OPINION: How my work saved me during our national bushfire crisis
What surrounds us affects us. I don’t read a lot of news. For most of December, the bushfires were a present but peripheral topic for me. I knew about them. I could see and smell the smoke that had descended over our stunning city of Sydney. I discussed bushfire emergency plans with colleagues who live towards the mountains.
Christmas changed it all
But it all became frighteningly real when we had to decide whether to go to the Southern Highlands to spend Christmas with my partner’s parents. In my mind, I had visions of inescapable bushfire fronts, smoky country roads, frightened evacuation centres, and gridlock traffic on open highways. These fears weren’t based on much - because remember, I don’t read the news! They were more a dreamed-up narrative from seeing natural disaster splashed across screens for decades (you can’t escape absorbing it).
And also more recently seeing the brave, beautiful and courageous Turia Pitt live, and hearing her inspiring story as a grassfire survivor. I couldn’t see the point of putting ourselves in the face of danger for the sentimental reasons of a Christmas holiday, risking our lives and putting strain on local resources. Not based on much, but staying home seemed like a commonsense no-brainer.
And so Pandora’s Box was opened
But to others my fear seemed unfounded. So I started to research. I opened up the Pandora’s Box of news I so deliberately protect myself and my psychology from. I read the apocalyptic media reports. I watched the videos. I scrolled through social feeds, as friends, families and colleagues reshared the fiery images, the wildlife casualties, the politics at play, the prayers for relief, the donation drives.
It fuelled my desire to stay safe at home for Christmas - I now had evidence - and it triggered ongoing checks as the week wore on and New Year's spiked with fire danger. The first-person recounts, like this one from Caitlin Fitzsimmons in Narooma, describing the exact situations I had envisioned, being lived out by others. It was so sad. And so scary.
Hopeless and helpless
The hardest part was seeing how many and how big the fires were, the exhausted firies, and the escalating conditions. It created a feeling of hopelessness, of a problem bigger than we could manage. And a feeling of helplessness, indecisive about how best to contribute to the communities in need:
Should I donate money, but thereby encourage unsustainable decisions by our short-sighted governments for future funding of critical services?
Should I donate clothes, food, and supplies, despite pleas from already-overloaded charities?
Should I donate my time or efforts... but how?(knitting pouches for wounded animals isn’t my primary skill set!!)
Where it came to a head
Perhaps the breaking point for me was Monday 6 January. That morning I scrolled social before my sunrise run, and I burst into tears. My country, my beautiful country, was burning and breaking, full of despair and disbelief, fires and fury. Instead of listening to my usual entrepreneurial podcast on my run, I tried something else to help me connect to the soul of my country.
I ran instead to John Williamson’s music, nostalgia from my rural childhood, that celebrates our countryside. More tears came with Galleries of Pink Galahs, the line “breaks your heart when rain won’t come, it breaks your heart” never ringing more true.
I powered up with Raining on the Rock and breathed out intentions of rain as I puffed along the wavy waters of Sydney Harbour. And I recalled the incredible resilience of Australians with True Blue... “Is it standing by your mate, when he/she’s in a fight?” Damn right, it is!
How work helped
And as I went into the office later that morning after the Christmas / New Year holiday break, and focused on the people I COULD help with my Change Management expertise this week, my mind didn’t have the time and attention to dwell on disaster. I got back into a state of thinking about what I could control, what I could do to improve experiences for others. The morning run gave me release; the reintegration to work gave me the reminder of who I am and what I do.
Work means so much more than a pay cheque to most people - it’s an extension of you are, what you have to offer, and how you show up for others. It’s what drives purpose and pride. And it reminded me - my knitting skills might be lacklustre, but my ability to positively inspire and educate through storytelling and reframing... well that’s where I shine!
Where this opinion article was born
At Passion Pioneers, we were meant to kick off an article series this week. But it just didn’t seem appropriate or sensitive with so much going on. I wanted to give back with MY skill set. I put up a short post as a placeholder for this article.
Because THIS is the message I want to share.
Yes - this does affect you.
Yes - it’s normal to feel fear, despair, sadness, and more.
Yes - there’s something you can do for yourself, the affected communities, and our beloved and beautiful homeland.
As a country, Australia is enviably safe. We’re an island nation, geographically far, blessed with incredible landscapes, positive people, and a history that hasn’t much seen war, famine, nuclear threat, hostile dictatorships, or overwhelming poverty or plague on its sacred shores. We’re a multicultural haven, a melting pot of ever-growing tolerance and mateship. We skirted the worst of the Global Financial Crisis. Thus, fires and floods and storms continue to be the main contenders against our peace-rich lives.
So our collective consciousness struggles to comprehend the ferocity of fear and fury from this bushfire crisic. It’s so rare so much of our nation has a common enemy (that our political spin doctors haven’t conjured up, at least). As I said, what surrounds us affects us, gets embedded in our minds, hearts and souls. Our emotional well-being is impacted, even if we ourselves aren’t at the frontline of the bushfires and personally watching our homes and towns burn down.
Our psychology that craves that we “fit in”, links us to the citizens who share the wonderful privilege of calling this glorious land our home.
Yes - it’s ok to feel.
Yes - it’s ok to care.
Yes - it’s ok to act.
But how to act?
7 things you can do as an individual
More than ever, our country needs us to be strong for it. Strength doesn’t come through repression of fear, and ignorance of suffering. It comes through facing into it with vulnerability, hope and commitment.
Beyond donations, here are some ideas to help the bushfire relief efforts:
Don’t feed alarmism - before you post or reshare, think about if your message is factual and helpful for safety and support. I hope this is heeded by our reporters, too. There’s a difference between critically informing the population, and unnecessarily alarming the masses with exaggeration and fake news. Report for safety and sincerity, rather than clicks and catastrophe.
Express your sympathies and support - words DO matter, and releasing your emotions through conversation or condolences is good for you and spreads your intention into the world.
Try a meditation or prayer - regardless of your spiritual beliefs or religion, there is intense power in visualisation and intention. I myself took part in a 3-minute global meditation of rain.
Remind the world how awesome Australia is - revive our tourist economy when this crisis is over. And spend your tourist dollars in local affected communities when it’s safe to visit. #GoWithEmptyEskies @buyfromthebush
Keep at it with your work - continue bringing purpose and pride into the world and keep our economy ticking over (for this reason, we WILL kick off our article series next week).
Donate your specialist skills - you have something unique to offer. I’m thinking of ways we at Passion Pioneers can help communities rebuild with our Change and Coaching skill set.
And finally... fill your feeds with water - post images, videos, and emoji of water and rain to your social channels. Balancing the fiery, ferocious reds and oranges burning our screens (and eyeballs) with calming, cooling blue is powerful beyond compare. What we visualise becomes reality, and collaborating with our collective consciousness, we can make a difference.
Stay safe, stay strong, and please reach out for help, if and when, you need it.
Lata Hamilton is the Founder and Head Coach of Passion Pioneers. She is an accredited Change Manager, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner, and Coach, helping people find their feet and find their futures during restructures. Through generosity, honesty and drive, Lata inspires others to achieve beyond their dreams.