<![CDATA[Michelle Howie - Blog]]>Fri, 03 Jul 2020 14:00:39 +1200Weebly<![CDATA[The power of rediscovery]]>Tue, 28 Apr 2020 02:14:23 GMThttp://michellehowie.com/blog/the-power-of-rediscovery
This article was first published in the Australia/New Zealand 'Training and Development' magazine, in December 2019.

Few of us realise how smart we already are.
As babies, we learnt to walk and talk. We did this naturally. We figured out balance, coordination, communication and relationships with very little formal teaching. Those that love us marvelled at this intelligence, we were cheered on and celebrated for the smart little beings that we were.
At some stage in our development, adults inserted themselves into the process and suddenly our learning was handed over to teachers who claimed to know more than we did. The intelligence that had been developing quite naturally was now no longer to be trusted, it seemed.
It’s a bizarre concept to see written in print.
Thankfully, we are living in an age of technology that can provide fascinating answers to what the brain (or soul??) already knows – we are wise creatures. We are wired for positive development and we can learn and do extraordinary things with our powerful brains. Few of us are using our brains to capacity and most of us can act decisively to increase our brain’s ability to process, retain and apply learning. This is the heart of neuroplasticity – we are carrying around a phenomenal piece of equipment!
Rediscovery is the word I have used here to describe a process of reconnecting to something we already know. Recently I had an experience of rediscovery…
I was driving to meet a woman who lives on the coast in Raglan, New Zealand. To get there, I had to cross a small mountain range that separates my part of the region from hers. On the descent, I suddenly became aware of the many sharp corners I was having to negotiate in my car. From the depths of my memory, a voice came through “look ahead to the farthest edge of the corner where the road is appearing. Look there and you will corner smoothly, you don’t need to worry about the wheel, just look to the edge of the corner and you’ll end up where you want to be”
It was the voice of my driving instructor, many years distant!
Over the years I had completely forgotten his advice and returned to watching the road just in front of the car and turning the wheel like Scott McLaughlin.
In that moment, I reconnected to old knowledge. I looked farther ahead, relaxed and forgot about the corners. I ended up where I wanted to be – and I got a pretty fascinating insight along with it!
Renowned coach and international best-selling author Michael Neill has a lovely way of saying it,
“But in the same way that the GPS in our car lets us know when there’s something for us to do but stays silent the rest of the time, our innate intelligence is there when we need it but can be disconcertingly quiet when there’s nothing for it to say. That in turn can lead us to doubt its existence, or at the very least its reliability. But if you reflect back through your life, you’ll start to notice all sorts of examples of that real-time responsive intelligence in action.”[1]
When a learning experience reconnects us to knowledge that we already hold, the effects can be powerful and long-lasting. But what does it mean for those of us working in training and development?

Gallileo is credited with the quote “we cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves”

Ok if that’s true Galileo, it kind of sounds like a dead-end for those of us working hard to give this sector a good name! If we can’t teach anyone anything…if people have to make their own discoveries…how do we stay relevant in today’s world?
Should we re-title ourselves as Learning Discovery Buddies? It’s hardly a shiny sales pitch is it? Imagine researching to find the perfect supplier for a new course you need to deliver in your organisation, only to hear: ‘No, I don’t have a year-long, skills-based programme and I actually only need to see you once. Let me help you remember what you have forgotten you know!’
I understand why L&D teams might screw their noses up at this kind of offering – and why trainers would rarely murmur it on their website or brochure. It doesn’t sound like a solid business strategy and it’s hard to polish up, but it’s got a truth to it that many can appreciate at an intuitive level.
People actually know a lot. And they usually know how to learn what they want to understand better.
Hmmm, still feels like a dead-end! It’s definitely not a traditional learning pathway. Many training offerings are continuing to position the trainer as an expert and the classroom as a place where knowledge and skill is poured into the mouths of willing students who leave slightly smarter than before. We’ve all experienced a training day like that. It doesn’t feel that good. Maybe we’ve had to deliver training in that way too – it’s not fun for the facilitator either!
Whether you’re a trainer at the front of the room or a manager who just adores imparting advice to everyone with the faintest whiff of a problem – we have probably all been guilty of hijacking the process that connects people to what they already know.
So without throwing out what you’re already doing well, here are four ideas for organisations seeking to support people to rediscover their own knowledge.
1. Open all learning events with a recap of prior knowledge
This is not rocket science and it’s such a classic opening activity that it can be overlooked for its power. When done well, time spent discussing what the group in front of you already know can be the best ten minutes you’ll invest in a session plan.
  • Avoids relitigating irrelevant content and saves time.
  • Starts with a feeling of confidence and groundedness in the topic.
  • Opens the mind and primes the learning environment.
2. Discover who is in the room
In New Zealand, we like to know one another well and discover connections. It can be eye-opening to dig a little deeper beyond prior knowledge and find out what skills people hold, where they have worked and what levels of experience they are bringing to the table.
  • Strengths-based cultures celebrate what existing people can already do, they do not immediately look to outsource knowledge or skill.
  • This is empowering and builds an environment where accomplishment is visible – and used by the organisation for purpose and productivity.
  • Supercharge this by asking people what they know and then asking WHAT THEY WANT TO KNOW NEXT. You will be amazed at the power of this double-whammy question pair.
3. Credit where credit is due
Celebrate your experts! Profile the people who hold discrete and rare sets of knowledge in your organisation. Support them to share their expertise and help them learn how to do this with coaching and facilitation training if needed.
  • Keep knowledge and learning at the surface where everyone can access it by encouraging sharing between people.
  •  Reward and recognise the impact of knowledge-sharing on your business bottom line. This will help to avoid it being buried again.
  • Use your systems and platforms to curate learning and knowledge effectively.
4. Acknowledge coaching and abandon fixing
A great coach is able to tease out prior knowledge like a horse whisperer. Coaches know that the solution that will stick has to come from the person with the problem.
  • Make coaching a skill set your leaders can do in their sleep.
  • Coaches know that they are most effective as companions on someone else’s journey, not saviours on white horses.
  • Rediscovery does not require someone else to do the work – it’s a personal path to walk and if support is needed, it should be offered lightly and with encouragement not a shortcut!
Organisations can be agile and smart in ways that leverage the knowledge already out there amongst the people. We all carry innate wisdom. People are wise. What a gift it is to show them exactly that truth!

