Tuesday, 15 April 2014

How a Trek in Nepal Changed My Outlook on Life


"I'll lead the way. Watch where I place my feet and copy me," he said. "And, above all else, don't look down."

We waited at the start of a terrifyingly narrow ledge carved into the side of a ridiculously steep mountain.

Lakpa, my surefooted Himalayan Sherpa, wearing nothing but flip flops, an unwashed long-sleeved t-shirt, a pair of well-worn cargo pants and a bright orange rucksack on his back. Sarah and I kitted out in our new hiking boots and shiny North Face jackets from Cotswold Outdoor.

We looked the part but it's safe to say I was petrified.

I've never been good with heights. In fact, I don't like heights at all. Yet for some reason, we'd booked a 17-day high altitude trek through Nepal, circuiting a renowned and dangerous group of mountains called the Annapurnas.


A different kind of challenge

We've always liked to challenge ourselves, both in the workplace and in life in general, but this was something else. I'd completely underestimated the size and nature or this trip. I'd pushed my fear of heights to the far reaches of my mind, choosing to focus on the cultural and scenic aspects of the trek instead.

But this was a high elevation circuit considered one of the finest in the world. Nearly three weeks of hiking and climbing up 8,000-plus metre high mountains and across rivers on suspension bridges made of mere rope and sticks.

It wasn't a trek for the fainthearted and I felt woefully unprepared as I stood with my wife and our Sherpa, ready to tackle one of the more technical and distinctly frightening parts of this Nepalese adventure.

As Lakpa picked his way along the steep ledge, carefully choosing the best rock to stand on and the ideal crevice to use as a handhold, I waited my turn and dared to look down below me.

A river raged hundreds of feet down, a near vertical cliff face dropping away from me to meet its angry passage. No guardrail, no safety net, nothing. If I stumbled or tripped, I would tumble down to the rocks and river below. The remnants of a bunch of flowers laid at the cliff edge reminded me of the ever-present danger.

Paralysed by fear

I followed Sarah as she set off behind the Sherpa.

My legs shook as the adrenaline coursed through my veins. I felt unsteady and unsafe, my boots too large and too clumsy, footsteps that didn't seem like my own. I could sense Sarah's own fear as she stayed close to Lakpa, mimicking his foot placement step by painfully slow step.


As I followed, I found myself falling behind, unable to match their pace as my fear of heights gripped me. I could picture the sheer drop beside me even though I refused to look down. I could feel the ravine pulling me towards it and fought the temptation to turn around. But then I did something stupid.

I stopped.

Hugging the wall of the trail, I didn't dare move forward and I couldn't go back. The others were unaware of my situation, concentrated as they were on reaching the end of the precipitous ledge.

To my horror, I spotted an old lady coming towards us from the nearest village carrying a bundle of firewood in her arms. With barely enough room on the ledge for one person, I couldn't see how she would pass us but she did.

Deftly navigating her way around me, she had the bundle balanced upon her head. I dared to look at her as she passed by and she smiled back - a warm, comforting smile that radiated from her eyes as well as from her mouth.

And just like that, my fear eased and my strength of purpose returned.

All about the journey

This was no ordinary travel trip. This was an adventure of a lifetime, quite possibly the most rewarding travel experience I would have.

Here, in this place, as far from home as could be, it wasn't about reaching the endpoint, getting to the chosen city or tourist site at the culmination of my journey, but about experiencing moments such as these along the way. Those encounters I would remember for the rest of my life - the ones that would test me and push me and often terrify me.

It was about living in the moment.

And so I pushed on, heart in my mouth, hands clinging to the rock face for stability. Of course, I made it past the mountainside ledge - and past many other frightening trails just like it.

As we climbed to the circuit's summit of the Thorung La pass at 5,500 metres, we travelled through the world's deepest gorge and witnessed Buddhist villages and Hindu holy sites.

Traversing the pass at high altitude was extremely difficult yet immensely satisfying - near impossible to get a decent lungful of air, whilst being spoilt by typical Himalayan mountain views that are hard to adequately describe.


This trip was more than four years ago, yet the memories and emotions - images, events, people, places, colours, tastes and smells - are still as fresh in my mind as the day we set foot there.

My fear of heights remains the same but the way I view my life - from travel to work, lifestyle to family - has changed. Travel changed that. The trek in Nepal changed that.

For me, it's no longer about the destination I've always tried to reach, but about the journey that I take to get there. It's about being present in the moment, cherishing each day and enjoying the here and now, rather than focusing on what may or may not occur in the future.

Can you relate to that?

Have you faced something unexpected and found ways to confront it? Have events in your life - large or small - changed the way you look at things? 

This was a sponsored post.


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Why I Can't Accept Australian Attitudes to Women in the Workplace


She's called in to the office to meet with her manager.

She has no idea what she's done or why he wants to see her but she waits patiently while he makes his point. He adopts a caring tone, asking how she is feeling and whether her workload is too much but his tone seems condescending rather than compassionate.

He says he has a couple of concerns related to her performance. Even though she works out of a home office, he wonders why she doesn't come in to the office every day and, when she does, why she doesn't arrive earlier in the morning and why she doesn't stay until the team leaves at night.

She says that she works from home as that is her base and she prefers to come in when the traffic has died down at 9 rather than 8. This seems reasonable enough and he looks down at his notes, nodding to himself, although it's plain to see that he doesn't agree with a word she's just said.

He asks how she is handling her work generally and she says it's all fine - she enjoys the tasks and the challenges. He asks why then are her reports always an hour late on Mondays and why doesn't she respond to his phone calls within a fifteen-minute timeframe. She has no answer other than to ask whether it's an issue to call back thirty minutes later, rather than fifteen, which is what she usually does.

