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One of my tribes.

I’m writing this on the train from Vancouver back to the Bay Area, sitting in the glass-encased observation carriage as farmlands and forests sweep by, dramatically snow-capped mountains in the distance. We are in southern Oregon and it feels like every few minutes we cross another river near-bursting its banks. It’s all so lush and gorgeous, characteristic of the Northwest Forests I’ve had the chance to experience in recent days. Trains really are the best way to travel. While yesterday I had wifi from Vancouver to Portland this 18-hour stretch from Portland to San Francisco is offline, which I don’t mind as it’s a good time for clearing my head and doing some writing.

The past couple of weeks have been unusually stressful, with my visa to re-enter the US initially being rejected, stranding me in Canada with my pregnant wife left back in San Francisco and time ticking down to our departure from the US back to Australia, unable to help with the tasks of relocation or say goodbye to my friends in person. This is all thankfully behind me as I steam towards the Bay, with 17 days once I get there to finish packing and depart.

Despite the stress and frustration when in the future I look back on this time I don’t think this is what I’ll remember at all. Instead I think I’ll have overwhelming positive feelings about these two weeks, remembering the incredible support and love our friends showed both K and I, which managed to turn what could have been an awful experience into truthfully one of the most moving and uplifting of my life.

When we first announced the visa rejection on Facebook, the response was immediate and near-overwhelming. Offers of support and advice poured in. I was connected to Australian, American and Canadian diplomats, immigration lawyers, and people who had gone through the process before to get advice. I was offered numerous places to stay and people to connect with in Vancouver and Calgary. Our friends in San Francisco really stepped up to help K with packing up our house, at one point she had seven of them working under her direction, or just to deliver her food and offer her company and support.

Beyond these specific actions was the unbelievable sense of love, concern and solidarity we both experienced. When we could have felt very alone, kept apart by border and bureaucracy, we instead felt deeply connected to our community. It’s a feeling I will always treasure. Thank you to everyone who reached out and offered comfort during this time.

In the most practical and necessary way possible I also experienced incredible hospitality while in Canada. In Vancouver I stayed with a new friend who I had only met at a street party in San Francisco this past New Year’s Day. It’s not as random as it sounds, we share a mutual close friend who was at the party and she spent five years in Sydney previously.  While we never met we were part of the same cultural community in Sydney, the outdoor psytrance scene, and this sense of being part of the same tribe, despite having only recently met, was powerfully connecting, even as my intended 3 days in Vancouver stretched to 11. Last Saturday night we went to a psytrance party in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, and the feeling of the community there was reminiscent of the tribe we both missed in Sydney: open, fun-loving and expressive.

I had the same experience in Calgary, staying with a relatively recently-met friend who I share many social ties with, both having been part of the beautifully close-knit Burning Man community in Washington DC, but never having lived there at the same time. While in Calgary I also met a group of the local burners (Burning Man devotees) and the ease with which we bonded was both unusual and yet also expected.

The lesson: when you are part of the same tribe, you take care of each other.

I’ve thought a lot about tribes over the past several years, and it’s my belief in the power and abundance of our communities that inspires me about crowdfunding (or tribefunding as I increasingly think of it).

I believe a deeper sense of tribe is only possible when you share a form of cultural expression which is sub-mainsteam. In other words it is sub-cultures that form community. Sub-cultures tend to be based on participation, whereas mainstream cultures are based on consumption. Once a culture gets too big a certain level of intimacy and sense of connection and participation, of having something important and vital in common, gets diluted then lost. You can feel this even in San Francisco, where Burning Man culture has become mainstream, and the truly tight-knit communities are the next sub-cultural level down, groups of burners based around specific camps or sounds.

I also had the chance to connect with my other community, social entrepreneurs and changemakers, when I presented at events in Vancouver, Calgary and Portland, and loved the energy and passion of the people I met. I hope we’ll be able to support many of them on StartSomeGood soon.

It is my connection to these tribes, my pursuit of the subcultures I love to participate in, which has provided a platform for my last four years in America, which has allowed me to quickly make friends and find community in each city I arrive in.

I am so grateful for the support of friends new and old over the past couple of weeks, and for the tribes and cultures which connect us.

