I always bring food. Gourmet donuts or expensive hipster treats. This time, I was running late, so it was a McCafe assortment of cheesecake and macarons.
Food is the way I celebrate, the way I make everything a celebration. Life is better when there’s ridiculously good food around.
Food makes long meetings feel like parties.
I pull up to that big white building, hauling boxes of books and juggling smoothies. I come bearing gifts.
I get greeted with hugs and wide smiles.
This is one of my favourite rituals.
I chose them carefully, my accountants.
These are my third set since starting in business.
With each one, as my business has grown, I’ve outgrown my old accountants.
I never want to be the big fish in a small pond. I want to be mentored and taught by accountants who know how to do business my size and beyond.
The last time I outgrew, I got disciplined in my selection process.
I knew how important accountants were to me, and I wanted them to fill my needs.
Before I had recruited accounting firms by referral, but this time I wanted to step it up.
So I created a spreadsheet of everything I wanted in an accountant:
Experience with online businesses
Experience with export businesses
Using cloud software
Quick responses to my email requests
Managing companies that were both smaller and much larger than mine (so that they had the skill set for exactly my size).
I also had columns for:
Whether they answered my call quickly or responded back to my enquiry quickly
Whether I liked them on the phone and if they made me laugh. (Because, you know… FUN is important to have!)
Then I added rows for all the accounting firms in my area, and set to work on calling them to interview them over the phone.
Some accountants were rude. Some had no clue about what I was talking about. Some made it clear I was outside of their expertise of “mom and pop small businesses.” Some didn’t respond to calls.
Each one was noted. Each negative answer was marked in red, each criteria addressed was marked in green.
Rob was the star performer in that interview round.
He got me. He got my industry. I wasn’t a large anomaly to him as a 7 figure business – he advised much larger companies than I. He was kind and patient and funny.
He got all green stars.
Rob said to me much later:
You’re the only person in 20 years who has interviewed ME to be their accountant. I had to work hard in that interview too! I knew what you were like just from that phonecall.
It’s been 18 months since I started making those quarterly walks up to his office, arms overloaded with food.
We settle in. The meetings are always long.
There is so much to discuss.
Numbers paint just a part of a picture, he says.
They raise questions, but the answers can only be answered by you.
That’s what these sessions are about.
Rob shows the numbers and is the voice of the questions:
This part here? This makes me want to ask: What is happening here? Why is this part growing? Why is this number increasing?
And sometimes I already know the answers and can confidently say:
I know about that. That’s a risk I took and it paid off.
I felt like that was happening. It’s a decision I made, and it hasn’t worked out, and I need to change it.
Things become clearer when the numbers paint their picture and I fill it in.
This time around, I feel like there’s a great weight on me.
It’s our meeting to review the year beforehand, the year of 2016, the year belovedly called: What In The Holy Fuck Just Happened?
It was the year I hired a large team, went through 3 COO’s in quick succession the year that did.not.work.at.all.
Thankfully, the company continued to grow in revenue, and despite expenses skyrocketing, I still made good profit.
But it wore on me. I worked harder than I ever have. I fought for the vision and purpose of my company. I felt profoundly unsupported and misunderstood. I didn’t love what I did anymore. When I went on health retreat, I cried because I couldn’t bear going back to work again.
I finally decided: No more. It’s my way or the highway. I will claim my own power and recreate this company to fit ME.
And I did. It was surprising how quickly things felt better, how much the noise quietened once I got clear. I slashed everything that didn’t fit Pareto’s Rule (20% of your work (the core, central, good stuff) will create 80% of your profit (abundant and joyful), 80% of your work (all the excess stuff) will create 20% of revenue (hard won and salted with sweat and tears).
I’ve been returning to this writing over and over for weeks, trying to get there. Trying to create the space and the quiet in my mind for it to keep flowing forward.
I went away to an essential oil convention which was huge and wonderful and energetically intense. I have a laughter hangover from being around my favourite girl squad, more stories than I can tell. And I backed it up with running the Mindfulness and Manifesting Success event yesterday at Australian National University.
And I’m grateful I’ve done both these things… heart-glad I’ve connected and shared and turned up and experienced.
And then it comes to pay the Introvert Tax, the tax of being highly sensitive/aspie/easily stimulated/whatever you want to call it.
The comedown, the overload, the backlog of thoughts and ideas and feelings and stories and adventures that need to be processed… whether that’s by telling them to Chris, writing about them here or in my journal, or simply just reliving it myself in my head until it makes sense.
I’m reading “First We Make The Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety” by Sarah Wilson, and it’s by far the best book I’ve read on anxiety. Everything makes sense now, and I just keep telling all my mates: Go. Go now. Go get. Read now. Must. In it, she talks about her experience of anxiety (and bipolar), and what she does to keep it being a gift, not a hindrance. And it’s making me think of all the things I need to do to calm the farm – the weighted blankets, the writing, the quiet expanses of spaciousness just to… think. And create. And make sense of it all.
So it’s Thursday and my commitments from the last couple of months have ended and I feel like I have a bit more spaciousness now. To write and think again.
And there’s still backlog to work through, but this is part of it.
Gotta write it out to make sense of it all.
So I’m cocooned away, in my office, door locked, lanky now-3-year-old playing with her papa bear.
Not only that, but I’ve gone into the innermost creative cave of it… the nook of the walk-in robe just off my office… a bean bag and candles and crystals and hand cream in a corner by the window… a sanctuary away from any noise.
