2021: A transition story

As a community we have all exhausted ways to describe the past couple of years. What we were saying about our experience mid-way through 2020 remains relevant even now. A strong sense of prevailing uncertainty remains, but most of us have simply got better at controlling our anxiety around it. We self-manage and filter without really knowing it. Many people are simply living in blissful ignorance, ‘forced normality’ of sorts.

Working in sport and events, and due to Australia’s commitment to getting vaccinated at world-leading levels, we have finally seen a return to normal for most people and for most hosted events and sports venues. It has been a long time coming. Trying to operate an events business through this period has been very taxing. Learning and knowing more than you want to about epidemiology and public health management, forecasting the future all the while… pivoting, re-imagining, adapting. Trying to find a tricky balance of optimistic, realistic, and pessimistic as you negotiate relationships and conversations with staff, family members, clients, a venue, or an audience. 

For the business of Sport Projects, it has been difficult watching a slow burn scale down of something that I steadily and sustainably built for 6 years. Seeing the staff departures across the two years has been toughest. Also tough, the termination of a lease and the pack down of a new office, secured during a phase of pre-COVID optimism. At the end of 2019 after our biggest year, and with a full-time staff touching 10, I was planning a step back from much of the day-to-day project operations. Little did I know but 2020 was about to impose a step back on all of us, effectively a mandatory period of government-funded gardening leave. It gave us all time to reflect and review what we hold most dear. Reflecting now, on that reflection, I went deep. We had time. For me, and for our family, we re-calibrated like never before. For Natasha and me, our core values have been constants for us, but now we looked to shape key decisions on those values, like never before. Things would be forever different. 

Life at home and life in the business since early 2020 has had its similarities. If 2020 felt like all parts disruption, 2021 has felt like all parts transition. I feel like it didn’t take me long to realise in 2020, that this thing would have a long tail, there would be no short, easy road out. By the middle of 2020 the makings of a strategy, in life and in business, had been formed. In business, it is often difficult to find time to take a step back and consider strategy, to take a balcony view of where you are going. Life is no different. How often as a family do you take time out from your busy lives to reflect on your bigger picture goals and plot a path to achieve them? What 2020 gave most of us is time. People talk about the changes that many have instigated in their lives, flowing from this period. I would argue that these changes, often positive and healthy, have been a product of this time. If you ‘found’ time then and you feel like you are ‘losing’ that time again now, protect it, at all costs.   

So what is our strategy… well I am a student of Henry Thoreau’s ‘alternative economics’, where ‘just enough is plenty’. It is all about simplification. As Thoreau would say “simplify, simplify, simplify”.

As I do some writing here on the final day of 2021, I think about the transition that has taken place, to our home life and to our business life across the past 12 months. It’s been a few months so I want to share some of what we have been doing and thinking as we embark on a step into 2022. In 2020 we formulated a strategy of simplification and in 2021 we acted on it. 

It has been interesting to me this year to consider the sequencing of how we have acted on our strategy. At times life predicaments have shaped business decisions and at times business predicaments have shaped life decisions. At any one time it has been hard to determine what has predicated the next, but with a focus on finding purpose and armed with a positive attitude and a future-orientated mindset, life and business threats have been turned into opportunities. In business over the past couple of years, purpose (and motivation) has been tough to find, but it has been easy to find in our personal lives. 

2020 saw a revenue black hole in the business, but more importantly a life changing diagnosis for our youngest boy. In response we instigated the biggest change of all. We felt like our life was fully transportable. So we did. We decided it was time to sell up and move regionally. So in early 2021 we made the move to a charming, historic, small, quiet town in Central Victoria. This is what we have grown to understand as a ‘downshift’, where ultimately, you reduce the financial demand on yourselves. 

For us in 2021, the move out of a ‘hot’ Melbourne market, in time to move into a ‘medium’ regional Victoria market, has meant a big, intentional step toward financial freedom. The freedom to choose when, where and how we work. It is a move onto an acreage, surrounded by open space, walking distance to school, endless room to run and play, to tinker, and grow fruit and vegetables. Our oldest has transitioned from a school of 1,000 to one of 85. For the youngest, we have more time than ever, to dedicate to his learning and development, as a team. We have re-engaged with exercise at a whole new level and for me it feels like the centre of the cycling universe, where on the road the traffic is non-existent and where on the gravel, you can hit the trails and emerge, hours later, never having hit the same section of trail twice. The great local wines, the friendly charm, flair and culture of nearby Castlemaine, as well as the proximity to beautiful Bendigo are just a few of the added benefits. 

For the business, 2020 was about weathering the disruption, adapting to revenue zero, and minimising the personal impact on staff. By 2021, with the government assistance drawing to a close and with the outlook for the events industry still looking drab, the steady stream of staff exiting the business (and the industry completely in some cases) began. As I write, aside from myself, the business has one staff member left. And so there has been a  transition, from an entity capable of delivering some of the largest sport, mass participation and road events, back to where it all began, to a consultancy based enterprise leveraging the skills and experience of a small, core group. Full circle.

And so to 2022 for the business and for me. Could I scale the business back up again, taking on risk, for the business and for each individual staff member, whilst we essentially try to predict the future and pretend to be back to normal? Yes, probably. Is there instead value for the foreseeable future, committing to something tangible and exciting, whilst simplifying life and simplifying work… I think so. 

Some will know I have been working on the 2022 UCI Road World Championships, in one capacity or another, over the past few years. Most recently joining the organising committee, Wollongong 2022, part time. The ‘Road Worlds’ in Wollongong in September 2022 will be the biggest cycling event ever to hit Australian shores. It is an event I am very fond of and I just had to be part of it. Early in the new year I will join full time as their Head of Sport. Wollongong 2022’s very apt tagline is the ‘Ride of your Life’ and for me its doing what I enjoy, largely from my home office. It is performing my core business, something I am deeply qualified for. Importantly, our final Sport Projects staff member will also transition across into the Wollongong 2022 sport department and continue to work with me.

Sport Projects, from a direct event delivery perspective, will take an indefinite break. I have no doubt it will continue to be a vehicle, for me and for others, to plan, prepare and contribute to exciting sport and event projects in the future. It will continue to provide great value to clients by sharing our knowledge and experience.

Has it been hard (and painful) to unpack much of what Sport Projects has grown to be, yes for sure, but I have much to be grateful for, at home and professionally. Simplifying life and work for me is about absorbing more value out of each. Taking the time to find balance and embrace every moment and the experience in each. 

‘Enough’ looks different to different people, but I know what my enough is. I have enough and my enough is just plenty. 

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