“True [dance] music consists of four main ingredients: a cup of spirituality, a tablespoon of love, a dash of togetherness, and a pinch of soul-penetrating beats.” – Bamboo Forrest.

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Okay so this is already out-of-date since I wrote it a few days ago but I’m posting it anyway to kick-start this blog. I wanted to leave it in the form it was written but, quickly, my visa was denied in Canada so I’m not making it to SXSW. I’ve got a second interview coming up and my only aspiration now is to get back to San Francisco to help K pack up and ship our life back to Australia and say goodbye to my friends in person.

I’m sitting on a bus crossing the Canadian Rockies, 13 hours into a 17 hour trip. I’m here in Canada getting one last visa to the US before moving back to Australia. I’m taking the bus specifically because I wanted to cross the Rockies at ground level and couldn’t afford the train. I was very impressed by Greyhounds description of their new buses: more legroom, power plugs at every seat, wifi. This, however, is not one of those buses, so I’m missing a number of skype meetings I had planned and am limited in the work I can do.

But maybe this is a good thing. For starters, knowing my laptop will only last a few hours I’ve been sparing in my use of it, mostly staring out the windows at the gorgeous scenery (which is what I’m here for after all!). And being offline has encouraged me to finally write post for my long-form (and long-ignored) blog.

It’s been shockingly long since I posted here and a great deal has happened in the intervening time. Those of you who know me personally or follow me on social media, and really that must be nearly all  of you, are probably abreast of most of this already, so I won’t labour over the details. But here are the highlights:

  • In August/September More Carrot mounted another successful expedition to Burning Man, expanding the farmers market to hot and prepared food and sending a mobile market out into the city.
  • I finished at HopeLab in October. Despite my love for the organization and people there my actual role wasn’t the right one for me, for a variety of reasons I may blog about more later.
  • After leaving HopeLab I focused on StartSomeGood.com, which has brought so much more energy and excitement to my life. I’m loving being a full-time entrepreneur again.
  • I spent a week in Tucson working with Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis at Creating the Future, which has had a profound impact on my thinking and on how we express things at StartSomeGood, which I blogged about here.
  • K and I did an introduction to Shamanism course in October which deserves its own blog post sometime. Interesting stuff.
  • In November/December I spent three weeks in Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, traveling with my sister and a close friend, learning to scuba dive and visiting ancient Mayan cities:
  • Upon returning from that trip K and I discovered she was pregnant and due in August! Woh! Not part of the plan (yet) but a delightful surprise, we’re super-excited to embark on this new journey together.
  • But as one journey begins another comes to an end, and K and I are moving back to Australia in April, and looking forward to catching up with many friends and re-exploring Sydney. We’ve been hearing really good reports about all the cool things happening there at the moment and are excited to re-engage and catch up.

So there you are, you’re up to date if you weren’t before. Life is very full and very exciting. There’s so much I want to pack into these last eight weeks in America – visiting friends and places I haven’t made it out to, (such as I’m doing in Canada right now), returning to a couple of my favourite camping spots near San Francisco and spending lots of quality time with my favourite people. And I’m going to be absolutely cranking away at StartSomeGood, before I get separated from my team mates by even more timezones than usual.

We’re starting to see a real return on our efforts now, with more and more ventures getting in touch and looking to utilize our platform. We’ll be hosting a great event featuring social innovators called Pitch Some Good during South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, which I’m also speaking at – please come along if you’re in town.

You can also check out some of our success stories from our first nine months in our eBook: Start Some Good: What’s Next for 2012?:

Now that this big update is out of the way I’m going to try to make a commitment to blogging more often, hopefully on topics more interesting than me.

Cheerio!

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From StreesideSF.

Life has been so busy lately that it would make many a good blog update but rarely do I seem to have the time, or maybe the patience, with bashing out a proper post at the moment. Part of this is just the raw hours I’m working across three major projects. Part of it is that so much of all these projects takes place on m computer my eyes get tired and I crave time away from this particular screen.

I’m not sure I should feel very guilty about this – I never have been a terribly serious blogger – but I do. At least some of the time. It feels like a goal I’m failing at, even if in many ways it’s been sacrificed so I can achieve the more important goals of the moment. But it’s easy to pick apart our own behavior I think, to be more critical and less forgiving than we would be with a friend.

