Make the Most of Opportunities

* 8 minute read *

This week’s post comes from guest contributor Cara Nolan. Cara is part of team who are organising ‘Impact’, the 2014 Youth Social Enterprise Conference in Brisbane from the 8-10 August. More information here.

I was recently asked to give a talk at my former school to the Grade Eights who were just beginning their time there. I found myself reflecting on my life since I was in their place on my first day at school; wide-eyed and dwarfed by a school dress that trailed around my ankles. What was the best lesson I’d learned at school that I could pass on to them?

I kept returning to a feeling of immense gratitude for all of the incredible opportunities that my five years at high school threw at me. Not only was I given the chance to get a stellar education and head on off to uni, I was able to sing, debate, run, travel, teach and mentor through my time at school. I soon realised that although it was largely fortune that presented me those opportunities, it was a conscious effort on my part to seize those opportunities that made my time at school so awesome. So my advice to the Grade Eights crystallised into one simple message:

Make the most of opportunities.

Although it sounds terribly clichéd, that message has really guided my direction since that first day of school. I’ve found my life so much richer for not being afraid to put my hand up for opportunities, for not being afraid of failure or uncertainty, and for allowing one opportunity to lead to the next.

This message really struck home last year, when I was living and teaching in Malawi. I was staying with the head teacher of the local school and his family, and whenever I wasn’t teaching a class I’d be hanging out with my twelve-year-old host sister Sarah. We’d head down to the river to do the family’s washing, go for adventures through the nearby fields to buy the vegetables for dinner, shell the season’s maize, look after Sarah’s baby sister, play sport or sing in the local church choir. Despite the age gap, Sarah and I came to be very close friends, and had many interests and aspirations in common. I wanted to become a scientist, Sarah a nurse. We both studied hard, we loved to sing, we were both pretty mean out on the netball court. But despite all the similarities, I was acutely aware that Sarah’s life was so much harder than mine.

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Sarah’s village had no electricity, no running water, and putting food on the table was a constant daily battle. But it wasn’t the material poverty that bothered me. In fact, the lives of Sarah’s family and village in Malawi were far richer and far happier than the lives of most people I know in Australia, with all of our modern conveniences. No, what really confronted me was the lack of opportunity.

Up until that point, I had taken for granted the opportunity to go to school, to go to uni, to walk through all of the doors that my Australian education opened for me. Unlike my Malawian sister Sarah, I never had to worry about where my next meal came from, or whether or not I could even go to school.

Sarah desperately wants to become a nurse. But with three younger siblings to feed, her parents simply can’t afford to send her to high school. In Sarah’s world, many of the opportunities that I’ve had simply don’t exist.

This just isn’t right. Sarah is a girl, just like me. We laugh the same, we sing the same, we both work hard. Why should I be able to do debating, or play violin, or travel overseas when I’m at school, and not her?

This really bothers me, and it’s changed the way I think in two big ways. For starters, it has fuelled a passion to work in international development, to make sure that the Sarahs of the world are given those opportunities. In my eyes, this starts with the basics. Sarah should have the opportunity to go to school. The opportunity to not go hungry. The opportunity to see a doctor when she’s sick. Thankfully, we have managed to raise the funds for her school fees, and Sarah’s just starting out high school.

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And second, all of a sudden, it has become much more important to me to make the most of the opportunities I have, now I realise just how precious they are. Even that early morning maths class, which I’m really not that keen on, is an opportunity that I am lucky to have. So I should squeeze every last little bit of juice out of it.

I understand that seizing opportunities isn’t always easy. Uncertainty, fear of failure and of the unknown, are challenges that we often have to meet in order to take a new opportunity. But I don’t think they’re reasons to not give something a go. Since coming back from Malawi, I’ve found that trying something scary and new tends to land me in awesome places I would never have expected. My current part-time job, working as a research assistant at a leading neuroscience institute, was gained from taking a leap of faith into the unknown and applying for a position that I had no prior knowledge or experience for. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but I can’t think of a better place to work. In making the most of opportunities there are always hurdles to overcome. I’m just thankful that mine aren’t quite as big as Sarah’s.

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What are the recent opportunities that you’ve taken, and what are the hurdles you’ve had to overcome to make them possible?

Random Act of Awesome #2

At 7:30am on Valentine’s Day 2014 the Be Awesome crew set out to connect and exchange 600 unique love letters with strangers!

Inside each little hand-stamped envelope was a unique message for the receiver. It may have been…

A powerful quote

A message from the heart

A love song

Our aim: To remind each person that we connected with that the most powerful LOVE of all is the love that we give back to ourselves.

In 30 minutes we connected with hundreds of people of various ages and backgrounds with the same friendly greeting…You are AWESOME!

Some people smiled, some laughed, some ran the other way and some rejected us completely! But for those that we connected with, we could sense that this message of self-love would spread far and wide that day.

Thanks to the supporters of our second Random Act of Awesome: b u movementOrion Zuyderhoff-Gray photography and Brodie Rocca Filmmaker.

Be Awesome aims to connect, empower & inspire around the belief that in every moment we each have the power to choose an awesome way forward.

Join the movement:

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All images by Orion Zuyderhoff-Gray photography

Significance Matters

* 8 minute read *

This week we kick off with our first Be Awesome guest author for 2014, with a post from Eric Tonningsen.

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“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies… Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die… It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.” – Ray Bradbury, in Fahrenheit 451

What is it that sets some people apart? It’s the way in which they act. And interact with that which is true to their core… like integrity and simple human decency. What is the root cause of most people’s problems? They’re misaligned – in work, in relationships, in life, with values they hold to be true… and that leads to dissatisfaction.

According to the American Heart Association, the majority of heart attacks occur around nine o’clock on Monday mornings. Author Gregg Levoy noted that this is when many people are going back to work they don’t like, work that doesn’t match their spirits, and work that literally breaks their hearts. Yet they remain driven.

