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Michelle Crawford

Michelle Crawford

Newcastle, Australia

Michelle is a chief conversationalist, an HR guru, an entrepreneur, a public speaker, and a mum.

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Success! Being More Human sold 65 pre-orders by July 21, 2017, was pitched to 31 publishers, and will be published by Emerald Lake Books.
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Being More Human

Leave Your Comfort Zone, Be a Better You, Transform Your Business, Influence Your World

This book explores human behavior to empower readers to be bolder. Using years of experience as an aid-worker and HR manager, Michelle provides a blueprint for escaping your comfort zone.

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45,000 words
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12 publishers interested
12 publishers interested
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In this book you’ll learn about yourself, others, and organisations. You’ll learn the steps to move from what I call a Sufferer to a Thriver. And it won’t happen neatly, or at once, it never does. 

I was a Thriver in stepping outside my comfort zone from a young age, yet today, though I’ve worked to be a Thriver in most areas of my life, I’m still working on it regarding exercise and cash flow.

At 19 I began my work with humanitarian aid organizations, and have since worked in war zones in Somalia, Kenya, Rwanda, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Cambodia, and Thailand. I mainly worked in large refugee camps of around one million people. There was a time at 19 where I was put in charge of about 30 men and women, of whom I knew a few had only weeks before been systematically killing Tutsi’s throughout their village. I was struck, hard, with one of life’s fundamental questions; what does it mean to be human? How should we treat each other? And from there the question leads to; how should we treat ourselves?

Now I can see how that experience, plus many others, lead to my deep journey into human behaviour, why we do what we do. My journey lead me back to Australia, where in a different context I realised the question was still relevant: how can we be more human, in the workplace, at home, with ourselves?
This journey has lead me to understand there are four stages we go through in empowering ourselves in any area of our lives. This book is designed to give you the framework and terminology to understand where you are today, where you want to go, and how to get there. Those four stages are; Sufferer, Survivor, Driver, Thriver. 

The degree to which you let this book, this collection of stories and framework, affect your life is up to you. The way I judge a great book is; did the author teach me what I was searching for? Did they tell their stories in such a way that they captured my heart, shifted my mindset, and created change as a result?
That is my wish for you with this book.

Chapter One

I happened to be born with a love of being pushed outside my comfort zone, it’s been oddly normal for me to take on challenges. 

For example at 18 I went on youth camps, and the Youth Director said he was not able to find a caterer for the 250 kids that were coming for 3 weeks. I figured, how hard could that be?  I said ‘I’ll do it’ and then had to work out how to deliver. A few weeks later I was heading a team of 5 in the kitchen, learning how to use the commercial equipment. I’d created menus and ordered ingredients to the best of my ability, and very quickly learned how sore my feet were going to be by the end of the day! 

I know that Comfort Zone is a slightly overused concept, but at the same time the practical understanding of its value is often overlooked.  I can attribute much of my achievements to utilising this concept to my advantage. This was particularly true working in humanitarian aid; my comfort zone was permanently stretched beyond any reasonable shape.

I was 19 and thrown into the deep end. I worked on designing a 6-week training program to prevent the re-abandonment of refugee families. Then I was setting up a multimillion dollar aid operation in Kosovo, recruiting hundreds of local and expatriate staff from more than 25 countries.  

Humanitarian aid is a tougher industry than any other industry I've come across (and there is a lot I've come across). It is because you're working in an environment that usually has no rules or government, either because the country you are in has recently been, or currently is, a warzone.  Quite literally. The country is in complete upheaval, and the aid sector comes in to cover a wide range of human needs. You might have one aid agency in the middle of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as an example, who have an education project. Equally, they may have a water and sanitation project, a food project, and a health project. So instead of working in one industry in one region in a country with rules, you’re working in multiple industries, in multiple regions, with staff from all over the world (who speak different languages), and with no government or rules. All the sector specific challenges exist, along with a country in complete chaos. The people don’t care about, or implement, rules. And in the absence of rules, people make up their own about anything and everything.

