Friday, April 29, 2016

Flow that Rocks (with Rich)

A couple of years ago I made a big shift in life style. I decided that the things that mattered most to me were spending time with people I cared about, learning to care about more people, and learning more about the world we live in. All these things were incredibly cheap. Having been involved in Finance, I had spent a lot of time thinking about saving and investing to have enough. There is the other side of the equation too. The less you need, the less you need. I have several friends who realised this earlier than me. One of those was my digs mate when I lived in Cape Town. His name is Richard Halsey, but like a character from Friends, to me he will always be Smelly Pom. 

Rich up a Rock

While I don’t know all the details of Trevor’s new life journey, I am so glad to hear it. I remember when we shared a house, he put in huge graft for his actuarial studies but seemed far more comfortable throwing paint at a canvas. This is a manifestation of a trap that our economic system sets up: being a wage slave while you are young and fit so that you can have freedom when you are old and tired. I have never quite bought this story, and have felt the most free while living in a tent on a beach, eating food discarded by supermarkets. 

Life in Colour

You were always more flexible on the expiry dates than me! I can remember you rescuing food as it was heading in the general direction of the trash. I also always thought I had an expiry date on my studies. I figured it was better to make Art a hobby and Maths a career, than the other way around. I broke my back studying. Unfortunately I think I also didn't put as much time as I would have liked into people. It was a priorities thing. I think if we stepped back more often, and were in less of a rush, we would see that fighting fires turns us into fire fighters. 

There are certainly times when we need to knuckle down and focus. These are phases in life, and they facilitate progress. Many of my friends now have young children that require sacrificing personal time, but investing in family is worth it. I feel the problem is when the focus becomes monetary wealth at the loss of relationships and fulfilling activities. Is obsessing about Rands and cents worth missing out on hugs and laughter? I am not advocating being penniless, but ensuring that you do make generous space for the things that really do matter to you. If that means getting a smaller pay check, I doubt you will regret it in the long run. 

I used to think of it as 'eating my vegetables'. When I was little, we only got pudding if we finished all our vegetables - peas, carrots, gem squash, spinach etc. I have always been wired to do the hard stuff first. Delayed gratification and all that jazz. The balance comes in how much you 'put off life till later'. I was speaking to a Medical Student today and she was talking about putting her life on hold for 13 years. I could identify. The thing is, both my brothers are Doctors, the studying doesn't stop. Ever. Doing the hard stuff can become a habit. I was recently introduced to the idea of being a 'half hearted fanatic'. There need to be gaps. The journey is more important than the destination. 

This reminds me of a shirt I have from a street artist which reads: “Life is a journey, not a destination”. I wear it a lot as I believe the message is important. This also links to the concept of working hard and playing hard. That way you can make achievements in work and pursue you passions if they are not the same thing. However, after years of this I found it resulted in burnout. So while I fully support balance, my Libra is currently leaning more toward the pudding than the vegetables. It would be a waste of ice cream if it never got eaten because I snuffed it the day before retiring from a life of nine to five. 

Rich enjoying the journey

It would definitely suck if everything was just preparation. School for work. work for retirement. Retirement for death. I get the need for balance between the moment and the future. The challenge comes in how we set our priorities. Emotionally, I think it takes enormous training to prioritise correctly. Not to be seduced by our success so that we pour all our energy into things that are important, but aren't all important. Somewhere between recognising our desires, and directing them lies a sweet spot. A fuzzy zone of flow. Of well being. 

Exactly! This is where it is at. This flow space can be hard to find, but once you are in it, you will feel right. For a time at least. Life is not static. The balance you want, or need, will change through the years. Just be aware of it, and open to it. Having said this, I do feel that a pervasive capitalist culture makes it harder to find this balance. It can take courage to break from the norm, and before you do, make sure you have the means to do so. To get what you desire, you need a plan, which you revise as required. 

I like the idea of working for flow, rather than working for money. The truth is that I am very much a capitalist though. In the sense that I think capital should do the work since capital works better with ideas of supply and demand. Labour (i.e. people) works better with flow, creativity, empathy, sharing and giving. In my Utopia we would all be Social Capitalists. The Capital would pay out a Universal Basic Income which would be our muse. We could then spend our time on warm fuzzy stuff. Or with each other. Or working hard on something we are passionate about. I actually think this might be more than a pipe dream. An Artificial Intelligence worth its salt would see the potential lying untapped in most people. 

Well, until we reach one Utopia or another, the best we can do now, is make the most of it. Whichever way you choose to play the game, do so in a way that resonates with who you aspire to be. We will all check out some day, and you can’t take material goods across the river Styx. Laughter and love are free, cars and houses generally aren’t. You see, money is only a tool: it can both improve and destroy lives. So use it wisely. Time is finite, so use that wisely too. You can always earn more dollars, but you can never buy back wasted hours.