[1] https://www.michaelneill.org/cfts1151/
<![CDATA[resilience and shower spiders]]>Wed, 29 Jan 2020 01:15:28 GMThttp://michellehowie.com/blog/resilience-and-shower-spidersPicture
There’s spider living in my shower at the moment.

This spider is tenacious. It has woven its delicate web all over my bars of soap and shampoo. And when I need to break the fine strands of gossamer thread to retrieve my bar of soap each morning, the spider scuttles away from dripping water, shelters for a while, then comes back out to rebuild it all once I am gone.

This spider got me thinking.

​I made a quick and obvious leap in my mind to the generalised way we marvel and boggle at nature’s ability to thrive in unlikely places. What comes to mind for you? New green shoots sprouting from charred tree trunks? Flowers growing in the stony cracks of an urban footpath?

I bet it’s not too hard to picture something.

So I looked at this spider and I thought about what most people would interpret from my shower scene. I reckon most of us would say ‘Wow. Nature is so resilient, nature really shows us the way. Isn’t that little spider a perfect example of endurance and ‘showing up’ and bouncing back from the hardship of having your web destroyed daily…’

And then I thought a completely different thought.
I noticed the new thought because I used to think ‘wow’ about the spider – just like most people would. I used to sigh deeply and emotionally at the things nature was appearing to teach me about resilience. I used to think I didn’t know how to do those things and that I needed to learn them, or try harder. I used to think that resilience was ‘doing’ and I must not be doing it right if I ever felt wobbly or weak. I thought nature was better at it than I was.

But my different thought struck me on this day because it was so completely new. And its newness was utterly refreshing.

My different thought was a question. I asked myself this, ‘Why, before now, did I never ask myself why humans believe they need to learn about resilience – yet spiders already know it?’
I mean, that spider has never heard of self-talk and imposter syndrome. It has never purchased an online course that will teach it the six simple steps to developing a daily practice for resilience.

Its existence is innately resilient. It knows how to be well. That spider oozes wellbeing and resilience, without trying.

Why did I ever think that humans were different to, and less able than spiders when it comes to resilience?!

Well, to be perfectly honest, I hadn’t ever thought about it this way before. I had never questioned the pervasive, mainstream message that resilience is elusive, hard-won, the domain of a few lucky ones, a bit rare and learning more about it took time and experience. The most common analogy I know of is that resilience is like a muscle and if you don’t intentionally work out, you’ll end up saggy and needing a physio. What I interpreted from this mental image was ‘you’re a little bit incomplete without this extra knowledge and skill around resilience – and you’ll need help to get the resilience exercises right’. It made me feel...pretty shit. And when I was feeling resilient, I felt it was because I’d been doing ‘stuff’ right.

To be fair, I saw some convincing clues and examples to suggest that resilience wasn’t consistent across the human race – some had it, some didn’t – that’s how it looked. I knew a lot of people were trying to work on it and they were having varying levels of success. I myself was busily questing from one holy grail technique to another, also trying to figure out how to crack the resilience code permanently.

What I have only recently begun to explore is the massive MISUNDERSTANDING that many of us are carrying about resilience. I’m 40 years old. I am slowly catching on to something fundamentally amazing.

If we believe we need to increase resilience levels in order to ‘do life right’, we’re overlooking the beautifully simple fact that (just like that little spider) we are ALREADY resilient. It is in us, it is there in our bones, it is our natural design to be well, to be resilient and to experience life fully.
Yes I know that sounds way out there. It’s also hard to see sometimes.