Here. Here I’ll return to me again. I’ve gone on many adventures. It’s time to write myself home.
I wonder, you know. I wonder how I could have been a better manager, a better hirer so that I could have scaled up into a larger-sized business.
But it’s like trying to make an antelope be an anteater.
It’s not my gift in the world. It’s not what I was born to do. It’s not what lights me up.
This, this right here does. This part about writing and sharing, this part of listening enough to hear the soft voice inside of me, that’s what I was destined to be on the planet for.
To create endless systems and check-ins to monitor and ensure my staff were at full productivity and doing the right thing?
Nope. Nope. No. Not in a million years.
It was just way too… peopley.
And I didn’t have the right people.
And I didn’t love it, at all.
And I could spend my time beating myself up about that… about the fact that I’m not born to give dictation, I’d rather just do it myself… about the fact that this particular constellation of cells needs and craves great swathes of time in order to listen to the drum in her head and tap tap tap it out onto the keyboard in simpatico. I was not born to be a manager. I was born to be a Leonie.
But what’s the point of beating myself up?
It changes nothing.
And it makes the misassumption that managers are better than introverted creative types.
The fact is, this world needs both.
I got born as the latter.
And it’s my job to craft a life and a business that sings to that and plays to my best side.
So I returned to my Hedgehog Concept… the one that I’ve always been so devout about but it got messed with when I had too many loud voices in my team so insistent that they knew better.
The Hedgehog Concept is from my (beloved business-boner-inducing) Jim Collins.
From Mind Tools – a good article about the Hedgehog Concept:
If you could choose to be a fox or a hedgehog, which would you rather be?
Many people would choose to be a fox. After all, foxes are beautiful, sleek and cunning. Hedgehogs, which are small, prickly creatures found in Europe, Asia and Africa, are quite the opposite: slow, quiet and plodding.
So what do foxes and hedgehogs have to do with your organization’s success? In short, everything.
In this article, we’ll look at the Hedgehog Concept, and we’ll discuss why it pays to be a hedgehog in business.
About the Model
The Hedgehog Concept is based on an ancient Greek parable that states: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
In the parable, the fox uses a variety of strategies to try to catch the hedgehog. It sneaks, pounces, races, and plays dead. And yet, every time, it walks away defeated, with a nose full of spines. The fox never learns that the hedgehog knows how to do one thing perfectly: defend itself.
Philosopher Isaiah Berlin took this parable and applied it to the modern world in his 1953 essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” Berlin divided people into two groups: foxes and hedgehogs.
In his essay, he argued that foxes are sleek and shrewd animals that pursue many goals and interests at the same time. Because of this wide variety of interests and strategies, their thinking is scattered and unfocused, and they are limited in what they can achieve in the long run.
Hedgehogs, however, are slow and steady, and people often overlook them because they’re quiet and unassuming. But, unlike the fox, they are able to simplify the world and focus on one overarching vision. It’s this principle that guides everything they do, and helps them succeed against all odds.
Jim Collins developed this idea further in his classic 2001 book, “Good to Great.” According to Collins, organizations are more likely to succeed if they focus on one thing, and do it well. By doing so, they can beat their competitors and become truly great businesses.
An organization can find its “Hedgehog Concept” by making three separate assessments. First, it can understand what its people are truly passionate about. Next, it can identify what it does better than anyone else. And last, it can determine where it’s good at generating revenue.
The right way forward is where all three answers intersect, and it’s this central position that is the “sweet spot” for the organization’s strategy.
I’d always been so devout about that Hedgehog Concept… knew what worked for the workbooks and the Academy. When I listened too much externally about what I SHOULD be doing next, it led to so much feature and product bloat it wasn’t funny. Revenue went up, but expenses leapt up at the same rate. More work, more money coming in, more money going out, same profit. I took on projects that I shouldn’t have. I got burned to a crisp.
In that meeting with Rob that day, I said:
I should have said No. I should have said No so much more. I should have just listened to what I knew was right, and continued to steer the ship in the direction it needed to go. I wish I had been stronger.
Rob looks at me kindly.
You know, Leonie, you need to be gentler on yourself. And that’s not true. You DID say No. You said No a LOT. I was with you in some of those meetings with your staff. You said No to many of those things that people were pushing you to do. You always knew.
You know, you were always going to get to this point…
How so? I ask, pleading to know the answer of how I’d managed to fuck it up.
Volume was always going to kill you in the end.
You’re not a slow growth company. You’re a high growth company. Sheer volume of orders was always going to force your hand. You were going to have to decide on either of two options: hiring a large team, or outsourcing. There are pros and cons of both, and it comes down to personal choice.
You just explored the option of hiring a large team. You’ve discovered that does not bring you joy at all, or help you feel like you are fulfilling your company mission.
So now you are streamlining and outsourcing.
Either way, you were going to reach a pain point. You couldn’t have kept going the way that you were without choosing one option or the other. All you’ve done is learn which one you don’t wish to do. Excellent. And you’ve done it while staying profitable. You can count that as a win.
Oh, I say.
Maybe I couldn’t have prevented the pain. Maybe I hadn’t made a mistake. Maybe I could give up on believing that if I’d just controlled more, worked harder, I could have avoided the growing strain.
This is normal, he says.
Everyone goes through this. Everyone has their thing to work through. The pain brought on by owning a high growth company. It’s called scaling up, and it isn’t always graceful.
I will get asked this question, so I’ll pre-emptively answer: Rob is from DFK Everalls.
Yes, I recommend them.
