Walking True

Walking True

Almost the last thing I did in 2021 was walk. It could be the year of the mask but it was the walking recovery year for me. After having a chunk of muscle removed from my right leg (with a tumour) in September 2020, I set out to do what I had endeavoured to do in 2020 and that was to walk at least 365 times.

Under that goal you can have a day off, but be warned you have to make it up with two a day if you slacken off! I did 374 walks covering 1582.82 kilometres (I know, it’s the App – keeps it exactly – there’s no hiding). That would have been a reasonable marathon buildup distance back in the day. The average walk was 4.24km and the average per day was 4.33. It’s lower than I would like but I’ve noticed my resilience for longer walks building and 2022 will be about maintaining and building an average walk of 5km. I loosened my “minimum 2km” rule on account of the surgery but very few walks were below 2km. All walks were deliberate (that’s a rule), but I incorporated other activity like shopping, walking at my little piece of land, and occasionally to and from work.

I listened to lots of music (became addicted to True by Spandau Ballet on the walks) and audio books – including 1984 with a mention almost exactly ten years ago on this blog (by Orwell – one insight: it’s happening in parts of the world), Brave New World (Huxley – it could happen), Animal Farm – I love this book, something about the farm, not just the story (Orwell – it’s happened in many places), A Promised Land (Obama – opportunities missed from fear of one’s own authenticity), The Tragedie of MacBeth (a play! – Shakespeare – violence begets violence), Leading Change (Kotter – it takes longer than you think), Skin in the Game (Taleb – only when you have actual skin in your game (work) do you have the rights to be heard), Apropos of Nothing (Allen – he’s funny, very funny and showing humour and grace when under attack is effective), Wuthering Heights (E Bronte – it was every bit as good as it was in the sixth form, and shaped me more than I realised – even the location of my new build to a degree), The Road to Wigan Pier (Orwell – cheer up for goodness sakes!).

From walk #5 of 2022 this morning – Arthurs Point, Queenstown

I walked in Auckland, Queenstown and Tauranga. Fewer places than I would usually, because of lockdowns and the resulting lesser travel. I have many favourite walks but standing out is Ohinerau – Mt Hobson – a gorgeous Maunga with spectacular views and sunsets and very close to home, the Arrow River by Arrowtown. Cornwall Park and the Domain are unbeatable really too. Maungawhau (Mt Eden) tests the cardiovascular system the best.

Reading back at this blog as I drafted it I cringed a little at the mention again of my cancer, but it’s part of me (well I live in hope it’s not physically!), and shaped me in unexpected ways. It made resilience real in 2021, it forced me to face existential questions early on and removed a fear of disease. Having it in the back of my mind – brought to the front of the mind every x-ray check up – has sharpened me in 2021. Live for now and get on with what I want to get done. Build the house, spend time with those that matter, and none with those that take the energy.

This is of course a leadership blog but after over ten years on it, there’s one constant which keeps me grounded in it and why sharing is necessary for leading. Authenticity. It’s everything in leadership. No degrees, accolades, books published or other high-sounding commendations can make up for a lack of it. Ask those who are led.

And grace – my word to start the year – we’re all human, so I try and will try more show grace in good times and in adversity. An old-fashioned word that captures how I’m feeling. And True? That’s the song I got addicted to on the walks. No idea why, but it’s true.

hari tau hou – happy new year!

Stephen

p.s. the featured image is also Arthurs Point, Queenstown this morning – a stiff walk uphill!





Looking back at habit forming

Looking back at habit forming

A year ago we were recently out of lockdown and I was continuing a walk a day to not break the chain. Good habit forming. The chain was well broken after surgery in September but once I got off the crutches I was up for another crack at one a day. So far 141 walks in 2021.

I noticed during the Lockdown in March and April last year that it was possible to form new habits much more quickly than I had thought. Adapting to life mainly at home wasn’t that difficult, in fact I quite enjoyed it and the new routines that went with it. I shouldn’t say this out loud but sometimes I feel like I wouldn’t mind another lockdown to have a break! Not that WFH is a break, but for me it has a sense of calm and I know others who feel the same.

It’s about now a year ago this week, that I thought I should see a physiotherapist, assuming I had a muscle problem. There was a delay until an appointment on 12 June 2020. The date is stuck in my mind and always will be. That’s the day I had a scan and consultations and knew, subject to biopsy and MRI, that I had a soft tissue sarcoma in my leg. Studies in both the US and the UK indicate that the typical time from symptoms to diagnosis is over a year. I feel blessed with the rapid support I got from medical specialists, including the physiotherapist who, without my knowledge, immediately consulted with an specialist before referring me for a scan that day.

So for me it wasn’t just Covid that gave rise to new habits. Cancer did too: I don’t run now. I can’t! I don’t jaywalk – there is no quick sprint available if needed. I don’t use stairs yet, unless I have to although I’m told I should get there. I’m careful with seating and make sure I put my leg up when I can.

