

A little bit of space to make this beautiful season a little less silly, a little more lovely. Because mental and physical health isn’t separate, oh no not at all! And in the spirit of Christmas, let’s foster a little bit more togetherness.

Manifesto of a (currently) Single Woman

To my single women friends… I know so many of you, all beautiful, intelligent, self-aware, caring and passionate women! And women, not girls, for I know you’ve spent the time, you’ve put in the hard yards, the self-development, the focused growth as well as the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants trips.

At nearly 30, it’s time for me – it’s time to stop f*cking around (in the figurative, not the literal sense… ok, maybe both). It’s been fun, oh golly it’s been fun! But, in contrast to Samantha Jones, I’m done with great lovers, I’m ready for great love.

I’ve had it with Tinder dates, as an extrovert all they do is serve to massage my ego. Swipe right, a match! Banter ensues, I can play this game well. A date perhaps, ho hum, the standard series of interview-like questions, more banter, perhaps we kiss. Perhaps it goes further but the intention is all wrong – for how we start, so we go on. A partner is not like shopping for a pair of jeans. For no matter how much give in the denim, no matter how much you convince yourself that they make your butt look great, sometimes all you want is a beautiful silk dress that lets you move, lets you twirl and be the sensual woman that you are.

I want someone who trusts me, but who first and foremost trusts himself inexplicably, who is a gatekeeper of his own actions. For I hold myself to myself, prior to anyone else. I will take a leap of faith and know that if I fall – be it out of pincha mayurasana or out of steady employment – that I will catch me. And that the arms of my strong support network will parachute my landing.

I want someone who is comfortable in his body, as I am mine. Who doesn’t frame his physical appearance by that of others but who has learned that his body is just that, his body. A body can do great things, for it is a vehicle for action, for work, for play, for love. Someone who acknowledges that any muscle is only truly strong if it can tense firmly and also release fully.

I want someone who respects me, and who respects himself. The respect you give others, echoes the respect you give yourself. Self-respect doesn’t have to be perfect – for what is ‘perfect’ anyway? – it’s ok to still be working on things. Do we ever get all of our shit sorted? No, but we strive to make peace with ourselves, to not get so attached to the highs and lows of life, the pleasure and the pain. To ride on the waves of life but know when to steer through them, driven by truthfulness and passion.

I want someone who gets my humour, whose powerful mind plays at the pace of my own, who can keep up in conversational tennis. But who similarly knows how and when to quieten their mind. For we are more than our thoughts, more than our feelings.

I want someone who moves, who moves for the joy of moving, not because his FitBit guilts him into it. Someone who takes care of his health, who acknowledges that however impressive his guns are, if his mind if not well then neither is he. Someone who reminds me that sometimes a lie-in is exactly what I need, that yoga class will always be there but this moment will not.

I want someone who can be vulnerable, albeit after time. To lay one’s cards on the table, to be completely and totally vulnerable takes enormous courage – and requires a foundation of safety. Safety does not mean caution, safety means almost the opposite. When we feel safe, it is only then that we can take an honest leap of faith.

I want someone who fosters self-awareness but not through the eyes of “I am”. Who views his actions, his thoughts, his feelings through curious eyes in an almost-childlike manner. A manner that acknowledges the very human capacity for change and conversely, our capacity to be that stick in the mud. Because sometimes sticks need someone to sway them downriver, or to help them push roots down into that mud, grounding them in their growth.

I want someone who complements me, not completes me for he is complete in his own self. I want connection, not co-dependence. Safe enough in our own selves to run together in wild abandon.

So hold out my wonderful single women friends, have a little faith, keep the heart open. Because we freaking well deserve great love.

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29 Things

This (rather personal) blog has been building for a while. When I started working part-time a few months ago, I had so many ideas of how I could use my time – one was to do more writing. Well, I start a new job tomorrow and that idea clearly didn’t happen! Other things did though, the timing works out in a strange way.

It’s been a big year; in a few months I enter a new decade. Back in February, friend sent me this article regarding the importance of ages 29, 39, 49 and so on. There’s some truth there.

I doubt I’ll have (or make) the time to write between now and Christmas so this is a little premature but here’s the year in review. In a listicle, of course – but alas, no colour-coded Excel spreadsheet or pie chart.

