The Love Challenge

Smiling Heart

So as if doing Five in Five wasn’t enough challenge for me this year I’ve set myself another one! In the lead up to Valentine’s Day I will approach one complete stranger everyday and ask, “What is Love?”

Here are the results so far!

Love is… ” helping another person be the best they can be, but for their sake, not yours.”

-Lauren, on the tram going to work

“I never knew what love was until I held my new born child in my arms. So I suspect it was hormonal!! There’s a difference between the things you do that you love, and the unconditional kind.”

-Izzy, Mumma Bassy (mother of Bassy) at the gym

“When you love someone’s existence more than your own. You’d do anything for them, even if it was detrimental to your own happiness. Love is an idea where the depth of it is only apparent when it’s been tested (when the shit hits the fan) and you’re still there.”


“Love is the connection between all of us, and the connection with ourselves. It’s the basis for compassion and respect.”


“Love is acceptance.”

-Catherine, on the way home

“Love is messy and sweaty. It’s imperfect but when you find it, it’s perfect for you.”

“Love is the acknowledgement of the connection between all living things, the gods and the earth. Because once you acknowledge the connection you see every thing and everyone as part of yourself. Then in turn you love them and treat them as you love and treat yourself. Love is a thing to practice, it’s something you have to work on, like accepting yourself and others. It’s like exercise.”


“Love is learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.”

-Emily’s neighbour

“Love is the intention that someone is happy.”

-Francis (me!)

“We cultivate Love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known. And when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

 Love is not something we give or get, it’s something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them.

We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged and healed.”

-Brené Brown

2014-06-24 14.21.07


No such thing as offline dating

Tinder Logo

So I went on a date the other week.

I met this lovely lady through a friend at a party, exchanged numbers, called her and arranged a date.

I scrubbed up the best I could, reminded myself how awesome and normal I am, quelling the anxious voices in my head which usually take over.

We met at a bar and she was on time waiting outside. She’s turned up. Check. This is the first prerequisite of a date.

I play a little game with myself when I first meet people I’m attracted to and see how long I can go without talking about work,  opening up other topics of discussion (like talking silly, fun stuff really!). It’s not that I don’t like my work, quite the opposite, or I’m not interested in what people do, I just tend to think it (sometimes) defines us too much.

So after a couple minutes of chatting she mentioned that she looked me up online before we met up,  then started asking about my work. I never asked what she meant exactly, but she had obviously checked me out in any number of ways: through my Facebook profile,  LinkedIn, Twitter, my organisation’s website or perhaps even reading this blog.

Hmmm? I guess I was partly flattered that someone would online stalk me but perhaps she was  just being cautious? Or perhaps checking people out online before we meet them is just what we do these days?

What is going on here?

While we increasingly put more and more of ourselves online on social media – can a person really go on a date in this day and age without first seeing how photogenic they are? Who they’re tagged with? And the sorts of semi-staged, semi-spontaneous selfies taken whilst engaging in activities we all wish we were doing right now? Can a person go on a date without any sort of preconceived ideas?

I am not my profile.

In fact I am not  this blogpost even. I realized this the other day and while it seems like something so obvious, it’s something I don’t think people who have grown up with social media acknowledge enough. It’s not that my online profile doesn’t represent who I am, it’s just that it’s a very small part.

So how do people meet each other these days?

A friend of mine told me that  before he goes into a new business meeting he will check out the person on LinkedIn and  prepares  accordingly. Another friend told me that some people now consider texting as dating .WTF?!

Call me old fashioned but I always thought there had to be some kind of awkward face to face, George Clooney-JLo Out of Sight sexual tension thing going on in order for it to be a date.

Are things like Tinder turning us into superficial, shallow, judgmental and unmindful freaks? (btw I had my first Tinder date but that’s another story!).

It would seem so.

So as I embark on my Five in Five challenge, which doesn’t allow ‘online dating’, I wonder if such a thing is really possible. While I like the idea of meeting people ‘through’ my friends who know me, and having a mutual friend to ‘vouch for the other’, there’s only one thing…

The temptation to check out my date on facebook before we meet…!



If you’re interested in the debate checkout:

Tincan Press The Button Day encourages us to switch off, slow down and spark life into your imagination by pressing the ‘off’ button on your mobile or computer.

