The Happiness Risk

3 Friday, February 22nd, 2013

“How’s the book going?”

It’s the question that seems to have defined me during the last 10 months. It’s the first question friends, family and acquaintances ask me when I bump into them on the street, answer the telephone or receive an email. Sometimes I wonder what they ever asked me before.

“Yeah, really good thanks!” is the automated response.

“How are you surviving?”

That’s always the second question.

It’s the more difficult of the two to answer because it changes daily, often by the minute.

Depending on my mood, I usually respond with some chirpy variation of “Yeah, just plugging away”. But the truth is, it’s been much harder than I thought. It’s been a slog.

There are days where my existence of getting up at 7am, swimming 2km, sitting down at my computer at 9am, writing with few breaks until 5pm, getting in my car and going to my part-time job at 6pm, working until midnight and then driving home to sleep, resembles such a lack of a life that I want to chuck in the towel. How on earth did Bryce Courtenay bang out best sellers every year for more than two decades?

On the surface it often seems that writing about my 30 Days for 30 Years adventure is not nearly as exciting as living it.

But when I think about it carefully, I realise it’s not, in fact, the case. Writing this book has brought with it endless firsts:

–      I get to go to work in sweat pants and without a skerrick of make-up on.

–      I get to share cups of tea with my father.

–      I get to be excited when the postman delivers large satchels addressed to “Australia’s Next Big Thing” containing page upon page of my manuscript, which has been dutifully scribbled on with red pen by friends offering words of brutal yet brilliant criticism alongside softer words of encourage.

–      I get to mirror the life of Charles Bukowski, the famous poet, novelist and short story writer, who worked at a post office to make ends meet while living the life of a struggled author. While his sojourn as a mail sorter also offered him a break from getting black-out drunk all the time, mine allows me to work with a group of people I would not otherwise have met. A group of people whose ethnicities are so broad ranging, I am motivated to write quicker just so I can get on a plane and visit their homelands and see them for myself.

–      And best of all, I get to relive every painstaking bit of my trip again, albeit in memories.

So, how IS the book going?

I have one final chapter to write – about my time in Israel – and I begin it today with excitement and mild trepidation that this phase of the journey is about to be over and the hard work of editing, refining and finding a publisher behinds.

If you head to your local newsagent this month, you will find the March edition of Women’s Health & Fitness Magazine featuring a story about my 30 Days for 30 Years adventure. It’s entitled Ready, Set, Risk, and features the stories of six individuals who have connected with their inner daredevil to do something different with their lives.

My part is appropriately dubbed “The Happiness Risk”.

The wonderful Pip Jarvis, who wrote the article, ponders this question:

Why do some people wonder ‘what would happen if…’ (and promptly book a flight to somewhere wild and exotic), while others sit in their comfort zones asking ‘but what if?’

Take a look:


30 Days of Drinking with Strangers

2 Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Name: Philip Mccluskey

Occupation: Travel writer

Twitter: @ThirstyWanderer

How we met: Phil, a Pittsburgh native, and I met in Beijing last year where we both took part in the Great Wall Marathon. He did the half marathon and finished about five hours earlier than me but was kind enough to stick around and cheer me across the finish line when pretty much everyone else had gone home. Good guy Phil. 

I chose Phil to start 30 Days – The Collection because I love the concept of his blog, which centres around drinking with strangers. As children we are taught not to speak to strangers, but as someone who has relied on them heavily in the last 12 months, I would implore all of you to put aside any prejudices you may have and give it a go. It might just change your life. 

Introducing, Phil:

It was the American musician and proud inebriate George Thorogood who sang: “When I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself.”

I, on the other hand, prefer to do my solitary drinking in the company of strangers.

Perhaps an explanation is in order. Travel has been a big part of my life, and more often than not, I have ended up traveling alone. Over time, I realized that some of my favorite travel moments involved a conversation with a stranger while I was in a strange land. Usually at a bar.

So I decided to start a writing project subtly titled A Drink with a Stranger.

Phil and I in Beijing

The idea is simple: meet a person, and have a drink and a conversation with them. It’s an opportunity to learn about someone I wouldn’t have met otherwise and, hopefully, delve a little below the surface small talk. It’s a connection over cocktails. (Or in my case, more often a beer.)