See Richard Halsey's (aka Squeaky) blog at

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mentorships and Relationships (with Gareth)

There are fascinating people we almost come across in our lives. Our paths bump, but don't cross. Social Media makes this even more evident. We can start getting to know on an almost personal level authors, celebrities, politicians, sports stars. Almost, but not quite. They aren't really friends. It feels stalkerish. We can follow the progress of someone's career as they do amazing things, but we can't just go for coffee. My path bumped with Gareth Morgan at school. A few years ahead of me, I can remember him starring in our school play as Pippin. I then heard about him going on to Oxford. I had always dreamed of studying there after reading 'The Power of One'. He then went on to become a Member of Parliament, then a consultant in various fields including coaching, training, politics, and the environment. Just over a year ago, I saw he was in London and suggested a coffee. Actual face to face exchanges of ideas trumps 'almost, but not quite' hands down. There are strange barriers that stop us creating connections. Even when people are almost in our circles already and we have lots of mutual friends. I chatted to Gareth about mentorship and how we can go about building relationships that expand our worlds. 

I have been lucky to have some great mentors in my life. Some of my best 'bosses' weren't actually my boss. I don't like the idea of hierarchy and so normally learn more from people who assume more of a partner role. I have also been on the other side and seen how much you can learn by being a mentor. It would be great if we could extend this idea more widely than businesses and schools. 

My personal experience of mentoring has been in being a mentor in formal, often contractual relationships with various mentees over the last decade. Not one of these mentor roles also had me in an authority position (e.g. boss) over the mentee. Mentoring relationships can exist in almost any context provided the reason for the mentoring relationship is established; they have application far beyond businesses and schools. They function best when the mentor has a particular set of insights and experiences and is willing to share them with a curious, willing mentee who has largely established that he or she lacks these insights and experiences. 

My friend Karabo wrote a beautiful piece about how her family have been custodians of the family's education. There is something of a mentorship role is just spending time with people. The adult conversations overheard. Being taken seriously with unformed, young opinions. I have always thought the word mentor carries a lot of emotive content. There is something of friendship and empathy there. I can see how if we could start to take the idea of mentorship beyond our usual circles, i.e. where we work, where we learn, where we live, we could go a long way towards bursting bubbles and building a truly inclusive community

I get your point. I see the aspirational potential of mentorship. However I am concerned that through your broad application of the concept much will be lost. For one, your application presupposes that most adults would be good mentors, or secondly, that there are adults around. Neither is necessarily true. Some communities are sadly quite broken. It is in such communities that mentorship is perhaps more needed than most. Let's not concern ourselves too much with people who already have resources at their disposal if we want to encourage meaningful society benefit. The challenge is how do we share the productive human resources more, and how do we pair those resources with people most in need of mentorship but who can't access it easily. Thereafter how do we make the relationships impactful. 

That is where I have the most questions but think we can have the most impact. Some of the world's problems seem unsolvable because the numbers are so big. When looked at from a smaller community sized lens, they seem achievable. Malcolm Gladwell talks in 'Tipping Point' of communities of 150 being at a size where you can both know everyone, and know how they know each other. Looking at a global age pyramid, if the 7.4 Billion people were 150, there would be about 30 below the age of 20. A further 15 in their twenties. It then becomes a question of how we find mentors for that handful. Where are the adults missing? Where are the communities broken? How do we consciously build relationships. Changing from broad concepts to practical measures. 

Yes, the scale is massive. The questions you pose are the correct ones to ask. We can work from that. Let's speculate about a workable model, perhaps not on the planetary level for the moment, but just in a few underprivileged communities, whether urban or rural. In cases where adults are missing or not deemed suitably capable of being effective mentors, perhaps here we need volunteer mentors from outside the community. These kinds of models exist. I am currently a mentor on a programme which pairs me with a young person each year who is usually from a very different background, with completely different life experiences. Mentors can be found in civic, religious, business and public organisations. Determining the beneficiary communities can be coordinated by civic organisations with strong community knowledge and established contacts. It would be important that nothing is imposed. Beneficiaries will need to want and accept the offer of mentorship. How would you suggest we answer the question on how to build conscious relationships. 

There are some low hanging fruits, and some areas where I am very unsure how to start. I have recently met a few people who work with 'hard poverty'. The type that involves drugs, alcohol, self-esteem, mental health and broken relationships. The type that exists even in the first world and can't be solved by throwing money at the problem. The easier type, in my view, is where we just need to consciously deconstruct our bubbles. 'Six becomes Five' would involve us introducing people we know so we reduced the degrees of separation. Much like orientation weeks at university. The challenge lies where bubbles don't overlap at all. That involves contacting the kind of organisations you are talking about. There are tool for 'connected people' like Twitter. There are also people who are good at building bridges. I think we just need to come up with simple, practical, friendship building exercise. We need to learn each others languages. We need to show respect. The learning between mentor and mentee is two way. It isn't about hand outs. It is about walking together. Sharing knowledge. Empowering. 

