We are always very proud of our clients who go on to do extraordinary things. Alex Templeton took advantage of our our personal career coaching program in 2016. He left a high flying career in bond trading to explore his ambitions of having his own business. We are so happy to see that one of the ideas that emerged through the coaching has not only got funding but has launched successfully. Qure is an app that delivers a doctor to your door 24/7 without the price tag! Great stuff Alex!! Learn more about Qure HERE
Feeling uncertain in your career?
Going from one thing to the other?
Struggling to make the jump or start that business?
The career uncertainty formula will help you to appreciate why you keep questioning yourself and what you need to do to be present in your career.
CE - Exposure to choices
Your career certainty is influenced by the number of choices you are faced with on a daily basis. Through Facebook, Linked-In and crowdfunding campaigns you are exposed to literally hundreds of new career and business opportunities every day. This bombardment of new opportunities can undermine the certainty that you are in the right career.
HE - Halo Effect
The Halo effect describes seeing other people’s experiences with a positive bias. Starting a business is a very risky proposition, changing career requires a huge step out of one’s comfort zone and building a successful enterprise usually involves significant sacrifices. The reality is that often we only see or are presented with the glossy window dressing. This unbalanced perspective can make us see our careers differently and brings uncertainty into our professional lives.
CV - Clarity of Value proposition
If you have no idea how much you are valued in your current role or whether you can add more value elsewhere, you have no certainty. People who get fired or looked over for a promotion have not demonstrated enough value, it is simple as that. Your certainty of value proposition is determined by how well you know what makes you innovative, your awareness of other opportunities and whether you know your current job supports the realisation of your unique potential.
CE - Career Exploration.
How we feel about our careers is a simple function of relativity. The more varied your work experience the easier it is to compare different careers and feel more certain that you are in the right place. People who lack diverse experience struggle to think of different ideas or step out of their comfort zone. This lack of opportunity to explore from a career perspective creates uncertainty and leads to impulsive decision making often based on assumption.
The only way to feel certain that you are in the right career is to embark on a career exploration. We cannot hide from all the career choices that we are exposed to, we have to face them head on. The world is turbulent and competitive- we have to be at the cutting edge of what we do.
Sure, certain career or business ideas seem really exciting and have a huge Halo above them. The only way to see the real picture is to gain real experience in what you want to do. We cannot make big career decisions based on theory, assumption or the influence of other people-you need to get direct experience in all the options that intrigue you. This does not mean that you will have to quit your job, change your career or even take time off. Career exploration is not the same thing as career change.
Breakaway is a leader in coaching people to create career exploration strategies. No matter how little time, free cash or ideas you may have, we will give you the strategy and confidence to effectively explore all the careers that grip your imagination. Through greater career exploration you will have better understanding of your value proposition and whether you should make a change.
Asking your employer whether you can go on a sabbatical may stir up all kinds of anxiety. How do I justify such a request? Simple. Just say that Winston Churchill went on one and had he not, we could have lost World War 2.
When Churchill was fired in 1929 he disappeared abroad in what he called his “wilderness years”.
One of his curiosities took him to Germany to research the Battle of Blenheim. While in Munich he was in a position to meet Adolf Hitler, who at this stage was considered by most of Europe as a model leader. Churchill knew very little of his character or doctrine but had heard rumors of his already violent treatment of the Jews, which he discussed openly with the man who offerred to arrange the introduction, a German-American businessman named Ernst ‘Putzi’ Hanfstaengl.
Churchill waited for two days but Hitler, who appeared at the Regina Palast hotel almost daily to dazzle people less famous than the British politician, did not show up.
The snub aroused Churchill’s suspicion and together with witnessing the aggressive marches of crazed youths preparing to die for the German fatherland, he went back to London to make a landmark speech in parliament calling for action against the Nazi’s – a line that would isolate him politically but which would ultimately bring him back to power to lead his country at its darkest hour.
A sabbatical is without doubt a key source of experiential learning, innovative ideas and a key source of professional renewal yet employers, to their detriment, don’t always see the value. There is a new battle brewing and you can be the leader to prepare not only your company but your country. Here is how:
Prepare your company for battle.
The Deloitte’s Shift Index shows the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company has declined from around 75 years half a century ago to less than 15 years today. Corporates are being challenged by more innovative new start up’s. If they do not give employees the opportunity to go out and discover key innovations that can be developed in house, they risk losing key talent to rising competitors or losing the innovation battle all together.
Key Action: Create a trend reconnaissance plan that you will explore on your sabbatical and identify which ones relate to your company?
State your ambitions for leadership
A paper by professor William Maddeux of INSEAD has shown how managers with multicultural experience are promoted more frequently because they develop creativity, social intelligence and emotional resilience- all key by products of a purpose driven sabbatical. HR managers are continually professing that they are short of key talent so why not propose your sabbatical as your leadership boot camp.
Key action: Use your next performance management review to identify your key growth areas and then identify sabbatical experiences that can develop them.
Set up a reconnaissance station
There is also the option to reconnaissance a new market off your own back by throwing in a few meetings and doing some on the ground customer research in the countries you visit. You may even be seconded to another country for a period of time.
Key action: Organise a meeting with your strategy or marketing department and identify countries, projects or research challenges that you can put yourself forward to explore.
Know when you are the weakest link.
HR managers want engaged staff in their company, management want to invest huge amounts of time and money in leadership potential that are actually going to stay, organisations want employees to take ownership of their careers. In spite of this organisations are often reluctant to give employees the freedom to clarify they are in the right place. Certainty is power and someone who returns to their role after a sabbatical will bring a whole new level of purpose and focus. If not, they will make way for staff who will really be assets to the organisation over time.
Key action: Create a list of all the different careers you would like to experiment with and who knows, your company may be able to offer you work experience in other roles or in other countries.
Sometimes your company just lacks the vision to see how a sabbatical could be a win-win or you want a period of time with a complete blank canvass. Often we just need to cast ourselves into the void to embrace uncertainty, surprise and adventure. This may be time to travel, reflect or just open yourself to possibility.
Key Action: If you are going to cut the cord, don’t see your previous company as a closed door. Create a blog and include your HR Dept and fellow colleugues. Even though you may be on your own quest you will enjoy key insights and make new contacts for the benefit of your old organisation. Not only will you enhance your reputation but you may just change the culture of the company for the better.