  1. Space – tangible and intangible – is important. I started this year living in Como with two friends and whilst our housemate dynamic was great, I lived in a shoebox. I moved to North Fremantle for a giant room on a good street; rent was almost double what I was paying before but the studio-apartment-like expanse was worth it. My housemates were just that, housemates – we lived our lives separately and I could go days without seeing either of them… And this was perfect. I needed that space, physical and emotional, to put my energy elsewhere. A period of internality began and stayed for about 5 months, something like never before.
  2. Solitude. For the first half of the year, I wasn’t the usual social Emma whose weekend was jam-packed with social occasions. I just didn’t feel like surrounding myself with people much – so I didn’t. My social media hiatus and increased yoga practice probably contributed to this, but by mid-July it was time to “come out of the cave” and say hello world again. Or as a friend said in a somewhat menacingly lunatic tone, “She’s baaaaaaaaack!”
  3. I like talking about “deep shit”. [If you’re not a fan of “deep shit” it’s probably best to stop reading now]. In my first North Freo house, my housemate said early on that she didn’t like talking about “deep shit” – it is no wonder that arrangement didn’t last for long. Also, my inability to have a conversation about eyelash curlers was a factor… like, I have one, I have no idea how to use it and the one time I did attempt to use it, it was definitely not “life-changing”.
  4. I like living with guys. And women too but hey, I grew up with a younger brother. The current arrangement – two males, two females – feels natural probably because that was my family/home unit until age 21. Gender balance is important, I am not a girly girl and passive aggressive competitive conversations about who ate the least lettuce leaves that day shit me to tears.
  5. Trust. Myself, my gut, my instinct. It doesn’t lie – but when you have a very active mind, sometimes that rational mind queries, questions and makes things more complicated than they need to be. Like the article says, a big part of the year was spent in self-reflection. Because if you can’t have an intimate relationship with yourself, how can you have one with another? You can only meet people as deeply as they’ve met themselves.
  6. Housemate hunting is best done by instinct. Katelyn and I had about 14 people come through to view the house one Sunday afternoon, what a social experiment that was! There was the no pile, the keys pile and the rose pile… those in the rose pile weren’t invited to move in (because I’ve learned that lesson once before) but hey, shall we go for a drink? Who needs Tinder when you’re looking for housemates!
  7. Tinder dating hardened me. I enjoy dating like I enjoy job interviews; it’s almost a performance opportunity, such fun! There is no existing investment on blind dates (e.g. Tinder) therefore there are no nerves. But when someone (see number 6) says, “There’s a lot going on behind your eyes Emma, let me in,” and your first thought is, “Woah, that’s not part of the script!” the realisation hits! Tinder dating required (past tense) very little vulnerability, game face ON. It gets a little boring after a while, smalltalk, smalltalk, smalltalk…
  8. Government work has it’s place – but it’s not my natural fit. The role in the Health Department gave me what I needed; an escape from emotionally-draining service delivery, minimal intellectual input, standard working hours, exposure to the government world and a good salary. In 2014 I said, “I’ll never work for government!” and boy, how refreshing it is to smash your own perceptions of yourself! It gave me the stability I needed to put energy into me, not anyone else.
  9. STABILITY… Caps for a reason; stability is important to me. Many friends have reacted with wonder at this because I haven’t stayed in a job for more than two years and change is, in a way, my comfort zone (I was seen as some exotic beast in government-land). This year has been far from stable…
    • Houses lived in: 3
    • Housemates lived with: 7
    • Jobs worked in: 6 (including a month-long contract stint in advertising and a forthcoming return to group fitness)
    • Workplaces: 5
    • Lovers: Ummmm, there are some things that don’t go on the internet.
  10. … is an inside job. Despite the numbers above, I feel the most grounded/stable/zen/peaceful I have, well, maybe ever?! How and why? I’m not sure, but the solitude and space helped – and lots of yoga and meditation.