In a recent Age Wave/Harris Interactive survey, a majority of respondents (58%) said that loving family and relationships are at the heart of what is held most dearly today – twice as important as being wealthy (33%) and twenty times more important that wielding power and influence (3%).

Each of us has a sense for or a definition of what makes a successful life; a significant being; a magnificent you. Not surprisingly, all three have common denominations: family, community, values, career, relationships, integrity, charity, authenticity, happiness, and personal enjoyment.

Yet people want more. They want to contribute more. But many are frustrated, disappointed and needy. And unfortunately, they focus on what is lacking in their lives, careers and ‘being.’ Getting what they believe they need or want rarely fulfills their sense of lack and longing. Often, they just continue their wanting to something else. It’s a vicious cycle; an endless chase for many.

While desirable, perhaps traditional measures of success aren’t the best thing to aim for. It’s a tricky target because it has so many meanings. How do you define success? Fame? Fortune? Everyone sees it differently. However, there is one thing possibly better than success – and that is significance.

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A successful person may achieve many things but significance is about relationships, with significance-oriented people focused on serving others. There are quite a few characteristics which are constantly practiced by a significant person. Here are five. Are these traits fully embedded in you?

  • Intently listens
  • Empathy
  • Heightened awareness
  • Positive persuasion
  • Foresight

Just last week I spoke to a professional group about the importance in aligning our lives with what really matters. It wasn’t about acquiring material success. In my delivery, I referenced this from Joseph Campbell:

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

I invoked Campbell’s quote to remind listeners (or readers) that there is more to life than the material success that we tirelessly pursue. It speaks to an alternative, meaningful realm ‘out there,’ one in which alignment, contribution, and what really matters – play sizeable roles.

I share this as I am one who was blessed with extraordinary success in my personal and professional lives – but at considerable time, health, and emotional energy costs. I’m still recovering from the physical price I paid across a multi-decade pursuit of power, wealth and influence. For me, it was all about the personal gains.

But let’s shift the focus.

I suspect you’ve had many big moments in your life. Perhaps a significant graduation; the birth of a first child; Paris for your 25th anniversary. But do you remember the small moments, the ones that flash before your eyes? Quite often, it is those tiny moments that are far more significant – like wiping a tear from your grandmother’s eye when she buried your grandfather or actually listening to someone who is distraught about a matter you couldn’t affect.

Have you ever know someone whose personal challenges didn’t prevent them from supporting those around her/him? Were you aware that her/his own suffering is what enabled them to be even more of an emotional bedrock for others? Maybe it has something to do with their having gained perspective on the important ‘stuff’’ – things that really matter.

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Not everything matters, though we mistakenly think it does. I invite you to reflect on the small, significant moments that have made up your life. Not summiting Mount Fuji but breaking bread with a homeless person. Try to remember. Think about what you saw, what you heard, what you felt. What was really happening in those moments? Even more importantly, what did they do for someone else?

You’ve likely been invited to answer this question: If you could plan it, how would you spend your last day on Earth? Spending time with this exercise (by writing down your ideas) will help to focus and yield perspective on what really matters most to you. The question is fairly generic, but your answers will be telling. Dr. Kent Keith in The Paradoxical Commandments said, “Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.” Keith also said, “Give the world the best you have and you might get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.”

Notice Dr. Keith says nothing about taking or acquiring.

People search for what is meaningful in their lives, especially when they are broken, confused, frustrated, or simply misaligned with life. If you’re not passively part of a moment, you’re creating moments. And many of them are small, seemingly insignificant. But to others, they may be huge!

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During a 2011 three-day train ride, a chronologically-gifted woman taught me that no matter what I end up doing with my life, I ought to make it significant. Even if your body or your mind is tearing itself apart, consider engaging your senses – your personal gifts to benefit others. Start by being present. Look into people’s eyes and see them. Ask what matters to them. And celebrate moments with them.

In my work I invite people to look at their own lives and the day-to-day activities that fill them. Then I ask: How many of those activities have really mattered in terms of the true meaning for your existence? (And yes, I recognize this depends on one’s definition of “true reason.”)

It’s fair to say that our primary relationship in life is with ourselves. No one else goes through every experience in life with us. We are our one permanent companion, yet we are often our worst critic. To remind ourselves of our successes, our significance, and our magnificence, we can conduct a simple exercise. Let’s call it “Things I like about myself.”

Setting personal modesty aside, write down at least five things you like about yourself. If coming up with five is a challenge, this exercise is definitely going to benefit you. Include more than just physical attributes on your list since your body is only part of who you are. If you’re really stuck, think about what you like about your favorite people, because their traits could well be qualities you possess too.

Stick with this process for a full week, thinking of (and writing down) five new things you like about yourself every day. At the end of the week, read the list aloud to yourself while standing in front of a mirror. Instead of looking for flaws to fix, allow the mirror to reflect what is significant in and about you. Yes, the thought of standing in front of a mirror and reading might seem silly. Yet it might just bring a smile to your face and change the way you see yourself. And how you interact with the world.

Because we are frequently looking at the world, instead of looking at ourselves, we don’t often see what’s successful, significant, and magnificent about ourselves.

Take a look! Find a way to appreciate who you see and what you choose to do with who you really are.


Eric Tonningsen is the Founder and Principal of JourneyWorks Coaching and has a very popular blog called ‘Awakening to Awareness‘. Eric collaborates with gifted people to ignite their passions, use their personal gifts and create compelling new beginnings for themselves. Eric relishes working with those nearing retirement or recently retired, helping people to shift from traditional definitions of success to lives of greater significance.

Be AwesomeIf you found this post valuable, please consider choosing to support Be Awesome with a donationCollectively, over 8 hours a week go into producing the content for this site and your donation can help this message empower a wider audience as well as contribute to future initiatives. Thank you for Be(ing) Awesome!


Are You Ready To Be Awesome?

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Have your life experiences left you with some valuable lessons?

Do you have a burn to share some of these experiences and lessons to help others?

