Friday, 15 June 2012

Josh's Story

Josh is a Year 12 student at The Hutchins School in Hobart. He spoke as a panellist at a Time & Space night I facilitated for a group of Year 8 boys (average age 13) and their dads or mentors. He offered an insight that smashed a stereotype. You know the one: that wisdom only comes from people with grey hair and wrinkles.

Josh was asked to mention a quality that he saw in his dad and to offer an example of that quality. He shared something unusual from a person his age.

“My dad’s best quality is his ability to give advice,” Josh offered the audience.

There’s nothing unusual about giving out advice. For those of us who are parents reading this, we are experts at giving out advice. If you’re one of the young people who read these articles, you probably feel that sometimes our advice giving just turns into white noise. I’m sure my two teenagers agree with me (for a change) on this point.

So there is plenty that is simply unusual about a son saying that ‘giving advice’ is his dad’s best quality. Josh was asked to offer an example. He told a story. As you read it, Josh’s wisdom is obvious – he can look back and see himself growing, see himself realising and see himself taking responsibility. The other wise character in this story is Josh’s dad. He didn’t come along to the night. I have never met him and that adds something to the marvel and mystery that his son nominated his ‘advice giving’ as his best quality.

Josh started the story saying that “my father gave me an anchor point.”

Josh remembers that it was November 2003 when he first received the slip of paper. His dad had copied out and written an anonymous quotation that had captured his eye in the local newspaper, The Mercury. As a then Grade 3 boy, Josh read the words, thought they were good and put them somewhere. That somewhere was not anywhere special because after a time, he lost that slip of paper. His dad noticed this. He knows that his dad noticed because at a certain time in 2004, he received the same quotation again, written in his dad’s hand, on a fresh slip of paper. And, yes... he held on to that slip for a while before he lost it again. This happened again in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

“It just ended up getting lost and discarded,” was the way Josh described what had become an annual practice.

Don’t you love the way stories, really good ones, have delightful coincidence infused through them. Josh was talking to some fathers, mentors and their Year 8 boys and it was in 2008, when Josh was in Year 8, that he received the slip of paper from his dad again. He received it for the last time. Why?

Because this time Josh said “I kept it, I know where that piece of paper is right now – it’s in my wallet.” Josh went on to explain, “It’s old and tatty but I know it is there and I get it out regularly when I need some inspiration.” You get the sense that Josh likes the learning he gets from the words but don’t you think that as he gets out that now four year-old slip of paper, he also knows he is holding a tangible example of his dad’s advice.

What’s the gold in his dad’s particular style of advice giving? It was delivered with planning, with patience and meted out on one rare occasion each year. With the utmost respect to Josh (because it sometimes takes me more than six years to get a message) I heard someone say this year, that we can send an email 12 000 miles across the globe in a second. Yet it can sometimes be years for it to travel that last eighth of an inch through the bone in our skull.

Josh told Year 8 boys that in Year 8, he finally got the message his dad was giving him just once a year, patiently until he finally took it in.

In preparing for my role as facilitator of these panels, I usually read out the questions over the phone and offer the young people who will be on the panel like Josh - an opportunity to talk through what they would say. Josh chatted for a while but then said, “I’m good now. I just want to take the next couple of hours to make sure I do this panel role right tonight.”

And in going off to do that extra preparation I think Josh did something else. He showed that he has embodied the words on that slip of paper:

Aim a little higher.

Go a little further.

Do a little better.

In taking the time to prepare, Josh showed that he does this as a matter of course now. And in doing that he honours his father.

What Can Parents Draw from Josh’s dad?

Put a premium on your advice. Josh’s dad was patient. He gave his son the piece of paper once a year. He was happy to wait until his son learnt the lesson and took ownership of the words. What might happen to the advice we give to our kids if we even halved the frequency with which you dish it out? When commodities become rare, they increase in value. Maybe the same rule applies to advice given in the right time and space.

What can Young People learn from Josh?

Josh thought carefully about the best quality he sees in his dad. Take the time to consider the special gifts that your mum, dad or guardian has. Find the right time and space to let them know specifically what you see as their best qualities. Maybe even write them a letter and surprise them. Watch their reaction if you follow through on this!

As always you are welcome to share your responses in the space below.

What's a great piece of advice you have received? Who offered it? Why is it so valuable to you?