How not to be alone – Online communication originated as a substitute for telephones yet these inventions were not created to be improvements upon face-to-face communication but diminished substitutes for it. Then a funny thing happened: we began to prefer the diminished substitutes.

#Phubbing – Ignoring the person in front of you in favour of your smart phone

5 years in the writing…

A friend told me a story recently about her trip to South America. Over there she had spent some time with a young man and as travellers do, she took a photo to remember their brief time together. And when she returned home to Australia she decided to develop the photo and she sent it to her new friend in South America.

A couple of weeks later she received a letter herself in return. It was from the young man’s mother. She wrote about how much it meant to receive that photo because her son had recently died.

And that was the only photo she had of him…

So I was supposed to write a letter.

On the 11th of October 2007 I had what you would call an amazing experience whilst travelling on the Amalfi coast in Italy. In fact I’ve never felt more alive than when I was travelling around Europe then. To cut a long story short, I was bailed out of a sticky situation by some friendly locals. Instead of accepting dinner or a drink for thanks I took photos of us together and said I would send it to them in the mail.

I just never got around to it. Until I heard that story from my friend.

Until today.

Dear Nikola,

You probably don’t remember me. It’s been 5 years since you helped me.

I was the crazy man who knocked on your door in Amalfi and you drove me back to my hostel. Remember?

It was late at night and I knocked on your door and asked for a torch because it was dark and I was scared and I wanted to get back to my hostel.

You were there with your girlfriend and sister I think. The girls were calling me crazy for walking around there in the dark and that I would fall off the cliff! You talked it over and said you would drive me back to the street so I could find my way back.

Instead you drove me all the way back to my hostel.

I still remember our conversation, even though English was not your main language. You told me about your cousin in Melbourne, Australia which is where I live and which is where I still live.

You drove me back and I wanted to thank you by buying you dinner or a drink. But you refused and I said that I would send you the photos that I took of us. I am finally sending the photos to you!

That night meant much to me. It inspires and amazes me. When people are kind to a stranger who needs help it gives me hope and reminds me that there are so many trustworthy and friendly people in this world.

My travel in Europe was an amazing time. It was the happiest time of my life and even though I only met you for a short time, I just wanted to say: Thank You


(the crazy man walking in the dark who almost fell off the cliff in 2007)


This is the Italian version:

Caro Nikola,

Voi probabilmente non mi ricordo. È stato cinque anni dal momento che mi ha aiutato.

Ero l’uomo pazzo che ha bussato alla vostra porta di Amalfi e mi ha spinto indietro al mio ostello. Ricordate?

Era sera tardo e ho bussato alla tua porta e chiesto una torcia perché era buio e avevo paura e volevo tornare al mio ostello. 

Eri lì con la tua ragazza e penso tua sorella. Le ragazze stavano chiamando me pazzo per camminare lì al buio e che sarebbe caduta giù dalla scogliera! Avete parlato e hai detto che volevi guidare me al la strada per riconoscere ostello. 

Invece hai guidato me fine al’ostello.

Ricordo ancora la nostra conversazione, anche se l’inglese non era la lingua principale. Mi hai detto che hai un cugino a Melbourne, in Australia, dove vivo io e ancora vivo li.

Mi hai guidato indietro e volevo ringraziarvi con l’acquisto di cena o una bevanda. Mi hai rifiutò, e ho detto che vorrei inviarvi le foto che ho preso di noi. Infine vi mando le foto a voi!

Quella notte ha significato molto per me. Si ispira e mi stupisce. Quando le persone sono tipo a uno sconosciuto che ha bisogno di aiuto e mi dà speranza e mi ricorda che ci sono così tante persone affidabile e amichevole, in questo mondo. 

Il mio viaggio in Europa è stato fantastico. E ‘ stato il momento più felice della mia vita e anche se ho incontrato solo per breve tempo, volevo solo dire: grazie

Come detto, se siete mai in Australia per favore telefono che e mi piacerebbe mostrarvi la mia casa. Se siete in contatto con tuo cugino poi inoltre vorrei comprarli un drink e fare un brindisi a voi!


