FOR DAN

I heard a story yesterday. It was about a friend of ours who was on a night out with his mates a few years ago. They were on their way to Boutique nightclub (an establishment many Melburnians will be familiar with), and in a bid to up their chances of getting in (as there were no girls with them) they split into two groups. The first group lined up and was successfully admitted; and as the second group approached the bouncer they were told that they could all come in too – except for Dan. Dan was a little bit overweight and obviously didn’t fit the mould of the type of clientele Boutique wanted to see in its establishment. So he went home, crestfallen.

This story was told at Dan’s funeral yesterday – he committed suicide last Tuesday night.

My friends and I have been talking a lot since we got the news, and in particular since the funeral. It’s a heartbreak many of us haven’t experienced before and we’ve all been surprised by how much it has affected us. We all grew up with Dan and his mates but I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years – if this is the impact on someone on the periphery, I shudder to think what his closest friends and family are going through.

Dan’s friends, family and girlfriend spoke at his funeral. Their stories told of a funny, kooky young man. He didn’t bother much with pleasantries. He valued interesting people, and didn’t suffer fools gladly. He was curious and adventurous, and had seen more of the world than I could fathom.

What I remember most – as clichéd as it is – is his smile. It was a perma-smile, of a variety so open and genuine that it stood out from everyone else’s.

We heard of his search for purpose – for what he wanted to do with his life. He loved music, and was a mad sports fanatic. But what he really wanted was to be a writer. He documented these hopes and dreams in a diary which was quoted in part by his father. He spoke of writing with an almost mystical adoration. I got the sense that it was to be his saviour.

A few days before his death he wrote an article for an online sports publication. It was about the Superbowl, and the spactacle of sport that only the Americans can pull off. He hadn’t told any of his mates about it – I presume he wanted to hone his skills before any of his friends or family read his work. The excitement for him at being published – at seeing his name in a byline – must have been giddying. He must have felt such hope.

So imagine my heartbreak when my friend told me after the funeral that Dan’s article had received comments from readers, trashing him for ‘buying into the hype’ of the Superbowl and shaming him for enjoying it so earnestly. Imagine how exposed, hurt and uncool Dan must have felt.

I am not insinuating that the nightclub story, nor the readers’ comments, are the reasons Dan committed suicide. A decision like that can’t be simplified down into rational moments-in-time like that. But in a time of such sadness, all we can do is think about what we can control: our own actions, and the way we treat others.

In Australia, seven people make the same decision that Dan did, every single day. Three quarters of those people are male. Boys have it so tough.

Be kind to one another. Look people in the eye, ask them how they are, and give them a smile as genuine as Dan’s.

I’m not sure what else to say, so will end it here. Goodbye Dan. I wish you could have seen how many people came to your funeral.

THE INVESTMENT DRESSER

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This week, the February edition of ELLE magazine hit the shelves in Australia. Nestled somewhere within its pages, amongst a bevvy of legitimately gorgeous and driven women, (somewhat confoundingly) is me. Leaning awkwardly against a chair. In a photograph captured miraculously between inappropriate jokes made by a nervous me for the entertainment of the crew. The article is titled* “What Successful Women Wear to Work: they’re well groomed, super-stylish and never spill their latte down their lapel. We find out their secrets…”

The workwear feature classifies each of the four of us into categories based on the editor’s view of how we dress. There was ‘The Instinctive Dresser’, ‘The Efficient Dresser’, ‘The Minimalist Dresser’ and, myself, ‘The Investment Dresser’.

This initially made me laugh. Hard. Me: the woman who is loathe to put on shoes. Whose friends have a name for her markedly lax and sparse style of dressing (if it’s short, backless or low-cut (preferrably all three) it qualifies as being in ‘the Sophie Byrne Collection’ / SBC).

But then, the interview wasn’t a lie. But for one or two inaccuracies (I wouldn’t be caught dead in kitten heels – it’s sky high or bust; and you won’t ever hear me say “I look for beautiful quality and refined detail” – I have two brothers to whom I am accountable), it was the truth. I do wear the brands I wear, and the depiction of how I get ready in the morning is accurate.

Seeing it laid out like that made me think (for the first time, probably) about my own views on outward appearances. How do other people perceive me, and how do I perceive otherse based on the same?

I absolutely have split personalities when it comes to dressing, but it’s not binary according to ‘work’ and ‘personal’ scenarios. Sometimes at work I like to dress like a rascal, and every now and then in my personal life I will enjoy getting very dressed up. If authenticity is a value of mine (which it is), then this is without doubt a manifestation. Customers are the only influence who could sober me out of whacky work outfit choices – if not for them, I’m at risk of wearing just about whatever I want. The outfit I’m wearing in the magazine is quite a conservative (albeit chic – thank you to the ELLE team) version of me. I would be just as likely to be found in skintight jeans and a shirt stolen from one of said brothers.

