unsettled contentment

The Brunswick East Project is out the back door of our place in Brunswick. With workshops at CERES last week and this, I’ve loved having my morning coffee here again. It is as close to home as a café has ever felt for me, because I regularly run into people I know and we exchange local banter.

But it is an unsettling familiarity. Because the nearby house that was home for 20 years is not anymore. But I still cooked and had dinner there last night with Heidi and Rachel. This is a “Melbourne’ week for me. That means I get up on the Sunshine Coast at rude o’clock on Tuesday morning, fight the 5:30am peak hour traffic on the Bruce Highway and settle into 5A on VA314.

I’m still getting used to the evening work and sleeping routine at Roslin, but it’s going OK. After being home in our ‘pinch yourself’ apartment in Caloundra for the weekend, the familiar routines of living and working in Port Moresby will kick in next week.


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I’ve had blog paralysis this year. Too much emotional and mental processing to express anything cohesive. But I figure I’d start with some scattered thoughts and see how we go. Turns out I’m finishing this blog at Edge Expresso Bar. Great weekend morning vibe and the familiar taste of Di Bella coffee. (The Coffee Roasting Warehouse roasts Di Bella Coffee, a regular lunch spot near our office in Melbourne)

In a minute I’ll wander back home, cook some breakfast with Maria and Poss, then we’ll load up Pat and go a for meandering drive north through Coolum and maybe up to Noosa. Tomorrow, Poss has a few friends coming over and they’ll wander through the market. Then I’m up early Monday to spend the week in Moresby. Extraordinary variety, amazing pleasure, interesting and good work.

how sweet it is …

Happy Australia Day. Is that what we’re supposed to say? Anyway, yesterday was full of Aussie cliché’s for me:


The sun was out. I laid in the hammock and listened to music while Maria read in the sun. We rode our bikes along Merri Creek and enjoyed the smell of gum trees. We watched the tennis. I barbecued lamb and wrapped it with tabouli and tzatziki. I walked around the house with my shirt off  (sorry … bad image). It was a great day.

The music I was listening to wasn’t Australian though. I was immersed in the soulful lyrics of British Dido. One of her tunes is the best articulation of contentment I have heard.

“just this life, i need no other

just this day, i need no more

just this moment, let it all stop here

let it all stop here, i’ve had my fill.”

This land is often referred to as the lucky country. Cliché? Yep. True? You betya. We are blessed with extraordinary lifestyle opportunities and freedoms. But maybe I’m really just thankful that in this lucky country I feel like a lucky bloke. So much to live for. So much goodness and beauty around me.

And yet life is fragile. Hence my resonance with Dido’s wisdom. Just this life. I’d had my fill.

I’ve written before about the happy tension between ambition and contentment. Dido helps me. Whatever I wish for. Whatever I slave my guts out to achieve. Whatever I hope for in the world, and my world … if I don’t have anything past today … I’ve had my fill.

May your Australia Day be fill you up.

ambition, contentment & agility

Business leadership is relentlessly demanding. You can never do enough. There are always more people to contact, more administration to do, more business development to find time for. You always need more projects. The hours are never enough.

For many years I have been fascinated by the relationship between ambition and contentment, and have tried to live in the middle of the tension. On the one hand I want to help change the world by initiating and contributing to generative projects. If there is a word that captures what this has looked and felt like for me it is ‘striving’.

On the other hand, I find little more attractive than the deep peace that is associated with people who are completely at home in their skin and their corner of the world – as it is. People who ooze satisfaction with ‘being’ rather than doing, who ‘smell the roses’ as a lifestyle rather than as weekend recreation.

Superficially, ambition and contentment might appear incompatible. I think not. What I am learning is that it is the constant ‘striving’ that robs life of peace and contentment, not the ambition. Let me try to explain …

A long time ago when computer use grew exponentially in the workplace, before we understood how good OH&S applied, Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) became a common phenomena. I was a sceptic until someone asked me to imagine tying small weights to the five fingers of my hand, then holding my hand out and attempting to hold it there for long periods of time. Strain.

Leadership ‘striving’ has a similar psychological effect. It is not necessarily the big challenges that wear us down, on the contrary, they typically fire us up. It is the constant, relentless striving, the chasing the carrot on the end of the stick that jades us. Over the last couple of months I have been attempting to turn off the striving, while not letting go of the big picture ambitions. There are a few things that help:

1. Taking time to reflect on what I have accomplished, rather than always focussing on the undone.

2. Making friends with the idea of ‘enough’

3. Finding or creating the spaces where I can simply be, not do.

As I write I know how much people assume the stages of life affect some of this. Most notably, parents of young children can feel like there is little room for peace. But it is a mindset thing. When our four kids were young, Maria was always so good at helping me appreciate the stage we were in, avoiding the trap of living for the illusionary freedom of the ‘the next stage’. As the lyrics of a Waifs tune that I’m sure I’ve quoted in this blog before say, “Take it in, now is the day that will not come again … and it’s here for the living, take it in.”

Or what about the words of advice I got many years ago on the subject of marriage? … “never marry someone who you wouldn’t be happy sharing the rest of your life even if they don’t change from the way they are now.”

I think healthy leadership is similar; working vigorously for a different future, but fully engaged, peaceful and alive in the reality of today.

There is another thing I will add into the mix of managing the tension. Relentless ambition becomes a treadmill when we lose the capacity to make constant changes in response to our environment. Hard work that loses sight of a defined outcome is just a program of constant meaningless activity. Clarity of outcome is the key to agility.

So, a potted view of how to stay well while navigating the demands of leadership has three prongs:

1. Work towards a better reality: ambition

2. Contentment with my lot: peace

3. Focus on outcomes not activity: agility

May you be ambitious, peaceful and agile.