The Leap Stories #60: Clare Desira

A core aspect of taking a leap is self awareness about your beliefs. Because as Henry Ford is quoted as saying ‘weather you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.’ Your beliefs about what’s possible in your life determine what you’ll create with it.

So it’s a good bet to prime yourself with positivity. And this isn’t just something that sounds like a good idea. The whole field positive psychology has gained momentum in the last 15 years with the likes of Martin Seligman and Shaun Achor researching and publishing the evidence-based upsides to cultivating positive thoughts and harvesting gratitude.

This doesn’t mean washing over hard times or powerfully painful feelings. It means that when we find ourselves in the midst of messy humanness, we are able to maintain a sense of optimism and hope that things will get better, while we honour and work through the rough patch.

But it’s not as easy as saying ‘just think positive!’ or ‘chin up buttercup!’. It takes focussing on the good in your life, and mostly the small, seemingly insignificant things that happen in everyday life. Looking for positive moments frequently, no matter how small, is the stuff that resilience is made of.

If you’ve listened to our Things That Matter webinar, you’ll know that 2012 was a tricky year for me. One of the things that helped get me through was my #do2012 meme I created for myself on Instagram, where every day I posted one small good thing from that day. I actively looked for moments of positive on really dark days.

And this week’s leap taker, Clare Desira founder of Top Five Movement has recorded her top five happiest moments from each day for nearly 10 years. She has written down more than 10,000 positive memories about her life. She has consciously trained her brain for gratitude, positivity and happiness instead of negativity, pessimism and entitlement.

Her leap then was to take the lessons of doing her top five, and create a product that encourages everyone to take a moment from their day and be provoked with a positivity prompt, from a beautiful deck of 50 question cards. My favourite cards include ‘What’s your favourite smell from today?’, ‘What moment did you share with a loved one today that made you happy?’ and ‘What is the one thing you can celebrate getting done or making progress on today?’.

GIVEAWAY! Clare launched her Positive Thought Starters question card deck to the world this week! To celebrate we’re giving away a deck each day for five days over on Instagram. Each evening we’ll ask a question from the deck and prompt you to answer! Think of it like your own little positivity bootcamp for the week!

Now read about Clare’s fantastic story and insightful tips below…

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Gorgeous Clare with her beautiful Top Five Movement Positive Thought Starters. Check them out here.

What did you want to be when you grew up and why?

I really had no idea. I was always envious of the kids that were really clear on what they wanted to do. I think I have always had an entrepreneurial streak though. As a family we would spend time split between Colac and Lorne. My brother and I used to collect golf balls from the scrub at the Lorne golf course and then once we had a couple of buckets full we would set up a card table between the 5th and 6th holes where the golfers had to cross a road. We’d sell them cordial, watermelon and their golf balls back! We had so much fun.

From a work perspective, because I was unclear on what I wanted to do, it is fair to say I was completely in cruise mode with life until 2004 when I attended a personal development program called RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Award, which I now direct). I was 21 and I had a major light-bulb moment that set me on this path. At RYLA I learnt that I had the power to do and be anything I wanted. Anything.

Now, this wasn’t one of those wishy-washy realisations that fades the second you leave the workshop, this was one of those ‘aha’ moments where my entire perspective on life tangibly shifted. I realised I could switch gears whenever I wanted. I could step out of my ho-hum, just cruising along existence and decide to rise up and do something meaningful and amazing instead. The program opened my eyes to the world of personal development.

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Following this program I had a swag of 100 goals. I put them all up on a vision board in my room. In the centre of the vision board I put pictures of the most positive people in my life. Some of the goals were smaller (owning a pair of boots of all things!), through to travelling goals (swimming with hammerheads in the Galapagos, cycling through Vietnam and walking the Camino in Spain). Another was becoming a public speaker (I now speak regularly to groups of 10 to over 1000 people) and another was finding more meaningful work. Have I achieved them all? Yep! I don’t write this to brag but I really want to share that I am an everyday person and that what you focus on grows. The power of a vision or list of goals can be crazily motivating and life-changing.