The truth is I am actually blogging quite a lot at the moment – more than ever before – but just not here very often.

Over the past 9 months I’ve set up a couple of visual and short-form blogs on posterous. One, Bits & Bytes, features my favourite bits of media, information and ephemera I find online. The other, StreetsideSF, is a shared blog with K featuring the street art we see all around us in San Francisco. IF you haven’t checked them out yet please do and consider subscribing.

In addition I currently run two blogs for HopeLab – our main Sticky Notes blog on HopeLab.org and the blog at the JOYcampaign website I manage, both of which I regularly contribute to myself – and I try to write for the StartSomeGood blog whenever I can manage.

We are also eight days away from leaving for Burning Man, and it’s been another epic organizational challenge to pull together a theme camp primarily of first-timers from all around the world. I can’t wait to move beyond the organizing phase, hit the desert and get dusty with my family (literally, my sister is coming) and friends.

Despite all this busyness I’m having a lot of fun, challenging myself to get a lot done and feeling extremely fortunate to be able to work on such exciting and meaningful projects with people I admire. There’s nothing I would rather not be doing. I would like to post here more often however :)

I hope everything is great in your world and that life is full of joy.

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This is a blog post I was, to my delight, asked to contribute to the “What’s Your Calling?” blog tour:

What’s Your Calling?” explores notions of “calling” from both religious and secular perspectives. “What’s Your Calling?” pushes the notion of “calling” to explore all of the stuff that makes us human: our values, our passions, our doubts and hopes. Profiling individuals from diverse backgrounds – “What’s Your Calling?” shares what people have been called to do with their lives and how they hope to change the world.

If there’s one thing I knew from pretty early on, it’s that I wasn’t draw to any particular conventional career. Once I’d gotten past the “I want to be a fireman” stage nothing really grabbed me. I admired what my parents did (town planning and public broadcasting) but didn’t feel destined to follow in the family footsteps in these specific regards.

But I wasn’t particularly worried, I somehow knew the world would find a use for me and my skills and that I would find, well, a calling that inspired me to use these skills to the best of my ability. In High School I was fond of telling people “I’m not looking for a career, I’m looking for a cause”, more so, I suspect, to sound cool and differentiate myself from the more studious types around me than from any deeper understanding of what that might mean. But, funnily enough, this is indeed what happened.

However, in the absence of something to aim for or aspire to, I drifted. My grades dropped towards the bottom of my class. I was inattentive and disrespectful in class. During a typical class in year 10 I was sent from the room for talking and being disruptive. While hanging around in the corridor, reflecting on how unjust life can be, I picked up a discarded brochure, desperate for something to read to pass the time.

It turned out to be for a student exchange program to America. I hadn’t known such things existed, that high school students were allowed to go and live with another family in another country for up to a year. I immediately knew it was something I needed to do. I loved my family very much but felt constrained by my school and relationship groups. I felt defined by my peer group before I even knew how to define myself, trapped in a box I felt I had no part in making.

My parents, to my eternal gratitude, were supportive, and a year later, midway through year 11, I departed for 11 months in Spokane, Washington State. The chance to step outside my context, outside that box, was transformational. I suddenly found myself in a place where opinions “everyone” held at home were unusual and controversial. I landed at a new school, had to make new friends, and in the process had a chance to preset myself to the world anew. I had space, in a way, to reflect, and feel, to consider what I wanted from my life. As best I could as a 16 year-old anyway. I became more confident in my opinions, in myself, in my place in the world. My Mum would say afterwards that I “found myself in America.”

But it was in San Francisco, not Spokane, that I found my calling. I was invited to attend the State of the World Forum, held in San Francisco in 1995. It was a post-Cold War pow-wow designed to build consensus on the challenges and opportunities facing the world. Participants included Mikael Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Ted Turner, Thich Nhat Hanh, Richard Leakey, Jane Goodall, Rigoberta Menchu Tum and numerous other Nobel Laureattes, business people, environmentalists, authors, thinkers and politicians.

As the conference was about the future the organizers, late in the piece I’m guessing, decided it would be apropos to have young people present. Unwilling or unable to do a global search for worthy young leaders they partnered with AFS, the world’s biggest exchange student organization to select out of young people already in the country on their program. I was selected to attend, one of 32 youths from 28 countries.