There are definitely days/times when we DO NOT feel resilient and we could question this beautifully simple system. Sometimes it really doesn’t look like we are resilient. Our daily experience might feel a million light years from the simplicity of a spider repairing one tiny web. But we are made up of the same stuff – operating under the same system that connects us to spiders, sprouting shoots and footpath flowers all over our planet. We often forget that and skip over our own unique place in this amazing ecosystem that is designed to thrive and bounce back.

I invite you to look in this direction, look for evidence of your wellness, your resilience. What do you notice when you ponder resilience in a different way? What would it mean for you if you could let go of all the thinking you have about DOING resilience and rest in the assurance that you ARE resilient, by design? Now that is magic! You are much like that little shower spider, living a naturally resilient life.

I have found such peace in this new place. A delicious sense of relaxation – it is a joy to take things off our mind when we understand how something actually works.

Try this affirmation. I see you shower spider. I am resilient too.

Wishing you warmth, delicious relaxation and spidery-ness.
Michelle x
Ps. If you want to dive deeper into the ‘oneness’ of us and nature, I really recommend this recent podcast episode by Dr Amy Johnson https://dramyjohnson.com/2020/01/ep80-the-nature-of-you-how-you-and-nature-are-one-and-the-same-with-teri-whiteman-and-claudette-dietlin/
<![CDATA[Thoughts that don’t stick]]>Tue, 09 Jul 2019 09:27:44 GMThttp://michellehowie.com/blog/thoughts-that-dont-stickI woke up at 5am with great big thoughts. 

This happened on Friday 5 July 2019.  The date and the time are very clear to me, because the thoughts were so big and so vivid that I felt sure it would be one of those unforgettable moments in my life. 

So much certainty, in that moment. These were big thoughts.
At the time of writing this, I am four days ‘post-moment' and things look different now. Sorry for the buzz-kill, this is not a particularly exciting blog about a momentous insight and how life changed forever at 5am on 5 July. This is a pretty ordinary blog about what happened to my thoughts between 5 July and 9 July. Yes, I’ve totally blown the punchline, but I think you’ll find it interesting to hear what happened, so read on if you are curious. 

For context, I am someone who has spent most of my adult life really committed to my thoughts and swimming around in my head-soup on a daily basis. I love to think. I can easily overthink. I can dedicate huge lengths of time to thinking (and less time to acting on them) and I can entertain some fairly fantastical ideas and concepts up in my clever head. 

More recently I have become curious about where our thoughts come from, what’s behind them and how we might re-frame thinking as an entirely less symbolic endeavour. It’s really taken the ‘fun’ out of overthinking (which is a bit of a loss some days) and helped me feel a lot calmer in my head-soup. It’s also led to far greater clarity and pragmatism in my life.  Since early 2018, I’ve been a curious student of the Three Principles of mind, thought and consciousness and I’ve used my own learnings and experiences with coaching clients ever since.  

So when I had the 5am thoughts on 5 July I was a struck by their vivid nature and how they had woken me from my sleep. This seemed to be a ‘sign’. This definitely happens less than it used to – so I paid attention! I took these thoughts and I looked at them with curiosity. 

‘Where on Earth did you come from?’ 
‘Why did you appear in my head today?’ 
‘What do you want me to do with you now?’ 

The thoughts were bold and provocative and they were suggesting a radically different professional path for the rest of 2019. I had the thought that maybe I should run as a candidate in the local body elections and try to get elected as a Hamilton City CouncillorFor those that know me, it will be clear that this thought arrested my attention quite sharply as I have openly stated that I am not ‘up for’ a political role. I’m not up for it, and yet, I’m also a botherer and it’s not too far-fetched to imagine it on my CV... 

I took my thought seedling and I shared it with some trusted friends. They seemed to like my little seedling, they encouraged me. My seedling grew in my head. Within 12 hours I had a campaign plan pretty well-formed in my head and my head-soup was busily imagining the future – the highs and lows of life in public office and how I would manage this new reality (which was not reality at all). 

The thinking slowed down over the weekend and I let it sit. 

The thinking didn’t go away, but I quietened down. The boldness was fading.  

Monday rolled around and I shared my thought seedling with one more friend and I could hear the change in my voice. I researched and read up on the parameters of this wild idea. I found a detail that needed investigation and I made a phone call to find out more from the Electoral Officer.  The thought remained and it still looked pretty vivid and bold. I was taking tiny actions based on this thought. I wondered when I would go out there with this thought and tell more of the world. I was terrified in a heady and electric way. 

Three days after the 5am big thoughts the world shifted in a profound way and I was jolted from my delicious, indulgent head-soup into the role of supporter and listener for someone in immediate need. My husband came home on Monday afternoon having had an exceptionally difficult day of work as a firefighter. We talked until late, he had so much to sift through and process. My thought seedling was a mirage, not really there at all. As I came fully into the present moment and sat with him and held his emotions gently, that thought seedling disappeared like smoke. It was never really there at all, I realised. I sure had nurtured that thought, I’d poured love and belief on it. That thought got a lot of my attention and it began to take on a form that sure looked real to me. But it wasn’t really there at all – in a new moment, it just disappeared.  

