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Adventures of Re-

Adventures of Re: May

Oscar Foulkes June 5, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

– Dr Seuss

During my conversation with Heather Parker (read about it here), she mentioned that in addition to her executive MBA, she had also trained as a life coach. On the basis that I wouldn’t dream of tackling Cape Epic without a coach, I felt that this important process similarly needed a coach.

At the end of the day, the coachee is the person doing the work and making things happen, but it helps to have the structure of a process, as well as an outside pair of eyes to help find perspective.

At Heather’s instigation, one of the first steps was to do an Enneagram test. The results generally fell within the parameters of what I thought I knew about myself, but also opened my eyes to a few things. These were overlaid with the outcomes of the ‘purpose exercise’ she shared with me. This was used to get a rough outline in place.

In the spirit of active recovery, I made contact with a friend who runs an NGO. It turns out that this organisation is about to embark on a radical reinvention process. My friend immediately included me in a bunch of meetings related to their intended changes. It remains to be seen how I can contribute (it’s looking to me as if they are pretty well resourced from a skilled humans perspective), but it’s been exciting to witness the emergence of something as revolutionary as they are planning. It’s certainly been an eye-opener to experience the openness with which I’ve been included.

One of the benefits of this interaction is that it’s giving me the opportunity of trying out the ‘wild card role’ that I’ve often been drawn by, and which seems to be indicated by the Enneagram results.

Regardless of self-indulgent reinvention processes, one needs income. One of the commercial enterprises I identified was pinhooking, essentially the purchase of yearling Thoroughbreds, with the aim of selling them as early two-year-olds on a Ready to Run sale, which is something I’ve done on a small scale before. I’m doing this as part of a partnership, so that I can get something of a portfolio in place to spread the risk. We did most of our buying in April, but during May we also bought a weanling that we’ll sell as a yearling in January. The downside, of course, is that the income is preceded by expenditure, but at least it’s a start.

A major positive is that I don’t need to take on the risk of starting a fully-fledged business. And, it flows naturally from existing skills, knowledge and experience.

Horses also feature in my interim plan, by way of Sergeant Hardy and others. The month started hopefully, with Sergeant Hardy contesting a major race in Johannesburg. Being the top-rated sprinter in the country, and having won a similar race at the end of January, I had high hopes of him finishing in the money. However, altitude seemed to get the better of him, and he ran unplaced.

The one thing I can say for certainty about the ‘business’ of owning horses is that one lives in hope. Over the seven-day period from 26 May, we had six runners. Four of them were favourites (i.e. the top selection in the betting), including Sergeant Hardy. There’s no need to go into the details of what happened in each case, but the end result was two fifths and two fourths. The positive is that each of them must be close to being winning prospects next time out. Well, that’s the hope.

It can be tempting to give in to the embrace of depression. It doesn’t take much more than some sleep deprivation, perhaps combined with a broken exercise pattern and a couple of things that haven’t turned out as expected. Before you know it, your brain has started to assemble confirmatory negative thoughts. While cycling on Sunday morning, I noticed my brain doing this. In response, I made a concerted effort to snap out of it. I don’t mean to trivialise the situation of people for whom depression is an illness. However, I’d be failing this process and accompanying journal if I didn’t report those feelings, however temporary.

One of my coffee sessions during the month was with Vanessa Raphaely, who left her position as Cosmopolitan editor, not to mention the structure/comfort of family business, to find a new direction. Her advice boiled down to two words: “Just do.”

In the course of ‘just doing’, she has written a children’s book and a novel. But perhaps her biggest achievement over the past few years is a Facebook group, The Village, which is a brilliant resource for parents of tweens and teenagers. It must rank as one of the very few parts of the Internet where comments are made in huge quantity without even the slightest bit of trolling, flaming or hate speech. In fact, it may be the online world’s most supportive space, which could explain its growth to nearly 20 000 members, a high percentage of whom engage on a regular basis.

“Just do” also happens to be a perfect antidote to the states of mind that most easily slide into depression’s dark embrace. More importantly, by ‘doing’ we take the first steps into the future.

In theory, this woolly chap is going to develop into a strapping yearling by late January.

In theory, this woolly chap is going to develop into a strapping yearling by late January, earning us a profit.

Identifying as Vegetarian

Oscar Foulkes May 17, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
Our family has taken the Meatless May pledge, in terms of which we are vegetarian from Monday to Thursday. This is admittedly the entry level option offered, in that we have left foods like eggs and cheese on the menu.

