What I work on

What to do about our animals?

After hearing about Facebook’s emotion manipulation study, I have to wonder if they’ve gone into overdrive.

Every second picture on my Facebook feed is of another travesty of human nature. From pig farming to duck and rabbit plucking, to elephant chaining, to every imaginable torture that we do to animals in order to clothe, feed and prettify ourselves.

Amongst the collective consciousness that seems to have suddenly come about in regards to what we are willingly ignoring is (for me at least), a total sense of helplessness.

I consider myself pretty up with the play. I remember refusing to eat non-free range eggs while friends and family tried to convince me it would never be economically viable, I went through several years where I was dirt poor, yet scoured the supermarket aisles and only bought toiletries that weren’t tested on animals. I wont even begin on all the other animal derived products that also contribute to the misery, but needless to say, I did a fair bit of research into how things are made.

It was hard.

Over time, I came to a level of comfort with the idea that it’s ok to eat meat, but *wherever possible*, it should be free range (not ‘legally’ free range, but marked by an independent authority like the SPCA as free range). If I can get cruelty free products within a reasonable additional price and quality, Ill go for them. If I’m out for dinner, I won’t bother. I relaxed on my morals for many reasons that Im still not entirely comfortable with. I am comfortable knowing that every time I break my old rules I do it with the full knowledge of what I am doing.

What really annoyed me in the last few days is that it seems like Im surrounded by similar people, and yet our very basic attempts to live a little bit better are thwarted at every step by a system that is legally allowed to hide the true reality of the situation. As with cigarette marketing, I think it’s about time we take a ‘an informed decision needs a dose of reality’ approach. And I do believe our Government should play a role.

‘Free range is a marketing term’

How is this even possible. How is it that in New Zealand, “There is no formal or compulsory auditing system for free-range egg farming.” How is it that consumers with a conscience are being routinely tricked and instead of improving the situation, harming it even further?

To me, this seems like a pretty easy thing to change. It shouldn’t be up to the likes of the SPCA to promote the fact that their stamp is the only auditing system (or lack thereof) we really have.

Same with animal testing. Why is it that it’s up to cruelty free providers to add it to their labels, rather than the opposite. Why do we legally make it easy for companies to cover up the cruelty?

Its just not economically viable

Well, lets give it a shot. Once again, I hate middle class people reverting immediately to the ‘poor people can’t afford it’ line. Sure, cool. Im also aware of economic disparity. That’s no reason why the rest of us shouldn’t sacrifice a little more of our plentiful cash to change these industries for the better. Lets just give it a shot and see huh? Eat less meat, stop throwing out leftovers, cut out a coffee. Prioritise becoming the sort of person who can still focus on things that they cannot see.

As a secondary economic argument. New zealand is tiny. While I dont think we live up to our ‘clean green’ image as much as we pretend, why not become the cruelty free marketplace of the world? We’re never going to be big enough to do it all, so lets become world leaders in a wonderful niche.

All our meat comes from NZ

In the middle of one recent debate, someone mentioned that we’re all so up in arms about NZ pig farming, while blissfully unaware that a lot of our Pork doesnt even come from here… And who knows the conditions those animals live in. Once again, packaging makes it easy to hide this and leave the onus on New Zealand brands to push their point rather than visa versa.

How do we fix this?

As much as Facebook has become a painful place to be and it’s so frustrating to look around and see a non-stop, overwhelming level of cruelty, it must be a sign of improvement?

Normally I’m not a fan of the ‘spreading the word leads to change’ philosophy, but in this case I think it works. Most of us have enough exposure to domestic pets to struggle to not connect the dots regularly. Obviously the public pressure is making an impact and I know that world over, countries are starting to ban testing for cosmetics.

The tragedy is, as one of my friends pointed out, it seems unlikely we can fix anything. A certain amount of willful ignorance is vital to surviving this world without falling into a deep depression. Because we can ban factory farming, we can ban animal testing we can do all the comparatively easy things, but we’ll still wind up with a 50% newborn chick death rate, a horrific end to the life of every cow taken to an abattoir and a group of people who just can’t live without their Mink coats.

Ultra-rich man’s letter: The Pitchforks Are Coming”

I just got sent this brilliant article by a friend (thanks Jemma!).

The general gist is that the 0.01% needs to start some serious change before the wildly unbalanced American society starts to fall apart… Typed by the hands of one of their own.

