Life Notes

Life Sabbaticals

Sabbatical is a term usually reserved for teachers. It's a year's paid leave while they travel and/ or take on further study. Seven years of work usually equates to year away. The purpose of sabbaticals is for teachers to come back to their vocation enriched with experiences to share.

It's quite the opposite of sipping daiquiris by a pool in Bali or mindlessly dedicating a year to binge watch television. It's considered time away for proper life experiences that can assist in shaping the next phase of life and work.

Put simply, it's an investment in the teacher.

Sabbaticals shouldn't just be reserved for those in the teaching field. There should be large chapters of our lives where we can have significant time away from the daily grind no matter what profession we're in.

I like to call them Life Sabbaticals. It's a decision made by you, for you. A decision that doesn't rest on the job you have.

In a Life Sabbatical you turn your life's timeline on its ear. You, running your life on your watch and nobody else's. A year designed of your own choices.

You may be thinking, well this isn't an ideal world, my job won't ever pay me to take a year off to travel. Having a year of nothing on my CV doesn't look good for my next employer. I have bills to pay, responsibilities to think about like my bullsh** mortgage.

Or you may be thinking, that's not normal.

True. It's not normal. And quite easily all your friends have never made these kinds of choices so you're weird for even thinking about it. You may even be feeling guilty. Or there was that one friend that had the balls to pack up and split. You see all their remarkable world travels or philosophical insights on Instagram and it makes you envious and nervous at the same time.

But if the idea also excites you, even just by an ounce, wouldn't you at the very least entertain the idea of making it happen? To draw out a plan to make it feasible?

What if you chose to factor in this time away for yourself so that you're not at mercy to the requirements that you think your life, society or your job demands of you?

Or took smaller steps. Initially taking three or six months away?

There's wonderful examples of people that have staked their claim on their own time line. There's a family member, at age 50, that took time away to dedicate her full attention to the romantic novel she always wanted to write. A grand departure of her former life, and she thanked herself for it. Now she's looking into literary agents and publishers.

Then there's an old colleague in my world of TV who took a year away to the United States to explore other careers. He got a broad scope of what was out there, returned to his old job and eventually transitioned into another role that still included his knowledge and experience of the entertainment industry.

There's friends that have become dissatisfied with their former jobs and are now looking for something more fulfilling. They've had the courage to step away from their old life, to investigate inward and taken a lateral approach to explore what's out there. Most importantly, the simple thought is to get back to what makes them happy. And to see those joys turned into a life and business of their choosing.

These are exactly the kinds of results that come from  dedicating huge periods of time to yourself.

At the very least, after a life sabbatical you've expanded in some way.

And your evolvement is grander than anything else you could have ever imagined.

Why I don't tell my friends to meditate

I was in group meditation some time ago when a teacher advised us not to tell our friends to meditate. His contention, people won’t be responsive.

There’s truth in that. People generally aren’t. I’ve tried it before with friends and family that have suffered a great deal. Their internal dialogue is helpless, angry, desperate or bitter. They see no way out. I’ve even offered to pay for sessions in hope that it would help and it’s generally not welcome.

Seeing people in their predicament is like watching a tense game show where the answer is so obvious to the audience (therefore, all of planet Earth) but not to the person under the pump for the cash prize. I want to yell from the bleachers, "Meditation! It's Meditation dammit!!!"  Then go back to my zen state.

I’ve not taken their reluctance personally. Rather, empathetically I realised that (of course) suggesting something that is so out of the ordinary would be naturally rejected.

Imagine someone’s life being extremely busy with periods of stress, worries and at times, suffering. For a meditator reading this, that was likely your life before you meditated. That was mine.

What we usually hear from those who are distressed is a yearning of "what used to be" or "better days" that are well behind them. Sometimes they're convinced their situation is permanent. Or they're waiting on something out there in the future that will make them happy, like a new relationship, a better job. Which helps by the way, but its not everything.

To then suggest time to sit quietly is a too much of a contrast. Too frightening. Too foreign. Passive, even.