I’ve been at it for well over a year now, and it’s safe to say that no 30 days are the same. Sometimes I simply go to a bar by myself, order a drink, and sit there reading or watching a game, and hope to strike up a conversation with someone. Other times I send an email to a person—either based on a recommendation from another stranger I’ve met, or simply someone interesting I read about online—and ask them to have a drink over Skype. Still others—and these are the most difficult—I approach in person and introduce myself.

Because that’s the underlying purpose behind this: to knock down a few of the walls between me and the rest of the world. I’m attempting to stretch my comfort zone a bit. Some days I’m good at it, some days I’m not; but the project ensures it’s on my mind. If nothing else, it keeps thirst at bay.

So far, the project has been better than I could have hoped. I’ve had drinks with many strangers, and have been reminded that everyone has a story to tell.

There was the zombie scientist and the robot scientist.

There was the woman I met in Massachusetts who was teaching in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, and the woman who is taking a different risk every day for a year.

There was the 70-year-old former millionaire and recovering meth-head I had a beer with in Nebraska, and the 70-year-old French Canadian guy I met in India who told me about his 26-year-old inamorata in Cuba (with the Taj Mahal as a backdrop).

And of course, there was the stranger I had a beer with in Beijing. She was traveling around the world for a year, taking 30 days to do specific things she’d always wanted to do.

Which reminds me of another great thing about drinking with strangers. Sometimes, those strangers become friends.


Check out some of Phil’s blogs:

The one about me: Running and Jumping

The one about the 70-year-old former millionaire meth-head: Destiny has a nickname

The one about the zombie scientist: Brains

The one with the 70-year-old with the 26-year-old girlfriend: Still climbing

The one with the robot scientist: Robots are humans too

Check out my first meeting with Phil via the blog post ‘The Asian Squat

30 Days of Embracing Your Backstory

5 Monday, July 16th, 2012

Tracy and I at Christina’s wedding

Name: Tracy VanderZalm

Occupation: Super mum of four!


How we met: Technically Tracy and I used to work together but I really know her is as the beautiful big sister of my equally beautiful friend Christina. She is also mother to four of the most stunning kids you’ve ever seen, including a daughter who had this to say recently after cutting her own hair:

Tracy: “Did you cut your hair?”
Her daughter: “No.”
Tracy: “I can see that you have.”
Her daughter: “How? I hid all of the hair in my cupboard.”

So cute. 

Meet the affable Tracy:

Not only is a Protractor a tool for measuring angles, but it was my nickname throughout my schooling life.  I accept I may have been a novelty to some.  Especially to those who couldn’t quite grasp the idea of how I could have a surname like Prochazka yet speak in Aussie slang just like everyone else.

My parents are Czech and I was always quick to inform my peers that Prochazka (although it sounded like Protractor) actually meant Walker in English.  “So, really, I’m Tracy Walker,” I would say in my best ‘please accept me’ voice.

Tracy’s heritage is steeped in culture

It was hard to fit in with a typical European mum who often weeded the garden in her underwear, our multi-coloured curtains left little to the imagination and having friends over for dinner meant eating meals that often looked like a mountain of icing sugar.

In a last ditch effort to make friends, I shared the story of my Polish grandma and how she was taken from her bed in the middle of the night.  She was 15.  How she worked in a concentration camp before a Czech soldier helped her escape.  How she hid in his cupboard for years and how the Communists’ refusal to allow her to visit her dying mother haunted her everyday of her life.

Granted, it lacked a comical flavour.  In fact, I think it scared my friends half to death.  I was dubbed a liar.  From then, I resented my Czech heritage and all of the cork lino and artificial flowers that came with it.

With age came a logical sense of maturity, acceptance and, dare I say, a new group of friends.  But it was during a 30 day pilgrimage to Poland and the Czech Republic last year where I found my true self.

Tracy (right) with her husband Gene (left) and her father in front of his holiday house as a child. Tracy says this property in Czech is her dad’s favourite place in the whole world.

With husband in tow and the assurance that our four children would still be here when we returned, we accompanied my parents and took the leap of faith.

It was the first time in my 35 years that I saw my dad’s eyes relax.  He was home and I loved him for it.

I met my aunty who looks just like my dad, who smiles just like my sister.  My cousin’s daughter is the female version of my second son.  My grandma’s sister is as strong and as beautiful as I imagined.

And me, well I know why I’m stubborn, why my cheeks strain my eyes when I laugh, why I dip raw carrots in icing sugar and why I secretly always loved those multi-coloured curtains.

The next step is to take our brood…  Then maybe my eldest son will understand why his mum likes to mow the lawns in her bikini.