  11. Meditate. Learning to sit with myself, not to consciously “empty my mind” but just to be still. To accept that thoughts come and go as I sit in stillness – because they, like so much of life, are impermanent. So why get attached to them? I now meditate nightly (sometimes wine and company disrupts this) and it changes, well, everything.
  12. Less (exercise) is more. I have been to a gym less than maybe 12 times this year; I stopped teaching group fitness classes last year and discovered that I actually don’t really like exercising in a big sweaty box with the masses. Cycling, yoga, dancing and a monthly run suffice quite nicely. And less high intensity cardio means more stability (there’s that word again!) in mood, appetite and general health.
  13. Boundaries. I love people, I love being able to help people – but they can get exhausting. A few weeks back, I took myself off to Margaret River for the weekend just to sleep, do yoga and hang out on my lonesome (I didn’t even drink any wine down there!!). Why? I’d been out every night for the 7 days prior and the emotional energy stores had been completed depleted – even more so as we’d just learned that Mum has breast cancer.
  14. Parents get old. And the child-parent dynamic changes considerably when their health takes a hit. For the record, Mum is ok, she’s having a lumpectomy in a few days time (followed by radiation) and then we’ll see – one day at a time. We’ve been hanging out a bit more and she recently said to me, “I felt like I was being cared for by my own mother – but it was you.” That changes things… I guess this is growing up.
  15. It’s ok to ask for care. I’ve always been ummm, fiercely independent and it wasn’t until New Zealand (age 23) that I first learned that sometimes, you need others to take care of you. I haven’t always been so good at accepting this, usually it’s me caring for others. This year I relearned that when, upon discovering Mum’s news, I asked for a hug from my housemate. Cue tears and D&M. Hugs are awesome, awwwwww.
  16. Nature is important. North Freo, how I love you! I started the year living next to the Kwinana freeway in Como and will finish it living 10 minutes walk from the ocean, 5 minutes from the river and surrounded by parkland. I’d forgotten the grounding quality that bathing in the ocean always grants, or even the simple sensual pleasures of trees, water, dirt, sun and sky.
  17. Yoga > make-up. Coffee > make-up. I squeeze my morning routine in as tightly as possible to allow maximum time for yoga and getting coffee on the way to work. Shower, clothes, hair, make-up = 20 minutes. Yoga, walk, coffee = 60 minutes.
  18. Some days, I really don’t need any coffee. I can get pretty buzzed up naturally and if, for whatever reason, I’m already a midget ball of energy, I skip the coffee because yeah, I don’t need to be bouncing off the walls (physically, mentally or emotionally).
  19. Convenience can be too tempting. Three bottle shops within a 5 minute walk? Two bars? Three cafes? If I’d moved any further down the street than I did recently (from number 22 to number 8), I would most likely have moved into one of the bars/cafes/bottle shops. My alcohol consumption increased greatly… and now I’m doing (moderate) Ocsober.
  20. Nesting. I like creating a home though I’m definitely not at talk-exclusively-about-your-renovations-with-colleages-all-the-freaking-time stage. This may also have something to do with the number of times I’ve moved house this year – I just want to be still for a bit!
  21. Punctuality. Ok this is still a work in progress but I’m generally no longer late. I prefer to be exactly on time (with minimal stress), because early is just a waste… though as I learned recently at uni, when the lecturer says the test is at 5pm, it actually does start at 5pm and you should get there at 4.45pm. Whoopsie daisy!
  22. How to grow things. Not plants, but a kombucha SCOBY is totally my level of commitment right now. Feed it tea and sugar, leave it to do it’s thing. Plants don’t talk to you, they also don’t tell you when they’re about to die – both animals and humans do these things. Handy.
  23. Fremantle. Yoga, cafes, wine, diversity, markets… why would I live anywhere else? Every time I go into Freo I feel like I’m almost visiting another country, nostalgic feelings of those first few bright-eyed and bushy-tailed months in Auckland surface. Sure, the novelty will wear off but the village-like vibe is unique and comforting.
  24. The ‘Jesus Year’ is a thing. I’ve always thought that 33 is a big ‘coming of age’ year for men. This could be because, incidentally, I seem to have only ever dated 33 year olds but apparently, the Jesus Year is not just my anecdotal generalisations.