Set up a secret war room
“Facts are better than dreams”. Winston Churchill famously quoted this when explaining why he set up a secret office that would give him unbiased and concrete information on the war. Knowing full well that his generals would dilute, rationalise or bias certain information out of fear of reprisal, he wanted the best information to make effective decisions.
When developing your own sabbatical plan, we are hit with a wave of new careers, packaged experiences, get rich quick schemes or silver bullet degrees that overwhelm and limit our ability to make effective decisions. Create a coaching relationship with someone who offers the unbiased, non-judgmental and objectives awareness around how you can maximize your sabbatical. Only you can embrace your own unique vocational journey so it is important to work through limiting beliefs and value conflicts with someone who can create a custom designed experience.
In an astonishing move, one of the UK's biggest graduate recruiters has announced it will be removing the degree classification from its entry criteria.
The accountancy firm Ernst & Young says there is "no evidence" success at university correlates with achievement in later life. This means that whether you got a first class degree or a third, it will have no bearing on how they view your ability to add value.
What a curve ball. It completely disregards the value of the institution that we call university from an academic viewpoint.
Yet for all those people worrying about what companies really want from a skills point of view, don’t worry, they don’t really know either. Consider the following:
This month a survey by the Institute for Leadership Studies found that only 30% of all employees are satisfied with the future career opportunities within their organisation.
Anyone who does not enjoy their work is constantly asking themselves:
“How will what I am doing now lead to something better in the future?
Whether that is the promise of an easier work load, better status or more money in the bank, their engagement and commitment is based on future expectations.
These are being shattered with more frequency as companies fail to offer employees any certainty of where they will be career wise in the short term.
According to the same report 73% of 124 of the biggest companies in the world agree that upwardly linear careers are a thing of the past.
Yet at the same time most of the HR managers in these companies say they will experience a significant skills shortage in the next three to five years.
Something does not add up! They say that they worry that they won’t have enough talent yet they cannot offer employees with the skills they want any certainty of career succession.
Why? The reality is that we exist in the most unpredictable and competitive age we have ever seen. Companies cannot predict where their businesses are going and as a result what skills they will need.
In the 1930s an organisation could expect to spend 75 years in the Fortune 500, the ranking for the five hundred biggest companies in the world. Today that has dropped to just 15 years!
Take a moment to reflect on that.
What does this mean for you? The game is wide open and the conventional rules no longer apply. You are just as competent and able to lead your company in innovation as anyone.
If you cannot answer these three questions YES you need to find another career:
Am I consistently asking myself how I can innovate my role and in my company?
Do I feel my managers see me as a source of innovative ideas that are being implemented?
Do I find myself willingly putting in work after hours to develop innovations irrespective of whether I am getting paid overtime?
Keen to explore a new career or discover innovative ideas for a start up. Forget university we are offering an amazing deal on our new online course!
Come and watch Jeremy speak in London
Set up a free coaching session to explore if you need to change your career
When we are struggling for ideas around what to do for our career or looking for innovative business ideas, new research suggests that the best thing we can do is stop thinking or evaluation and just do something! Fascinating
Over the last months I have been seeing more and more fascinating and potentially scary signs that we as humans, will do almost anything to get ahead. This conversation represents more than just competitiveness but opens up a bigger discussion of how we are getting into what people are calling 'Singularity' when machines and humans become one.
In Silicone Valley- the new big industry is called Nootropics. It represents people using all types of 'healthy' chemicals- no long term studies have been done- to boost brain function so that people can compete more effectively. Read here
Even more extreme is the practice of transcranial direction current stimulation. People are developing all manner of devices that access specific parts of the brain related to certain tasks. Someone who struggles with Maths perhaps just does not know how to access or power up that part of the brain. A person who is very strong analytically but needs certain lateral thinking abilities would normally have to employ a 'creative'. Is that all going to change now that people can use technology to manipulate their brains to solve specific problems. Economist Piece here
Students are not taking drugs anymore to get high but to get a job. Guardian Piece here
It brings up the big question of what people will sacrifice to feel like they are getting ahead?
Absolutely Extraordinary- Everything in nature has to make its own Breakaway. We may take a bit of knock but it is the only way we learn how to fly!
It is not often that you meet someone who has found the theory of everything. As a coach who was doing research into what promotes growth in businesses and individual careers, ours was an unlikely meeting. He has been attending one honoring ceremony after another to celebrate his work in thermodynamics, the physical forces that shape our very universe. His name is Adrian Bejan and he became the J.A. Jones Distinguished Professor at Duke University because of his work to create what is now called the Constructal Law. As we discussed his new findings which have just been released in the journal Nature, I felt as if I was discovering the biggest of secrets- one which had been under my nose the whole time.
If you look at the design of a tree, lightening, a river basin, the human lung or the architecture of an airport-they all depict a similar shape. Bejan has discovered why this shape exists in all of nature. Everything that we see around us whether it be species, companies or ecosystems all have one hell of a survival story to tell. The way they are designed is as much a symbol of success as it is a guide on how we should grow ourselves.
The Constructal Law says that for a finite-size system to persist in time (to live), it must evolve in such a way that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it. In Laymans terms, Adrian is saying that freedom is good for life.
This may seem like a simple and esoteric statement but the implications for career and business builders are profound. To understand the root of this we should understand the man and how he came across his theory.
Adrian comes from Soviet occupied Romania. He grew up in a culture where people were unable to travel, listen to the radio or express any of the freedoms that we took for granted in the West. At the time, Romania was one of the least innovative countries in Europe. Like many of the strange manifestations of communism, mathematics and basketball were the only two professions that were promoted. Going with the flow, Adrian embraced and excelled at both.
As a basketball player he understood that the ball flows though channels in a live system like any other body or organisation. The offence is trying to open up channels while the defense is attempting to close them down. As a result the channels are not rigid and are constantly morphing. What Bejan noticed is that the better players got the ball more often making certain channels busier and bigger while the other channels that were used less, got smaller. These channels depict the exact same design hierarchy seen in all of nature.