My favorite part sums up how I feel whenever anyone I know fools themselves into thinking that somehow they got where they got to off their own back. Especially those who are so quick to judge the ‘lowlife’ losers of this capitalism game for their acts of desperation… I’m a bit less forgiving of these types. Anyone who’s dumb enough to not understand some basics of society, in another life wouldn’t be selling fruit. They’d be sitting in the dirt starving.

“So forget all that rhetoric about how America is great because of people like you and me and Steve Jobs. You know the truth even if you won’t admit it: If any of us had been born in Somalia or the Congo, all we’d be is some guy standing barefoot next to a dirt road selling fruit. It’s not that Somalia and Congo don’t have good entrepreneurs. It’s just that the best ones are selling their wares off crates by the side of the road because that’s all their customers can afford.”

Very much worth a read and has a very interesting take on why minimum wages are the key to saving and growing our economies, and the job of the elite to change things before everything turns to custard.

Read the article

Peanut butter and personal branding

images

I recently have the privilege of meeting Pic from Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter. Pic is the biggest fan of peanut butter I’ve ever met (and about as engaging as they come). He displayed so much enthusiasm for his product that made an unintentional mockery of ‘personal brand’ expertise, which was timely, because I’ve heard the phrase a fair bit recently.

I understand the requirement for a personal brand, I just think adding a term to the concept undermines the whole point. To me, your ‘personal brand’ is the person other people believe you to be. Since I’m a fan of authenticity, that means your personal brand is, in fact, who you are.

There’s definitely room to put in some thought about who you are, what defines you and how to best represent that publicly… but I find it a bit scammy to do much more than that in terms of ‘brand development’. While shyness is probably the biggest barrier to conveying your personal brand, coming up with what it is, shouldn’t be. For the likes of me, something as structured as actually crafting a ‘personal brand’ is counter to who I am. Basically, what Im saying is your personal brand is simply knowing who you are and being yourself (regardless of the scale or situation).

Maybe the likes of Pic are personal brand experts, or maybe they just innately ‘get’ it. Regardless, I suppose you know your personal and business brand are raving successes, when suddenly every man and his dog are jumping on the peanut butter bandwagon. It takes a lot to turn a completely ignored product into the newest craze.

Willful Ignorance

I love the phrase ‘willful ignorance’ and I really love this video.

It’s making the rounds on Facebook, but I do wonder how many of those who ‘share’ and ‘like’ the video have modified their behavior or continue to remain willfully ignorant about this issue. There seems to be a lot of research happening now about how tools like Facebook speed information sharing so much that it makes us feel comfortable consuming without digesting it, so you have to wonder if the impact is in any way reflective of the amount of attention it’s getting. But that’s a side note.

One of the things I found fascinating about viewing the video and watching others watch it, is how humans have such a sense of self preservation that despite being confronted with our own faults, our brains still fight valiantly to convince us that the lecturer is STILL WORSE and therefore to miss the entire point of the video.

If you haven’t already, watch it. You may find yourself stuck wondering what could be considered a ‘reasonable’ effort in this day and age to be a little less willfully ignorant.

Getting back on (the running) track

tumblr_mm1nk5dtIk1rrjjxto1_500I recently had to confess to a friend that these days that I am a runner by name only. Moving to the ‘burbs and quitting the gym was always going to be a weak point in my motivation. Now its dark when I wake up, it’s REALLY hard to fight the internal battle of bed vs freezing cold, dark pavement pounding.

I REALLY struggle with motivation and I used to think I was alone. But several conversations later, I realise that everyone is in the same boat and the only difference between those who do and those who don’t is the ability to get on the shoes and walk out the door. Seems like a simple enough task, but man oh man walking to my wardrobe can be the hardest few steps of my day.

So I entered the Queenstown Half Marathon. I’ve done two half marathons before, slowly and when I was much fitter than now… But this time, I want to do it in 2 hours. I know that seems slow, but for me, that’s quite snappy.

Im two runs into my new training programme and it’s the first time I’ve actually followed one. Im starting with the 10km programme. I think I can probably run 10kms happily anyway, but when I wake up in the morning the first few times the 3km target feels way less of a commitment, and I think it’s important to get into the routine.

If anyone else is int he same boat, and wants to keep tabs on each other. Im keen. I need all the help I can get at this stage.

Women’s only groups?