    According to Prof. Mitchell, the Jesus Year phenomenon demonstrates how so-called emerging adults are trying to connect their own experience to something transcendental and more profound than mundane daily life. “They are trying to anchor themselves in something bigger than themselves.” – The Vancouver Sun

  25. Sensation is different to feeling. I’m a fairly high sensory-seeking person (TOUCH ALL THE THINGS) and sometimes I have confused sensation with feeling in the past. Do I feel this with my heart or with my body? Hmmmmm. This is why I believe it may take those who work in industries such as sport, fitness, alcohol, drugs or any field where the objective is to change the way a person feels via some kind of hormonal response (endorphins, dopamine etc), a little longer to ‘settle down’. Learning the difference between feeling and sensation takes time.
  26. I miss the days when exercise was free. Yoga classes are way more pricey than well, uhhh, not paying for gym membership because you worked there… but doing yoga in a yoga studio is a much better practice (for me) than doing it in a gym.
  27. Trains are awesome. I rarely use my car to get to work (though that is about to change, ugh Canning Highway). When parking costs $14.50 per day, why would I not catch the train? Hello time to watch the ocean go by, read my book, listen to music, check emails and drink coffee.
  28. Redirect your mail and change your address when you move house. I had to pay the tax department $4k this year (silly human error in 2012). I was blithely ignorant to this fact until the debt collectors started phoning me. Oops! Turns out all the letters had been going to Wembley, an address I haven’t lived at since early 2014.
  29. It’s time… Not because I’m about to turn 30, not because that’s what expected of me, not because biological clock but because, I want to. Because I’ve had a bloody good shot at my 20’s with different careers, houses, countries, relationships and hell even a short-lived political career! Now there’s this new and unfamiliar feeling of peace and it feels good, so good.

So here’s to 30, the next decade and all it will bring. Merry Christmas folks.

Drinking: the very Australian foundation of our relationships.

My fridge, 1 August 2012.

My fridge, 1 August 2012.

Let it rain down! July, the month of sobriety has come to an end, welcome Wet August. Nowadays though, with the proliferation of booze-free charity initiatives, a third of the year could be dry: Parched March, Dry July, Ocsober and Remember December. The all-or-nothing sobriety movement is gaining momentum, the “straight edge” culture born out of the hardcore punk scene in the late 1970’s is growing and alcohol consumption per capita in Australia is at it’s lowest level (9.7L per year) since 1962-63 (though recent studies dispute this). But is our Australian culture of casual alcoholism really changing? Catching up for ‘a drink’ rarely means a soda water and, like our general approach to alcohol, ‘a drink’ is a very casual affair. Committing to a Tinder date that is more than a beverage risks enduring mind-numbingly boring dinner conversation or worse, “I don’t want to sound like a chauvinist but…” (true story).

The time seems ripe then to release a movie that addresses Australia’s casual alcoholism; Ruben Guthrie was released on July 16, a time when willpower starts to shake as the novelty of a month of sobriety wears off. Ruben Guthrie is an ad man, a party boy creative director who lives a charmed life fuelled by booze. After breaking his arm on a booze-fuelled bender, his model fiancee leaves him. If Ruben can do a year off the drink, she’ll give him another chance. The film is based on the experiences of its writer and director, Patrick Brammall and his year of sobriety. And whilst Ruben’s experiences are interesting, of greater interest is the response from his friends, parents and colleagues. Sobriety? Inconceivable, pushing the boundaries of social acceptability and decidedly damaging to Ruben’s creative edge in the opinion of his boss.

Ruben’s account, whilst fictional, rings true with my own experiences of advertising. At age 20 I started in my first ‘proper’ adult job, as account coordinator in an advertising agency in Perth where the booze fridge was well stocked (and then emptied every Friday). Moving to Auckland and starting at a large multinational agency, in-house alcohol consumption was commonplace EVERY DAY of the week – I remember well the Wednesday afternoons where I would sit with a glass of wine on my desk before scurrying off to a dance class at the gym (what a combination of highs!). And it wasn’t just alcohol; plenty of ‘creatives’ would disappear at lunch and come back a lot more ummm, relaxed.

The use of substances to enhance creativity is nothing new; drugs, alcohol, caffeine. Research has emerged that drinking (a little) at work can actually enhance creativity – the study determined that drinkers hit their ‘creative peak’ when their BAC (blood alcohol content) hits 0.075 per cent. Where there’s a niche, there’s quickly a product to fill it: say hello to The Problem Solver, a beer that makes it easier for drinkers to hit their creative peak. The tag line? “Finally, you can drink to solve problems.”

My creative peak? About 3 large glasses of wine spread over 2 hours.

My personal creative peak? About 3 large glasses of wine spread over 2 hours.

What problems? Who knows but hey, now you can drink to solve them because a beer slogan and #science legitimises alcohol’s self-medicating properties.