She's starting to feel anxious, worried that her responses aren't good enough. She's on edge and feels as if she has something to hide. The way in which he questions her makes this seem like an interrogation, not a catch-up, and she scrambles in her mind to understand what the problem is and why he isn't satisfied with the answers she provides.

He queries a particular call she didn't immediately respond to and then she slips up.

Photo credit: Cat Sidh (Flickr Creative Commons)

I didn't call you back right back because I was collecting my son from daycare, she says. He looks up and smiles at her knowingly. She realises something has been confirmed in his mind but she doesn't expect what happens next.

How are you handling full-time work now you have a baby, he asks. It seems to me that you probably came back to the workplace too early, he adds. I get the sense that you're struggling to manage your work with your duties as a mother. Satisfied, he sits back and watches her face for a reaction.

She sits there dumbfounded.

She runs through everything in her mind. She works five days a week. She gets her work done on time, even if not always within his strict timeframes. She drops her son off at daycare then starts her work, often finishing in the early evening and rushing back home to make sure she doesn't miss his bedtime bath and evening stories.

If she stops working in the daytime for any reason, she makes sure she catches up in the evening when her son is asleep. She travels regularly with her job - almost too regularly given her circumstances - and never complains to her manager about the time away from her son or the burden this places on her husband.

She realises this is the way it has been since she decided to start a family in Australia. She has always been fearful of revealing her plans to have a child. She was nervous about mentioning her pregnancy. When she did, she was told there would be no maternity leave payments or any flexible arrangements made for her.

When she did reveal her "situation", the manager was disappointed and did not bother to hide his displeasure or irritation - in his view, he was now a worker down. Upon her return to the workplace only five months after the baby's birth, she was expected to re-join the workforce with no excuse or complaint, with total commitment and dedication to the role.

Now she sits here with her manager, him bemoaning her work ethic and demeaning her parental situation, she wishing for anything but this.

Then the nail in the coffin.

He asks how her little friend from the office is getting on. You know, the other girly that left us in the lurch to have a kid or something.

If only this story was unique to this one woman in Australia.

But it isn't.

Archaic attitudes

This is commonplace across Australia.

And, if I'm honest, the attitudes to women in the workplace - especially relating to pregnancy and maternity - just stink. They really do.

According to Australia's workplace watchdog, the Fair Work Ombudsman, pregnancy discrimination is now the number one complaint against the country's employers and this comes as no surprise to me.

Stinking attitudes have been a common theme since arriving in Australia many moons ago. From immigration to the environment, science to education, the views of certain elements of society leave a distinctly bad taste.

I'm not sure whether distance and isolation has led to a sense of detachment from more progressive nations and a feeling that "what works best for us here in Australia is all that matters". I'm fairly certain the macho culture plays a large role in determining who does what and how.

All that really matters is that attitudes here can be archaic and completely out of step with the rest of the world.

Treated differently

When it comes to motherhood and women in general, far too many employers have out-of-touch perceptions about females and a lack of desire to create more flexible work environments for mothers (and fathers), whatever stage of parenting they may be at.

According to the Ombudsman's figures, a sizeable proportion of women feel their family or carer responsibilities result in them being treated differently in the workplace.

Under Australian workplace laws and standards, employers are not allowed to make women feel uncomfortable for being pregnant or returning to work and seeking flexible work arrangements. In fact, employers should make sure that work is modified to suit the woman's situation.

However, it's clear these laws are being ignored.

While there are many Australian employers who offer bonuses and subsidies to help out with childcare and returning to work, a large number are promoting what the rest of us refuse to accept - that archaic attitudes to women in the workplace are okay in the modern Aussie workplace.

This resonates with broader studies into the views of Australian communities that show a movement towards more conservative, not liberal, attitudes towards women in the workplace.

People are moving towards the view that a working mother is less effective at doing both jobs - being a mum and having a career - than a woman who stays at home and cares for her child full-time. Incidentally, the notion of a man being the main breadwinner has gained ground in this country.

Look around my neighbourhood on the Northern Beaches and spot the high numbers of women at home full-time and the lack of childcare facilities for working mothers - and you start to wonder if there's an underlying backlash against the working mum.

I have nothing against the "stay-at-home" mum but I do have a problem if she stays at home because local attitudes dictate this is where she should be.

Workplace realities

I'm bored of hearing arguments about the impacts of pregnant women and maternity leave on small businesses and employers. My response is to "get over it".

Women and men choose to start families. Women fall pregnant and have kids. It's the way things are. These same women can also contribute to the workforce and provide valuable skills and experience, co-creating a strong, balanced, high-performing economy.

Whether the attitudes towards women date back to the 1950s or to Australia's refusal to join the modern, flexible working world, we may never know. But it's seriously time for this country to move forward.

A major change in attitude towards flexible work is the first step.

For many employers, working part-time is still seen as something women do when they've had their babies before eventually returning to the full-time ranks. Part-time work isn't taken seriously and is seen as not suiting someone committed to their career.

As a result, women are scared of working flexibly - or even asking the question - because they don't want to be known as the "part-timer" or "home worker".

Pregnancy and parenting discrimination is alive and kicking in the Aussie workplace, and it's obvious that attitudes to women need to progress. If not, women will continue to be discriminated against because of the simple fact they fall pregnant and have children.

More and more women will then avoid asking for flexibility or consideration of their situation for fear of reprisal or lack of remorse.

And women like my wife in this story will continue to lose out.

What's your view on attitudes to women in the workplace, particularly in Australia? Have you experienced this? Do you think attitudes need to change? 

Do share below.


Monday, 3 March 2014

Learning to Settle For More


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Laura Fortey, a Canadian journalist who has travelled extensively while reporting for Metro News. Laura is currently based in Burlington, Ontario, although she also calls the UK and Australia home.