I woke up today, four days after such vivid thoughts, and I realised that I now have a second thought that completely contradicts the first one. No campaign on the horizon, a complete 180 on the confidence I had felt about running for Council. Those 5am thoughts have run out of puff and I am left with smoke and dust.  

I texted the friends who had met my seedling. I let them know it had disappeared and that I’d had a new insight about family, who I need to be and where I can make a difference. Am I frustrated, annoyed or embarrassed by the thought u-turn? No. 

Here’s what happened. I had a thought on 5 July. It was vivid and it looked so real. I made it more real and I let that thought set roots in my head-garden. I had an absence of thought on 8 July and I sat with my husband as he let his own thoughts slosh around and spill all over the table. I had a new thought on 9 July and it pointed to something simple and obvious. 

Thoughts are not made of anything real and I do not need to act on them. 

Thoughts are made of smoke and dust. Sometimes they look very real and sometimes they provide amazing insights and clarity. If I choose, I can take my thoughts and head off into action land. If I wait just a little bit and slow down, I might see that these thoughts are not asking me to do anything at all. I return to centre and I am free to choose. I am reminded that I am something else behind those smoky thoughts, something that is whole and safe and always OK. 

Incidentally, this understanding of thought would be a wonderful gift to take into the cut and thrust of public life. So maybe one day I will run for Council. But not right now. 

If you would like to read more about thoughts and why you shouldn’t be scared of them, I recommend this blog. Sometimes we have big thoughts that can seem overwhelming, dark or worrying. Sometimes we can take on the thoughts we think other people are having about us. Recently a friend of mine was working her way through some friendship issues. She and I were exchanging a few messages where I was gently pointing to her resilience and her 'OK-ness'. She came back a while later and said that she was thinking about it in a new way. She said, ‘I am a non-stick frypan and I imagine all the thoughts sliding off me.’ which is a nice way to see it. We are the thing beyond our thoughts, we are something that 'stuff' can't stick to.

Thoughts glide over the surface of who we really are. 
There’s nothing sticky about thoughts. But they can be quite fun at 5am, even if they don’t last... 
<![CDATA[what did you do consistently in 2017?]]>Sat, 30 Dec 2017 20:16:07 GMThttp://michellehowie.com/blog/what-did-you-do-consistently-in-2017The morning of New Year's Eve 2017. It's 9.20am. Very little time left (if you're taking a classic calendar view of the world) to reflect on the year. Tomorrow it all changes. We wake to a new year and a forward-facing mindset. So what better day, or time of the day, to scribble down some thoughts on my year and to share some possibilities for how you might view your own year - and the one ahead.

They say (and I believe) that you are what you do consistently. I am not what I dream of being. I am not as bad as I imagine I am. I just am. I just am what I do consistently - and the trick is to achieve self-acceptance.
“We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”― Archilochos

So what did I do consistently in 2017? Despite some well-meaning reminders to rest, unplug and relax - I did what I do best in 2017. I got a lot done. I was really busy. My to-do list was lengthy and I got most of it done. In particular, the last half of 2017 was a whole new pace for our family. And I thrived 98% of the time.
I led the household for 12 weeks from September to December while Shawn attended his firefighter recruit course out of town. To balance this alongside my contracts and growing number of clients, I rose at 5am most mornings and worked on home-based tasks until the school run and classic working day began. I worked a lot of evenings too. At weekends, we collapsed into grateful partnership and plugged away at the home-based chores I hadn't managed to get around to mid week.
I kept our extensive urban vege  garden watered and orderly, meaning we are now bearing the fruits of a massive harvest. 
I completed the first module of an amazing self-directed course offered by Te Wananga o Aotearoa. 
I ran my other business Magnetic Hub, even finding a bit of time to reach out into new areas, run three speaker events and continue to lead my own Hub each month.
I asked for help when my own reserves were exhausted - this was new for me, but a much-needed lesson in limits, maturity and common sense. In receiving help, I saw that those who love me want to help and it is not a chore for them. This blew my mind.

I felt incredibly alive and not as tired as you might imagine. This year, I feel more creative and 'in flow' than ever before. I am constantly barraged by ideas, innovations, possible ventures, improvements, inspiration. They are otherly, not orderly. As Elizabeth Gilbert describes so well in her famous TED talk on the creative process, it can be a mad race to 'run like hell' and find paper and pencil with which to capture the thought before it barrels through me and on....off to find another human who is better placed to transform it into reality. I've taken to keeping pen and paper by my bedside, notebooks and apps with me wherever I go.
Watch her TED talk here, I really recommend it.

