Brisbane is for bikers

The first thing I did when I arrived at my new Brisbane temporary home was buy a bike.

I had done a bit of research about bike hire prices in advance and found that the most cost effective way (and most fun) to get around the city by bike was to buy one.

The reasons for wanting to bike around were primarily to rebuild muscle mass after being pretty immobile for the past five months, laid up in Belgium with a fractured hip. Biking, in addition to being super fun, was the no impact way to get into shape while getting around.

As a remote worker, getting outside, being active, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, requires a lot more effort.

For me, it’s also a big part of my process, as necessary to my productivity and creativity as a great team and an inspiring work space. I’ve always been a kinaesthetic and visual learner. This means I learn best by taking notes, rewording ideas and at times drawing. Moving my body helps me think, and my phone has been a great companion in that space. I can pull it out in the middle of a walk  or ride, and jot down notes or even put out a story or post.

My favourite thing to do in Brisbane has been to follow my gps around, getting to know the various bikeways that provide safe access to the city without having to share the main, heavily trafficked roads. There is probably a good analogy there for how I live my life as well. After a few rounds with the gps, I’ve been able to turn it off, and find my way home by memory. That was a proud day for me, 27 km by memory. Just be fore I left, I even improvised once. All of that is an analogy too, for informal learning?

My biggest (best) day: 60.1 km with Mystic Mama (pictured). Not bad for a single speed Kmart bike.

All of these notes don’t make the cut though. They are timely outpourings of my thoughts, ideas. Reflections, stories.

Out of these notes threads emerge. I might take a snippet here and there, but so far haven’t refined my voice to the point where I can (or want to) publish, publicize my rantings. So this not blog will be, for the time being, a collected series of rantings.

And I just realized that this description of my process is curation. Here I had been thinking of how I can incorporate curation, move beyond the limited confines of my own thinking to incorporate and build on articles, blogs, stories that appear around me, in my sphere.

Hmmm.

I have a plan.

“I have a plan for the next two weeks.” I told my brother over Skype.

“Baahahaha!” Actually out loud, he responded as if this was the most hilarious thing he’d ever heard.

“What?!” I cut in, smiling, “Two weeks is good! It’s the most I can do right now!”

“Let’s hear it then…”

To be fair, I think that the vast majority of my conversations with my brother over the past five years have started that way, my announcement of my latest and greatest plan.

They are always well reasoned, to my mind, emphatically sincere and above all ambitious.

A lot of thought and planning has gone into my plans. So much so that, as my opening line demonstrates, I’ve curbed my planning, accepting now that my ‘plans’ don’t last long before they evolve, morph or turn 180, abandoned to go careering headlong into a spontaneous and spur of the moment direction.

From this description you might decide I’m flaky, flighty, maybe a bit of a ditz. Maybe.

The thing is that there are constants in my life, my career being one, and family another.

How shall I describe it?

I compartmentalize, keep my worlds, my personal and professional spheres, separate (we all know what happens when those worlds collide… that’s me when a workmate wants to connect on fb!)

They don’t meet, these spaces, but they do travel in the same general direction, like someone walking a kite in a sporadic breeze. Or a sailboat tacking and gybing along a line of navigation.

That’s the story I’ve been telling myself about myself these days. Is it really true? It’s true for the moment, because I am living it that way, and that is the lens through which I am viewing my past.

It may change at any moment!

Singapore is for community

Singapore happens on different levels during this trip.
One is a reinforcement, coming together of the Sea Salt team in person. I have been working with two members for six months and have only met them in person less than a handful of times, combined. However, the fact that we are a team cannot be disputed. Our in person relationships are solidified by very active social media groups, where our brains, thousands of kilometres apart, connect. When we do meet in person, it is easy. Don’t be fooled however, the distance does not erase the politics, relationships, group dynamics, undercurrents and motivations.

 

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Meeting of the minds, always a good time!

My approach to participating in Sea salt is transparency and benefit of the doubt, I’m an eager beaver! I believe in Sea Salt and want this start up to be successful. I’m invested.