The words hung in the air heavy and meaningful like the smell of rain on a spring day. What did they mean? What could I do or was I doing in my life to make it less ordinary? And most importantly, what insights did Russell share that I could learn from?

I began feverishly reading and I was hooked.

I first stumbled upon “In Search of a Life Less Ordinary” in summer of 2011 when I was going through some “life less ordinary” searching of my own. I had just moved from the absolutely stunning shores of Vancouver's lower-mainland, back to my neck of the woods; downtown Toronto. I could not be further from the freedom and beauty I had just left behind. I had also lived in pure bliss in Australia the 2 years prior.

Coming “back home” felt so wrong, so unnatural, but everyone did it right? Everyone who went away to university and had a world trip adventure returned home one day; right?

Photo credit: Katherine H (Flickr Creative Commons)

It's what I was told we were supposed to do. And this societal expectation is precisely why the decision felt so wrong for me. My family and friends were happy that I was finally home and had landed in my hometown to settle my life.

“Settle”.

That small, two-digit word was, and will continuously prove to be my nemesis. When people applauded my choice, I pushed away, isolated myself. When jobs were offered to me, I chose to manipulate them to preserve the feeling of not having to “settle” to someone else's standards.

With each passing day, I felt increasingly like the drone I never wanted to become.

Through much soul searching, I discovered living a life less ordinary for me meant obtaining pure FREEDOM. The freedom to choose working to live versus living to work. To choose firsthand experience, over being a voyeur to life.

To me, living a life less ordinary means living my life by the great Greek philosopher Epicurus' three keys to happiness; friends, freedom and an analysed life.

Here I was in Toronto with a small amount of friends, not much freedom (as I always felt bogged down by societal pressures in Ontario) and I had shut my brain off and began thinking that maybe everyone else was right. Maybe I should settle? It's what everyone else did, so could it be so wrong? I stopped analysing my life.

After about 18 months, I ran.

I ran fast. I ran far. Everyone thought I was crazy. I ran all the way to UK. But what I see that others don't is that I didn't run away. I ran toward; toward a life that was really and truly me. After all, only I am responsible for my happiness, my choices and I had to take the control back.

Leaving Toronto and moving to UK proved to reinstate my three keys to happiness.

I was once again living a life that I believed served me and allowed me to be the real me. I was still searching for the right career path, but my life less ordinary was becoming restored. I had fun, I laughed, I learned new things. I reconnected with great people. I began to clear my head of what and how I should be and allowed myself to be my best me, once again.

In the words of E.E. Cummings, It takes a lot of courage to grow up and be who you really are. To me, this is the pinnacle of living a life less ordinary.

What does a life less ordinary mean to you? Are there certain societal expectations that you struggle with? Can you relate to my story?

In the last post, I ran a competition to win a $50 gift voucher with NOVICA, a global marketplace for unique artisans from around the world. All those who commented on the post were entered into an online random name picking tool and the winner was revealed as Michelle so congrats to you! I'll send over further details of your voucher.   


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Fortey
Laura is an expat Canadian married to an Englishman who have lived together in Canada, the UK and Australia. She has worked for the Metro Newspaper since the Vancouver Olympics and understands firsthand the perils of international relationships and the stresses of moving around the world, yet she wouldn't trade this life in for anything else.

You can follow Laura on Twitter or through her website.



Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Counting My Cultural Obsessions


It's 4am and I'm obsessively watching the live broadcast of the Sochi Winter Olympics, but it's not unusual for me to be following the luge or Super-G at this ungodly hour.

I rarely get to bed before midnight in my determined quest to catch Olympic sports on TV. A week ago, I tried - and failed - to get up for the opening ceremony and was relegated to watching the highlights later that day.

It just wasn't the same.

Living in Australia, we're blessed with so many things but live television programming scheduled at a reasonable time of day isn't one of them. So this is an annoying yet necessary ritual we're forced to adopt when living in this far-flung corner of the world.

It's not all bad though.

When we expats, travellers, nomads and cultural junkies move around the planet, we pick up any number of willing or reluctant habits, much like my middle-of-the-night television viewing. You take the rough with the smooth and it comes with the territory.

The good always outweighs the bad.

Whether these habits help us cope, make us fit in or bring extra joy to our day, it's fun to think about the kinds of things picked up along the way.

In eleven years of life "on the road", I've collected a few cultural obsessions along the way.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (ohdearbarb)

An addiction to over-sized coffee

I'm not sure exactly where it started. Canada maybe? A lone Starbucks that sucked me in? Somewhere, somehow, I've developed a mammoth-size addiction to coffee. I have an unhealthy passion for the black liquid gold in Sydney and every morning, without fail, I'll purchase a large-size cup of triple-shot espresso coffee and fuel my body with an insane caffeine dose.

Love my hockey but doesn't everyone?

I grew up in a town famous for its ice hockey team and in a country that was still fairly new to the sport - I watched the game but didn't feel any sort of calling. After three years in the land of the hockey puck, the locals instilled in me a deep, inexplicable passion for the game. After eight years down under, the obsession still burns brightly, regardless of geographic or cultural distance.

Refusal to ditch the "cheers"

I'm almost certain that I never signed off an email with "cheers" until I left the UK. As if clutching on to any remaining evidence of my Britishness, I now sign each and every piece of correspondence with the word, assuming everyone will know me for who I was and still am. Call it a a tick or annoying habit, it refuses to go away.

Too snap happy by far

Living in the UK, I took my environment for granted. I didn't care much for photography because it seemed unnecessary and too much like hard work. Here in Sydney, it's become an obsessive part of my regular routine as I try to capture and share images from my backyard.