It's usually the big things like trauma, depression, anxiety, huge life or career transitions that make them seek change. Meditation is illuminated to them when they see no other solution to escape their stressed-out minds.

What's most important is to realise that the option to meditate has to be theirs. An autonomous one. 

It’s only then, that I’ve found that the idea of mindfulness or meditation is a welcome conversation. Yet even so, our teacher suggested to discuss very little, to allow it to be a person’s own exploration, their discovery.

Just being the result of meditation is example enough. Being improved-from-your-old-self and perhaps a distinctively different person to many others in your loved one's orbit may make them curious to meditate.

I wrestled with this idea for a good year or so and now I'm convinced it's the best thing to do. Yet the goodwill to help and elevate people closest to me seems a responsibility I can't shake. Perhaps just compassionately listening, patiently being in one's company and not echoing their fears and doubts is enough.

I may still guide them to a helpful and autonomous decision. Hopefully meditation is one of them.

Who are the old champions of your self-worth?

I part took in an exercise from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way*. This exercise required me to dig through my memory bank and find people who may have seen something in me that I didn't, those who encouraged my interests or natural aptitude. In short - I had to find those people who backed me with whole confidence. The beauty of this exercise is that we can quickly realise that these people have helped us beyond the time we've known them. Their confidence in us has actually laid a permanent place in our lifelong development of not only giving us a wider view on life, but on being a better person. And it always comes from their kindness.

The added benefit of this is that during lowly times, when our confidence is knocked, when we're looking for some respite from negative thoughts, we can turn to these old champions in our minds to inspire us again.

The ultimate champion - Ms. Jill Barker

In this exercise I cited my Year 12 English teacher, Jill Barker. English had never been my strength in school (I'm sure you can pick out errors in the way that I blog). The final year of high school saw a tremendous upswing in grades only because I gave extra attention to it.

I did away with being intimidated and overwhelmed and tackled text in ways I never had before. It meant less indulging in TV and music and more time dedicated to reading all the prescibed novels across the Summer ahead of the school year. It meant being curious and participating in class discussions where I had to swallow my pride and be prepared to be wrong.

What I found were potent universal themes in the books we studied. One in particular, David Malouf's Fly Away Peter, beautifully embraced the theme of mortality - a topic I've always been fixated on since the passing of my father as a child. And there was Ms. Barker guiding our young minds through it all with all her grace, intelligence and positive reinforcement.

Yes, I had to show up and do the work. This was coupled with her flawless manner. Her teaching was gentle, yet effective. She didn't have to yell to command respect in the class room. She wasn't patronising. I think what was most important is that she treated us like women instead of girls. You wanted to be a good student of hers. You wanted to do your best. The feeling in every class was always warm and supportive. The result? Top grades for all.

At the end of the school year Ms. Barker wrote a poem - a line dedicated to each student.

"I love Faustina to the ends of her every curl..."

To this day, this has been the kindest words ever said to me.

The year long experience still sits on my bones. And the lessons learnt in that class room still act like a slow release or a late bloom - purposefully designed to only be understood as we grow older and embrace the enormity of life.

I have no doubt that I'll keep being taught these lessons, these epiphanies from that time til the day I breathe my last breath.

These old champions of self worth, they're real treasures to hold onto.

 

*I'm down for borrowing books over purchasing them. We pay for them with our taxes.

Library Resources:

Los Angeles Public Library

New York Public Library

The British Library

State Library of Victoria

State Library of New South Wales

The importance of using our feelings

Our feelings hold a large significance on how we make decisions. Though it's something that we don't exercise enough.

Instead, our senses are dulled. We're distracted. We're driven by our thoughts - which for most people are largely based on assumptions rather than fact. We're also humans that are bound by imagined obligation.

Getting back to our feelings can give us remarkable insight on how we live and what's truly important to us.

When we take notice, we may call into question many parts of our lives, jobs, friendships and our personal and professional relationships.

The ultimate reward - we spend less time pleasing others. We give more attention on our unique interests and the parts of our lives that bring us fulfilment.

