meaningful work podcast

Episode 2: What is a remarkable life?

Mar 2, 2023 | Podcast


Welcome to Meaningful Work, Remarkable Life. I’m your host Brooke McCarthy and I’m a business coach, trainer and speaker living and working on the unceded lands of the Camaragal people here in Sydney, Australia. In this podcast, we explore the paradoxes inherent in working for love and money, magnifying your impact and doing work you feel born to do. We explore the intersections of the meanings we bring to work and the meanings we derive from work. Let’s dive in. Hello, I’m Brooke McCarthy. Welcome to Meaningful Work, Remarkable Life. Today we are going to dive into remarkable life.

What a strange and unusual assertion. And when I came up with the title of this podcast, I immediately was kind of provoked. I liked it. Don’t get me wrong, of course. But I was provoked by remarkable life. I thought, well, perhaps I’m a snob. If I’m claiming a remarkable life or I’m striving for a remarkable life, what about, you know, everybody else? Does that mean that there are plenty of people with unremarkable lives? You know, am I asking too much? Am I expecting too much out of love? The answer to that is almost always yes. I am definitely ambitious, ridiculously so. But what does it mean to have a remarkable life? What does it mean to strive or to actively take steps in that direction of a remarkable life?

Now, I know I’m not alone in this because I often survey my clients. I often survey my community. I sometimes feel that I’m too esoteric, too philosophical. You know, I’m talking about psychology too much. I’m talking about spirituality or meaning too much. I should just stick to the topic of sales and marketing and business growth and, you know, get on with things. Brooke, like, grow up. Stop banging on about all these other things. And so I, you know, I survey my audience and I listen. I eavesdrop. You know, I read. I look for patterns and feedback that I get. And I know I’m not alone here. I know there are lots of people out there who don’t want average. They don’t just want a business that makes them money. They don’t just want a life that is, you know, good. They want a business that satisfies them on multiple levels, you know, not just earning great money, but also, you know, creative, self-expressive, meaningful, you know, that gives them some sense of, you know, greatest self-satisfaction, that they’re not just kind of using their skills, that they’re building something beyond just their skills.

They’re doing more than trading time for money and that the life they’re building too is remarkable because, you know, let’s be, let’s be honest here. Let’s be frank. Certainly there are easier ways to make a living than being self-employed. You could, for example, stack shelves in Woolworths, which is a job that I sometimes daydream about. I think I could just get a whole load of podcasts and audio books stacked up and I could very happily stack shelves at Woolworths at nighttime, hopefully at nighttime when there were no people there. And I could just, you know, listen and enjoy learning and, you know, take my pay and my superannuation, thank you very much, rather than worrying about the 25,000 things that we do as business owners.

So I want to ask you these questions. I’m hoping to provoke some thinking with this podcast today and hopefully introduce you to a few ideas to tuck into your brain and to marinate on. Please don’t ever take anything I say as gospel. Please always tuck it into your brain and consider it. So I started my business in 2008, which was the GFC. This is when, you know, in America, the financial markets were collapsing, which created a ripple effect around the world. And, you know, that was really felt in Australia more in 2009, which is when my partner lost his job, the company he was working for went into liquidation. So we both found ourselves self-employed in 2009 onwards. So in those early days, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, self-employment was not at all, you know, the hip groovy thing that it is nowadays. It wasn’t that common. And self-employment, I think, was another way of saying unemployed. It was certainly the response that I got when I’d meet people and they’d say, so what do you do? And I’d say, oh, I’m self-employed. And you could see that their eyes were glazing over and they’re thinking, right, you watch daytime television, which was true. Sometimes I did watch daytime television, but, you know, it certainly didn’t have a lot of credibility. There wasn’t a lot of accolades attached to self-employment. And I think that’s still true to an extent.