So how will I reflect on the year? I'm going to take my diaries (paper and electronic), sit with Shawn and flick to January 2017. We are going to scan the weeks, taking a trip down memory lane. We may jot down the big stuff and sketch up a sort of timeline to show the year in brief - we may try a 'past year review' as suggested by Tim Ferriss and distill the top positives and the top negatives from the year. Read his full instructions here. In essence, it's a mindful exercise to help you plan and book in more of the things that were awesome from the past year - and block or avoid the key events or people that made for bad experiences.

And what about the year ahead? Well, I'm not making any resolutions. Classic resolutions about health, wealth and happiness no longer feel right. At my ripening age, I feel more inclined to say, "I have enough, I am enough" as per the journey to self-acceptance, see above. Check out this blog I wrote for Magnetic Hub to read a bit more of my thinking. 

What I will do is ponder some questions. Questions are my jam. If the answers appear, I'll take notice. If the answers elude me, the question was probably still worth asking. Maybe some questions in this list will provide you some wholesome food for thought too.
  • what do you want more of in 2018?
  • what do you want less of?
  • what do you want to start?
  • ..or stop?
  • ...or continue?
  • what is the most valuable thing in your world right now?
    • do you give it enough time?
  • where do you feel most content?
    • do you go there often enough?
  • why do you do what you do?
    • has it changed in the last 5 years or do you want to change it this year?
  • who loves you? Who knows you intimately?
    • how are you valuing that relationship? Do they know how you feel about them?

So today, as we all balance on the cusp of a new year, poised to flip the calendar page, watching the hours tick by ready to transform the seven into an eight - let the thoughts ripple. Observe them, notice the feelings. You can only be you - and you are what you do consistently. You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings. 

So what did you do consistently in 2017?

<![CDATA[Climbing the hill of life, lessons from the Hakarimata track]]>Fri, 20 Oct 2017 22:09:09 GMThttp://michellehowie.com/blog/climbing-the-hill-of-life-lessons-from-the-hakarimata-trackLong blog - featuring health, guilt, body image, goals, systems, philosophy. 

This morning I climbed the Hakarimata summit track alone. To put that in context, I've only done the track about a dozen times in total over the last 12 months so there is no pattern of regular habit here. I have never gone alone before, I normally go with Shawn my husband and once we did it with the kids...very slowly.  It's a beautiful track, filled with birdsong and bush. It's nature's gym these days, a well-worn track used by many, many local people pursuing physical goals or simply aiming for the view from the top. 
Shawn and I consider it a huge treat to go and do the track together, like a daytime date. We chat on the way and continue chatting until I can't talk any more. Tackling 1349 steps will do that to you. The companionship is lovely, he appreciates it because 'doing the hill' is normally a solo endeavour for him so to share the moment with me is always special. Without fail, he comments every time on my method and how differently I approach the task of the climb.  

I plod. Left leg, right leg. Repeat.  

I'm not chatty, I just keep moving. Hardly any breaks, lots of breathing in and breathing out. Always thank the people who share the track and pass one way or the other. He chirps away behind me with his own commentary and plenty of encouragement. I don't need it, I am in my zone. I often think back to the birth of both our sons and how I got through labour in a very similar fashion. Eyes closed, leave me to do my work please, I've got this. He likes to run down like a freight train and I've come to enjoy the added challenge of a fast descent as well. Without fail, he checks our time when we get back to the car and marvels that this method of mine has returned us within a comparatively competitive timeframe. Which I find pleasing, but only to a certain degree. 

But today he wasn't with me, I went alone. I wanted to go and he couldn't, so I went alone. 

I made an important mental shift recently, which I think explains in part why I wanted to head off at 7am on a weekend morning and do this gruelling climb. I'm a classic vanilla when it comes to body image. I've never been totally happy with the reflection in the mirror. Years of on-off diets, wide-ranging dabbles in sports and exercise, always wistful for skinnier and the fashions that suit skinny. No real commitment to any of it. I saw the movie Embrace in 2016 and bought my own copy so I could share the vital message Taryn Brumfitt wants women to hear. How ironic that I screened this movie, loaned this movie and felt pretty enlightened, yet on I went with my habits and misplaced beliefs that I need to look a certain way.  

Last month I realised I could look at this in a whole new way. Duh, yes even I get slapped in the face with obvious wisdom! needed to look at things in a new way. The kickboxing gym I signed up with in May this year is a great place to squeeze in a lunchtime class or workout, but I found myself skipping classes and making excuses. The trainers are amazing, the classes are excellent, I absolutely love punching things...and yet. The print-out of the strength training plan I had asked for is gathering dust. I had set myself a crushingly massive goal. One day at the gym, verbalised the wish to lose weight, gain strength and flexibility, be a fit and able parent to my active kids...maybe even enter another fight one day. I named the goal and then the work to get there daunted me into inaction. Ever felt that way? It sucks. Guilt at your own inability to meet the very goal you named loads up like a heavy cloud and hey presto, the inaction becomes inertia. Because I'm an A-grade wish-maker I also timed this particular physical goal with a food-related goal of eating no-carbs or fruit six days a week. Oh, and I'm also pretty busy at work and Shawn is away from home during the week until December on a course. The result was so predictable. 

