Fiji I miss you

Red ‘flame’ trees and fairy lights dotted along the Suva foreshore; road work teams shouting “Bula” and helping me cross a busy road; upfront in your face honesty; the bluest of oceans; the greyest of skies. Finding out that what I thought were lilies growing in my garden were pineapples. Being immersed in more shades of lime green than I ever thought possible.

Lots of reverse parking assistance when I drive a very large 4WD; compliments on new makeup; laughter everywhere following the best jokes; being welcomed into the ongoing conversation of life and all that matters; security guards who walk me out under umbrellas; friendly supermarkets and taxi drivers who find and return my purse; lean in dinners with the smartest sassiest women; so many palm trees. Driving next to the sea. Lashes of salt water as I bump over the ocean to a far away island I can only just see. Sunsets that are too hard to put into words. Friends who will always be family.

The sound of inspiration

The night of the US Presidency acceptance speech, I did not hear the sheer breathlessness, the iconic oratory of Obama but rather the soulful repeating of age old truths by a man whose tenacity is an inspiration. When Biden finished speaking, I thought he looked a little lost – his family were in the wings and he wanted them close – because family is never to be taken for granted. Joe Biden brought his country and our world a great deal closer tonight.

The solid hard won wisdom of Joe Biden we heard deep in our hearts – hearts in need of relief from the yelling and the rhetoric of division.

We saw the enthusiasm of Kamala Harris with her break out smiles, we listened to her intelligence and felt hope.

Later still, I saw gentle tears falling down news commentator Van Jones’ cheek, and heard his words , “It is easier to be a parent this morning …” Easier to talk to your kids about character, about how character matters.”

Who creates change?

Watching the US election numbers turn over peacefully and, as President Elect Joe Biden said at one point, ‘numbingly’, I am as always inspired by the power of people’s movements. Democracy is surely one of its best expressions – formalised, organised and at its best when entrenched and protected in the life of a nation.

In other places, and under different systems, people power takes on other forms to create change, whether on the small or larger scale. Online-driven social change being a case in point.

I have spent decades living inside democracies and taking part in creating change – at times spanning one election cycle but more often over many. Pursuing reconciliation; social justice reform; addressing systemic racism and disadvantage take many cycles.

It takes at least a decade for long term change to enter the public consciousness, to even begin to take hold. I know for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and you need to prepare for backlash. I know that to sustain a change in social attitudes you must first aim for 15% support within the population and then focus on the next 10%. It is not until you gain over 30% support that long term momentum can be sustained.

I also know that you need collaborators in every sector – a wide network of support – not just within your own sphere. In May 2000, close to one million people walked across bridges in Australia in support of Aboriginal reconciliation. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was full for hours, Australians walking for change, and with the Indigenous Australian flags flying high above, it was an amazing sight. The momentum had been building for decades. It accelerated with the concerted ten year effort in the 1990s to bring all sectors and every part of society on board. Everyone was asked to take responsibility for action wherever they were – at work, at home and in the community. The energy hasn’t stopped but it does need to be reignited. Entrenched disadvantage and systemic racism remains in Australia and it must be called out.

I also have a memory of significant justice reform occurring in Victoria when there was the right people in the right places at the same time. They were all committed to change: the Premier; Attorney-General; Police Commissioner; the Justice Department Head and a number of senior Court Justices. This doesn’t always happen but when it does, the synergy is powerful.

What creates change? Patience and impatience possibly in equal measure. And who creates change? People, lots of them – all of them well informed and committed. Anything else? A system that is open and free, one that embraces and protects the very process of change. Our community, our world, our future deserve nothing less.

Leadership – the not so easy choices

While leadership sounds like a noun, it is actually experienced as a verb. Leadership involves actions, delivered in the moment, and built up over time. It is a marathon. A set of decisions you act out day after day. And your goal is to build goodwill and engagement, rather than angst or disenchantment. This of course will depend on the style of leadership you choose. Your style is, in effect, the ‘go to’ strategy you are using in response to the demand of the immediate and the needs of the long term.

