Why I am here in Bali – Part 1

Another blogging experiment

I returned to my Ubud guesthouse last evening to write the piece I had intended to write earlier in the day on ‘why am I here in Bali‘? It’s a question I have long known the answer to, yet it’s one that many foreigners here (especially the proliferation of business/life coaches we seem to have here at the moment!) tend to ignore.

It’s an important question for anyone at a point of transition. In my case, I’m leaving my profession and London, my home of the last nine years, at the same time.

It is amplified here in Ubud, because of its long-standing existence as a place of healing. Ubud gets its name from the Balinese word ubad (medicine) and this ‘healing’ is a big factor in my decision to live here

As I started to write last evening I remembered the introduction to a piece by my friend and writer Gunther Sonnenfeld that talks about the story behind his new ‘innovation group’, Luman (or enlightened human). In classic Gunther style, he opens with a tough question: What do you stand for?

Not what are your goals, or what is your ideal day or where do you see yourself in three years time but, what do you stand for? He goes on to say “This is probably an ongoing thought and (r)evolving set of questions for many of you who are reading this”. 

It’s certainly something I have thought about a lot since my wife’s death in 2012, and perhaps it’s a chance to think out loud about it.

So I decided last night to try a new technique of blogging ‘live’ while reading Gunther’s piece. Here goes.

What do I stand for?

Equality, Community, Participation, Honesty and Reciprocity are the words that tripped off my finger tips. If I had to add a sentence, it would be something like:

I stand for doing what is right and just in any situation by giving myself fully to the potential benefactors of that situation. 

At Cass Business School, we were urged to be ‘net givers’ by our MBA mentors. Without doubt I am one of those, not through effort (of which I make plenty) but by nature. My mum always says that I have been organising things for others since I was very young, which is why the telephone in our house was usually in my room!

I know that I have suffered at times because of this – even in this last week it’s likely that getting sick was in part due to what I had been doing around the place in Ubud. Then there is the feeling of dismay when you put in a lot of effort to present ideas to others, be it your workplace, working group or social group, and they go nowhere.

But, even in this knowledge and experience, I want to be like me. I don’t want to join the net takers, which I’m increasingly of the view are the majority. I’ve never been part of any majority and never want to be.

I have been extremely fortunate to meet a very successful man here in Ubud. I don’t really care for the word ‘successful’ but I have used it because the majority of readers will attach some meaning to it.

Here I’m talking about Pak Kadek Gunarta, a Balinese man that has lived his whole life in the village of Padang Tegal in central Ubud. As he talked to our Tribewanted group a week or so back, I saw the looks on the faces of our group of wantrapreneurs. I’d sum the collective feeling up as silent amazement that one man could achieve so much in just 50 years.

Among the words of advice Dek gave, four stand out for me: “giving makes you rich

With Dek at the presentation of the funds we raised for the families that lost homes and temples in November.

With Dek at the presentation of the funds we raised for the families that lost homes and temples from the Clear Cafe fire in November.

Becoming who we really are

Gunther next talks of how Luman was founded on the basis of finding out how we become who we really are. Again, I relate to this.

In London last year, after six weeks with a new therapist, I asked him why he thought I wanted to be in therapy. Simon replied: “Andy, it seems important to you to discover your authentic self” (my journal entry, 14 March 2014).

I’d never thought of it that way and he was right, which is a tough realisation at age 38, as I then was. Having said that, it is also an incredibly important one which can easily slip the mind (at best) or be ignored (at worst). After a few months away from my regular life in London in second half of 2013, with lots of time in Indonesia to ‘clear the head’, going to therapy because I wanted to was significant.

As I’m finding happens in life, as we were starting to make some real progress (six months after I started), there was untimely disruption. I decided to leave London, and head back to New Zealand because of an illness in my family. It was not something any of us could have predicted.

The result was that work on becoming who I really am had to go ‘on hold’.

The future lies within

Mum often says that we all have the answers: it was a lesson passed down to her from grandma. My take on this, which came from those months off in 2013 with nothing ‘to do’, is that I have learned a lot in my 39 years and so I must have some wisdom to share, or use for myself.