You know, I think that there are still a lot of strange and unusual ideas about business that aren’t actually that accurate. For example, for example, the one and only rule of business in my eyes is exchanging value for cash that you sell value in whatever form that takes, whatever product or service that takes, and in exchange you get paid. But for a lot of businesses, for a lot of, you know, businesses that get a lot of airway, get a lot of airtime rather, that get a lot of media, actually a legitimate business is a business that has employees, that is scaling or growing, where perhaps they get investments, they get big, you know, swathes of cash, slabs of cash, and where the founder is ultimately looking to sell. Like that’s the end game that the owner is looking to sell. And that is very, very different from the people that I work with. And it’s very frustrating as well because there are innumerable big businesses that have never turned a profit. Businesses such as Airbnb, Peloton, Stripe, Dropbox, Pinterest. Businesses, you know, that have happy paying customers and presumably, you know, they’re happy because they come back and ask for more, that this really isn’t even a priority, that a business can be legit and it cannot just be legit, it can be attractive, and it can attract investment without actually being profitable.

That in this new world of business, it’s more about user numbers, whether or not those numbers are actually paying customers, you know, in a lot of instances they are, you know, people with free accounts or users that have, you know, free access. And engagement, which is the market share of attention. So of, you know, the target market, the business has 20% engagement in the information economy, in the information revolution. We are all competing for attention. So, you know, this really frustrates me because a lot of my clients are legitimate experts in their fields and a lot of them are earning excellent money. A lot of them have been self-employed, have run their own business for decades or more. And they have a lot of respect within their circle of peers that they are, you know, very highly regarded within their own small circle of influence and impact, but they’re likely people that you’ve never heard of. So, you know, this is super frustrating for me. And it used to provoke me a hell of a lot when I would hear about these businesses. I mean, you know, to be truthful, it still does. It still provokes me when I hear about these, you know, extreme views on business. That it needs to be hustle, hustle, hustle all the time, needs to be growth at all costs. And you might say, well, that’s a bit out of date now, Brooke. Surely there’s, you know, there’s less room for hustle culture. Surely we’ve grown beyond that. But, you know, that’s simply not true.

A friend of mine was telling me a story just the other day of how she quit her last position. She was, you know, very high in the organization and the leadership used to create meetings for directors on Saturdays. They would regularly schedule meetings on Saturdays for directors. Some people might be listening to this saying, well, that sounds fair. Another friend who works in the startup world was sharing a story the other day about how her client had messaged her and said, what are you doing this evening? You know, we need to jump on Zoom. And my friend said, well, I’m actually out with my children at the theater. They said, what time does the show finish? She said, 11. Great. I’ll send you an invite to Zoom with us at 11 at night. So there’s a hell of a lot of that that still goes on. There’s a hell of a lot of hustle, hustle, hustle. Even if, even when there is actually no profitable business, it’s, you know, it’s always about like the long game and the long game might be a five year cycle. So it’s not really, you know, what I would consider long. But the long game, the end game being to sell, being a big influx of cash. We build up, you know, market share of attention, engagement and users. And then we sell, we get out of there, which is very, very different from, you know, my experience and from my clients experience.

The other end of the spectrum, the other polarity is this whole thing that’s coming in this anti-hustle movement, this chill, relax, don’t try too hard, be receptive. You know, in some instances, lean back into your feminine power. Just wait, wait, be receptive, receive, blah, blah, blah. Be yourself, get paid to be yourself. And that isn’t really useful either. In fact, you know, whenever you have, whenever you see these debates where you have two polarities, two extreme views that are opposing, it’s almost always an indication that the whole truth is being lost because almost always, you know, there’s a middle ground. And unfortunately, a lot gets lost when we have these two extremes, these polarities. It doesn’t have to be hustle and hustle, hustle. And it doesn’t have to be chill and relax. You know, the middle way is that dichotomy that I am in, that dichotomy of this and that. And of course, the dichotomy is when something appears contradictory, but it can actually peacefully coexist. It appears to be at odds, but it can actually coexist. These things can coexist. Now imagine for a moment if world leaders and nation states would actually embrace this, this peaceful coexistence. We don’t have to change or feel shame, you know, feel like there’s something wrong. We can peacefully coexist. So the dichotomies, of course, that I’m embracing is evident in the name of my business.