*However* they may not be the right fit for you. It’s up to you and your criteria.
Do your own spreadsheet and interview round.
It’s worth it to find gold like this.
Maybe I’m not that special. Maybe I couldn’t have done anything else but been what I am.
I think about what Richard Branson says:
“Even if I’m falling flat on my face, I’m happy, because I know I’m still moving forward.”
I fell on my face. It was muddy and shitty and it hurt.
It did not feel graceful.
It broke my heart to see my dream – that thing I loved waking up in the morning to do, become something I didn’t want to return to.
But that right there – that time, that space – gave me the opportunity to reclaim it.
A reclamation of vision, determined to heal my dream and make it whole again.
And in doing so, I stepped into myself again. My power and my light and my joy. My salty intuition and my lioness guts.
Each step of the way as I carved off the pieces that stung and the pieces that did not fit, I felt lighter again.
This. This is what it is meant to be. This dream that was here all along. It might have got covered up with vines and barnacles… but the castle remains.
Maybe I didn’t make a mistake – I just did what everybody does.
I tried something. It didn’t work. So I’m trying something else.
Right now, it’s working.
And if it stops working, I’ll change course again.
Maybe there’s never any wrong turns, just scenic drives along the way to give you insight and travelling stories you wouldn’t have without. My eyes are different for having seen that land. My heart is stronger and wider for having felt that pain and choosing me and my dream again.
Maybe the whole point of all this is that sometimes, in life and in business,
we go to places we don’t want to go, we learn lessons we don’t want to learn, we see things we don’t wish to see.
Maybe the whole point is that growth of any kind (revenue or spiritual) doesn’t come without pains, without fumbling and near misses in the dark.
That nobody gets through this unscathed, without their war stories, without their “Holy fuck can you believe THAT just happened?”
But that maybe the whole breathless, sweaty mess crafts us into better humans, far better than if the road was always smooth, the air always sweet, the choices easily made.
That this is what we were made for, the destruction and the resurrection, the losing and the reclamation.
It’s all the more sweeter, all the more precious, to have lost it and claimed it again.
It’s a story about my accountant. About the spiritual lessons he’s taught me. In some ways, he’s like my business priest, his office a confessional, his desk adorned with tissue boxes, ready to soak up both happy and sad tears.
But the words are still coming. I’m pushing but it’s a labour.
And so I’m learning and relearning the art of patience. And waiting. Waiting for the right unfolding for those words and that sharing. I don’t want to give birth to it prematurely, before it is fully formed and ripe.
So instead, today, I’m taking the opportunity to answer a question many of you have been asking.
I talk a lot about the results my members get, and how so many of them have been members since we opened our doors in 2010. I talk about how you get over 120+ courses, and $2000+ worth of discounts of essential services and software, and monthly coaching calls. There’s so much to cover that I don’t share much about exactly what courses + topics we cover in the Academy.
So, ye, behold, the Complete List Of Shining Academy Workshops!
BUSINESS + MARKETING:
boost your sales
get your marketing systems advanced + working
map out your income + business goals and create the plan to make them happen
learn how to add zeros to your monthly income (at the END of your numbers that is!)
create a plan to massively grow your tribe
learn how to get more clients
find out how to work less + earn more
how to have maximum impact with less effort
how to help more people + reach your tribe
how to stop being the bottleneck of your business
how to communicate what you do powerfully + charismatically!
reprogram your beliefs from fear + insecurity into prolific creating
get out of procrastination + into massive action
get wildly productive + creative
How to double your sales with sales pages
How to double your sales with launches
How to double your sales with solo emails
How to double your sales with tele seminars
How to double your sales with split testing
8 Ways To Make Money Online
How to create + sell ebooks
Discover Your Ideal Client
How to grow your business with blogging
How to grow your biz with blog advertising
How to become a coach online
Social Media Bootcamp
Creating a social media plan
The Complete Sales Page Checklist
Master Copywriting That Sells
How to double your productivity
How to create automation and systems in your business
Grow your biz with direct mail + traditional advertising
How to sell your physical goods online
Speaking live at events
Calculating your Profit Per Lead worksheet
How to grow your mailing list
How to become an Amazon best-seller
How to optimise your website to get more leads
How to get more clients from your blog
Free Opt-in Offers that work
Creating squeeze pages that convert
Ezines that are magnetic, get opened + actually sell
How to write sales emails that make a motza
Case studies and behind-the-scenes of how Leonie grew her mailing list to 75,000
How to grow your biz with live networking
Online networking + marketing that sells
How to self publish your book or CD
How to market your biz with online industry directories
How to market your biz at conferences and markets
How to earn money through affiliate programs
How to create + sell webinars + tele seminars
How to earn abundance with Joint Ventures
How to create your website
How to write brilliantly for your website
Setting up your shopping cart
Choosing a mailing list provider
How to charge for your work
How to get a fantastic profile picture
How to rock your sales page
What to test in your emails for more profit and interaction
Social Media Marketing Do’s + Don’ts
How to grow your business through guest posts
How to run your business without losing your sanity
How to put yourself out there
How to double your business with videos
How to double your mailing list
How to hire and manage a team
How to find VAs for your online business
My business rolodex of all the essential software + systems I use in my business