Bejan believes this organisation builds fitter and stronger organisms because it helps to improve flow. What does it mean though to be a fitter business or career builder in this turbulent landscape and what are the flows that are shaping the economy?
The Deloitte’s Shift Index shows the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company has declined from around 75 years half a century ago to less than 15 years today. The job for life of the baby boomers has been replaced by the expectation that we will change our careers 4-5 times in our lifetime.
To say that things have got a whole lot more competitive and fast moving is an understatement! The combination of people exploring their own unique sense of meaning, coupled with sweeping trends in technology, education and culture make for a whole new set of currents that are flowing through the system. So it begs the question of what stops people and companies from going with the flow?
Consider the most recent billion dollar buy out by Microsoft of Markus Parson’s Minecraft. Being a dedicated gamer he was creating interesting indie games all the time. His bosses were not amused. “We felt that we couldn’t have someone working for us that at the same time was building his own gaming company,” says Lars Markgren, the Midasplayer cofounder who had hired Parson. One can only speculate whether Lars wishes he had let go of this outdated notion and provided greater freedom for Parson, who was clearly demonstrating the capability and desire to follow his own currents of creativity. If Lars had provided not only freedom but also money to Parson in exchange for equity, he could be laughing all the way to the bank.
Clearly employers have to manage the entrepreneurial and vocational aspirations of their employees with a lot more care. Having an idea is one thing, having the freedom to discover one is a different thing. One of the most famous paradigm shifting moves made by a company was 20% time at Google. Employees reportedly were given 20% of their time to work on whatever they liked. According to Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and previous Google employee it was more like 120% time where employees were required to do their regular jobs and work the equivalent of an extra day for free to discover innovative ideas.
Why are companies so averse to paying employees to have the freedom to explore whatever they want? In America, 47% of employees refuse to take their holidays for fear that it will count against them. So if employees are not even taking the time to recuperate, you can be sure that proposing a longer period of exploration and creative renewal such as a sabbatical will be even riskier.
It becomes obvious that the behaviors we see on the ground and the lofty words found on corporate innovation manifestos are a contradiction in terms. Innovation is an evolutionary learning process and what companies don’t fully appreciate is that new experiences are critical for the cross pollination of new ideas. Creating time for experience away from the conditioned routines and thought processes of one’s role is just the beginning. One also needs the space to reflect, conceptualise and to experiment with new approaches to doing things.
As individuals we all contemplate big questions about how best to design our career. The bigger challenge for people according to Bejan, is to understand and appreciate the currents that run through each and every one of us. We all have a unique set of passions, values and abilities which when discovered allow us to add the most value and which naturally influence the design of our career.
Companies that can embrace their employees as actual architects of a living and morphing system rather than fixed bolts in a rigid machine, will adapt far more quickly. As Bejan so aptly put in the poetry of physics, “the person who hears his own calling is better than the one driven from behind”.
What many people don’t know, though, is that prior to this appointment, Churchill disappeared abroad on a vocational adventure—a period that he called his "wilderness years." And without it, the world today would arguably be a very different place.
THE SABBATICAL THAT SAVED THE WORLD
After losing his seat as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1929, Churchill left England for Germany to research the Battle of Blenheim, a war fought by his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough.
In 1932 Hitler was on the rise but not yet a dictator. He was considered by much of Europe a model leader who was helping Germany out of depression and transforming it into one of the most organized and productive countries in Europe. It was only natural that Churchill wanted to meet him while he was visiting.
As it happened, a German-American businessman named Ernst ‘Putzi’ Hanfstaengl, a leading Nazi who knew Hitler intimately and who would become a mediator between Germany and the Allies in the war, was at the hotel where Churchill was staying—and that Hitler frequented—and agreed to arrange an introduction.
Churchill wrote in his memoirs, "I had no national prejudices against Hitler at the time. I knew little of his doctrine or record and nothing of his character."
But he was curious. And he did have one question that he posed to Putzi: "Why is your chief so violent about the Jews? I can quite understand being angry with the Jews who have done wrong or are against the country and I can understand resisting them if they try to monopolize power in any walk of life; but what is the sense of being against a man simply because of his birth? How can any man help how he is born?"
Churchill waited for two days to meet Hitler, but the Nazi leader, who otherwise appeared at the hotel almost every day, did not show up. The snub was particularly suspicious considering Hitler’s reputation for showing famous Brits all around Munich as part of his propaganda campaign while he quietly planned to take over Europe.
￼With his curiosity aroused, Churchill observed firsthand how Germany was transforming under Hitler’s power—he witnessed the national fervor and the look of intensity in the eyes of the marching youths.
On his return to England from his sabbatical to Germany he made a landmark speech in parliament. Churchill explained that while in Germany he saw "all these bands of sturdy Teutonic youths, marching through the streets and roads of Germany, with the light of desire in their eyes to suffer for fatherland, are not looking for status. They are looking for weapons!"
Churchill’s predecessor Neville Chamberlain famously fell under the highly seductive spell of Hitler, pursuing peace through diplomacy as the Nazi leader bulldozed through Europe. ￼But the loudest voice of resistance was Churchill. He knew there was something inherently evil about Hitler and understood the real ambitions behind his invasions.
At the time of Churchill’s election as Prime Minister in 1940, there were several politicians who had military experience without the controversial reputation Churchill had. What led to his appointment was how right he was about Hitler.
WHAT SABBATICALS CAN DO FOR INNOVATION
Churchill’s story is a great example of how a personal vocational adventure can provide someone with invaluable direct experience, while others rely on theories and conjecture.
While most of the British government had nothing more to go on than Hitler’s propaganda and their own assumptions, Churchill had taken himself out of his comfort zone to get the answers he needed and to acquire the innovative thinking that would give him the edge.
We all face transitions in our lives. They may include facing an innovation challenge at work, feeling disillusioned by one’s career, being drawn into doing more meaningful work, or even being fired like Churchill.
If there is anything that Churchill’s story teaches us, it’s that there is no greater wisdom during these times of transition than gaining direct personal experience.
To ensure that we are at our cutting edge, we need to design windows of exploration that give us the freedom to reflect, experiment, and conceptualize new ideas. We need real experiences that challenge our assumptions, reinforce our values, and open ourselves up to trends that are shaping our world.