For example, when working in DRC our work cars were regularly pulled over on the way to Mugunga refugee camp in Goma. The soldiers would demand to see the latest piece of paper they had decided everyone needed to produce. Inevitably we did not have this piece of paper, so our cars were taken until we could work out the right person to bribe the right amount of money to, to get the car back and drive through the checkpoint. This would happen multiple times a week. It gives a new slant on the challenges of getting to work each day.

Interestingly, I hadn't ever worked anywhere else, so I didn't have anything to compare it too. I was out of my comfort zone in every conceivable way. I was in another country and living away from home for the first time. I was working in a professional job for the first time. I was working in a refugee camp for the first time. I was 19, in another country, working with people who had been involved in committing serious atrocities.  The Rwandan genocide was a mass slaughter ofTutsi people in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. An estimated more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994. An estimated 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutus, were displaced and became refugees.  It was these Hutu refugees who had committed the atrocities that were my team members.
The interesting thing is that it would have been easy to say the Hutus are the baddies, and the poor innocent Tutsi’s.  However if you look one generation earlier the shoe was on the other foot; it was the Tutsi’s massacring the Hutus, causing them to flee and live on the Ugandan border.  

It is much less easy to come to any kind of clear attribution of guilt when you look at the context. Like any conflict in our own lives really.  It is a little like two kids having a fight and kid one says no he did it, the other says no she did it, and on and on it goes. It is too easy to point the finger, whereas more challenging is to ask; how did I contribute? This is the more human way to look at the world.

In my role I was managing a team for the first time. In fact everything I was doing was for the first time. There was no capacity or ability to step back to a place I felt comfortable. I was constantly on the back foot, completely, totally, and utterly outside my comfort zone. Strangely enough, I loved it. Yet despite loving it, I did regularly feel I was too far outside my comfort zone and that maybe I should give up. But I am not a give up kind of girl. I had to develop a range of ways to feel okay about each piece, and to manage the day to day realities of life in the middle of the deepest, darkest Africa. 

Life in Australia is very different, with many people living pretty much 100% in their comfort zone, all day every day. Many Australians are, in a sense, doing the same thing with the same people in their life, in the same way that they have been for a long time. Many haven't left their local area, or have been working for the same organisation for many years. (Of course there are many notable exceptions to this as well). Whilst all our decisions are our own choice, the consequences that can come from sameness are a lack of learning, large amounts of ignorance, high levels of resentment, and feeling as though you have not been authentic to your own life path.

There are numerous different ways to expand your comfort zone. One of my favourites is to quite literally and actively put yourself into situations that make you feel uncomfortable. For example if you are fearful of public speaking, go learn, and put yourself in situations that require you to do it. Some other great ways to get outside your comfort zone include:

  • Learn a new sport
  • Learn a new hobby
  • Learn a language
  • Experiment with new foods
  • Travel a different way to work
  • Travel to a new country as regularly as possible
  • Don’t have a regular anything; hairdresser, beautician etc. Mix it up for different experiences
  • Work from different locations; office, outside, cafes, coworking spaces
  • Have the difficult conversation with your family members and at work
  • Go to a networking event
  • Get advice from a professional about your wellbeing
  • Ask someone you admire in your profession to mentor you

Whatever it is you decide to do, you can take a small step. This focus on action, signals to everyone around you, and to yourself, that you want to change your mindset. Maybe you want to move from Sufferer to Survivor, maybe you are focused on moving from Survivor to Driver, or maybe you have been in the Driver mindset for so long you want to experience the benefits of a Thriver mindset.

When a small step is taken it begins creating forward momentum.  From there you simply take another and another, and before you know it you are the version of you that you wanted to be.

There were two main things that sparked my interest in a different path. One is that I grew up with a religious background, so I was taught from a young age to do things for other people. To contribute and give back. It has been a key driver for me. The other important part is that my boyfriend at the time was also working in refugee camps environment, so I figured if we were going to go on and get married (which we did), and be involved in aid work, I should find out if I liked it or not. I’m glad these circumstances pushed me outside my comfort zone so dramatically, and taught me of the riches waiting there for me to learn.