Baby step by baby step, tiny tweak by tiny tweak, I started taking responsibility for who I was and what I did, and in the process, began creating the kind of life that I really wanted to live and moving towards that vision.

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What did/do you study?

At the end of high school, because I was so unclear on what I wanted to do, I chose to study business at university. I thought it would open doors and keep my options open while I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up! I love solving business and community problems with a mix of creativity and logic.

Even though the learning side of school always came easily to me, I wasn’t particularly interested in anything. Looking back I believe this is because I didn’t have a vision. The one time I got super excited about something, it was a short-lived leap that fell really flat (see story below about the Kosovo refugees).

I now have a clear vision for my life and am collecting handy new skills all the time. I doubt I’ll ever be a master of anything, because I like to allow space to keep collecting new skills rather than sticking with the one thing. A few other study/learning experiences include:

  • Completing my coaching accreditation. As a coach I believe we can learn anything and I am always learning new things.
  • Over the last few years my role has changed so many times. I have loved this. This curiosity, initiative to learn and also being able to see coaching clients go from zero to hero knowledge with a focus on a particular area is motivating. I find the actual learning easy. It is the decision making, procrastination and fear around making a decision to learn something new or outsource it that takes the most energy.
  • Behavioural change, social impact measurement and in person/online facilitation have been enormously helpful things for me to study.
  • In 2011, I became a Centre for Sustainability Leadership (CSL) fellow. The premise of this course was growing your impact. CSL was all about getting the people who care into leadership. This course was another turning point for me. It was loaded with leaders from all sectors and gave us skills like speech writing and media training.

As part of CSL, I had to write and deliver a speech to 50 peers, all highly successful in their fields and passionate about sustainability. They were all talking on topics like biodiversity, carbon credits and vegetarianism, while I was lost on what to present. After much wondering and pondering (with no small amount of fear), I built up enough courage to bring my very simple daily habit to the floor.

It was the first time I’d taken the Top Five message beyond my own notebook and daily habit. But as I worked on the speech and reflected on everything I’d learnt over the preceding years writing my lists of positive memories, it all fused into a simple, powerful message: Here was an opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable world. The Top Five Movement was born.

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What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?

I have JUST landed on my feet following my scariest leap – sharing my first product with the world and also investing in my new excuse busting online space – topfivemovement.com. The site is centred around tools that help my readers overcome the main five excuses that hold them back.

My first product is a deck of positive thought starting questions that have been endorsed by a psychologist and can ‘literally transform our brain ‘default’ position from a negative focus to the positive.’ These questions will help you notice the amazing, remarkable, memorable moments that are happening in your life, each and every day. From the tiny to the tremendous, you’ll be enhancing your wellbeing and setting yourself up for success with every card. Incredible thought leaders and wellness experts have contributed questions to the deck too.

This project hasn’t involved one massive leap. I have been growing this project at a passionate and enjoyable pace for years and things have really fired up to an exciting (and sometimes terrifying) pace this year with my new product and site.

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The beautiful Top Five Movement Positive Thought Starters. You can find out more about them here.

What were you doing before you made your leap?

Some people collect shoes. Some collect jewellery or designer clothing. Others collect toys, from digital to drivable.

Before my leap I was collecting positive memories.

I am a curator of my own happy thoughts and I have a collection of over 10,000 positive moments stored in a personal library of notebooks and journals. Within those pages, I have gathered the best of my daily adventures (and plenty of non-adventures), my social highs and professional victories, big wins and tiny joys.

It’s my heart and soul on paper.

As soon as I felt and learnt about the benefits from this daily habit, I knew I had to start sharing it. It makes me smile that the most positive people I know now say that I am the most positive person they know (I’ve even been called a ‘positivity guru’!). Lots of people have asked me what my secret is: Was I born super happy? Do I lead a charmed life? Did I just win the happiness lottery (or the real lottery, for that matter!)? The answer is none of these things. There is no secret or magic formula, and it isn’t luck (genetic or otherwise). The truth is, I treat happiness like a habit, same as brushing my teeth or eating my veggies. And I make this choice every day.

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Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?