Traditionally called gap years or sabbaticals, these windows can take on various durations and don’t even require travel. Often seen as luxuries, these experiences are now critical gateways to innovation that can be completed in a very sustainable way. Ultimately, an exploratory and curious mindset seeks out new experiences no matter where you are.
The next time you feel the urge to get out and explore, but feel guilty that you should be getting on with "real work" or should be following conventional career development path, embrace your curiosity. You may be on an adventure that will one day save the world.
Written by Jeremy Behrmann for Fast Company
The lotus blossom works in similar way to the neural pathways in the brain. It can also be likened to drawing a map of our own "interest universe"
Once complete, you will have a framework for exploration that you can use on a daily basis. It is very easy to use.
- Write Interests in the centre block labeled core word.
- Around the core label brainstorm all the things that interest you right now. They can be one word or an expression.
- Take each of those interest "petals" and turn them into their own flowers.
- Think about ideas, activities, memories and opportunities related to each new individual flower.
- You now have an exploratory framework to discover key innovations
When you decide that you want to try another career, how do you know for sure that it will be a good home for you? Sure, it may be based on some of your interests or pay a good sum of money, but how do you know what it is actually like? There are horror stories of people who have given up great roles within companies to start a new career which sounded great in theory but was radically different in practice. The reality is that there is no substitute for experience.
You need to spend time in the industries, companies and businesses that you perhaps want to dedicate a significant amount of your life to. When we are considering a significant change in career, we need to explore other realities before we commit to them fully. The difficulty is that unlike students who have all the time in the world, limited responsibilities and who generally won’t be sacrificing much when considering a change of career, established professionals, have developed a significant amount of knowledge, experience, contacts, loyalty and goodwill in their careers. All of this gives them the ability to add value and demand a certain income in exchange. This income needs to go towards paying school fee’s, mortgages and other living expenses. When you start a new career you are potentially risking a huge amount and perhaps even starting at the bottom. How then do established professionals who are employed 9-5 get enough work experience outside of their normal work routines to explore a career change effectively?
I would like to break few assumptions about work experiences:
- Work experience is not just for students. They add as much value to retiree’s, professionals or entrepreneurs.
- You don’t have to leave your career to get work experience. Many organisations offer sabbaticals. If you are committed to exploring an industry you could take a few days of your holiday to engage in structured work experience.
- You do not have to spend a solid chunk of time in a company to get experience. Experience is more about a state of mind than time spent in an organisation. Quality work experience is where one seeks to learn as much about an industry or role as possible. This can be done through reading various documents from home, interviewing people at lunch, sitting in on specific meetings in the late evening and even taking a day’s holiday to observe a critical process. This process can be drawn out over a number of months without you spending more than a few days in the actual offices of the company you want to work in.
- Work experience does not have to be unpaid. As a professional you have developed a significant number of skills that can be applied to other businesses. If you can understand the needs of the company in which you want to gain experience, you could perhaps offer a service that they would normally pay for at a discount in exchange for work experience.
- You do not have to commit to just one work experience. When committing to a career change, why put all your eggs in one basket? Over 6 months, one could potentially experience a number of different industries.
What one discovers is that irrespective of whether or not you are leaving your career there is huge value in creating the space to learn. Learning about other industries, career paths and human journey of work! Conversations can spark new partnerships, businesses, the cross polination of new innovations or just a new friendship!
Last night the 158-year-old British Guiana One-Cent Black become history’s most valuable postage stamp when it was sold for $10 Million dollars at a Sotheby's auction. By size and weight it became the most valuable object ever sold!
Understanding how this piece of paper amassed this value is of significant importance to anyone seeking to create powerful brands and desired products. Let's start with the most obvious.
Rarity-The stamp was the last supply printed in British Guiana, one of the oldest British Colonies on the Northern Coast of South America.
Size of market and correlated demand- Besides the stamp, the history of British rule is a hugely significant legacy for anyone who was part of the empire where the sun never set. This means that the actual size of the market for anyone with historical links to the empire and the stamp itself is absolutely massive.
Pedigree- The Guiana One-Cent Black has passed through the hands of some of the most famous stamp collectors in the world. Before Count Philippe la Renotiere von Ferrary, owner of the world’s most famous stamp collection, possessed the piece, it was in the collections of some of England's most wealthy collectors.
An amazing story- The stamp's amazing story is probably what attributes most to its value. After being donated to a museum in Berlin by the Count it was captured by the French in the post World War One reparations. It was bought by various American Industrialists, one who had a flair for marketing stamps and used to carry it round publicly in a briefcase attached to his arm with a host of bodyguard. The stamp was then bought by the heir to the Du Pont chemical fortune who was subsequently convicted of murder and spent the rest of his life in prison. His trust is now putting it up for sale.
From 1873, the first time the one-cent magenta stamp was sold to a local collector for a few shillings (Current value 10 Pounds Sterling or $16 US), its value has increased 62 million % or 62499900%.
If I take away anything from this amazing sale is that we will pay huge amounts of money to own a piece of history. More importantly, the new owner of the stamp who remains anonymous has bought the right to tell a very powerful story and present the one-cent magenta as a symbol of that journey which encompasses the whole Birtish Empire.
As you develop your business, do not underestimate the value of the story behind it. If you feel it is lacking, do something to create some mystery, rarity and pedigree because ultimately they are significant drivers of human behavior.
Having completed some work experience with advertising companies in London, not for the life of me did I expect that my next sabbatical experience would involve getting into the drugs trade.
As I descended into the heart of the Colombian plantation district in an army issue jeep, I wondered how many people had the opportunity to enter such a prized part of the world. We were the guests of Juan Pablo Echeverri, a 4th generation baron at his 100 year old Hacienda, Venecia.
Getting into this $80 billion a year industry was fraught with dangers so I had come to learn first hand how the real players grow, refine and sell their product.
The jeep stopped below an archway of hibiscus flowers swarmed by humming birds. The massive traditional Spanish villa stood atop a hill overlooking Juan’s highly coveted crop. As the engines cut off the sounds of the forest reached fever pitch reminding me that in spite of the tasteful grandeur of the Hacienda, we were very much in the heat of the Colombian Jungle. I felt like James Bond arriving at the Villain’s Lair as I stepped over giant peacocks and watched as rainbow iguanas hunted in the trees.