Taking these two major events to create positive and lasting personal and professional change has been a source of renewed energy and contentment for me. It’s not that work hasn’t continued to grow in intensity and volume. Or that I am physically where I was before. Covid created professional opportunities and the possibilities of new ways of working.

Cancer created the freedom to get on with many things, reinvigorated healthy habits of exercise, but most importantly, took away things that don’t matter giving space to focus on what matters. A new calm energy.

And in case you don’t have the habit of monitoring days of the year it’s 140. I’m one walk ahead!

Stephen

p.s. I am mindful that disease and cancer in particular can be triggers for many of us, and that not all outcomes are as positive as mine is now.

Nearly over

Nearly over

I had a sense of slight disappointment when someone texted me to say that most of our restrictions were about to end. I was doing something very mundane – collecting my car from servicing – which almost felt normal although the “service” manager certainly kept his distance.

I’m watching the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona which at its heart is like many other Woody Allen films – about being yourself – at a level of authenticity beyond which we typically engage with in leadership.

Lockdown has been a real gift for me I feel. Firstly, to engage in structure – I’ve talked of that before – but also in deep thought on what matters. At a basic level we didn’t have a chance to have any new “things” for several weeks. Did we feel any loss for that? I doubt it. Did we actually enjoy and embrace more of what we have? I think so. Which might not bode well for the local economy if we realise we don’t need so many new things. Or even takeaway coffee. The $65 home machine is just fine! 

We’ll kinda go back to work if we want to next week, but we don’t have to – we can work at home still – and I suspect many of us will. Some will say they’re being cautious about the ‘rona, but I reckon some of us will stay at home because we like it more. In seven short weeks we’ve actually embraced, enjoyed and thrived in it. I think at a deeper level of personal growth about my own purpose I’ve thrived. I’ve also got far more from my work than the everyday normality – which for me is never too routine – but this was another level.

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There’s a scene in Vicky Cristina Barcelona where Vicky is out to dinner in Barcelona with her fiancé and another couple. The other three are in excited conversation about A/V systems, the latest high-def television, interior designers et al, for their new homes. Vicky gazes in the distance, dreaming of the meaningful life she could – should –  have in Barcelona, in art, with a man she’s passionate about, living life to its full richness.

It’s easy to get caught up in what appears to matter but if I take anything out of the reflections I’ve had in Lockdown it’s to never forget what really matters. They’re not just “to dos”. They’re everything. And only you can work that fundamental purpose question.

Barcelona still beckons.

Stephen

A week in standard 3

A week in standard 3

Not writing each day upset my new structure. This surprised me as I had thought that the extra hour I would have not writing the daily COVID-19 Lockdown Blog would be helpful. It turned out that losing that part of the daily structure made me more disorganised – working after dinner again on the couch. Too much to do.

The traffic amped up significantly since Tuesday. At times it’s almost looked normal, but not quite.

But we really are in the calm before the economic storm. Twenty-four billion dollars spent and we’re still in a post-pandemic haze, wondering what that was all about, or maybe in my Bubble I’ve become too disconnected. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs, our tourism industry is dead, we can’t fly anywhere, most businesses still shuttered. And knowledge workers are still stuck at home, but we should be grateful that we can still work and working at home isn’t that bad. Level three feels no different to me than level four, a bit like Standard 3 and 4 was for me.

Mr Keen was my Standard 3 (and 4) teacher. I remember overhearing the other teachers talking about how the headmaster, Mr Matheson, was friends with Mr Keen and Mr Keen got to choose who his pupils were! Somehow I was a chosen one. Mr Keen was an enthusiastic musician and had us all playing the recorder, other instruments, and singing – that was his real passion.  He also used to talk about the horrors of Belfast.

A search of the name Keen identifies it from County Londonderry in Northern Island. The Troubles in Northern Ireland which started in the late 1960s was almost certainly what he was talking about, but it completely escaped my attention.   Driving through Belfast, the suburb in north Christchurch that State Highway 1 used to run through, never seemed that much in turmoil to me as I observed it from the back of the family car, although I never sought clarification.

Mr Keen also showed us – from the Christchurch Star or The Press – one of the most famous photographs ever taken – the photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the Napalm Girl – who epitomised the horrors of another war. What I never appreciated was that this young girl was the same age as all of us in the class. Mr Keen probably knew though, and I’m very grateful for the social conscience that he instilled in me about things well outside the confines of our little school. At the time I didn’t realise the significance of what he was trying to get across – but I do remember his passion about these two wars – even if I had no idea where one of them was!

Your leadership story grows with practice and this regular blogging has reinforced for me the memories that are stored in us all but not easily accessed without a mechanism to do so. I’ve quite enjoyed that part of this Lockdown. So maybe there was more than just the structure that I’ve got from it – re-living and reflecting on memories from many moons ago has brought a deep sense of contentment.

Have a great first Alert Level 3 weekend!

Stephen