D…is for distinctions

WOOHOO – 4 DISTINCTIONS!

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but somehow I managed to pull out 4 Distinctions for my 4 Masters units this year.  I was stoked to get the news.

Making the decision to study was not an easy one.  Being a single dad working full-time and limited availability for lectures I knew it was going to be a big call. As I weighed up the pro’s and cons for taking on study; for the timing of it, for the recognition of likely challenges and competing demands on time, energy, and need to balance being there for my boys; I knew it to be something I both needed to do, but also was the right time.

My first assessment came in the form of n HD for an in class counselling session with another student. This served as a deep encouragement and confirmation that I’d made the right decision.

It hasn’t been an easy year.  There were times I had to leave my boys and cut into “our time” to attend compulsory lectures. I can stress how much I hate this dynamic.  I’ve always been a proactive hands-on dad. I have a great relationship with my boys and whilst not perfect (none of us are) I endeavour to be physically & emotionally present with them whenever they are with me.

There were times when I had to juggle writing essays whilst doing road trips for work. On one particular occasion I was away in Shepparton attending and participating in a conference.  After working all day and joining the conference dinner I returned to my hotel room. I’d laid out my notes, my laptop hummed music (I work so much better this way!) and was grappling with the topic of change, a topic I’m comfortable with, but by midnight found myself falling asleep still having over 1000 words to write.

The problem was that when the conference ended the next day I had a 2.5 hour drive directly to my subject class where I was meant to be handing my assignment in.  This was worth 50% of my overall assessment. Thankfully I’d learnt a technique some 20 yrs earlier to go to sleep and have at least one REM cycle.  Fighting sleep was pointless, my brain was groggy!

I set my alarm for 3:30AM and thankfully had coffee to kickstart and stimulate the brain and elevate the eyelids. Somehow I powered up and sentences streamed like a waterfall and paragraphs gelled together like mortar. Through the day I managed to do some final editing and got the essay printed off. It was a relief to arrive safely back at home exhausted after my morning madness and head-nodding lecture.

Thankfully most essays weren’t completed under such circumstances. Thankfully my boys are forgiving. Thankfully my priority has not been to complete all readings and get the best marks possible. My priority has been to maintain balance.  My priority has been to model to my boys that ongoing learning is important and that achieving goals is to be valued.

Yes the year has been challenging, but I am satisfied.  I am content.  I am proud of my efforts, my learnings, and my outcomes. To receive 4 Distinctions went beyond my hopes. I’d love to stop working and study full-time but that isn’t an option. And so, I continue to straddle the study/work/family/social life balance…and pray that my feet don’t slip!

Being a travelling speaker…

What I’ve learnt from over 10 years as a travelling speaker…well some of it anyway.

Tomorrow I meet up with a group of colleagues so I’m giving my blog readers a sneak glimpse at what I’ll be sharing with them.

They’re not people I work with day to day, and we don’t work for the same organisation. In fact, some might say that we all work for each others competitors. Each of us have roles that see us representing our respective non-profit or NGO (non government organisation) organisations, largely to a similar demographic.

As someone who’s been doing the travelling roadshow type-role for over a decade I was asked to share around the topic of leadership within our respective environments.

So here’s a summary of the key things I’ve concluded are essential for being a travelling speaker, organisational representative and a conduit between both representing a cause and retaining personal sanity and sustained longevity.

1. Be Relational. For some this will seem obvious. For others, you’ll appreciate the sometimes intrinsic tension of having to reach designated outcomes that might short-circuit relationships in the pursuit of short-term results.  In simple terms we might make the distinction between being transactional and being transformational. The reality is that working in the non-profit sector people are generally motivated by altruistic values, not the value of the dollar.

2. Be Empowering. Whether it’s raising up and recognising volunteers, or working with paid staff, the role of a traveling speaker is to do more than simply inform, it’s even more than to be inspiring. Organisational representation requires equipping and empowering others to champion the cause (whatever it may be) when you’re not around. If any activities become dependent on a travelling speaker then I think I’ve failed. When I know that I’ve motivated and mobilised others to carry-the-cause then I know I’m on the road to success in my role.

3. Accept Transitions. Things change and that’s a fact of life. When you’ve been in a space for a season you know that others will move on before you do. The reality is that when seeking to engage with leaders and key decision-makers to build ongoing engagement with a cause/organisation, there are times when you’re faced with positional movements – leaders come and go and sometimes that takes place on the verge of a significant milestone in the relational process.  I had one situation where I was about to sign up a new 3 yr partnership after developing an engaged relationship over 2 years, only to have the primary leader move on.  The partnership was put on ice for nearly 18 months and I had to go back to square one with the new leadership.

4. Build Resilience. There are going to be disappointments, perceived rejection, frustrations and times of questioning your worth, value, influence and capacity.  I’m told I’m a great communicator, and there are times I’m puzzled by lack of response, resistance to engage, or at the seeming nit-picking that masks as reasons not to respond by people. The truth is as an itinerant speaker that there are highs and lows, times of celebration and others of commiseration. Disappointment, discouragement and disagreement are regular occurrences. Intentionally balancing these out with positive input is important to counter the see-saw affect that may lead to a slide into depression.  Always celebrate the small successes!

5. Be Engaging. Public speaking is about engaging your listener.  As a traveling speaker I love the challenge to connect to a new group of people (mostly unknown) and talk about issues of human trafficking, child labour, ethical consumption, poverty, etc.  Every group is different – the surroundings, the numbers, the style, the setting, the atmosphere, prior knowledge and a whole host of often intangible influences shape the nature of being a public speaker. No matter the topic – know your topic. No matter the setting – know who you’re talking to.  Find ways to connect quickly.  It’s not about being an entertainer, but it is about being an enthusiastic communicator.

6. Be Authentic. Staying true to who you are is crucial.  Irrespective of your personality or presenting style, be yourself! Yes we can learn principles, paradigms and even take on board specific tips about being better, but above all, be you! People see through it if you’re not genuine. Trying to present in a manner that you’re not comfortable with takes you away from being your centred self. I’ve found repeatedly across various platforms that the greatest encouragement and affirmation after presenting has come when I’ve been true to myself, my message and maintained my own style. Having done this has led to stronger outcomes as people respond to my call to action, to become change-agents and make a difference in our world.

7. Be Transformed. Personal growth, whether it be applying a new skill, attitude, behaviour or a deeper sense of spiritual formation requires intentional & ongoing transformation.  Growth doesn’t simply happen. In my experience, spiritual and personal vitality are closely integrated and when I’m faced with windows, or seasons, of constantly giving without much in return are the times I need to all the more focus intentionally deepen my own sense of spiritual formation.  Remaining centred in this way not only ensures I’m consistently growing and giving as I call others to do likewise, but I also ensure that as I enter into conversations with others I’m a non-anxious presence engaged in the moment.

For those into acronyms you may have worked out that the dominant words of the above 7 points spell out the word: RETREAT.

I find intentionally taking time out, developing and maintaining healthy rhythms of life, blocking out sections of my diary is critical to holding a healthy sense of well-being. I used to use the catch cry: “Schedule your priorities, don’t prioritise your schedule.”