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How Turning your Life Upside Down Makes it Right Way Up

At times, you’re pushed to the edge. You have too much to do, only the urgent (instead of the important) things are getting done and your inner compass is broken, so you can’t find true north. Normally, at that point, the last thing you think you need to do is either take on more or turn your world upside down. But Irma Zimmermann discovered that was exactly what she needed to do, to reinvent her life…        

Irma was on the edge. But she wasn’t swinging her legs in a carefree kind of way. She was deep in thought, because something in her life needed to change. Despite a crowded life, she was acutely lonely… even when surrounded by people. Her many friends, family, home life, hectic business and numerous clients all demanded something from her, but she felt little was coming back to her, in return. Her life seemed empty. With no purpose or meaning.

Then there was her marriage. And the fact that depression had swallowed her husband. “Oliver and I had been happily married for 22 years, but we drifted apart, feeling disconnected and unable to communicate. In mid-2014, Oliver was diagnosed with depression. With three million people in Australia living with anxiety and depression, we weren’t alone, but it was a day-by-day battle.”

Searching for something to hold on to, became Irma’s mission. She turned her life upside down as she read, talked, listened and looked for the missing pieces and a way to keep her marriage and family together. “I’d come to a point where I thought my family may break up. And then I remembered Oliver’s counsellor had said ‘exercise is a great way to help fight depression’ so I started to think, how can I help Oliver get active?”

The answer (for both her and Oliver), came unexpectedly. It happened while listening to a talk by Peter Bains OAM – from Hands Across the Water – about the charity he founded in the wake of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand. “I was intensely affected by the children who’d lost their parents – I imagined how lonely and vulnerable they must have felt. And in my circumstances at the time, I could clearly understand those feelings.” Impetuously she signed up to do a fundraising 5-day 500km bike ride across Thailand, to build a new orphanage.

“What was I thinking?” she later said in her You Tube Talk About Purpose, “Cycle for Your Life.” With no bike, no training, no time to fundraise, no money or plan for the trip, Irma set about making it happen. “The one thing I knew, was that cycling was Oliver’s passion. I had to find a way to connect. And something had to change.”

What changed? Irma. She’d realised that her purpose was to give… not get. And her epiphany was the catalyst for a new start, a way for Oliver to get active and contributed to the AUS$300,000 raised in 2015, for a new orphanage. But it didn’t stop there.

When she returned, she revived her connection with the Slow School of Business and signed up for their Talk on Purpose program. Ideal for Irma and her journey of self, the Slow School offers a ‘learn by doing’ approach – through courses, dinners, events and tailored learning programs – where everyone pitches in, learns something new and makes deeper connections.

During the 3-day Talk on Purpose course, Irma emotionally relived her purpose-driven ride across Thailand, and the lessons she’d learnt. “What about Oliver… me… and our family? Oliver is back on his bike. Our marriage and our family is back on track. And butt cream works!”

But the wisest nugget, shared at the end of her talk, explains how having purpose and meaning in your life improves mental and physical health, enhances your self-esteem and decreases depression – “What else did I learn? I learnt that action and activity is the antidote to loneliness. I also learnt that you, me and everyone can create change in their lives, by taking action.”

About the Author:

Di Mace is a freelance story-based brand copywriter, strategist and purpose-digger. Brands hire her to transform their meaningless messages into heartfelt content and stories centred on culture, customers and core values.

As a corporate marketer-turned-copywriter, she’s equal parts strategist and writer, so clever phrases aren’t all she cares about. She believes creating a brand that is meaningful to your ‘right people’ comes from knowing your purpose and that customer experiences fuel the legacy your brand leaves. Find her at www.wordswords.com.au

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How Two Wheels, Blindness and a Black Dog Changed a Life

Oliver Zimmermann was in big trouble. He just didn’t know it. Even after riding his bike into the back of a car (ironically outside a blind school), he was still unaware he was living in a dark, lonely place. His problem remained that way – hidden away in secret – for ten more years, until another bike and a 500km ride took him in a new direction.