Complete 2 day video recording of the Shining Biz Conference
How to market your business with videos and youtube
Recommended business reading
Business Case Study: Success at an artist’s market
SEO Masterclass: How to get to #1 on Google
Marketing Do’s + Don’ts for Health Coaches + Professionals
How to grow your local bricks and mortar business
How to have self love in business
Money + Manifesting course
6 stages of getting and keeping customers
How to raise your rates
How to get + share testimonials to grow your business
Leonie’s Super Simple Money Planner
How to create a website with WordPress
How to create a million dollar company
How to use masterminds to accelerate your business
Magic Money Making Kit
7 Chakra Business Model: Guidance + Tools For Each Stage of your Business Growth
How to create Standard Operating Procedures
6i Success System: The Essential Mindset + Habits You Need To Create Success
Double Your Biz in 365 Days
Publishing Sensation Case Study
Product Marketing Workshop
LIFE + SOUL CLASSES
Radiant Goddess E-Course
Creating Your Goddess Haven E-Course
Shining Habits System
Sacred Space Clearing Kit
How to Protect Your Energy
Leonie’s Recommended Reading
21 Day Gratitude Diary
How to create more joy in your life! Mini workshop
Sex, Burnout + Other miracles of life
How to trust your intuition! mini workshop
How to create your own damn miracles! mini workshop
Healing Goddess workshop
How to use a Sage Smudge stick
73 Lessons Every Goddess Must Know book
How to get happy
How to face your fears
How to trust your intuition
How to stop comparing yourself to others
Living a Creative Life (featured expert: SARK)
How to be a Mama Goddess (featured expert: Karen Maezen Miller)
To do List pad printable
Discover your Life’s Wisdom workshop
Top Goal Setting Mistakes that Ensure Failure
7 Life-Changing Habits for an Abundant Year (featured expert: Denise Duffield-Thomas)
Smart Time Management (featured expert: Kate Christie)
How to Align to and Attract your Goals (featured expert: Kerry Rowett)
From Broke Creative to Millionaire Maven
How to find your purpose mini workshop
Unforgettable India visual journal
5 Ways to Get Back on Track with your Goals
Everyday Sex Goddess
Creative Goddess e-course
Creating with kids video workshop
Divine Wool fairies craft workshop
Intuitive art workshop
Canberra Wise Women Event
The project finisher e-book
How to create a mini retreat
How to create a dreamboard
I Create My Amazing Year meditation
Best Day Ever meditation
Divine Dreaming Meditation kit
Chakra Healing meditation kit
Releasing Fears meditation kit
Holy Dinger Uber Zennifying meditation kit
Instant Uplift meditation
Making Space for your Goddess to Shine meditation
I am a Radiant Goddess affirmation meditation
Discover your Radiance meditation
Get Creatively Unblocked meditation
Become Wildly Creative meditation
Mother’s Meditation + Healing
Anxiety Releasing meditation
Creative Goddess meditation
SHINING DISCOUNT CENTRE:
Discounts on a range of our favourite suppliers including:
Woo Themes + Woo Commerce
Edgar social media software
Akashic Record Institute
UPCOMING COURSES OVER THE NEXT YEAR:
Needle Felted Wall Hanging workshop
Social Media Bootcamp
Art Journalling workshop
Network Marketing workshop
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: How to recognise it + protect yourself from it
Self Publishing Success Story: How I Sold Over 300,000 Books
Burnout: How To Recognise + Heal It
How to Create and sell an e-Course
Wisdom Journalling: Journal Your Way To Clarity, Insight + Abundance!
Emotional Self Help
Websites That Sell
It really IS the whole kit + caboodle!
So yes… it’s quite amazing when I look at that list of just how much we cover in the Shining Biz + Life Academy… but it really is my life’s work – I give my Academy members everything I’ve created over the last 14 years of blogging and running a business online!
I’ve learned SO much about success, money, business, marketing + living a soulful, happy life… and I’m passionate about paying it forward and sharing it ALL for anybody who wants the same.
Just remember though – only 23 days left before price DOUBLES!
Let’s make miracles happen together!
I’m so excited to be working with even MORE gorgeous souls this year to help them make all their dreams come true in the Academy. It’s my favourite thing in the world to see.
I shared about my bigger reasons here. Basically: I’ve added courses + services out the wazoo for the Academy, and even at the increased price, it’s still a fantastic investment for people.
Q: Is this a new thing you’re offering?
LOLZ. Nope. I’ve been running the Academy since 2010 – nearly 7 years now! I’ve taught thousands of women in that time to grow abundant, successful businesses + have happier lives. I’ve adored watching their lives + businesses change + grow because of the Academy! I’m so very proud!
Q: Can I buy just the business courses? Or just the life courses? Or just one course on its own?
Nope. The Academy is the best way I can support you. It’s comprehensive support.
Q: What if I’ve already signed up at a lower price? Does that mean you are increasing my membership price?
Absolutely not. You get to keep the membership price you signed up at for life.
I’ve always promised my Academy members that even if I increase prices, I will let all members keep the price they signed up with. (Note: if you cancel your membership and want to renew later, you have to sign up at the new price. So always best to keep your membership renewed!)
I take care of you, boo!
Q: What is your spirit animal?
Trick question for those still reading. Buffalo or horse.
Q: Will I get to keep this price, or will it go up?
Whatever price you enrol at, you get to keep forever. So if you sign up today for $497, that’s your membership price forevs. Even if I double prices again in another two years and start selling the Academy for $1997 a year – you’ll get to keep it for $497 a year. YAY!
There are NO refunds for Academy memberships except where required by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Law.
There are no refunds for change of mind, or because you’ve logged into the membership site and quickly realised that you will still need to actually – you know – work to see results. It’s not a “Click a Buy Button and Instantly Fix All Your Problems” kind of thing. Nothing is.