It is also possible to be emotionally outside your comfort zone. One day, a normal day in the office at Kosovo, I came back to our house from the office for lunch, and upon walking in saw a Serbian lady who looked about 85 years old. She had just been terribly beaten and was bleeding, in severe pain. She needed serious help. 

However my brain didn't have the capacity or ability to empathize with her, and feel bad about the fact that there's this old lady half beaten up in front of me. I automatically went into, "right, what are we going to do to fix this?" mode. I did what I needed to do to help her and support her and get her fixed up, which was good. But to me it was a very big indicator that I had been working in those kind of environments for too long.  I didn't have the capacity to empathize any more, and that scared me.  

It was extremely confronting as I had considered myself to be someone with empathy. Did you know that research into emotional intelligence frameworks and competencies show Empathy very often at the top as the single most important competency? Cool huh.

If you think about your family or your workplace: who around you has Empathy in spades, and who around you is harsh, cold, missing the capacity to empathise with others? People who are low in empathy have all sorts of relationship challenges, but the main one is not being able to get close to others. Their big wall of self defense they’ve created (usually as a child) does not trust others, and does not allow others to get close.

The defenses being up cause a situation for the person where they are unable to successfully put themselves in the other person’s shoes (the extreme of this is called Narcissism). One practical tip for dealing with someone like this is to continue to encourage the Narcissistic person to consider a situation from another person’s perspective. Getting outside your comfort zone often pushes you to see things from another angle, which is what Empathy is also. The more you push yourself, the more you can empathize. 

When I returned to Australia, to the ‘real world’, I experienced the true definition of culture shock. Coming home, back to good old Aussie soil, has always been more difficult for me than leaving. The shock was not of the new place, it was coming back to the old. The aid work I did in Kenya, Albania, and Kosovo had me away from Australia for just over a year. Upon returning home I remember going to a supermarket to buy milk. I stood in front of the milk display, where there were what felt like a hundred different varieties of milk. I didn't know what to do. I was totally overwhelmed and didn’t know how to decide which milk to buy. I had been living on powdered milk in a little town called Ikutha in the middle of Kenya, with no supermarket. I was used to an environment where there is either no milk or powdered milk, you don't have choice about things like that. So I turned around and walked out of the shop, I didn't buy anything. The abundance of choice was one of the biggest things of culture shock I experienced. And it still shocks me till this day. The ridiculous level of choice that we have in our lives, about absolutely everything, I find both freeing and frightening.

My views on choice may not be a popular view, but I think extreme amounts of choice causes lots of problems and makes people overly fussy about things that in the scheme of things don’t matter. I believe that too much choice is one of the things creating anxiety and depression for people. Extreme amounts of choice is a first world problem, many people in developing countries are at the opposite extreme, with limited choices. (Another example of the irrational distribution of resources that exists globally, think food, water, etc). 

One of the places overwhelming choice can deeply affect us is in our careers. After career counselling with hundreds of clients, I’ve found that the majority of people think they should be able to wake up and know what they want to do. Very rarely is this case.  Often the sheer number of possibilities makes it difficult for people to narrow down the options. When you are trying to work out your purpose, your career, the next steps to take, I recommend sourcing help. It may be a Coach, Career Counsellor, Psychologist or such. There are systems, tools, and techniques that can help you work it out, don’t stay in overwhelm another day longer!

Personally, I have found that the more life decisions that I make that allow me to fully align with my WHY the easier, more rewarding, and fun life becomes. Particularly in regards to career. Sometimes these decisions of alignment are a big deal, sometimes they are fine tuning. But the worst thing we can do is to ignore them and hope they go away.

If you are keen to find your WHY, you can ask yourself a list of questions similar in nature to the below.  Do the quiz below, make some (easy or difficult) decisions, and take action regarding your career based on the answers (and watch your life blossom!).

