Work slow - work well


WORDS Alice Armitage IMAGES Tresna’s own

Could you share a little bit about yourself and your background with us?

At the very core of me is someone who wants to create incredible experiences for people. I value creativity, connection and experiences.

I love food and wine. I make a great martini. I’m always happy to ask the dumb question on behalf of others in the room who might be to afraid to. I think white chocolate is a misnomer and should be abolished. My father is a composer and my mother an artist. 

My career spans 8  years in government, 5 years working with startups and a combined 4 years running my own businesses. I’ve had fancy titles and hustled my little heart out. Managed massive teams. Had gigantic budgets. I’ve organised morning tea for a Prime Minister and thrown and a silent disco party for 500 people. I’ve worn the busy-badge and climbed corporate ladders. Nowadays I don’t really allow all of those things define me. 

What does ‘hustle’ mean to you? 

I don’t think hustle in itself is inherently bad, the notion has just come to warp the way we work. We’ve been told that we have to “hustle hard” and that it’s the only way we’re going to be successful. The meaning of the word hustle means “push roughly; jostle and to obtain illicitly or by forceful action.”  It’s quite an aggressive and forceful word and if we’re always in this constant state of striving, pushing, forcing, grasping then not only is that exhausting, but it’s also removing the opportunity for things to naturally unfold. 

Sometimes the approach of “getting on with it” is needed but I’ve learnt that the more I force a situation, or try and manipulate an outcome the less joyful it feels. 

When I counteract hustle with rest, letting go and just allowing things to unravel then when I am in work mode everything feels easier. It’s  a physical sensation. It feels like things falling in to place, feeling in flow, the right person arriving and everything coming together. When I’m focussed, but things have an ease to them, I call this having on my “laser fingers”.  I’ve learnt that I can achieve more if I actually pause the “hustle” now and then 

Tell us a little about Kin? How did it come to be? 

At the end of 2017 after a year of running my own consulting business I was so burnt out and realised I needed to change my approach to work. So 2018 became a year of exploration for me. 

I’ve worked mostly with startups in recent years and have been exposed to a lot of unhealthy attitudes to success. You know, all that “Hustle Harder” &  “grow at all costs” type of thing. The idea that you have to give up everything in your life if you want to get investors, increase profits or build something of value doesn’t sit right with me anymore.

What’s the point of having a unicorn company if your family end up hating you, your health is deteriorating and you’ve spent potentially your best years slaving away.

Seeing that kind of thing, and also having gone through my own realisation that I was burnt out and sacrificing a lot for my own version of success told me that we needed a different dialogue. So kin was born. To start that dialogue for us all. 

As well as building out kin you’re also still supporting projects as a consultant. How have you worked toward finding balance and building boundaries within your work?

Having variety in my life is one way I satisfy my need for experience. I want to work with different clients, have different hobbies on the go and enjoy a multi-faceted life.

The work I do with clients supports my work with Kin. Being in workplaces and helping them to build teams, working with new startup CEOs on leadership skills or helping a company to begin a series of community events exposes me to the very people who I created Kin for.

Seeing the struggles first hand, witnessing people on the brink of burn out or helping people to establish boundaries reaffirms why something like Kin is needed. When Kin gets to a stage where I could, in theory, step away from consulting work I’m not sure I’d really want to! 

What does ‘working sustainably’ mean for you?

Acknowledging that we can’t always be ON is so important. Each of us is known for one or two exceptional talents that we possess and our ability to be able to show up and do the “thing” requires a whole bunch of supporting factors to be in place.

I think about my garden at home. I have a massive fig tree out the back and come summer that things is an absolute power house of fruity goodness. I can literally pick kilograms of fruit each week and it keeps on going. That’s when the fig tree is doing it’s thing.  Come Autumn the fruit is gone and the leaves start to fall. And in winter the whole tree is dormant and I prune back the branches and tidy it up. Right now when I’m writing this, it’s Spring, and in the coming weeks tiny buds will appear and the tree will wake up. 

I don’t expect my fig tree to give me fruit all year. If I treat it right in the other seasons then when it’s ready to do it’s thing then it really comes to the party.

When we acknowledge what our “thing” is and then determine the pruning and resting practices that support us to be able to show up and do that well, we start to build sustainability in to our working lives. When I took more time for sleep, exercise and stepping away from technology I actually got better at my work.

I couldn’t agree more! So how do we even begin to explain to clients and anyone we work with that spending less time with them than they want is actually serving them well?