To some extent, it’s not a radical change, because we were doing at least one night a week of veg anyway. Also, chicken and fish have been our predominant forms of animal protein for some time, rather than beef or lamb.

The major difference is that the commitment applies for four lunches as well as four dinners. I think it’s important to have this level of discipline in the way the eating plan is applied in order for the campaign to have any effect.

All of us – and I’m including vegetarians and vegans in this – need to be more conscious of the impact that our food choices have on the environment. Whether it’s the out-of-season vegetables that are flown in from halfway around the world, or the quinoa that is not necessarily grown in a sustainable manner, or the dairy cows expelling methane, they all have an impact.

The main thing I’ve learnt is that it takes a heap of extra effort to get sufficient nutrition if you’re on a training programme. I’ve had a few dark hours over the past couple of weeks, as a result of burning energy on the bike, and meals that haven’t done all they needed to.

But, on balance, it’s been a positive experience. We’ve had to be a lot more creative in menus and recipes, plus the little bit of animal protein we get over the weekends has turned into a major treat. For all my love of chickpeas, great roast chicken is something I look forward to!

The other little surprise of the month has been that I suddenly realised I needed to indicate a dietary requirement when RSVP-ing for functions. Identifying as vegetarian felt significant. While it’s not on the scale of an unexpected declaration of sexual preference, expressing a new kind of identity – in the context of my current ‘Life of Re_’ process – was a little bit of a jolt.

As it turned out, the communication that reached the venue was that I needed diabetic dessert. Given that I hardly ever eat dessert anyway, this was quite funny.

The meat eaters had a choice of delicious looking bobotie, or beef stew, or chicken pie (most guests piled their plates with all three). As no particular provision had been made for me, I made do with Caesar salad, Caprese, potato salad, as well roasted green beans and courgettes. After finishing these, I found some homemade hummus on the table.

Fortunately, the venue was Boschendal, where everything had been grown on-site in their organic vegetable garden. The flavours of everything – even the out-of-season tomatoes – were striking. And, the preparation had been handled by a kitchen team headed by Christiaan Campbell. It could only be delicious. In fact, it would have been a shame to divert attention from the fabulous produce by piling the plate with meat.

At the risk of being accused of contriving to find a message relevant to a period of ‘re-‘, I would highlight two aspects:

  • the experience of ‘identifying as’ something new
  • giving pride of place (i.e. undivided attention) to something that would otherwise have been a sideshow

Food is the meeting point of culture, religion, psychology/personal history, economics, creativity, science and more. It’s a pretty good starting point for exploring and evaluating identity with a view to being fully ‘conscious’ about future life choices.

Regardless of life choices, one of my meal choices for the weekend will be roast chicken (free-range, of course).

Carrots being harvested at Boschendal (pic: Boschendal)

Carrots being harvested at Boschendal (pic: Boschendal)

Nils Flaatten – Prepare for the second half

Oscar Foulkes May 11, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
While waiting for my coffee shop meeting with Nils Flaatten, I was eavesdropping on a financial adviser running his client through her expected financial position at age 65. It was more than a little sobering to process the numbers. It’s a good thing I don’t have any retirement aspirations!

Nils has intimate knowledge of casting around for new opportunities, having spent two years looking for his next big idea.

His advice to me was simple: “Look at your swim lane.” In other words, what are your fields or skills, and is there a way of finding an overlap between them? This would admittedly be the more conservative way of approaching this kind of situation than an outright fresh start in a completely new direction/lane. People in the tech world would describe this as a ‘pivot’. The rest of us will just say that someone has reinvented themselves.

His observation, also, is that for all its apparent economic vibrancy, the Western Cape is a difficult space in which to launch new ventures.

He went to great lengths to illustrate how shallow one’s ‘network’ can be. If one starts the process expecting little of the network there is less room for resulting disappointment (if not outright depression). Having said this, ‘the network’ is a useful route to “adjacent possibilities” as described in this interesting TED Talk.

Nils asked me some key questions, the first of which related to the kind of financial buffer I might have. In other words, how long before the money runs out? It’s not something one likes to think about, but it’s an important parameter.

His second question was as direct, although it dealt with a different aspect of this process: “What are you going to do at 10.00 on a Monday morning?” In other words, the school run is finished, you’ve possibly had a coffee with someone at 8.00, and now you’re back home.

This partially relates to active recovery, but it’s also about warding off boredom, isolation and depression.

Nils disagreed with me saying that I was hitting the reset button, making the point that this was more a recalibration for the second half of my life. In fact, with us living productive lives for much longer (not to mention the likelihood of our retirement savings not lasting) we have to keep preparing ourselves for the economies of the future.