Tracy and her dad looking out over Karlovy Vary – his hometown.


30 Days of Giving up Your Day Job

1 Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Picture: James Mepham

Name: Emma Morris

Occupation: Publicist


How we met: Emma and I went to school together. She was a couple of years younger than me but our friendship began when we were partnered together for a dance sequence in our school’s Rock Eisteddfod entry. She was dressed up to be my male partner a) because we had an uneven female to male ratio and So You Think You Can Dance hadn’t made dancing cool for boys yet, and b) because I was way too chesty to ever pull off being a ‘boy’. 

Fate reconnected us a couple of years ago when she sent a press release to my work from the publishing house she was working for at the time. It was then that I learned about Emma’s awesome business idea, Round She Goes.

But it was only when I received her guest blog, (which you are about to read), that I learned the coolest thing to have possibly ever happened to anyone, ever, happened to her. And here I was thinking it was cool that Henry Winkler aka “The Fonz” winked at me once in NYC. Not even close!

Meet Emma, the only person I know to have been invited to outer space!

Much like Christie, it was also my looming 30th year that prompted a rethink and a reassess of where I was at in my work life. I wanted to feel that I was making the most of my time and get this next decade off to the right start.

I liked my job; I was the publicity manager of an independent book publishing company. I knew that there were people who would kill for my job. I really appreciated my job, it was stimulating and I was lucky enough to worked with super smart people. But I also worked extremely hard. All the time.

I was always battling a niggling feeling that I should consider putting that hard work into my own business. So many Australian women in their 30s are opting out of the workforce to pursue their small business dream (a recent women in business survey found that 27% of female small business owners left their corporate role to start their own business) so why not me?

I was already working on a business idea, Round She Goes Preloved Fashion Market, in my spare time and had an itch to expand it into other states. Round She Goes is a preloved fashion market for women where you can buy designer and quality vintage fashion and accessories from different stallholders. I knew that if I committed myself full-time it had the potential to take off.

Then my life took an incredibly lucky and unexpected turn – I won a fairly unusual competition. It was a competition* I’d automatically been entered into and didn’t even know I was in the running for until I got a phone call from (Virgin mogul) Richard Branson to say I’d won a trip to space. (Yes, SPACE!)

I know – I’m going to be dining out on this story for the rest of my life. Mum always said I was lucky!

I didn’t want to go to space (!) so I took an alternative prize of cash and holidays. It had a three-year time limit to take the holidays but I continued to work for two years because my publishing job was demanding and I’d recently been promoted. Then the final year rolled around and I started to panic. Maybe I should have used the prize for a luxury few weeks of annual leave every year and put the cash into a house deposit?

But that all seemed a bit too sensible.

So, with a year left to finish my prize, I quit my job. It was hard and I cried when I resigned, but I knew I had to do it. I had to live my life.

I know it’s easy for me to say ‘quit your day job and follow your dreams’, since I got out of the career rat race because of a fluke competition, but I truly believe there are still ways to make your businesses idea work even without Richard Branson on your side.

Picture: Two Birds Photography

Sure there is great financial risk, but not being a slave to cash flow is very liberating and gives you incredible flexibility. Maybe go part-time at work. You can rent instead of having a mortgage. The financial benefits of your own businesses will probably pay off in the long run after a few years of doing it tough. There’s not a lot of money sometimes but I’m also not bound to 9am-5pm and I know that every hour I put in to my idea is for my own benefit.

So, if you have that inkling that you would rather spend your days working on that idea you’ve had baking away at the back of your mind, then I have just two words for you: DO IT.

For the record, no, I don’t regret not going to space. These days I am working full-time on my business and it’s sustaining me just fine. Somewhere in there I managed to use the rest of the holiday prize too. 🙂

* The competition Emma won was from a lucky Velocity point with Virgin Airways. There was a promotional period where anyone who earned a point during that time was entered. There were 4 billion entries and Emma won. It was a complete fluke.

– – – – – – – – – 

The next Round She Goes in Melbourne:

Sunday September 9
Sunday November 18
Kingston City Hall, 985 Nepean Hwy, Moorabbin
10am-3pm, $2 entry

The next Round She Goes in Adelaide:

Saturday August 25
Saturday November 3
German Club Hall, 223 Flinders St, Adelaide
10am-3pm, $2 entry

For more information visit:

Facebook – Round She Goes Adelaide

Facebook – Round She Goes Melbourne

Twitter – @roundshegoes


30 Days of Kindness, Captured

1 Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Greg and Sarah


Name: Sarah Sellman and Greg Grano

Occupation: Documentary makers


Twitter: @RelyonStrangers

How we met: We are cyber friends. I “met” Sarah and Greg in February when Sarah came across my website and sent me an email saying she loved my 30 Days for 30 Years adventure and the message that came along with it. She also held out a virtual hand, offering to help me in any way she could. 

