My Epiphany

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a personal update on my blog, so here goes…

Where am I now?

I’m in Darwin, Australia. It’s my home base, my house is here and so are my kids, Wayne and Sasha (albeit they are adults. Well, most of the time!) and of course our dogs, Janie and Molly, who are two very spoilt pooches.

Janie - a faithful old friend
Janie – a faithful old friend

Since I got back, it’s been wonderful to sleep in my own bed, be with my family, see friends of 30+ years and to re-engage with the special places and people that make up ‘Territory’ life.

Things like gorgeous sunsets, noodles at Parap Markets on a Saturday morning, midnight swims in the pool to cool off on these terribly hot nights! Thank goodness for airconditioning is all I can say.

As much as I would love to return to Europe, at the moment that’s just not possible until probably later in 2016 – but that’s not far away! SO, I’ll definitely be in Darwin till February at least. If any of you are headed this way (to Australia), I’d love to see you!

There are very good reasons for staying put here in tropical Oz for the duration of the Northern Hemisphere winter – the obvious one is that I really do feel the cold – a lot! I hear from my friends in Spain and it’s pretty chilly at the moment. I think I prefer being hot to being cold.

Another reason, is that I have had a bit of an epiphany!!

My Epiphany
I’ve always been passionate about creating and maximising opportunities, which has stood me in good stead commercially for years and, I am very proud of the professional recognitions I’ve received.

Yet, I’ve always been more interested in helping people and that passion translated to making a real difference – more so since my breast cancer diagnosis some 18 years ago.  I give thanks everyday that I have been fortunate to survive thus far!

The diagnosis was the catalyst that led me to establish Dragons Abreast Australia, a national charity of 2000 members embracing the life-affirming, health promoting, benefits of dragon boat paddling for breast cancer survivors.

Maureen & Darryl Manzie, Marco Montenuovo, Lara Riva, Peter Hazelman & his lovely wife. Volunteer of th Year Awards 2014
Maureen & Darryl Manzie, Me, Marco Montenuovo, Lara Riva, Peter Hazelman & his lovely wife. Volunteer of the Year Awards 2011 where my Lifeline volunteers – Marco & Peter were recognised.

Since I stepped away from the day to day operations of Dragons Abreast, I’ve been involved with refugees and asylum seekers, teaching English as a Second Language, and, as CEO of Lifeline Top End, within the mental health arena.

I’ve always been able to juggle my not-for-profit work, travel and time zone variations, with that of my own business, Dragon Sisters. But I must confess that, like many who espouse an important cause, I’ve often left a great deal of Dragon Sisters work to my associates – frequently flitting off around the globe on some quest or cause.

Over the past 12 months, whilst I’ve been based in Europe, there’s been more and more people asking me for help. Help to enable them to create and maximise their own opportunities.

Working with so many different clients has also made me really aware of how simple it is for me to help people who want to help themselves.

The other week I received a lovely note from a client, it said, ‘thank you for being the angel sitting on my shoulder’. This really touched me and it meant a great deal to me, as you can imagine.

Regardless of whether I am engaged with charity work, working with clients half way across the globe or with one on one personal development coaching, mentoring and English teaching, I find that we are all in the same boat. We want to be empowered and effective at getting meaningful and positive outcomes. 

I also realised this is something I truly love doing! I love working with individuals towards achieving a better outcome either personally or in business. It really is my passion! But, in addition to being my passion, it’s something I am really good at. Yeah, I know, we’re all good at things we like. Simple really!

Over the last 8 years Dragon Sisters has developed strategies and resources to help people achieve what they want, or at the very least get them on the right pathway.  Everyone wants to realize their true and full potential, and that is my life and Dragon Sisters’ ethos.

The downside, for me personally, is that time is a massive constraint. There are only 24 hours in the day and, much as I’d love to, it’s simply not possible for me to help everyone. This frustrates me, because I know the strategies I teach  work. They are also not rocket science!