Send us an email to find out how you can join the Be Awesome community.

In 2014 the Be Awesome team are looking to enrich this blog  with content from a community of likeminded people, who each have the capacity to inspire others. The Be Awesome team would therefore like to invite YOU to join and share with our community by becoming a Be Awesome contributor!

The Be Awesome Weekly Blog

As a Be Awesome Weekly Blog contributor you’ll be committing to preparing a written article (800-1500 words) and associated content (such as images and hyperlinks) by an agreed date.

The Be Awesome Weekly Blog is published every Monday morning and shared across the Be Awesome social media platforms.

The purpose of the Weekly Blog is for the author to openly and honestly share one challenging or powerful life experience that has allowed them to learn a valuable life lesson.

This process should be a rewarding one for both you and the Be Awesome community. The reward for you is overcoming the challenge to really be open, share and be vulnerable (to whatever point you are comfortable) in a public forum. The reward for the Be Awesome community is experiencing your vulnerability and sharing and applying the lesson from your experience to their own life situation.

Some of the most popular Be Awesome weekly blogs from 2013 include:

Choosing What Scares You The Most


Why Putting Yourself First is Not Selfish


Creating Space for Serendipity to Take Place


The Be Awesome blog currently receives 13,000 annual viewers and has a social media community of over 1,200 people and is continuing to grow!

Your contribution may need to be edited to suit the style and format of the website, but don’t worry you’ll get a chance to preview it before it goes live.

In exchange, we would like to acknowledge you as the article author and provide a photo and link to your website via our content contributors page. If there are any other ways we can help support other awesome work that you do too, please let us know!

If you feel the burn and are ready to challenge yourself to share, please get in touch and join the Be Awesome community!


Be Awesome in 2014!

* 12 minute read *

Check out and share the video from our first ever “Random Act of Awesome” here.

It’s hard to believe but here we are on Sunday night the 29 December 2013, just two days away from saying goodbye to 2013 and welcoming in a New Year, 2014.

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This is the final Sunday of 2013 and as such marks the final week of my 2013 goal to “blog once a week (every Sunday night) about my personal growth.” I’ve done it! I am immensely proud of the committment that I’ve been able to uphold each week, even at times when I’ve wanted to have a week off or have felt like I don’t have anything valuable to say; I’ve stuck to the goal and I now feel a great sense of achievement in doing so.

I am so grateful for all of the pleasantly unexpected things that have come out of pursuing this goal; the connections I’ve made with people who have gained some value from the blog, the great, growing online community and the real world community and memorable moments we’ve shared together particularly through our first “Random Act of Awesome“. I want to particularly thank the amazing Brodie Drysdale and Sarah Ah Loy who have helped to make Be Awesome not just one person’s project but truly a community.

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This weekend I have had the absolute pleasure of sharing some sacred time with four very close friends in a little piece of paradise here in Australia called the Bunya Mountains. Together we worked through a series of processes, building on the process I went through last New Year’s eve, to set goals for ourselves for 2014.

As I said last week, we don’t ever need an excuse or the “right time” to make a positive change in our life, but for many reasons the New Year provides a unique opportunity to really leverage from the sense of change that’s in the air. With this in mind, I’d like to share the basic outline of the process that we went through this weekend to hopefully support you in some way to acknowledge and let go of 2013 and move into the world of possibilities that this New Year presents. This process took us several hours and was quite intense, but I’m providing just a basic  mud map and some suggestions for how you might reflect and set goals in a more simplified way.

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Take a moment to stop and listen. Meditation is a great way to begin to gently move yourself toward frequency of the universe. It is in these moments of simple quietness and stillness that we can begin to sense or even “hear” suggestions for how we might move forward in our life in a direction that will support us.

Take Responsibility

Acknowledge your role in constructing your ideal life and creating happiness. Only you have the key to your freedom. Only you have the power to create your ideal life. By acknowledging this power and responsiblity you are also acknowledging the value of this goal-setting process.

Acknowledge & Celebrate Your Achievements

Spend some time acknowledging your achievements from the past year. One way I like to do this is to scan through the calendar and even my Instagram photos and try to capture every little great moment and achievement from the year! Try and do this quickly and don’t edit yourself too much; big achievements, little achievements, it doesn’t matter! Some of my achievements this year included helping my Dad build an unfinished chicken pen and meeting Ray Martin.


Me and Ray

Once you’ve done this, go back and identify your “top ten achievements for 2013”. You’ll be surprised at how great this process makes you feel and how much you really have achieved in one year!

Using these top 10 achievements, take a moment to write down the key “lesson” that you can take from each achievement. For example one of my top achievements this year was creating the Be Awesome community and the lesson I took away from this was to stay committed to a goal if it is serving me, and be open to moving in new directions.

Complete this process by using the following affirmation:

I acknowledge my achievements of the last twelve months and choose to carry these with me as reminders of my capacity to live my purpose with clarity and passion. 

Let Go of Pain

Now, similarly, reflect on some of the painful experiences from the last year. Again, don’t over think it or judge or analyse it too much, just write these experiences down. When have you felt pain? Who do you feel has hurt you or offended you? Try to really connect with the anger, sadness, fear and frustration and let it process through your body.

As with the last exercise, reflect on these painful experiences by capturing the lesson from each of them. But in this case, choose to let go of the painful experience itself.

For a more detailed explanation of this process see my post on Letting Go from a few weeks ago. Following this process can be really powerful and give you a lot of clarity and freedom to step into the year ahead without baggage.

Love Affirmation

Take a moment to acknowledge yourself. One way to do this is to write a love letter to yourself , describing the reasons why you love yourself and the things about you that are unique. Again, if you can really drop into the emotion of this experience this can be really empowering.


Take a moment to show gratitude for all of the great things in your world! I like to run this process as a meditation where I try to imagine all of the wonderful people in my life; my family, my friends, even people I’ve met travelling, and one by one draw a thread (like a giant piece of string) from my heart out to them. If you’ve seen the movie Avatar and remember the scene where they all connect to the big tree; I imagine something like that.