One of Juan’s assistants took us for a walk in the plantation and the factories. Unlike many growers who sold to dealers that catered to the general market, Juan had small list of clients all over the world that paid a high price for his pure product.
With the tour complete it was time to get down to business and sample the merchandise. For years I had endured absolute rubbish that had been cut and blended by countless middlemen until it arrived in Cape Town or London. Here I was at the source and about to try 100% Colombian pure. It came to me on a silver tray. I looked at it knowing that once you try product this good, you can never go back. I took a hit and sat back to let the wonder drug do its work. I felt the buzz come on hard and quick. I closed my eyes and embraced the flutter of satisfaction which immediately brought a smile to my face. I exhaled deeply and placed the coffee cup back on the table. I knew that I was hooked and that coffee was indeed my drug of choice.
Coffee is the second most traded product in the world after oil. Over a billion cups are drunk every year. The demand for the product is only going to increase as more emerging markets become sophisticated drinkers. Starbucks has just opened a branch in India. Since coming to South America I have made it my mission to sample as much coffee and chocolate as possible with an intention to potentially create a business out of the two. From the organic coffee of the Galapagos Islands that require no added nutrients thanks to the mineral rich volcano based soil to the cocoa growing regions in the forest valleys of Ecuador. I am very excited about heading to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatamala to sample their home grown flavours as well. I have an idea brewing but you will just have to wait and see. Images
The flying museum hit the tarmac of Mumbai airport to the rattle of a thousand moving parts. I still did not understand what had drawn me to spend a whole three weeks at an Ashram in India. Spoken more in the light of a spiritual university than a retreat, Aurovalley Ashram, was located in the foothills of the Himalayas and it represented a significant commitment to my spiritual growth. Little did I know that I would have an experience, which when reflected on, has unprecedented implications.
Arriving at the entrance of Aurovalley in the early evening I found the place deserted. It took me ages to call someone to the gates and eventually I was welcomed by a bearded man who escorted me to my spartan looking room and informed me that the meditation started at five in the morning. Lying on my bed in the intense heat with a squeaking fan interrupting my sleep, I started to feel really homesick and wondered whether I had made a big mistake by dedicating my only holiday to getting lonely in some militant spiritual institution on a dusty hill in the middle of an Indian inferno.
My alarm woke me at 4:45 and the rising sun slowly revealed the beautiful Aurovalley setting to me for the first time. Set right on the River Ganges opposite the Rajasthan national park, it featured well manicured gardens, courtyards and a truly breathtaking temple that served as the spiritual heart of the ashram. Sitting down for my first meditation, I was given a polite nod by the other members of the community, half who like me, were here for a holiday and the rest who had made Aurovalley their home and committed to its disciplined spiritual life practice.
The morning program started with a one hour meditation, followed later by yoga and then finished with a “Satsung”- a daily talk and Q&A session- with the Swami, a spiritual leader of the ashra community. When I first laid my eyes on Swami Brahmdev, he approached me in a full traditional robe, with a long white beard and the slickest pair of silver Aviators. Besides solving your greatest life problems using graceful metaphors involving dragonflies and grains of sand, he played a wicked game of table tennis. I had found my guru!
The afternoon program involved spending time in the comprehensive library studying some of India’s most revered philosophers and spiritual leaders. This was followed by free time where one could explore the surrounding areas, swim in the Ganges River or play more table tennis. I did my utmost to try and make the Swami lose his temper giving me the opportunity to throw a metaphor or two in his direction about acceptance and being present. He never gave me the luxury.
While at Aurovalley, I experienced a truly magical way of being that is peaceful, tranquil and reflective. In the temple I enjoyed some of the most intensive meditations and it was really fulfilling to watch my practice develop to such a degree. One afternoon, I was deep in the void of my mindless consciousness when like a bolt of lightning, I was hit with a deep fear that my flat in Cape Town had been robbed. Reeling from the wave of anxiety, my awareness turned to the fact that the only valuable possessions of any consequence to me - my DJ turntables and vinyl collection - were both uninsured and irreplaceable. In spite of the intensity of the thought, I put it down to some random paranoia and besides, if my flat had been robbed and my prized musical possessions taken, a phone call home would only provide bad news. No doubt my flatmate would have contacted me if indeed, something had happened.
I enjoyed the rest of my time in India immensely. They are unbelievably friendly and in spite of the significant poverty they endure, they are immensely grateful for every aspect of their lives as they go about their business. A touchstone of spirituality!
Returning back to South Africa I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and spiritual fulfilment that one is not even aware of until you engage in intensive spiritual exploration. Arriving back at my flat in the Bo Kaap district of Cape Town to the sound of the Islamic call to prayer, I was pleased to be home and looking forward to settling into my own room. Trying to put my key into the front door, I was confused when it would not slot. I called my flatmate to discover that our flat had indeed been robbed. Standing frozen, with my mouth open in sheer disbelief, the phone went silent. He informed me that all my possessions were safe and that his vehicle and a few items from the downstairs lobby were taken before their dog sent the intruders running. The reason for the robbery was that they had left the front door open by mistake. The vehicle was recovered thanks to satellite tracking but the keys were gone necessitating a change of the locks.
I spent weeks trying to understand the implications of the flash insight that I had had in India. After discussing the timeline of the incident with my flatmate, I believed that I must have had some form of premonition as the robbery happened in the late evening while I had my meditation in India, which is ahead of South Africa, in the afternoon. We also calculated that both instances occurred roughly a week after I left while debating what use having such a strong insight would be after the fact?
Never in my life had I enjoyed such a strong extrasensory ability and take my word for it, the thought was so strong and intense that had I more confidence and trust in my intuition, I may have been able to prevent the robbery from taking place. Premonitions are not just the stuff of legend, from my research I was able to find reputable scientific organisations that have been able to prove objectively that not only do we have the ability to have premonitions but that our intentions have the ability to influence our reality.
The Institute of Noetic Sciences was created by Edgar Mitchell, an American astronaught. When looking down from the Apollo 14 space shuttle to see planet Earth, he felt a very deep sense of connection to all of mankind and an overwhelming feeling of the interconnectedness of life. The institute explores the very essence of mass human intention and how it impacts our world.
