An Honest Climb

An Honest Climb

Tobins Track has a steep incline of about 2.5 kilometres from Arrowtown. A man on a cycle moving barely quicker than me on foot, went past about two thirds of the way up. “It’s a good one isn’t it?” I said. “It’s an honest climb” he replied. As I approached the landing, with a view over Arrowntown, across to the Crown Range and a peek of Lake Wakatipu with downtown Queenstown nestled in the foreground, I felt quite emotional. Last time I’d done the walk was in September last year, recovering from radiation treatment and two weeks out from surgery to remove a soft tissue sarcoma in my leg.

I knew I had a problem during the first lockdown almost a year ago and blogged at the very end of my last daily post on the final day of the lockdown that my leg was still a bit sore. Six weeks later I knew I had a tumour, soon diagnosed as malignant and needing treatment and surgery.

The cyclist was resting at the landing when I reached it. He told me I’d done well. I told him the last time I’d been up here was just before surgery for cancer – “been there done that” he said. Nothing more needed to be said. We enjoyed the view.

Over the last nine months I’ve felt many blogs circling in my mind about the experience, but nothing felt right. It hurt, it felt private and it felt very uncertain at times. I kept a handwritten diary – The Sarcoma Diary – which was a source of calm when I felt the need to look back at it.

Arrowtown seen from above during Autumn

And yet my story is extremely positive – my prognosis now a first world problem compared to many – I limp a bit and possibly always will – and stairs are a challenge.

My resilience has been tested, and at times I considered existential questions, although they passed, and looking in the rear view mirror it’s slightly unreal. More mundane work and home life concerns soon took hold – the meeting at 7.30am, really? and why is the gas bill so variable?

So coming out of this cancer has felt honest, with a clear head and a tight focus on what’s important. All the things I already know, but with an added honesty that keeps me focussed.

I told one of my specialists that having cancer was one of the best things that’s happened to me. Apparently it’s not that uncommon.

Having said that, I know that cancer is a terrible disease. I’ve heard more stories in these last nine months with bad endings than I thought could exist in my circle of family and friends. I know that I’m blessed and for that I’m very grateful.

Stephen

Day 16

Day 16

It was another gorgeous day today in Auckland so perhaps my welcoming of Winter was a bit premature. I had my 119th and 120th walks of the year today. Up Maungawhau (Mt Eden) that sits proudly watching over Tāmaki Makaurau. It’s the highest Maunga (mountain) in Auckland’s monogenetic volcanic range on the mainland. Each volcano erupts only once, as compared to polygenetic volcanoes, such as Whakaari White Island, or Mt Ruapehu.  The most recent one to erupt was Rangitoto Island, 550 years ago and it’s also the tallest.

The Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority is the statutory authority which co-governs fourteen of Auckland’s fifty-three Maunga with Auckland Council. Of those fourteen, in addition to Maungawhau, Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill), Ōhinerau (Mount Hobson), and Te Kōpuke / Tītīkōpuke (Mount St John) are within easy striking distance for walking during the Lockdown. Maungakiekie adjoins Cornwall Park, and is essentially one large park. Mount Hobson is very close to me and I often attend our weekly Consulting all-partner morning calls striking it up to the top, hoping that when I need to speak I’m actually at the top and not pacing it out upwards!

I feel very blessed to live amongst such beautiful form in the city, which has meaningful history and is ideal for walking for fitness. The variations in route, views, typography on any one walk are almost endless.

It really did feel like the city had cleaned out and gone to the beach for Easter. I think a few may have, but some got turned back – STAY HOME! – and no doubt reminded that it’s a staycation this weekend.

It’s still a great opportunity to do some cleaning out I reckon. Little projects that you can do at home in the garden or the house to clean out stuff you don’t need. Face it, we have too much. Clean some stuff off your mental or actual to do list too. Create a project list*. and if something doesn’t make it, it’s never going to be a thing. Maybe that physical photo album is not really a thing. Forget it, it’s clutter in your mind holding onto it and then clutter 30 minutes after it’s created.

I got cleaned out of someone else’s 2020 plans. Plans for a project were ended with “I’m bowing out“, without explanation. But I respect that. We’ve all got our own stuff going on and to clean out is refreshing for the mind, when needed. No-one wants to continue with something, when you’re only half-hearted, or something doesn’t feel right. But it was slightly jarring nonetheless. Not my call but you have to move forward for the next opportunity.

Maungakiekie/One Tree Hill

So a big question for Auckland will be when the next eruption might be.  When will the volcanic bed get cleaned out? The eruptions have generally been thousands of years apart, and scientists’ best estimate will be that the next one is off the coast near St Heliers, near Browns Island. LEAVE HOME! will be catch cry you would assume when that happens.

Almost forgot COVID-19. It’s still a thing alright, you can see that everywhere you go – which isn’t far – but we need to be patient.

Cleaning out and patience. Excellent leadership traits to practice during a long weekend confined to home. Patience is underused.

Stephen

*I’m reading Getting Things Done at the moment.