My parents. My dad is a lifelong learner, man of many careers and a positive force. We tease him for his saying about life being good:’it is like Christmas every day’. My mum is creative, encouraging, witty as all hell, quietly brave and my rock.

My husband. We are both hard workers and have the ability to lighten each other up when either of us are taking ourselves too seriously. From a work perspective he is admirably disciplined in learning and trying new things, his latest being designing and building a house from scratch with hardly any experience. It’s hard for this quiet ambition to not wear off on you! He is 110% supportive, well, except maybe when we had monthly conversations about the bank balance during the product development stage.

My in-laws. They are working machines, so dedicated to learning new things and determined on giving everything a go. They are generous in nature and make the impossible possible.

Our RYLA team (past and present). We are a united and like-minded bunch of people from all walks of life and experience, including coaches, a CEO (Julie Parker), social workers, psychologists, an employment consultant, teacher and even a flower farmer! We intensively work together and run a week-long personal development program for 50 young leaders together every year.

I am very lucky to have beautiful, generous and creative role models around me and actively source inspiration from others I don’t know through books, podcasts and online resources.

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Clare sharing her wisdom and knowledge in a TEDx talk in Melbourne.

What did you have in place before you made the leap?

A basic web presence, a few thousand followers across my email list and social channels, and over 100,000 words of content written about simple tools and tips for a happier life.

An ability to tune into seeing the connection and power between self-awareness, goals, focus, belief and how they can amplify people’s lives, both clients and others.

A passion for quietly arming myself with personal development knowledge and skills.

Examples of where I had walked the talk. Integrity is so important to me and one tool or tip you actually implement is worth more than a collection of unused pearls of wisdom.

Over a decade of skills in personal development, coaching, relationship building, behaviour change measurement, working with agencies, speaking, creativity, marketing, project management, all integrated into this product. I am hoping it will be a raging success (and I believe it will be about 75% of the time!).

I also had my collection of over 10,000 top five memories which in themselves aren’t transferrable (they are so individual and personal so I don’t think there is value in sharing them) but the confidence, self-awareness, energy, health and connections that have come through the enormous power of this daily habit are incredible!

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What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?

There wasn’t one defining moment. It was a combination of the furious bubbling away of ideas, building of self-belief over time and the question… why not me?

Enough people had also let me know they had started a top five, transformed the way they set goals, or had made a positive change as a result of something I had shared. I had always been delivering this content in person and I hadn’t really thought long and hard about the power of sharing my knowledge online or through physical products.

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How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?

Leaping is about doing something that scares you, that involves risk and that has been knocking on your mind’s door for a while.

Build your confidence and write a Top Five every day!
Think about the cost of not building your own confidence. How does your lack of confidence, your negative thinking, your self-doubt inhibit you? What do you avoid or miss out on? How do you feel?

Now, think about what happens when you actively take steps to build confidence. What happens if you know — the kind of knowing that comes from deep down in your belly — that you have the skills, talent and energy to reach your goals? No, really. Think. Think about what would happen if you banish the negative thinking and celebrate the positive.

The Top Five helps people see their world through a lens of opportunity. When you inevitably start to think negatively, it helps you refocus on the positive. It’s kind of like wearing a chic but affordable pair of rose-coloured glasses. Don’t believe me? Give it a go for a week and see how it can strengthen your positive thinking muscles.

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Don’t fall in the gap
Do you know about ‘the gap?’ It’s what strategic coach Dan Sullivan calls the space between who you are and who you want to become. Some people refuse to set goals or create a vision for their future because they fear falling into the gap — they fear failing to reach those goals and to become that vision. Never compare who you are now with who you want to become. Appreciate all of the small steps you need to take to reach your goals. Be inspired by the vision, but don’t compare yourself to the vision.

People with less have made this leap already
We are all so unique but very rarely are we making a unique leap. It is likely that others have made the leap before and left lessons for us to learn from. I also find strength in the fact that some people with less experience but more courage have made this leap before, so what do I need to do right now for an injection of courage?