A while ago a few entrepreneurial women and I decided to start a monthly Meetup for like minded ladies.

Over the months, the Meetup has become fairly successful, drawing an array of fascinating and very successful women out of the woodwork, with the promise of worts and all stories about ourselves, by ourselves.

The question has been raised time and time again: Why do we limit the group to females only?

As a general rule, Im not a big personal fan of segregating genders. I’d never send my kids to single sex schools, Im not necessarily a fan of quotas and the only reason I went to the women only gym at Les Mills is because it was the only place with spare treadmills. But in this case, we thought it was worth a try.

Why (I think) we did it.

The first reason was based around the fact that we’d all been to a bunch of big tech events and conferences and noticed the distinct lack of female presenters. My initial theory was that women were somehow more shy or less primed for presenting (major projection happening there). Providing a safe place to practice speaking to a crowd and building confidence, to me, seemed the greatest benefit of starting a female only group. Maybe if we acted as a breeding ground for female speakers, we’d be all over the show and that would solve an issue we all felt existed.

Secondly, Ive been in enough female dominated social situations, where, with varying degrees of subtlety, the men involved conveyed their lack of interest in the ‘nattering’ and ‘gossip’. As a general rule, we DO socialise differently. There are a ton of places women can go and socialise in the tech sector, it’s just that they are dominated by men. I genuinely don’t know if that has a big impact on the way things are done at those events, but I do know I save my blatant venting and full disclosure of anxieties and issues for my female friends.

Maybe we should just jump right on in and start those conversations in the existing places, but the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t happening enough for any of us.

So we decide we may not be right, but trying something new had to be better than wishing and hoping for a greater representation of female tech founders.

What we’ve found so far

The group’s format is very loose on format (a round of intros, 1-2 speakers, then requests and success/failures), but very strict on openness. We don’t want your sales pitch, we want your trials and tribulations and how you managed to get through them.

I was wrong about a fear of public speaking, thats just me. What I think we’ve found though is that the what we speak about is quite different from anything Ive heard in a more traditional techie meetup, we can evolve from ‘how to get through the day to day grind’ to ‘how to survive an emotional breakdown to ‘is it ok to breastfeed while at a meeting?’ in the space of 10 minutes. People ask questions and others answer with brutal insight. And I find it very helpful.

One thing I’ve very much found, is that life is way easier when you see people who look and act like you, doing things you are scared of. It also puts a lot more pressure on because it ups the standard of what you expect for yourself and removes the excuses that are all too easy to find. So maybe it’s not even about the absense of men, but the presence of so many other women that makes a difference.

Any conclusions?

Nope. Im still personally torn, and hate to think separation equals success. I still wonder if it’s just the culture we created and think if we could hold onto that and let everyone and their dog in, we’d be equally successful. The way the group has grown, and attracted so many people that I literally wouldn’t have known existed, does make me think its successful. We’re a small community overall, where have all these women been hiding? I suppose the more important question is why? And how does a female only group change that?

Who knows?

Jumping on bandwagons?

I LOVED this experiment from Jimmy Kimmel asking people who follow the gluten free diet what gluten actually is. It totally reminds me of the people who jumped on to cage free eggs, while not seeing the hypocrisy of loading their trolleys with caged chicken meat or pork.

Maybe a little reminder to research your fad?

Spending strike

I’m constantly dishing out unrequested advice about budgeting and savings. For reasons even I don’t understand, it freaks me out when people reach 30 without a investment plan and I become a nagging housewife.

The other week I read an article (which I can’t find the link to) about the benefits of not spending any money for a week. Im not a huge fan of all or nothing, Ive never seen ‘nothing’ wind up in anything apart from ‘all’ very quickly… But I did like the idea of resetting your spending habits by significantly cutting spending for a week every month, or, you know, whenever you feel like it.

After an expensive start to the year, driven by my obsession with home decorating and overseas holidays, I awoke one morning sick of spending money (seriously, I have the least addictive personality ever, give me too much of anything and my brain rebels against it). So I thought I’d give it a go for a week. This was much to the amusement of my mother who noticed the sudden lack of parcels landing on her doorstep from all my online purchases (sent to her because I love NZ Post but hate my parcels sitting by my front door all day).

IT WAS HARD.

I limited myself to purchasing just groceries and entertainment. It was a bit of a copout because entertainment can really add up, but I like to ease into these things to avoid booming and busting. It’s important to note that even with these loose limitations, I still busted.