Complaint < Solution

We can complain all we want. Vent all we want. It can alleviate stress, but what's ultimate is that we're  looking for solutions.

There's a solution in every complaint. Think about what you're saying and how you can make the situation better. Or look to that golden friend, a mentor, an advisor to break it down for you.

Failure

Failure is so common I wonder why we're so ashamed of it. I have a few ideas - the most prominent of ideas would be the very fact that we've been conditioned to think this way for quite some time. A lot of us had at least a good 12 years of this in our education system. We were raised to think that the only way to do well was to score highly, win, achieve. Basically, we were taught to not screw up. 

So when we enter the world beyond school, failure is much tougher to deal with.

When we reflect on our lives as objectively as we can, we are able see that life has been wonderfully and not so wonderfully coloured with failures.

We've all had them. Public failures, professional failures, various false starts and personal failures. So what can we learn from this?

What if there was a better way of looking at our failures? To do away with shame, to diminish ignorance and still mindfully acknowledge what went on? What if we looked at our failures with a bit of compassion and with all the esteem we can muster?

I think then we'll see that those failures were so necessary.

Lessons.

And a set up for something better.

I'd go so far as to say that life is the sum of many failures and few successes. And it's all rather glorious.

Don't wait on anyone, just keep working

My cousins invest in property. A brother and sister pairing with a portfolio of homes across the UK. When they're close to signing off on a deal they're researching the next opportunity. Their logic - if the pending deal falls through they're onto the next one. This should apply to anything we take on.

Don't wait for permission. Don't ask for permission. Just keep working.

Client or Partner?

All professional unions are about a shared idea. Which is better? Client or Partner?

Simple choice of words. Significant difference in action.

Client rests responsibility (almost entirely) to the work of another. Blind trust that usually ends in disappointment

Partnership carries an expectation that everyone is accountable. It builds a stronger bond. Then there’s the greater likelihood of the desired outcome.

Getting fit + eating

My cousin, Faruk is a personal trainer. I was going through one of those phases of getting back into regular practice.

My concern surrounded an orthodox approach to eating coupled with regular exercise. I can mostly do the 'regular exercise part' - but the eating?

Really?

Whatever fad is around is truly what it is - a huge overhaul with unrealistic expectations that just don't really stick. Well, not entirely.

Faruk's response -  "You've got to enjoy life" 

Of course there's responsibility of portions and the allowance of occasional indulgences.

But this means pressure is instantly off. Motivation to give it your all, ON.

A handful of hours

There's someone you know who's looking to connect with people - and you know them. You like their work, you see there will be mutual respect. A moment of your time is all that's required. And what of a whole web of people you know? What's a  handful of hours to make the connection? Good, talented people should stick together.

The motivation to meditate

I liken starting meditation to working out.

You know, we hit that boot camp a few months out of the Wedding Day. Get fit for Sydney to Surf, Pier to Pub, Tough Mudder. The first month of training is brutal, then we push past our personal best, hit turbo, collect all the praise from our peers on our changing appearance like a coin collecting Super Mario, smash the event and social media the crap out of it.

Then what happens is we hit regular Joe again. More pizzas on the couch, less time pounding the pavement, cause... meh...

I think I've worked out the reason why we do this. It's because we anchor our purpose on events rather than just doing it for ourselves.

The same can be said of meditation. A lot of people are drawn to meditation to manage stress, get more energy, be more productive at work, to silence those not so helpful thoughts. And there's also the lure to raise one’s IQ. All this is great but they are all natural by-products of meditation. Pretty awesome ones at that.

The real reason why we should be motivated to meditate is because we deserve time for calm, mindful rest at least once a day. All that other stuff will just happen because of it. A win/win.

Why is this important? Because if we’re just goal orientated or attracted to novelty then in time, we can easily run out of steam. We should just be enough.

So imagine a type of living where there weren’t things to chase. Where those events still happen in our lives but they’re just all part of a longer timeline where we aren’t driven to arrive anywhere in particular.