Looking back, since his carefree boyhood in Johannesburg, Oliver’s life had been circling… often aimlessly. It was true, at times he had zapped through life on two wheels – in the zone – but sometimes just one wheel carried him, or more frequently, none. Despite a happy family, successful career and his trusty bike, his life was slowly disappearing, down the dark hole of depression.

According to Beyond Blue, “It’s estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. And in any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.” Oliver had become, one in a million.

In Oliver’s words, “I’d probably had it long before, maybe even back in my twenties. I knew something was wrong, in the background, but didn’t realise what it was. Depression isn’t something you just wake up with … it doesn’t work like that. It sits in the shadows, creeps out of the bushes. It’s always there. And it jumps on you in unexpected moments.”

Mental illness is more common than you think. One of every five people you know, will entertain the ‘Black Dog’ sometime, during their life. And for those people, the challenge of bouncing back and lifting themselves out of their sadness, is too great. It’s easier to stay there – as was the case for Oliver – for far too long.

But what’s all this got to do with bikes? A lot. Especially for Oliver. “Without my bike, all I would have had was a cycle of depression,” he said in his YouTube Talk on Purpose, “Evolution on Two Wheels.”  Thankfully, that same bike helped him gain the courage to “turn the corner, climb up that hill, get out of that valley, look over those walls that walled me in… and look ahead.” To embark on a new direction in life.

So where did it start? In 2015, on a crazy 5-day 500km bike ride with his wife, Irma, across Thailand – fundraising for the charity “Hands Across the Water.” Neither of them had ridden, for years. Both were juggling life, work and the black dog in the house, so they weren’t even properly prepared. But something changed in him. He began to feel he had a purpose.

“So how did cycling change my life? It taught me to follow my passions. It taught me to ‘feel’ life more” Oliver said. But as it turned out, getting back to cycling was only the first step – the mere tip of the iceberg.

When he returned, The Slow School of Business and their Talk on Purpose program joined the ride. Based in Melbourne, Slow School is an unconventional business school that adopts a ‘learn by doing’ approach to building purpose-driven businesses and lives. Perfect for Oliver, and his dog.

Not for the fainthearted, the intensive public speaking and storytelling course helps you unearth your passion and purpose. That nugget is then shared in a short, live presentation – a daunting prospect for anyone, but a courageous act for someone with depression.

He nailed it. “What were the lessons I learnt? Do what you love to do, not what you have to do. Excuses are simply an escape and most importantly, keep pedalling. It stops you from falling off.”

While he admits he doesn’t have all the answers, it has allowed him to re-inhabit an empty space within himself… that had been lost in the darkness. And he’s started seeing the world differently and acknowledging the cycle of depression he was living.

But best of all, thanks to his family and two wheels, Oliver’s life has brightened. He’s now looking ahead… and avoiding parked cars, in front of blind schools. 

About the Author:

Di Mace is a freelance story-based brand copywriter, strategist and purpose-digger. Brands hire her to transform their meaningless messages into heartfelt content and stories centred on culture, customers and core values.

And as a corporate marketer-turned-copywriter, she’s equal parts strategist and writer, so clever phrases aren’t all she cares about. She believes creating a brand that is meaningful to your ‘right people’ comes from knowing your purpose and that authentic customer experiences fuel the legacy your brand leaves. Find her at www.wordswords.com.au

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Keep your people. Get on purpose.

Almost daily at Slow School, we come across disillusioned corporate workers contemplating the big escape into entrepreneurship. They’re exhausted and disconnected from themselves, their peers and the company they work for.

Not so long ago I would’ve been right behind these potential Corporate Escapees pushing them off the corporate ship. Today however, I’d be encouraging them to stay.