As soon as you enrol, you receive access to 120+ of my business, marketing, tech, creativity, spirituality, meditation and relationship courses. If you use them, they will work for you. They’ve been used by thousands of people over the last 6 years with huge results. It’s a unique, generous offering, and you’d be hard pressed to find as much content, resources, love and goodness in such an affordable program. When you invest in yourself with the Academy membership, your purchase is final.
I stand fully behind my products, and I don’t enable quitters. Do the work + you’ll see the results. Simple.
It’s funny how both my babies – the Academy and the workbooks have been around for exactly the same amount of years as I’ve been a mama. I wrote the workbooks with a full moon belly of Ostara, and got the idea for the Academy one night in the dark haze of night breastfeeding a tiny baby in my arms.
I opened it the week after moving back to my hometown with a chubbier baby on my hip.
Oooh! Let me see if I can find the original video for it.
Nope… but I DID just find this!
Oh Leonie of 7 years ago. You are so beautiful babes. I am so proud of you. And I know your vajayjay is all bung up in this video, and you’ve got some big hard times ahead of you. But you’re going to make it through. And you’ll do it all your own way. And it will be enough. It will be perfect in its human kind of way. I love you.
EEEEP. Okay… that was a fun SASHAYYY down memory lane.
I just finished writing up all the courses I’m teaching for the next year for my Academy members. A beautiful blend of business, marketing, life, relationship, meditations + creativity. I feel excited. It feels… GOOD. I can’t wait to share them with you.
I took the weekend off social media + phones completely. Deleted them all off my phone, haven’t put them back on. Instead of using the phone as my reflex when I was bored or overstimulated… I had to make better choices. I read, and I journalled. I read a romance book in the bath so long I had to top it up twice with hot water. I made big art – the kind I haven’t done for a while.
All these choices I’ve made and been making…
it’s like the spring rains are coming
and little tendrils and petals are unfurling.
I feel like I’ve been beige for a while, for a variety of reasons – stress, illness, I lost my way.
But now I’ve reclaimed my path…
And damn it feels good.
Leonie in full colour is returning to life.
And it’s the most wonderful feeling of all.
If you’d told me last year that I’d feel this good by this time, I wouldn’t have believed you.
All I needed to do was make some decisions that were big and hard at the time…
but damn… if my life isn’t magnificent and good again from them.
How do I even begin to share about that night, about that magic, about what it meant to me, about who James Taylor is in the celestial gallery of stars in my heart?
At the very beginning I guess.
I didn’t get much of a musical history education as a kid.
I lived on a farm, and my parents were too busy chasing cattle or children to consider something as insignificant as music.
(That said, they did encourage us to play music – my brother and sister both played clarinet, the world’s unsexiest instrument, and I attempted very hard to learn how to play guitar thanks to my glorious Year 5 teacher Mr Davis, but only really mastered “Wild Thing”. Playing music just never was easy for my brain, not like the easy home of art and writing.)
There were a few stray albums floating around later on – The Lion King soundtrack and The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack.
And like every good child of the 80s and early 90s, I made mixtape recordings of the radio, screechy beginnings and endings and all.
I felt like a scavenger, desperate to find the songs that lived in my heart but hadn’t heard with my ears.
The only glimpses I heard was when my cousin Michael visited and sang old country music songs, or I listened to his dad’s scratchy recordings on tape…. his deep voice visiting from the past, glorious and strong, long before emphysema rendered him a grey ashen shadow on my grandmother’s verandah, spitting up chunks of lung into a yellow ice cream bucket. If ya’ll want to know why I’m so anti-smoking, glimpse into this window of the blonde, curly-haired imp, sitting on her Uncle Trevor’s bed, watching TV with him on his tiny screen for endless, baking hours.
“The only twisted branch… on my good old family tree…”
My Uncle Trevor’s ghostly voice sang from the tapes.
So I’d take his old guitar out to the long grass by the fence behind the vege patch, and I’d try to sing his songs too.
It came easy to him, but it didn’t come easy to me.
When I was 15 I could sense an earthquake was beginning to erupt on our family farm, one that would continue for years and break apart forever the Allan Dynasty. No more Christmases spent with the legion of aunties and uncles and cousins, no more pride in being an Allan, not when Allans turned against other Allans, not when there was greed and hatred and childhood hurts turned into adult warfare. I know your interest is piqued, and oh, the stories I could tell. But now’s not the time, and this is not the place, and they’ve all been eaked out by me in therapy already until the hurt no longer hurt and the shock no longer shocked, and all that is left is: Well, that happened.
Still, I left before the real earthquakes began. Somehow, somewhere, deep inside, I knew I needed to get out. Not because I hated the place – but because I knew I needed more. Get off the farm, get out of that small town, get out of that high school that was so filled with chaos and pain and bullying.
I sent myself to boarding school. I sent away for prospectuses, took scholarship exams, and when I had enough offers, I chose not was the most big or flash. Just the one that felt like the most like me. It was small and homely and filled with naive country kids who’d grown up doing School On The Air. Kids who took the opportunity of Free Dress days not to dress up as “cool” or “hot” as possible… but to wear their Akubra cowboy hats and their Wrangler jeans.
And those country kids? They still remain dear friends to this day, ones I’m so proud of, kids who dreamed big dreams and made them happen: the ABC correspondent who raised 3 kids in Africa, Australia’s expert on the Burma crisis, Canberra’s urban planner, a micro-electronic engineer who designs the software cars run on (and also happens to be the world #2 in beer pong). The pride is real, guys.