It was a heady, extraordinary experience. The first day we arrived we were told that we represented “2 billion young people”. We participated in dialogue’s with Nobel Peace Prize winners, world leaders (including Gorbachev and then Vice-President later President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki), representatives from the UN and other global organizations and, of course, with each other. During the week I was there I slept for only a few hours a night and barely ate. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t tired. I was infatuated with a new found sensation of being included in conversation that, it seemed, really mattered. Being listened to and told my opinions mattered. I felt, in a word, empowered.

But as l left the Forum this feeling of empowerment was balanced with another sensation: dissatisfaction. This can’t be good enough I thought to myself. If we are serious about including the perspectives of young people in conversation that matter, and we must be, then it can’t be based on pretending that a group of upper-middle class kids who already have the opportunity to be in America (just happening to be in the right time at the right place) “represent” the young people of the world. I felt intensely, immediately, that we needed to build better, more genuinely representative platforms and opportunities for young people from diverse perspectives to share their stories, and that this could never truly happen inside the closed rooms of conferences.

In dissatisfaction we can sometimes find our calling: something that needs changing about the world, and the determination that it must be us to change it. This is not the only type of calling of course, but for me it was the cause I had been looking for, the focus I needed, the work that needed doing.

Since then I have been working to allow more people’s voices to be heard, to build a more democratic society and world. First my focus was on young people and event-based, founding organizations at high school and university which hosted a variety of conferences, debates and arts gatherings. In 2000 I realized that the internet was the platform I had been looking for, and media the marketplace of ideas in our society, and founded Vibewire, and organization that continues to create opportunities for political and creative expression for young Australians. Then two years at Ashoka exploring how social media could help create an Everyone a Changemaker world, one where all voices and perspectives can be heard, and more recently co-founding StartSomeGood.com, a platform for changemakers to access the resources and support they need to turn their ideas into action and impact.

For me this is what I want to do with the rest of my life, to help communities and individuals rise to the challenges that confront us and in so doing create a more equitable, sustainable and just world, one based on democratic participation and individual empowerment.

I know from my journey that a calling, or a cause, can arise at any moment, as a result of the stories you see, hear, experience and share. They can be grandiose (like mine), or humble, community-focused or individualistic, a life-long pursuit or a chapter amongst many. All are equally valid; all share an essential spark of human creativity, idealism and imagination. If you are still looking for a calling I would simply advise: stay open. Open minded, open hearted and, simply, open-eyed.  Possibility, opportunity, challenges and tragedy are all around us. The world is both an amazing and a difficult place and is made better by each person who brings their whole self into it and finds a way to do work which inspires and fulfils them.

If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. – Thomas Merton

Pic by Christopher Lehault, available on a creative commons license.

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Joy, gratitude and grief

I wrote this on the plane on Monday but haven’t felt like returning to it and posting it this week. I wasn’t sure if I was going to post it, or if I had written it just to say something to myself, get some thoughts and feelings out. But re-reading it and adding to it slightly I’ve decided I will share it, in part because I want to publicly express the gratitude I describe below, and in part because these sentiments are, I’m sure, pretty universal and I’d love any perspectives from others.

I’m sitting on the flight back to San Francisco to Sydney thinking about everyone I saw and everything I experienced during my too-brief trip home. It’s only early afternoon Sydney time but the cabin is already dim as we head into evening San Francisco time. I like dimmed aircraft cabins – despite the press of an almost-full flight it creates a sense of personal space and solitude, each of us sitting in our own little pool of light, or illuminated by the flickering screen in front of us. It’s a good time for thinking.

As I replay the last nine days in Australia in my mind my overriding emotion is gratitude. I really am so lucky. My family are incredible and so supportive of me, endlessly generous with their love. To my parents and sister: thank you so much. It is because of you that I can embark on the adventure I’m on. Knowing I have a safe harbor making it easier to leave the sight of shore.

I’m so grateful also to my friends who make such efforts to work with the absurd little windows my life provides for catch-ups. Being back with old friends has a special quality to it. It’s an acceptance and appreciation which has nothing to do with my supposed achievements and everything to do with who we are, the experiences we have shared, our shared sense of fun, values and what we find meaningful. You know who you are, thank you for everything.