Soooo much of what Dragon Sisters has on hand has proven effective for so many (myself included), that I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great to parcel up those resources and make them more accessible and available to anyone who needs them?’  This was my epiphany moment!

Challenges of the Virtual World

Maybe I’m a slow learner, but I realised the way forward has to be via the virtual world.  It offers me the ability to share helpful techniques.

Given that I mostly work with clients scattered across 5 continents, one of the challenges has been coming up with a way of recreating face to face workshops and personal one on one sessions.

I’ve been forced to think outside the square, embrace new technology (big learning curve!) and to create new ways of presenting information.

Judging by the reaction to the first release – over 2,500 people engaged with this – means I’m definitely on track. I am extremely excited! If you want to take a peek it’s here.

As always, love your feedback here or via a personal email or note.

Michelle

MY CAMINO Part 4

When I said I was going on the Camino everyone told me that it would be life changing. From personal experience I can now say that the Camino forced me to slow down and provided the gift of time for myself. In my regular lives the chattering monkeys of my mind are rarely stilled as there are constant outside demands on my time and even through I might have the very best self-care strategies in place I never have a whole week or more to indulge just to my own personal reflections.

Symbol of the camino
Symbol of the camino

On the ‘way’ the only really pressing concerns are where is the next coffee shop/bar, will my feet hold up for another day and making sure we do not get lost. However getting lost is not a major concern and even the route markers seem relaxed. Yellow arrows and the symbol of the shell are placed haphazardly, but always in the right direction, on items that range from stone fences, the road, house walls, gates, trees, and more.  Some are really easy to see, others are more faded and almost hidden, but they are there. Worst case just wait  a few moments and someone else will come walking along and together you continue. There are also the occasional marker stones counting down the kilometers and as my feet grew wearier these become a sight to look forward to – some come decorated with evidence of past walker with blown out shoes.

blown out shoe
A marker stone complete with blown out shoe

The Camino trek sees us traverse ‘undulating’ hills (well that is what we were told but some are more like great BIG hills and then we had to get down the other side too!), beautiful shaded wooded trails and across streams.  It is very rural, farming country complete with wafting farmyard aroma in certain spots.  We share the track with plenty of cattle, a few horses, ducks and more.

Some of the villages and tiny churches date back to medieval times and the yellow markers of the way lead us down cobblestone paths right through farm yards and past front doors and open windows from which locals pleasantly wave and wish us buen camino. The Camino is most definitely not commercial and those who live along the route genuinely welcome the perigrinos and we do not feel like intruders in their lives. Then again this has been happening for thousands of years so it is no doubt just a part of their lives.

Michelle

Success

Success – what does it mean? Different things to different people and I suppose the most common myth is that those with the trappings of wealth, status or fame are successful – at least this is what the media would have us all believing. But these are purely external – it is what the world sees on the outside.

Success and happiness do not go hand in hand. Often individuals push themselves so hard to achieve more in terms of material wealth and status that they forget to stop and enjoy what they have already achieved. There is then a very real risk of losing the most precious commodities of health and family.

In my eyes you are a success when you are happy. Now this may sound a bit strange to some but based on my personal experience I believe this is absolutely the case.

To qualify I am talking about being in the here and now and accepting that you are achieving what you want as opposed to what everyone is considering or thinking is appropriate. We must accept that it is only ourselves that are responsible for how we feel. It does take some time and work to actually have the skills and experiences in life to come to a place where we are able to “live in the moment” – believe me I speak from personal experience.

Living in the moment means taking the time to enjoy what are often the very simple pleasures of life – for me, because I am single and pressed for time due to my heavy work schedule, this means things that are also never-ending chores. The lawn mowing and dump run are weekly occurences that become my opportunities for embracing the moments.  I relish the exercise and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the cut grass whilst my nostrils are tickled and my senses stimulated by the fresh scent of freshly mowed lawn.

Similarly when I walk Janie (the dog) I enjoy allowing my mind to wander where it chooses, as I take the time to appreciate the cool of the early morning, watching the birds dart about as they chirp enthusiastically to each other as they too greet the dawning of a new day.

