1) “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
Ever waited for an Irish bus to arrive? Or have you ever been told when it finally did that there’s no more room for more people and you have to wait another hour for the next one? Or have you ever waited in line and the cashier couldn’t bother to stop talking to her co-worker, scanning the items as slow as possible. Yep – that’s Ireland. In Sligo, I learned to slow down for a simpler small town life.
Big city living runs on a jam-packed schedule and before you know it, your week has been booked up with the array of things to do on offer: art exhibition opening night on Monday; indie gig on Tuesday; trivia night on Wednesday – you get the gist. It can be punishing for the soul that needs time to just be. For me, I spent my new-found free time staring out the window day dreaming, writing (something my coach had been encouraging me to do for over a year), listening to new podcasts with an unquotable thirst for learning and plowing through a long list books that I had wanted to read for ages. While noodling on new ideas, I also noticed I could de-clutter my mental space in my smaller life. Gone was the white noise of “shoulds” and it was easier to shift from my default setting of go-go-go. I felt enormously empowered and liberated by doing so. Living in a smaller town enabled me to smell the proverbial roses, and to focus on the things that matter most. And with my new playful and exploratory frame of mind, I filled so many pages in my notebook with frenzied notes of ideas and inspiration... a feeling that I had missed over the past few years. It felt like the fog of boredom had been lifted and synapses were sparkling with new connections. I felt like I had 2,934 tabs open in my brain's mental internet browser, an endless horizon of different doors of possibility!
2) “Education is not the filling of a pail, but a lighting of a fire.”
I loved working with the Firefly team! For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to introduce an organization to new ideas to a team of extremely dedicated staff. Essentially, I got to play ‘teacher’ for a few months. So, what about this learning fire that Yeat's writes about?
With summers spent at our cabin in rural British Columbia, I’ve learned a lot about lighting fires (...and for that matter, filling pails). When you return to your tent after a day outdoors and dusk is drawing in, is there anything more magical than the glow of a campfire to see you through the evening? Whilst I’m not going to go full-on Bear Grylls-survival on you, lighting a fire is a critical metaphor for learning and change.
First, you have to prepare the ground. You need a clear a space and firm earth is best so you have a foundation to build on. Same for organizations. Then you have harness your inner lumberjack and split the logs to create some kindling since you can’t expect half a tree trunk to catch alight by waving a match under it. I like that satisfying thunk! and the feeling of power, seeing that big obstinate piece of wood showing a new fissure as the result of my efforts. Building on Yeats’s metaphor, I think teaching is about helping people split old ideas apart and using the wood to make kindling for new ideas to catch on. I hope that I’ve given the team some new tools to help them shift their perspectives, challenge ideas, and spark ideas.
Once you have a small spark, fires also need space to breathe... which is true for teams when they are learning as well. People in all parts of the system need freedom to try out ideas, feel supported, but also room to test out, iterate, fail without constant scrutiny. I think we’ve all made the mistake of piling on a ton of massive logs... usually guarantees the tiny flame will go out. When starting a fire, you also need to be patient. Feed the fire slowly and give it some love. Change in organizations requires the exact same formula.
Lighting a fire is relatively easy, it’s keeping it going that can be a bit trickier. Leadership is important in organisations, so that those small fires aren’t extinguished but so are opportunities to support each other and make connections – through established networks and loose ties to make things happen. We know that lots of people have been inspired by the stories they heard and want to create change but are tentative about the next step. How can we fan their flames?
We all have the opportunity to be a ‘master igniter’ in our worlds. My hope is that I have encouraged the Firefly team to take risks and I am hoping that for some the materials burst into flames.
3) "The worst thing about some men is that when they are not drunk they are sober.”
I bet many of you are curious how my pub exposure therapy worked out? Have I mastered the Zen of a solitary pint? I’m am happy to report that that it no longer makes me petrified but is it my favourite? Not yet. Even after months of practice, I still hesitate to do it again each time the opportunity comes up and have to talk myself into it.
But I have made progress. Rather than thinking of myself as the friendless pariah forced to drink alone, I think of myself as the gal who’s confident enough in her own company to sit in a social environment alone. I’m that girl, queen of the barstool. Solitude and mystery are your friends and no one should be on the receiving end of a stranger’s pitying eyes when all you want to do is chill out with your old mates Gin and Tonic.
My spiral bound notebook continued to remain my trusty sidekick and without it, I still feel a bit exposed. While it is true that engaging in some form of banal activity that prompts curiosity (but not intimidation) helps start conversations but I found most successful conversations started when I was (discreetly) eavesdropping and then at a prime moment inserted a witty snip-it into their conversation (rather than people approaching me with the intent to start a conversation). I think this signalled that I wasn’t wallowing in my self-pity because my Tinder date stood up but was instead enjoying a solo bevvy and up for some light conversation and witty banter with my barstool neighbours. I’ll miss the friendliness of pub culture complete with freshly poured Guinness and little ditty coming from the house-grown band in the corner.
4) “There are no strangers here. Just friends you haven’t met yet.”
The people I met while living in Sligo are far-and-away the highlight. To the Firefly team – you made Sligo feel like home. Just to embarrass you all a little bit and know how what an impression you’ve left with me:
I will miss teatime gossip, dance parties, trying to figure what you are saying (oh the accents!), and pints after work on Friday. Please know that wherever I end up, you are always welcome when you decide you want to do a “soul sabbatical” of your own!
I am not entirely ready to head off yet (in part because I am heading into the unknown) but I stuck with my plan to keep moving because I never intended to stay in one place the entire year and I can feel how easily it is to settle in and become ‘comfortable’ here. As W.B. Yeats wrote, "were we not born to wander?"
So long, farewell Ireland. Next up, Paris!
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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