What's the shift then? What did I change? There wasn't a specific ah-ha moment that I can recall. I think one day I just asked myself a new series of questions. 
  • 'What if you just decided to exercise because it's fun and you took away your goals?' 
  • 'What if you stopped thinking so hard about what to eat and just ate food?' 
  • 'Could you try that for a while and see if it works?' 
And most importantly, 
  • 'Can you look at the reflection and just love it right now, not wish for a new reflection for once?' 

And so I found myself answering yes to all these questions and I found myself feeling happier. And I went back to kickboxing and had a blast smashing the pads and getting very sweaty. And I ate good food and some treat foods and it was so flippin tasty. And I woke up today and wanted to go up the hill on my own. And it was so awesome to be there, with my wonderful strong body climbing up every one of the 1349 steps and then racing down them all over again. I had my breath, my heartbeat, my thoughts. I felt completely alive. And grateful. 

So here are the thoughts that came to mind as I climbed. I arrived at two conclusions that are my take on why the hill climb is a metaphor for a purposeful life. 
  1. Go as fast as you can, pick up the pace and don't stop 
  2. Go with someone, it's better that way 
Let me expand.  
  1. Time really is short. When taken as a countdown clock it's easier to see life as a finite and precious opportunity. It's going to end one day. If you want to know when, try this site. Don't see this as macabre, it's just truthful. What's your purpose, why are you here? Figure it out and get cracking. With pace and purpose, the focus seems sharper. It stills my mind and I am consumed by the task at hand. On the hill this morning I realised that my heart rate was thumping and my breathing was loud and obvious – but it was not correlated to my legs' ability to move. They could keep going. Breathing fast did not mean my legs couldn't do it. That's when I get my plod on! Disconnect from the breath and the heart-thump and keep the legs moving. Left leg, right leg, repeat. You need fewer breaks that you think you do.  
  2. There was definite benefit to being alone with my thoughts today, but it's easier to do life with someone else. We are wired for connection and belonging to a group. Invite and involve others on the journey, share the ride and share the air. Listen and talk. It changes your perspective. I was alone in my climb, but far from alone on the hill. The other people out there early this morning were microcosm of humanity in all its diverse forms – some chatty, some private. Some big, some small. Some fit, some aspiring. Some accommodating, some selfish. Some go all the way, some go some of the way. And so it is. 
Every time I've been on the track, you witness a variety of etiquette for how those climbing the hill choose to pass by those descending. The path is narrow in places and surfaces vary from gravel track to gravel steps to boardwalk steps with a handrail. Some people use the chance to pause, step aside and let others pass – a handy way to catch your breath. Sometimes you have to because someone (like Shawn) is thundering down with no visible intention of stopping. Some people steadily plod upwards and the descending team have to defer and pass carefully. I think it's important that I have always noticed at least one person who says, 'there's plenty of room, keep coming' and just makes the moment of passing work for both parties. It's a fleeting moment, we get super close for a millisecond then it's over. I get to keep going up and you get to keep coming down and in the moment, both of us are moving forwards to where we want to be. 

I'm going to start saying it too. There's plenty of room. 
Michelle x 

This blog was partly inspired by this great article on the value of systems over goals. Check it out https://jamesclear.com/goals-systems  
<![CDATA[Why i give]]>Mon, 02 Oct 2017 17:25:16 GMThttp://michellehowie.com/blog/why-i-giveWhen the business began to keep me consistently busy I made a commitment to donate annually to charity. Last December I made my first donation – a humble $50 to Brainwave Aotearoa Trust. Here's the post. This decision falls out of some introspective work I did in 2016 around my long-term goals – and it also reflects all the learnings I have taken from the hardest (best?) times of my life. Let me explain... 
In 2016 I wrote my 'list of 100 dreams' - a simple activity that helped to put me in the mindset of finding my purpose, my why. The list is still not yet complete, it's hard to get to 100! Entries on the list range from honest, material wishes (own a MacBook Air) to heart-driven aspirations (speak up for children's rights). When I looked for a cause to support, I came back to this list and searched for a dream I could align with. So I picked Brainwave Aotearoa - a great organisation whose work I enjoy and believe it has the power to really change young Kiwi children's lives as their parents learn more about how they are developing. 

If you can know your bigger picture and ensure that your actions and decisions align with it, things just feel clearer. 

