Jack Tolley on Finding Clarity


This is a three part series on what it means to live with clarity. It’s an exploration of the concept by taking a magnifying glass and holding it extremely close to events that happen in someone else’s life to define the moment clarity materialised. This series explores the idea that clarity is a by-product of the journey to finding an identity, learning to be vulnerable, and travelling through communities. Jack is a facilitator for Strengths NZ in Auckland, works out of a co-working space in Auckland, and is part of the Enspiral Network. Interviewed and written by Vivienne Askey.

Part One: Leadership and Vulnerability

I like the analogy of navigating by my north star. When I have clarity, the north star (the guiding future) is fully visible and I can create a phrase or story that I can hold onto when the north star gets out of focus again — when I lose clarity. Which I think is an inevitable dance between these two -you can’t stay in the eye of the storm, that calm and centred bit, forever.

My north star phrase at the moment is ‘powerful strong individuals and communities’

And I create that world by: creating spaces in which people can be vulnerable….

During his stint at university, Jack was one of the leaders of Generation Zero. Leading a group was a new experience for him, and was a period of meditating himself between being vulnerable, and not knowing the answers, and taking charge and being powerful. Jack cast showing vulnerability aside and chose to play the role of the ‘super-big man’ with answers to life’s environmental questions. In retrospect, Jack understands there must be a careful and conscious interplay between showing vulnerability and being powerful. But back then, Jack didn’t realise this essential piece of knowledge. He would push the insecurities and uncertainties of being a leader who could admit a shortfall of knowledge aside. He would turn to trusty gingernuts, his go-to comfort food. A crunchy, hard biscuit to fuel a crunchy, hard exterior.

Three years of university and Gen Zero flew by and Jack and his partner jumped on their bikes and began a three month cycle tour of the South Island.

Pedalling for three months on a bike made Jack realise he had created a very strong extroverted Wellington persona that exuded charisma, confidence and a strength that had powered him through university and as a leader of Gen Zero. Out the other side, on a bike, he realised he could allow himself to exercise his introvert as well as exercising his legs. A city detox was happening, an osmosis of empathy absorbed from the long roads of the South. The introvert was beginning to breathe, a balance was shifting into place.

He felt just so alive and renewed after the cycle tour, that moving back to Wellington felt too easy, he was after more pedaling down unknown roads. Shifting their lives up to Auckland seemed like the next logical step for Jack and his partner. He travelled up and put down his bags in the metaphorical Auckland arrival lounge, looked about with expectation and ready for anything, and instantly saw no purpose to be in the city whatsoever.

And so, Jack became a brick-layer. Two weeks later, he quit his brick-laying career.

I failed. But I feel I can frame failing as learning a lot.

Part Two: Community, Facilitation and Vulnerability

I wonder if clarity is as much about the process of finding clarity (going through some hard stuff like not knowing what I’m doing or why) as it is about the crystal clearness that arrives when you get there. When I have clarity it’s much easier to find flow and focus into the important work and parts of life — love friends family and impact on people around me.

Twelve months of living in Auckland had passed, and Jack had finally found his eco-system, his community of flatmates and friends. He realised the power of community is tangible when sitting in one, and there is a recognition of the different shapes a community can take. Communities take all forms- Enspiral, men’s groups, co-working spaces, flatmates and family. Jack also realises he has a lot to learn from living in New Zealand, in an Auckland community. While overseas travel is important, he sees the best place to practice being part of a community is in New Zealand. It took being without a community in Auckland to help Jack understand the impact of transience as an individual versus being grounded in a community.

He also found a mentor, a trail-marker, Don Jessep. Jack’s collaboration with Don is focused around facilitating Strengths NZ workshops, and Don’s role as mentor for Jack is significant. Together they run workshops designed to celebrate everyone’s different strengths and help each person see where they might fit in their team.

A lot of my moves e.g. leaving Gen Zero (2013) or moving to Auckland a year ago were blind stumbles at the time and I just felt like they were the important things to do. I think they’ve left me better off because of them. I’m more resilient and clearer in my own intentions to create something in the world — because I can’t rely on some organisation or network to set them for me. I just don’t have those kind of organisations up my sleeve.

Community and facilitation fit seamlessly together, and fuel Jack’s fire. Jack’s work as a facilitator for Strengths NZ amalgamates all his learning about vulnerability and empathy to date.

My question is, what does facilitation mean to Jack?

In essence, ‘to make easy.’ In practice, it means helping people to have honest conversation, dialogue and collaboration. Grounded in Jack’s practice of facilitation is a reminder to be conscious of people. This means to be empathetic, and to be empathic comes from truly knowing a person, practicing vulnerability, awareness, honesty, truth, trust, and out of this emotionally charged maelstrom of feelings comes a solid gold relationship.

Jack’s Paradigm for Facilitation:

work out of fear vs. work out of love

fear. ie. fear of losing your job

+ How do you shift this perspective to wow this world is brilliant!!!

+ How do you make a positive vision for the future?

Facilitating a group is the same as dancing in the kitchen. Both actions should be done with honesty, humour, and fun. Activities should not be categorised into ‘being serious’ or ‘having fun,’ they should be one and the same.

Clarity isn’t a concept or idea that can be bought. Self-help books can teach it but that doesn’t mean we will be it. It is about discovering your identity, who you are, how to be vulnerable and empathetic and ask others to do so too.

Part three: Daily Ritual and Being Present

A few days before interviewing Jack, he requested I email him a list of questions I might ask, so he could get an idea of what we might be talking about. When we began the conversation he said he’d been “tuning into them for the last five minutes.”

It occurred to me that Jack is a planner because it helps him centre himself, prepare, and be present with what he’s doing. Living with clarity is all about daily ritual and being present. It’s is about bringing down lofty concepts we use as markers in our life and making them real. Tuning into himself is a daily practice alongside a less than daily practice of yoga. He no longer lives the reckless student life of waking up five minutes before needing to be out the door, he now wakes up about two hours before the front door shuts behind him.

Get up. Yoga (most days). Eat. Pick up multiple hats (sales hat, workshop hat, fun hat). Cycle to work half an hour early. Write a daily plan. Breathe.

His favourite breakfast is scrambled eggs, with plenty of butter, and I imagine that he could easily weave a slow breakfast of eggs into this routine, rather than scoffing down lumpy porridge while brushing teeth while packing bag and finding a pen that works.

Gingernuts have lost their comforting, hard crunch. Recently he nibbled a biscuit and discovered it had lost it’s magic touch of comforting the soul. Roasted almonds have taken their place as they are a good travel snack and have a delightful “light airy crunch.”

Jack reframed the term ‘leader’ and removed the loftiness attached to the word. He understands it is important to acknowledge everyone as a leader and acknowledge we are all on parallel journeys. We are all in the same waka, and are all leaders. Being a leader is about recognising your own and others vulnerability, and treating people with honesty.

Subtle nuances of conscious living define how Jack mediates the world. It is not until our conversation is drawing to a close that I realise Jack is standing in a room in an empty house with earphones on. Clarity is about being continually present, recognising everyone can be a leader and are probably feeling the same things you are. It is about asking yourself, daily, who am I going to be today?