Today I’d be encouraging them to reconnect with their ‘why’, their purpose, and that very first reason they chose their profession or took that job in the first place. I’d be explaining that their purpose is not necessarily found in another job, a new business, a new company or another country. I’d be telling them it’s closer than they think and I’d be urging them to unearth their Golden Buddha.

“In 1957 an entire Monastery in Thailand was being relocated by a group of monks. One day they were moving a giant clay Buddha when one of the monks noticed a large crack in the clay. On closer investigation he saw there was a golden light emanating from the crack. The monk used a hammer and a chisel to chip away at the clay exterior until he revealed that the statue was in fact made of solid gold.

Historians believe the Buddha had been covered with clay by Thai monks several hundred years earlier to protect it from an attack by the Burmese army. In the attack, all the monks had been killed and it wasn’t until 1957 that this great treasure was actually discovered. READ MORE ”

And finally I’d be suggesting that they tap into their purpose through storytelling and public speaking at our Talk on Purpose course.

We’re bringing Talk on Purpose (ToP) to companies and schools across Australia. If you’re keen to find out just how powerful this course can be for your people, invite us in to deliver a ToP Pop-up Workshop for your people. We know we can help! Find out more

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Winds shift and pages turn

Autumn’s cool breath mists the fluorescent glow of a Melbourne train platform, rustling the heavy scarves on early morning commuters. We wait patiently together, city-bound, as dawn creeps up into a horizon of office buildings and warehouses.

Fresh and invigorating, each inhalation energises as I sidle along the walkway towards a break in the shadows – there! Turning to face a golden sunrise, I catch its first rays on a smile that grows and spreads with the warmth soaking into my skin.

I remember. Things I’m grateful for dance across my awareness: the beautiful, wise, courageous people I’ve met and have yet to meet; the works of love we’ve all done and will do yet, both together and apart; the endless possibilities we each introduce to the world, just by living in it. It’s us, here now. You and me and the choices we make.

Every ending is a new beginning, if there even are such things. I personally prefer to think in terms of thermodynamics – that nothing is ever created or destroyed, only transferred or transformed.

Cascading echoes from a train horn carol across the platform, shortly followed by gusts of displaced air that send a newspaper tumbling towards me. Yesterday’s news. The date on the front flips past in a blur, and so do the contents of the next page and the next. On through the entire paper wind whips, until the final page is reached and the whole collection is tossed airborne again – up and away over the platform’s edge.

Train cars squeal to a stop. Still smiling in the brightening dawn, I reach for a door and wonder where it will take me today.


Genevieve Sovereign
Community Manager – The Slow School of Business

P. S. This is my final Slow School newsletter! It has been a deep pleasure and privilege to share words with you wonderful people, and to get to know so many of you throughout the past couple of years. I will still aim to make it to events as I’m able, and look forward to catching up! In the mean time, if you’d ever like to get in touch I’m just an email away at gsovereign.com.au. Much love always! -Gen

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Lost in translation

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When you struggle to find the words, what’s the nature of your struggle?

On the surface, there are as many answers as there are situations. Maybe you’re trying to encapsulate something vast within something uncomfortably small, or vice versa. Maybe conflicting emotions or perspectives within you are vying for expression. Maybe you’re trying to communicate something which, deep down and for whatever reason, you have no true desire to share.

Any and all of the above often form the foundation of my own communication blocks. The most helpful way forward I’ve found is to step back for a broader view. How do I feel, as I’m trying to communicate the message? Why do I feel this way? Is there a particular portion, point or aspect causing difficulty?

Once I better understand the nature of my hesitation, I find the block much easier to break through. Sometimes the underlying reasons are mundane and easy to fix – get some rest; have a bite to eat; clarify certain understandings; revise the presentation approach. Other times the problems are deeper – the message is inconsistent within or outside of myself; it’s not a message I’m ready to communicate; the format or medium is inadequate for the full message.

Whatever the case, taking that first step back – to breathe, to assess and to understand – is always my personal key to moving forward again.