When I first thought about this it made sense and at the same time it didn’t. I was worried. A woman who thrived on goals, I thought all of a sudden I wouldn’t be committed. Put into practice, however, I’ve never been so committed to my health and wellbeing in my entire life. Because of it, this has been my best year yet.

We may not get to pro athlete level or enlightened Buddha, nor should we expect to work to such extremes. (If you’re a pro athlete reading this, keep doing what you do...) Heck, if we get there, great. But what we really should be doing is hitting our personal best at all times with a healthy dose of keeping it real.

Take that time out, away from the busy day to day and be still. Yes, it takes discipline. I’d rather discipline over Regular Joe. Cause Regular Joe is boring. More and more that good voice in your head gets louder and we start treating ourselves in the best possible way in all areas of life because of it.

A clever way to approach education

Recently I was asked to attend my High School's mentorship breakfast for the current Year 12/VCE Students. In my absence I thought I'd send them a letter as a guide on how best to approach their year. Figured I should also share here. Original title "A Clever Way to Approach Year 12"

Dear Year 12,

Here’s my mentorship in three basic points. A clever and mindful approach to Year 12. Something for you to keep, share online, stick in a folder or on your bedroom wall.

1. Choose the people in your orbit wisely. This extends to mentors and study friends. Make sure they're aligned with what you’re after. If they’re a tutor, how relevant are they to your current curriculum? Were they a star student? Can they teach as well as they smash exams? If they’re just a straight up mentor, do they embolden your life in anyway? Are they generous with information? Do they have a positive outlook? Do you? You should and they should.

In line with the great teachers I had in Year 12, I was regularly tutored by a previous Dux for three of my five VCE subjects. My study friends weren’t regular friends in Year 12 - we just came together to learn from our shared tutor and to regularly quiz one another.

Mentorship can take many forms. For example, if I was in your position today I’d couple my studies with inspiration from blogs like Brain Pickings, magazines and websites like Fast Company, Dumbo Feather, Monocle and The Renegade Collective.

2. Get ahead. This works in two parts. 1. Get ahead before the class arrives at the subject material and 2. Get ahead with revision long before being examined.

That means read chapters (ideally one or two) on each subject ahead of time. Read all your English books before the class arrives at them.

Regularly revise and test your memory on what you've learnt each day. Sit practice exams in your own time. By the time your exams come around you’ve mastered all you’re required to know.

Using this advice was a boon for me. I turned getting D’s, C’s and the occasional E to straight A’s. I wasn’t naturally gifted in the way the education system assesses students. I’m not a quick study. Getting ahead and being across the material more times than what was “normal” or “expected” was the only way I could excel.

3. Work to 80% energy. You read it right. Working to 80% of your energy levels is not a B. It’s an A+. It means you work smarter. It’s not to be confused with not putting in all/100% of your effort. And it doesn’t mean you’re slacking off. You still should put in 100% effort. The only difference is that you’d be taking Year 12 with a better state of mind compared to being overtired and unnecessarily stressed. When you work to 80% of your energy levels, you don’t burn out. Your mind is clearer, you’re more prepared and organised. You schedule realistic times to study, rest, exercise, enjoy your life and you give yourself adequate sleep.

Keep these ideas. Share them.

Let this year be a defining year for all the right reasons.

Wishing you all the best,

Faustina Agolley

Receiving a 'No'

Receiving a 'no' is not for you to dwell on, only for the fact that it's a good thing. It's an opportunity to think differently and to navigate you towards the right yeses.

Conversations, especially with new people

Requires your full attention.  On them. A necessity for you to be a deep listener. To be friendly, compassionate as well as discerning.

And where appropriate, a giver of ideas.

Obvious. But why do we need reminding?

Think of the times you weren't. You dwelled on your own issues.

It's not for the first encounter. Unless they were a new found therapist. Or a rare connection when someone finally "got you" and offered up constructive help.

Be on your best form. If not - reschedule.

Is your home life harmonious?