If you believe that your intention has no impact on the world around you then you would believe that for example, no matter how hard a person “intends” to throw a 6 dice, they will always be limited to a random probability of 1/6 or a 16.6 % chance of throwing a 6 every time. At the Institute, they believe that human intention is the most powerful driving force in the creation process, only how do you prove it?
They started conducting experiments where they used what are called Random Number Generators. What the machines do is essentially throw thousands of dices every second and they measure the randomness of the series.
When you are dealing with so many throws the random probability always becomes 1/6 or a 16.6% chance of getting a 6. If over time the randomness is constant according to the probability range and suddenly the percentages drop or increase, there has to be some force acting upon it. Scientists observed these fluctuations in randomness and represented them in a bell curve where the centre represented complete randomness with fluctuations causing the bell to “ring” by moving from right to left indicating an event or some influence.
The Global Consciousness Movement positioned these random number generators all over the world and started to explore whether mass human intention was impacting randomness. The first mass event was the jury ruling of the OJ Simpson trial. It involved huge amounts of emotion and more importantly, these feelings were based on the intention of people who were either saying that he was guilty or innocent. What they found was that the bell started to ring significantly as a result of 200 million people expressing their intention at the same time while the verdict was read. Another significant fluctuation in randomness was after the tragic death of Princess Diana. What is really interesting is that the loudest the bell has ever rung was during the September 11 attacks and what will really blow your mind is that the bell started to ring before the planes had actually hit the building. A significant number of people where having premonitions!
In life we have to make choices all the time. Knowing which choice is the right one is often very difficult, yet my time in India had taught me one thing: I had lost faith in my intuition. The inner compass that when given a chance to emerge, gives one a crystal clear bearing of both danger and opportunity. The value of travel is that it removes the clutter of conditioned routine that prevents us from truly exploring our inner being and coming to the awareness of key changes that we need to make. Tools like meditation, journaling and other reflective practices all help to take this exploration to even deeper levels but ultimately we need to Breakaway. Images
As most of my classmates were huddled in the corner of the classroom admiring the centrefold of the latest FHM supermodel, I sat alone on the other side of the room drooling over a completely different beauty.
While my friends pined for sultry curves and busts, I was fantasizing over the swells, points, faces and lips of waves. My favourites were exotic beauties such as Cloudbreak in Fiji, G-Land in Indonesia and our home grown honey, Jeffries Bay, on the South African Garden Route. Understandably my Valentines Day was a pretty uneventful affair. Our school had a tradition of inviting students who had received roses and other gifts onto the stage to be acknowledged by the school. This process could be particularly embarrassing if one was to receive a soppy message or God forbid the old social suicide love letter from one’s mum. It became pretty obvious who the players were in the school and as they went up to receive their colours for seduction, I sat in my chair doodling waves, dreaming about when my time would come.
One of my dream waves was Chicama. She was my playmate of the year; the 10 out of 10; the bee’s knees; my college sweetheart. From the age of 13 I had heard of her goddess like features. At 4 km long she was the longest wave in the world and on the right day she could give a ride that could possess a man’s mind.
This beauty is located on the Northern coast of Peru and has very particular tastes. She only comes out when there is a minimum of 8 foot South West swell and a North Easterly wind. She likes a very patient surfer who is willing to sacrifice a significant amount of time waiting for her beauty to be revealed.
I had travelled all the way to Peru to surf Chicama. On my travels up the coast, I had met an Australian who had waited for nine days without so much as a flirt. I stayed at the neighbouring surf town of Huanchaco where I was able to surf while constantly surveying the swell forecasts in the hope that she would surface.
It had been 10 days and things were getting desperate. A few days before I was scheduled to travel up to Ecuador my eyes dilated as I saw the swell jump to a solid 9 feet with perfect conditions. I would get my chance with Chicama.
As the swells from a storm off the East coast of New Zealand travelled thousands of miles in the direction of Peru, I raced along the coast in dodgy chicken trucks and arrived after dark in the small fishing village.
There were other surfers who had come to compete for the legendary waves. My first encounter was a 6 ft 7” Yorkshireman who looked like something out of Terminator 2 as he greeted me with a pair of dark black sunglasses. This would be re-enforced when he removed them to reveal an eye that was lost due to the sharp tip of a surf board. He had replaced it with a solid red fake eye which he assured me, was not meant to intimidate people who try interfere in his pursuit of Chicama. Steve was also enchanted and would prove a worthy adversary for her affections. After some dinner I stood on the balcony of my hostel which was perched on the cliff right above the break. Staring out into the darkness, I could hear the waves crashing. I merged the sounds with the image I had had in my head for so many years to envisage the potential that I would wake up to in the morning.
Rising at 5am I was greeted with Chicama in all her glory.
Perfect 6 foot waves running perfectly off the point with an almost wave pool like consistency. The break has 3 sections spanning the whole length of the point. They seldom all align to provide a 4 km wave but even the final section in this picture provided a local with a wave that lasted 4 minutes and 29 seconds over two kilometres.
I was frothing at the mouth while I wriggled on the floor unable to put my wetsuit on quick enough. I sprinted out to the point doing significant damage to my feet as I scrambled over very sharp rocks. I felt no pain. All I had was pure adrenaline and excitement running through my veins as I anticipated finally jumping in the water.
My first wave was one of my best and I rode what I worked out to be a 900 meter ride. The wave just kept on going and going. Any time a surfer goes bigger or further on a wave than they have ever gone before, it creates a high that is truly unique. I did not just double my longest ride, I went almost six times longer than I had ever been before.
After coming off the wave drunk with emotion and every pleasure receptor firing I just cried out with sheer joy and enjoyed a private celebration that all surfers can appreciate.
While surfing Chicama, I experienced a sensation that I have never had before. Usually surfers’ arms are the first to burn from doing large amounts of paddling with limited stress on one’s legs as you usually surf in short but intense bursts. At Chicama this was the complete reverse. I did almost no paddling and my legs were literally cramping from being on my feet for such extended periods of time.