Kicking the travel habit

We all have it to some extent, don't we? Most of us yearn to travel, to set ourselves free. What was a healthy interest in travelling became a need to live abroad. Living in unfamiliar surrounds led to a greater desire to get out and explore. The travel bug kicked back in and now I want to go further and see more. I haven't travelled for almost six months and I'm getting restless. It's time to get on a plane again. Or pick up and move.

So what are your cultural obsessions or habits? What are some of the routines and rituals you've collected at home or away?

Talking of travel and cultural delights from around the world, the good people at NOVICA have kindly given me a $50 gift certificate to give to you.

NOVICA provides artisans from around the world a free online marketplace to sell their work and reach customers on a global scale at novica.com. It may be a village of carvers in Bali or a family of ceramists in Brazil who have handed down their craft from generation to generation. Whatever or wherever the community, NOVICA connects artists who have been isolated for centuries by distance, time, and geography - isolated from the very community of collectors seeking their unique, inspired, and undiscovered arts and crafts.

In association with National Geographic, NOVICA are giving away a $50 gift certificate to be spent on any of the wonderful gifts available on their site. Maybe Silk Scarves from Indonesia take your fancy or Silver Solitaire Rings. Leave a comment below to be automatically entered in the running for the $50 and I'll announce the winner in the next blog post.


Saturday, 1 February 2014

Old World Or New World: Which Do You Prefer?


It's a stupid question, isn't it?

Because it shouldn't matter. Any country or region has its own strengths and selling points. Why should you care whether your part of the world is better than the other part? Why should you care that the place you want to live in is a better choice for you and your family?

Because it can matter. When it comes to the Old World and New World, there are differences. And if you've living abroad or have thought about doing so, you might wonder what those differences actually are.

You might make comparisons in terms of history and culture. Or as relates to lifestyle and job prospects.

I've lived in the New World for the past eleven years and, for me, the main difference comes down to attitudes.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (anjakb)

Old world, new world

The term 'Old World' was originally coined to cover Europe, Africa and Asia, while the 'New World' represented the Americas (North and South) and, eventually, Oceania.

In effect, the Old World was the part of the world known to Europeans before the first European contact with the Americas.

The terminology is largely historical but over time has been used to represent the differences in traditions and values, cultures and opinions, people and places. The old versus the new.

Modern day comparisons relate to working life, health care, crime rates, cost of living and other such factors. When you talk about the Old World, a distinct set of behaviours and beliefs may jump to mind. With the New World, an opposite set might come forth. Or not.

Modern day differences

In reality, the differences between the two are probably few and far between.

You could argue that the Old World Europeans have a more generous work set-up with annual holiday allowances set at five weeks in the UK and a combination of statutory leave and bonus leave giving employees in France almost ten weeks. By comparison, Australia, Canada and the US have much less and a "work hard" mentality is prevalent.

You could argue that the cost of living has been much higher in the Old World if you take cities such as London, Paris and Berlin. However, the New World has equally expensive cities with New York, Vancouver and Sydney three of the planet's most costly to live in.

Welfare provision in Europe is traditionally strong, where as the US falls woefully short. Health care and education standards can be a bit of a mixed bag, while unemployment rates and economic growth fluctuates between the two.

What interests me most aren't the difference above but the perceived differences in people's attitudes.

Divided by our attitudes

The Old World is a part of the world where the values, traditions and social make-up are embedded in hundreds of years of living. And this can come through in the attitudes of the people.

You might say that the Old World has a conservative mindset and sticks to established notions, where once they were entirely new. There is a common tendency towards negative thinking, a lingering sense of seeing life's ups and downs as setbacks and issues, rather than potential opportunities.

You might say that the Old World doesn't always embrace change, preferring to keep things the way they've always been because why fix something when it ain't broke? The Old World is seen as set in its ways, determined to stay the course, steadfast in its opinions and views.

By contrast, the New World could be seen as an embodiment of the present and, some would say, of the future. There is a sense of anticipation, the view that anything is possible. You might say that the New World looks at life through a different lens, preferring to see what could be improved upon and fixed, rather than putting up with things the way they are.

You might say there is more of an open mindedness in these parts and memories are short, people living in the moment rather than dwelling on the past. Positivity is the word of the day and anything can happen if you choose to look at life in that frame of mind.

You might say there's no difference at all. It's more about the individual and the way you choose to look at life. And how you choose to live it.

If you're considering a move abroad and are keen to know more about differences like these and individual experiences, I recently contributed to the HiFX Expat Tips page where expats from around the world share their tips for living life in both the Old World and the New.

The most important advice I ever give is to try before you buy because the differences are there, on the surface or hidden just below. Plan a fact-finding trip prior to your big move and you'll see those differences head on before they sneak up and surprise you.

So which do you prefer and why? The Old World or the New World? Or does it even matter? Do share your thoughts below.


Monday, 20 January 2014

Launching The International Writer.com


I've always believed that if you want to talk about leading a different kind of life, you have to live and breathe it. To show others what a life less ordinary could mean, you need to practice what you preach.

Moving abroad, sharing my life stories here, pushing to make lifestyle and career fit with me and mine rather than the other way around. All of these things - moments, discoveries, realisations if you like - have led me to this point.

The creation of my writing business.

I'm proud to announce the launch of The International Writer, my new business content writing service. And I'm excited to reveal the website I've been working on, which you can find here - theinternationalwriter.com.


Who is The International Writer?

The International Writer is the culmination of my online writing experiences in blogging and social media, plus careers with professional services firms, blue-chip corporations and governments in business writing, policy and communications roles.

Working out of Sydney and with a presence in the UK, I'll be offering thought-provoking, insightful and affordable business writing to organisations in English-speaking countries. One of the areas of focus will be online content for travel and tourism businesses and brands, but I'll also be working across industries such as retail, transport, IT, finance, and more.

