You never know what’s around the corner

In almost a decade in radio I had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of interesting people. Sometimes it was challenging finding the newsworthy angle to the interview but it was never difficult to find the interesting bit. From time to time I got myself into hot water for pursuing the interesting bit at the cost of news but that was always fine with me. In fact it was that part that made it evident to me that I didn’t have what it took to be a journo.

In the decade that followed I interviewed dozens of interesting people, in my spare time, recording the talks, never really knowing why, maybe it would be a book, maybe it would be a podcast, but the stories were always amazing. In hindsight maybe it was partly me trying to discover where I fit into this mad,mad world. Whether my fears and struggles were legitimate when laid side by side with those of my peers and my superiors.

I interviewed survivors of World Wars, of family splits, of wrenching divorces and people who have spent their lives comfortably living lies while others spent their lives defending themselves because they told the truth. I have interviewed twins that were very similar and twins that looked identical and couldn’t possibly be more different. I have interviewed couples that almost got divorced mid interview and people who have cried in shame as they divulged a long-held secret.

As luck would have it, I now do this for a living. I have turned this wonderful craft into a business. The Life Log Project records stories for people who want or need to share them with others. I have recorded parents setting the record straight for their children, siblings explaining things, ageing patriarchs trying to explain the past and matriarchs recounting family tales and history.

The Life Log Project is the conduit through which generations are able to communicate and engage. The recordings are given to the family and them alone. They can share them with whom they wish. None of us really knows what’s around the corner, and though we would probably all like to think we will live to old age, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Many families also struggle with the gift for an older family member. Being told “your story is valuable to us, we would like to record it for our history” is pretty special, and a great gift for the entire family.

Footnote: You can find out more at the website http://www.thelifelogproject.com.au

Ah the critics.

I shied away from writing for about thirty years following my formal education. Every time I put pen to paper, or fingertips to the keyboard, every bad memory of my horrible schooling came rushing back to me.

As part of my new job (a decade ago), I was required to write a regular monthly article for the trade magazine, which I approached with great trepidation initially. Having come from radio and before that my life as an auctioneer, I had no problem talking, but writing, wow, that was a whole new adventure. I realise now that this is a classic chicken and egg thing, because i didn’t want to write I had to hone my speaking skills, so no shock that I finished up in gigs that didn’t require writing right?

Having served my writing apprenticeship after three or four years I found the constraints of writing a monthly trade article (effectively toeing the company line) just too restricting and I found myself looking for other opportunities to express myself.(I know, get me!)

I then began writing a newsletter, sent electronically as a subscription service to the very same people who were readers of the magazine. It started from just my email list of about 60 people, soon I had 1200 subscribers. So far so good. I was able to be cheekier than the monthly corporate article and have a little fun along the way. Then I got an email out of the blue, from someone who was not a subscriber, giving me advice that I had not requested, none of which was complimentary.

It went something like this “who do you think you are? what arrogance, opinionated, childish dribble etc” My immediate reaction was one of shame and disappointment. My gut reaction was exactly that, physical and forceful, it felt like I had got all of this wrong, and let people down by publishing my thoughts and ideas. I went straight back to that time in school when the teacher was handing out yesterday’s test results.

Then, as my gut reaction calmed, I had another look at it. He wasn’t a subscriber, no-one was forcing him to read the newsletter. In fact he had to go out of his way to read it. Why then would someone go to that extra effort, and then be critical of the author? And even more than that, why would you bother to get personal and send it to the author? Are people really that mean and keen to hurt?

After some consideration, I concluded that, yes indeed some people are that mean. In this world in which we live there are mean, cruel people hell-bent on destruction. People without a moments care for the ramifications of their appalling behaviour. They feel it is their divine right to be critical and no fear for the collateral damage. The real issue then is, for me, should I listen to them?

Should I have sleepless nights worrying that I am not doing the right thing by writing? Do I really write childish drivel? Should I just hit the delete button on his email? Should I write back to him giving him both barrels or perhaps apologising for wasting his oh-so-valuable time? Should I give it another thought? Well that last question is an easy one, of course I was going to think about it some more.

I have in the past been guilty of catastrophising and then relying heavily on my bride to supply perspective in matters of these kinds or whenever I feel that I may have lost objectivity. So, back to the well I went and asked for her honest opinion. She told me that my writing had improved out of sight and was now fun to read. As a fully paid up member of the “Harsh but fair” party, she wouldn’t lie to me about stuff like that. So I decided to take on board the input that my writing style was not for everyone, but was sufficiently popular to keep going.