Packing up my things after a wild two day romance with Chicama, I was off to meet another special lady in my life. Her name was Emma and we had met in London after which she decided to come and join me on my travels. When she asked me how my time was she knew nothing about my secret affair with Chicama. “Ah it was great”, I said.What I could not say was that she was the best I had ever had and that in her own enchanting way, she had stolen my heart!
Look at more photos of my few days at Chicama Here
Being in the industry of personal and organisational development, I have never come across a better example of applied creativity than what I experienced at the Afrika Burns festival this year. Organisations spend millions of rands trying to simulate experiences where people take ownership of the values of the organisation and work towards the objectives aligned with their strategy. As with most drawbacks of simulations, the stage has already been set and the opportunities for creativity and ownership are limited by the parameters of the exercise. As always, giving people a white canvass on which to create their vision has always been the best place for stimulating raw creativity and innovation. At Afrika Burns, this canvass comes in the form of the desolate, dry and lunar landscape that characterises the Karoo Desert. The rules are simple. Bring what you need, leave no trace, harm no one, no corporate branding,no exchange of money, only gifting and bartering, otherwise the only limit is your imagination and your ability to act entrepreneurially to realise your vision!
Our journey started in early January when a group of of enthusiastic "burners" got together with a desire to make their mark on what is becoming a truly world renowned experience. Ideas had been flowing since the last "burn" and agreeing on a vision that everyone wanted to work towards presented some challenges. What was interesting is that given the culture the Burn promotes, it immediately instills a sense of democracy and openness to ideas that would not normally be seen in the board room or down at the pub. The vision was of the "Cactopuss", an Octopuss shaped structure that would be a space for interactive music, dancing and general creative expression. The whole structure, including 8 tentacles, would be lit up in UV and glow in the dark to give on coming visitors the vision of an Octopus emerging out of the desert.
What we needed to make this vision a reality, we did not know now? How much money we required through fund raising, we speculated a lot! Who would be keen to help us make this vision a reality, we had no idea? These concerns or obstacles did not matter much because each person left the meeting completely inspired with our vision and ready to make it a reality.
Almost 4 months later, a group of almost 50 members of what became known as the "Succulents Camp" were heading off to the Karoo desert to manifest our creative inspiration. The group had collectively raised over R35000 through innovative fund raisers.These events were conceptualised and implemented by members who were given the opportunity to engage in their individual passions and make a contribution to the cause. Fund raisers included, the first ever competitive beach bats competition, a valentines day movie screening of Quentin Tarantino's "True Romance" on top of Signal Hill at Sunset, an all night Poker competition, a drumming circle and one hell of house party aptly called Pablo's Summer Send Off.
Packed with in an 8 ton truck, 5 bukkies and 10 motor vehicles, we had 600m of black wattle, an 8.5 m x 4.5 meter Geodisic dome, food, a full kitchen, tents, carpets, bean bags, scaffolding, showers, generators and a smile across our faces, we headed off to the Karoo.
Our vision had been enriched and extended to include the following creative expressions by members of the camp who had taken ownership of a specific area with almost zero delegation or management required. Our creative attractions included a dance floor with Cape Towns top DJ's who all played for free; an interactive musical parade with over 100 instruments; a virtual haircut; an old school mini cooper art car covered in Astro Turf; a "path to nowhere" which grew organically as people laid LED lights along a path leading off into the desert in a direction chosen by them and finally a 4m wide chandelier made of recycled material that created a UV kelp forest in the bosom of the Cactopuss.
We were greeted with creative expressions from other camps and collectively these combined to offer festival goers a smorgasbord of creative activities, journeys and indulgences. "Burning Mail" allowed you to write a letter from the middle of the Karoo and have it delivered to any camp or any address in the world. Heart Space allowed people to connect spiritually through yoga, 5 rhythms and discussion groups. Ohmm Affairs allowed you to create a new identity that personified the spirit of creativity and they would recognise this transformation by giving you a new passport that you could get stamped at all the camps you visited. Ma Cherrie gave away much appreciated morning pancakes with her trade mark Cherrie Jam. A journey down the Rabbit Hole would lead you through a myriad of strange objects until you came to a checkered floor room with a table holding little bottles labeled "Drink Me". After indulging in what tasted like a staunch version of Gummie Bear Juice, one stoops down to climb through a door that takes one to "The Mad Hatters Tea Party" where people of all ages danced on a grassy field, filled with mushroom stools, indulging in cupcakes, sweets and tea served by the Mad Hatter.
Being immersed in the Afrika Burns festival allows people to taste and feel a sensation that normal society does not often provide. The festival goes way beyond hedonism, abuse of mind and body or even escapism. It creates a platform where people feel that they can safely express themselves and overcome the inhibitions that usually dominate 'civilised society'. What makes Afrika Burns unique is that it puts children and adults on an equal playing field like no other experience. Nothing gives one more pleasure that watching a child lead an adult through an experience where it was the adult that was breaking new boundaries and the child was doing what comes naturally- creative discovery.The belief is that through our need to conform to the traditions,customs and norms of society, we are almost stunted in our ability to express ourselves fully- At the burn, people almost feel as if they have been given permission to let themselves go! A giant Lego man in the middle of the desert was a perfect symbol of such an attitude with it substituting Lego with the the words Let-Go. With each person bringing their full creativity to the stage, it acts like a catalyst that gives the burn the diversity of sounds,images and feelings and in so doing, creates a world that fundamentally shifts peoples appreciation of themselves and the creative capacity of society.
The Buddhists know better than anybody that for creation to take place, there must be destruction. Instead of intricate Mandalas that they destroy with one brush of their hands after months of painting, burners create elaborate artistic sculptures which, having taken just as long to prepare, are burnt to the ground creating a gift like spectacle for all to observe. The ashes bring not sorrow, loss or sadness, but joy as one reflects on the journey, the new friends made and the excitement at the vision that has been created through experiencing Afrika Burns for another yea. Gallery
One of South Africa’s most remarkable sons is perhaps one of it's least well known. Ian Player, brother of golfing legend Gary, passed away in November of last year. His memorial was held last week.
