Inspired by: Women of the future

Back in 1986, when Whitney Houston sang about children being our future, I paid little attention. It was the year I turned 17 and I was busy casting off the shackles of childhood. As far as I was concerned, the future was all about me and what I was going to be in it.

It took thirty years and the words of another powerhouse woman, Miriam González Durántez, before I got the point: I may be the ‘now’ but the future is in the hands of those much younger and specifically those who inhabit our education system. Whilst I’m not interested in being a school teacher, Miriam’s words made me see that there was another way to contribute.

In the weeks that followed, I signed up for Inspiring the Future, an initiative connecting schools with the world of work and before long I was involved as a business volunteer with the Barnet Business and Education Partnership. For the last year, I’ve been in secondary schools supporting programs like presentation skills, interview skills and how to make the most of work experience that help students prepare for life ‘beyond school’. Participating in this way has been really motivating. It’s also got me thinking about how we prepare young adults to tackle life’s challenges outside their academic curriculum.

What other things can we do to help them to be resilient, resourceful and responsible in their adult life?

Earlier this year, I returned to the Inspiring the Future website to tick an additional box flagging my interest in being a school governor. I didn’t know that this would be the right thing for me but I knew I felt passionately about the contribution to be made and wanted to explore this further. In the words of change leadership guru Deborah Rowland (who I met in March)…

” …having set up these initial conditions for emergence, you have to let the change come towards you, not go chasing it.”

Still Moving: How to Lead Mindful Change by Deborah Rowland

…so I ticked the box and went on with life, continuing to explore a range of other interesting opportunities that had been emerging.

On June 4th, I attended the TEDx London conference and among the lineup of inspiring speakers was Teach First’s Executive Director of Delivery Ndidi Okezie who spoke about ending educational inequality and creating a world where all children have an “equalising educational experience”. Okezie spoke of feeling overwhelmed by the scale of change required but insisted that “a change must come”. Did you know that the proportion of UK children who go on to attend Oxbridge is roughly 1:20 but in poorer schools that this opportunity falls to 1:1,500? Teach First has over 10,000 ambassadors in schools creating equal educational experiences for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances.

As I listened to Okezie speak, I was taken back to my school years where a couple of teachers were particularly instrumental in helping me navigate the path to adulthood. Back then I was preparing to take flight into a world that, despite my insistence to the contrary, I didn’t really know much about. I was embarking on a new phase – just as I am now. I jotted a few notes down as the talk came to a close, thinking that they might come in useful at some point. One of the things life has taught me is that you never know which pieces of the puzzle might eventually come together.

And how timely this was. Less than a month later, I joined the Board of Governors for a local secondary school, becoming part of their Educational Standards Committee and also the link-governor for the school’s performing arts curriculum.

Needless to say there’s a lot to learn and a lot of work to be done. But I’m really looking forward to working with this team of passionate and committed governors and teachers. I’m also excited about ensuring that the student community – these women of the future – are equipped and empowered for the adventure ahead.

I’m stunned by how quickly these pieces fell into place.

I once heard it said that when you take responsibility for your own happiness, life shows up as a gift. I drew deeply on my reserves of resilience and resourcefulness as I struggled to build a new life in London over 13 years ago. And after last year’s work changes, I decided to take some time to explore how I wanted the next stage of my life to look. Whilst the full picture is still emerging, I’m feeling happy, fulfilled and excited to be on the brink of new possibilities.

So I feel passionately about encouraging the development of these qualities through my role as a Governor:

  • Resilience – in the face of life’s challenges;
  • Resourcefulness – in spite of what might stand in the way;
  • Responsibility – for stewarding themselves and the world through tumultuous times and inspiring the generations to follow to be the authors of their own success, whatever that may be.

Three more R’s to supplement the three – reading, [w]riting, and [a]rithmetic – that began their education over a dozen years ago.

My life is undeniably the sum of all of the people and experiences that have left their mark on me and it was another speaker from the TEDx London conference in June – a bloke from the world of policing and forensics no less – that captured this perfectly:

“Every contact leaves a trace.” John Sutherland

Here’s to leaving a positive and worthwhile mark on the generations to follow.

Think Fantastic Try Hope

Inspiration forms part of the window display of the Fendi store in New Bond Street, London (June 2017)

May: Between the bookends

The month of May has the dubious privilege of being book-ended by bank holiday weekends here in the UK and it has to be said that the weather on both occasions was worthy of a patio session or two. But true to form, the temperatures in between have dipped considerably so this month I have found myself veering between layering up from my Spring wardrobe and delving back into some light woollens.

But the flowers (and other green things) were out and about…

…and so was I, starting with two contemporary dance shows at Sadlers Wells.

The first was from one of my favourites, Rambert, and their triple bill – the moody seamlessness of Terra Incognito, a dichotomous look into the mind of Macbeth in Tomorrow and the exuberant joy of the Brazilian Carnival in A Linha Curva – left me breathless and thrilled. Then I went to my first Nederlands Dans Theatre show. Actually it was Nederlands Dans Theatre 2, the 2 referring to the company’s troupe of ‘up-and-comers’ – if their extraordinary programme was anything to go by, the main company might just blow my mind. They were awesome.

Staying with the stage, a friend and I went to see Kit Harington (yes he of Game of Thrones fame) in Doctor Faustus. It’s a story I know, having seen the play for the first time on a school trip to the Adelaide Festival in my teens and it also provides the overarching serial killer narrative in the movie Seven. This was edgy, swinging between being absolutely hilarious and intensely shocking. There was even a nod or two to modern times woven into Christopher Marlowe’s 1604 script. It’s received quite polarised reviews but I really enjoyed it. It probably helped that Mr Harington spent quite a long time on stage in his underpants. After all, I’m only human.

I also heard Chris Anderson speak at the Institute of Directors last month. Who is Chris Anderson? He’s the CEO and curator of TED and has been doing the rounds promoting his book, TEDtalks: The official TED guide to public speaking (as opposed to the Talk like TED tome that has been doing the rounds since 2014). In any case, spending an hour listening to him speak and handle some Q&A before I started my work day definitely gave me a bit of pep in my step.

On the food front, I cooked my first BBQ – ever…

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…I went to a masterclass on being good to your gut with Eve Kalinik

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The goodie bag

…and then topped the month off with a visit to a free chocolate museum in Brixton which, being underneath a chocolate cafe, meant that Aussie-K and I were inspired to indulge after our visit – the gingerbread hot chocolate was absolutely delicious.

In literary news, the best of the five books I read this month was Ferney, a ‘time-slip’ novel by James Long. It may have been published in 1998 but right here in 2016, it earned itself a big fat five-star rating from yours truly. An inspired recommendation that I’m glad I took on…and there’s a sequel. *squeals with joy*

And speaking of time-slip, I managed to find some time to slip across the road from work to enjoy a bit of sunshine…

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The view from the grass in Victoria Tower Gardens

…and sculpture.

It’s really just as well that the month ended with a long weekend – June is beckoning.

Making life interesting

If you are a regular Gidday-er you’ll know that I’m the curious sort and love to explore. Lucky for me, this also spills into my career (I work in marketing and innovation for a global packaging company) where I have the remit to seek out, to question and to fill the virtual bucket in my head with new ideas. This can appear quite convoluted to those who have a more linear approach to information gathering and problem solving but I’m known for being able to let all of the stuff in my head ‘percolate’ to come up with new proposals and approaches…and sometimes even new problems!

My colleagues tease me for my [over?] use of the word interesting but I love it. And I’m always on the lookout for the new, the unusual, the fun and the fascinating so I thought I’d share three things with you that got me a bit excited this week.

Making life fun

A partnership between Hungarian Telecom, Isobar and the Budapest Festival Orchestra has brought music to the street – literally. Find one of their interactive posters and with a wave of your smartphone, you too can become the maestro and conduct the orchestra. Did I hear you say, ‘Wow’? Then click here to find out more.

Now wouldn’t that make getting from A to B a whole lot more fun? You could be like a flash mob…of one.

Making life safe(r)

Every day my commute to the office takes me beneath the towering clock face of Big Ben and past the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. In the morning, we are all commuters, moving as one across the busy streets with smartphones in hand. In the afternoon, London’s many tourists have well and truly emerged to saunter all over the pavement, their heads swiveling and their eyes skywards, posing for selfie after selfie. As they absorb all of the magnificence around them, they are completely oblivious to anything else…including the traffic. Let me tell you I’ve seen a few near misses standing on the corner of Bridge Street and Parliament Square waiting to cross the road.

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Waiting to cross Bridge Street to Westminster Underground Station

This week Springwise.com reported that a new approach to pedestrian protection is being pioneered by Augsburg in Germany – traffic lights embedded into the road at tram stops. This means that all of the digital natives and the millennials – as well as those of us who are trying to keep up with the young, hip and cool – can monitor the red-green-amber of the situation without glancing away from the screen. ‘How interesting’, I hear you say – you can read more here.

Making life interesting

And finally, you might remember that in my February round-up, I mentioned attending a live stream of the opening session of this year’s TED conference. My favourite talk of the night was by Riccardo Sabatini about his passion for understanding the human genome and the power for personalised medicine that this represents. I was absolutely transfixed and since then, I have been waxing lyrical (or boring people senseless with my excited wittering) about this talk to pretty much anyone who’ll listen.

Well this week I am delighted to say that this talk has been made available on the TEDtalks website…just step this way peeps. If you want to be fascinated by what it really is that makes us human, you must click here.

So there you have it – my wows from the week just gone and I’d love to hear whether you’ve found a little spark of interesting in your week.

After all, I am the curious sort…

February: Firsts, facts and fine things

I know. It’s almost a week into March but I promised in January to review each month’s gadding about and February has been every bit as jam-packed as January. So hold on tight and here we go…

There have been a few firsts this month. I’ve already posted about my first filling and my first visit to the British Library. I also attended my first Monash University Alumni event. It’s only taken 24 years and a move across the world to do this and I did turn up wondering what this Global Leaders Network was all about. I had a great evening hearing about the university’s plans for alumni engagement around the world and sharing expat stories with like-minded Australians. How nice it was to enjoy some straight-talking Aussie banter, the room humming with that laconic Aussie twang.

Speaking of university, I have a psychology degree from Monash so I’m really interested in the mindfulness conversation that’s happening at the moment. I saw Ruby Wax interviewed on Sunday Brunch and so went to see her show, Sane New World. Not only is she a comedian but is qualified in psychotherapy and has recently completed a Masters in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at Oxford. Her show was a frank and funny look at our pace of life, mental illness and how our bodies – and in particular our hormones – are trying to cope. I really admire her philosophy in getting ‘off your a**e and doing the work’ – she’s set up free mental health walk-in sessions throughout the run of her shows with the aim of creating a network of walk-in centres across the UK.

February has also been a month for some of the finer things in life.

I attended a talk at the V&A Museum where Francesca Cartier Brickell, granddaughter of Jean-Jacques Cartier, took us on an enthralling journey through the Cartier family history introducing us to the three brothers – Louis, Pierre and Jacq – who started it all and their commitment to innovating whilst maintaining the essence of Cartier design. She also shared many personal anecdotes, one of these about finding the Cartier history in an old suitcase full of letters in her grandfather’s wine cellar. The many family moments she shared made this talk more intimate – less like a lecture and more like a lovely conversation albeit with more than a hundred of us in the room.

It also inspired me to visit The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery at the museum. We were herded briskly through this collection of stunning jewellery on the way to the auditorium and a couple of weeks later, I turned up early for a V&A book club evening to have a wander through. However, it transpired that the gallery was only open during the day so I killed the time I had by visiting the delightful stained glass gallery nearby and also enjoyed a meander through the just re-opened Europe galleries once book club was finished.

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The V&A Museum on a drizzly winter evening; killing time in stained glass

I also attended a book launch at the Institute of Directors. Peter Frankopan is director of the Centre for Byzantine Research at Oxford and over coffee and croissants he talked about his new book, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. His contention is that we are taught about history through the lens of a very small number of countries and believes that we have a lot to learn through the stories of other cultures and regions, particularly Russia and Iran, the latter having been the wellspring for language and religion more than a thousand years ago. I left unsure as to what these regions could offer but it did make me realise how uneducated I am about these areas of the world. I’m now waiting for the paperback version of the book to come out (ever tried to read a hardback on the tube?) so that I can broaden my historic horizons.

And speaking of fine things, I also saw Ralph Fiennes in Henrik Ibsen‘s The Master Builder at The Old Vic. Being able to see actors that I’ve loved on screen performing on stage is one of the absolute joys of living in London and despite being in the vertiginous cheap seats, the power of the performance still remained. It’s the second Ibsen play I’ve seen – the first being A Doll’s House which I studied at high school – and there is something fascinating about the way he explores the roles of women and how they use their personal power in a male-dominated society.

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The view from the cheap seats at the fabulously refurbished Old Vic theatre in London

Personal power also underpinned the speaker themes at the opening session of the TED2016 conference which was live-streamed into cinemas on February 16th. Whether it was 10-year-old Ishita Katyal’s opening talk, the performance from musical phenomenon AR Rahman or Riccardo Sabatini‘s vision for personalised medicine (my favourite talk of the night), it was an inspiring and thought-provoking evening and all for the price of a cinema ticket.

February also had me moved by music. My annual pilgrimage to the Flamenco Festival at Sadler’s Wells was a testosterone-fuelled performance by brothers Farraquito and Farruco which had me on my feet at its conclusion. Over at Kings Place, the Brodsky Quartet’s performance of George Gershwin’s little-known Lullaby for Strings was exquisite.

And with all of that going on, I found some time to imbibe in a well-deserved drink

watering holes

A couple of new watering holes near Holborn Station to add to my ‘let’s meet up’ list. L: The Princess Louise  R: The Ship Tavern

So that was February, filled to the brim with firsts, facts and fine things.

Phew!

Now for March…

The F Word…

This week my world has taken on something of a feminist flavour. 

Not that I am not a feminist – I am.

(I am also sure that there’s a better way to deal with that double negative. Go ahead – comment away!)  

I didn’t actually plan it that way but when I look back there has been a definite theme to the events I attended, the things I learnt and the conversations I had. Might be the planets aligning, might be a raising of my feminist consciousness. Might be my current musings about what my future might look like. Who knows. But over the last four days there has been a lot for me to consider about the future of women.

On Wednesday, I listened to some amazing women (and one man) explore women’s roles in our modern world at the Women in European Business Conference. It featured an excellent panel discussion, an interview with the always fabulous Joanna Lumley and a fascinating 45-minute presentation from Harvard associate professor and social psychologist, Amy Cuddy on shaping who you are – literally. It was an inspiring night and it was thanks to the ‘oh I’ve double-booked’ mistake of a work colleague that I got a guernsey. And what did I take away from all of this? That there are many, many choices about my future, many potential pathways to explore and a myriad of conversations to have. Oh and a potential place on the invitation list for next year’s event.

On Thursday, I listened to a lively discussion on the Pinkification of Young Girls at Selfridges as part of The Beauty Project. This was the last in a series put on in partnership with Intelligence Squared who always offer controversial topics and provocative panelists and with the future of the world’s female population firmly in their sights, Alannah Weston, Tiffanie Darke, Tanya Gold and Katie Hopkins launched into a litany of opinions about the dangers (or not) of a rose coloured world and the potential of a ‘princess’ generation. 

It seemed to me that we came no closer to any answers and whilst it was an interesting discussion, it meandered around for a while then finished all too quickly. In the end, it did transpire that encouraging a questioning mind, a breadth of choice and a sense of confidence in our women of tomorrow were the keys – and also some of the prevailing themes from my previous evening’s WEB Conference. How on earth this is going to happen, I have no idea but that the topic continues to raise in profile is generally deemed a positive thing. But is it enough?

On Friday morning I listened to a less-than-seven-minute TED talk from Dan Gilbert called The Psychology of your Future Self. (You may have noticed over the last few posts that I am having a bit of a love affair with TED talks at the moment.) Anyway, Gilbert postulates that we all under estimate how much we will change in the future and he uses some really clever ways of demonstrating that our heads really are buried in the sand when it comes to envisioning our future selves. Think about who you were, what you were doing and what was important to you ten years ago. Then think about how much you think you’ll change in the next ten years. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the rate of change will continue? Well, apparently reason has nothing to do with it but given my recent reflections about what might lie before me in the next 40 or so years, it seemed another fitting piece to add to my puzzle.

And finally yesterday, when I opened this week’s Mental Floss newsletter, I discovered that LEGO will release a new series featuring female scientist figurines this coming August. Hurrah! (Imagine hooray in the posh, clipped syllables of the English.) The LEGO Research Institute set will show women exploring the world from three different angles – chemistry, paleantology and astronomy. 

Image source: https://ideas.lego.com/projects/15401

And not a skerrick of pinkification to be seen. Double hurrah!

The concept was submitted by Dr. Ellen Kooijman, a geochemist from Stockholm who, despite entering her concept last year, may have tapped into the zeitgeist by encapsulating the sentiments of Charlotte Benjamin, a seven-year-old girl who wrote a widely publicised letter to LEGO in January admonishing the toymaker to ‘have more LEGO girl people who go on adventures and have fun.’ 

So while the rate of change might seem snail-paced to those of us who are firm believers in gender equality, it appears that all it takes are the words of a seven-year-old to create a little momentum. At this rate, just imagine where she could be in ten years time.

So as I sit here on the comfy couch, tap-tap-tapping away and reflecting on the week that was, I am definitely left with some positive feelings about the whole feminist issue. But it still seems like we still have one hell of a mountain to climb and while I lean towards the side of a bright future ahead, I think that the visibility remains poor and the path ahead uncertain. Not only for the women of future generations but also for those of us struggling with how to create a world of choice and equality now. 

And it leaves me wondering just who and where I might be in all of this in ten years time.

Bears some thinking about doesn’t it?

A Single Story…

I had the enormous privilege of seeing Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie speak about her latest novel last week. I knew nothing about her except that she was Nigerian and that she had written a book I’d loved (Americanah 2014 #29 in The Book Nook). I left the event 90 minutes later inspired and wanting to know more.

Today I watched Chimimanda’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single StoryThroughout she talks about how limiting and how damaging a single story or viewpoint about a person can be, that it creates stereotypes that while not necessarily incorrect, are more often than not incomplete. That a single story creates presumption rather than openness, a potential wall of prejudice in our relationships with one another as human beings. She told of her own single stories, blown apart by having the opportunity to see things from a different perspective and also of the single stories about herself, experienced through the eyes of others.

It made me think more about single stories and one of the most extreme and damaging of all time – the Nazi ‘story’ about the Jews. Scary stuff.

It also made me think about the single stories about me: each twist of my kaleidescope reveals a potential single story – laconic Aussie, 40-something woman, single lady, career woman, Dutch pragmatist just to name a few. Even so, the whole is so much more than just the sum of all of these.

Then there are my single stories about others and I began thinking about how this starts with our parents. We see them as Mum and Dad and then they become ‘people’ as we get more and more perspective about them. How my Dad went from the person I thought was my biggest critic to someone who was more proud of me than I ever knew. How my Mum continues to be one of the strongest and most inspiring women I know, rising to every challenge and finding strength of purpose again and again in making a difference. 

I was even thinking beyond people to my original single story about London and how every discovery I make about it both enriches my experience of living here and deepens my love for this amazing city. 

It made me think about my reading of Americanah as my first dip into ‘Nigeria’ and how much I loved it and took the story to heart. And how this was my single story until I saw Chimimanda speak both on Thursday night and today on her TED talk. 

And as I only read it three weeks ago, it made me think (not for the first time) that life has the ability to transform when you read.

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Heady Stuff…

Over the last few weeks there seems to have been a theme emerging from my inspired meanderings. Whether it’s being prodded, protected or paying its way, it would appear that the head is making …well headlines. 

You see it started for me with my first haircut with a new hairdresser. The previous one returned to Hungary via the magic carpet of love and while I am happy for her, it sucks for me. Quite frankly, it’s ALL about my hair and a poor do does not a happy girl make.

Anyway Springwise.com also started off 2014 with a review: of the top ten business ideas that they thought stood head and shoulders above the rest. Among these were a folding bicycle helmet from the UK, an invisible one from Sweden and some face-recognition payment systems from Finland.

Then I found out about the Science Museum’s latest exhibit called Mind Maps: Stories in Psychology which has made it on my 2014 list of things to do. (I’ve got until August to see this one.) And then both TED talks and Upworthiest posted about depression and The New Yorker ran a piece on anxiety. 

These heady reflections might sound timely – post Christmas/New Year blues and all of that – but we in the northern hemisphere are already lacking a few happy hormones (via Seasonal Affective Disorder) and sunshine-y daylight hours so I vote for focussing on the things that put a smile on your face.


Like the Little Rooster.

Little Rooster is an ‘alarm’ for the ladies. It’s a small vibrating device that is popped in the underpants before going to sleep that promises to transform your first waking moments. Delivery to the UK takes only 2 business days so for UD$69, you can put a smile on your dial every morning…by Wednesday.

Now THAT’s heady stuff!