My Why (Purpose) is…

I define success as…
I don’t notice the time pass when I do…
My amazing super strengths are…
The life I want to create for myself is…
If I knew I couldn’t possibly fail, I would do…
If I could make a difference for anyone or anything, I would…

My perfect day (how I’d spend my time and what I’d be doing)…

After answering these questions you will start to see trends emerge, for me the trends that emerge are transformation, humans, and potential. For you they will be different. Next step is to do a skills analysis; do you have the skills you need to be living your purpose? If not, find a way to get them, if so, start using them.  This does not have to be complicated, in reality you can take any action you like that is at least vaguely in the direction that you think is right, you will adjust and fine tune on the way.  Gone are the days people have one career for life. On average a job lasts about 2.5 years. Life is too short to work in a job you hate, with people that you don’t like, earning money that you are unhappy about, travelling for hours each day. You can make different choices.Upon coming home to Australia I worked in a range of industries, from the Australian head office for OXFAM, to private health-care, tertiary education, and consulting. By the time I worked in  my first role at OXFAM I had separated from my husband for the first time, primarily due to the intense strain of our work in Kosovo, pushing us both to a breaking point. It is not a good idea to work with your partner in a War Zone and expect to survive it! Mental note to self. 

Interestingly though, it was issues of absence and not being in the same country that bode the end of our relationship later on.Years later, two kids later and three jobs later, saw the end of my 10 and a half year marriage.  There are so many things that can be said about the end of any relationship, but they way I’m going to describe mine is through the mindset model that forms the crux to this book. As mentioned earlier the four mindsets are;

Sufferer, Survivor, Driver, Thriver.

Each of these mindsets have a list of behaviours, underlying thinking, and words that go along the mindset, which are specifically described later in the book.  Here I want to use the ideas to describe my relationship.  As he has not read this, I will not be speaking from his perspective, but from mine only.

I was 24 when I got married, which begs the question, is it ever the right time to get married? Nonetheless, we did. He proposed to me in a hot air balloon, very romantic and lovely.  The proposal followed a traumatic incident of me being stuck in Cambodia in the middle of a military coup and not knowing if I would ever see him or my family again. We were married on February 7th, 1998.

We were dating when he started his career in the aid industry, and he was away a lot. I thought I would be okay with that, and was, up until we had two kids. Then, I needed much more support than I had anticipated.

We had a dynamic where I would never really say 100% of what I felt (strange if you know me now). I had a high need to be approved of by him (sufferer mindset), so I spared him from the direct details of what I actually thought and felt (big relationship mistake no 1).  What this meant was that he could only ever make decisions in his world based on what I had shared. I then got upset if he didn’t guess right how I felt (ladies, big relationship mistake no 2).

To me a marriage was for life, and no matter what other people did I would never be divorced (Survivor Mindset, being stuck in your own view. Also relationship mistake no 3).

Throughout the relationship I felt as though I was being controlled by him (Sufferer and Survivor mindset), I did not learn till later that someone else cannot control you without your implied or explicit consent. I didn’t realise that it was my own sufferer mindset that was allowing this dynamic to continue.  I just knew it felt terrible, so bad I had to leave.  If you think you are in a relationship with someone controlling you, you have to ask ‘in what ways could I step up to take my power back?. In what ways am I allowing this behaviour from the other person, and what boundaries do I immediately need to put in place?’. It took me thousands of hours of reading, research, therapy, and mindset change to come to this view. Indeed if I’d read that when I was coming from a Sufferer or Survivor mindset, I would have thought it rubbish. But now I am so grateful I see the truth in it, it has liberated me.

What is interesting is in my current relationship with my partner, exactly the same dynamic would exist if I allowed it to.  The behaviours and mindset that he has could definitely be interpreted as controlling. The major difference is that with a Driver mindset I can implement clear, defined, non-negotiable boundaries as I need to. The other difference is that we can talk about anything and everything in a frank, direct and uncomplicated way (also due to our mindsets). On a good day, if I am in a Thriver mindset (which I’m happy to say happens more often these days), I step back and go with the flow instead of trying to resist or to be right. With no resistance to the feeling that someone is making me do something, and no attachment, there is complete freedom, a feeling of personal empowerment that is very powerful. It may not look different to anyone externally, but it is literally a world of difference to me internally, and to my health!

