Friday, August 29, 2014

Fate or Destiny - My Speech at the Launch

Good evening everyone and thank you for being here.  Firstly, let me say a big thank you to Steve Frost for launching this event for us and for his kind words.  We are very grateful to him for all that he has given us, both professionally and personally.  Thank you Steve. 

This launch is a very special celebration for us as it marks an important milestone for Steven, who turned 50 a few days ago.  Happy birthday my dearest Steven.

I want to acknowledge everyone who played a part in pulling all this together, and especially to my dearest
Steven who curated my exhibition, edited my book and constantly encourages me to discover talents I never knew I had.  I also want to thank Hornsby Council and Merilyn Hills in particular for her help, support and encouragement. Local government has played a huge part in our professional careers and it is wonderful that it continues to do so in our creative endeavours. 

Are you living your fate or creating your destiny?  

Have you ever consciously thought about what it means to make a choice between them?  Many people use these two words interchangeably but I believe them to be very different ideas.  To allow fate to govern your life is to let life happen to you. To choose destiny, is to happen to life—to chase a dream, to discover your purpose for being here and to figure out your unique contribution to the world.

I want to share with you a few stories from my own life, which I hope will give you a small insight into the experiences I drew on in preparing this exhibition and my photo book.

For the first half of my life I religiously followed and excelled on the trail that had been laid out for me.  The trail was revealed to me as much from my parents as it was implied from the culture around me.    I did well in high school and graduated in Civil Engineering, one of the ‘most coveted disciplines for someone growing up in Sri Lanka.  My life had evolved without too much effort on my part.  It was a wonderful start but I knew there was more.

Yet ever since my late teens, I had felt a deep desire to explore life outside the secure confines of my parent’s home.  To feel that sense of freedom when you—and only you—are making the decisions that shape your life.  But I had no money of my own so a post-graduate degree at Berkeley was my ticket out. 

I was 25 years old when I consciously chose to go in search of my destiny.

I took my first plane ride and travelled half way across the world to what might as well have been another planet.  If you have experienced a mono cultural, conservative city like Colombo and also travelled to an unconventional and incredibly diverse place like San Francisco, you will know what I mean.  I was excited by what I found and I formed an instant connection.

I believe that we need to remove ourselves from our familiar environment, from the routines and rituals that define us, and immerse ourselves in a completely different place to create the space and time to discover our destiny. You find your destiny when you take a risk.  Or as Martin Luther King said, “when you have enough faith to take the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase”.  For each of us, the risks we take will be different but must involve stepping outside our comfort zone. If we only live a life that is ‘safe’, if we only walk down the well-trodden trails, then we may never discover our full potential. 

I also believe there are high impact moments in our lives, which are catalysts to making these life changing choices.  They demand that we consciously reflect on our past and question our future.  Often, these moments will be when you experience a deep sense of loss.  I lost my father the same week I got an email informing me that my divorce was final.  It was April 2009 and I was in Sri Lanka, sitting at my mum’s computer when the email came through.  I was surrounded by friends and family who loved me but I had never felt more alone in my life.  I had been with Dean for almost 20 years and I was 47 years old at the time.  I also remember feeling incredibly moved by everything that was written in the Sri Lankan papers about my dad.  Born in a little village in Sri Lanka, he had gone on to achieve incredible success, both as an eminent civil rights lawyer and later in life as a diplomat, being appointed ambassador to the United Nations. 

The last of the ‘Greats’ the headlines screamed…and I asked myself this question.

What did I want to look back on when I reached the end of my life?  I was proud of what I had achieved so far, including in my career in local government in Sydney.  I had stayed far longer than the 3-5 year limit I had set for myself, because my boss Steve Frost, understood my need to be challenged and came up with new projects and ideas, to keep me engaged.  His work ethic and passion for the environment inspired me greatly and shaped my professional career in Australia. 