I'll also be working with non-English language markets including South America, providing English language and cultural support to small-medium businesses. I'll be helping them trade overseas where clear, accurate, engaging English written for specific platforms is vital to their international success.

What exactly will you be doing?

I'll be writing most forms of business communications content, including online content (website copy, blog posts, social media content, online news stories, eBooks) plus print content (press releases, flyers, papers, articles, tenders).

Here are some examples of what I've been working on so far.

As well as meeting a company's business writing needs, The International Writer will also offer design as part of its service packages, using the skills and experience of a trusted and experienced designer to bring those business words to life and enhance their value on the page.

Why did you decide to this?

I founded The International Writer with a mission to create meaningful, high-quality written communications.

I've seen organisations produce bland, uninspiring business content using inexperienced or unskilled staff not certain how to attract a reader or appeal to the target audience. Sometimes a business simply can't find the words to tell the world exactly what it does.

I created The International Writer on the principle that exceptional, informative written content a reader can't fail to love will drive any number of benefits to business.

The words will convey the business message and brand naturally and effectively; the words will engage the audience; the words will evoke an emotional response and the reader will make a decision to trust and use you.


On a more personal level, creating this business is about "no more office cubicle", stepping out into the unknown with nothing to lose but everything to gain, and craving change - location independence and a better work-life balance, while being prepared to give things up to get the life I want.

The International Writer brings all of this together and more.

I hope you're able to visit the new website, explore the pages, and let me know what you think. And if you can share the website with one other person, I'd be grateful.

I'll also be writing a regular writing-related blog on everything from business writing hints and tips to social media sharing, website tricks, favourite words and forgotten phrases. I hope you can follow it here or subscribe for regular posts using the form on the homepage.

Thanks as always for your following, your support and your time. Here's to the launch of The International Writer and to better business writing so cheers!

For further details or to send me a message, head here.



Thursday, 9 January 2014

Not Kicking the Habits


It's a new year and twelve months stretch out before us, laden with hope, opportunity and adventure.

After a self-imposed three-week hiatus, rather than make lists of resolutions for the new year, I thought I'd share three habits I introduced towards the end of 2013 that made my life better.

At a time when most of us assess the behaviours we want to give up (or should give up), it seems to me there are also good habits we should try to keep hold of.

And if they make our lives more productive and less prone to distraction, so much the better.

Photo credit: Katie Swayze

Learning to say no

I might give the impression I say "yes" to most things that comes my way - career opportunities, travel trips, the chance to try or experience something new - but lately I've started to say "no".

It's not because I have so many things to say "yes" to that I can afford to say "no", but because I realised that always saying "yes" created an impact somewhere down the line.

Saying "yes" could mean less time with family or undue stress from overcommitment or just too much going on at once.

Late last year, I started to say "no".

I said "no" to the things that made unnecessary noise in my life and I tried to focus on the things that mattered.

When I now get unsolicited emails that make no sense, I hit delete. When I can't find the time to commit to something or somebody, I don't beat myself up about it. I simply say "no" or "not right now".

And while it may seem harsh to turn people down in this way, it feels great to live with less going on.

Do less but be more

When you have a lot going on, it can be hard to concentrate your attention on the important stuff.

And I'm a terrible procrastinator.

Sometimes I just can't get going. I can literally lose days getting bogged down in activities that may never get me very far. It's amazing how much time can be wasted on Facebook. Or Twitter. On email or the Interweb. At times, I see these things as the bane of my existence and it feels like there's always so much to get done.

Yet somehow I've found a way to manage the devil on my back.

Now when I sense I'm wasting time without getting anywhere fast, I get up, have a break, come back to my desk and start over, this time on something completable and worthwhile.

If I have a list of umpteen things to do, I focus on 2-3 priorities rather than try to do too much or spread myself too thinly. I'll apply myself to a smaller number of tasks that I can do well and feel proud of having completed to the best of my ability.

By the end of the day, I measure myself on how well I did with those two or three pressing issues and feel great at having been much more productive.

In a world of distraction and noise, it's important to do less but be more. (feel free to tweet that.)

Save energy for things that matter

Life is short and if I've found myself using up valuable energy on people or issues that I either can't fix or can't fathom, then I've taught myself to walk away.

I can't help everyone and I can't resolve every issue. I have to let some things go.

While these issues might seem important to me at the time, I'd rather spend my time wisely and carefully on areas and people that matter. Because life is busy enough without introducing problems I have no control over or cannot resolve.

This may seem like a selfish habit but, this year, my energy is focused fully on my immediate family.

Already, in less than 14 months, I've watched my son grow at an insane rate of knots (who knew?) and I plan to relish every moment of the new year with him as he turns into a pleasantly-behaved two-year old toddler (allegedly).

Sometimes you need to make yourself and those around you a priority because you'll likely do everything better when you do.

What good habits are you focusing on this year to make your life better? What habits are you deciding not to kick? 

Share with me in the comments below.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Chronic Dissatisfaction


Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Alan Estrada, a popular actor and singer from Mexico - and currently full-time travel blogger. At the peak of his career and fame, Alan decided to break away from acting to focus on his passion for travel. He shares the reasons for that life-changing decision.

Chronic dissatisfaction.

This is what Penelope Cruz's character says when the three-way relationship between her, Cristina and Antonio is about to end in one of my favourite Woody Allen movies, Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona. For me, chronic dissatisfaction is the twenty-first century disease.

I am an actor. A real actor.

What I mean is that I work as an actor. I’ve made a good living as an actor since 2000 but I haven't been on stage or in a film for almost ten months. Why is that?

Chronic dissatisfaction.

Alan in the Mexican production of Spring Awakening.  Photo credit: Alan Estrada

There it is. I have more than I ever could have dreamed of but far less than what I think I need to be happy.