I chose the right place. There I had teachers who were kind and brilliant and fascinating who loved what they did. When high school teachers don’t have to spend their days policing for drugs or defending themselves against physical attacks from students or just even spending three quarters of class time getting that one kid just to BEHAVE ALREADY… that one kid who should have been expelled long ago, but hasn’t been… when they don’t have to spend their time doing that, and can just teach? They are a miracle to watch and a joy to experience.
Miss Weeks who would giddily clap her hands and squee when I handed in a writing assignment, telling me she couldn’t wait to read what I’d write. She’d encourage me to write more, be more florally, be more expressive, be even more of myself. Mr Trezona who was so excited about computers and IT and the internet I couldn’t help but catch the contagion, who treated me like a person and told me stories of his life which filled me with wonder and awe. Miss Scott who gave me my first spiritual book – The Celestine Prophecy, who was more dear friend than teacher, and continues to be to this day. Miss Landsberg, who told me stories of her life during the war as we sat together, side by side on a wire framed bench, looking out over the night. The rest of the boarding dorms were filled with ants scurrying and chatting, but between us there was a secret world we could talk our way through each break. She still writes me letters now, at 90. She is one of the bravest women I know. Mr Thompson our Principal, who believed in me and was kind to me even when others didn’t see his kind side, and he protected me from the war that was happening back home. He made me feel listened to, that what I said was worthy of being heard. And Mr Turier, who reigned over the kingdom of the art rooms. He was benevolent and ridiculous and charming and encouraging and incomprehensible and sage and teasing all at once. I don’t ever remember him telling us what to do, instead he mastered the art of holding space for us to be creative while watching us from his glass office, 70s music blaring. He sent me back to the dorm rooms with an armful of “real homework” – books by Krishnamurti, albums by Bob Dylan and Mike Oldfield and James Taylor.
I got lucky, beyond lucky, with that moment in time, with that bunch of country kids and that circle of teachers. They were a miracle and a blessing to me. I wouldn’t be who I am now if I hadn’t leapt. So many seeds were planted then that grew strong in my forest of trees.
Just one of them was James Taylor.
When Turier handed me that CD in that armful of “real homework” he didn’t know he’d given me the songs I’d been hunting for.
The songs that were already inside me, just waiting for my ears to hear them.
James was the bard to my soul, the music I’d been waiting for.
There in that dorm room that night, there wasn’t any shock, just a homecoming.
At last. At last. Here was the music. Here was home.
I inhaled “Fire and Rain” and “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Carolina In My Mind” and “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” until they became a part of my cells.
I lay on my bed and looked out at the night sky and rested.
And so it continued. I made mix CDs of James and Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac and a thousand folk singers, with one odd disco version of Bette Midler’s “Beast of Burden”.
When I moved to Canberra, I foraged through the library’s music collection, hungrily feeding my ears all the new sounds I’d never heard before: world music and Willie Nelson’s later music and Janis Joplin and Sarah McLachlan and Xavier Rudd. One gleeful day, I came upon James Taylor’s familiar face, now slightly more weathered. It wasn’t the 70s anymore, but here he was – still making albums! He was still creating music! Still turning up, still creating! My heart swam with joy. I took home Hourglass and October Road, waited breathlessly, worrying, as all fans do, if I’d like “his old stuff better than his new stuff.” I worried that he was going to be rehashing, making shit albums. I didn’t want to break the James spell inside me. But the music came alive, and so did I.
Here was a man who still loved to make music. Who still made new music that was instantly timeless. Who was as brilliant as ever.
“Ananas” and “Line ‘em Up” and “Jump Up Behind Me” and “Another Day.”
When I was 21, I wrote a bucket list of everything I wanted to do in my life.
See James Taylor live in concert.
There were no other musicians or bands on that list. No Paul or Fleetwood Mac.
Time waned and roamed as it does. I became a mother, I lived through the hells of Post Natal Depression and Hyperemesis Gravidarum, I married my one true love by the sea. A friend died suddenly, grandmothers died expectedly but still sadly. People fell in love and married and divorced. We had another baby, we moved around a lot. We lived a whole lot of life. We landed back in Canberra, the city my love and I grew into adults in, the place I’d found those new James Taylor CDs in the library. My face shifted from glowing maiden to a Mama-who-has-seen-some-shit, ya know?
I started using essential oils therapeutically last year. My body a ship on the rocks, constantly coming aground on infection. First just to ward off the rocks. Then as the fevers left, my intuition started to bloom again with them. That intuition which had once been so deep but now was dusty and tired. Maybe I’d left it in a moving box, or maybe it had been dented over and over or maybe I’d convulsively vomited it out during the Time Of The Great Spewing For 9 Months or maybe I just needed another 100 hours of sleep to catch up with my motherhood deficit. Whatever it was, the oils began calling it out again. Lubricating the joints of spirit with lavender and sandalwood, frankincense and white fir.
I began dreaming again, feet adorned in Frankincense. Dreams that were tonic, were prophecy, were awake and full colour.
One night, I dream of James.
He has come to a small gathering, we are by the sea next to a crumbling mansion.
He sits with his guitar and he sings, that familiar voice washing over me, awakening me.
I recline in my wooden deck chair in front of him, my spirit humming.
I keep saying to myself over and over:
“This is the greatest dream of my life. I have front row seats to watch James SING!”
