Break: W1 —Steps (forward)

The last week has been hard to classify mostly because we’re currently on break after our intensive first week of study. I intended for it to be a bit of a ‘find a routine’ week that resembles something like a standard work week and instead the week has kind of been anything but standard.

Business & Work

One of the first things I had organised a while back (which had been put off several times) was catching up with my old business partner over coffee. Unfortunately as our company began to unwind out relationship had strained quite significantly and certainly for myself through burnout I needed some space to sort myself out and work through my negativity.

The night before our coffee I had our graduate commencement dinner at Ormond where I ended up finishing the night at 3am so I was a bit fragile at 8am in the morning when we caught up at a local cafe.

However the catch up was really quite good. Over the course of 2–3 hours we chatted about life and what we’d been up to over the last few months, it was very relaxed and we shared our feelings and effectively ‘started over’ and hugged it out afterwards.

It was a good step. And I want this year to be full of steps in the right direction for me.

Earlier I had also set up a few catchups with various people throughout the week and decided that I would establish Ormond College as my ‘place of work’ even though the Wade Institute building was not yet complete. One of those catch ups was with a mate of mine Kish, who recently had his company acquired by Hired the SF based recruitment platform.

That was great, we chatted about startup life, Wade and his work and afterwards I was encouraged to apply for a job working at Hired as the third person on the ground. However the role Kish was suggesting required a full-timer and because of my Masters I wasn’t able to commit full-time to it even though the opportunity to be on the next rocketship is very appealing. However as a part of the Masters I have to do an internship and the opportunity to work with Kish was very enticing so I decided to do an ‘unofficial internship’ and help out building out the two sided marketplace here in Australia for soft launch in the next couple of weeks.

I have to say I’ve learned more in the very short time I’ve spent with Kish than I have shadowing anybody. The wealth of experience, knowledge and ambition in that guy is just incredible. The work ethic, humility and drive in him and his team is also tremendous and that’s what I’ve always wanted to be around. To give you an example he’s working with ex-Uber people whose options are worth $60M and they’re sitting together sending out stamped envelopes because that’s the job that needs to be done. No bitching, no moaning, no egos.

This week I’ve also been practicing some of my own consulting and advisory lately for a friend’s company around pitching and pricing his product into a large institution. Borrowing an example I had learned from a conversation I had with the director of another startup I suggested that my friend work together with the institution to introduce the software at minimal costs initially so he had a test case where he could gather data and prove the value proposition. Then once he could demonstrate undeniable ROI he could start charging the types of monopoly rents he was hoping to charge.

This suggestion was something that was resisted earlier by my friend (he wanted to charge from day one) but once I was able to provide an example of a successful implementation of this strategy you could see his attitude transform. I knew this was a tricky subject so I devoted a lot of energy to crafting the language of my suggestion and conversation in such a way that it became part of a clear roadmap; something plausible, achievable and now because of that effort there is renewed will to go that extra mile now and I hope it works out.

Rufus Black

This week I was also lucky enough to do some video promotion work for the University of Melbourne where I got the extremely rare chance to talk to the Master of Ormond College — Rufus Black — for an extended period. Rufus is a mythical creature on campus with almost universal love and respect that’s showered on him for the effect he’s had on the college since taking over.

After speaking to one of the counsellors at the college (who knew Rufus as a student in College, then as an alumnus, then as a colleague when he returned as Master) it was fascinating to hear his personal account of what he believes makes Rufus special and his personal growth and journey to get to where he is now.

In his opinion Rufus is not just an intellectual giant but is also an extremely skilled communicator (which is different to charismatic) and has always been interested in building strong communities (partly he believed through his background and studies). Rufus studied Theology, became a management consultant and most recently has been Chair of Teach for Australia, advised the government on issues of Defence and is on the board for Victoria University too amongst many other roles. The common thread to all of this is that he’s deeply passionate about ‘the next generation’ of students and shaping their character and life going forward.

So after hearing these stories I was quite determined to make the most of my time with him in between shoots. What I was exposed to was a masterclass in corporate communication.