The alternative to enjoying these moments would be to see them as chores and a burden. It is my choice that these are pleasure moments and therefore I am a success.

Love to hear your thoughts …..

Michelle

Self Care

Self care – taking care of number one – me! This is not something that comes easily but is absolutely essential for both personal and professional wellbeing. In fact, the more senior the role the more important to have a self care strategy in place as in today’s electronic age it is too easy to always be ‘on’ with the expectation that emails are checked and mobile phones answered at all times.

At management level we are faced with tough decision making and coping with the heavy demands that go with expectations of senior roles which frequently includes a tightened budget that often means less human resources to tackle tasks which leads to longer hours. It is easy to become bogged down with a heavy work load and forget to make time to smell the roses.

Having a self care plan in place is essential to maintaining wellbeing. For me it means setting boundaries which include:

  • Only a few people have my personal mobile number and that is the only one which I answer once I sign off for the day
  • I try to take an early morning walk each day – this is my thinking time as well as an opportunity to repeat affirmations and connect with nature.
  • If I happen to sleep in (and that’s okay too) I still take the time for affirmations that set me up for the day
  • On a regular basis I book out for a couple of hours of ‘me time’- no friends, no family – just me!
  • About every 6 weeks I allow myself a couple of day where I just do what I want to do as opposed to what I have to do. This usually involves sleeping in late, sitting around in my pj’s reading, meeting good friends, eating what I want and when I feel like it.

Self care techniques need to be embedded into our working lives and it is worth spending a little time thinking about which strategies work best for you.  We are all different and there is no one size fits all but the one thing that is common to us all is the fact that unless we practise self care we will not thrive and function at optimum levels. Learning to say no is also a very large part of successful self care. I will be expanding on this and other aspects of self care in further articles.

Love to hear what kind of self care techniques others are using….

Michelle

MY CAMINO Part 2

All walkers are issued with a Credencial which is like a passport into which perigrinos need to collect two sellos (stamps) per day to verify one has walked the minimum of 100kms to qualify for the Compostela which is th certificate issued on reaching Santiago de Compostela.

Sellos are issued in all kinds of places from cafes to churches with each being quite unique. Some individually go quite mad collecting the various sellos with it becoming a bit of a competition to see who can collect the most.

The most memorable sellos I collected was at the monestry in Samos which was founded in the 6th century.

Walking in single file along a very narrow, lush and verdant trail through the woods on a somewhat overgrown, muddy path flanked on the left by a crystal clear running river we emerged to the impressive rear view of the imposing monestry which dominated the landscape.

20130529_193144 20130529_185350 20130529_182036Following our guides Andres and Simon – more about them in a later blog – we entered the monestry ready for our official guided tour.

The tour was all in Spanish and we understood not a word but it was worth paying the adminission for the tour just to get inside the cloisters and see the treasurers of the church which included impressive books.

The inscription about the library door read ” A cloister without a library is like a castle without an armory.”

The monk who stamped my credencil , spoke only Spanish but was extremely forward and had clearly been imbiling a little too much of the liquor for which the Benedictines were famous!

In fact the monestry caught fire twice during its history as, according to the story we were told, the stills exploded and caused considerable damage. There is a gallery of pictures in the cloisters that tells the story of the fire.

Today, they no longer make Benedictine but it was for sale in the gift shop. Our monk was no doubt doing some quality control to ensure it was up to scratch or perhaps he was trying to keep warm as those old stone walls are definitely very chilly?

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MY CAMINO Part 1

It’s been a while coming and so many of you have been asking when I am going to put up my Camino blog – you have been very patient! To tell the truth it has been hard trying to put it all into words and decided how I should write the story about such an incredible experience.

Hobbit trails, magic places, celtic mysticism, stone crosses, white rabbits, ancient trees with secrets to tell, rushing streams and gorgeous wildflowers are just a small part of walking the Camino.

This is a unique journey on a mental, physical and spiritual level. The paths have been travelled for centuries and it is easy to picture what it was like in those bygone days.