Sarah and Greg know a bit about relying on the kindness of strangers.

A couple of years ago during a road trip, Greg called out in his sleep and declared: “We have to go to Bear, Colorado!”

They took Greg’s dream literally and went in search of Bear, CO, only to find it doesn’t actually exist. Fortunately, there are five other Bears in the US – in Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Arkansas, and Delaware – and so began a fate-driven trip across 30 states in 2010 where they relied on the kindness of strangers for a bed each night.

The result is the soon-to-be released documentary American Bear: An Adventure In The Kindness Of Strangers.

Meet Sarah and Greg:

Thirty days can change your life. One day can change your life. But there is something special about the days you number, the days you count. And all of my days that I have intentionally counted are days of complete surprise and extreme learning.

Let me explain. My partner and I recently spent 60 days traveling the United States relying on the kindness of strangers for a home each night. Every night we were in a new town, with a new name, asking a new group of strangers to help a young couple traverse the country.

To top it all off we made a documentary about our adventure. And every day of that journey – each and every counted day – was a day of change and learning.  From staying with the daughter of the last warrior woman of the Cheyenne mountain tribe whose grandson is still facing bigotry in South Dakota; to the twice-married ghost hunters trying to synthesize their experiences in small-town New York; to young friends in Mississippi trying to understand the “country” stereotype, maybe even reclaim it – each character is facing some obstacle that allows us to see a unique side of the multifaceted American lifestyle.  It is through these individuals that we were able to see the fabric of the American mentality and the daily choices we make.

But that feels like such a long time ago. And as we continually move towards finishing our film (it will be completed in a month!) the days I count are occurring less often.

Until June happened. June was a month of many counted days. More of a count down than previous adventures, but still incredibly special.

Bear, Washington

Something happened to us when we came home – we made a transition. We wanted to give back all the energy and good faith we had relied on while traveling the country.  And June was the first big marker of the work we had begun to put into that.

June was the month of Kindness Captured.

American Bear, in collaboration with the tender and kind Guerrilla Goodness, decided to send people out into six different cities with Kindness Kits to perform random acts of kindness for the community.  Each kit included 12 missions, location cards and a disposable camera to capture the kindness. It was a blast!

The turn out, the enthusiasm was amazing! We had about 65 people participate in Syracuse on Saturday — and if each of those people did close to 10 kind deeds — then hopefully we affected over 600 people in the Syracuse area. That’s some pretty incredible math.

Bear, Arizona

The best piece though, was definitely the stories. So many people, with huge grins on their faces relayed stories of incredible kindness. It was an adventure through and through.

That above all makes me unbelievably excited. Because there are so many things I do with my time and energy that end with a whimper – or fizzle out. Not in a negative way necessarily and not in a way that is unique to me. There was just something very special about this. And about the way I felt when it was over.

In meditating recently, I was thinking about the ideas of smirti and bijaSmirti is the feeling and energy you exude when you are mindful, peaceful, present. You know the feeling – the day you walk down the street feeling there, really there, feeling bold and beautiful and strong and aware of your movement, your smile, your light. That’s the day when everyone around you notices, says hello – even strangers.

To me that is smirti. It’s just complete awareness of yourself, your body, your mind. Bija is the seed of that energy inside of each person. As in we all have a bija within us that we are encouraging to create smirti. 

So all of this explanation was basically to get at the point that your bija – the seed of your awareness – can sort of interact with another person’s.  When I connect to another person, really connect, it’s a feeling of being present together.  Holding space is an iteration of that – where you are being present for another person in a different sort of relationship.  But all of this, it’s so, so important to interaction.  And it’s something we could completely lose sight of if we lose ourselves in this world of technology.

My 30 Days of Kindness Captured was completely about creating that in my life. But also about creating that in the lives of others. How is it possible to not be present in the face of a stranger offering you kindness? How is it possible to not feed off of that energy? And that’s when the exchange happens and we are all made whole momentarily.

The 30 days in June were 30 days of hard work, of great collaborations and of serious connection.

What a good month.