The name of my business is hustle and heart. It’s not one or the other. And the dichotomies that I’m embracing and that I live by are things such as you can have your values intact. You can keep your integrity and you can grow and become more profitable. That you can do creative work and be well paid for it. That you can work fewer hours and earn more, which is a huge goal for so many of my clients. It doesn’t have to be one thing or the other, because when it’s one thing or the other, you know, people tend to then feel a bit of shame. Not always, of course, they might think that hustling all the time is an excellent idea, but, you know, it can provoke shame. So what that might look like, and these are all true stories, are things such as hiding at a family wedding or hiding, you know, at a big family event such as a reunion or an anniversary, hiding in the toilet, hiding in the spare room, hiding in the wardrobe so you can call your client back, call that high maintenance client back. It can look like pretending that you’re not working as hard as you’re working. It can look like posting glamorous photos on Instagram all day long of you living a life of leisure when actually you’re working really hard. And you’re not showing that. You’re not showing the work. We do ourselves and others. We do other people a grand disservice when we don’t show the work behind the work. We make it look, you know, and this is one of the things that annoys me about this anti-hustle culture, is that we’re not actually necessarily working less. We’re just pretending more. We’re doing everybody a disservice by making it feel like actually you can just lie in the hammock and money will rain down upon your head. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to lean into your feminine power and, you know, you’ll be successful. That isn’t helpful.

Now, this adage, I guess it is, is of, you know, do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life. This was something that I swallowed hook, line and sinker in the early days of my business. I justified working, you know, crazy hours, working, you know, nighttime, working weekends because I thought, well, you know, I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it because, you know, I’m building my empire. More hours that I put in, the more I benefit. Surely this is a good thing, right? And this is, you know, really, really common in the startup world as well that you can just work, work, work, work, work because you love it so much. And, you know, it’s oftentimes used and manipulated by bosses that are weaponizing people’s values against them. You know, if you have the value, for example, of integrity and conscientiousness and being meticulous and thorough, hardworking, then it’s easy for your boss to manipulate you, right? It’s easy for a client to say, this is just not good enough. This is not the standard or the quality we expected. And of course, why wouldn’t you then jump? Because these are your values. You know, they know how to manipulate you. Then they’re taking something which is good and wonderful, being, you know, being conscientious, being meticulous, being thorough and turning it against you.

So this also reinforces this idea that there is no disconnection between work and everything else, that work and life kind of go hand in glove. You know, and this has been an age old kind of debate, work-life balance. One of the frustrating parts about work-life balance is it doesn’t look like anything. You’re never really sure whether you’ve achieved it or not. Right. Like what is exactly work-life balance? You know, is it two tablespoons of this and one cup of that and a dash of, you know, summer? I don’t know. What does it look like? But this is all super important when it comes to remarkable life. I want to kind of come back to our initial question about what makes a remarkable life exactly.

You know, what is it to make a remarkable life, to have a remarkable life? For a lot of people, it involves lifestyle design. And for a lot of my clients, this is something that I introduce to them when I’m getting to know them. I will generally ask about people’s, you know, work-life. I’ll ask them what do they do on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. What time do they start work? What time do they finish work? You know, what do they do in between times? Do they take breaks? What do they do on weekends? What do they do in the evenings? And it’s really important because what tends to happen, you know, generally speaking, 80% of my clients will realize that they’re spending a lot of time just sitting on their bum at the computer. They’ll spend a lot of time working with not a lot of consideration as to whether or not that’s a good idea, not a lot of consideration as to whether it’s what they want, and of course, whether it’s getting the outcomes that they’re seeking to achieve.