In an ideal world you wouldn't be able to name a single friend, family member or acquaintance that hasn't been subject to abuse. And you wouldn't have to name yourself. 

The stat is 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men.

Domestic abuse, violence against women and men be it in straight or same sex relationships is a sad societal norm still void of obvious mainstream support.

Think of how the mere talk of common mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety was handled a good 10 years ago. Heck, even a good 5 years ago. It began with ignorance then reeked of taboo before given the mindfulness it deserved. 
 
Usually, those who are subjected to abuse think that there's there's no possible alternative or support. They're diminished of their self worth and paralysed by fear.  
 

Physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial. It's all abuse. 

If this is you, you have rights.

And thank goodness the conversation is changing. 
 
Look at the army that's behind you. 
 
Resources:
 
Police or Ambulance, in an emergency - 000 
 

V Day 1 Billion Rising Campaign 

Translating and Interpreting Service - 131 450

Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Centre – 1800 015 188

Centre Against Sexual Assault – 1800 806 292

1800 RESPECT – 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line 1800 737 732 (1800respect.org.au)

Life Line – 131 114

Kids Help Line – 1800 551 800

Women’s Legal Service Victoria – 03 9642 0877 (metro)/ 1800 133 302 (country)

inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence – Freecall 1800 755 988 or 03 9413 6500

National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline - 1800 880 052

Men’s Referral Service – 1800 065 973

Mensline - 1300 78 99 78

Give away the stuff you don't use

Last year I gave 4 car loads of my stuff away. Stuff I didn’t need. Stuff I hadn’t touched in years. And it all started because of a Star Wars book.  I was in conversation with David (AKA Artist, Ghostpatrol) and I noticed his book on Star Wars figurines sitting on his studio table. David told me that he used to collect figurines, he had a lot of them in his studio but over time they were going unused. Sitting there, collecting dust.

So he decided to give most of them away to kids who would appreciate them.

David’s logic: things you own are meant to be used, not admired like trophies. 

Owning the book meant that David had “every figurine”. A book he constantly refers to.

Books can be like that. I remember when I lived in Sydney I’d hold onto books that I didn’t regularly read. Or bought and had not read. They would sit on a bookcase, collecting dust, becoming trophies.

I went to my storage space. Transitioning overseas, not knowing when I will personally settle in Australia again means my stuff is locked away in boxes.

I went through everything. I found those darn trophy books, clothes, shoes, games, albums. Things I had forgotten I’d owned. Things I know I wouldn’t use once I had an Australian base again.

Then I went to my old bedroom at my mother’s house, same thing. I dug out a tonne of stuff that I knew would be of value to someone else. Shredded paperwork I didn’t need.

I do the regular clean out, but I hadn't at this level. David's words ran deep.

Finding happiness with work

I love when people talk about their work and their eyes light up. I usually hear that it doesn’t feel like a job, they’re happy because they’re doing what they love.

On the flip side, I have empathy for those who feel uninspired, tired and are looking for ‘the next thing’ but aren’t sure how to get there.

In Roman Krznaric’s book, How Should We Live? he explores many ideas about life including love, travel, time and how humans have valued these ideas throughout history.

On the topic of work he compares our freedoms to that of the industrial revolution – which, let’s face it, would have sucked to have been a worker then – implying that now is a greater time than ever to do what we want.

He writes, “… the history of work suggests we can find careers that not only embody our values, but have meaningful goals, give us a sense of respect and use our talents. Some, if not all these, may be within your reach, offering you a job that is big enough for your spirit.”

Krznaric’s goes on to talk about living a polymathic life and gives the example of Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) who was an author, architect, poet, linguist, cryptographer, philosopher and musician.

Alberti hung out with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The man rolled deep. Michelangelo was renowned for encouraging people to put their range of talents to full use. Inspired by his peers no less.

A life of work could mean doing a lot of things.

Today we call these people slashies. And it usually comes with a huge serve of eye rolling.

Should we really believe that people have only one talent important enough to pursue as a lifelong career?