And I’m grateful to the School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, who organized my speaking tour and allowed me to spend nights in Melbourne and Adelaide, seeing and meeting great people in each place. It was great to re-connect with the Australian social entrepreneurship scene and meet so many changemakers.

This trip contained a lot of emotion, which has left me tired and sentimental as I fly home. K and I attended two truly beautiful weddings and shared in the joy of great friends taking the next step in their lives together. But we also got some awful, heartbreaking news on Sunday: a close friends of K’s from university, someone I have met and admire, passed away very suddenly after collapsing on Thursday. He was 29 and had advanced, previously undiagnosed leukemia.

This sudden loss is really hard to process. For someone so young, vibrant and positive to just be… gone… so suddenly, makes no sense, cannot truly be comprehended. One day extraordinary happiness. The next shock and grief.

This is life, I suppose. As my Mum is fond of saying “no one ever said it was going to be fair.” But some days and some stories seem more unfair than others. Blair was an extremely talented performer with a blindingly bright future. He was in the midst of making a television cooking show with his Mum, who wrote a beautiful message on his Facebook wall yesterday. I don’t know how she found the strength. Even knowing him as modesty as I did I feel dented by the shock of his passing, doing my best to support K, who was very close to him after working on a number of shows together during university. She is staying another week in Australia and it’s hard to leave her.
Blair’s friends are sharing their reactions through his Facebook wall. The tone of these postings is truly amazing, so positive are they, reflecting the positivity and joy that Blair exuded in his life. A life far, far too short, but one filled with adventure, friends, fun and meaning. We can aspire to little more. The Sydney Morning Herald article on his passing is here.

Thinking about Blair’s passing makes flying back out of Australia all the more poignant. It makes me realize just how unpredictable life is, how you never know how much time you have with anyone, how vital it is to value and treasure the moments you get.

There’s also an odd symmetry to this. When I was struggling with the logistics and costs of coming back to Australia, having so recently started a new job and already being in debt, I was deeply moved when a colleague shared about the recent passing of a friend of hers. “You never know how long you’re going to get with someone” she said. The idea hit home, and I realized how important it was to come back to share these celebrations with our friends, and that you can’t take friendships for granted, assuming that they’ll just be there when you’re ready to pick them up. Those getting married these past two weekends are people we want to know forever. But forever is of uncertain length.

You never know how long you’re going to get with someone, and treasuring each moment is only possible when you turn up to create a shared moment, a new shared memory. I’m so glad that we were able to turn up this time.

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I’m writing this around a fire in the Great Basin Redwoods State Park, a couple of hours south of San Francisco. (I become more like my father every year it seems, he would often take laptops camping, much to my mother’s dismay).

Today was a day filled with the simple magic of the outdoors. Waking from a long sleep. Making a fire to warm up and cooking breakfast. Going for a hike down a gorgeous gully filled with extraordinary trees. More fire. More food. Good conversation and company. There’s something about spending time with trees, especially giant, ancient trees, to help put things in perspective, lend the appropriate scale to your stresses and anxieties. I always find time in nature focusing. I come back to the city more relaxed, calmer, ready to do the work that needs to be done.

The time around the new year is a great time for taking stock. I know the calendar ticking over doesn’t really mean anything, that time marches on regardless of the organizational structure we impose on it. But it matters, of course, because we choose to say it matters, and for me it is a chance to pause a moment, to look back at the year just past for meaning and look forward to the year I wish to create.

I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past couple of weeks. 2010 was a really hard year. Nothing seemed to quite go according to plan. Much of it was filled with movement and uncertainty. I went through the complexity of securing a new visa mid-year and moved to San Francisco only for the job I came here for to disappear only five weeks later. A series of contracts has allowed me to stick around but does not guarantee being here in the longer-term, my visa requires that I’m working near full-time without any break in employment. This lack of certainty makes it hard to settle down, to really feel like San Francisco is home, as much as I love it.

This will work itself out soon, one way or another. I’m involved in a number of conversations about exciting opportunities, both for full-time and longer-term consulting gigs, that I hope will lead to greater stability soon. I have a great deal of confidence that whatever happens will be what is meant to happen, and that this year will be all about laying new roots, having new experiences, and contributing to my community, wherever that may lead.