Feel Your Power

With a clear sense of self-love and gratitude, this is also a great moment to stop and feel your power. You have an amazing capacity to create and manifest the things that you truly commit intention toward. Acknowledge where you have exercised your power in a life-giving way in the past to make things happen.

Mission and Purpose

Take a moment to reflect on your mission and purpose. As I’ve written recently, discovering your mission and purpose is a constantly evolving process and can be easier or more difficult from person to person. The important thing is to just beginning to ascribe language to your mission and purpose. For example:

My mission is to connect, empower and inspire by following my purpose and celebrating the moment. My purpose is to explore my curiosity with childlike passion and playfulness.

2014 Goals

This is the moment where you choose the goals you want to step into in the year ahead. To start with, spend some time doing a “goal purge”. This means to write down every single little thing that you’ve ever wanted to do or achieve in your life. Consider it your ultimate bucket list and like your achievements from before don’t distinguish between big or small, just write everything down. It’s best to do this on small cards or post-it notes. Some of my “potential goals” on my ultimate goal list include “becoming a boat builder and sailing a boat that I create”, “visiting Nepal” and “buying a summer-house in Scandinavia that I live in for 3 months of the year”.

Now, with your giant pile of potential goals, review each of them one at a time asking yourself:

How does my gut react?

How does my heart react?

How does my mind react?

How does my spirit react?

Is it a life-giving goal?

Is it aligned with my mission and purpose?

This is very much an intuitive exercise, again that is best not over-thought. Just listen to your instinct and if you feel a pang of excitement or importance when you review a particular goal put it on a pile. For the goals that aren’t “singing” for you right now, put them on another pile and save them for next year.

You’ll probably need to go back over the “yes” pile a few times to refine your list of goals. I choose to select 8 goals as I think this is an ideal number to hold in conscious awareness over a year.

Once you have selected 8 goals (or whatever number feels right for you) take a moment to reflect on each of these goals and consider what feeling this goal will give you at its completion. Write down this aspired feeling on the back of your goal card.

Face Fear


The one thing that stands between you and your goals are your fears. The fears that you know and the fears you can’t see. To reach your goals you need to step into your fears, step into the unknown and take courageous action in the direction of your goals. Take a moment to visualise the things that will stand in your way, preventing you from achieving your goals this year. Imagine the voices of doubt saying “you can’t do it”, “you’re not good enough” and feel that fear. You must make a conscious choice to feel that fear but to act in spite of it and this is best committed as an intention through some kind of physical action like stepping forward or over something. We ran a really powerful fear conquering process last night in the middle of the rainforest that helped us to face the individual fears that we all have for the year ahead.

Commit Goals

Having faced your fears, now you are ready to commit your goals into action for the year ahead. Return to the 8 goal cards you’ve created. Standing, review the first goal, then close your eyes and visualise its achievement, allow the excitement and energy to build and feel the emotion that achieving this goal will bring. Affirm the achievement of the goal out loud: “In 2014 I will….”

Repeat this for all of your goals.


Take a moment to visualise this same time at the end of 2014, knowing that life will take you in all sorts of unexpected directions. Though you believe it is within your grasp to achieve these goals, you will also achieve many other things and be faced with a range of challenges and confrontations that allow you to grow in the way that you need to in the year ahead.

Acknowledge that in the year ahead there will be joy, grief, success and failure and surrender to the things that will be outside of your control in 2014.

I also like to run this process as a meditation.

New Start

You are ready to commence a new start for yourself in 2014. Stop and ask yourself: are you ready to completely let go of the past experiences that have been unhelpful, to surrender to the things that are outside your control and to prepare to commence a new start in the year ahead?

I like to create a ritual around this new start, by diving into water. Find something that works for you that will allow you to embody this feeling completely.

Once you complete this process, emerge with power and get ready to celebrate!

Hugh Jackman completing the 2014 goals process

Hugh Jackman completing the 2014 goals process


Choose your favourite song that will inspire you toward your goals in the year ahead. Use this moment to acknowledge and celebrate the process you’ve taken yourself through. Jump around and dance in the living room if you can! This will become your power song for the year ahead.

This was the song that I chose for 2014:

Congratulations on choosing to Be Awesome in 2014! This is not the end for Be Awesome, however we will all be taking a break for the month of January 2014 to refresh and return with an all-new 2014 Be Awesome! I thank you again for your support of my goal this year and I hope that my challenge to share each week has brought some value to your life. I wish you the most awesome start to what promises to be the best year ever!

Til next yearBe Awesome!


Be AwesomeIf you found this post valuable, please consider choosing to support Be Awesome with a donationCollectively, over 8 hours a week go into producing the content for this site and your donation can help this message empower a wider audience as well as contribute to future initiatives. Thank you for Be(ing) Awesome!

Grow Slow

* 8 minute read *

Check out and share the video from our first ever “Random Act of Awesome” here.

It’s the 22nd of December, just 3 days away from Christmas and just one week left in this year, 2013.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve given the best of yourself this year to the things you are committed to; relationships, your work, your spiritual practice and your passions and hobbies.

After twelve months of the continous pursuit of achievement and giving, it’s easy to see why at this time of the year we tend to feel exhausted and with very little left in the tank to give to the world.

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Photo Credit: Magnus. via Compfight cc

This is completely normal! Congratulations! You have lived a full life and shared your gifts and talents with the world.

Now, despite our best intentions, despite the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves at any given January, it’s almost certain that life hasn’t turned out exactly as we might have hoped or expected this year. It’s likely that there have been plenty of setbacks, disappointments and so-called “failures”.

Over the last couple of weeks I have bumped into friends and colleagues and asked them how they are and shared my best wishes for their holiday period and for the year to come, 2014. It’s surprised me how many people have said that they can’t wait to see the back of 2013! For many, 2013 has been scattered with unexpected moments of loss, pain, suffering and unhappiness.