In the morning, I awake, jubilant.
Two days later, there is a knock on the door of my soul, in the form of an ad pop up.
I gasp in shock at the recognition – it’s James’ face.
I go to close it, but remember my dream had come to me for a reason.
I look closer:
He’s doing a concert tour. Surely not in Australia though? He never comes here! Well, even if it IS, he won’t come to Canberra. None of the big American stars do!
Still, I caution myself. The dream. Remember the dream. Look harder.
I click. I look. I stop breathing.
James Taylor has just announced a concert. In Canberra.
When Chris asks me what it is, I can only point and squeak and sob some more.
Not just that:
Tickets haven’t even been open yet.
I might just be able to get front row tickets.
I’m at Defcon Level 5 of Freakout.
Two days later, I wait patiently for the clock to click over.
Click. Front row tickets. Buy.
My hands shake and I am palpitating.
My Frankincense-infused dream has come true.
It’s two months between that moment and the next, the buying and the night of the concert.
I try and stay calm… two months is too long for me to be peaking out.
By the last week, I’m starting to freak. So I message my darling Deb for sage advice on how to emotionally process seeing James when I do see him.
She made me snort out my nose laughing. Most grandmotherly advice in the world: “Just keep yourself nice + don’t make too big a spectacle!” Even now I am chortling about this.
It was a relief to know somehow that I wouldn’t have to emotionally process seeing JT. That it would just stay as a magical experience, floating about in the ethers of my body. That, I could do.
The night of the concert.
Our friend arrives to babysit and we are dressed up all fancy and in a minute we’re on the highway together, alone, for the very first time in a long time, and the very first time at night since I was in labour with Beth.
We find our way, get our seats.
And my dream and my click-happy finger have scored us the prize seats of the house… the two seats directly in front of the microphone.
We spend our time taking selfies in front of JT’s microphone and guitar and water bottle.
I am at Full Blown Fangirl level.
I make friends with the other front row people. I’m the youngest fan by 20 years.
Chris meanwhile says he’s going to need No Doze to stay awake (he’s more of a KISS glam rock fan).
I keep burying my head in his shoulder, clutching the warm river stone of him, my mountain of calm.
The anticipation is too much.
he just sidles onto stage.
Walks out like he isn’t James Taylor, best-selling musician for the last 5 decades. Like he wasn’t the first person the Beatles signed for their own record label. Like he hasn’t sold over 100 million albums.
Walked out in his cap and his suit and his buttoned up blue shirt.
He took off his cap and bowed long and deep, reverent and grateful.
This mythical figure is a real man. Tall and long limbed, piercing blue eyes. He is at once brand new and deeply familiar to me. He has always reminded me of my dead brother, Clinton who died in a farming accident when I was a teenager. They are born from the same mould, the same archetype of human. He is my brother if he’d only lived fifty more years. Most of all though, he is James.
He walks up to the microphone, no fan fare, no words, no supporting act, no fancy light show.
Just strums his guitar,
opens his mouth
And that’s what he continues to do for the next three hours.
In between, he told us stories.
Stories about creating, about the land he loves, about politics (“It’s easier to break the political system than you think. Trust me, we just did. We’re sorry about that”) and about musical history he was a part of (“When I auditioned as an unknown for Paul McCartney and George Harrison for the Beatles’ record label, I was like a Chihuahua on meth amphetamines. I can’t remember that much about that decade to be honest.”)
He is funny and hesitant, at once shy and at home on stage.
He makes jokes at his own expense, is gloriously self deprecating.
But what’s most apparent most of all?
He can’t keep the smile off his face as he sings.
He closes his eyes and goes into another place.
He can barely contain his gladness.
This is a man who has lived the last 40 years making music.
He joked “I got famous for singing my dear friend Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend’. When I first heard it, I couldn’t stop myself from running to the guitar to play it myself. I don’t know if I knew then I would be singing that song for people every night for the rest of my life. Still, if I had to choose any song in the world to sing every night for the rest of my life, that is a good one to choose.”
And he does it with gladness, and with joy.
Irrepressible gladness at doing this thing he was put on the planet to do.
And it rose in me a question I keep ruminating over…
What would be the thing that would still make me impossibly glad to do 40 years from now?
What would make me smile like James Taylor still does?
Now here’s the part where I tell you:
Despite my adoration for him as a musician, I always thought he’d be a little of the “You’re So Vain” type that his ex-wife Carly Simon allegedly wrote about him. I expected him to be a little jaded or conceited or narcissistic.
I wasn’t prepared for how humble and gentle his presence was.
That bloke might have had a lot of drugs + crazy times + spent time in a psychiatric hospital… but this clearly was a dude who has done a lot of therapy, gotten over his shit, has the love of a good woman and has become pretty sage in the process. He’s a canary (as Glennon Doyle Melton would call him) who feels so much he’s had to learn how to channel it in healthy ways.
Who he is as a presence is even more beautiful and present and healed than I ever expected.
By intermission I’ve already had the best night of my life hands down.
As he dismisses us for intermission, he jokes he is just going to go stand behind the curtains and wait for us to come back. Instead, a young couple come scurrying up to the front, and ask him to sign a shirt.
James smiles and says “Of course! Delighted to!” and crouches that long frame down to sit on the side of the stage.
I stand, paralysed, a metre from him.
“Go,” Chris murmurs. “Go say hello. There’s about to be a stampede.”
So I stand behind the couple, and feel terrible that I am even asking him of this, when he really should be backstage resting. He turns to me and I go blank and jittery.