Another level is that we are all here to open the Singapore ‘office’ and contribute to forward momentum, with a bang! As such, the Singapore lead has planned a couple of speaking engagements for Julian, as well as meetings with possible clients and partners in the region. As I am currently in Australia (part of my motivation for going there is to be closer to Singapore in the spirit of launching the region rather than the country).

The third level is meeting a new potential team mate who is looking around and curious about what Sea Salt could offer.

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My week is spent externally facing, trying to find where I fit, what I can bring, with my instructional design and adult education background, armed with my personality and willingness to participate.

What is my role in Sea Salt?
I’m good at my explicit role: Social Learning Design Lead. However, in the lean times, that role doesn’t have much work so part of my move to digital nomadry and Australia, SEAPAC is to explore what more I can offer, what else I can swing.

It’s a whirlwind trip, full of comraderie, visits to beautiful sites and getting to know Julian and Bala better, talking about the future of the organization. I’m being shown a good time and I like it!

What is coming out of my association with Sea Salt so far is this: exposure to more of the language that I used during my time at Arigatou: online community, blended, transformative learning, with the added realization that where community happens isn’t always where we plan it to happen. In my experience at Arigatou for example, we ticked all the boxes: stakeholder involvement, feedback on design from those who would be using the platform. However, where people were most active was on a FB private message. Completely unplanned and informal. I remember when I first met Julian at LSCon, that was the question I asked at the morning coffee talk: why? Why aren’t people using our space? His coherent response was that our platform was a formal space, by the simple fact that we set it up, as an organization. The conversations, the sensemaking, the sharing happens in informal spaces. Later, I would connect my experience to the idea/necessity of losing control. As a teacher, I was not about tracking learning, I tried to create spaces, activities, opportunities for learning to happen. This is about translating that philosophy online.

So, Sea Salt gives me opportunity to talk about it, to take control of my own sense making and reflective  destiny, to dare to experiment, fail and try again, and as a result match my values with my job.

This trip and participationg in Sea Salt in general I’ve learned a lot about the questions people ask, the why, the importance of community, as well as the how. What motivates or should motivate organizations to foster online community? How can it fit in as part of the greater strategic goals of an organization? A lot of what we talk about, for me, hearkens back to my graduate thesis on informal learning by volunteers in a community-based organization and what I learned through my research.

For example, when making the case for Sea Salt, Julian talks about the the knowledge economy and how it is changing, which is visible when you are active in online communities: the value of knowledge, the value of expertise is decreasing. What is increasing in value are connections, being part of communities where sense making conversations happen, where people are working out loud, working together, putting the theory of communities of practice into real terms, experimenting with how and what knowledge is produced.

Since joining Sea Salt I have been exploring, recognizing and accepting my communities, which I have increased activity in and seen sensemaking discussions happen spontaneously, in, for me, unexpected places. I personally have seen the changes in how social media is used, in my admittedly limited use of it. Where status updates used to be about breakfast foods and my mood when I woke up, I saw the trend to post inspirational quotes spring up, trend, be ridiculed and disappear. Community happened around me when I just embraced the fact that my life has an online component as well as offline. One does not negate or diminish the other, and both are rich, rewarding and necessary. As with anything, it’s all about balance. Finding my balance and accepting myself played a big role in discovering who my communities are.

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Attempt at storytelling ends in note taking!

I see Sea Salt as an opportunity to use all of my skills and knowledge, my experience, not just as an instructional designer and teacher, as a wannabe academic. As it is a startup, there should be opportunity, room to ‘run with it’.

Singapore, with its beautiful landscape, busy and bustling city, full of hustle, is a non-stop adventure. Everyone is doing something, working an angle, finding the places where we intersect. It’s energizing as a city. It’s an energetic and optimistic time for me, full of possibility.

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Working from anywhere?

Life imitating art, I am finally fulfilling the stereotype of the remote worker and getting things done in pajamas. The time difference with my mostly UK based team means that I am taking our daily meeting at midnight!

On the plus side, I am now working evenings/nights, which is a schedule I am curious to see develop. Will it continue to work? How will I feel a week or even a month from now?