A few months after my dad passed away, I also lost one of my closest friends in Sri Lanka and I knew it was time to re-evaluate my own life.  In my twenties, I had set myself a goal, to travel to all 7 continents before I turned 50.  On the day of my friend’s funeral, I walked in to a travel agent’s office and booked a voyage to Antarctica—till then the only continent I had not explored.   I was suffering from a lot of grief at the time and making that decision to go to Antarctica resulted in my taking a leave of absence from work and completing almost a year of solo travel round the world.  My adversity gave me courage I didn’t know I had.  That journey helped me grow in ways I never imagined.  I met incredible people with whom I instantly forged strong connections because they too were on similar paths.

My father’s death and my own separation brought life to the words of Elizabeth Kubler Ross:  “It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth—and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up—that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”

In 2010, as I was departing on my year of discovery my best friend Steven, gave me a parting gift.  It was a book called The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho. The book is full of my favourite quotes, but the words “To find your destiny is a man’s only obligation” resonated with me and shaped that journey.  The story ironically is about a young shepherd boy who travels the world in search of his destiny, only to return home and discover his treasure.

During my travels, I learnt that Steven too had separated from his wife.  Two months before I was due to come home, while on a Skype chat, we acknowledged that we had feelings for each other that ran deeper than friendship.  Just like the shepherd boy in the Alchemist, I had taken the brave step of going in search of my destiny—and I knew then that I was coming home to find my treasure.  Steven was waiting for me at the airport when I returned.  We had known each other for so long, that we just moved in together.  It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to both of us.

But pursuing your destiny is not only about a solo journey.  In fact, having the love and support of someone who travels alongside you is a wonderful blessing.  I have always believed in the concept of a soul mate or soul mates for various stages of your life.  People come in to your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Sometimes letting go, so you can move freely to the next stage of life, is also part of discovering your true purpose.  The words associated with separation have the most negative connotations.  This is what fate teaches us.  My own experiences taught me that change is the one constant in life.  When we stop fighting it, we can stop looking back at the doors that are closing behind us and walk through the open doors ahead of us…to potentially unravel the next part of the mystery. 

In 2011, after I came back from my year away I returned to work but I was constantly restless.  They say that once your mind has been stretched by an idea, it never regains its original dimensions.  Two years after I came back from that solo trip around the world, I quit work to join Steven in the consultancy he started, where we hope to integrate our life and our work. We don’t want to constantly struggle to find a work life balance—creating a tension that implies our work is not a part of our life.  Sometimes, there will be financial rewards and other times the rewards will be richer.  It is another passage up an unknown stairwell.   To leave a secure job with excellent benefits at 50+ would be considered foolish by many.  But my love for writing and photography, which came to life during that solo trip around the world, is something I need to pursue. 

The four years I have now spent with Steven seem like a lifetime when I think of the memories we have created and the experiences we have shared. Last year we embarked on 7 months of travel through Europe and Sri Lanka, as Steven searched for answers to the questions in his mind on Rethinking the City. 

The photographs you see here were taken either during that time or after we returned this January—in various parts of Australia.  The photo book contains images from both my first exhibition and this one. All of the writing has evolved from our collective travels and my own experiences.  We have no concrete plans for where the future will take us but rather shared values about the ideas we are exploring.  We let life unfold with little to fall back on and are constantly amazed at how happy we feel. 

You may not agree with all of the ideas expressed here, but art is meant to be thought provoking and I hope you will grant me that.  The spontaneity of our new life is addictive and I hope we will inspire you in some way today.  Exploring and discovering my creative side has been one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of my destiny. 

Susan Cain said “the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, and the task of the second half is to make sense of where you've been”.

Today, I hope I have inspired you to start thinking about taking a risk, to put yourself out there and then to make sense of it. 

Please enjoy the evening. Thank you for being part of our lives. I feel lucky to share my life with my soul mate.  To be with a man who cares as much about my own dreams as he does about his own.  This feeling is mutual. 
I leave you today to ponder these words from Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference. 
Thank You. 

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