That was a rhetorical question.

I think, at least to some degree, this type of reaction stems from a fear of trying new things, both in work and life.

Perhaps other people’s responses are simply a nervous reaction of them not ever wanting to be in that position. Personalising. That they have life “set”. For good. And so should you.

Yes to trying new things! Even if you don’t make money off the new things, perhaps not at the beginning, at least you get to explore what may truly be a spark. And who says that you can’t start over again… and again?

One of my favourite people I’ve ever interviewed is Owe Sandström. Owe is known in pop culture for having designed the costumes for ABBA in their hey day. ABBA’s costumes are so treasured they’re protected by Sweden’s National Archive.

Owe just so happens to also be a Zoologist and Biologist.

When I met Owe in his home studio, his fashion career was well behind him. He spoke with such joy about his morning on the farm collecting eggs for his breakfast.  And after his very passionate interview about his work with ABBA, he told me he was off to a University to guest lecture about sustainability on behalf of the World Wildlife Foundation.

My face hurt from smiling so much in his presence. He was genuinely living life to the fullest.

Back to Roman Krznaric. Krznaric cited a great Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in How Should We Live:

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments the better. What if they are a little coarse, and you may get your coat soiled and torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble” 

Listening to: Duke Dumont – I Got U feat. Jax JonesThe Giver and the gentle hum of home appliances and the distant mumble of my friend in another room practicing lines for a television pilot.

Networking

Sometime in 2014 I contributed to a Q&A for The Broad Side. A website about women in broadcast.

How do you build your contacts and maintain a great relationship with them? Has this helped you get from step to step in your career?

This is an interesting question “Building contacts” or “Networking” really doesn’t have to be gross if you’re well meaning. I used to think it was schmarmy, even though I was naturally doing it anyway. For me it’s just being curious. And I’m always asking myself, “how can I help you?”, rather than asking “how can you help me?”.

If I went about my life and therefore my career thinking how every interaction with others could allow me to take a step forward in my career I would be a very different person with a very narrow set of friends and it would limit who I’d be open to. There’s a terrific book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. The main guts of it is being generous to others. And generosity to me means giving without conditions or expectations. So therefore I find the second part of the question a tough one to answer cause I don’t see it all that way entirely. Naturally, work begets work.

Perhaps this is an overused word, to the point that for some it may have lost its meaning but I like to think I build my relationships organically. By that I mean I’m not too crazy for making a bee line towards an Executive Producer or and Chief Programmer of a company and forcing a relationship with them, it can come across as quite desperate.

There’s many ways I connect with people – there’s the obvious, reaching out to people blindly via email, a phone call or a hand written letter to ask for a general chat over coffee or a meal; meetings set up via one’s respective agents; connecting with people via social media or just from staying open in social gatherings or links through friends.

Some people I get along with swimmingly, other’s not so much. That’s just life.

Socially, I like to talk to people about them, beyond the titles that sit next to their names. I love to talk to them about and their passions. A lot of people can be really put off if you just ask them about their work because for many of us our work doesn’t define us, and then we feel boxed in. I know I’d feel that way if I’m only asked about hosting and music. I think the key to all this is being a bloody good listener. So many people aren’t. I think being a good listener in conversations is where the respect lies. That’s when you get to heart of people, and you can assess their character and if they’re the kind of person you’d like to be in your orbit.

One of the main frameworks I use in meetings, general chats, especially those that are initiated by me or set up through an agency is by using the scale of abstraction or mountaintop theory. It’s keeping conversations at an ideas level – top of the mountain – because that’s where people are likely to understand one another. If you’re too specific, too detailed (bottom of the mountain conversation) that’s where you lose people.

The other thing I like to do is not revere people. I think it can undo you in conversation and you enter the meeting with an apology in your body as if you’re not worthy of sharing time with them. The meeting is set up so speak as equals  and talk ideas. I’m naturally optimistic so I keep it positive too and try and keep my off days at bay.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Listening to: Nature and traffic.