Genevieve Sovereign
Community Manager – The Slow School of Business

 

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Ready… Steady… SLOW!

The alarm clock goes off. Eyes snapping open, today’s first sight is early morning sunlight speckling the ceiling overhead. This moment is perfect. Peaceful and still.

But the day’s second sight is a clamouring mental conglomeration of items to remember, tasks to do, information to check, and all those other 1001 points of attention-demand that make up daily life.

Where am I going? What am I doing? When does which need to happen how – and why? It’s so tempting to just be swept away in the current, treading water as the day rushes past. It’s easy to forget that although going with the flow is well and good, we have a lot of power over how we travel in it.

So, is everything ready? What’s around the next river bend will always be some shade of mysterious, even on the most prosaic of days.

Are you steady? Although a deluge of moments, possibilities, duties and ideas can start feeling like it comprises the whole world right now – really the opposite is the case. Right now comprises everything about the world right now. Anything else is imagination.

Shall we Slow? While the river may provide momentum, serving as a vehicle from A to B, the act of traversing it is entirely our own. Harnessing its power to travel as far and as fast as we choose might just be the greatest creative undertaking of any day.

Genevieve Sovereign
Community Manager – The Slow School of Business

 

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Learning That Complements Learning

“Lifelong learner”? We’re all one of those. As far as colloquialisms go, lifelong learning has always felt like a tautology to me. If someone’s got a pulse, I reckon they’re a learner.

Of course the trendiest flavours and most fashionable labels get all the attention, even and perhaps most especially in education. Being a pot speaking of kettles here, with my own degrees both obtained and in progress, I still have to wonder about general perceptions of institutionalised education.

Beyond the raging debates on the merits of different teaching techniques and the value of learning what when, for me a more fundamental question is: Are we learning what we’re truly drawn to learn, day in and day out?

Or do we instead strong-arm ourselves and our children into ingesting and regurgitating on-demand what we perceive society expects? Are we learning for our own sake, to grow as people and become better human beings? Or do we routinely force-feed our brains to maximum capacity and beyond, with what we believe others think we should know if we’re to validly exist in the social space we occupy?

I’m all for learning, don’t get me wrong. My concern here is only with spoiling the joy found in it. If life itself is learning, and we increasingly reform our learning experiences into the shapes of hourly-demarcated duties and information-bingeing, is the educational approach we’ve chosen truly enriching our lives?

Genevieve Sovereign
Community Manager – The Slow School of Business

 

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Dancing the Seasons

It’s so easy, in our modern concrete jungle, to lose track of the earth’s cycles. We forget – immersed in wailing alarm clocks, gridlocked commutes, and fluorescent tube-lit climate-controlled offices – that all of these exist within something far grander.

The southern hemisphere’s autumnal equinox passed a few days ago: a point of equilibrium, with night and day poised in counterbalance. Heralding the transition from summer to fall, I always look forward to this as a time for paring back what is no longer necessary. Tonight I’ll even have the great fortune of joining a creative, meditative group dance to celebrate. As the weather cools and sunlit hours shorten, I take strange delight in looking inward to observe what foliage I’ll shed.

Whether it’s realising an opportunity for improvement professionally, recognising a chance to better allocate personal resources, or any other endeavour that could benefit from an unconventional perspective – I find the cycles of nature to be an infinitely rich source of inspiration.

There’s no creative solution-finder that has served me better than simply reconnecting myself with the world around me, and listening carefully as the questions and answers reverberate through it all.

 

Genevieve Sovereign
Community Manager – The Slow School of Business

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Slow Coaching my way out of a paper bag

Have you heard? Following last year’s immensely successful remote peer-to-peer coaching pilot, Slow Coaching is building momentum! The other week I took the plunge and signed on – it’s already been an amazing ride.

First I should come clean and admit I had put off jumping aboard sooner because… well… [insert convenient pretext about time / priorities / preconceptions of business coaching]. However, now with a handful of sessions under my belt I have to say it’s been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve recently had.