Imagine you have five lives
I learnt of the five lives technique at a School of Life workshop. The idea is to freely brainstorm five different types of work you would do if you had five lives. We are so busy living it but this exercise can interrupt our thoughts and prompt us to identify little steps or projects that you could do to start to explore each career now, in this life. The truth is not many people take a leap but we only have one life. No leap is required this way, but we can start to explore and experiment with no pressure. In some cases, before you know it, your initial exploring can lead a new life adventure!

When I looked at my list, I realised I was already in the midst of little projects for each of my five lives. By the way, some of my five lives included: running personal development workshops and retreats, coaching, working in corporate social responsibility, writing a book and being Kristina Karlsson of kikki.K famous!

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How did you fund your leap?

I work for another organisation so have regular income coming in. I also have income from speaking gigs and workshops run at schools, corporates, universities, not for profits and 1:1 coaching.

I have been able to fund the heavy costs of product development in the last year from savings. Knowing we are all using our phones far too much and seeing so many peers in the personal development space shifting to eProducts (ebooks and eCourses), I saw a good opportunity to get people offline and retuned back into life. Word of warning though, racking up product development costs for a physical product is not for the faint-hearted. It is surprising to hold a tiny, unassuming product sample in your hand and reflect on how much time and cost has gone into the development, assembly, distribution and marketing.

What other leaps have you made in the past?

As a girl from a country town in western Victoria, I feel like my leaps started when I was just 18 and left home and moved towns for university. After a couple of years, I deferred uni and travelled for a year around Australia before returning to Ballarat to finish uni. I then moved to Melbourne, that was ten years ago. By the time my husband and I bought our place five years ago, I had lived at 15 different addresses, fun-filled uni share houses, a ‘donger’ shack on South Molle Island and even the Ayers Rock staff village. Oh, I also lived in a shopping centre for ten days with my mate Nellie in a competition once too, but that’s another story!

Moving companies earlier in my career felt like a big leap into the unknown, as has moving roles, but lessons learnt along the way and belief in my own experience is always grounding. These leaps remind you that your skills can be used in so many ways and environments.

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What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?

I remember taking a leap back at school which had a short, confusing and flat landing. My parents had told me about Kosovo refugees. They explained that there were kids our age who had left everything behind and arrived in Australia with nothing. Mum and dad asked us to go and pick some things from our rooms to donate, like clothes and toys. I was really moved by this and loved the idea of contributing. I went to school the next day and suggested that everyone who wanted to should do the same. I remember the moment very clearly when another student said, ‘Yeah but what are we doing to help people in Australia who need it?’ At the time, instead of redirecting my question and saying ‘Like what? Let’s do that as well,’ I felt that the wind had been knocked out of my sails.

I had the opportunity to start looking into ways to support loads of people in Australia, including the Kosovo refugees. The really interesting thing was that the friend who questioned me wasn’t actually doing anything themselves to help anyone, refugees or not. My question was comfortably dismissed without any action. I got on with being a teenager and didn’t do anything further about it.

10 years later in my career I was working on a program that awarded school and community partnerships and I was meeting all of these young people who were leading incredible community projects with conviction. They were so determined and focused and one person questioning what they were doing wouldn’t have stopped them in their tracks like it had done me. I wished for a long time that I had had the resilience to not let a small amount of discouragement back at school stop me in my tracks.

They were all lessons I am grateful for, that have driven my determination and fascination around hearing the views of other people now.

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Who wouldn’t want to embrace more happiness, confidence and energy in a box?!

What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?

Some days I am actually terrified of how it could all work out and really take off, which is strange right? When I think about this further I realise that it is just fear of the unknown. I think this strong sense of belief comes from writing a top five and anchoring into the positive. We are all going to experience fear in our lives, my worry is focused on what life will be like if it takes off rather than if it fails miserably. It is that vision board idea again that I mentioned earlier. If you are a determined action taker, you have be careful what you wish for because it just might come true and often does!

I deal with it by filling my life with good. The more good you add (positive energy, exercise, ace people, food, learning), the less room for the bad (worry and fear). When I get scared, I also find it helps remembering that someone with far less experience has taken the same, or a similar, leap. I also think about the how the lessons I am collecting on this project might help in the future. I tune into one step at a time type stories and keep taking action.