So oftentimes in lifestyle design, we’ll do things such as, OK, well, you know, what do you, what is good for you? What do you enjoy? What gives you joy? What do you find beneficial? What fills you with energy? And we will make sure that these are scheduled every single week into the diary. So that might look like, for example, joining a exercise boot camp or going to a regular yoga class on particular lunchtimes or early mornings. It might look like taking surf lessons. It might look like going skating on a Friday afternoon. It might look like, you know, having more conscious, deliberate coffees and lunches with friends or colleagues or want to be friends, you know, people you’d like to get to know. And it can also be in a bigger, broader sense of, OK, well, what are you, what are your conditions for success, which is different for everybody? Do you like working in groups? Do you like working one to one? Do you like intimacy? Do you like building relationships and keeping those relationships going over years and years and years with your clients? Do you prefer perhaps the quick and fast relationships? You don’t mind goodbyes. You’re quite happy, you know, to be quick and and have those fast and furious transformations with clients. Do you like to travel? Do you want to travel? Do you want to take the kids and put them in a caravan and travel around Australia or beyond for a year or longer? And what would need to change about the business and the business model in order to make that a reality? Some people love the idea of traveling, definitely myself. But for some people, it’s not really that interesting.

What they’d love instead was to have more time to write or more time to play the piano or more time to volunteer, you know, or more time to do do something else. And for a lot of people, this is very provoking as well, because I think we oftentimes assume that we should know what we want. This is a massive myth that a lot of us live with is this idea that, hey, we’re adults. We should know what we want, right? Surely this isn’t a difficult question. What do you want? But it’s it’s very provocative for a lot of people. And certainly over the last 11 years that I’ve been business coaching, perhaps five percent of my one to one coaching clients have actually come to me. Knowing what they want, very clearly defined and to have this not change.

Because, of course, a lot of people come to me and they say they want certain things, they have certain goals, but then they achieve those goals and they feel a great sense of emptiness, perhaps. Or they start moving towards those goals and they realize that’s actually not what they wanted, that they’ve just appropriated other people’s goals, other people’s desires. That’s really, really common, very normal, very human. We are social creatures. We are influenced by each other. And, you know, if we are empathetic, creative, it’s easy for us to appropriate. We don’t realize we’re appropriating other people’s desires, dreams, goals. It’s just kind of, you know, we breathe it in. It can be a very common experience when asked, what do you want? What do you want? What is your remarkable life? You know, paint me a picture, color in the details. It can be very difficult, complex, difficult. People can avoid it. They can come back with very abstract concepts, you know, which is, I think, a way of avoiding answering the question. Let me keep it abstract and ethereal.

The first thing that I would do to get clearer on what a remarkable life looks like to you is to give yourself some space for dreaming, to create some space for dreaming. And January holidays are a great time for that. But really, any time, you know, one of the things I most enjoy about travel and holidays is the insights it gives me into my life back home. It creates this dreaming space where you are relaxed and your imagination can stretch. You’re not surrounded by the minutia of day to day life admin. And you can ask yourself these questions and gain insights that you might not otherwise have access to. Now, of course, not all of us can go on holidays or have travel in the schedule, but you can create the space for dreaming in other ways as well. You can remove yourself from your normal workspace, from your normal environment and go somewhere expansive, go into an environment that’s expansive. It could be the beach, perhaps it could be the bush. It could be an art gallery, which tends to have great soaring ceilings. Art galleries tend to be in very grand buildings that create that dreamlike environment, that spacious, expansive environment. And then focus on the details, because again, this is another misnomer.