Bill Jennings

Monday, 4 June 2012

A Mighty Mentor

The star of this story signs off her messages to the world with the words... Be inspired. Be Inspiring. The words stand in comfortable alignment with the way she lives her life.

Just before you go on reading, please, stop...

... for a moment...

... and think of a person who is a mentor to you, a role-model of kindness and generosity. Formulate the picture of their face or say their name quietly to yourself.

I met Marie Farrugia in 2010. We were both at one of my first monthly meetings of the National Speakers Association of Australia. Having made the jump from full-time teaching into the Time & Space program work, someone had suggested joining NSAA. Hard to believe if you’ve met this shy little blogger, but there I was shaking amongst these people who had being doing professional speaking for years. I felt almost frozen to the spot. Have you ever stood in one of those new spaces and thought who do I talk to next? I was pushing myself every month to turn up and be amongst these people who, as an occupational trait, present as larger than life and very confident on the outside. A lady with a beaming smile made a beeline through the crowd and was heading towards me.

“Hi Bill, I’m Marie”. The greeting couldn’t have felt more sincere but “hang on”, I thought to myself, “how does she know my name?” The answer came in a second...

“I was at the Marcellin College Mother & Son night, thank you so much” And then Marie said, “come and meet some people”. Suddenly I’m shaking hands with people and being introduced by Marie to her colleagues of many years. Some of these people had built highly successful businesses.

“Please meet Bill, he just presented an experience last month for me and my boy that we will never forget.” Marie’s welcome was effusive. It was at that moment that a shift occurred deep inside your (yes I know you don’t believe but I’ll keep saying) shy blogger. A colleague had affirmed that the Time & Space experience had made a difference to her. She helped me believe in myself, that I was doing professional presentation work. It was real.

Marie, The Mighty Farrug'(*), as I call her, made an offer to help, be a mentor in my speaking development. We caught up not long after that meeting and a friendship has grown from there. I became aware hearing Marie share her story, that she has had her challenges – one being in the form of breast cancer. When I met Marie, she was emerging from a successful regime of treatment. We had attended events each had presented at, to be present as a supportive colleague. I was the only bloke at a session in Hawthorn where she was trying a new presentation. I thought it was brilliant. Little did I know that as she told the story of her discovery of the lump during that presentation, that only that week, had she secretly learnt that the cancer was back. In 2011, we didn’t see Marie much at all at NSAA meetings as the disease had spread. The battle was on.

Marie's hospital was just near the venue of our NSAA meetings. So I visited on my way in. The memory is still strong and clear - I can see her sparkling smile that welcomed me in. It transferred a lightness of spirit that I'm sure humbled every visitor. There's no question she was physically weakened by the gruelling medical interventions. Yet typically, this mighty person was ‘other focussed’, so keen to hear the news of our colleagues, excited to learn the latest developments for the Time & Space programs and offering, as always, generous practical tips. Here was my friend and mentor, seriously ill, demonstrating that every moment presents us with a choice about how we deal with it.

I appreciate that not everyone gets the result they want when cancer strikes. I am mindful of our friend Jacinta who is in the battle right now. Her husband Jim, tells similar stories of Jac's extraordinary determination. From July 2009 up to his passing on March 20 this year, Jim Stynes' intentionally invited us all to share in and learn from his story. We are unlikely to ever forget the dignity of his struggle. Anne Lamott in her beautiful book Bird by Bird, refers a few times to a dear inspiring friend who had cancer. Anne recalled her friend’s doctor, when the terminal stages had arrived, remarking that, “in these final weeks, she is showing you how to live.”

Just recently I got an email from Marie. I am pleased to report she is going well again. Why am I telling you her story now? Because in that email she sent this beautiful clip she had made called ‘Do it For Me.’

So this is a shout out to the Mighty Farrug'(*). Thanks for your example Marie. And what's one thing we could all do that could honour that example? I reckon maybe if that person you thought of at the start of this post is a phone call or an email away, how about about simply letting them know that it was their name that you whispered to yourself. Feel free to forward this story to them as well in a 'pay it forward' kind of way.

Thanks for giving yourself the Time & Space to read this.  Who are your mighty mentors? As always, feel free to share your thoughts and stories in the space below.

Bill Jennings

* Pronounciation goes something like this the Mighty Farroodge (Hard 'dg' sound).

Marie's website -