(il pazzo a piedi nel buio che quasi cadde giù dalla scogliera nel 2007)

See the photos here

A Michaelangelo Moment at the Veggie Patch

Michaelangelo was known to have said,

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

This is not a Michaelangelo sculpture (it’s the only pic I have!)

Today whilst weeding the veggie patch I had a Michaelangelo moment.

While a sculptor chips away the unwanted part of the stone block to reveal the figure beneath, I realised that removing weeds in a veggie patch is also about removing the parts that are unhelpful, so what remains is able to thrive into something…beautiful.

And perhaps it is the same for our true selves!

Let me explain. As I was pulling the weeds from the earth I was struck by the fact that the weeds were getting sustenance from the same fertiliser and straw that me and my lovely housemates had lain months ago. And whilst our intention was to grow veggies, inevitably it was also weeds that started to thrive on the same carefully laid mix of soil and chook poo. Free loaders!

There are clever weeds.

Yes smart weeds! They grow very close to the roots of veggies and I saw them hiding under lettuce leaves and getting intimately close to our radishes. In many cases it was difficult to tell the difference between the weed and veggie – okay it’s been very cold dark winter so there were a lot of overgrown weeds. I’m also a city kind of guy (steak comes from the supermarket right?). But you get the drift.

So it was my job this morning, instead of the sculptor revealing the true beauty of the stone, to reveal the ‘true’ beauty of the veggie patch underneath. Quite a challenge but I appreciated the time for brief reflection during this madly busy time of my life.

Every time I ripped a weed out by the roots it was like redirecting some kind of energy from the soil back to the veggie;  I could almost hear an audible veggie sigh of relief! (Hmm I wonder what sound they make when we eat them!)

So to bring it back to me, because it’s all about me :), if I am like a veggie patch, what weeds am I pulling out? What parts of me do I need to remove, which are sapping my energy and could be better redirected to more healthy parts of me that I need to grow? Hmmm

Some have deeper roots than others.

Being left to grow there longer it was incredibly satisfying to pull these out by the roots, but there was a different kind of joy in pulling out the smaller ones knowing that they wouldn’t have a chance to grow into bigger weeds.

But be prepared for collateral damage.

If you’re not careful it’s quite easy to unintentionally damage a veggie while weeding, especially when they’re grown close together. As I was throwing away the weeds I was also struck by the amount of nutrient rich soil still stuck to the roots of the weeds – you know it’s good for the veggie patch but surely all the poking around has got to hurt the civilians a bit.

I find it peculiar, and a little distressing that I’m not always aware of these things.

Next time I crunch into a delicious piece of lettuce or pick some parsley, perhaps I’ll remember the weeds and what’s come before. After all, when we look at a Michaelangelo sculpture we don’t often consider the bits of broken stone that must have been left lying on his studio floor.


Cocoons and butterflies

A man found a cocoon. One day a small opening appeared; he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through the little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and could go no further.

Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily, but it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.

The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

Neither happened.

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of his life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings and was never able to fly.

In his kindness and haste the man did not understand that the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening of the cocoon was a way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

(adapted from a story by Sandy)

An Imperfect Story

(Reflections on my year as a student of The School for Social Entrepreneurs 2011, excerpt from Finding My Tribe – Stories of Melb2 students)

When I speak about Beyond Words, I often use the metaphor of a painting. It goes something like: We all have lights and darks and during times of illness and impending loss we tend to focus on the dark bits (the illness or what will be lost). What the process of telling and reflecting on one’s story does is that it helps us to step away from the painting – to see the dark areas in the context of the greater picture or story of our lives and what has been gained. To see the good and hard times as colour and to appreciate the contrasts. But what kind of story does someone tell whose business is to help others tell theirs?

This is actually not as easy as you might expect.

“Step away from the painting!” as I stand transfixed, face one inch away from a dark blob on the canvas of my life. Haha

You see, through being a volunteer biographer in the original service, I developed many skills like listening and empathy to help others attain some perspective and a greater awareness and connection. I prided myself on my gentle approach with clients – but what about being gentle with myself?

Somebody Embody

Am I ‘embodying’ my project? This was a question that would regularly come up for me. How could I be working on a project that embodies self-acceptance, awareness, celebration and relationship when I felt in my heart that I was struggling at being self aware, not accepting of my faults, not coming to terms with ‘mistakes’ and disconnected to the relationships most important to me –my relationship to myself included! Huh?

