Tinsel and holly wreaths appeared in the SSI office this week – a sure sign that another year is drawing to a close and the summer break is around the corner. Like many people, I’m looking forward to a few weeks off to relax, revive and refresh myself for another busy year in 2017.
The end of year is often a time of reflection, where we ponder the highs and lows of the prior 12 months. Too often though, we focus on the negatives: the diets we didn’t see through, the bad habits we didn’t kick, the mindful colouring books gathering dust in our desk drawers. We beat ourselves up for failing to achieve what we’d set out to or for the things that didn’t go the way we’d hoped.
I encourage you to break that pattern this year and, instead, take a moment to celebrate what you have achieved, both in your professional life but also as a human being. You might have eaten fewer lunches at your desk, or spent more time with your kids. Maybe you reached out to a lonely neighbour, or put away your diyas before Diwali rolled around again. Whatever it is, take the time to celebrate those accomplishments, big and small, and draw a line under the things that didn’t go as planned.
Like any organisation, 2016 brought both achievements and setbacks for SSI but, as I relax over summer, I know what I’ll be thinking about.
I’ll be thinking about the 8,615 refugees, humanitarian entrants and people seeking asylum SSI supported during its most recent financial reporting period. I’ll be thinking about the 3,709 people who secured a home through SSI housing and the 33 small businesses that started with the support of Ignite Small Business Start-Ups.
I’ll be thinking about the 1,785 people who we supported to find a job – people like Amina Khatoon, who recently told SSI: "I feel fantastic, and my manager and work colleagues are really lovely and we are a great team."
I’ll be thinking about Shagufta Hamayun, whose experience as a participant in SSI Ability Links NSW has inspired her to pursue a career in community services herself: she recently explained that "SSI Ability Links NSW has been an inspiration to me and now I feel ready to give back and help other people, the same way Seema helped me."
I’ll also be thinking about Yarrie Bangura – a former Sierra Leonean refugee who is now a budding Ignite entrepreneur. As she put it, "refugee people are strong but if they are not quite strong enough, with just some support they can achieve anything".
As I catch up with friends and family to celebrate the holidays, I’m also going to be focusing on having real, open conversations. I was struck by a recent comment from University of Sydney lecturer Olaf Werder, who wrote in The Conversation last week that "today when people talk, online and offline, any real dialogue seems to have given way to parallel monologues, paired with an inability to actively listen".
This cuts to the heart of a problem that often comes to the fore at this time of year; we catch up with family members and friends – some of whom we only see once a year – but rather than listening to one another, we spend our time together thinking about our own contribution and competing to be heard.
Making this holiday season about open dialogue, really listening and communicating with each other, will enrich our relationships and enhance our understanding and appreciation of our friends and relatives.
As Mr Werder puts it: "On an individual level, we need to balance impersonal with personal communication, seek out and engage with opposing opinions on purpose, and try understanding the background for someone’s position by actively listening. This goes beyond the freedom of speech idea. It forms an attempt to find common ground when talking to each other, which is not coincidentally also a definition of the term ‘community’."
Before I sign off for the year, I’d like to wish you all a safe and happy holiday season. Enjoy the warm weather, take the time to reflect, relax and, for those of you whose loved ones are near, spend meaningful times with the people who are dear to you.