People, especially people that are feeling overwhelmed, in that feeling of overwhelm, is they look out. Overwhelm is this feeling that, for a lot of people anyway, I can’t speak for everybody, but that you’re looking at the 10,000 foot view. You’re attempting to look at the 10,000 foot view when really the best and quickest way of getting out of overwhelm is to bring your vision much, much, much closer in to the tip of your nose. And the same goes for remarkable life. When we take that 10,000 foot view, we get intimidated. The first thing we think of is, oh my God, but, I’m not the kind of person who is going to win an Oscar in this lifetime. I’m not the kind of person who is going to become a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. I’m not the kind of person who is going to change people’s lives. We get intimidated. We immediately go to the big, grand, public-facing stuff rather than the tiny details. So the tiny details are a really good place to start, and the tiny details can lead to the larger details, the bigger ideas, the further out projects. The tiny details are things such as, for my remarkable life, I love to wake up in the morning without an alarm, and to be able to roll around my bed, not have to jump up to spend some time. Ideally, I have a fabulous novel on the go, and I’m able to read that. And ideally, somebody brings me coffee in bed with an espresso machine downstairs. And ideally, they do so without me first having to nag or ask repeatedly for that coffee. Now, I know that sounds a bit middle-class and bourgeois and perhaps quite average. And you know what? I don’t really care. For me, that is a remarkable life. That makes me feel fabulous. It makes me feel wealthy. It makes me feel it feels luxurious. It feels great. It’s a slow start to the day, just the way I like it.

I heard a woman talk on stage recently, and she said what I wanted was to be able to buy my kids raspberries, was to be able to go to the grocery shop, go to the store, go to the Harris farm, and buy the kids raspberries without looking at the price. And in Australia, raspberries are quite expensive. They’re ridiculously expensive for a tiny punnet, half of which are on the turn. And I loved this story. The raspberry story made 100% sense. Like, it’s the tiny details that give us that feeling that add up over time of luxuriousness. Because of course, the people in the public eye that do the massive deeds aren’t necessarily buying their kids raspberries. They don’t necessarily have time to languish in bed over a novel and a coffee. And I’m not saying it has to be one or the other here at all. I’m not saying either you’re winning a Nobel Peace Prize or you’re sleeping in. That’s not what I’m saying. But oftentimes, we put a lot of value into these big public figures with big public lives and public achievements and accolades rather than recognising the greatness that’s right in front of us. And oftentimes, people that have achieved a hell of a lot have done so while being absolute assholes in their personal life, using and abusing all the people around them, including their family, their loved ones, who of course are sacrificing a lot of time. And again, this is not in all scenarios. It’s absolutely not in all scenarios. I’m not saying you can’t spend a lot of time with your family and achieve great things. Of course you can. But I am saying that just because somebody achieves something remarkable in the public sphere doesn’t necessarily mean that they are an awesome, wonderful, fabulous person.

Hopefully, I’ve given you some ideas to marinate on here from the taking an inventory of your Monday to Sunday, your 7am to 11pm or whatever your normal waking hours are, all the way through to what are my desires? Can you take yourself away from your normal environment, find that expansive environment in which to dream, in which to marinate, in which to peel back the layers of the shoulds and ask yourself the question, starting with the tiny details, the raspberries, the coffee in bed, going further out from there to travel, not travel, hobbies, dinner parties, friendships, relationships, and then further afield from there into what kinds of work do I want to do, what kinds of people do I want to work with, what kinds of projects perhaps do I want to work on, what industry, what sector, what issues, what social issues, what business issues, what values do I want to see reflected in my work, what skills do I want to utilise, where is my edge, what am I deeply curious about, what feels urgent to me, what work do I do that feels so damn good, I cannot believe that I’m getting paid, it beggars belief that somebody’s paying me. These are the questions I’d love you to marinate on in our endeavours towards a remarkable life.

This podcast was produced by Morgan Sebastian Brown of Brown Tree Productions and the original music was produced by Sean Windsor.

Brook McCarthy Business Coach

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We acknowledge the Cammeraygal people, the traditional and ongoing custodians of the lands that Hustle & Heart creates and works on. This lush land is just north of Sydney Harbour Bridge. We also acknowledge the traditional and ongoing custodians of the land, skies and seas where you are, and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We recognise that these lands were never ceded.

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