The correlation between solving problems and drinking is made fairly clear in a recent study published in the British Medical Journal; those who work more than 48 hours per week are more likely to drink to excess. Working between 49 and 54 hours per week increases the propensity for risky drinking by 13 percent, and working upward of 55 hours, by 12 percent.

“Drinking is a fast and easy way to shake off work. That’s where the problem comes,” said Cassandra Okechukwu, an assistant professor at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. “We have defined it and call it risky alcohol use. We aren’t paying as much attention to that as we pay to the definition of alcoholism. We need to pay more attention.” – Source: Australian Financial Review

This is not to say that we’re all drinking at horrendously excessive levels – only some of us are lawyers (JOKES, sorry lawyers).

Most of us, at some point, can admit to having a few too many. Hello hangover! And god, they get so much worse as we age – or maybe we just value the next day more than we did at age 18. Hangovers are rarely fun unless they’re shared, because it’s always nice having company to “roll over and have sex with”. Hangover sex, according to Cosmopolitan, is “the way forward” because understandably, it (temporarily) alleviates the horrible feeling of a hangover – though in a recent conversation, a girlfriend refuted this claim (“Sex is the LAST thing I want, bacon and eggs please!”). Each to their own.

Apart from the physical ills – headache, upset stomach, thirst, food aversion, nausea, diarrhoea, tremulousness, fatigue – there’s also the emotional turmoil of the morning after. Sometimes, despite making mostly good choices the night before, for some reason we tend to feel a bit shit about life. Can’t sleep despite being oh-so-tired yet not actually feeling physically ill? Low level anxiety. Irrationally doubting the interactions you had the night before? Same thing.

“When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. . . . You have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.” – Source: The New Yorker

To alleviate all these unfortunate side effects of alcohol there are a myriad of supposed hangover cures, from tripe-based soups in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Turkey and Greece to ‘hair of the dog’ – champagne breakfast anyone? All of these methods work on the principle of distraction, according to Canadian researcher Manuela Neuman – the effort required by the body to process these substances, distracts from the uncomfortable reality of the hangover. Us humans are pretty good at finding distractions and transferring the pain to another thing. Ruben Guthrie goes from near-alcoholism to near-nymphomania.

All the things that alter our feelings through changes in brain chemistry are attractive to most humans for whatever deep-seated reason; be it ingesting a substance (alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, caffeine) or through activity (exercise, yoga, sex, meditation). All of these things require something else – a substance, another person, a physically-able body – except meditation. Hence it would make sense after all, that to change the mind, we start with the mind instead of going about it in a roundabout kind of way. But as one of the young chaps on Australians On Drugs said during the live broadcast, “[Young people] are frustrated and on the weekends, they just want to go out and do something to make themselves feel good.” Band-aid solution much?! Emotional shit shovelling or making actual change in your world? That is hard fucking work, it takes commitment and time and Gen Y typically aren’t the most committed of generations. It is no wonder then, that Australians aged 15-19 have a daily alcohol consumption almost double (7.1 standard drinks) that of adults (4.3 standard drinks).

So do we have drinking problem here in Australia? That’s a sensitive question, one that we’re very uncomfortable talking about as a nation. Drinking is intrinsic to much of our socialising – new migrants moving to Australia are warned online that, “social drinking is a very important part of Australian culture” – but it doesn’t have to be. A quick Facebook poll of my friends found many non-drinkers; these people who chose sobriety for a variety of reasons, are ordinary, normal people. They just don’t drink alcohol. Like Ruben Guthrie, these friends who made a change in their drinking habits had faced disapproval from their friends and family. Whose problem is it really then?

Brendan Cowell of Ruben Guthrie (Spook Magazine).

Brendan Cowell, writer and director of Ruben Guthrie (Spook Magazine).

In defence of alcohol, good wine tastes amazing (I could quite happily give up all other types of alcohol) and can be a wonderful luxury to share with friends. But these days I’m buying half-bottles because, living in a house-share where we’re rarely at home together, if I open a bottle it usually spoils before I drink the rest of it. Because I value the next day too much now.

Alcohol, like most things, isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s how we consume it, how we revere it and how we abstain from it that matters. And just once in a while, let your inner 4 year old ask the question; “Why am I drinking?”

All things in moderation. Frequently. Go and see the movie.