When I first started my consulting business almost three years ago I went in to it head first, saying yes to every opportunity and not considering how I was going to deliver. Within three months I had a full week of billable hours, but was also sub-contracting additional activities to six sub-contractors. I was able to sustain this for a few months, running on adrenaline and digging in to my energy reserves.

But by the end of that first year I was exhausted and I absolutely wasn’t having any fun. What was the point of having a business if I had no time for myself, friends and family?

The following year I totally restructured how I worked. I looked at how much work I really needed each month to be able to cover my costs of living and business operations and I decided to focus on securing a couple of key retainer clients who really appreciated my talents and could get the most out of me.

When I had “enough” work I then decided to prioritise myself, just like I would a client. I exercised every day, went to bed earlier,  spent more time cooking healthy meals for my family and prioritised seeing my parents more often. The work opportunities will always be there, but once you lose your health or your most precious relationships they are a lot harder to get back.

I worked the least amount of hours ever, and yet when I showed up to work with a client the results they got were SO MUCH BETTER.  The value they got was far greater. I felt a greater sense of joy from the work I did for them, because everything was in place for me to do my thing as best as I could.

I had clients asking me to work more hours. Did I want to go full time with them? Could they pay me more to give up my other clients and just work with them?

I knew, though, that if they doubled my hours they wouldn’t get double the results. The reason I was good was because I wasn’t working a stupid amount of hours a week. The reason I was good was because I was spending time in different kinds of businesses. I was creating time in the week to learn, read, be inspired by other sources. I created time to be, rather than do. and also time. I call it whitespace. These are the blocks of time in the diary where nothing is planned and there’s no outcome that needs to be achieved. That’s the time I often have my biggest revelations.

At first I felt obnoxious.  I felt like I had to make an excuse for why I didn’t want to take on more work with clients. But the more I started to explain my process of managing my energy and increasing my impact and creativity, the more people really started to respect that.

So often we’re scared to vocalise our boundaries, but once we do we set in motion a dynamic where the boundaries are respected but also celebrated. Vocalising your boundaries also makes it easier for others  to do the same.

I remember a client, a CEO of a new startup,  looking at me saying“wow, you rally have your stuff together, don’t you?” and we then ended up working together over several months to help him achieve his own version of balance too. Now days he might call me while he’s out on his boat fishing and getting inspiration for a new project. He no longer believes that he has to be at his computer 18 hours a day to be a good CEO.

I like to be the person with all the answers - but we all know in reality that doesn’t serve anyone well in the end. How do you think we can diversify the support we’re offering?

As I get older I actually love being the person without all the answers! My knowledge and skill set is quite diverse. I can do a lot of stuff okay, and a couple of things really well.  I want to spend at least 70% of my time doing the stuff that I’m really good at and the rest of the time I want to at least be okay at it!

If I know that I’m not good at something and it doesn’t make sense for me to learn it, I’m a big fan of outsourcing or helping to find the right person for the task. I really love collaboration, teams and sharing ideas so where I can I love bringing in others to help work on a project. 

It’s far less embarrassing to say “you know what, I’m not the right person to do that for you but let me find out who is” than to say “yep I can do that” and totally screw it up!

Community connection and experiences mean a lot to both of us, how do you see kin encompassing that?  

When I created the concept of Kin North, I envisaged it encompassing all sorts of things in the future. A yoga studio, retreats for busy professionals, an anti-hustle incubator for startups, products, a cafe, coaching, wellness services…

At the heart of all of this is my number one WHY of creating incredible experiences for people while supporting them to be high achieving, and happy, over a sustained period of time. There’s enough people talking about how to hustle harder, get shit done and build massive empires. If that’s all you hear, then it’s easy to assume that rest and taking care of yourself isn’t part of the equation. 

I want to be one of the voices to balance that out, by saying it’s okay to rest  - indeed it’s the secret sauce when wanting to build or create anything new! 

What does the next five years look like for Tresna and Kin?

Who knows!

I’ve spent a lot of my life looking far in to the future and imagining what’s next and I suspect I’ve missed a lot of what’s going on right there and then.

Success is a funny thing, in that it’s always branded as being this end game rather than a constant evolution. Right now I feel successful, and happy, and yet there’s so much I want to learn and create for the world. Success for me is now a mindset, rather than a list of things that I’ve achieved professionally.

I can certainly see Kin being a much larger community, with a physical space in Melbourne and roving outposts around the world. My specialty is in physical community gatherings, but I’d love to be able to nurture the online Kin Community to a place where an online webinar feels as meaningful as one of our in-person events.

Alice Armitage