I tell this tale because most people who know me, may be surprised that the foul words of someone I have never met would upset me or indeed have any effect on me at all. But they did. So I would ask you to be considerate when complaining. Which means have a little think about it before you do it. That’s all.

Footnote: Michael is the Curator of The Life Log Project. A commercial operation based in Sydney Australia that helps people tell their story, captured on digital media for the benefit of future generations. For more information on the service check out http://www.thelifelogproject.com.au

Building tennis teams

As a long distance observer, it seems to me that Davis Cup success and Tennis Australia are at the cross roads. Perhaps they are even past that point and now heading in opposite directions. We recently played Kazakstan (who knew that even had tennis players?) in Darwin on grass and came very close to having our pants lowered. Now I am not saying the Darwin’s grass courts are not the epicentre of tennis in Australia nor am I inferring that we played there because nowhere else in the country would have given a damn, or even that Tennis Australia decided to play there because it gave us a distinct advantage, (surely not).

The dislike that our 23 ranked player Bernard Tomic publicly displayed for the organisation resulted in his removal from the team. Probably a good thing too as it gave him just enough time to become famous in Miami for paying too much for a hotel room that magically transforms into a jail cell. All of which must have made the gurus at Tennis Australia feel grand indeed.

I think there is a bigger play here though. We had great success in the Davis Cup in the era before the pros and then again in the early days of professionalism. Frankly we weren’t much good at any other team sport and certainly not any that involved balls. In those heady days we also had more than our fair share of players inside the top ten. Back then to help us along a little, backyards were often filled with tennis courts and every farm had one, and tennis courts were not littered across the four corners of the globe as they are now. (who would have thought it?)

So history aside, now we have a bunch of highly paid professionals, some of whom are clearly not capable of looking after themselves, that require more than just a ‘nice guy’ that looks great in undies, to give them assistance. Building a team in this era, as anyone that has done it recently will tell you, has its own unique set of challenges.

Add to that the money, the bloated egos and the lack of understanding of the scale of the exercise and it is no surprise to me that it is not coming together beautifully. Team building in Australia is different to (most of) the rest of the world. Particularly at the pointy end of sport, and particularly with the addition of Gen Y.

I cringe when I hear the older generation say that “this would never happen in Harry Hopman’s day” because while it is true, I really can’t imagine Mr Tomic and Mr Hopman having much to say to one another. I can only imagine what the reaction might be to the suggestion of a quick run up a few sand dunes. At least Darwin is well situated for that little beauty. No, Harry is not the answer.

Tennis Australia should ship in Ray McLean and his troops. If you have not had the opportunity to read his books, I recommend them to anyone in Australia involved in team-building. I have used the philosophy both with my work team and the sporting teams that I work with and the systems and processes work. Without giving too much away, Ray is like a modern-day version of Harry Hopman, in that he thinks differently to everyone else and has bought his own brand along with him. He has done for AFL what Harry did for tennis.

Ray developed his skills working with the Air Force developing teamwork in mission-critical scenarios. There is nothing quite like taking life and death training and then honing that experience for work in team sport. As many a team coach will tell you, winning isn’t life or death, it’s much more important than that. Good luck Tennis.

On friendships that drift

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I’m guessing we have all had friendships that have just drifted off into the ether. People that were once friends become acquaintances for no particular reason other than one or both parties stops making the effort that was once made. Most often neither party is at fault, sometimes the effort of constantly being the motivating force simply wears thin.

Occasionally it results in slightly embarrassing impromptu meetings in shopping centres or community get togethers but once that is taken care of the new status is confirmed and everyone is much the happier as a result.

I was watching a brilliant Netflix series on chefs the other day called (I think) the The Chefs Table, and the chef described many of his past friends as “just not interesting him much anymore.” While that is an extreme take on it, we probably also have old friends like that too. He or she may be OK in the right social setting, but that setting just wasn’t happening often enough. (think drink)

Perhaps in my case, I could sheet home the blame on my upbringing. After all, as the son of a Naval man, we moved house and school almost every two years which meant that I had some practice at not bonding totally and leaving people behind. Though in truth that may have some bearing, I do not blame my upbringing at all for allowing many of my best friendships to simply drift.

I really enjoy friendships that mean I don’t have to see people every day. I like to meet with my friends at a rhythm that suits me, not too often (whatever that may be) and not so rarely that I feel out of touch with their current challenges.