“Ummm! Shit! I’m so nervous! I can barely even talk! Thank you for being you in the world. I’m just so grateful. May I please have a selfie with you and get a shirt signed? Totally okay if no!”
“Of course,” he smiled. “I’d love that.”
Then I stepped back and the crowds surged forward. Chris grabbed me by the arm, and I shook like a leaf.
He guided me out of the concert hall so I could stammer and hyperventilate in peace.
“How was that?” he said.
“Best… night… of… my… life.”
My hilarious friends were less than impressed:
And then it was time for round 2.
As we headed back into the concert hall… I was gobsmacked.
The crowd was still surrounding James, who was still sitting on the stage edge, taking photos and shaking hands and signing autographs half an hour later.
He had not taken a break at all… used the intermission solely to thank people for coming.
People were a gush with his generosity.
His band came back from intermission and began to play.
Still, James crouched and signed signatures. People began filing back to their seats, but he stayed and touched and connected with every single person who wanted it. Eventually, his back up singers pulled him back up… and that man who’d just sung his heart out for 90 minutes and then spent another 30 minutes swamped by fans?
Didn’t take a break. Didn’t get any water.
Just stood up.
Played his guitar.
Opened his mouth.
Three hours. Three hours, ya’ll!
The lovely lady beside us told me she’d seen him and Carole King sing live together in Melbourne, and that they kept singing for hours, around and around, totally joyful and in love with the act of singing.
After what I saw, I believe it.
This is a man who loves what he does. Who has an almost superhuman lack of personal needs.
Who plays that long and that hard and that well… and barely breaks a sweat.
Who smiles that whole time because he still can’t quite believe his luck that he gets to sing his songs and people want to listen.
On through the catalogue we journeyed.
I close my eyes, let the music vibrate over me, the song its own sound healing.
The catalogue of my life.
You’ve Got A Friend reminds me of my soul brother Dan, my high school best friend. His love saved me, and mine saved his. When I sent myself to boarding school, he said “I’m not staying here without you” and came with me. I’ve adored him for half my life now. That will only continue.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am I’ll come running to see you again. Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.
Fire and Rain is the story of every fuckup and loss and sadness and grief. I think: If James Taylor can survive Fire and Rain, I can survive all these things too. And my weary old heart heals some more.
If this man who has been through so much – addiction, heart break, mental illness, fame, and can still be here creating 40 years later, still be lighting up as he does so… I can get through this great mess of life too. I can get through the Fire and still be joyful.
Won’t you look down upon me Jesus, You’ve got to help me make a stand. You’ve just got to see me through another day. My body’s aching and my time is at hand and I won’t make it any other way. Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I’d see you again.
Wandering tells me I can forgive myself for being a wanderer, for moving so many times. That maybe just maybe I’m not alone in this.
I’ve been wandering early and late from New York City to the Golden Gate and it don’t look like I’ll ever stop my wandering.
And in my own Z-list internet celebrity-ish life, I more deeply resonated with Fame than ever before – both the strangeness of it, and the sacred blessing of being on purpose.
Fortune and fame’s such a curious game. Perfect strangers can call you by name. Pay good money to hear Fire and Rain again and again and again. Some are like summer coming back every year Got your baby, got your blanket, got your bucket of beer. I break into a grin from ear to ear and suddenly it’s clear That’s why I’m here.
And this will sound wanky, but it is honest, so that’s enough: That night with JT helped me understand a bit more about this fame thing. It helped me understand why some people feel the way they do when they meet me. My work touches them, so I can feel like both a mythical creature + a dear companion to them. Our creative work is so important and helps all of us feel less alone in the world.
He says he is just a country hippy, and all at once, those words become emblazoned on my heart.
That’s what I am. That’s what I’ve struggled with:
The small town farm girl who is into woo-woo and sacred women’s work.
But there it is:
I can be both.
Why didn’t I think of this before?
Still, now JT has said it, it’s officially a Thing.
I forget, but that night I remembered:
Music is transcendent.
It allows us to be present.
It asks only for our attention.
And it reminds all of us to be creative in the ways that sing to us.
And my husband, who thought he’d need No Doze?
He said it was one of the best concerts he’d ever experienced.
He said the joy and energy and gifts of James and his band of 10+ were contagious and brilliant.
He has converted and now bows down to the James Taylor altar with me.
James reminded me to PLAY.
Every part of that concert felt like play, as though we were invited in to see a band of 11 brilliant, gifted musicians jam together. It was a collaboration, a joyous celebration of music.
They had FUN most of all.
By the end of the night all the backing singers had got us all up and dancing by the stage. I was dancing in front of JT’s mike… it was all verrrry intimate… and I was basically in wild rapture trying not to wet myself. Chris was just behind me, man-guarding my handbag and attempting not to draw attention to himself. #oppositesattract
When it was over, my heart was so full.
All I could do was prayer pose and send waves of love and gratitude to James.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for doing your work in the world. Thank you for sharing your gift. You have touched mine and so many other’s lives because of it.
And that’s the whole point of it, isn’t it?
How can we be more playful?
How can we do work that still makes us grin madly to do in 40 years?
How can we more deeply trust that our work is meant for us and is meant for others as well? That this world needs our light and our song and our dance?
I return to my studio now, my James Taylor pass hanging over my head, a creative amulet.
I couldn’t make the music I heard in my heart as a child.
But that’s okay. James could. And James did.
And that was all that was needed.
So James plays his songs, and I write my words and make my pictures.