At 19, I was an art student and aspiring artist. Sitting on a packed tram one morning heading into Melbourne’s CBD I found myself overwhelmed by all the commuters heading to work in their suits. They looked so grey, conformist, unhappy and restricted, not unlike a John Brack painting. I recall commenting quietly to my friend sitting next to me,“Uggh. Why would anyone ever want to work like this?” I then declared: “I will never work 9 to 5 in an office job. It would kill me.” This moment has stayed with me.
Just over 20 years later, I reflected that I had worked 9 to 5, (often 8 ‘til 6) 5 days a week, mostly in offices, for nearly 20 years. Give and take maternity leave and a few years of juggling parenting a part time work as well as travel. The prospect of a career as an artist, (where I could make enough money to live off) had not (despite strong encouragement from friends and family) seemed a realistic endeavour for long. I was (and am) ambitious and determined to succeed, I sought out job security, strong financial renumeration and career progress. I was always striving for something better. To add to this, I had a real drive to make a difference in the world and it seemed to me at the time that artists were often marginalised, sitting outside of the the critical power structures where real decisions were made.
But it seems life is circular, or at least a series of spirals that can interconnect as we loop around and back. Creativity is once more at the heart of my work and practice although today my work is much more about enabling and empowering others through co-creation, strategic design, design thinking, facilitation and creative leadership than fine art or painting.
For the last 9 months I have been an independent consultant with flexible hours, based on site with clients, working with the inspirational startup Health Futures Australia enjoying co-working spaces, sometimes working from home. I have had time to get to a yoga class most days. I meditate daily. I take time to draw and write. If the weather is good, I make sure I take the extra time to walk. I read. Life is unquestionably better. Financially I am also better off. 12 months ago it was hard to imagine it could be like this.
A guiding question for me over the last year or so has been “What is my work?” This is about my personal purpose and where I can best add value. I feel compelled by the growing pressures we face environmentally and socially — I feel called to support the transformation that is required. The What is my work? question has evolved to become: How might I best use my creativity, experience and expertise to help facilitate the shift in both thinking and behaviour our world so clearly needs?
Life’s journey has offered me resilience, to which I have worked to add a grounded, mindful, centredness — a place from which I can operate and be of best service to the world and others. Continuous learning is it seems in my DNA. My teachers for this phase on areas such as presence based leadership, adult development and social transformation have included the works of Jennifer Garvey Berger, Otto Scharmer, and the late Doug Silsbee. I do not doubt that the wisdom of these thinkers contains keys for navigating our future path.
I see that to navigate complexity (and the challenges of climate change and social transformation are certainly complex) we need to surface our own innate creativity and ability to adapt, we need to relax our own righteousness, our desire for control and our seeking of simple answers and stories as we experiment to find what is next. The work is more of a dance than following a detailed predetermined plan. It is more of an emergent, abstract work of art, where each new emerging element will impact on decisions of what is next. We are each such a small but tiny and critical part of this complexity. Our own mindsets and the way we behave are golden opportunities for transformation.
I have learnt I need to spend time cultivating the inner conditions from which I can operate but also crafting the context and conditions in which I work and engage with the world. For me these are conditions that support me to be nimble, open, adaptive, mindful and creative — my best self.
In January as a vehicle for this journey and to ensure we can best enable and empower our clients and the organisations we work with, my partner Shefik Bey and I founded Lido Island. It is a place where we can be our best selves in service of a healthier planet, stronger communities and a better world. You may consider joining us.
The painting included in this article is an extraordinary collaborative work that includes contributions by a number of contemporary indigenous artists including Sally Gabori. Image credits to artist Sally Gabori and NGV.