I have just completed “Into the river of life”, a superb biography written by Graham Linscott and published by Jonathan Ball. Ian's credentials alone speak of a truly extraordinary spirit. He started the now world famous “Dusi” canoe marathon. A race that winds through the powerful Umsindusi river along a route that Ian ran for the first time in basic canvas boats that weighed over 100 pounds. Player founded the Wilderness Leadership School which since 1959 has taken thousands of school children and business leaders on transformative nature trails. Al Gore, Edmund De Rothschild and some of the world’s greatest patrons of conservation were engaged through their experience in Africa with Ian and the equally inspired Magqubu Ntombela.
Player pioneered the fight against rhino poaching as early as 1961 when the population of white rhino was as low as 2500. He and professor Toni Hawthorn had to endure huge danger as they learnt the science of drugging, moving and reviving rhino’s with premature sedatives and inadequate equipment. The early stages involved huge heartbreak as animals who were caught in the logistical challenges died from infection, overdose and trauma right in front of their eyes after days of struggle. The white rhino population is now over 20,000 thanks to the efforts and methods developed by Ian and his colleagues.
Player however, considers the pinnacle of his career to be the development of the World Wilderness Congress. To date it is the longest running environmental initiative in the world and since 1977 it has hosted scientists, leaders and conservationists from all over the world, even during the depths of Apartheid.
There is no question that Ian is a true ambassador for the wilderness spirit that sits so comfortably in the core of South African culture. His efforts to bring alive the principles of conservation to a global audience in the height of our isolation are nothing short of the peaceful revolutions facilitated by the likes of Nelson Mandela. What we can take from player is his understanding and appreciation of his own Daimon. “Daimons” are the unique spirits that gave ancient Greeks their unique purpose and the genius that allowed them to create inspired gifts for the world. They as man were not seen as the creators of their endeavours and talents but rather as vessels for a higher power. Ian felt a unique sense of duty to protect the wild places of the world and to use their unique energy to protect the human spirit. Reading the challenges that Ian faced and overcame suggest a truly astonishing sense of integrity and perseverance that to the humbled reader seem almost divine.
It was only from the times of the renaissance that man suddenly took credit for his creative pursuits. The divine spirits as the source of our inspiration and intuition were cast aside and man himself was held up as the true creator of his ideas and endeavours. What has this cost us?
Does the rapid decline of our global ecosystem represent not only a disconnection from nature but the the very Daimons that give us true wisdom. When we consider the levels of depression, addiction and unemployment that pervade society these days, does it not symbolise a society that has lost touch with its intuition and the universal laws of nature. As we scramble around seeking short term resolutions that make us feel better about ourselves individually, should we not be opening ourselves up to our own Daimon that gives us the greatest inspiration to make a revolution in our lives for the collective. If Players life is anything to go by in terms of adventure, contribution, impact and the community he created, it is definitely worth it.
Winston Churchill, another person who reflected deeply on his life and his Daimon in the glorious hills of South Africa during the Boer War said "we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give".
To get another insight into the amazing work and lives of Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela please watch this video
I snapped out of my dream with a quick gasp for air. The space was completely dark and as my breath returned I searched for any clue as to where I was. The heat was intense and it only added to the sweaty delirium that consumed me. Creeping around in the dark the void seemed like a menacing maze that punished my memory for its lapse. The furniture provided no clues and as I navigated the room like a page of brail, I searched for the light switch. The white flash momentarily blinded me and I scanned the room through squinting eyes. My backpack was the first big piece of the puzzle, followed by my lonely planet for Central America and then finally the business card for the hostel in El Tunco, lying on the dresser. Sitting on my bed reeling from one of the most intense feelings of disorientation and confusion I had ever experienced, I realised that this is exactly what I had coming.
I had been travelling for over eight months and visited countless cities, places and attractions. I had traveled with my brother and girlfriend for a significant period of time but I had been on the road by myself for over a month now. Before I had time to fully digest one experience I was off to enjoy another and slowly they were all starting to blur together in a haze of stimulation, memory and nostalgia. My experience that one evening came into perspective a while later after I had a conversation with a fellow traveler. Small talk is something that someone does almost unconsciously on a journey of this scale. Like the commercial tourist attractions that are so trodden that they bear almost no consequence, these conversations string together like a soothing background noise that lets us know that we are not alone and which help us keep a grip on the reality that we think we will return to. “Where are you from? ; What do you do?; Where are you going?”
This person’s question, however, brought me out of my travelling limbo like a hammer breaks down a wall to reveal a hidden treasure. This unknown sage of the lost traveler asked me this question. “How do you think you are changing positively as a result of your journey?” Fully engaged, I felt that the question had challenged me at a very important stage of my travels because for some time, I had been avoiding a convoluted set of emotions and ideas that had been bubbling below the surface.“Well to be perfectly honest, I feel like I am losing myself!
At first she was taken aback about my reply. How could someone view losing themselves as a positive thing? Secondly, how do you go about losing yourself and what purpose does it ultimately serve? I explained that this feeling at first was very scary because I felt like the very glue that was holding my personality, world view and sense of purpose together was falling apart. For seven years I had lived in one place; worked in one industry; had a consistent group of friends; followed a similar routine and pursued a consistent basket of values which I thought represented fulfilment. This was replaced with a whirlwind of new places, experiences and people who had no idea of who I was, what my expectations of life were and more importantly they expected nothing from me. I went from having a crystal clear vision that I religiously translated into monthly and weekly strategies for each area of my life to a blank canvass which for the first time allowed real and unexpected change to come into my life.
The question is why lose yourself? We all think that we like change yet the reality is that it scares us more than we like to admit. It means stepping out of our comfort zone and confronting the unknown. Was I prepared to discover new things about myself and the world that would throw the life plan out of the window and send me back to the drawing board?
Would my family and friends endorse those new changes? They were not around to influence my choices and my once concrete life plan was now a confusing jumble of puzzle pieces opportunities scattered across the ever expanding landscape of my mind. Every person wants to travel to “find themselves” but for me I believe the opposite is what we really need before we ever discover who we really are. We need to lose ourselves first! The formative years of our life are littered with garbage inherited from our parents, peers and society at large. We must let go of the various beliefs, expectations, ideas and mental constructs about who we are, what we want and where we are going? As you feel yourself slipping away into a void where everything feels foreign, scary and you forget who you are then I say you are finally ready to change and discover the real you for the first time!