Aunty Rewa was born in October 1906 in the gold mining town of Waihi on the southern end of the Coromandel. Her parents William and Letitia, both Pākehā, had a Māori nanny and asked her to name the new baby. And Rewa entered the family.
When my mother was born she was named after Aunty Rewa and thanks to the original Koha and longevity, 116 years later the name still lives on in our family. I don’t know anything of the Nanny but I do know that being given the opportunity to name a new-born and carrying that through another generation are both special events and show insight that make fascinate me. Gifting a name is indeed special, a true koha.
Of course I’m biased, but Mum is pretty special and moving another year into her tenth decade this month, celebrated yesterday with a small family lunch in Ōtautahi Christchurch, was a lovely family occasion.
“Bottled Peaches!” declared the Airport security woman on the way home – actually apricots – but I didn’t feel like splitting hairs. Mum’s special creation and this jar is from her 69th annual bottling session of Otago apricots, earlier this year, never having missed making them each year since 1952 or 3.
A birthday should be about gifting and I’m pretty fortunate to have come away with this little number.
But the true gift is time – with Mum especially – and Mum still providing for us kids all these years later.
Coming to the end of The Obstacle is the Way I was surprised when the author announced that I was now a philosopher in Stoicism. Although the title of the book is perhaps an obvious clue as to what follows, I hadn’t framed my approach this way. But I found much of the book confirmatory of the usefulness of the concepts of stoicism – especially in a world of disruption (i.e. always!).
The challenging client? Covid anxiety? A war? The intractable work issue? Passive behaviour that feels aggressive? Too many life admins outstanding? All of the above all at once? I try to monitor and notice my own reactions to life’s obstacles – does my heart rate increase, am I irritable, do I start doing detailed work and planning? To notice is to be present in the here and now.
I remember many moons ago working in the Auckland Central police watchhouse – where people who had been arrested were “processed” – until they were bailed or taken to court. As you might imagine, not all customers were particularly happy – many drunk, aggressive and abusive. But you had to search, photograph and fingerprint them, whether they liked it or not. In some respects, achieving the outcomes required behaviour that was the antithesis of the macho, forceful imagine of a uniform cop tackling an alcohol-infused melee. It required the ability to depersonalise the anger directed at you. It’s surprisingly difficult to fingerprint someone – hold their fingers over an inkpad, and roll each finger on the paper – all ten of them – if they don’t want it! I must have achieved a modicum of success as the senior sergeant asked me to stay on for a second six month tour because he said, I had the temperament. I declined, patrols were far exciting.
But it must have been part of my journey of stoicism, which has really come to the fore these last couple of years, although I’ve never really framed it for myself that way. Perception, Action and Will make up the three disciplines of this book and underpinning it is turning every obstacle into an advantage. In business we might say “turning lemon into lemonade”, or “pivoting now”, but what we’re doing is turning the challenge, the obstacle or disadvantage into an opportunity.
Put another way, declining to be a victim despite the circumstances of apparent unfairness, avoiding catastrophising a situation – living in the present – the book says that unfortunately “We have to dive endlessly into what everything “means”, whether something is “fair” or not, whats “behind” this or that..”. Actually most of the time when something isn’t going our way, the person, or people that might be the perceived cause, are more than likely not particularly interested in us. Sad, but good too! It can put perspective into our lives.
Been “disrespected” at work? Who hasn’t been? (who hasn’t done it too?). Was the other person acting with intention? Possibly, but more than likely it was just a moment. So don’t worry. Feed off what they said and come back more powerful appearing more considered and patient as a result.
It’s a perfect day for stoicism. Rain is here after what feels like months of fine weather (unconscious bias of course – there’s been some!), and it’s got that cosy, rain on the roof feeling.
An opportunity to catch up on life admin, and even restart a blog!
Headline Photograph: Stonehenge from a visit in 2015. The rocks were quite a bit smaller than I had imagined.
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!).
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!
p.s. the featured image is also Arthurs Point, Queenstown this morning – a stiff walk uphill!
Well it would be since we first went into Lockdown on 26 March 2020 although I have to acknowledge that there’s been a couple of gaps in my blogging since then! Out walking this evening the roads were silky black and wet. I counted five buses – two only with interior lights on, only one passenger all up. It seemed fitting for the audiobook I was listening to – The Road to Wigan Pier – a grim first person account of depression-era England in the Industrial North, by George Orwell. I selected it on account of another listen to Orwell’s Animal Farm, a book I first read in High School. It’s a depressing yet delightful book all in one. I’m not sure what I make of The Road to Wigan Pier yet, I’ll need to complete it.
Since Day 1 when we were first placed in a national state of emergency and into Level 4 lockdown, recorded global deaths have gone from 14,000 to almost 4.4 million. It’s trite to say, we’ve changed and in the middle of change.
Reflecting back 510 days ago, it seemed like the pandemic would be over in a few months – I’d put my trip to Ireland to see my son and his family – back to July “to be on the safe side”, and I was confident life would be back to normal in relatively short order. It started to, although not the travel, until I had a soft tissue sarcoma identified in my right leg on 12 June. Big dates stay with me and I’ve passed the first anniversary of that find with treatment and surgery behind me, although there’s ten years (I hope!) of follow-up. Because it’s not far off the anniversary of surgery and the weather is similar, I can’t help but feel slightly disoriented – am I home recovering, is it a lockdown, or just normal working from home? When I have a little pain in my leg, am I back to last year or is it just a little pain that’s normal these days?
The anxietyometer was up a bit yesterday, settled but it’s still elevated. All the complications and disturbances of the 510 days are back to the fore for a fresh look. I think that’s a good thing.