He asked me if I listen to podcasts, and then proceeded to recommend Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale.

When I mentioned that I’d thought of blogging my experiences during this process, he suggested that I name it Adventures of Re- (with apologies to Ravi Naidoo for appropriating his concept).

The prefix “re-“ is attached to a bunch of neat words that fit in with the concept of making a fresh start. Given the progression of the morning, you might think that “retirement” is a negative slant on things.

However, I invite you to look at the etymology of “retire”, which has French origins:
re- (back)
tirer (draw/pull)
So, withdraw.

In French, a corkscrew is un tire-bouchon (in other words, draw/pull the cork, which relates to the Afrikaans kurktrekker).

I like the idea of looking at the years leading up to reTIREment as a pulling of the cork in order to release something beautiful. Perhaps, despite our failing bodies, parts of us can get better with age. Just like wine.

Swimming Pool Lane, a photograph by Skip Nall

Swimming Pool Lane, a photograph by Skip Nall

Heather Parker: Living with purpose

Oscar Foulkes May 8, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
I met Heather Parker the journalist more than 20 years ago. Having fulfilled a variety of roles in publishing, by the age of 47 she reached a point where journalism had become a dead end for her. Not because possible avenues had closed off, but to borrow from HD Thoreau, she felt she had “sucked out all the marrow of” journalism. Or perhaps it was in danger of sucking the marrow out of her.

She then started an executive MBA at an age when her friends were starting to think about taking their feet off the gas. Instead, she entered what could have been the eve of retirement in full generative mode.

If ever there was a ‘pivot’, this was it. I thought that she would be a prime candidate for offering guidance on the process of ‘taking a fresh look’.

Far from launching straight into prescriptions, she opened with a beautiful affirmation. Much of our hour together involved so much of her listening empathetically that it took me a while to pull together the bits of guidance that she dropped into the conversation (and I have no doubt that there are important bits I haven’t held onto).

This was as much about me reconnecting with my positive energy as it was about her sharing wisdom. It was a master class in how to handle someone coming to you for help.

One of her major themes was doing stuff in the final third of our lives that draws together – and honours – the first two-thirds.

Following on from this was the need to put a stake in the ground with respect to how our output is valued. ‘Not settling’ also applies to the new direction we decide to follow.

It is easy to become shrill about matters of being monetarily valued, but she was being assertive in the most gentle way possible.

She spoke about the need to share the lessons we’ve learned; to enrich the lives of those around us.

Heather introduced me to Otto Scharmer’s concept of the “emerging future”. Without having read his book, the next best way of sharing this with you is this paragraph from Patrick McNamara’s review of Leading from the Emerging Future on Kosmosjournal.com:

“At the core is a shift of the interior condition of the leader. That is a shift of perspective—connected to source, sensing the emerging future and letting go of fighting the old system. It’s about shifting the place from where we operate so there is increased awareness, a stronger sense of purpose, and an intuitive notion of what is emerging … Another critical component is the way [the] model includes all stakeholder groups and integrates across multiple sectors—engaging the whole system with an intention to serve the highest good of all.”

Heather spoke about an exercise she likes to do annually to ensure she’s on the right path, and sent me the diagram that forms the basis of it (alongside). This is a difficult process at the best of times (I can attest to that!), so it’s great to have a neat way of corralling one’s thinking on the issue.

After an hour, Heather Parker the coach excused herself for a meeting with an aspirant journalist seeking career guidance. The young woman was radiating eagerness. How interesting, I thought, for Heather to move on to that particular type of glow, having helped dust off the gleam on a patina worn by my 51 years of living.

I'd love to credit whoever's original work this is, but I've been unable to find any such reference on the interwebs (and it seems other people are similarly confounded).

I’d love to credit whoever’s original work this is, but I’ve been unable to find any such reference on the interwebs (and it seems other people are similarly confounded).

AfrikaBurn: Great for ‘Re-‘

Oscar Foulkes May 3, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
It seemed appropriate to be going to AfrikaBurn in the first month of my ‘fresh look’. People’s experiences and perceptions of the event vary, so I’m going to stick with my perspective (you can read my previous AfrikaBurn posts here and here).

My observation is that it’s a space in which judgement is suspended. While it may be completely divorced from so-called reality, that’s a big part of the appeal.

There are people who fly to Tankwa, but there’s something to the final 120km driven on dreadful gravel roads. I’ve described the drive as akin to a birthing process, in which one is delivered into an alternative reality.