I’ve written before about the interplay between femininity and power and I think this also plays a part in my point of view on dressing. I don’t think you have to leave your personality behind when you step into the office, and if part of that personality involves flirtatiousness or playfulness then you should be able to reflect that (within the bounds of what’s considered professional, of course).

As for the ‘investment’ aspect to the magazine’s story – this was more of a surprise to me, and pretty embarrassing actually. I thought it made me sound out of touch and like a bit of an asshole, frankly. But when I think about it, it is possibly more accurate than I might have initially thought. I do not favour disposability, in anything. The superfluousness of things makes me angsty – whether it’s sentiments (platitudes, for example), furniture (decorative ornaments I do not understand) or clothing. I would rather buy a few things that I love and that will last me years, rather than spend the equivalent on oodles of synthetic garb at a price made possible by the exploitation of children. I’ve written also about the impact of this consumerism on the environment and it’s something I’m very conscious of. A symptom of this is that I buy some beautiful designer stuff sometimes. Over the years I guess this has amounted to a little collection of stuff that I wear most days, but I’m not someone to go out and spend thousands on a whim. I can’t.

These are my inward musings on an outward subject. Having been invited to be a part of this feature, the experience of representing the great company I work for, and for being able to champion women in tech are all things I’m very grateful for. The team at ELLE and at the photography studio were all muffins of the highest order. Thanks for listening to my ramblings and please do not hate me because I am beautiful.

 

 

* The title of this article is funny for a couple of reasons. 1) I’m not convinced I am successful; and 2) I did spill the entire contents of a latte down my lapel once, and spent the day smelling like a baby / sour milk.

HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE

Hello friends. My name is Sophie and this is my blog. It’s been some time since we last spoke so I will not pass judgment if you have forgotten who I am. Let us catch up by allowing me to talk about myself in a long-winded written format.

Despite what you might have assumed, my absence cannot be explained by my a) being locked up; b) working too hard at my actual job (pah!); or c) doing my yoga teacher training in some floorless yurt in the Hunter Valley, out of the reaches of the Telstra broadband network. No. None of these assumptions would be correct.

In fact, here are some of the things that I have been wonderfully consumed by over the last few months (aside from my day job):

  • I spent a month working for one of our customers, getting to know the ins and outs of their business. That customer was NAB (one of Australia’s big banks, for those based overseas), and I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by the team there – another post on that to come
  • I road-tripped around the Southwest of the USA with one of my best pals. We explored the trippy deserts of Arizona, sang karaoke with bikie gangs in the Joshua Tree National Park, cruised the Big Sur and met a bunch of billionaires, bearded ladies, kooks and cowboys along the way
  • I fell (back) in love
  • I moved into a beautiful apartment right by the beach, with gorgeous dark timber floorboards, original ceilings and proper furniture for grown-up humans
  • I spent two weeks at home with my family, on an island in the middle of nowhere with no shoes, no makeup and no technology. I saw fat little seal cubs, said good morning to kangaroos, stared right into the eyes of a big healthy fox and had the most glorious cuddles with my nieces, nephew and two pooches
  • And most importantly, I finally made my health (physical and mental) a priority, and made some important discoveries in doing so

While I’ve been silent on this blog, these past months have marked something of a pivotal time for me. Here are the three most important lessons I have learned, and which I hope spark some form of resonance or hunger in you:

  1. Do more of the things that give you pleasure. Looking back, I always thought I had this down. But as it turns out, one needs a broader repertoire of pleasurable activities than just ‘going out and drinking copious amounts of rosé with your girlfriends’. I’ve realised that for me, this means horse riding, camping, swimming in the ocean, reading, cooking for people I love. These are the things that have been keeping me busy, and I am a happier person because of it
  2. Get to know your mind. Learning about my own mind – how it works, what patterns it forms, how to have compassion for it instead of trying to force change upon it – has been the thing I am most proud of this year. I can’t recommend more highly investing your time and energy into this. See a psychologist if you can afford to (I reckon it’s worthwhile for everyone, and there are some excellent Medicare schemes that make it more accessible than you might think), or just read up on the subject (The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris is a good start). The mind is a fascinating thing and it’s very empowering to get to know your own
  3. See the world. I don’t mean this in an elitist “you simply MUST go to Sri Lanka daaaarling, its colonial charm is to dieee for” way. I mean see your world – the world you occupy every single day. Mindfulness is a word that we have come to associate with meditation or zen gardens, both of which I find unattainable. If I were one for coining phrases, I would suggest that ‘fullness’ is more appropriate. Do as much as you can, fully – every piece of work you’re doing, get immersed in it. The dishes, brushing your teeth, going for a walk or a swim, driving. Be there, take notice of the minutiae of and around that moment. That heavenly babe John Lennon said, “Life’s what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. There are so many tiny little wonders all around us every day. What a terrible shame to be thinking about which way to part your hair, and miss them all together.