The final prompter for me was simply ‘is this the relationship I want modeled to my two kids, would I want them to grow up in the same kind of one?’ The answer was a resounding no, and thus (after first working out if it could change or not) I left. After my divorce I spent a long time on my own, healing, reflecting, coming to peace with my decision.

It was a while in the HR Manager role for a Tertiary Education organization that I decided to embark on the big brave world of internet dating!  That is another whole book. But needless to say being in HR led me to treat it as a recruitment exercise, with a Position Description for what I was looking for, including Essential and Desirable Criteria! I ended up with my now partner, a Commercial Lawyer I love, in a relationship I would love my children to experience themselves one day.

I believe we all have free choice in a game of choose your own adventure, there are no wrong decisions, just ones that make it easier or more difficult to align with your purpose. Is it smooth sailing, nope!  Are relationships ever?  Two very opinionated strong people in a relationship leads to conflict. But it is all about what you do with it that matters, how respectfully you argue has a lot to do with it. Both of us are what I would call argueing experts, differing styles but so far, so good!

He has been integral in inspiring me, supporting me, challenging me and helping me step up to be everything I can be. He was invaluable to me through the family court process we went through following separation. He is very practical, a fabulous gardener, a keen runner, and is learning the empathy journey and how to listen actively. He is very kind and loving, a top notch kind of a human. My kind of human.

Chapter Two

Before we dive deeply in the framework of Sufferer to Thriver, and I show you principles and techniques to help you move through them, I want to touch on two skills that are essential on this journey of self empowerment: communication skills, and the ability to reflect.

When I was working in refugee camps in DRC the official language of the United Nations was French. All the meetings were in French. I was constantly having to implement changes that I knew only a little about, as I didn’t speak French and details would get lost in translation. Also any time I spoke to my team, whether it was a 5-minute conversation or whether we were doing a one day training day, we had to use translators. They all spoke around 3 - 4 languages and I only speak English, so I struggled to keep up. I had to get very good at being both specific and chunky about the way I was talking so it would translate properly. 

However it’s not only in situations like this that we have language barriers, they’re everywhere. When I chat with my family at the dinner table about their day mis-translation often occurs, sometimes without us even realising it. We are all speaking different languages, all the time. Being able to communicate, to listen, to understand, and to empathise with another person’s world, takes conscious effort. 

Though communication skills often focus on what and how you say what you want to communicate, I’ve come to realised that it is listening that is critically important. Many of us think we are great listeners when quite frankly, we’re not.  My daughter and I play a listening game, where we do +6 listening (the best possible listening skills) and she gets to speak about something she is passionate about and I do my absolute best listening.  Equally we do -6 listening (the worst possible listening skills) where she gets to do the worst possible listening as I am trying to talk about something that is important to me. Invariably it ends in gales of laughter with us thinking that the whole thing is hilarious. But, it proves the point and develops skills at the same time. Ask yourself how often you do +6 listening?

As a coach, it is very important to reflect as you go, sometimes on the fly. Reflecting leads me to reflect on reflecting itself (double loop learning for those who want the theory).  I have a very active way of reflecting, daily through journalling. I don't save it up for a week or a month at some point in the future. I regularly look back or journal about a conversation with that person or that decision that had to be made or something else that had occurred that day. I don’t reflect to beat myself up about what I’ve said or done, that is a Sufferer mindset which brings suffering. I reflect to check that "yep, that was the best decision with the information I had at the time. And is there anything else I can learn from that experience?", I also heavily utilise conversations with friends in my inner circle to learn, grow and extend myself.

If I think about how reflection within practise works, I think of working with Executive Coaching clients. The technique that I use regularly today in situations where you never know where the conversation is going to go. You don't know what priorities that person has. You don't know what learning needs they have. You must be incredibly astute at asking the right questions, at the right time, to then help someone move from A to B on topic.. It is like having a dual process where on one hand you're speaking with and listening to the client, meanwhile internally you’re asking "where is this conversation going to head, and what do I need to do to shape it for the person to get the best outcome?". 