We have chatted a little about how mentors and mentees can come to be in the same space. But what do you think makes for a successful relationship once a pairing is established? From my own experience there is a need to get to know each other. It does not have to be a friendship, but there does need to be respect, empathy and resonance. Ideally you would want the mentee to ask the questions that begin the conversations. This may be difficult at the start of a relationship particular while the mentee is warming to the mentor. In cases like this the mentor would need to do some probing to establish what the mentee may be curious about. But there is no need to move fast, particular if the mentor has time on his/her hands. It really is worth putting time into establishing the connection even if the content of the conversations is initially a bit thin. From my own experience as a mentor I try to share experiences of challenges in my life, both currently and in the past, in order show my own vulnerability in order to create a conducive space for the mentee to do the same.

I have also seen that mentorship works best when it is mentee driven, provided the availability is there. The challenge is the experiences which lead to that connection are often shared ones. 'When I was younger' stories which resonate with the kind of challenges the mentee faces. I will put my hand up and say my life has been relatively cushy. I have been in dark places. I have felt hard done by. I have had disappointments and failures. Many. But when I read books like 'Country of My Skull', I feel somewhat inadequate as a mentor. The level of trauma faced by some makes my pain look juvenile. That is why I like the level playing field idea. Perhaps more friendships outside our usual bubbles where there is ambiguity in who is the mentor and who is the mentee. When initial conversation is thin, there are things to do. Walk together. Run together. I would like to find some case studies of where people have genuinely managed to form meaningful relationships far outside their bubbles. 

So how do we pull all of this together and find the golden thread? You and I have taken slightly different approaches during this conversation. While there is plenty that we find common ground on (the value of mentorship), we differ on application. I prefer a more formal approach with a chosen methodology, while you prefer, it appears to me, something more informal and organic and less content driven. Nevertheless, each to their own. Our respective approaches both have considerable merit and will work in different situations. So I guess the last point to make is lets commit to encouraging more people we know to mentor others or build relationships "far outside their bubbles". Since we started this conversation two weeks ago I have managed to encourage a colleague to become a mentor on a formal programme. He has got stuck in very quickly and his feedback is good. Let's take up this conversation again at the end of year to see if I our thinking as developed further.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Happy 22nd Birthday South Africa

On our 22nd birthday, I will admit that I am trying to deconstruct my South Africanness.  In 1994, I was a true believer. I believed in forging a rainbow identity. I am more scared of that now. To construct any identity, by definition, means excluding others. That was what the birth of a new South Africa was supposed to end. I prefer the idea of discovering different flavours. Different ideas. Different tastes. Constantly adding as each year passes. Constantly learning. Learning as deconstructing barriers.

Who are you?
Growth through deconstructing identity

A 22 year old is often starting to make their way in the world of work. I am also less convinced about the value of specialising in any one type of work. Particularly if that means diminishing your circle of competence in the process of excelling. I think we need be able to do the small stuff. If we only focus on the grand goals, we can lose track of the simple things. We can form little habits that help build a life. Cook meals for each other. Remember to stay in touch. Pick things up. Patch things up. We can build friendships outside our bubbles. 

A 22 year old starts having to adjust to being an adult. To looking after the admin of life. Bills. Responsibilities. Mundane stuff. I think that is what politics and government should be about. The boring stuff. The bricks. The exciting stuff should be up to us. Ungoverning. Releasing. Getting on with it. Education years are often all about finding yourself, and when you shift to work you start looking after others. You build something bigger. South Africa is part of something bigger. It is not separate. We are Global Citizens. We can learn from others and teach others. Walk together. See each other.

My South Africa

Birthday Reflections

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cape Town

I arrived to live in Cape Town by overnight train. Too far to visit growing up, it was a story of a city with a mountain like a table, vineyards, beautiful beaches and District Six. A city struggling with gangsterism. With drugs and poverty. I studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and lived in a building modelled after those in Oxford. Ivy covered walls. Beneath Devil's Peak. Little Moscow on the hill. Cape Town triggers warm feelings in me. Friendship. Growth. Potential. It also triggers discomfort, where division is visceral. Where hope is needed. Where hope exists.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Chariots of Fire

I had a grand blog post bubbling in my head as I started my first Marathon yesterday. It was 400 years since the death of Shakespeare. I was running the Stratford-upon-Avon Marathon with my brother as his 40th birthday present. We were aiming for 4 hours. 400-40-4 seemed to have a beautiful rhythm. One that was meant to be. But it wasn't the real goal. The real goal was time with my brother, and qualification for the Comrades. Until two weeks previously I had always been aiming to run just fast enough to qualify. So 6:30 min per kilometre would get me to the finish line with a little buffer beneath the required 5 hours.