That’s the end of my sermon for today. Writing this blog is definitely one of those pleasurable activities for me, so I will try to be better in putting words down more regularly. Apologies for the hiatus, but at least I can say I spent it wisely.

Au revoir,

Sophie

SUNDAY THERAPY

The world is noisy. Every day we navigate our way through a superabundance of information – streams of ideas, opinions, imagery and insinuations flooding our senses. Noise.

We pick up on the big things, but only for a nanosecond: Adam Goodes’ treatment by racist footy fans; Rosie Batty’s campaign against domestic violence; the constant, distant hum of bloodshed in the Middle East. These things mean something to us, we might feel something (outrage, sadness, maybe empathy) – and then we must move on in order to keep up with the litany of information. It is relentless.

Today, while sitting on my bed reading the Sunday papers, I have been reflecting on the things that matter to me. The themes that stand out amongst the information, and that I keep thinking about in the rare moments of silence. In no particular order, this is them:

  • The right to die. It wasn’t until my Dad got sick and passed away that this started to mean so much to me. The practicalities of death are gruesome, and we all deserve the right to expedite that process if we want to.
  • Indigenous affairs. In our history lessons growing up, we learned of things like ‘the pyjama girl’ and white Australian history since settlement. We never once discussed the Coniston massacre, for example, or any real detail about indigenous culture or heritage. This simply wasn’t part of our curriculum. Without education we will not see real change, and without real change we will continue to accept the presence of a third-world health standard within our own country, and the continued deterioration of the oldest race on the planet. The state of indigenous affairs in this country is appalling, and incredibly sad.
  • Marriage equality. Someone told me a story recently of a man in a long term gay relationship, who was shut out of the hospital by his dying partner’s family – unable to say goodbye and with no legal rights to be with his partner in the final days. This is why marriage equality matters.
  • Feminism. This pertains to many things, but fundamentally it is about the right to choose. Women should be able to make any of the same choices a man can, and not have to do or be something because she is a woman. It’s very simple, and accepting anything less is a sad loss for society.
  • The environment. We live fast, sheltered, digital lives, so for many it is easy to forget about what really matters – the dirt, the roots, the air, the waves and little critters that fill the ocean, valleys, streets and skies. Humans are the worst thing to ever happen to this planet, and it’s important we do our utmost to minimise our collateral damage.

The process of articulating the things that matter to you is almost like meditation in this age of information. It helps you sort through the noise, and makes you feel rooted in the few things that you stand for. Good therapy for a Sunday morning.

What are the things that matter most to you?

MORE ON PSYCHOPATHS…

One of my earliest posts covered the topic of psychopaths in business (the spotting of which has been one of my more enduring hobbies).

I referenced a book by Jon Ronson called The Psychopath Test, which I have just realised was also delivered in TED Talk format. I wanted to post it here as recommended viewing.

Go back and read my original blog post too because it demonstrates great empathy and a distinct lack of charm – both of which exempt me from being a psychopath thank you very much. Nothing to see here. Move along. Look over there while I steal your lunch money.

YOU’RE A LIAR (AND SO AM I)

If you have a large neo-cortex, you’re a liar. That means you. And me. And most monkeys, incidentally. Every one of us lies – to strangers, colleagues, friends, partners and (especially) parents. All day. Every day. Not even infants are exempt. But why is that? And what decision do we make when we choose to believe lies, as well as tell them.

In 2011, Pamela Meyer delivered a fabulous TED Talk on the subject of deception in which she discusses how to shift from lie spotting to truth seeking, and ultimately trust building. Many of the ideas in this post are hers, and I encourage you to watch her talk in full (I’ve posted it here to save you busy people some time).

Her core proposition is this: lying is a co-operative act. It is not entirely the act of the liar – it is a collaboration between both parties. If you got lied to, you agreed to be lied to. Why? Because we are all attempting to bridge the gap between who we wish we were, and who we really are.