I’m hoping the time difference will let me take advantage of the days and work with much fewer distractions. I prioritize more, becoming a project laser with neat, precise incisions of work and time rather than my more sprawling usual. So far, I have more of a life here during the day. This is also related to the fact that I am currently staying with a friend and there will be much to do and see during the days. As well as the fact that I was laid up in Belgium for five months with nothing to do but work!

However, my recent stay in Switzerland showed me that I find it difficult not to work in between meetings, or at least think about work. As a result, between a morning and afternoon meeting, I will be working, in some form or another. Great for the company, not great for (not) going to the gym, (not) going outside, (not) having a life!

Hopefully this new way of working will help me compartmentalise and feel like I have more freedom during the day.

This is all based on my own personality. I have difficulty unplugging, disconnecting from projects that I’m interested in. When I worked in an office, I always liked to do my physical activity before work, even if this meant getting up at 5:30 am to take the train to boot camp or get a ride share to spinning class. Now that I’m able to restart a schedule of physical activity, I have to find a way to do it.

The thing about working remotely is you have to be more self motivated, in all areas of life. There isn’t any grocery shopping on the way home. There is no biking to and/or from work. There are no colleagues to go out to lunch with.

Of course, there are pluses too! Otherwise I wouldn’t be conducting this experiment on myself. And there are ways to stay in touch with colleagues and feel/behave as part of a team even from 5000 kms away.

Working from anywhere doesn’t necessarily mean working from anywhere.

This last week near Alstonville in New South Wales has been interesting in that respect. Many people I meet through my friend here ask me where I’m headed or what I’m going to do on my ‘holiday’. As the time zone difference means I am working evenings (so far with jet lag this has been a big challenge!), my meetings take place at night.

Staying with friends is not a good idea either for work. There’s always something else to do, and focus shifts. Luckily this week has been more off than on at work, and now, with my move to Brisbane today, l’ll see what happens when in the city. Hopefully the Internet will be faster.

I would say that that is the real limitation. ‘Anywhere’ means anywhere with high speed internet, which is a limitation in certain parts of the world. My first experience of this was in Spain, where I moved into an apartment and only later discovered that the fastest I could get was 10 MB, because the fibre didn’t reach yet. Not enough for a Skype conversation.
I found myself working in ‘internet cafes’ or even pubs close to my then apartment in Torremolinos, as they were the closest places to my place where I could have conversations with minimal background noise. Even then the bandwidth was very low.

I became desperate to find a place where I could work,me specially have skype meetings from, that didn’t require me to buy a coffee.

There is a strong remote and coworking culture in Malaga, especially among the expat community. However, coworking spaces are often closed spaces, where desks are hard to come by. One space I visited was like a coworking sweatshop. The first floor, the ‘open’ space where anyone could come in and sit down to work for the minimal fee, was completely empty, save a lonely student in the corner. When the office manager showed me upstairs, the place was packed! Not one free desk out of at least 15, and almost all working on large screens, plugged into their various online businesses, intent on their universes. I was assured that once a week there was a Friday drinks session. My reaction was mixed feelings. I work remotely because I don’t want to sit in an office all day, so I can maximize my productivity and creativity by mixing work with activity, let my subconscious tease out a problem while I do something else, give myself space to have an aha moment. Not transplant, substitute one office for another one.

So what is co-working?
What are we, as digital nomads, really looking for?
What are we actually getting out of the various iterations of co-working spaces that exist? How many ‘success’ stories are there, what does co-working success look like?

In theory, the idea is to combine many different types of people and businesses in one space, creating opportunity for mutually beneficial partnerships and innovation that wouldn’t be possible in our traditional, siloed versions of work.

What’s actually happening in co-working spaces?
What are stories are out there, do they really foster collaboration and cooperation across sectors?
What works?

It begins…

i’ve come to the point where, it I don’t start posting, I think this idea will go the way of many others: faded into the ether.

So, here it comes: this is the intro. (Post backdated, teehee)

This is not a blog.*
This is an experiment on myself that will last a year. 52 weeks.
I intend, no, pledge to write at least once a week over this course of this year.