Gunther says as much and one sentence in particular bears a distinct resemblance to the ‘answers within’ working experience I had with Frank Ray last year:

As for the three of us, we recognized that the keys to innovating in a world of great transition were not somewhere over there, or necessarily found through more integrated processes and technology tools, but inside each one of us

See the striking resemblance of Frank’s words about being “authentic in who you are and how you communicate” and “not being boxed in by lack of self esteem” at 5:01 in our video A New Way of Working

I must finish this section by referencing Frank’s mention of my insistence that he and I be based outside the City office if we were to ‘innovate’. It was something I’d come to learn after my time on sabbatical in Bali in 2013, that is that being freed from the regular environment has an exponential improvement on the ability to solve problems.

As an aside, at that time (November 2013), I was in touch with my much loved and respected mentor at Investec, Dr Allen Zimbler, and he said that he could not think of a better place to ‘restore’ than Bali. He has proved to be right.

I knew come March 2014 that me and Frank would have no chance of success in our innovation project back at Investec if we stayed in the building and, as Frank says in the video, our boss put up a small fight. Jamie is one of my few followers so I’m hoping he’ll comment and say I was right!

There comes a point where we all know something isn’t right, but we accept it anyway

I feel particularly strongly about what I call the ‘convenient trap’ which, simply put, is an environment where staff are paid well so that their financial needs are met but along the way their aspiration and creativity is drained. It is a terrible trade off, one which I was part of for the first half of my working life and so I figured last year that if really feel strongly about it, I can’t be part of it any more.

At Luman, they see it similarly:

Unless more people tap into their highest potential, organizations, products and services will just continue to devolve into masses of unfocused energy and matter that just… Don’t really matter. And as such, they will continue to wreak havoc on the planet. 

The emphasis here in bold is mine, based on experience and I am going to pick on Investec, because it is the organisation I know best. I know for certain that the majority of staff, mainly those in sales roles with targets, are focused when in the office.

Of more concern is when they are out of the office when Investec incurs large costs above staff salaries on company-paid offsites, they become masses of unfocused energy. In my experience over nine years, this is because staff are not aware (nor told) of what the focus is or how they will (personally) benefit from it, beyond the free beers from mid afternoon on the Saturday of the event.

Ciaran Whelan and James Arnold are two leaders that I witnessed who tried to use these situations to create a mentality change when times are good (read; you are getting a bonus), but that is a hard gig when you helped create the convenient trappings as they (and me) did.

The best example that I am aware of where an offsite meeting had a real effect is the work Allen’s team did with the private bankers in December 2008 and January 2009. This was a time when things were not good, when colleagues could soon be out of a job.

So, for me, being in Bali represents a great chance of breaking that cycle of doing a regular job that comes with its known, diminishing creativity and becoming involved in ventures that are less about paying bills (it helps that there are less to pay here and they are cheaper!) and more about creating real, memorable change irrespective of whether times are good or bad. I hope it becomes the norm.

I accept that such an approach is not possible for everyone even if they have they same perspective

At this point I must disclose that because last year I sold my flat in Central London after eight years of ownership, I am not under financial pressure nor am I faced with big monthly bills. Naturally, the response will be something like “we’ll we’re not all as fortunate as you Andy“.

My answer is that I wish I’d ‘worked it out’ much earlier so that the question didn’t arise, which is clearly the flippant response. There are better answers:

  • Take the Balinese for example, who (in my observation) tend to give away their excess as they accumulate it – Dek, for instance, directly supports over 250 families, already at just age 50.
  • Take our boss at Tribewanted, Ben Keene, who has created a home in Oxfordshire for his wife and daughter while building sustainable communities in Fiji, Sierra Leone and Italy over the last nine years.
  • To use an analogy that seems to be popular at present – are you going to get off the digital/social/mobile addiction to have some time for yourself during your working life or wait for some unspecified point in the future.

Back to Gunther again, with my emphasis:

What matters, right now, is that we become the best possible people on a planet that needs us to be the best possible custodians we can be.

Gunther Sonnenfeld, a great thinker and a great guy to have got to know in 2014

Gunther Sonnenfeld, a great thinker and a great guy to have got to know in 2014

In my late 20s I started to take the sort of actions I felt were authentic to me – as a provider of practical and language-teaching support to refugees that arrived in New Zealand. It was also an incredible and ‘free’ way to learn from people far more experienced in life than me.

In November 2005, having just turned 30, I decided it was time to pick ‘career ‘ over all my other ideas. For the next eight years, shamefully, I contributed nothing useful to British society as my excess was consumed in holidays, watching football and boozing.

Thankfully in February 2014, I went some way to putting that right in the month I spent as a volunteer learning from the brilliant coaches at The Change Foundation. They published some of my thoughts but it only goes so far, and can never explain why, on average, the people I met there are far more impressive and talented than those I met in the City.