A big part of my positivity is my excitement over StartSomeGood, the social enterprise I am co-founding. I really believe in our idea and vision and think we can create a sustainable platform which helps grow the social entrepreneurship movement by connecting great ideas with people ready to support them to happen. (If you missed it please check out my announcement from last week. You can also follow us on Twitter.)

Soon after the new year K and I held a little ritual, standing on the top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, designed to help us leave behind in 2010 some of the things we wanted to let go of and welcome new things to our lives in 2011. In preparing for this I was inspired by Beth Kanter (who was inspired by Chris Brogan) to identify three concepts which I hope will guide me this year. They are:

Learn – Stay open to new information and ways of doing things and constantly refine what I do based on what I learn. I want to learn more about myself, my practice and the world around me, develop new skills be really present to the people I meet and what they have to teach me.

Explore – Don’t fall into ruts, don’t settle, keep seeking out new places and experiences. Spend more time outdoors in inaccessible places. Challenge myself. Connect with new people and participate in new communities and cultures.

Make a Difference – Find an organization I believe in and help them make amazing things happen. Help find and launch innovative new social good projects. Support my friends, family and partner.

If I focus on each of those things I’m pretty sure this will be a great year, however uncertain things may be right now. Onwards and upwards!

What are your intentions for this year?

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It’s fun, and a strong blogging tradition, to look back over year just gone and create “best-of” lists. So here’s absolutely the definitive list of the best music, books and films from the year.

Just kidding, it’s just a random list of my favourite stuff of the past year, conjured by my imperfect memory and no-doubt riddled with omissions, but filled with gems regardless, promise!

Best Music (I discovered this year):

Tijuana Cartel

A great band from Australia’s Gold Coast introduced to me by a friend who stayed with us earlier in the year. alternative/electronic/hip hop/flamenco. Unique and awesome.

Jhameel

An incredibly-talented kid from Berkely whose first album “The Human Condition” will be released next month. We found him a couple of months ago via a friend and he’s been on high-rotation ever since. His sound is… um… pop-orchestral soul?

You can choose what you want to pay to download the album pre-release.

Jonsi

The ex-lead singer of Sigur Ros released his first solo album this year – “Go” – and it’s wonderful. As ethereal and soaring and gorgeous as you would imagine.

Shpongle

I adore Shpongle, so no surprise I think their latest album “Ineffable Mysteries from Shpongeland” is another classic.


Ulrich Schnauss

This album isn’t from 2010, or even close. A Strangely Isolated Place (which the track below is on) is from 2003, and Far Away Trains Passing By came out in 2001, but I only discovered them by chance this year and regret the years I was unaware of this gorgeous ambient music.

Best Books (I read this year):

The Tall Man – Death and Life on Palm Island – by Chloe Hooper

Absolutely my book of the year and genuinely one of the best things I’ve ever read, The Tall Man – Death and Life on Palm Island is the story of an Aboriginal death in police custody in 2004 and a searing portrait of white/indigenous relations. Should be required reading for all Australians.

Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard – by Dan Heath and Chip Heath

The follow up the Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath have done it again with Switch. It’s both an inspiring call to action and a practical hand-book for creating change in your life, community or world. Switch is written with the journalistic flair and storytelling style of Malcolm Gladwell but rather than describing a phenomenon it extracts lessons and teaches you how to do it too.

The Eternal Frontier – An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples – By Tim Flannery

America is a very big, very diverse and very beautiful country. After we drove from DC-SF in June I wanted to know more about how it got to be the way it was, so read Flannery’s riveting account of North America’s evolution over the past 65 million years. Ever since I have been able to impress friends with insights on how the Sequoia’s survived the asteroid impact, why most of the world’s edible nuts are from North America and how horses evolved here. Americans – if you want to understand the continent you are standing on, read this book.

Cognitive Surplus – Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age – by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky is the internet whisperer. He brings together diverse trends and disparate information and weaves them all together to reveal a deeper and more nuanced picture of the world social technologies are creating. Like his previous book Here Comes Everybody it is the most insightful thing I’ve read on the subject, aimed not at illuminating some business strategy or risk as so many books on the internet are but instead designed to reveal how these technologies are changing our cultures, societies and, ultimately, us.