Upon arrival at the set Rufus wanted to change locations and get some footage of the still incomplete Wade Institute in the video. However the videographer was not keen on the idea and understandably hesitant about acquiescing to his request as the Wade Institute was, and still looked like a construction site (and I agreed with him).

However Rufus was undeterred and was pushing politely, but forcefully to get some footage of the Institute in the video as it quite clearly was a source of pride and a matter of principle for him. So what ensued was what I could only describe as the equivalent of civil society warfare where words are chosen artfully and tone of voice, body language are calm (not escalating or aggressive) but intended to take advantage of any insecurity or willingness to please from the other party to your own advantage without being accused of being manipulating.

It was like watching two skilled martial artists engage in a skilful parrying of subtle coercion, polite acceptance and stubborn resistance, uncomfortable and pregnant pauses and at times vocal disapproval (but only when offered the chance to speak freely) until a compromise was found.

Once a suitable location on site was found the tension evaporated and I was able to chat over a range of topics from architecture to theatre but more specifically what interested me was building and shaping communities and fostering a progressive learning environment and building a talented team.

Rufus specialised in this area at McKinsey (change management at large institutions) and he largely believed it was a playbook that could be learned and at some stage in the next few weeks I would certainly like to learn it from him. There’s a lot more to Rufus I’d certainly like to know and I’d like to spend more time and learn from him.

Through the whole experience I sat back and absorbed everything I could and was incredibly impressed by both parties who managed their disagreement in a measured and civil way without conceding any of the outcomes they were looking for. It got me thinking about how I would have handled the negotiation myself if I was a party to it on either side. I definitely found the situation uncomfortable and I’m sure my language would have become much looser and I would have capitulated earlier! This skill and art of negotiation is something that is certainly practiced and something I need to work on for sure!

Self care

I’ve also started extending beyond my limits both physically and mentally the last week and at various points this week I’ve been very anxious, waking up with my mind and breathing running at a million miles an hour. In those times I’ve had to put in a fair bit of energy to calm myself down and it’s not a place I like to be mentally as I’ve been periodically struggling with getting settled sleep at night and waking up early.

I think part of that has been because I haven’t been exercising as hard or regularly as I have been the last few months. It’s a balance I need to find and work out and I’ve started to re-emphasise that routine even if it’s only the 7 minute workouts in the morning, I have to keep the discipline up.

Unfortunately it’s clear that I’m no spring chicken anymore and I can’t burn the candle at both ends and my energy levels have really waned when I’ve been over-stimulated and lacked sleep. It’s probably a luxury I can’t afford going forward but I’ve been taking quite a few afternoon naps this week (5 by my count) and I’ve needed them! This is very unusual for me as I never take naps unless I’m really sick.

Another thing I’ve been tossing and turning over in my head is the uncomfortable position of going out with someone who is clearly fully independent of you as a guy. I think most guys would like to go out with a woman who at least on some level (financially, emotionally, socially etc) will rely on them and they can feel strong and needed.

In many ways our views of masculinity are very tied to being a provider, being strong and a protector of your partner and family. So what do you do when that partner is more financially secure than you, more accomplished than you, socially independent and comfortable doing things on their own, intellectually curious, funny and attractive?

Probably thank your lucky stars!! :)

But I can understand why women like that find it hard to find a partner that is comfortable with that dynamic, and why guys find women like this intimidating. I’ve never asked that question before ‘What value do you bring here?’ and not had a quick answer (for the record I do know what value I think I bring) but then again I’ve never met someone quite like this, who on every level I think is extraordinary.

Surrounding yourself with people who are better than you is by its very nature uncomfortable and self doubt can eat you up in these instances. This is something I’ve consciously tried to work on this year (spending time most of my time with people who are far better than me) and I definitely have the capacity to over-think these things so I’ve tried to be in the moment more, enjoy our time together, let go of the doubt that I’m an equal partner and just let things grow organically.

Enjoying being in the moment I felt the happiest.