Everyday I wake up and I feel like a child, almost as if I’m starting again. Then I look at myself in the mirror and realise I’m no longer a kid. Still, it’s funny to think about it.

You see, the difference between me and the child I used to be is that right now I have a past, a history. And I’ve spent a lot of my time searching in my memories and looking for something more meaningful. I have a feeling that in my “real" childhood I didn't learn all of the basic rules of life.

Right now I’m learning as much as I can but I’m getting older. At this pace, I’m going to be really old by the time I figure out just how life should be lived. In other words, when I finally learn how to truly live life, I could be about to die - and this isn’t very funny at all.

With this knowledge, I realised I had to travel.

I went searching for a life less ordinary which, in itself, is a strange thing because my acting life was anything but ordinary. But I needed to defeat this chronic dissatisfaction.

So I travelled.

I started my travel video blog seven years ago as a bit of fun.

It wasn’t meant to be much but it grew. Then I "officially" started the blog three years ago. Before I knew it, it became a "real job' - I started to travel like crazy and now I realise it’s completely changed my life.

And I feel much better for it.

Alan x el Mundo, this time in Nepal.  Photo credit: Alan Estrada

We all need jobs because we need the money. We try to get a great job because we often want the recognition that comes with it. And we want that recognition because we need to feel loved. We need to feel loved because, well, usually we just need it. Maybe we all need to take a shortcut and go straight to the "love" goal!

For me, everything changed once I started to travel.

For most people, travel is what they do when they have extra money and free time. It becomes something they only do on special occasions.

For me, travel is so much more than that. It’s a part of my life journey.

I can learn about this planet and about myself from travelling. I can be happy. I can be content. I can re-think many aspects of my life. Knowing this, I would never let myself go to that dark, sad place where travel is something you only do with extra time or extra money.

I ask myself whether travelling is the right remedy for this new disease called chronic dissatisfaction? I don't know the answer to that but I do know one thing.

Everyone should walk away from their comfort zone at least once in their lifetime. Travelling is one of the best ways to do that. (feel free to tweet that.)

So I'm still on the road. Still trying to defeat my chronic dissatisfaction. I’m yet to reach my goal but, at certain moments, I feel like I’m the happiest person on earth.

And that’s enough for me.

When did you last step out of your comfort zone to try something new? Did you suffer from chronic dissatisfaction or from an urge to change your life up? Share your comments with Alan and I below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alan Estrada
Host of the online travelling show, Alan x el Mundo, featuring everything travel-related from video blogs to tips and news, Alan has rapidly become one of blogging's rising stars and a key figure on the travel circuit.

Alan is never short of interesting, inspiring stories from his travels and you can join him (and his 47,000 fans) on Facebook, find him at Twitter, on YouTube, or sharing unique images from his many travels over on Instagram.



Saturday, 7 December 2013

What Are You Prepared to Give Up to Get the Life You Want?


I read something the other day that made me sit up and take note.

The premise of the piece was that most of us want our lives to be a particular way. We want the great job, loving relationship, big house, interesting and exciting lifestyle and, of course, the work-life balance - we want these things to make us happy.

When asked what we want to get out of life, we revert to, "I want to be happy and have a fantastic job and live a fabulous lifestyle", but it doesn't really mean anything. Because they're just words unless we're prepared to make a huge effort to get there.

When we break it down to, "how are you going to be happy?" and, "how are you going to have a fantastic job and live a fabulous lifestyle?", then it usually means that something has to give to get us to that place. These things aren't handed to us on a plate, which means we have to work hard to get them.

No matter how many times you say something, it doesn't make it come true. But action does. (feel free to tweet that.)

Photo credit: Bruce Timothy Mans (Flickr Creative Commons)

So we want these things that will supposedly make us happy but we're often not prepared to go to the effort necessary to achieve them.

For example, we want the great work set-up where we're earning fantastic money and working the way we want to in order to get it - probably working for ourselves in an entrepreneurial spirit.

The problem is we're not prepared to work the long hours and weekends to get our own business started, we're not committed to embracing uncertainty and risk, the struggles, rejection and cash-flow hold-ups - all the things we need to do so that one day we'll be financially independent, able to work where we like, do what we want to do and not answer to anyone but ourselves.

We want the healthy and active body where we run for miles upon miles, slip into the latest fashion gear and feel at one with ourselves, confident that our bodies are looking and feeling their best.

The problem is we can't be bothered to do the work to get there. We'll sit in front of the TV or put off exercise until another day, crack open another beer or bottle of wine rather than spend hours every week training in a room with other sweaty bodies. Because that's what it takes to get into that kind of shape.

We want the interesting and exciting lifestyle where we spend more time with family and do all sorts of unusual things - new hobbies, exploring corners of the world, trying activities and adventure we'd always wanted to do but only ever dreamed of.

The problem is this kind of life can be scary and full of unknowns. There are no guarantees and we could be out there on our own, away from trusted support and established friendship. We're fearful of change and would rather watch what others do because to do what they do will mean changing our home and that's something we couldn't ever really do.

Reading the article last week, I realised the most interesting part was not what we want and why we want it, but the problems we have to overcome - the pain we're prepared to go through - to get there.

We all want something. We dream and fantasise. We encourage notions of a better life in which we'll be happier and more content. But do we want it badly enough and just how much are we prepared to give up to get it?

The author asked whether we really want these things or whether they are only fantasies. We talk a lot but action speaks louder than words. Without action, it becomes clear we probably don't want these things at all unless we're willing to suffer something in the process.

Some of us cope better at giving things up. There are those of us who realise we'll go through pain to get to where we want to and that's okay... most of the time.