I remember working with a client who was a partner in an accounting firm. She used to regularly react strongly and aggressively to relatively minor conversations, which was making the dynamic within the Executive team challenging. It was also a major threat to her ongoing function as a partner in the business, and I was brought in to coach her specifically through this process. 

There was a range of conversations I facilitated in my sessions with her. Through reflecting while coaching, and with my training in Social Ecology, Complexity Theory and Organisational Development, and Neuro Linguistic Programming,  I was able to coach her in how she needed coaching. In a supportive yet assertive way, I called her out on the nature of her behaviour. I had a choice: I could just say "your behaviour is aggressive", or I could compare it to a childlike, silly kind of behaviour, which is what it was. I said to her "look, it's like you're constantly having these adult tantrums. It was a pattern interrupt. That's the best way I can describe it. For absolutely no reason, you lose it. So I’m interested, are those adult tantrums working for you?" She looked at me and I could see this was a big moment for her. She's an intelligent woman, and she quickly responded no, it wasn't working for her and was there a better way? For her it was the shock of being told she was having adult tantrums that helped her see what she had not been wanting to see. 

In this example with the coaching she moved from a Sufferer to a Survivor and is well on the way to becoming a Driver as well as some great glimpses of Thriver.  This process was 4 sessions of 2-3 hours each session.  It was important for her behaviour to shift and to align more with her own potential, so she did not keep limiting herself in her world.

Following our engagement she made comments to me such as "previously I would things a certain way, but now I've learnt to step back, consider how I choose to respond, and respond in a new way”. "Previously I would have made this comment, but I held my tongue and didn't say it". “I’m noticing a big improvement in my relationships, and feeling better each day!”.
That's a tangible example of needing to be able to ask great questions.  It’s amazing how the right question can elicit an outcome where another question may not have. This then allows the shift within the person to happen, helping them become more responsible for their behaviour.

Reflection, asking the right questions, listening are all things we can learn.  If there is nothing else that you take out of this book, please take that. Be open to how to reflect, when, with who, what methods.  Be open about learning and how to ask beautifully open questions that allow all possibilities

  • Lynita Clark
    on April 5, 2017, 7:27 a.m.

    All the best Michelle, looking forward to being a part of your journey. Hugs xo

  • Camille Addison
    on April 5, 2017, 10:08 p.m.

    You're an amazing woman Michelle! Looking forward to the read :)

  • Kym Piez
    on April 9, 2017, 7:13 a.m.

    Very excited for you! Can't wait to get my copy of all your wisdom!

  • Virginia McMurray
    on April 10, 2017, 10:59 a.m.

    So excited to get, hold and read my freshly baked copy :) Congratulations Michelle!

  • Michelle Zenere
    on April 11, 2017, 2:14 a.m.

    Looking forward to reading this book! Especially after seeing Michelle in action and how that has helped us individually and for our team

  • Kelly Lawson
    on April 11, 2017, 3:58 a.m.

    Hi Michelle, looking forward to watching your success grow each day. I am grateful to have you in my circle of amazing ladies. xx

  • Bruce Watson
    on April 15, 2017, 12:25 a.m.

    Can't wait. Will be a great learning opportunity. Thanks Michelle

  • Rossi Jarvie
    on April 28, 2017, 9:43 a.m.

    Can't wait to get my copy Shell, the first two chapters have me captivated xx

  • Nathan Hayes
    on May 2, 2017, 5:58 a.m.

    Congratulations Michelle - great achievement to have your first book published!

  • Cassandra Kavanagh
    on May 4, 2017, 2:36 a.m.

    Congratulations on the book. What an awesome achievement. I can't wait to read it and share it with my team xxcass

  • Kym Piez
    on Sept. 5, 2017, 3:05 a.m.

    First question: when do we get to read your book? Waiting anxiously!