Rand McNally Road Atlas

We set off from DC with two smartphones, an iPad and a GPS. They weren’t nearly enough. With coverage in the middle of the country incredibly patchy and the GPS being useless for choosing long-distance routes on day 3 we bought a proper countrywide map, the kind you spread on your lap in the passenger seat (or “navigation station” is it became known) and get an overview of your next three days of driving and imagine alternative ways of getting there. So much more fun this way too.

Best Films (I saw this year):

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Banksy’s first film and, like much of his art, it’s edgy, unique and a lot of fun. It combines incredible footage of now-famous street artists like Space Invader and Shepard Fairey with a is-this-real-or-not portrayal of the arts industry they (and he) have created.

Milk

A wonderful and bitter-sweet biopic of the short-lived but groundbreaking political career of Harvey Milk. And we live just a few blocks from where it all happened!

Howl

One-third Alan Ginsberg biopic, one-third the courtroom drama of the Howl obscenity trial, and one-third a psychedelic animated reading of Howl, Ginsberg’s most famous poem. 100% great.

Avatar 3D

A genuine technical triumph. Just a great cinema experience.

Best Websites (I used for the first time this year):

Posterous

I’m really enjoying keeping my alternative, shorter, “bits and bytes” blog over on Posterious. Check it out if you haven’t yet.

Quora

A super-intelligent question-and-answer site. So much wisdom so freely shared.

About.me

I’ve been looking for a homepage like this for a while.

Best Software (I used for the first time this year):

Rapportive

Integrates social media with gmail, a really powerful tool for building business relationships.

Focused

What I’m using to draft this post. The opposite of Rapportive in a way – it blocks out all the noise on your screen (social media notifications, tabs, various programs), giving you just a plain black box to type in. It’s helped me become much more productive when I write.

That’s more than enough, I hope you either had or are about to have (depending on where you are in the world) a fun and fabulous New Years Eve and that 2011 has amazing things in store for you.

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Thanksgiving is perhaps my favourite American holiday. The practice of stopping and giving thanks for what we have in our lives is important, and something we do too infrequently. The in-practice more universal Thanksgiving practice of eating as much as possible in the company of family and friends is also a highly-attractive element.

This is my third thanksgiving in America and despite my lack of family here I’ve never been without an invitation to share the occasion with others. It was through just such an invitation that we met many of those who would become close friends in Washington DC. This friendship and generosity that has been repeatedly extended to us is something I am deeply grateful for.

There’s so much I’m grateful for this thanksgiving, perhaps because my life has been more difficult than usual these past couple of months, throwing into sharp relief things I sometimes take far too for granted. A little adversity sometimes helps us see things more clearly. Having things removed makes us aware of how much we really value them.

I’ve never really minded the sensation of missing people for this reason. I like having people to miss. Missing is a complex emotion but in part this longing for another is a sweet thing, for it indicates the presence on this planet of another worth longing for. This obviously has its limits, but as I miss my family and friends in Australia, another cluster of dear friends in DC and others scattered across the globe I tell myself of how fortunate I am to have these relationships, to have met this extraordinary community I have around the world.

I am grateful both for these friendships which mean so much to me and for the opportunities I have had to travel, to explore, to meet so many new people. I am grateful to have ended up here in San Francisco for a time, to be meeting the incredible people I’m finding here. None of these relationships replace those that came before as it becomes easier than ever to maintain relationships at distance, to find those you miss and spend new time together.

These last couple of months have been kinda rough for me. I am so grateful for those who have reached out and let me know you are thinking of me. It means so much. And I’m grateful for all those who have made introductions and helped me find new people and opportunities in a new city.

Ultimately any exploration of gratitude must come back to those who matter most: my parents, sister and wife. Within the magical web of connections that is this big little world they orient my life. They are the reason I am here in San Francisco trying to live my dreams. The reason I dream at all. In ways both practical and profound they have helped me believe in my own power to create the future, because I know they will always be there to support me, that it’s okay if I fall because they will help me get up and get going again. Thank you guys, so much, for everything.