One thing to remember is that the annual calendar; our twenty-four hour clock and all of these systems that we measure time with are arbitrary human inventions. They are systems that have been invented by us humans and have gained significance over the years due to our collective investment in them as being “real”. But they’re only “real” because we give value to them. In the first instance we shaped them but now they shape us.

The point to this is that we don’t need to wait until the New Year or any particular turning of time to make change or reinvent ourselves. However the collective value that we invest in these systems of measurement mean that they become significant and this gives us a great opportunity to harness this invented significance to our advantage.

The illusion works! And there is therefore no better time to harness this end of year exhaustion, disappointment and unhappiness by letting go and welcoming the sense of renewal that comes with the commencement of a New Year.

So…my first piece of advice is for us all to take a holiday!

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Photo Credit: adwriter via Compfight cc

That’s a pretty obvious idea I realise, but this is really easier said than done this time of year. There can be so much pressure to consume, to please and to satisfy others.

But I say, let’s all give ourselves permission right here and right now to take a personal growth holiday!

That’s right. You don’t have to be anything special over this holiday period. You don’t need to challenge yourself. You don’t need to push outside of your comfort zone. You don’t need to be any better than you are right now. You have total permission to just be.

And as we approach a New Year and start to contemplate a new set of goals and aspirations for the next twelve months of our life on this planet, I want to share a little realisation that I’ve had recently around the notion of growth.

If you’re invested in personal growth or have been involved in any way with making a choice to consciously better yourself, you may like me, have at one point been caught up in the illusion of ideal personal growth as a continually upward trend.

A few weeks ago, I shared amongst the men’s group I’m a part of, my frustration with my current lack of personal growth. For some reason, I’ve felt for the last few months that I’ve been on the verge of  a big life “breakthrough” that would push me out of my current situation and set me on a trajectory of some kind of higher level of life success.

This “breakthrough” fascination is common in personal growth circles I think. There is talk of “full immersion” in environments that allow us to continually and rapidly transform, constantly growing upwards.

If I compare this idea to the business world, it’s like looking at the “perpetual growth” business model; what many in the business world refer to as the “hockey stick” growth trend.

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However, in nature and in the universe in general there are always limits to growth. When I shared the story of my frustrated lack of growth with my men’s group, my good friend Eddie offered a great sense of calm and clarity in response. He said, “that’s fine, it’s natural to always be expanding and contracting.”

In 1798, the economist Thomas Malthus pointed out that if the world population kept growing, people would die. Why? Because of resource scarcity. The resources that we all require to pursue life are finite. The economy can’t always keep growing because our planet only has a finite amount of resources to support a finite amount of life.

Therefore there is always a limit to growth and there is always a tipping point to the kind of “hockey stick” exponential growth that we see above. If we continue to grow like this, there inevitably must be a crash.

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And so it must be with our own growth. There are only certain finite resources that we can use to grow. Our health, our time, the support of our peers and friends and the money we might invest in these kinds of activities. Is the “hockey stick” approach sustainable? I don’t believe so.

When Casey Sheahan, the CEO of sustainable adventure clothing company Patagonia was asked last year at the Better By Design conference about his company’s strategy for growth, he shared a very different model to that of the hockey stick.

If you get a chance, I highly recommend watching the full video of Casey’s presentation above. Casey talked about Patagonia’s business model as being like the “growth rings on a tree”. In prosperous times, they allowed themselves to expand, taking on new resources to support a growth spurt. However, they are never too greedy or inflexible to allow their business to contract in leaner times.

Be Awesome

I love this way of viewing growth. Our lives, if we choose to be in harmony with nature, can be like the growth rings on a tree; expanding in moments of prosperity and gently contracting in leaner times. This, to me at least, is how nature intended things to be. And this is a sustainable way to live.

So, over the next few days as you approach the New Year, and you no doubt face certain pressures to consume, please or be something “more”, I encourage you to just take it easy. Grow slow. There is no pressure to expand. There is no pressure to be more than what you are right now.

Accept yourself for who you are and who you have been this year. Love yourself unconditionally and share that love with the people who matter the most to you in the world. It is these people who already love you unconditionally whether you are a hockey stick or rings on a tree.

Next week will be my last weekly blog post for Be Awesome. It will signal the completion of the challenge I’ve set for myself this year and I will be immensely proud of myself for honouring this committment and the journey it has taken me on! It definitely is not the end of Be Awesome though and I’m looking forward to what kinds of new growth 2014 might offer for me. Thank you all for reading, following and supporting this challenge over the past twelve months.

I wish everybody a Christmas full of peace, love and connection with the special people in your life.

Til next week, Be Awesome!


Be AwesomeIf you found this post valuable, please consider choosing to support Be Awesome with a donationCollectively, over 8 hours a week go into producing the content for this site and your donation can help this message empower a wider audience as well as contribute to future initiatives. Thank you for Be(ing) Awesome!

How To Carve A Beautiful Elephant

* 8 minute read *

Check out and share the video from our first ever “Random Act of Awesome” here.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“You can’t hide what you intend / It glows in the dark.”– Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), from the song “Revenge” (featuring Wayne Coyne).

“How to Carve a Beautiful Elephant”- not the usual title you would expect from a personal growth blog is it?!

I’m reading a book at the moment that my good friend Eddie loaned me called ‘The Evolving Self‘ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It’s quite a dense read, but in the midst of some pretty deep concepts, one simple story jumped out from the pages. It’s an old Indian parable recalled by the author, about a young disciple who approaches an old and skilled sculptor with a request:

“Master,” he says, “I want to become a famous sculptor. What should I do?”

“Well,” replies the master, “tell me, what kind of a statue would you like to make?”

The young man thinks for a while, and concludes: “More than anything else, I would like to sculpt a beautiful elephant.”