The second aspect to my decision to give relates to how I feel when I give. I think back to harder times, specifically my early experiences as a new mother. It took me a long time...far too long in hindsight...to emerge and connect with the community in which I had found myself.  By the time we were ready to welcome baby #2 into the family, I knew that being 'out there' was a happier place for me. In a blog I wrote for a friend's website about feeding my second son, I said "..each time I indulged the sobbing and sat up all bleary, there was still a dirty house filled with hungry boys waiting for me.  So I just got up and got on with things.  That has been a huge life lesson for me, to just get on with something because nothing was ever fixed from waiting and wishing." 

So being 'out there' was as much about being busy inside the same four walls as it was about NOT getting stuck in my own head. I've written about that before too...And being 'out there' also meant being outside the home and it connected me to groups that were giving something important to the community. And I started giving alongside them, because it felt right on all kinds of levels. I worked in a voluntary capacity (like so many other mums) for quite a few groups, but probably gave the most to Playcentre. I felt that what we did at Playcentre made an inherent, positive difference to the lives and wellbeing of our whaanau. It was bloody hard at times and ironically meant that I was often LESS available to my own family than they would have liked, but it saved me. 

Isaved me to be selfless. Giving of my skills, giving of my time to something worthwhile was the big leveller. Years later, I first heard the term 'servant leadership' and that seemed like a good description. Giving, serving, being of service, helping others – it takes many forms. It's an indicator of our health, individual and collective, to pause and look at how much we are serving others. 

Because then there was an election. 

And I thought to myself, I can't wait until December this year. I do not have a blind eye to turn. I have two eyes and two ears and I live in New Zealand in 2017. What I see all around me is an increasing pressure on families who have less than my ownSo with my privilege and my good fortune and my capacity to share firmly acknowledged, I have given again to a new cause. 

They are called The Aunties If you feel inclined, their givealittle page would appreciate any help you can offer. 
<![CDATA[Leadership and the invisible contract]]>Thu, 27 Jul 2017 09:24:37 GMThttp://michellehowie.com/blog/leadership-and-the-invisible-contractSo you've ended up leading a team. You know how you got here, you were complicit, there was an offer and an agreement. This is your first leadership role – perhaps it's paid or perhaps it's not. I've had both kinds of leadership roles, both count. You did make this choice, so how come it is not quite as it seemed? Time has gone by and 'stuff' has started to creep in. 

What has happened here? 
Did someone hide the facts from you? Was there a second more-accurate version of the job description that never saw the light of day? 

No, my friend. You are simply a leader now. It's a lived experience and you've simply lived it long enough to begin to see the full shape of it emerge from the darkness and come into focus. You are starting to realise the full extent of leadership, the full commitment. There's an invisible contract and you've signed it by taking on this role. You've signed on the line in an ink you did not choose, with a pen you did not hold. You have agreed to this, but you only got to read the first page of the terms and conditions. 

It's daunting to behold, the full shape of it. The scrutiny, the responsibility, the rawness, the power, the emptiness, the joy. 

You were groomed for this perhaps, encouraged to apply, emboldened by support from other leaders. You thought, I can do this. And you can. But it's taking you to new heights and new depths – all in one day. It's not quite what you expected. There's hope out there, there's some training for you, some mentoring perhaps. But how do you know what to ask for when this journey has taken a massive detour into uncharted territory? How do you confess that you're not actually enjoying it every day...and how do you lead your people during such a storm of uncertainty within? 

Because they watch you, your team. You are beginning to realise that your actions are on camera, recorded and replayed by those who look to you for guidance and direction. So what you do really matters, because someone might copy your actions. So if you mess up and have to say no, don't copy me, that was wrong, you're also on camera. It's very hard to be a human and a leader some days. People can be unforgiving. People can be hurtful and their behaviours will shock you. Every effort and every strategy you could possibly learn will not reach some people. Only your love will reach them – and even then, you may never realise it.  

Some days you will nail the presentation, be lifted aloft when the deal is signed, be awarded a big smile from the shyest team member. Some days you will cry alone in the toilets at a cruel comment, receive three resignations in a row, fail to meet a deadline and lose all your budget spreadsheets to a computer virus. All of it is your job. 

It's OK to say, this is not what I thought it was. I am not up for this.  
It's not OK to try and change leadership to suit you, because the fundamentals are inarguable and people will suffer if those fundamentals scare you too much to deliver on them. You have to change to suit leadership – no other option.  

The fundamentals are this: leadership is akin to parenting. You are raising people, hoping they will grow and develop to be more than you ever dreamed possible for them. You believe in their full potential and you believe in the family. You will provide education and discipline where it is needed. You will create and communicate safe, loving boundaries and hence there will be trust. The buck stops with you and you accept that. 

Leadership is not reserved for those who are actual parents, indeed, some parents are not natural leaders. Leadership is fantastic preparation for parenting, but there is no requirement to ever follow through if you don't want to! It's a simple analogy – so simple that it really works. 

Re-framing my leadership roles and viewing them through the lense of the parenting analogy was a leap-forward moment. It was also sobering. Would I really do anything for my team? Do I care enough? Are my discipline skills empowering or actually punitive? Do they trust me? How could I measure that? Do I trust them? How could they measure that? When was the last time I truly stopped the buck and shouldered all of the consequences? Am I accountable? Why am I doing this? 