Picture it: bright and early on a Tuesday morning, listening to Skype’s cheerful startup chime, I found myself compulsively reading through the session script for the umpteenth time. I was about to start my first ever Slow Coaching experience – and no one could ask for a more sensitive and open-minded guide than Beth Jennings. Phew!

My role for this session was Speaker, and Beth’s was Listener. It’s the Listener’s job to practice deep listening and hold space for the Speaker. It’s the Speaker’s job to communicate authentically about whatever they choose to talk about for that session – be it a current business challenge, ideas for a new direction, or just to take stock reflectively of where they’re at.

Sounds pretty easy, right? But even with the script there to walk me through every single step from intro meditation to sign-off, I found it hugely challenging for internal reasons. I suppose that’s the point though, isn’t it? I survived my first go and came away with incredible insights I’ve already put to great use launching my brand new website. Thanks so much, Beth!

Session two for me was with Matt Perfect, that brilliant powerhouse behind our entire Slow Coaching program. Matt wrote the book (well, the script) on Slow Coaching, and it certainly showed. Once again I came away with a lot of food for thought, and a few more bricks removed from my wall (what is this “Pink Floyd” of whom you speak?).

My most recent session was with the Great and Powerful Oz– I mean, Carolyn Tate. This time I finally got to be the Listener, and felt so grateful to hold a safe space and be a sympathetic ear to such a dear colleague and friend. Of course, what goes on behind the curtain stays behind the curtain in Slow Coaching. It’s rule one, you might say.

Only a few weeks in, I can already feel my outlook subtly shifting as a result of insights gained through these sessions. I’m looking forward to learning what else Slow Coaching will unlock – within myself and within my coaching peers.


Genevieve Sovereign
Community Manager – The Slow School of Business

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What do you mean?

“Of course I remember you!” she exclaimed, smile serene as any of the adjoining room’s Buddha statues, “You’re Curry Laksa.”

Coming out of a brilliant seminar run by Slow School’s very own Kath Walters about the keys to effective blogging, I’d found myself near my old office in downtown Melbourne. More importantly, this is also near my old favourite lunch spot: a vegetarian teahouse run by a small Buddhist temple and art gallery.

So naturally I couldn’t resist. I’d walked in, marveling at how familiar it still felt three years later, and asked for my former usual: curry laksa. Breathing in the rich bouquet of spices, incense and the dozen types of tea wafting through the room, I contemplated the seminar. I contemplated the importance of cultivating an online presence that spoke of who I am and what I offer. I’d always struggled with that – with the idea of trying to encapsulate something so vast into a memorable catch phrase or a 10 second elevator speech. It invariably caused a knot of defiant resistance to form deep in my guts. What’s my message? Who am I, and why would you care?

Seated there thinking, I let the familiar sights and sounds take me back to earlier times. I’d struggled with identity then too, planning a career shift towards something more meaningful than the frantic hamster wheel of a 9-5 office worker. This little teahouse had been my oasis in the midst of hectic days.

The last time I was here, I’d known I wouldn’t be back for awhile and had felt I should let them know how much I’d appreciated their hospitality. So I’d given the lady at the till my thanks, as well as a card for the whole teahouse team. It was signed not with my name but as my “usual” which I thought was both funnier and more meaningful. After all, without meaning, what’s the point?

Heading up to the till this time I saw a familiar face, and was surprised she still remembered me after so long. “Of course I remember you! You’re Curry Laksa.”

And it dawned on me. My message isn’t meant to encapsulate something that’s vast,  ever-changing and fundamentally undefinable. That’s not what I’m supposed to be doing. Rather, my message and what I offer are about giving meaning to others.

What makes me special isn’t about me at all. It’s about what I can make special for everyone around me.
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Genevieve Sovereign
Community Manager – The Slow School of Business