Supporting people through their challenges whether they might be mental, emotional or intellectual is the hub of all of my friendships. Offering a shoulder to cry on, a brain to pick, an ear to a version of a story or simply the comfort of a great meal and good wine is the cornerstone of every meaningful friendship I have. That may not be the case for everyone, but there you go.

That then may also explain why some friendships drift. Having picked my brain or eaten at my table or explained their story or cried on my shoulder, perhaps the other party needed more and I failed to provide it. I get really excited when I get the chance to share something with my friends. Sport or food or news it doesn’t really matter, life is exciting when that opportunity comes along. Friends are great, and I love to spend some time with them.

 

Footnote.Michael is the Chief Curator of http://www.thelifelogproject.com.au a business that helps people to tell their story for the benefit of future generations.

Letter to my children

About twenty years ago my mother died of a Cerebral Haemorrhage. No warning, no planning no goodbyes. About ten years ago my father died of lung cancer, this was a long lingering farewell. Though both events were incredibly sad, the hole left by someone dying suddenly is difficult to fill in a way that is impossible to explain and beyond compare.

Shortly after the death of my mother I put pen to paper and wrote a letter to each of my two sons. The letter was my farewell, though I had no intention of going anywhere. It was really difficult to write and I cried several times as I scratched my way over the keyboard in my three finger typing style.

The letters contained messages of love and friendship and my dreams for each of them and a few short stories about them growing up. They included short stories of when they made me particularly proud and some advice for each of them.

My two boys are completely different, both beautiful caring strong sensitive young men with their difference best summed up by saying one of them gets anxious if he doesn’t know what tomorrow will bring and the other is always seeking something different for tomorrow. The letter writing gave me a sense of comfort knowing that if I were to bid a hasty departure from this life, my boys would have some conduit to their father. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next though.

Having taken the time to think about what I most wanted to say to each of them and what I felt was most important not to leave unsaid, (and they are two different things) I then began to act differently. Not hugely differently. Not so the family thought I had met-my-maker-in-a-stroke-or-heart-attack kind of a way. But differently none the less. I was more thoughtful, less reactive and much quieter. I began to be much more chilled out about them and their future. Which was nice for me and I’m sure was much more enjoyable for them too.

After all, as I said in my letter to them, above all else I wanted them to know the luxury of having been unconditionally loved by someone and to feel happiness. Neither of these things will be more likely to happen by me fussing about it.

Little did I know at the time that this correspondence would be the precursor for my business some fifteen years later. The Life Log Project helps people do this in a modern way using high quality audio recording. Of course the log can be used for lots of other things too. I have produced logs for people who wanted their families to know things after they had died, to explain divorces, to explain choices, to shine a light on an event or just to supply a delightful back story for the sake of posterity.

What I have noticed is the effect is has on people after they have committed to recording their inner most thoughts. They start to live them

Michael www.thelifelogproject.com.au

SCRUM

I don’t know about you but I like to watch movies and documentaries that make me think. Sure I like to switch my brain off from time to time and just be entertained too, but lets face it you don’t have to work too hard to find that sort of movie.

Last night I had the great fortune to watch a new short film, Scrum by Poppy Stockell. As an avid sports nut, a movie about rugby had me a little worried, as I have yet to see a film that truly paints the picture of the game. In most cases the action looks contrived and stilted at best.

The film centres around the Sydney Convicts, a gay rugby club competing in the Bingham Cup. The cup was named after a team member that actually tackled one of the terrorists onboard a plane in the 9/11 disaster, who subsequently died anyway.

The film is really about selection, and the emotional complexity of being part of a team. The three central characters in spite of their sexuality could barely be more diverse. I can imagine a lot of people will find the movie quite challenging but the gentle humour sprinkled throughout turns a complex subject matter into compelling viewing.

Without giving anything away, there is a scene between the coach and one of his big burley players that is quite beautiful.

Being part of a team comes with responsibilities that are sometimes difficult to live up to. Rugby is no different to almost every team sport in that regard. However, add to that the complexity of men that have regularly been snubbed and not allowed to join or participate whole heartedly in team sport because of who they are, and the game is changed entirely.

Scrum was a delightful 50 minutes that I feel sure will start a lot of conversations. Poppy Stockell has managed to film rugby without making it look silly which apparently is not easy if history is any guide, and has captured beautifully so many of the issues that make effective team building such a wonderfully complicated art/science.

Gee I hope the people who need to see this short film will get the opportunity or will take the opportunity to watch it.

You could be a dick

Twice a year we award worthy Australians with Medals. I get excited on both Australia Day and the Queens Birthday weekend in anticipation of reading the lists. As someone who has spent so much time recording stories and interviewing people it will not be any shock to you that it is the stories behind the awards that I like the most.