She cites little known mid-century conman Henry Oberlander, who British authorities believe could have undermined the entire banking system of the Western world, as saying:

I’ve got one rule: everyone is willing to give you something for whatever it is they’re hungry for.

So, she says, if you don’t want to be deceived, you have to know: what is it that you’re hungry for? She went on to discuss the science behind lie spotting, and how to look for red flag behaviours like how liars shift their vocal tone and point their feet towards an exit. Or how liars project what’s called ‘duping delight’ when they think they’re getting away with a lie (with one chilling example from a mother who shot her own children). But it was this concept of knowing yourself and your own moral code in order to not be complicit in a lie that intrigued me.

Values are what gives you something to protect. Without them you have no framework for what you will or won’t do, and will just say yes to everything. That goes for how you look after your body, how you treat other people, your behaviour in relationships and the things that you’re willing – and not willing – to do. So what happens when you’re not crystal clear on what those values are?

In such a noisy world, with massive workloads and busy home lives, with social media and live feeds and blogs (like this one), do we give ourselves enough space and time to return to our values? To come back to our character, so that we know what it is that we are protecting? In Meyer’s words:

Over-sharing: that’s not honesty. Our manic tweeting and texting can blind us to the fact that the subtleties of human decency – character, integrity – that’s still what matters. That’s always what’s going to matter. So in this much noisier world it might make sense for us to be just a little bit more explicit about our moral code.

So why not take a little time today to remind yourself of what you stand for, who you are and what you expect from others, so that you can exist in the realm of the real and deception is neither delivered, nor required.

Happy Sunday, you filthy rotten liars.

A MESSAGE FOR THE FATHERS OF SONS

*I know the daughters of a few colleagues read this, so for them: this post carries a language warning.

I normally don’t get on a soapbox about misogyny, or about women in the workplace, or feminism or any other vagina-related topic. I am very actively agitating for change, but my style has never been overt on the subject. I try to steer people to the outcome in a way that makes them think it was their own idea, versus make them feel like something is being done to them.

But today is different.

Last week I got yelled at. I mean seriously yelled at. To the point where the fine gentleman in question has been arrested, charged and will go to court. While not a big deal in the scheme of things (I’m fine), it has incited me to a point that I haven’t felt in recent memory. Excuse me for the following.

Fuck men who use their physical advantage to intimidate women – it is cowardly. Fuck men who think blind rage excuses their behaviour – it is inexcusable. Fuck men who use language that undermines the fact that I was born a woman – your mother is a woman, your daughter too. Fuck men who see young women who are on their own and derive a feeling of power from making them feel afraid. That is so pathetic it’s almost funny – but not quite. Not even I can find humour in that.

But most of all, fuck men who act on any of this. In my case, this man damaged my property, not my body. But he’s still an asshole and I hope the police picked him up noisily at work in front of his female boss.

To any woman who has experienced this, you’ll know: your response depends entirely on vindication. If that man is held accountable for his behaviour, it helps you move forward. But if he is a) never found, and such escapes being held accountable; or b) is found, but the law or society does not hold him accountable – then things can become very dark, very quickly.

Last year, my Mum was assaulted. We live in a very remote part of Victoria, on an island. She was all by herself, and a man who was staying on his boat at the end of the jetty picked a fight with her after he would not tie up his dog, and ended up shoving her to the ground. She is a grandmother. She is also the most beautiful, generous, loving woman I will ever know. She was in the middle of nowhere, and completely unable to defend herself. Lucky for her, she is extremely bright and documented everything in writing straight away before calling her friend at the Water Police who paid this adorable chap a visit. He too was taken to trial and held accountable.

But with Mum and I both having experienced this within months, it makes me think: how many of these men are out there? And how many women have been made to endure this bullshit? And the most concerning part is: I look at some of the men I know, and some of the men I love, and I see these traits. Only sometimes, and only in some of them. But they’re there. There isn’t always a hard line of “this is completely unacceptable”.

And this takes away my anger, and just leaves me sad. I can’t effect change among this type of “man”. I can talk logically when they’re not angry, and they might agree with me. But when these men are in a rage, their prejudice comes back and so too does their grotesque abuse of power. I can’t change that.

But you know who can? Their Dads. Maybe we can’t impact the men who are already grown – they just have to die out. But tomorrow’s men: Dads can make them excellent. Dads can help them use their brains to express anger – not their fists. Dads can make them more adept at understanding their own triggers and biases – and disassociate that with crass external parallels like the hatred of women. Dads can breed good men. Strong men. Smart men.

So if you’re a Dad, or if you will one day be a Dad, consider what son you want to create. And in doing so, consider what daughter you want to protect.

