Goodbye, and good vibes

41 days ago marked the final throes of packing up life in Sydney – apartment empty, bags packed and the ‘goodbye for nows’ largely said.

Equally, the first 40 days in the USA have been a full gamut of emotions. Equal parts moving at the speed of light and standing very still. A whole new life to set-up, connections to make, a business to build and yet full of self-reflection on the good, the bad and others that will take a little longer to understand in this new home.

So, what’s happened in the first 40 days?

It’s been a pretty amazing first 40 days.

Here are a few highlights, in no particular order:

  • Exploring the City of Philadelphia, and a bit of surrounding Pennsylvania (West Chester, Reading, Wyomissing)
  • Consuming a couple of Philly Cheesesteaks (and unrelatedly, a new fitness regime)
  • Visiting Baltimore twice – once to Baltimore’s World Trade Center and once to see an organization at the forefront of health and caring (and eating crab on both occasions)
  • Visiting the Big Apple – consuming the 3 Bs (Burgers, Beers, Bagels) and seeing the Strokes and Mac Demarco play in Brooklyn for New Year’s Eve
  • Feeling firsthand the passion for this city’s beloved football team, the ‘Eagles’. Even greater than any passion witnessed for the Sea Eagles back in Sydney. The passion level brought the E-A-G-L-E-S chant out at the end of a 76ers basketball game (yes, at a different sporting code). Oh, and the understandable ‘Dallas Sucks’ chant also happened
  • Visiting Washington D.C.:
    • Attending the launch of Australian exhibition ‘Beauty, Rich and Rare’ at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum (wow)
    • Being moved to tears (more than once) at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

What is there to learn in the USA?

In short, just so much. And that is just in 40 days. One article could never be enough – so here are the top 4.

1. Australia is the lucky country.

In Australia, we get this statement and we take it for granted.

Although it is a tricky time to suggest we are lucky given our land girt by sea doesn’t seem so great with the state of fire emergency just at the moment. But the response from everyday people doing what they can – our entrenched sense of helping a mate (yes sure, we do use ‘mate’ even for people we’ve never met) shows how truly lucky we are.

Over here, when you walk the streets of Philadelphia, you get why people have a certain view of it. It absolutely is gritty, as the name of the local ice hockey team’s mascot shows. People are real. Parts of the city are absolutely gorgeous, others tough, although like any city some gentrification has occurred. Yet one Philly neighbourhood has been labelled ‘the Walmart of Heroin’ – and that’s a sad label to hold.

And that grittiness has eyes, a face and a story. And that story is repeated to you on every commute.  By a gaunt man or woman, aged more than their years, face marked and teeth missing, clothes imperfect and the whites of their eyes yellow. Not always related to drugs or other life-changing vices, but always a virtue of circumstance.

And despite all that, each story is told with a great politeness, with self-awareness and reflection on a few too many cards falling the wrong way and an unwavering humanity and hope it can all turn around.

We are not devoid of problems or vices in Australia. But seeing a different part of the world makes you appreciate what we have in place makes us pretty bloody lucky.

2. Humans are everything at work

This one is a no-brainer but despite great connectivity back to mwah. HQ, to family and friends, this is another stop and realise moment.

Humans are 100% of what makes work good, bad, energising and at times momentarily draining. We make each other reflect, laugh, question, frown and much more – that’s us, humans at work. We absolutely need to have a driving purpose, but we need those critical relationships. Humans make work.

And for all the flexibility and positives offered in co-working spaces, apparently catering to the changing ‘the future of work’, the statement ‘Humans are everything’ at work summarizes exactly what needs to be in constant focus (and is not yet solved for in co-working…).

Never fear, mwah. USA has found some great humans to connect with locally!

3. Same, same but different. The 90-10 rule.

Australia and the USA do have commonalities. We both have people, buildings, streets, water (okay, the Harbour beats 2 rivers any day), some culinary overlap and lots of familiar brands and so forth. When you walk down Market St, Philly you could be walking down George St Sydney (before trams) or even more realistically Melbourne given both share the ‘city grid’ approach.

And yet, the 90-10 rule is a simple notion to explain that sense of being in a place where everything seems just a fraction off familiar.

4. Diversity – and a whole new ‘out-group’

This is the most stark of realizations. We’ve seen the way empathy is triggered when people take on different personas in Virtual Reality, but this was a whole different empathy triggered at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

You never realize you are part of an ‘in-group’ until you are staunchly lobbed to the outer. This was possessing the palest of skin tones, amidst a rich and troubling yet importantly told story of African American history. A story of slavery, without freedom or human rights. And, on the other hand, one that played such a huge role in shaping present-day America. The economy, the buildings, the culture – everything.

And the most painful of stories is told factually, with reflection and personalized stories from the past but without hatred. With a focus on history, and with a clear (yet still not equal) inflection point to the amazing achievements of African American people in the USA and beyond.

And in situ, as a white couple from Australia it felt like the story was being presented to a mostly African American audience. The old, the middle and the young. And you get what it is like to be cast to the outer, to feel and wish as though you could make yourself disappear.  With nothing you can say, or do to make it ‘right’. All you can do is make the time and space to listen and understand.

To finish – a commitment

It’s exciting to think what the next 40 days and beyond hold.

The commitment is a simple one.

To go in eyes wide open, and to deeply connect with these people and this place.

To learn about the world of work, from a multitude of different angles.

For anyone reading this in the USA, please do get in touch to help that pursuit! Get in touch via [email protected]