Whether it be flogging ourselves on a beach at 6am knowing we'd rather sleep in but we'd instantly regret it. Or trying umpteen careers, never feeling comfortable with any, realising our own business is the only option but that it may very well not work. Or leaving home years ago not knowing when or if we'd return, saying goodbye to those we love when we'll soon be out there alone, but then we'd rather die trying than admit to never having tried at all.

These are a few of the things I've been prepared to give up, the pain I've accepted I have to go through to get to where I want to.

What are yours? What have you been prepared to give up to get the life you want?


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

When Memories of Home Start to Fade


I almost walked past the aisle but something made me stop and turn.

A glint of yellow on black. A familiar word draped across the face of an object. It caught my eye and I moved towards the source of this sudden interruption.

With only a few other jars for company, it sat there like a blast from my past, a long lost friend waiting patiently for me. There sat my childhood and my adolescence, a ghost of my former English life. And seeing it unexpectedly sent me tumbling down memory lane, a surge of homesickness passing through me.

Standing there, I thought back to a childhood holiday in the German Black Forest with my grandmother. It was the first time I'd been away from my parents and sister. In other words, it was a big deal.

Even as a young boy, I knew I'd struggle to be away from home but one thing kept me going - my love for a thick, black yeasty extract known as Marmite.

My mate Marmite.

Photo credit: Sarah Fagg (Flickr Creative Commons)

Seeking comfort in a spread

Commonly spread on toast or in sandwiches across the UK, Marmite is a food you either like or loathe, love or hate.

It's a polarising delicacy, dividing the country's taste buds and leaving large numbers of children hooked from an early age. I was one such child, raised on the wholesome goodness of this tar-like creation, unable to resist its gloopy touch each and every single day.

On this first trip abroad without the comfort of my immediate family, I sought solace in my favourite spread, Marmite.

As long as I could have my regular Marmite sandwiches, I'd be alright. I might well be scared of being far from home, but I'd be okay.

And I was.

Reminders of home

My illogical passion for Marmite was such that until I left the UK in 2003, I was still reaching for it on a daily basis, lathering my wholemeal sliced bread with the rich, gooey liquid-like stuff.

When we moved abroad, it was one of many things I missed from home. I stuffed my suitcase with jars and jars, and after arriving in Canada, searched high and low for any sign of the British black gold.

Occasionally I'd discover a jar or two, ridiculously overpriced and often neglected at the back of a Canadian grocery store. My parents would send over extra supplies and sometimes a jar would turn up hidden among my Chrissy presents.

Over time, my need for it somehow dropped away.

Standing there in that Australian supermarket, I felt a twinge of sadness at realising my inexplicable hunger for Marmite had disappeared. And I didn't really miss it. I'd replaced it with a local variation but the meaning ran deeper than mere culinary choices.

As my burning desire for Marmite diminished, so too had my need for other British things from home. Those small reminders I initially craved had become less vital in my new life.

I'd grown apart from my former home. I was inadvertently moving on.

Out of sight, out of mind

If I could move on from my childhood love of something this dear and special to me, what else had I moved on from? Favourite pastimes and practices, old friends, worse still... family?

Out of sight, out of mind never felt truer in that supermarket aisle. So much of me had changed over the course of the past ten years and I wondered what else I'd forgotten about.

I had clear and cherished memories of celebrations at Christmas, the weekly shows on TV, even the way people spend their time down the local pub or walking the dog through a farmer's field. Now the memories are no longer as vivid and it takes a jar of Marmite in a supermarket aisle to bring them all rushing back.

I wonder if it's part of the process of living away.

After greater periods away, you adjust and connect more deeply to your new life. Meanwhile, you move on from the old.

If I could pick things up from my former life and bring them over here - the people, the places, customs and traditions - it might be a good thing. If I could pull everything into one place, no longer split between countries and continents, maybe the ghosts of my past would become part of the present.

But they won't because of a decision I made many years ago. A decision I'm thankful for but a decision in which I said goodbye to many things and many people, including a precious, much loved yeasty friend.

What do you still miss from home? What would you miss if you ever moved away? And do you love or loathe Marmite?

This post was kindly sponsored by Goopping.com.

Former expatriate, Chris Boyle, spent years living in Japan. He experienced first-hand the challenge trying to get products from home shipped to him abroad. Upon returning to the United States in 1996, Boyle received so many requests from friends and acquaintances to send groceries and U.S. goods that he founded a package forwarding service called Goopping.com.

This service enables expats or citizens living outside of the U.S. to purchase any U.S. groceries or products and have them shipped right to their door, whatever country they are in. Everything from Pop-tarts to Sephora, Nike to Reese’s, U.S. products and prices are made available to anyone living outside of the U.S.

Boyle created the site to work like this: When you register with Goopping.com, you get a free U.S. shipping address. When shopping online from a store that either won’t ship internationally, or charges very high shipping rates, simply enter your U.S. Goopping address as your shipping address. The store delivers your purchases to your Goopping address and Goopping combines all your purchases into one. They then forward these U.S. products right to your door anywhere in the world.

Goopping also offers a Buy-for-Me service so you can request they make a purchase for you. This is useful if a store won’t accept your international credit card. Because of the high volumes Goopping ships, the site can provide and shoppers with the lowest forwarding rates in the industry.

Just a little expat-experience making life easier.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Happy First Birthday Dear Elliot


I couldn't very well let this day pass without writing about it.

As I sit here drafting this blog post, I look back at the last twelve months in awe, shock, fading terror and sheer amazement.

Today is my son's first birthday. The birthday celebration for a little boy we thought we might never have.

So I'll keep this post short. Less is more and my family deserve my time today, tomorrow and for the rest of Elliot's first birthday week.


I could write about how much this sweet young lad means to me.

How I can still remember back to the time before he arrived but I don't ever want to. How I can see my wife's features plastered across his beaming infant face and I adore him for it. How he chats away before me, talking nonsense and gobbledygook, yet I understand every word, especially when he says "Dada".