Much of what happens at Tankwa wouldn’t happen in a regular day in the city. It’s space in which to play, to explore, and to reconnect with parts of ourselves that have been inhibited. I think it’s relevant that getting there is difficult.

This was my fifth AfrikaBurn. While there have been differences in my experiences, the one common feature is that I generally find myself experiencing stuff on an emotional level. And it’s not necessarily predictable what those emotions might be.

I had primed my brain to use this time to explore alternative scenarios for myself. I don’t know if there was much action in that regard, but it certainly was four days of decompression.

One of the highlights was dancing on the far edge of the playa as the sun was setting on a beautiful day and an almost-full moon was rising on the opposite side of the desert.

I’ve returned feeling refreshed and relaxed, with a sense of creativity I haven’t had for a long time. The first days back have also been hugely productive, in that I’ve written three different pieces, comprising nearly 4000 words.

As far as ‘Adventures of Re-‘ are concerned, AfrikaBurn would be a double thumbs-up. I’m loving this feeling of being energised.

AfrikaBurn-style cycling kit

AfrikaBurn-style cycling kit

Ravi Naidoo: Life of Re_

Oscar Foulkes April 17, 2018 Adventures of Re- 1 comment
I shouldn’t have expected anything less than supercharged inspiration from my hour-and-a-bit with Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo.

In reference to my ‘fresh look’, I observed that I’ve come across many men my age taking a sabbatical with a view to starting something new. However, it seems that this isn’t always a period in which new directions flourish.

Ravi’s view is that many have left corporate life, so the absence of defined structure or direction turns into a problem. On the other hand, entrepreneurial types live the life of modern day hunter-gatherers. It’s not to say that this group doesn’t experience difficulty in the face of not being able to kick-start that fresh beginning, but it’s more ‘normal’ to be hustling for opportunities.

In chatting about the implications of this downtime, I painted the picture of the stereotypical wait for the telephone to ring.

Ravi spoke about the value of ‘active recovery’. He was referencing weight training, but there was active recovery throughout my cycling training, so the concept struck a chord with me.

In essence, recovery from intense training sessions requires some kind of appropriate activity, not complete rest.

The implication for this ‘fresh look’ period is that one should remain active, even if it’s volunteer work. For inspiration we could also be immersing ourselves in new experiences.

Finally, Ravi introduced the concept of “Life of Re_”, which has wide-ranging implications. To quote from the YPO conference he is organising with that theme:

“In the tech world, software is in perpetual beta, never fully finished, constantly updated. As newly minted digital citizens, this is a process we could emulate. To live La Vida Beta. By leaning forward optimistically into the future to re-skill, re-tool, re-boot, re-invent. Welcome to the Life of Re_. A new way of being. A life of constant upgrade and improvement.”

It’s all about words that start with “re-“.

phone

Introducing a new theme

Oscar Foulkes April 16, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
This blog started as a repository of writings about things that give me pleasure; alternatively subjects that are covered ‘at my pleasure’. Eating and drinking featured, for obvious reasons.

2015 was a particularly barren year, and then 2016 kicked off with a few posts about the experience of being ‘treated’ for cancer with radiotherapy (absolutely no pleasure in that!). I led straight into two years of sharing my experience of training for – and riding – Cape Epic. Reading the blog is optional, of course, but there wasn’t much for people that weren’t interested in following the journey of a person willfully putting himself through a tough time (that journey has been covered by others here and here, if you want a quick snapshot; alternatively follow this tag on my blog).

The central theme over more than 12 years, though, is me sharing personal experience. There are times that I tend to rush where angels fear to tread, which can result in some ‘interesting’ experiences. There’s always learning involved, but seeing as I’m as happy learning by experience as getting told stuff, this is not a bad thing.

Which brings me to the experiences that I’m expecting to provide the theme for blog posts for the foreseeable future. As a result of parts of the family business downsizing, I am voluntarily without structured employment.

I’m using this as an opportunity for ‘taking a fresh look’. It’s also a prime opportunity to catch up with people I’ve been meaning to see, but have just not got around to. Getting guidance on this ‘fresh look’ thing wasn’t the objective, but the first few interactions have spontaneously yielded such great insights that I have to share them.

I should add that my daughter, in her final year of undergraduate study, is on the lookout for productive internship or part-time employment, and my matric son is having to make decisions about what to do next year. So, while I’m in a different position on the ‘life curve’, all three of us are going through a similar process.

Updates to follow…

One cannot talk about making fresh starts without referencing Oh, The Places You’ll Go.