Battle with myself

I may not have known it at the time, but it has been a journey to not only find the strength, belief and confidence within but to find ways to be more gentle on myself, to come to terms with who I am and to really care for myself. Helping my father write his biography was one step in reminding me about why I am doing the project, and I resolve now to know my ‘danger and comfort zones’ and prioritise the things that nourish and sustain me.

To have had this personal battle in the company of such like-minded, passionate and compassionate people has truly been a privilege.

When the student is ready the teacher will appear

I didn’t know there would be so many.

In our year together I have witnessed. I have shared in the power of: vulnerability, pertubation, grace, intuition and insight, values, enjoying the ride, inevitability, the group, action, letting go, friendship and presence. I have also shared in the growth of others and they have seen it in me.

When I have presented at conferences I talk about the process of storytelling and how stories can evoke meanings and emotions in those listening or reading. It’s true. In your hopes, fears, frustrations and achievements I have seen my own.

I am not a freak
I am not an imposter
I am not alone


You’re having a zen moment during a pitch to Macquarie
You’re actually surprised by your own father’s story
You’re having a heart to heart with a stranger in Newcastle
You’re now in a meeting with two volunteers looking to you to lead them
You just asked the CEO of a Victorian peak body if they’d be a Board Member and they said ‘Yes’
You’ve just been endorsed by three industry peak bodies
You just met your guru on leadership Meg Wheatley
You just got incorporated. You just got DGR status
You didn’t get the grant you wanted but instead got one for Awesomeness
You surprised yourself! (You inspired yourself)

The beginning at the end

I’ve seen it before. I recognised it in that moment.

A smile that appears when someone is talking to you. It says, “How AWESOME is it that I’m able to be doing what I do!? Almost a smile to themselves. It says, “How AMAZING is it that I’m able to do what I love!?” How cool is it that I’m here telling you about it!” And I’m doing it.” And when you see this you can’t help but smile yourself. It’s infectious.

Standing by the bar at the Panama Dining Room on Smith St I had met someone who loved what they were doing.

I had found a home.

Being a volunteer biographer taught me to listen from the heart. SSE has helped me to speak from it. Through SSE I have walked along side others who care and believe enough to make it happen in their own way. I learnt to learn through action and my peers, instead of books. I have tried to transform my attitude to making mistakes – more to be done here! (mistakes that is… and lessons!)

I’ve tried to be more comfortable with not knowing everything. To be comfortable with uncertainty, the unknown and imperfection – to make the path by walking. I have found and lost and found the courage to be myself. To trust myself. To be okay with imperfect. I must remember to enjoy the ride!

You have all been my teachers – reminding me that the answers and strength is within if I choose to seek it. Thank you to all of you who have seen me, accepted me, challenged me and supported me (and your hugs are awesome too!). You’ve been incredibly generous in sharing so much of yourselves and the important work you do.


Life in a Day

Ridley Scott asked people around the world to film their lives and answer a few simple questions. They received 4,500 hours of video from 192 countries. All of it shot on a single day – 24th July 2010.

I just saw this movie at the Melbourne International Film Festival. What an amazing example of collaborative storytelling on a global level! So evocative and after seeing it I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Whose stories are we celebrating?” and “Which stories should we celebrate and remember?” On so many levels this film resonated with me. In fact, leaving the cinema and walking along busy Swanston St, I couldn’t help but sense the unique stories of everyone I was passing. Super human powers…!? Hmmm if only this switch was always on.

When asked what success means to him, a friend of mind replied, “Success is just the stuff that happens everyday.” For me, the Life in a Day film is not only about the diversity of human experience but so much more.

Doing good things in the world can be hard.

It can mean a lot of personal sacrifice and risk taking in the face of uncertainty and chaos. Much like telling your own story, trying to do good things can mean putting yourself out there for people to judge and criticise you. But I’ve realised that the doing isn’t really the full story – the doing good things part is all possible because of the hardest thing – the being.

Being vulnerable
Being open to change (and being changed)
Being the change you want to see in the world
Being authentic
Being imperfect
And just being… well… human