I could write about the past year's rollercoaster of events.

How we've hurdled minor barriers and fought our own struggles - from losing beloved pets to facing unexpected work challenges and unwanted health issues. And all this time, a tiny, tender soul watches us without judgement, growing rapidly in front of our eyes as he changes from a heavily-swaddled baby to a vivacious wee boy.

I could write about the things Elliot has given to this family.

How we rush into his room in the early morning like two kids hurrying to open their Christmas presents. How we miss him at night when he's fast asleep in his bed, when the house becomes quiet, both a blessing and a shame. How six hours spent in daycare feel like eight, nine or ten. And when Thursday rolls around and his week at daycare is over, how excited we are to spend time with him again.


I could talk about his first birthday party on Sunday.

How it was the party to end all parties where he wasn't well and how he cried. How he screamed and then he howled, how he refused to eat and couldn't sleep. How the day felt like a drunken memory, the kind you cringe at and want to forget but you can't quite remember everything anyway.

How he made such a grand entry to this party, soiling his pants as I carried him into the restaurant through the front door. Nappy overflowing, newly purchased trousers leaking, the right arm of my fancy new shirt staining, a distinctly strange smell in the restaurant followed by the patrons quickly clearing.

In all this carry on and hoo-hah, I looked at his small red face, all tear-streaked and blotchy, nose running, hair messed-up, wearing a mix of stylish shirt and bedtime onesie. And the overwhelming love I felt for this beautiful addition to our family swelled through me, threatening to consume and to overtake.

This is a love that I neither wanted once upon a time nor expected. A love for a miniature person of our own making that is both inexplicable yet also makes perfect sense. But I won't talk anymore about these things today because this one day is about one person and one thing.

My precious son and his very first birthday.

Happy birthday dear Elliot from Mummy and Daddy for we love you and we love you and we love you x



Friday, 8 November 2013

A Place of Tranquillity


Editor's Note: Today my wife, Sarah, writes for the first time on ISOALLO about our recent trip to Tasmania and where we found a place of tranquillity among the pines, far removed from our surprisingly busy Sydney environment. I hope you like her post. I'm obviously biased but I think it's great. 

Life for many of us is busy and hectic. We often struggle to find the time to “stop and smell the roses”. 

A large part of our search to find a life a less ordinary is discovering a place of tranquillity where we can live our lives. A place that is quiet, serene and surrounded by nature. 

We’ve been lucky enough to visit some remarkable places on our travels that radiate an energy which makes you feel relaxed and at ease - from winter chalets on the slopes of the Whistler-Blackcomb mountains to sun blissed P&O cruises around Europe and the Mediterranean.

We were therefore excited when offered the opportunity to visit one of those extraordinary locations again - Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge.

Pencil Pine Cabins at the Cradle Mountain Lodge, Tasmania

The lodge itself, along with individual accommodation cabins, is surrounded by the pristine wilderness of World Heritage-listed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.

As we drive up to our spa suite cabin, I can imagine it being our own little hideaway to escape from the hustle and bustle of the world beyond. Firewood is stacked up outside our door ready to use in the open fireplace and we even have a wombat waiting to greet us at the cabin as we arrive. Now that’s what I call a true Australian wilderness experience!

The interior of our cabin incorporates locally crafted Tasmanian wood furnishings, soft shades of green linen drape across the bed, slate tiling covers the huge bathroom and my favourite thing - luxurious bath and shower products that leave me feeling refreshed and invigorated. 

Once we’re settled in and enjoying the peace and quiet of it all, it’s time to think about what to enjoy for dinner. We have the choice of opting for fine dining in the romantic setting of the Highland Restaurant or, if we fancy something a little more casual, especially after travelling, then the Tavern Bar is a great option.

The environment here makes me feel so relaxed.

It has a certain vibe that we look for when we need a break away together. I also love having a mixture of things to do when we’re away and there are no shortage of options here. 

For a weekend of absolute relaxation, I can highly recommend taking time to visit the Waldheim Alpine Spa. On our last visit here, we enjoyed the dedicated therapeutic area know as The Sanctuary. This includes a steam room, hot tub and relaxation lounge with serene views over the Pencil Pine River. Need I say more!

This way to the Alpine Spa at Cradle Mountain Lodge, Tasmania

For the more adventurous, the best way to get out and explore the wilderness is to stretch your legs on one of the many different walking tracks in the area. This experience gives us a true sense of the local environment's diversity ranging from walking amongst open moorlands and heaths to temperate rainforests, steep gorges and forested valleys.

On this particular trip we choose the latter and, after a long day hiking around Dove Lake, I find myself curled up on the sofa in our cabin with a large glass of red in my hand while reflecting on our time here at Cradle Mountain. 

This is a place of sheer tranquillity.

I feel so calm here. I can hear myself think again. It’s only when I'm in an environment like this that I realise how busy and hectic our life on Sydney's Northern Beaches actually is. It's a beautiful part of the world with many cafes, activities and beaches to choose from but, as with any popular place, you're sharing it with tens of thousands of other people.

Experiencing the Cradle Mountain wilderness in Tasmania

So I find myself in a calm and serene environment like Cradle Mountain and I ask myself whether I escape to tranquil places just to recharge my batteries or would it be better to live life full time in this kind of environment?

Would I miss the hustle and bustle of living close to a city, finding this place boring after a while? 

I’d love to hear other people’s perspectives on this. 

Have you moved from a hectic lifestyle or busy city to your own “place of tranquillity”? Or do you think there’s room for both kinds of living – the frantic and also the tranquil? 

Tourism Tasmania hosted us for the four-day road trip across Tasmania as part of part of the Go Behind The Scenery campaign.



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