<![CDATA[Michelle Howie - Blog]]>Wed, 31 Oct 2018 09:38:09 +1300Weebly<![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┬áHakarimata┬átrack]]>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.