About what’s important in life – wisdom from a senior

 

“To survive, to keep on living is the most important thing in this world,”

said with low voice Peter, a 71-year-old bushwalker, driving his car to Eureka Camp on a Friday afternoon. Babak and I were going with Peter for the weekend to do a group bush walk at Yarra Junction. We did not have a car, Peter was kind to give us a lift there, where we were meeting the other bushwalkers.

After some small chat about where are we originally from, about Uber and its costs, about the high way, cars and fuel, about the enjoyment of work, Peter said he was at a moment in his life when he was taking some time to plan the next 20 years of his life.

“I need to focus on what is important at my age”, mentioned Peter.

We wanted to hear more. We asked Peter what was it he appreciated in life, looking at it through eyes with more than 70 years of experience in seeing the world.

“Health is the most important thing.”

Then he paused. There is no fun in growing old. Whatever issue we used to have – stubborn or bad knees, cold limbs with bad blood circulation or sudden change of moods – they all grow stronger with age, while our body gets weaker and weaker. “Use it, or lose it” becomes more relevant than ever. Peter was prioritising going to gym at least 3-4 times a week and taking time for bush walks on the weekend. Giving our body the food it needs to be properly nourished and the exercise it needs to say active and fit is the absolute minimum we can do to stay healthy. And this is not really just for seniors. It applies to every single one of us.

“Having good relationships, dear people around you is the way to enjoy your health. Sometimes I think it is even more important than health.”

There was sadness in Peter’s voice when saying this. He has never been married. But this does not mean he could not enjoy the company of the bush walkers, of his friends for Christmas, Easter, or just for the weekend or an afternoon at the next door cafe. When it comes to our happiness, relationships are crucial (I wrote a LinkedIn article about it here a while ago). We might be tempted to prioritise money over relationships, career over spending time with our dear ones, saving up rather than going away for the weekend to visit a family member. Money will not support you with kind words and hot chocolate when you are down and feeling meaningless. Your career will not hold your hand when you are sick either.

“I want to write and publish three novels I have had in my head the last 20 years. And I want to write these novels for the joy of it.”

Peter didn’t like fame, so he wanted to publish under a pseudonym. “When you are famous, you don’t know anymore who is your friend and who is not.” Maybe it is writing that we do just for the joy of it. Maybe it is music, art, gardening, reading, walking, cooking. Whatever it is you always wanted to do, just go and do it now, while you have the time.

We’ve got to Eureka Camp a little wiser than we left Melbourne, grateful to Peter for sharing with us. After all, what seem to be important in life at 70s is highly relevant in our 30s, 40s, or whatever…

Cultivating new habits for our wellbeing at work

 

The one thing you can control is how you treat yourself. And that one thing can change everything. (Leeana Tankersley).

Your lower back sinks in pain. Today you may not have the usual head tension (could it be because is Friday!), but you are feeling exhausted. There is no energy left in your body to go out for the evening. You cannot focus much on your friends’ conversation anyway. The plan is to spend your weekend to sleep, forget about tasks, and recover from another stressful week at work.

This is not really living, it is dying at work. We know that. Why do we keep on doing it?

There are so many articles out there where you can read about some healthy habits at work: drinking enough water, taking regular breaks, standing up and walking from time to time, going out for your lunch break for a short walk. We read about these habits of better dosing our energy and effort at work. They enter through one ear, go out through the other, leaving us exhausted, into the same killing working routine.

This article gives 3 suggestions on how to integrate these healthy habits into your daily routine at work. I wish I learnt them sooner.

First of all, let’s face this, our deepest foundation for change: humans are creatures of habits. If you work out a day or two, it does not mean you have created a habit. I do not know exactly how many days it takes for the habit to be formed, opinions are very different: some say 21 days, other 32, some opinions are pointing to 66. Anyway, we’ve got the point. We need to prepare to stand up for ourselves for quite a few days to create and cultivate the new habit.

  1. Calendar reminders

At work, we have calendar reminders for all our deadlines and meetings. For meeting up with ourselves, let’s put a calendar reminder as well: notification for refilling your glass of water every hour, for standing up and walk for a couple of minutes, for going out for a walk, for our lunch break, four meditation time. Put these up, or you will forget about it. If you have a to do list, you want to have your new habits there as well. If you have weekly goals, or quarterly KIPs, your health goals and personal KPIs should also be in there, to keep yourself responsible. If you do not take care of yourself, nobody will.

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  1. Bundle new habits and old habits together into a ritual

We all have our little routine at work: we take a coffee when we arrive, we eat breakfast when checking our email, we have the stand up meetings, we send daily status reports. It will help cultivating new habits if you link them to something you already do and it already has roots in your behaviour. We drink a glass of water with the morning coffee. After the status report, we stand up and walk around the office for 3-5 minutes. After lunch, we go out for a short walk. Make sure the new ritual is captured in your calendar, just to double check on yourself. 🙂

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  1. Make deals with your colleagues

When I was working in customer support, picking up tickets and calls from customers, it was hard to plan my day, plan my routine, because things would always come up. Then I learnt that when I needed to do something important, I could tell Nicki, my manager, and she would cover me while I was doing the important thing I had on my list.