This year we have a cracker. The wonderful Dick Smith was awarded the country’s top honour and his is a lovely story, that should resonate with an entire generation.

Mr Smith is an achiever. The Americans would probably call him a winner. From humble beginnings he toiled to eventual business success and now seems to spend his time giving his money to people who need it more than he does.

The part of his story that should have ears burning everywhere, is his schooling. Marked 45th of 47 students in his year, he went through the apprenticeship route rather than to University. Many a young person is led to believe that if you haven’t made your mark academically by 12 or 13 you are up against it in the success stakes.

Dick Smith would have everyone know that he was not good at school but pretty good at business, leadership, learning and (in my opinion) being a good bloke. Personally I find it interesting that school failed to provide him the opportunity to shine. Though it doesn’t surprise me. The point though is that he didn’t let a thing like academics get in the way of success.

I am not teacher bashing either, some of my favourite people are teachers so this is not about teaching standards or anything like that. It is important for young people to know that the bumps and scuffs that almost inevitably occur during a young persons schooling are not an excuse to give up. In fact they should be providing the motivation to dig a little deeper and work a little harder. Dick Smith’s story shows there is more than one way to skin a cat. We need to be creative in the way we look at success, the way we approach hurdles and the methods we use to shine the light on the big world. Thank you Dick.

A puppy on the way

There is a dog on the way. We have been pet free for almost a decade and have enjoyed it immensely, but it is just not the same. Over the course of the next few months no doubt I will be writing about the way this hound has changed our lives. I hope I am writing about the joy and not the tears, but inevitably with pets there is a share of both.

It is not just any dog either. It is a fauve. The Basset fauve is an interesting breed that looks a little like a cocker spaniel and a little like a basset and a little like a lot of things but has its own distinct look. Hardly a succinct explanation but Im sure once you have seen a picture you will agree. When most people talk about fauves the first thing they say is “their ears are painted on” and that was the thing that instantly grabbed my interest. My poor long suffering teachers used to say the same thing to me in school. So instantly we have a fair bit in common.

Our pet free decade has included a few overseas trips and a few spontaneous weekends away, all of which will come to a screaming halt when the hound arrives. We have vaguely puppy proofed the house but not with any real zeal so no doubt he/she will find the most valuable item left at eye level to chew on. I say He/she because even though we have committed to owning the hound, the breeder is yet to allocate animals to buyers.

The litter consists of four girls and one boy. We initially said we were interested in a girl, but so is everyone else, so we have also said that we don’t want to miss out. Interestingly several people in the group have said the same thing. So this weekend we wait, holding our breath to discover if we are fishing around for a few suitable boy names or girl names. We have in the past had boy pets including Simpson the Labrador (famous for eating an entire worm farm, all three trays, in one sitting before requiring the local vet to pump his stomach). So perhaps it’s time for a girl but time will tell.

No doubt my witty son and even wittier bride have a long list of clever and beautiful names on a notepad somewhere waiting to be short listed. We have a six hour drive to meet the new family member and the same return so my first wish is that he/she travels well. I feel sure the name will settle almost instantly.

We have put our adult son in charge of training. As he continues to battle his way through the rigours of chemotherapy, his no nonsense approach to training everything (including me) will be put to perfect use. I am looking forward to the widening of our social circle as is the way with owning an animal in the inner city. Parks and routines become the catalyst for making new friends provided of course you do not own a killer.

I am also living in the hope that owning a dog will have an effect on my ever burgeoning waistline but I suspect the laziness that is clearly the root cause of the problem may be the very thing that causes the hound and I to cross swords. Im sure it wont be long before he/she looks up at me as we re-enter the house as the thought bubble hovers over his head saying “really that was not much of a walk bubble butt”.

I am genuinely excited about the new family member and look forward to sharing our adventures with you.

People are just so interesting

I grew up in a normal family, in a normal house surrounded by normal stuff. Probably just as you think you did. Though nothing about my upbringing was super sensational, in truth, it was definitely different to yours and about one million miles away from my kids upbringing.

That’s what I find when I interview people. They have all led the most interesting lives. Some of them have been singularly motivated by their lifelong battle with their anxieties. Others that I have met peaked in high school and have spent the rest of their lives trying to readjust. Some met the love of their life in primary school, and others are still searching.

Some people I have met have been moulded by events or in some cases a single cataclysmic event. Some have been cast by a life without event. Some people spend their life struggling while others march through without a glance to the left or right. Some are devout, which I find really interesting and others can’t spell the word.