Why?
There are a few reasons.
1) I’ve decided to become a nomad this year… Well, more than I have been. I want to see what will happen now that I have a secure remote job (as secure as a job with a start-up can be!) One that provides the other end of a compass that will span and circle the globe. Not a breach, but an expansion. (That was Locke, not me).

So. This is what I’ve been waiting for, trying for. It was harder, took longer, than I thought it would to get here, and probably other, more organized people, more determined people could have done it in less? The thing is, it took a lot of work to break away from what my socialization considers ‘success’. It’s something I ponder a lot. What is success for me? What does it look like?

2) This January 2016 represents a turning point for me. It is the putting into practice of a dream and goal I’ve made for myself, slowly but surely, to choose my life, and as a consequence, follow the road less traveled. This introduction is to mark the occasion, appreciate the events that led me here over the past year(s). This not blog is a possible way to make the most of and continue to appreciate my journey. That’s the second reason, which leads into the third.

3) I want to write stories. I figured that the best place to start was with my life. Looking back over the past five years, I systematically made choices that have led me to where I am, sitting in the awesome Infozone at the Brisbane State Library.

2015 was quite the year. By the end of it I was faced with a clear choice. To find a nice apartment in a nice city, furnish it and begin again to build community around myself.

A bit about me, some background info: My community has evolved to be about 80% online. I am surrounded by good, low maintenance friends that live far away. I feel certain that I can call on these people for help or a place to stay if I need it, because I have done so in the past. When I’m feeling down or challenged, my immediate family plays a big role in my life. We have a text group to celebrate life events and daily goings on. The reason for this is that we don’t live on the same continents, let alone the same countries. I remember when we first started using Skype, this awesome program that allowed us to talk between computers for free!

When I read over that kind of being in the world, though it sounds commonplace to me, I sometimes reflect how much a product of now I am. I am often grateful to be alive in the world in 2015. At no other time could my self have been allowed so much expansion. So much indulgence.

I’ve started over in new cities before…many times. Quillota, Vancouver, Regina, Nelson, Geneva, Malaga. Each with the intention that it would be where I finally made a ‘real’ life for myself.

That last one, Malaga, was rudely interrupted by a fractured hip in July 2015. It’s a long story. I ended up in a suburb of Charleroi in Belgium for the next five months, living with my amazingly generous aunt and uncle, being a hermit and forcing myself to pause, take a breath, reevaluate.

I had almost convinced myself that after spending a few weeks in Switzerland with my sister and picking up the things I had left there, I would come back to Belgium and find a nice apartment in a nice city, not too far from the Brussels airport, but an hour’s train ride was acceptable. Mons, Liege, Namur. One of those. Each met my requirements: pool (for rehabilitation of my hip), climbing gym, and co-working space (so I could come out of isolation and work with other remote peeps). This is my recipe for success in a new city. Put mechanisms into place by which I am be forced into contact with others through activities I enjoy, combined with places to be alone in nature, when my batteries need recharging. Plus, in this case I would be close to family and that is something I grew to realize I needed, to strengthen existing relationships with people who love me.

It was a definite choice, the decision not to go through with the nice apartment in Belgium. When it came down to it, I couldn’t face starting over again. I had spent the last five months strengthening relationships and finding out who were those I could count on, who I couldn’t, what feeling helpless does to me and how those around me took it, or didn’t. I also started working full time a couple of weeks after I arrived in Belgium. My project team in the start up I had started working for came to Belgium for a few days since I couldn’t leave my new home to travel or even walk down the street. The lasting, positive relationships that I wanted to preserve emerged and being stuck showed me that it was possible to create and maintain relationships at a distance, that this isn’t completely unreasonable and is gaining momentum as a way to be in the world. Validation.

A nomad. A digital nomad, in the parlance of our times. Part of a movement I hardly knew existed, and have now made the decision to own, and actively contribute to, at least for the next year, as I work remotely and build my career while having no fixed address.

I’ve arrived! This is my celebration of the decisions I’ve systematically made to get here, to the edge of this cliff. Jump, jumping… jumped.

This not-blog is a record of my journey that will either be a swan dive or the story of the updraft I catch in the next 52 weeks.