• Dr Margi Brown Ash

Work Smarter Conference

Nigel Brennan was the keynote speaker at this year’s WorkSmartConference for Office Professionals, a yearly national conference for all of the professionals who keep universities and health organisations going…primarily women, we gather to share stories, learn new skills and nurture the soul. Some people only meet up once a year at this conference. This year we had 170 delegates, and I had the brilliant task of being their MC. We had six workshops, covering office skills, social media, workplace technologies, health and wellbeing, career progression, practical office tools, and the art of paying attention.

And we had Nigel as our keynote:

” Nigel is a photojournalist, an author, a consultant, a public speaker and an ex hostage. in 2008 the Australian photojournalist was held hostage for 462 days in Somalia. During his hostage ordeal, Nigel suffered both mental and physical torture at the hands of his captors. After an escape attempt in January 2009 in which he and his colleague were both recaptured, Nigel was chained around the ankles until his eventual release–ten months later. Nigel’s emotional story is one of survival, resilience and hope. His life is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the unyielding love of a family.”

(a quote from the WorkSmart program, 2015, page 13).

Nigel’s story was very moving. No, it was more than that. In my opinion it changed the course of the conference. It was an invitation to reflect on connection, on family, on decision making and on acceptance. Nigel told his story, a story that you can read in his book “Price of Life”. This is how Penguin Australia describe the book: “Captured by terrorists, kept in solitary confinement, guarded by men with AK47s and little respect for life. Could you survive it?

Bundaberg photojournalist Nigel Brennan travels to Somalia with Canadian reporter Amanda Lindhout. They are abducted by a criminal gang, that puts a price of US$3 million on their heads. If it’s not paid, they will be killed. And the Australian government does not pay ransoms.

After more than a year of stalled negotiations, Nigel’s family takes matters into their own hands. They go against government advice, scarifying their livelihoods, their houses and personal lives to bring the hostages home. Meanwhile, the kidnappers are losing patience. Brutalised, shackled, not knowing when or how the situation will end, Nigel faces the fight of his life.

This is a story about what it takes to survive, and how far a family will go for freedom, whatever the price”. (copied from Penguin Australia).

It was a rich opportunity to hear Nigel’s story and then begin two days of workshops. What continued to come into my mind throughout both days was: “What is important?”

Nearing the end of his presentation, Nigel gave us a list of ‘take aways’, and I copied them down because I thought we would all benefit from them.

He talked about the importance of family, friends, community. He talked about forgiveness being the highest expression of love. He talked about working from a place of love, not fear. He talked abou this mantra, “and this too shall pass”. He talked about every action having a consequence. Finally he talked about traumatic growth phenomenon.

Throughout his talk he had different quotes, and the one that has sat with me is from Martin Luther King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in a moment of comfort and convenience. But where he stands in times of challenge and controversy”. Martin Luther King.

Many of us are so comfortable in our world. We have built walls around us, just like Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant and we do not invite play or creativity in. We would rather do as the Giant did “my garden is my garden. I will allow no one to play in it except myself” (Oscar Wilde). Nigel alerted us to the importance of love despite fear. Of every action having a consequence. Not just on the one who is stepping into the action, but on the whole community, something that we all need to remind ourselves whatever we do.

After this delicious morning of deep experience, we began the rest of our conference. Perhaps my most memorable experience was listening to Martina Sheeham who talked about The Art of Paying Attention. It was a valuable session and my take away was putting the mobile phone down, lifting my head up and allowing those moments of idleness full rein. We know that creativity requires space. I think that creativity may be a friend of idleness. Thanks Martina for such a sharp session.

So we finished the conference with a panel of women discussing how we hold the whole glorious mess in our hands, meaning, how do we work, play, mother, nurture and look after our own selves while staying sane. Some fabulous responses: the whole WorkSmart conference community had things to say, pulling on their recent experiences over the last two days. We applied our new knowledge and came up with some marvellous resolutions: I’m getting myself a cleaner! I am going to embrace idleness a little more! I’m not going to vacuum!and Google calendar is the answer says the vivacious Yvette Adams, business guru! Block out me time!

Thank you WorkSmart team. It was a splendid two days. The accommodation was excellent (QT on Sunshine Coast, a funky hotel!), the dancing was brill, food wonderful and the team, well you all rock.

#work #smarter #health