Doesn’t there come a point where we are all obligated to at least speak to others about whether we have the full picture and think about how the next phase of life might be different?

When I was in Bali over the winter of 2013/2014 I saw enough of the foreigners living here to believe it was a place where I could live in the future. Put another way, I could see it being a new ‘reality’. By this I mean a place where I could move closer to doing things that really matter, not to the average Londoner or Wellingtonion or even the Chief of Clan MacLean on my beloved Isle of Mull, but to the average sensible human.

My favourite place in the world, Duart Castle, Mull.

My favourite place in the world, the one from which I draw my strength, Duart Castle, Mull.

I picked up on the word ‘reality’ from a comment made by a friend of mine (one very well educated I hasten to add) about people on Ubud being ‘an artificial community of whiny westerners who couldn’t face the realities of life‘.

I’ll accept it was a comment made in conversation, but it was still one made 12 months on from her visit. She could not have been more wrong: I am one now one of that group who has chosen a new reality.

Yes, there are things I don’t like about where I was before, but is that all that I should ever aspire to? To ‘tough it out’ or worse still, ‘to suck it up’ as they say in my homeland, New Zealand. No thanks.

The reality of the reality has changed and it is a dangerous situation as Gunther explains this:

Our current paradigm is largely a programmed reality, one in which we are led to believe certain things, and where we are essentially spoon fed belief systems and ideas about the way ‘the world really is’. In this paradigm, history repeats itself, and we have limited learning capability simply because the same elements keep reappearing.

It might not be obvious to my friend and many like her, but it’s very obvious to me: I can only learn and experience so much in the standard paradigm. If I am to spend 50 hours a week in the same office for 47 weeks a year for the next 25 years (minimum), what will I actually learn and use? Very little is the obvious and only answer.

Back to the future, a place of where contribution is valued

The most compelling ‘angle’ from Gunther’s piece for me, here in Bali, is where he mentions the return of the co-op and the need for co-creation. Bali’s community methods of co-creation are so similar to this ideal that a new friend of mine, Alan Yu, is studying Balinese leadership as a doctoral candidate at University of San Diego.

I started to become aware of how the community operated since I became involved in a fundraising campaign after some Balinese houses and temples were destroyed by fire in November, the week after I met Alan. I witnessed the community’s response on mass to the situation – there was no case of people being too busy. It seemed like an instinct to know what was not only right, but natural.

It was the same for me on the day of the fire and if we were to go back to the original question: What do I stand for? – I reckon my actions on that day tell it far better than me blogging.

Let me ask you this: what would you do if you saw this?

Would you be in the majority (the comfy place) or choose the minority? I question my own motivations each day, but at least I can show this as one example of where I chose the right option, the minority, I ran into the shop to help move the stock when even the local police were just takers of photos.

Why I need to stop talking – I’ve not yet inspired a single person

As Gunther make makes clear, the path of co-creation is not an easy one and it explains why it doesn’t happen in my old industry, Banking. I am one of the worst at what he says below (again, my emphasis in bold).

If you choose the path of (co)creation, then also know this: it is simply not enough to be vocal in social media threads or to lash out at ‘the system’. You need to show up, be self-responsible, and by doing so, we can show up for each other. We need to create cultures of (un)learning, and cultures of doing. This is what opens up the doors for unlimited possibility.

When I read those words, it’s incredibly scary and it’s perhaps why I regularly think of returning to safety of London, where I can go back to my flat and slip back into the queue at the tube station headed for the City. It’s also why I need to hold my nerve when I think (or others say) I need to ‘get on with it’ or ‘focus’.

When there are unlimited possibilities, which there are not in most situations in life, I really don’t see the point (or the way) to rush into something.

Bringing it back to the present, the day-to-day, here in Bali

This week at Tribewanted, Ben asked us something to the effect of ‘what does good look like at Christmas’. My response was:

  • To have found a business partner that wants the same things as me (I could now add ‘stands for’)
  • To have a local project which involves foreigners wanting to co-create and learn (and not thinking of one-way ‘help’)

This blog post has helped a lot in confirming for me why I am here and what I stand for. I reckon I can work these two things out quite easily now.

Do you agree?

Andy in Ubud



2 thoughts on “Why I am here in Bali – Part 1

  1. Really interesting read, within the western world you will often see sustainable, ethical, ‘helping others’ type businesses but the reality of the system means they must make good profits and the underlying motivation of wealth is the most present factor under a guise.


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