 

 

Day 13

Day 13

A lucky day for me, being born on a 13th but not so for some, or so it’s said. Friday the 13th, 1307, legend (only) has it, is when the French King ordered the arrest of hundreds of Knights Templar, to steal their resources. It’s also 13 guests at the last supper, one of whom was a traitor.

Today was lucky for some. More people in New Zealand recovered from COVID-19 than were diagnosed with it. And the numbers of new cases has dropped again, but early release was unlikely.  Seemingly unconnected, the police declared in a new interpretation of the law that they had a lot more power than previously thought – to enter property and so forth – if that had reasonable grounds to believe bubbles were mixing!  You’ve got to laugh, really. But the reasonable grounds provides a check, a self policing check that is open to review, but nonetheless an important check.

Little Kids Having Fun Outdoors

Overseas, in the UK, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to Intensive Care, which has to be concerning, while the Sussexes competed with that news, and announced their new charity, telling the media, that they felt “compelled” to release it now.

Given half the world is compelled to stay at home, you’d have to wonder where that compulsion came from, right now. But that’s a part of life that was weird long before COVID-19 came along in December last year.

I read an excellent article today comparing the impact of World War II with the current situation. It seems trite in terms of global impacts, deaths etc, but it compared the business transformation that the war brought to many American companies, with what might be possible now.

In small ways, we can see already that for knowledge workers, the ability to work remotely at scale, is both achievable and in many ways, helpful. We might not require all the space, or type of space, that we’ve had before, or many of the other tools of our trades. There’s new questions we hadn’t even thought of before, that need answers. One of mine is if my breakfast bar stool that I use for work, which has started squeaking, can be replaced during the Lockdown. Probably not, but seriously we knew that working remotely is possible – we had all the tools – but looking back, already we can see how timid our prior attempts have been. Do change resisters rule the roost during times of prosperity?

Yes, prosperity. Who knew that a month ago we were in a prosperous economy? You barely know it when it’s there, but you soon know when you’re not! The speed in change and the enforced nature of the change are the differences in this crisis. We’ve gone from prosperity to crisis in days, as a consequence of the government closing us down. I’m not aware of this happening before.

So, now is the time to make the changes for the new world, that we’ve been too timid, had too much resistance, and had excuses not to do, even though it was the right thing.

Virtual bubbles unite!

Stephen

p.s. In searching for a Knights Templar stock photo I noticed there were 13 pages of them!

So I chose a Last Supper theme, ever hopeful we might be out of our cave soon. It’s from Prague – The fresco of Last Supper in church kostel Svatého Václava by S. G. Rudl (end of 19. cent.).

And just for fun, if you’ve made it this far:

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Day 11

Day 11

It’s already late! And we’re supposed to have had an extra hour to make us get to bed early. It was dark by the time I got back from a walk and shop and it was only 6.45pm. This was after an afternoon of home-admin: financial planning, an insurance claim for overseas travel postponed due to COVID-19, and other bits of “shallow work” that take time, but need to be done.

Not that financial planning is shallow work. It’s most definitely not. I’m giving serious thought to the changing environment – following my Barefoot Investor* rulebook – and devoting deep work time to it as described in Cal Newport’s book* of the same name.

There’s an awful lot out there right now, that we can’t control, but as I’ve said earlier in on the Lockdown I consider that this is a great time to focus in on ourselves using Windfulness and what is truly important to us. In my experience, narrowing my focus in a way that brings meaning to the things I can control reduces anxiety, and increases my life contentment (or satisfaction – you can choose the work that suits you here).

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Much of what we can’t control is the strong alarm soundings everywhere – the flashing red news site banners (did you know that the colour red raises anxiety) – and strong opinions on the Lockdown in Social Media and the Media generally. It does nothing for me to read much of it. That’s not to say I don’t keep myself informed or that I do have opinions on some matters but can I control it? No. Essentially, no one person can, so I refuse to unnecessarily bother worrying about it, if it’s upsetting for some reason.

This is why I endeavour to remain upbeat and in good humour about the current events. I consider I am much more use to those that need me and rely on me for support – family, team, colleagues.  I’m well aware there are thousands of personal tragedies, directly or indirectly related to COVID-19 and I have empathy for those impacted. But I refuse to let it get me personally down.

And about those opinions we’ve all been reading (that’s most news items in case you hadn’t noticed!). Well, what if you didn’t have an opinion? Is that acceptable? In his book The Art of the Good LIfe, Rolf Dobelli says that it can be immensely liberating not to have an opinion on something. My son Thomas, who’s a great reader, put me onto this and I agree. For example, I don’t have an opinion on either the Cannabis or End of Life reform legislation that are going to a referendum.  I hope I get one when the time comes! But it’s freedom – my most important value – and like Marie Kondo does with your house, you can do it with your mind.

Take the Lockdown time to do some deep work, clean out the shallow work and home clutter that are getting in the way, free yourself of unnecessary opinion, and focus on facts, not on-line windups.

That’s me for the next 17 days at least!

Happy working week 3 (can we call it that? Why not)

Stephen

*There’s no financial or other advice implied or provided here of course. These are just my personal reflections only.