 

 

 

THE BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY THAT IS BALANCE

Balance. It’s something that we put a lot of focus on. Balance between work and life. Between Yin and Yang. Virtue and indulgence. Once you start tuning in to it, you see the degree to which we put balance on a pedestal and spend our lives and dollars trying to achieve that sacred state. Markets have been created out of this pursuit – millionaires made. We take our cues from the demi-Gods of balance like Pete Evans, Jodhi Meares and Belle Gibson.

But as with each of those identities, the closer you look, the emptier the notion of balance becomes.

What I do believe is that you have your best shot at happiness and equilibrium by focusing on two things: fundamentals, and experiences.

Before Easter this year, I was feeling decidedly out of whack. I knew I was busy but I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt like I was on a fast track to burning out. I was having a great time. It was late nights and early mornings, full days and fun nights. I didn’t have time for boring stuff like supermarket shops or home cooking. I would dance into the night instead of go for a run in the morning. I hadn’t had a weekend in Sydney in what felt like months and was travelling interstate or overseas almost weekly. I was working hard, and filling every other minute with some kind of activity.

What I didn’t realise until I went home to the country for Easter, was that I had been completely neglecting the fundamentals. Things that keep me sane like routine, the ritual of stocking the fridge full of fruits and vegetables and actually cooking, reading a book and – stop the press – having a night in. Once I got home and (by symptom of how remote our house is) switched off,  I noticed that my physical health was seriously sub-standard and my mental health was almost in tatters. I was as anaemic as a character from Le Misérables, so wound up my family almost didn’t recognise me, and I had the immune system of a toddler. I surprised even myself that I had let things get that bad.

None of what I was doing was bad, necessarily. But I had become so focused on having great experiences that I had neglected to take care of the fundamentals.

Since reminding myself of this and articulating it so simply, my physical and mental equilibrium is back in order. Balance is too loaded an aspiration, and too fragile a state to aspire to. But making sure that I focus first on the fundamentals and then have great experiences (not the other way around), is far more sensible. And it’s free.

If that’s balance, then I’m in.

THANK YOU

One year ago I went for dinner with a girlfriend and the conversation went something like this:

Her: “You should start a blog. More wine?”

Me: “Ok. And yes.”

And so, in those inspired moments, WorkLifeWork was born. Over the last 12 months I have written about everything from psychopaths in business to homelessness; what it feels like to be bullied to naked yoga; anxiety, faux pas, discrimination and the interplay between femininity and power. Some 34 posts about God knows what.

I expected to enjoy having a blog – I have always found writing fun and enormously cathartic.

What I didn’t expect was how many people would give a shit. Every time someone tells me they’ve read one of my stories, I can only blink at them in disbelief. I find it so cool, and so humbling that anybody would give up their precious minutes to read my ramblings. Not least intelligent people like you.

Thank you for tolerating my offensive language. Thank you for allowing me to be so honest in the things I share. And thank you for your feedback (in person, by email/tweets/LinkedIn or by comments on my posts).

There are some amazing minds reading this silly little blog and allowing my strange thoughts to enter – you are brave, generous and a touch unusual.

Thank you to every one of you. I love you all, you filthy animals.

I LIKE TO WATCH FILMS (NOT TV)

Short post today – possibly because I am disillusioned by the concept of the English language.

I’m currently looking for an apartment, which means I have been exposed to the blasphemously embellished realm of real estate jargon. The following examples are, I’m sorry to say, unedited. The people who wrote these things exist and are walking the streets. Lock up your intellects.

Here are some of the examples I have encountered just this afternoon.

Exhibit #1 (funniest when taken into account that the apartment in question is in fact a shit hole):

Warmly caressing the immaculate backdrop of the ever-majestic Bondi Beach, this fully furnished studio apartment offers a classically stylish paradigm snuggled magnificently against a swanky elegance, to deliver a phenomenal living proposition.

Or this one, from a woman looking to fill her second room:

I’m an active female professional, into creative stuff, outdoors. Seeking flatmate(s) who would not have a party at home and I like to watch films (not TV).

Thanks for letting me know, lady. My favourite though, without a doubt, was this to-the-point and wildly ambitious ad title:

3 girls wanted for Massive 1 bedroom apartment.

I wish someone would write a real estate ad that was realistic.

This tiny apartment situated in a fairly good location (disregarding complete lack of parking), is well suited to a single white female who spends most of her money on shoes and wine and can’t really afford a great place. Darker than you would expect, this flat has a cheap new tile job that photographs well – sure to disappoint both you and your guests when experienced in person. Happy renting you pathetic losers!