At this, the master places in front of the young man a block of stone and a few tools: “Fine. Here is some marble, a mallet, and a chisel. All you have to do now is carve away everything that does not look like a beautiful elephant.”

And that’s where the story ends! Simple isn’t it? Well yes and no. I’ve found great wisdom in this story and I’d like to share my interpretation.

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Imagine that the beautiful elephant is in fact your ideal life or an ultimate goal you would like to achieve. Well, the secret to living your ideal life is to simply to get rid of anything that is not your ideal life!

In principle, this sounds so easy, yet in reality we find it so difficult to live a happy or fulfilling life.

There are some clues in this story of the sculptor and the elephant that might help us turn this simple concept into reality,

In the story, the young man is inspired by a strong purpose; to become a great sculptor. The master questions the young man by asking him what his purpose would look like if it was manifest in reality; “what kind of statue, would you like to make?”

So, we might take the statue as a metaphor for our ideal life. The first question we need to ask ourself is: what is my purpose? Why do I get out of bed in the morning? What gets me excited? What makes me unique? Why do I exist on this planet?

This is not an easy question to answer! Some of us might stumble upon our purpose by accident when we are young, or be gifted with a purpose that aligns with us over generations, while many of us canspend a great deal of our life searching to find this elusive “spark”. However, once we have discovered our unique purpose it becomes a lot easier to begin to imagine our ideal life, or in other words, what our purpose looks like when it becomes manifested in reality.

For the young sculptor, he has a clear sense of his purpose and his ideal life; the beautiful elephant. Yet he is a long way from achieving his goal. Between the boy and his ideal life stands a massive distraction; the block of stone.

The block of stone represents all of the “white noise” in our life that distracts us and blinds us from seeing the ideal life that is possible.

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So, how do we begin to remove these distractions, and take off the blind fold? How do we start to see our ideal life in reality, how to we start to create the beautiful elephant?

We need to take action. 

One of my many favourite sayings borrowed from my friend Sue is: “the only way to eat an elephant is one mouthful at a time” (so many elephant metaphors!)

To begin to experience our ideal life in reality, and to remove the distractions that stand in our way, we need to take small, bold steps of action. We need to “chip away” at the “stone”. In each of our small actions we learn through trial and error what is the “elephant” and what’s not.

And the more we “chip away”, that is, the more we continue to take small risks and take action, the more skilled we become as the sculptor of our ideal life. With more practice and learning from our mistakes we begin to see, more clearly, the outline of our ideal life and we learn to acquire and adopt the tools that allow us to pursue our ideal life with greater certainty and skill.

So, how do we carve a beautiful elephant?

How do we create our ideal life?

We become clear about our purpose.

We imagine and visualise our ideal life.

We take action!

We adopt tools that make our actions more effective.

Having a clear purpose is so important. It gives our life greater meaning and becomes a power decision-making tool. Discovering my mission and purpose over the last few years has been one of the most valuable experiences of my recent personal growth journey.

My mission is to connect, empower and inspire by following my purpose and celebrating the moment. My purpose is to explore my curiosity with childlike passion and playfulness.

This simple statement has been so powerful for me over the last year. It’s something that I affirm each morning and it’s something I also use to make important decisions. When I am faced with a difficult choice I ask myself: will this experience allow me to connect (or be connected), empower (or be empowered) and inspire (or be inspired)?  If the answer is yes, then I am able to step into this choice with confidence. In this process, I’m chipping away at creating my own beautiful elephant!

Another important element in this process toward creating our ideal life is intention. When I met Patrick Newell earlier this year, I was inspired by the process he has developed for himself to set a clear intention for his life each year. Patrick gives each year of his life a theme, which becomes an intention for how he lives his life and where he directs his energy.

Over the past year I have set myself a clear intention to share. This intention has been aligned with my purpose; it’s allowed me to connect, empower and inspire. And again, it’s been a useful decision-making tool to guide me toward my ideal life. This has been useful for me this year and I plan to adopt a new one-word intention again for next year.

So, are you ready to carve a beautiful elephant? I’m curious:

  • What is your purpose?
  • What does your ideal life look like?
  • What action can you take right now in the direction of your ideal life?
  • What tools and resources can you adopt to help you work toward your ideal life?
  • What clear intention can you set for yourself in 2014 to focus your attention toward your ideal life?

Til next week, Be Awesome!


Be AwesomeIf you found this post valuable, please consider choosing to support Be Awesome with a donationCollectively, over 8 hours a week go into producing the content for this site and your donation can help this message empower a wider audience as well as contribute to future initiatives. Thank you for Be(ing) Awesome!

Learning Through Doing

* 6 minute read *

Check out and share the video from our first ever “Random Act of Awesome” here.

As we draw to the close of another year, my thoughts turn to the goals that I established for myself on New Year’s Eve, 2012. I look back on how I turned my attention inward to seek a clear direction for where to invest my energy this year and how this process gave birth in part to the Be Awesome concept. 

I love how goals are never a destination, but merely a signpost to lead us to some unknown yet purposeful future direction. I’ve grown to embrace the uncertainty and serendipity of life and be open to abandoning or redesigning goals along the way.

Be Awesome began as a challenge and intention to share. I simply wanted to challenge myself to share one life experience and lesson learned each week via a blog. I’m very proud to say that I’ve honoured this committment up until now and I intend to follow it through right until the end of the year.

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This openness and sharing of myself; the vulnerability and the shedding of many personal boundaries has been very empowering but also challenging along the way. I’ve learnt a lot and I have achieved what I needed from this process. I won’t be continuing the weekly blogging and open sharing next year. This is because I have become clearer about where I want to invest my future energy through Be Awesome.

I want to empower young people to embody, through experience, powerful tools for becoming successful future citizens, and I believe that the key to achieving this goal is:

Learning Through Doing

I first discovered the phrase “learning through doing” in my work with design thinking. And it has never ceased to amaze me how my journey this year in exploring the role of design thinking to support teachers, students, businesses and the general public has paralleled my journey in exploring personal growth.