While some people I have interviewed blame their parents, I have met plenty that realise they were given an unfair advantage by their folks. Obviously some of that is just perception and some of it is real. Some interviews make me feel sad and others are uplifting but they are always amazing because people are amazing.

Internationally renowned behavioural strategist (I think I just made that title up) and best-selling author Tony Robbins said “Life is not about weathering storms it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” The metaphor echoed in my head for days. At the risk of labouring it, it seems to me that some people spend their life planning for the rain, some spend their lives weighing up the cost of that last big wet and some others just want to buy the best all-weather gear.
There is an American sales icon by the name of Charles ‘Tremendous’ Jones that is attributed with one of my all time favourite quotes “wisdom comes from the people you meet and the books you read”. I might be a long way from distilling any wisdom, but I am reading as much and meeting as many people as I can.

The grumpy old man was me

A few years ago now, in the middle of what up to then had been a very ordinary day, my bride tugged at my shirt sleeve and asked me why I was always so negative. It was a complete game changer. In that moment I realised I had become the very thing I most passionately did not want to become. I was a grumpy old man.

It instantly gave me heart palpitations and a general sense of unease that quite quickly turned into anxiety bordering on panic. What have I done? What have I become? It instantly dragged me back to the same feeling I had, when as a fifteen year old I saw the girl of my dreams kissing my friend. Completely gut wrenching. A stock take was needed instantly.

It only took a few minutes to realise that in the last week, just about everything I had said about the outside world was a criticism. I held up everything to my judgement. The news, politicians, journos, drug traffickers, teachers, bosses, world leaders, neighbours, pop stars and pretty much anything that came into my view. While there may not be too much wrong with that per se, I was only seeing the bad, the imperfect, the fault, the weakness or frailty in them all. Worse than that though I was saying it out loud.

It was time I had a good long look at myself.

It took months of self-examination and introspection to realise that it was a defence mechanism. Not a good one mind you. Because of the work I was doing back then, I was constantly required to stand up and take a position on things, say things and write things from within a very small world that was full of negative, grumpy old men. As a result, I copped a fair bit of criticism for everything from my haircut to my politics. My way of dealing with that criticism was to belittle the source. Which quite quickly developed into a hair-trigger response to everything in the world. I had let that mechanism take me over like one of those jungle vines you see that slowly covers and eventually strangles the life out of a once solid tree.

Frankly, being negative is easy. The newspapers have been teaching that for as long as we have been able to read them. Particularly in Australia where the Tall Poppy syndrome is inculcated into our culture. We are taught to be suspicious, look at people with caution if not derision, question the status quo which only supports the negativity of course. I am not blaming anyone else here by the way, least of all journos that are only out there making a living, taking on that behaviour was all my own stupid doing.

Breaking that behaviour pattern is tough. Recovery is a rocky road. The good news is I had not always been like that. In fact many people through my other jobs had highlighted my positive can-do attitude as a signature ethos. So surely with a few hints, a bit of support and a bit of a game plan, I could undo the hair-trigger and get back to being a cheery nice guy.

My bride had already rung the alarm bells. It is simply not nice to be around negativity all the time and particularly not at such close quarters. I was pretty determined to change and pretty motivated to make the change a lasting one.

The first step was to take some action, not just thinking, but some physical action so I determined to go for a walk by myself each morning and fill that walk with good thinking. I discouraged my bride from coming along (as politely as I could) so that I could devote the walk to better, clearer more positive thinking. I promised myself I would not spend the time gritting my teeth with anxiety or letting negative thoughts into my head. It didn’t always work, but over time as I caught myself getting dark, I tried to work my way through the feeling in a bid to pop out the other side.

Walking really helps. I would get home and do a few quick weights as a way of signing off on that part of the day and I find that bit of exercise combined with good thinking makes a huge difference. On the walk I try to remind myself of things I am grateful about. My bride, my home, my friends, my lifestyle, my wonderful children, my music, my writing, all sorts of stuff that I was pretty happy with. Occasionally I would try to find solutions to things that were worrying me, but often I found that to be a gateway into doom and anger. I try to think of things I could build or people I could support rather than things that were not fair or people who had been cruel or rude.

My walks are still a source of therapy that I need to do. I don’t do it every morning but I know I should. Finding just 30 minutes to go for a walk and get my head straight makes such a big difference to the people around me that I should be thinking of it as a gift to myself. As you can see it is still a work in progress, Even at 55 I am still a work in progress and that’s fine by me.