Ask yourself your own questions – define your leadership and decide whether this is the right contract for you. 

Read more: https://startwithwhy.com/learn-to-lead?ref=home (Simon Sinek)
<![CDATA[Talk about it vs type about it]]>Thu, 30 Mar 2017 20:55:25 GMThttp://michellehowie.com/blog/talk-about-it-vs-type-about-itYes, I see the irony of typing out a blog when I’m discussing a message about talking to other humans. Give me some grace, let’s see if I can get to where I’m going with this.

Several events over the last week have all spun in their separate planetary orbits, seemingly unconnected. Then the final event joined the swirl and bang, the planets aligned like a string of blindingly bright beads pulled taut between my conscious and the very centre of the universe. A roundabout way of describing an insight, I suppose.
The events/planets were:
  1. Stopping to offer help to a woman defecating on the footpath in the middle of town
  2. Two notices printed in my son’s school newsletter
  3. Doing a U-turn so my husband could talk to a teenager vandalising a street tree

Diverse! Welcome to life at the Howies.
Events 1 and 3 were moments where we had a choice. Actually, event 2 was also a choice for the author of the newsletter. I’m going to avoid self-editing and leave those last two sentences where they are because they illustrate how easy it is for all of us to forget that we have choices. We all have choices. Some situations only offer us tiny, unattractive choices. Some situations offer us limitless personal choices. I’m not trying to judge.
The exercise of choice is where we switch in the most profound and powerful way from passive living to active, purposeful living. We become agents. We use our agency. [more on agency another time]

So, of course you’re wondering about the defecation incident. Who wouldn’t? It was a startling sight, so out of the norm that my body stopped in its tracks, my senses were heightened and I felt a surge of embarrassment, shame, fear and confusion. Luckily that all happened in a nano second and empathy flooded in very quickly. I could so easily have walked past her, others would have. No judgement for that. That day, I stood at a distance and spoke loud enough so she would know I was I talking to her, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can do to help?...the mall toilets aren’t very far, just down there…”

Mumbled reply to the ground, trousers pulled up, off she went. And so did I.

Then came the school newsletter. Two notices: one (which I have read many, many times before) reminding parents not to drop off their kids in the small staff car park, to park on the road instead. A safety message, pretty standard you’d probably say. This notice makes me clench my jaw, go tense all over and (sometimes) shout to the household “these parents are NOT reading the ***ing newsletter! Get up from behind your desk and go stand in the car park where you can TALK to them!!!”

The second notice from the Council, reminding the local community that playgrounds were recently upgraded at considerable expense and the enjoyment of the parks is being affected by the actions of vandals and young people exhibiting anti-social behaviour. Again, a valid message. A message that never in the history of this planet has reached the ears, eyes and hearts of the vandals by being printed in a school newsletter that usually fails to land in the hands of the relevant parents. If my own sons ever grow up to be vandals and I learn about it in a school newsletter I am prepared to print this blog and eat it. We simply cannot build a playground and think that it will be used appropriately by every single member of a community. Should we never build playgrounds? No, of course not. Should we be upset when they are vandalised? Yes, that’s a normal and natural response for anyone who poured effort, thought and budget into the project. We are all human, even the vandals and young people who want to hang outside of the home, socialise, be seen, be heard – all too often in ways that adults just cannot fathom. We can’t type a message and expect change. We have to talk about it.

Now the tree. My husband is a gifted landscaper, a true man of the land. He loves trees, he has some insight into the street tree programme and he has even planted some in our city. So the sight of a boy, maybe 14 or 15, attacking a young Magnolia like a robot with a broom handle, made him enormously angry. We were driving in our car when he saw it, asked to me turn around so he could talk to the kid. I agreed, but reminded him of our little offspring audience in the back seat. When we pulled up, the footpath was littered with broken twigs, leaves and mess. He’d gone to town on the tree. Window down, with great self-control, “Oi, what do you think you’re doing?...[shrugged, dunno]…take…your…stick…and go back inside [shrugs, says nothing, hardly moves]. We drove home, still able to see this boy across the park. Inside at the kitchen window, he and I talked about the kid, wondering; who else is home inside that house? Why is he so angry/bored/mindless?
He didn’t attack the tree again that night, as far as we could tell. We think he was startled to be confronted, probably shamed. We don’t know. But we talked about the nameless boy a little bit, just like we talked about the woman I met on the street, just like we talked about the considerably smaller impact achieved by a notice in a newsletter.

It’s so easy to type. So easy to comment from a phone keyboard, so easy to just hit like or wow. So easy to think we’ve ticked it off by putting a notice in the newsletter.

It’s much much harder to talk, but to me that’s what changes the world. Conversation, face to face, in real time. That is not hiding; that is brave, out-there, vulnerable action. And anyone can do it.