 So what kind of individuals tackle the Camino de Santiago?

All kinds –  from all walks of life – just like our recent group of Dragon Sisters who comprised individuals whose age ranges were between 52 and 75 with the vast majority in their mid sixties.

Religious beliefs ranged from atheist, agnostics, Protestants and Roman Catholic. We were drawn from two sides of the globe – Australia and Canada – with very different upbringings and beliefs. Some knew each other and for others it was the first time they were meeting. I was the only one who had met everyone before.

The common denominator was a spirit for adventure.

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As I meandered along I did, fleetingly, wonder did one need to be of a certain age to appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of nature that lined the route?

Definitely this was not the case as the peregrinos (pilgrims) were  all ages and each seemed to appreciate the beauty by which they were surrounded although our younger friends were only walking about 15km a day compared with our longer distances.

Susanna, a pretty blond 24-year-old, German lawyer commented “I don’t mean to say that you are old but old people are so strong! Much stronger than me.”  Definitely a back-handed compliment from Susanna who was walking alone to fulfil a vow that she would undertake the Camino pilgrimage if she passed her bar exams. Her worried mother had insisted on pre-book all accommodation and a nightly check in but as Susanna progressed along her walk everyone back home in Germany had become reassured that the Camino was safe.

The Camino felt very safe, a complete contrast to most other places where women often need to be careful of where we walk especially if alone.

I must admit I was rather surprised to encounter so many young people, including several Japanese and South Korean university graduates walking and cycling the Camino.

Everyone looked out for one another, offering to freely share supplies of band aids, painkillers, anti-inflammatories and offered advice on how best to deal with sore feet and tired muscles – but more about those in following instalments.

Michelle

Looking back and looking forward

I started this piece at the end of December as I reflected back over the year and as we approach the end of the first month of 2013, I finally have got around to popping it on my blog! 2012 was an amazing year which took me all over the place, not to mention well out of my comfort zone but it was always a great new learning experience – I cannot believe it flew past so fast. Grandma Lucy was right, time does go so much faster as you get older. I remember her with great fondness – seems like only a few years ago we were all watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in her little sitting room in Green Hammerton. How much the world has changed since then! That fuzzy black and white image on the TV was considered very high tech – now we have instant access to just about everything – and it’s not that many years really!

The world is changing so fast and so is my life but I have been very fortunate in 2012 and although there have been difficult times I choose to focus on the highlights instead. The Year of the Dragon was packed with land mark occasions and events which included Sasha’s 18th birthday and flying the nest to move to Bond University, Wayne’s move to Melbourne, my role as campaign manager for Katrina Fong Lim in her (highly successful) bid to become Darwin’s Lord Mayor, the AusDBF National Championships at Docklands – a memorable affair for all the wrong reasons, my first trip to Bali which I enjoyed courtesy of winning the prize at the Government House Ball the previous year, with my good friends Denise Lynn and Bonita Fong, my taking up Italian lessons, working with TESOL students, Yvonne’s 50th birthday and my contract at Lifeline Top End.

One of the things I am looking forward to most in 2013 is the chance to walk 100km of the Camino – it has been on my radar for a few years now and this is the year it will happen!  I am not a Catholic but have had quite an exposure to the various religions through a childhood spent in many different countries, making life-long friends with those of differing faiths and of course one of those locations was the ‘Holy Land’  Jerusalem so it will be interesting to see another other side of this faith. It will also be a great holiday that involves exercise as well as an opportunity to see the countryside at a leisurely pace (no boot camp foot-slogging for me!) and the luxury of being able to meander not just physically but allowing my mind to wander wherever it might take me; generally an opportunity for prolific new ideas to pop into my head.

It’s by having this kind of break to look forward to that I am able to better cope with the challenges that I face on a regular basis – we all need ‘me time’ and the fact that I will be sharing this time with other Dragon Sisters – some of whom have become good friends over the years – makes it all the more enjoyable. A perfect balance of work and pleasure.