We can announce our colleagues when we plan to take a 15 minute break to go out for a short walk, invite them to our calendar event and count on them to pick up any urgent tasks coming up in our absence. Moreover, this will also be an invite and reminder for your colleagues to look after their mental and physical health at work. Maybe next time, they will send you a calendar invite for you to cover them when they do their daily walk.

You fully count on yourself to look after yourself. You may get support from your employer, your HR Manager, your Wellbeing Officer or your boss to work on your wellbeing at work. But in the end, it is up to you. And these small healthy habits can change everything the way you feel at work. You know the say:

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”  Lou Holtz

 

The learnings of a city dweller into the wilderness

The sun was not up yet and we were already on board, on Nooramunga, a 20-metre twin motorboat, harboured in Port Albert, Victoria. We were all mentally prepared and organised for at least nine-hour boat trip to Deal Island. Seasickness pills were our first breakfast…prayers whispered for them to work.

This five-day trip, away from work and from all the skills required to live in the city, was a journey of learning. I guess that’s just what happens when you leave the comfort zone of your home, of your office, and end up in a place when all your tech and professional skills are completely useless.

9 hours on the boat = great opportunity to get out of your head and learn something from others.

Wynne, an experienced white beard captain with red cheeks said nobody got seasick on the way back. “It’s all in your mind,” he said. Carol, the first mate of Wynne and an excellent boat operator, taught us the rules of conserving the precious water and toilet usage on the boat and outdoor. Mate, we, the city people, do not even know how to poo properly on a boat or in a National Park #LessonLearnt.

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When we arrived to our destination, Wynne used an inflatable small boat to take us to the shore, on Erith island. This was where we were base camping, just 20 minutes sail away from Deal island. Wynne told us to take the backpacks from the boat and put it to the shore, away from the sand. Applying what I knew from the city (when someone gives you something to do, you need to rush to complete it asap), I started running with backpacks, between the boat and the shore.

“Why are you running? You are not in the city. There is no traffic light, there is no rush. Whnne”

On Erith, we all unpacked, put up our tents and got together for a yummy dinner. Oh yeah, in the middle of nowhere, we even had chocolate cake. When we go away from the city, we take with you as much as we can, somehow to recreate the comfort of the city and the habits we have there. But this time, there was no point in taking the laptop, not even the phone. There was no phone reception, no electricity, no water on this island. Good luck with staring at yourself!

On Saturday, Wynne gave us the first lift to Deal Island. We visited the Museum (East Cove) and for the morning tea, we were already up on the hill to the Lighthouse. In the past, the Deal Island Lighthouse was raising proudly as the highest light in the Southern Hemisphere serving fishermen and sea travellers from 1848 till 1992. A couple of us allowed themselves a longer tea break to admire the view from the Lighthouse. Others walked down to where one of the military aircraft crashed in Australia during World War II. Then we all head towards Squally Cove for lunch. The first day of bush walk ended with Little Squally Cove and, for the fastest and fittest (Gina, John F and Carol to be more specific) – Barn Hill too.

On Sunday, Wynne dropped us to Garden Cove. Walking from there to the Winter Cove, I learnt how little wallabies care about humans here. Wallabies could not bother any less about us taking close up photos of them for Facebook. I learnt how much extra time I had every day without using Facebook and all the social media toolkit that you need in the city to promote yourself to employers, to your friends, to complete strangers.

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Through my inexperienced eyes, all the coves on Deal Island look pretty much the same (stunning clear turquoise water, beautiful sandy beach, a lot of bushes with wild Australian geese, wallabies and dry looking pine trees), except one – the Winter Cove which felt special. It must have been the warm brownish-orange colour of the rocks, the wide opening of the beach, the lovely lunch and afternoon we spent there on that Sunday… or maybe the marvellous encounter with some serious kayakers who showed us some tricks and equipment for light camping. I learnt that the limits are the ones we set ourselves. These kayakers were about 80km away from their departure point. With full awareness, they had to choose what to fit into their small kayak for 10 days in the wild. And I thought that coming by boat, with toilet and tap water was difficult!

Monday was our last day on Erith. We truly made the best out of it by walking to Swashway, crossing over to Dover island, walk to the headland and then return to the camp taking different routes. This is when I learnt that every single gram in our daypack matters in enjoying a walk effortlessly.

“Every gram in your daypack is like an emotional baggage. You may not be aware of it, but it bothers you over and over again.”

When you are walking, you have to get your priorities right with everything you put in your backpack. You can take the wok on a base camp if it means a lot to you (there was someone who did that actually!), but not on a pack carry trip. That Monday was certainly a memorable one, as the day when many of us pushed their limits once more. With encouragements and a lot of helping hands from the leaders of the group, we all walked rocky paths we had never dreamed we could walk. We were sweaty (and sometimes frightened too!) while climbing those rocks, but it felt so rewarding at the end of the day.

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On the way back to Port Albert on Tuesday, nobody was seasick, to confirm Wynne’s wise observation. Two groups of dolphins had raced with Nooramunga on our return, jumping up and down, and singing joyfully.

We are spending a great deal of time worrying about who we ought to become, where is our career going, what is the haircut that suits me best…I felt right there, on the boat, when we listen to the song of dolphins, we see better than ever who we really are at heart.