I believe the main reason is that I now have a mortgage overdraft account, which means the days of immediately transferring money to my savings when I get paid are over. When the number you are overdrawn is large enough, a couple of hundred extra spending is dwarfed and goes unnoticed. It becomes very easy to spend hundred of dollars more a week without noticing.

So out pops my custom budget spreadsheet, where I add actual target numbers week on week. So far this has proven a great incentive. I hate failing to meet targets.

Does any one else have any good budgeting tips?

Why school *is* important

Quite often I hear people say ‘school really doesn’t matter’. This statement largely assumes that the marks you get at school are the only value school offers and that even with below average marks, you can wind up doing ok. To me, the statement and the intent is not only incorrect, it’s a pretty terrible thing to say.

When you are in school, you have to turn up to day after day, you have to do homework, assignments and exams. There’s a lot you do at school that is not fun, interesting or easy. Sitting in a classroom can be boring, it may be hard to absorb all the information flying at you. You may find it all too easy… Regardless of your experience, up until a certain age, you have to do it anyway. If you have to do it anyway, then I believe your attitude to doing it speaks volumes about what you will or wont achieve in life.

When I hear people claiming they didn’t like school and that they didn’t try and they, as a result didn’t do well… I judge them. I genuinely don’t understand people who think its legitimate to just accept the fact they didn’t get anything out of school and didn’t do anything about it. The ability to knowingly waste that much of your life not doing what you want or figuring out how to turn it into something you want is an ability you do not want.

The people who complain that no one told them how to ‘do’ school, are quite often the same people who faced with a situation they don’t love now, seem to have no skills for getting themselves out of it. They are people who tend to muddle through life letting it happen to them, they trained themselves at school to take no responsibility for their circumstances and think it’s perfectly legitimate to continue to sit back and complain about life happening to them.

If you didn’t enjoy school, you had three options:

  1. Figure out the best option available and get stuck in doing it
  2. Moan about how it was every one else’s problem and put very little effort in
  3. Leave.

Later in life, you will also run into hard situations, the least of which is holding down a job, relationship or any challenge or goal. You STILL have the same three options. The one you resorted to at school seems like the one that largely sets you up for life.

It strikes me that the most important thing you learned at school isn’t necessarily reflected in your grades, but your approach to sucking it up in and choosing to work hard or change what you are doing, even if it’s not that fun.

Life’s not fair. Move on.

Turns out, poverty aint so bad… If we’re all equally poor. It’s only when poverty is compared to less poverty that the situation becomes truly miserable for the the person with less. And this is one of the most important economic (and life) lessons I’ve ever learned.

If everyone around you is still living in student flats at 30, you’d also be comfortable. Your comfort vastly reduces when others (especially those given money from parents) buy their first houses and you’re the only one still slumming it (though those living in real slums would beg to differ).

One thing humans are very, very good at is feeling worthy of their successes and feeling life’s lack of fairness is responsible for their failures. Pay careful attention to your own conversations and you’ll probably find you are guilty too.

It seems to me that you can’t change the hand you are dealt, and dwelling on the unfairness of life is about the best way to ensure it continues to provide unhappiness.

I met a women in America who got me thinking. She had an hour’s wait at the bus stop because her employer hired her on the basis that as soon as they weren’t busy, she had to leave for the day. I bet she was barely making minimum wage, she had zero job security in a workplace she had to choose because she’d used up her meagre savings unsuccessfully trying to start a new life in a new State. They’d booted her out for the day early, and not even worked around her bus schedule.

The reason she was so remarkable is that she owned her problem. Not once did she (justifiably) complain about the huge unfairnesses that had invariably hit her throughout life and the current unfairness she was facing. She just said ‘I am here now at the bottom. But Im going to work my way back up, get my savings back, get a job that has regular hours and get my life back on track.’

Her attitude was astounding. I soon realised that she was actually so much better off than most people who have generally won the game of life. We’re not well equipped to take a hit, and as a result seem to get knocked down harder and stay down longer.

A lot of quotes flying around seem so cliched, Im not sure we really pay attention. It really is true that happiness is a choice and and I’ve never met a happy person who has found themselves there by luck (although it’s often assumed they have).

I left the bus stop wondering how this woman would react to the things I’ve complained about in my life. She’d probably laugh in my face.