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How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.

10, rad! I am a better wife, daughter, sister, employee, leader, business woman and more, from writing a Top Five every day, and I know others are too.

What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?

Being a role model for the power of one step at a time and seeing my vision come to life.

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What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?

I believe that writing a top five is the key to supporting change (not biased at all?!).

The toughest change I’ve experienced is not being as social at the moment while I am head down chipping away. I get through this by trusting my strong friendships remain (hopefully the saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ applies for friendships too?). My husband and I are both neck deep in projects – house building and Top Five leaping so our weeks are very full at the moment and we are working long hours across jobs, rebuilding and Top Fiving.

Another challenge is constantly making calls about what you need to pay for and outsource vs. learn to do yourself (this is where a strength and belief in being able to learn anything can cause an internal conflict and slower decisions). This is the toughest one for me. I get through this by knowing that I always make better decisions after exercise.

Grieving the ideas that you don’t pursue when you have to prioritise! I get through this by reflecting on the momentum I create in the ideas I take forward.

Overall I get through the uncertainty by keeping things in perspective, trusting in my decisions and knowing that I can quickly change course if I need to. You collect lessons from mistakes and damage control!

What might be your next leap?

Sending a million decks of positive thought starters out into world. More collaborations. More Top Five products!

What are your favourite words to live by?

There are three types of people in the world: Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who say, ‘What happened?’
Anonymous

In a year’s time what will you be glad you started today?
Anonymous

Celebrating another’s success will never dampen your own.

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Who do you admire who also made the leap?

My incredible cousin in law, Daniella Leo, previous Leaper and head of For Me By Dee, so much passion and care for bringing her work into the world and showing others it is possible to leap!

My Centre for Sustainable Leadership classmate, Dr Shelley Meagher. Shell started a company just after the course and has a vision for turning Melbourne’s rooftops and walls green. Check out Do It on the Roof.

My RYLA co-director, Johanna Parker, who is authentically making people feel like anything is possible through her coaching business, HeartSparks. We used to daydream about how awesome life would be if we could work on personal development projects like RYLA all year round (e.g. workshops and speaking on confidence, positive thinking, etc) and now we are! Jo will never quite understand the incredible and lasting impact she has on people.

Andi Pert, a wise soul, coach and mentor. I have known Andi for years and I know that women are never quite the same after they’ve spent time in Andi’s company.

All of the previous superstars of The Leap Stories too!

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A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?

We can spend a lot of time making excuses and then justifying them to each other. People overcome excuses all the time to take that first step. Once you are actually in motion, fear can drop away and before you know it, you’ll be mid leap!

Make the most of your time. For many of us, ‘I don’t have time’, is the prime excuse for why you are not living your happiest life or working toward your goals. I get it! It’s difficult to find a free hour or two during the day (or night, for that matter) to dedicate to something new. Your ‘free time’ is like an unfinished crossword puzzle. The openings are here and there, and you need to be smart to fill in the open spaces. Read relevant articles, do research, listen to inspirational podcasts, seek connections on LinkedIn. I take public transport when I can and print out articles to read on the train. Sure, you can read articles on your phone, but if you’re like me, you don’t find the experience of squinting and hunching to read on your phone very enjoyable. Plus, you won’t be tempted by the distraction of social media!

Right now I’m:

Hearing: The Omvana App’s 6 Phase Meditation is incredible and Lewis Howes’ Five Minute Friday podcasts get me fired up if my energy is low.
Eating: Vietnamese
Drinking: Too much Earl Grey tea
Reading: Useful Belief by Chris Helder, a fellow lover of positive, practical thinking.
Loving: Kiva microfinance loans, you don’t have to wait until you are a millionaire or crazy successful business person to financially invest in others. You can invest in entrepreneurs all over the world for as little as $25 with this online platform!

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Don’t forget to follow us over on Instagram and experience a positivity boost with us all week. You might just find yourself with a beautiful deck of cards coming your way!

Lovingly,

Kylie x

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