My gratitude for all that I have is informed by my knowledge that so many have so little, that countless children grow up without either the opportunities or the support structures to live their dreams. That’s why this Thanksgiving I’m supporting Epic Thanks, a “global celebration of gratitude and giving that honors inspirational changemakers who create hope in our world.” Find out more at www.EpicThanks.org.

What are you grateful for?

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A man died on a DC train on his way to work on Monday. His body remained undiscovered for 5 hours, as the train completed two end-to-end runs of the red line. Since then the coverage has focused on why he wasn’t found for so long, with the train operators being suspended and then allowed to return to work as it’s not actually Metro policy to check trains for dead bodies. That policy is now being changed.

As I read this sad story Metro policy wasn’t what I was thinking about. I couldn’t help but remember seeing Deepak Chopra speak at the State of the World Forum in 1995, when I was an impressionable and awed 16 year-old, and him asking us if we could guess the day of the week most people die of heart attacks. Can you guess what it is? That’s right: Monday. And what time would you imagine most people drop dead? Yep, 9am. On their way to work. It seems some people dread their job so much they are literally dying to avoid it. And that’s a very sad thing. We spend too high a proportion of our time at work to loath it as so many seem to do. Since then I have instinctively, devotedly, pursued work that inspires me, that I feel makes a difference.

In thinking about this I discovered more corroborating evidence: more people die in the first week of the year than any other (statistics from the Centers for Disease Control). In other words, immediately after Christmas and New Years, which are usually spent with family and friends and on a break from work, only to be hit with the reality of going back to their 9-5.

I met someone today interviewing for my job at Ashoka. She currently works for the World Bank, where salaries are generous (and untaxed). She knows that in coming to Ashoka she would be taking a very significant pay cut. And she’s okay with that, because she’s not happy in her current role and needs something different; the chance to be more entrepreneurial and adventurous, less micro-managed and confined. I completely agree with her, your personal growth and happyness are worth so much more than money. Life is too short, too precious, too amazing to spend 40+ hours a week doing something you hate.

Finding and following your passions often involves risk,  failures and set-backs. But the greater risk is that you will never take a chance on finding and following your passion, never find work that fulfills and inspires you, that you will instead end up trapped in a job you hate, waking up on Monday morning wishing you could be anywhere other than on your way to work, and one day being taken to another place entirely.

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A couple of weeks ago I announced that I was departing Ashoka to move to San Francisco and that as such I was looking for the next opportunity to challenge myself and create positive social change.

Today I am very pleased to announced that I will be taking up the position of Senior Social Media Consultant at Small Act, a DC-based start-up which helps cause-focused organizations to use social media strategically. As part of my role I will be establishing the West coast office for the company.

I couldn’t be happier or more excited to take on this new role. Over the past six months I have got to know the founder of Small Act, Casey Golden, and Chief Love Officer (that really is her title) Kate Hays and I respect, admire and like them greatly. I’m looking forward to working with them to grow this enterprise. I know they are passionate, as I am, about helping social change organizations to tell their story, empower their stakeholders and rally people to their cause. It feels good to join an organization whose vision, product and people I believe in. In fact, it’s essential.

I truly believe that digital and social media has the capacity to help organizations large and small to empower their communities and bring about positive social change. We can do better together when we are better connected, better informed and better able to work in new ways to find new solutions to issues which confront our world.

I have gained an enormous amount from my almost two years with Ashoka and am sad to be leaving. Nothing negative is pushing me to leave, but life is pulling me to San Francisco and new challenges. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity Ashoka gave me and remain deeply committed to doing my part to bring about the Everyone a Changemaker world we need. They say that once you’re at Ashoka you’re an Ashokan for life and I hope that’s true. I’ve met so many amazing people whose support, collaboration and companionship have meant so much to me and who I hope to stay in touch with for life.

I am now excited to take all my learnings, ideas and energy and support a diverse range of organizations to use new technologies in ways which make a difference. I’m excited to explore San Francisco and connect to the vibrant non-profit technology and start-up scene there.

I finish up at Ashoka the first week of June and will start work in San Francisco in early July, after a two week drive across southern America. If you have any advice on neighbourhoods, restaurants, events or organizations for me to check out in San Francisco (or on the way over) I’d love to hear them!

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