And there are many choices. There are theories and frameworks; styles and preferences. There are principles and values; approaches and skills. There are simple exhortations – like, ‘build trust’ – or ten or more steps outlined in 200+ page books. You can podcast; YouTube; Zoom or webinar leadership.

I would also suggest, that a good night’s sleep, a healthy sense of scepticism mixed with humour, and ample time for reflection, is another formula to add to the mix.

Because it is a mix. Leading a team, an organisation or a country is increasingly complex in a world that has turned ‘normal operating procedure’ on its head. Differing styles of national leadership, and their consequences, are on full display from the Donald Trump end to the Jacinda Ardern end of the spectrum. These styles also play out at every level in all other work and community environments.

We are developing our new normal, in a world that is running at a fast pace. Our leadership choices reflect our values, our health and our current stress. As leaders we are bringing our understanding of what we need, in the small spaces and the big places, to get through these times, stronger, wiser and more resilient.

As a community, here is the call for us to respond, wherever we are and in whatever role we play, with wisdom and compassion.

.

Leaning In

Last night I realised once again – because you see I had forgotten – how wonderful it is to have conversations with women who also work long hours in high pressured senior roles. It also helped that we met over dinner, curated beautifully by our hostess, Veronica. We were physically leaning in to each other, over the table, pulling apart the very meaning of the term. Stories, anecdotes, pep talk and advice. Laughter, horror, ‘me too’, sadness, anger and inspiration. It was all there. No ego, honest sharing, equal playing field. There needs to be more of it – in every workplace, in every environment. The journey to that is a long one and I was reminded that, thankfully, there are fellow warriors along the way. Today I feel the warmth of gratitude and appreciation. I can and will carry on.

On loving vignettes

Why vignettes, you ask? It is the brilliance of the word as you say it – vignette. It is hard to pronounce the first time, if you are not au fait with French, but then you fall in love with the word. Vignettes are mysterious – they could be anything – something wine related? Definitely something exotic.

But it is simply life wrapped up in a small number of words – captured as a moment in time. Like a poem, a glimpse, an insight. They do not only need words. Memories are the soul’s version of the vignette and good photography is a vignette of colour and light.

I suspect I love the idea of them as they distil essence. You see, I am impatient and I prefer writing vignettes to prose that goes on and on. I get bored. And I like testing myself. I want to see if something as complex as life can be put down in a dash whilst not losing a shred of meaning. That’s not to say they are easy – they are not. Vignettes demand discipline and a keen eye. They are not flabby. They do not wander off.

Enough, I am now pushing my luck but I think you get the gist.

On writing a novel

Words, dreams, voices, places, personalities and ideas. This has been a decade of bringing it all together. Not so much a labour of love as a call to action. This story had no choice. I’ve carried it for what seems like forever. Gathered in one place, dispatched and thrown out into the world, ‘Leila’ I wish you well.

An ebook? What a crazy idea that would have sounded when I sat with a lead pencil and a government issued school exercise book so very long ago. So long ago, that I am not sure that anyone would believe me if I told them that lead pencils and exercise books were provided free in the 50s and 60s.

I loved those books, especially the pleasure of opening that first page, so fresh and clean. I loved bending back the crimson soft cover and seeing the rounded edge of those pages folded into the staples. Was it 36pp? 48pp? With every passing school year, the space between the lines was pressed tighter together. We slowly graduated to 64pp. Being chosen as a class monitor was a highlight. We had the task of filling the shelves in the class storeroom with supplies that we knew as treasure.

And now, my writing is solitary and pounded out on a treasured Mac. I’m not sure I could sustain long hand for more than a paragraph before it would start to unravel.

Are all first novels places where you weave in yourself, your friends and family, someone you met on a train and someone who sits in your head? Where you hope to better understand all your experiences to date and let the Freudian slips do the work for you?

I suspect it does not matter, it is just good to have it done, and to know that your new extra title of author is only six letters away. Interested in a book of global adventures that celebrates love and friendship? Go to http://www.amazon.com and type in Dimity Fifer.

%d bloggers like this: