2018 / 23 March

How are you creating impact?

I’ve had the honour and privilege (and all the other superlatives) of spending the whole week on an impact investment course, run by Impact Co. Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the whole process. I’ve been burned badly before and thus approached things with more trepidation than usual. The research I did on the team behind it clearly indicated that they are sharp operators so I thought it was a good path to follow. And I was very right.

It’s difficult to articulate all the things that I experienced throughout the week but I decided on the drive home to try and put words down while the emotions and thoughts run wild and honest. Instead of over analyzing and dissecting everything to the point of becoming mute, as I am wont to do.

With those thoughts it’s also very difficult to know where to begin, but I think the best is with one of the other participants, Cormach Evans. His business, Strong Brother Strong Sister is hands down one of the most incredible initiatives I’ve ever heard about. What I learned in my time with Cormach is what it looks like for someone to live the impact they want to create. He is the very articulation of the thing he has set out to do — becoming a leader, a mentor and a genuinely positive contributor to society. All this through changing the circumstances with which he was dealt and turning them into something inspirational and life changing to others.

What stuck with me about Cormach, and indeed all the other people I spent the week with, was the sense of purpose they bought forward. Each individual had a story to tell. A story that was meaningful, honest, passionate and authentic. Their businesses all made sense as a reflection of the people they are.

One thing that was highlighted for me was my actual lack of understanding about my own purpose. I may be a great storyteller, I may be relatively engaging when I speak but the thing that has kept me going for the last two and a half years hasn’t come to the surface yet.  Another participant, Al Thursfield from The Daily Bar summed up her feelings when she said, “I wish we had another week because I think we’ve just started to see into the cracks”. Which is true. I am not naturally comfortable sharing things about myself and am more in a fixed mindset when it comes to the heart of things.

Al is lucky enough to be supported by Harry Reid. If Inside Out ever had a sequel with the emotion “positivity”, they would be voiced by Harry. Although having a dark humour, Harry also brought incredible amounts of perspective and honesty through his relentless positivity. Given I spend a lot of my time solving problems and asking people “what’s wrong?”, it places you in a consistently negative environment. The world is a big problem that I want to fix, but problems are highlighted by a negative mindset and Harry taught me that it’s better to focus on the good things and think about solutions.

Rightly or wrongly (likely the latter), previously I’ve defaulted to the notion that vulnerability is a weakness. I know that’s not the case, but it’s a struggle to turn that into a behaviour. What I observed over the week was that it was the times others were vulnerable that they were the strongest. And that there is a direct correlation between vulnerability and strength. Even thinking through the stories others shared makes me well up a little bit. And throughout the week I was moved to the point of tears. But crying in front of other people is a bridge I’m not ready to cross yet.

There was no better example of this than the pitch to advisors that Hayden Brass from Zea Relief gave. Without being able to really articulate the details, what he presented was heartfelt and vulnerable and most importantly, raw and honest. I felt the entire mood of the room shift. Before that, we were new friends and collaborators, after that we were family. It marked, for me, a pure example of the power of vulnerability and delivery of a truthful story.

Ironically, talking to others about owning vulnerability and its power is something I am good at (like a stock standard consultant, I’m great at telling others what to think). With that line of thought, I have to highlight how awesome Ryan Tilley from Mr Gecko is. Ryan had a habit throughout the week (that I connected with because I do the same) of downplaying the role, impact and position he can achieve through his work. Although the youngest, he was certainly one of the most exceptional. Ten years ago, I wish someone had told me to embrace the things I wanted to do and the change I could make. While I was happy skiing my way around the world, I never felt like I could contribute to anything, despite what others said. I think it’s only when you understand and own your position and possibilities do you truly start to thrive.

There was a moment on the final evening that summed up the whole week for me. During the week, the last part of our official engagements for the day was meant to be through a “check out” — where you share the thoughts of what interested, inspired and challenged you through that day. On the final night, exhausted and quite drunk, all I could say was “I’m good”. And it wasn’t said to shun the notion of a check out. It was more that I felt so overwhelmed with thoughts and perspectives and stories, that all I recognised was that I am only somewhere through a probably never ending journey. That the fact I couldn’t articulate my “why” was ok at this stage because eventually I’ll be able to find it and share it. And hopefully empower others to find their why.

What bought us all together and kept us engaged and challenged the whole week was the crew from Impact Co: Shol, Jamie and Ming. They were so good as facilitators — creating trust and safety, inviting global business leaders to present and coach us and ultimately creating an environment where I think we will all succeed in some way. It’s not often that you meet people with such empathy and intelligence, able to lead a group of people from strangers to supporters and from anonymity to advocate.

Often the experience of a boot camp or course of this type is around 200%. Packing as much as possible into two days and then leaving people to experience the come down when reality sets back in. The difference here was that we had a whole week to experience the ups and downs and be equipped with real tools and tactics to move forward, in whatever way we need. And be introduced to some of the most inspiring and influential people in the fields we work.

I think it’s fair to say that I walked away with the notion that anyone can create positive impact if they have a purpose. And that we’re all human and therefore can have a purpose. No matter the background or upbringing, there is a spark within everyone that can be harnessed for good. It’s a notion to me that I struggle with usually, as I try to consistently understand what I do and why.

While I will need more time to really unpack all the things that I experienced throughout the week, one truth is apparent. If I can create even half of the impact that everyone I’ve gotten to know in the last week is setting out to achieve, I will be in rarified air. I’ve had a wake up call about what and who exceptional people are. And I want to do everything I can to be held in the same regard.

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