This week I ran two short design thinking workshops. One was with a group of high school graphics teachers (undertaking the Marshmallow Challenge) and the other was with our senior management team at the library.

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In planning these workshops and later reflecting on them I had an insight. At the core of personal success, (through personal growth) and collective success (through design thinking), I believe there is a very simple cyclical process. It goes something like this:

  1. We identify a problem. We ask ourselves: what’s currently not working?
  2. We turn this problem into an opportunity. We shift our mindset from pessimism, to realism to optimism. We imagine an ideal future, where this problem no longer exists and we start to think in terms of possibilities.
  3. We take courageous action in the direction of the ideal future. We take one small step, one small calculated risk with an acceptance that this action might lead to “failure”. We are prepared to “fail” because we know that “failure” only leads to learning.
  4. We reflect on our experience of taking action. We ask ourselves: what did I learn and what would I do differently? With this reflection comes insight…an aha moment! Insight brings a new perspective to our current situation and suddenly we find we have grown and moved forward! When the time is right and we find ourself out of balance again, we ask ourself that same question: what’s currently not working? and we start the process all over again.

At the heart of this process, whether it’s design thinking or personal growth, is the act of taking courageous action.

As my awesome coach Vee taught me this year, courage is not the absence of fear, courage is feeling fear and acting in spite of it.

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As I look forward to 2014 I can feel my intentionality pulling me toward exploring this concept of learning through doing more. Almost coincidentally, several weeks ago, around the time I was starting to really consolidate this intention, I was invited to speak at an education conference in Singapore next year. This will give me an opportunity to share what I’ve learnt and dive deeper into a few of the hypotheses I’ve built over the last couple of months:

  • That when we shift our body we shift our mind
  • That in engaging our body completely in the moment, we turn off the critical, judgmental and analytical part of our brain and open ourselves to greater creativity, intuition and imagination
  • That the lessons we learn through experiences that engage our whole body in powerful and meaningful ways our embodied for life

I have a dream for Be Awesome that involves empowering young people through powerful experiences, with a series of tools to support them in later life.

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Photo Credit: Cia de Foto via Compfight cc

So, I’m curious and I would love to hear your opinion on these questions:

  • Think back to the most memorable educational experiences of your childhood? In what way were they connected to physical experiences in a particular space?
  • If you could give an 8 year old child the gift of just one empowerment tool that would benefit them for the rest of their life what would it be?

Til next week, Be Awesome!


Be AwesomeIf you found this post valuable, please consider choosing to support Be Awesome with a donationCollectively, over 8 hours a week go into producing the content for this site and your donation can help this message empower a wider audience as well as contribute to future initiatives. Thank you for Be(ing) Awesome!

Positive Disruption

* 8 minute read *

Check out and share the video from our first ever “Random Act of Awesome” here.

“Disruption” is a word I have heard a lot in design and innovation circles this year. Next Saturday at the library we are hosting TEDxSouthBankWomen, another event in the TEDx calendar and this year’s theme is “Positive Disruption”.

Over a month ago I attended the Better By Design CEO Summit in Auckland and the theme of this year’s event was “Disrupt By Design”. I was asked to give a presentation to our CEO and executive team here at the library this week on my insights from the Better By Design event. Having a month now to put some space between the idea-saturation of that event has allowed me to identify the things that really stood out. And this week I would like to share insights with you from some of my favourite speakers from Better By Design along with a challenge to prompt us all to create positive disruptions in our lives.

Jeanne Liedtka, a Professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and author of “Solving Business Problems with Design Thinking”, shared a great story about venture capitalist (VC) organisations. VC organisations provide early-stage funding to high-potential, high risk, growth startup companies.

This is high risk work and as Jeanne explained the best VCs are only successful 1.8 times out 10!

That’s a lot of “failure”!

The really cool thing about the VC mindset however is that they accept that the laws they operate within dictate that they will fail much more often than they succeed, so they adapt to suit this environment. “Failure” is accepted as normal.

So, the VC model is then based on “small bets”; relatively low-risk investments that are quickly testable and are expected to fail. The VC approach is then to take the 2 (or 1) idea/s that do work and scale and invest more deeply.

What would a mindset of “small bets” and “low-risk failure” look like in your life? What would need to change if you accepted that it was normal for 82% of the things you attempt in life will fail?

– See also Effort Vs Reward

Andy Papathanassiou is the Director of Human Performance at Hendrik Motorsports. He is also a pretty awesome guy! From Wikipedia

Andy Papathanassiou became the first ever, “pit crew coach,” when he was hired as a member of NASCAR’s Hendrick Motorsports team in 1992. His philosophy and views as an outsider ultimately shifted the paradigm of how pit crews select and train their members. Previously, pit crews were composed of mechanics who devoted little time to practicing pit stops – relying instead on their vast knowledge of car building and racing experience. Andy employed an athletic mindset which centered on practice and repetition, coaching and review, innovation and process improvement. 

During Better By Design, Andy facilitated a competition where conference attendees worked in groups to change the tires on a racing car, applying these “outside” processes of practice and repetition, coaching and review, innovation and process improvement.

I learnt so much from this experience! I learnt that the role of a leader is to set up great experiences that allow others to make the breakthroughs. I learnt the power of doing; taking courageous action to have an experience, learning from that experience and applying this knowledge to constantly improve. A constant cycle of action – experience – reflection – insight and action again.

What “outside” process can you bring into your everyday environment to positively disrupt your current way of doing things?

– See also Creating Space For Serendipity To Take Place

Trey Ratcliffe is a social media guru and “disruptor of photography“. Trey made the great distinction between disruption and meaningful disruption. Trey sought to inspire us all to be “positive disruptors” but as he says, “be disruptive for the sake of being interesting, to change people’s lives and to create something else bigger than you.”

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He gave the great analogy of what it means to be a good host at a dinner party. As he explained, a good host engenders an environment where the guests can create their own conversations without the host having to lead or control the direction of the night.