It was both of our first Marathons but my brother has been running plenty of half marathons. He is doing the build up to longer distances properly. 18 months ago I hadn't even run more than 10km. I then got challenged to run a Marathon, and that got bumped up to a challenge to run the Comrades after I had a long chat with John McInroy and got inspired by the Unogwaja story.

Two weeks ago, I ran my first official Half Marathon and I surprised myself on the positive side. I had no idea what sort of time I could run other than from my training runs which were close to the slow qualification time required. A speed at which I could chat. A speed at which I could breathe easily. A speed at which running is comfortable and enjoyable. I had slowly built up distance by long walks and gradually venturing further. No rush. It turned out that with the additional motivation of others on the road, I comfortably ran faster while still breathing properly.

This meant I was pretty confident yesterday. I had upped (downed?) the goal target to 4 hours, while emphasising that qualification was the real aim. But, I would have like to reach the 4 hours. I kept the pace up till around the 20 mile mark. With 10 km to the wheels fell off a little. They didn't fall off so much as slowly, they just refused to turn at the steady pace. My breathing was still fine. My energy was still fine. My legs just started saying, 'Not so much Trev you muppet.'

The last 10km were at closer to 10 minutes per kilometre than the 5:41/km I had been running for 3 hours at. I was still smiling. Mostly. My brother was doing most of the talking though. I am a lucky guy to have someone who enjoyed his birthday gift being helping me qualify. We pushed on and finished with a glorious rendition of Chariots of Fire. My lungs were fine. The exhibitionist in me was still fine. The song choice was fine. It made the slow motion look intentional.

I have a month to go. When that comes, I am going to have 12 hours to finish 89km. If 20km of that is at 10 minutes a kilometre, I need to run the rest at 7:30/km. It will be about preservation. It will be about the Comrades around me. It will be about the race I grew up watching. Not just a run. A story.

I will be part of the Red Love Train. This will be a group running with the members of the Unogwaja team. They will have cycled from Cape Town to the start of the race over the 10 preceding days. Roughly 100 miles a day. All this is not about a cycle and a plod. The team members and the Unogwaja Light Fund aim to release the passion and potential of those who need help to help themselves. To walk with them because people have walked with us. To see them because people have seen us. The focus is on primary school education. 

I write a lot on my blog about Community Building. I have more questions than answers. Like my running, I don't think you wake up one day and decide to head out and run the Comrades. It is a long process. Understanding the obstacles. Slowly chipping away at them. Making sure you enjoy the process. Making sure you breathe properly while doing it. My first marathon didn't go quite as smoothly as I would have liked, but I made it across the finish line.

Time for the next step.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Many generations ago, thieves of Scotland were stripped of their clan names and kicked out. Some of my ancestors stole sheep. Our new name was Black. About 200 years later I got to visit. The home of those that sent Longshanks (and sheep thieves) back to think again. Home of the hard. Of Billy Connolly. Sean Connery. Of whisky, tartan and bagpipes. Of quality, culture and thinking. The Edinburgh Festival. Golf. Rain. There is something about Scotland that makes me stand taller. South Africa's flower is the Protea, Scotland's the thistle. Not here to mess around. Or be messed around.

Taiwan (Tim)

Not to be confused with Thailand, and not a part of China, Taiwan is the China that should have been – a democratic nation of Chinese people who are not afraid to thumb their nose at the bully who glares at them across the Taiwan strait. Taiwan’s free, safe and fascinating society held me in thrall for ten years. Where else can you saunter down to the 7-11 in your pyjamas at 3 o’clock on a Sunday morning to pay your electricity bill and buy a bottle of whiskey? Where else do people stand patiently on the street corner holding little bags of household waste, waiting for the arrival of the rubbish truck whose theme tune is Beethoven’s Fur Elise?

Tim Casteling

Other posts by and with Tim

Friday, April 22, 2016


Jozi is Los Angeles dried, squashed, stretched and sprinkled with trees. In 2006, I moved there for two years for a fresh start and a job opportunity. Sometimes it takes living in a place to fall in love with it. The Jozi you visit is not quite the same. The pulsating heart of South Africa. Epic thunder storms. Year long sunshine. Traffic. Family and friends. In the biggest man-made forest in the world, the energetic Joburgers are the lungs of what makes me believe change is possible. Willing to put the effort in. It is also where we won the 1995 Rugby World Cup.