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Archive for the ‘life’ Category

My son and first child arrived on August 1. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and completely amazing to K and I. Here’s an obligatory photo:

15 hours old

It’s a funny thing parenthood. In life it’s often only in retrospect that you identify the moments that made the biggest difference to your story. You look back and realise that when you took that particular new job you’d stepped out towards a completely different future. You start dating someone not knowing how it will turn out and mostly it doesn’t go anywhere and then suddenly someone is your life partner and that first meeting becomes a moment of myth and legend forever more.

Having a child isn’t like that, it’s a giant flashing sign on your timeline that life will never be the same. You get a nine months warning notice, which is good, because there’s lots to do, (including moving back to Australia in our case) and there’s a spotlight on you as your two families become greater stakeholder in your decisions than they have for many years. Not only do you know that your life is about to change forever but everyone else knows it as well.

And after these nine months of anticipation there’s now a new life in our house, one that demands near-constant attention and who has become the center of our existence. Even with all the warning it feels sudden in the end. One day is, for me at least, relatively normal. I go to work and try to focus on all the projects I’m trying (unsuccessfully as it turned out) to complete before the baby arrives. The next day we’re at the hospital and everything is visceral and immediate and completely immersive and the moment after that, relatively, there’s this being in my arms which has come from K and I and which requires our constant devotion to keep alive and which we love beyond reason. It’s magical and surreal.

16 days in and it’s been an amazing journey already. The arrival of our child seems to have deepened the love between K and I, increased our understanding, our patience, our ability to lean on each other and create the future together. We joke about the baby being the “boss” and it’s true, he really dictates the rhythms and possibilities of our day at the moment, although hopefully a routine can be wrestled into being eventually. I’m enjoying the challenge of getting things done in the snatches of uninterrupted time I have, although it’s been hard and I need to increase my output to finish an on-hold client project and continue to push StartSomeGood forward.

Making a final decision on a name was interesting. We had it sorted if it was a girl – we were going to call her Sierra after the mountain range which runs through California, where they were conceived – but we were stuck on a top four names for a boy. We narrowed to two almost immediately and then spent 24 hours letting it sit with us, before settling on Bodhi Nevada, using two of our finalists in the end, maintaining the shout-out to California (and the state of Nevada itself, which has been a spiritual home for K and I) in the middle name.

It’s funny though, when we first talked about names I said I only had two rules: it can’t be unisex and it has to be phonetic. And somehow typically the final choice violates both these requirements. And yet in the end it felt like exactly the right choice. Just as Siddhartha sat beneath the Bodhi tree and became enlightened as the Buddha, so too does Bodhi increasingly seem to us to be the entity K and I will sit beside and find our own version of enlightenment. Bodhi will be the clock which measures our life: our understanding of time will be marked by Bodhi and the milestones in his life. As someone who has never been much of a planner it’s slightly strange to be pulled into the long-term like this, but it doesn’t mean that anything is pre-determined or limited, just that our experience is widened to include another, and through him we will see and understand the world anew.

Exciting and transformational times.

Now if we could only get more sleep… ;)

PS. What’s that you say? You want ANOTHER PHOTO? Oh very well, if you insist:

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A formula for happiness

Sun, dirt between the fingers, physical work and accomplishment, being outdoors, time with family and friends, fire and food and storytelling.

A visual diary of a perfect first weekend back in Australia, at my parents property in Hartley Vale spent hanging out, building a path and catching and cooking yabbies. As beautiful as America is there’s nothing like the Australian bush and it was relaxing and centering to be back amongst it.

The new path, no straight lines allowed.

Building the path.

The dam fuller than I've ever seen it.

Bush tucker! A yabbie (a type of native Australian freshwater crustacean) from the dam.

The view looking towards Mount York.

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Sydney Harbour, the day after we got home.

1,449 days since heading out there I am back again, just ten days short of an even four years away.

It was 1,399 days, or just a day less than 200 weeks, from my arrival in the US to my departure from San Francisco last Sunday. I landed in New York in June 2008 after a near-36 hour day traveling from Bangkok before catching the train to Washington DC, the first of many times I would travel that corridor past the broken factories and over the inlets of the East Coast.

I arrived knowing only a handful of people, unsure of what I would do next or where exactly I would end up. I had only a few weeks to figure things out and secure a job offer which would lead to a visa before K caught up with me, just a few weeks to justify the decision to leave so much behind in Australia and strike out to live my dream of working in the US.

We spent two years in Washington DC, meeting incredible people and having many side adventures and wonderful experiences. I went through significant adaptation pains at Ashoka, learning to work inside a large established non-profit after ten years as an entrepreneur while teaching an old organization new tricks, but relished the opportunity I had as the first social media director of such an influential and groundbreaking organization, pushing myself, constantly learning new things, working with amazing colleagues and experimenting with emerging forms of media and communications. I am really proud of all that was accomplished during that time, including launching and growing Ashoka’s Twitter account to over 600,000 followers, publishing three ebooks, crowdsourcing a promotional video and generally introducing Ashoka’s many departments and country offices to the power and potential social media and how it could help achieve the mission of creating an everyone a changemaker world.

After two years in DC it felt like time to keep moving. We considered New York but decided San Francisco was more our kinda town, a decision we never doubted once we got there. Over two years in the Bay I worked with a number of non-profits to connect their missions with social technologies before launching social good crowdfunding start-up StartSomeGood with my friend Alex Budak who I met at Ashoka, which I’ll be continuing to work on from Australia.

We loved San Francisco: the people, the culture, the environment. San Francisco combines the most ambitious people on earth with the most relaxed in a unique, harmonious ying/yang. We got out into the countryside at every opportunity, exploring the hills of Marin and the wineries of the Russian River, staying in Paso Robles, Yosemite and Big Basin Redwoods Forest, driving Highway 1 and hiking Mt Tam. We made and deepened some great friendships, meeting some incredible entrepreneurs, creatives, visionaries and festivalists. We adored our part of the city, the Mission District, which reminded us so much of Newtown, where we had lived in Sydney.

And now, somewhat astonishingly, this chapter is over and I’m left trying to make sense of it all.

Over the past four years I got married and got my scuba diving license, jumped out of a plane and learned to drive a car, founded a Burning Man theme camp and visited 11 countries, worked for someone else for the first time in eight years and founded a new company, drove across America and bought my first road bike, was granted four different visas and denied re-entry once. I visited 20 American states and wish I’d made it to more (namely: Utah, South Dakota and Louisiana). K made it to 30 over the course of selling her families wine.

We had, to sum it up, a really good time. But not without its challenges and set-backs, its moments of frustration, fear and doubt. Such is the rich tapestry of life.

Homecoming is always an emotionally-complicated experience. I’m excited to explore Sydney and can’t wait to spend time with my old friends, while at the same time being sad to leave San Francisco and missing my friends back there. Everything is so familiar but at the same time different. I’m obviously older and I hope I’m a little wiser as a result of all these experiences. The relationships I formed will stay with me and I’m so grateful for them. The ideas I’ve been exposed to and inspiration I have gained will inform whatever happens next. Now I want to contribute to the burgeoning social innovation scene in Sydney and while continuing to grow a global community of social entrepreneurs on StartSomeGood.

K and I brought something else back with us as well, our first child-to-be, due in August. We never contemplated for a moment taking this next step in our relationships and our lives anywhere other than Sydney, with universal healthcare and our families and friends here to support us.

And so on to the next stage. While this particular chapter is over the adventure continues always. Onwards and upwards!

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Image

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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