How can you become a better “host”?

And finally, Keith Yamashita, is the founder of SY Partners in San Francisco.

At Better By Design, Keith facilitated a workshop called “Great Teams”. Although this workshop was focussed around team work in the context of business, I found that at a deeper level this was  an experience in better understanding human relationships.

At the beginning of the workshop, Keith provoked some interesting questions. I’ve slightly adapted these questions to have a more personal focus, and I encourage you now to take a moment to reflect slowly on these questions:

What does it look like when your life is in perfect flow?

Compared with that perfect flow, how does your life feel at this very moment?

What is standing in your way right now from achieving that perfect flow?

What things are worth doing?

Keith argued that one of the forces that stands in our way in business is our relationships, and he argues that at the core of our organisation’s culture and relationships are our individual relationships. He argues that we can measure the health of our organisation by measuring the health of our “duos”; that is, the one on one relationships between individuals.

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I would argue that this idea could be applied to the other collective relationships in our lives; our families, our friends, our sporting teams etc. Keith took us through a little exercise to map our working “duos” and I challenge you now to do this exercise for the relationships in your life.

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Begin with a circle in the middle of the page with your name on it and then list around this circle all of the names of the people in your particular collective (family, work, circle of friends etc.). Now, join yourself to each of these people with either a strong line, neutral line or a broken line. A strong line represents a healthy relationship where both parties understand and are understood by each other. A neutral line means that both parties are neither threatened by the other, nor are they advocates for the other. A broken line means that the relationship is unhealthy, dysfunctional and is having a negative impact on each person.

Based on this exercise, how healthy is your work, family or circle of friends?

Which relationships are most important for you to address in order for you to positively affect the health of this collective?

I hope some of these insights have been valuable and you are able to create positive disruptions in your own life and the lives around you!

Til next week, Be Awesome!


Be AwesomeIf you found this post valuable, please consider choosing to support Be Awesome with a donationCollectively, over 8 hours a week go into producing the content for this site and your donation can help this message empower a wider audience as well as contribute to future initiatives. Thank you for Be(ing) Awesome!

Be Your Own Guru!

* 6 minute read *

Check out and share the video from our first ever “Random Act of Awesome” here.

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog then no doubt you are either interested in or invested in the concept of personal growth. Like me, you probably have a handful of people that you turn to for advice or inspiration to help you grow, make change and become more awesome.

One of the patterns I have observed since becoming part of this personal growth community over the last four years is the esteem in which we all hold our own role models and figures of influence.

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For me it’s people like Tim Ferriss (yep you could have guessed that one!), Mastin Kipp, Seth Godin, Richard Branson, Maria Popova, Murray Masarik  / Real Education and Eric Tonnigsen that I turn to for direction and influence. Globally, I see figures like Oprah, Deepak Chopra, Anthony Robbins and John Demartini having a massive influence on people’s decision-making and life choices.

Now here’s a bold statement:

All of these people, (and this includes me), are wrong.

Consider this quote from George Box:

“All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

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You see each of these people are presenting a “model” of the world. They are presenting personal abstractions of the truth, their own subjective interpretations of reality and what they believe to be true.

One of the great dangers I see in the world of personal growth and in my own experiences is that we can tend to put our trust in these “gurus” to hold all of the answers for us.

Particularly when we are facing problems or when things that aren’t working out in our lives, we can prolong finding the answers to our problems and defer our happiness until one these gurus delivers the answer for us.

We look to others to “fix” us.

I’ve witnessed this amongst those around me and I’ve experienced it myself; “once I do this workshop or attend this event or speak to this person etc.., then everything will be better. Until then, I’m stuck.”

Gurus do not hold the answer to our problems.

The next workshop, retreat, guided meditation or self-help program does not hold the answer to our problems.

The only person with the answer to our problems is….


One of the concepts that I’ve come to embrace recently is the idea of mirroring. If you follow this concept then you accept that the whole world is a mirror of our reality.

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For example, when we see a behaviour in someone that we don’t like, we are in fact seeing the mirror of a part of us that we don’t like or accept.

Likewise, when we are drawn to someone or attracted by something about a particular person, we are in fact drawn to a quality in that person that exists in us.

And so it is with personal growth. When we turn to a guru or a particular growth experience to provide answers for us, the answers that we find are inherent truths that have always existed in each of us. Things that we deeply already know and have always known, yet it takes the mirror of a guru to make them visible to us.

I am in no way dismissing any of the influential figures I mentioned earlier or anyone who acts in the service and support of others. It is impossible to travel through life without support. It’s also important to have the courage to know when to seek support and when to look to others with broader life experience than us to give us guidance.

But it is even more important for us to never give our power away to anyone. This means seeing our gurus for what they are. Wise and experienced “mirrors” for revealing our own truths to us.

There is a danger once we have had a life-changing experience facilitated by a guru that we can begin to put these people up on a pedestal. We can be quick to sign up to the next workshop or program, hand over thousands of dollars and seek to enlist all of our family and friends to also follow this guru. Suddenly it is no longer a choice but a compulsion.

Only YOU know what’s right for YOU. You have incredible power and freedom of choice to determine what you need at this particular moment and you have the power to make wise decisions to determine the right kind of support to help you discover the truths about yourself that you inherently know.


I encourage us all to be judicious, remain open-minded and embrace our own unique journey in determining our own path for personal growth.

With every guru or personal growth program that you come across, ask yourself “is this right for me?” As with all learning it’s important to take what’s useful and leave the rest. Follow the message, not the messenger. Be the author of your own masterpiece.

The key to your freedom is in your hands.

Be your own guru!

Til next week, Be Awesome!


Be AwesomeIf you found this post valuable, please consider choosing to support Be Awesome with a donationCollectively, over 8 hours a week go into producing the content for this site and your donation can help this message empower a wider audience as well as contribute to future initiatives. Thank you for Be(ing) Awesome!