Coworking in Australia: from Digital Dens to Executive Establishments by Tim Mahlberg

In 2005, a new form of working was conceived when a small group of individuals from creative industries came together in an experiment to work alongside each other in an open and shared space called Spiral Muse in San Francisco. This marked the birth of the coworking space.

Coworking refers to the practice of working alongside people with whom one shares a workplace but not necessarily an organisational affiliation. Coworking spaces refer to dedicated places that are shared by people from different organisations, often freelancers, who work alongside each other, share infrastructure and often engage in joint activities associated with learning, innovation and collaboration.

Image: Tank Stream Labs, Sydney

Image: Tank Stream Labs, Sydney

Spurred by trends such as activity-based work, and other new forms of work organisation, the rise of the freelance model and ubiquitous digital and mobile technology, coworking has escaped its niche and is now of broader interest to startups and corporations, inner city firms and suburb and rural communities alike. Today, the number of coworking spaces exceeds 10,000 worldwide.

Coworking comes in all shapes and flavours, and caters to a diverse range of needs. And while coworking spaces are the spiritual home of successful start-ups, the digital disruptors, the corporate change makers, and social visionaries, their appeal is now much broader.

In our report we ask: what can be learned from coworking spaces about how to facilitate new ways of working with a view to increase collaboration and innovation? How can the various models be harnessed by small businesses and corporates to drive growth and efficiency?

We find that well-run coworking spaces provide insight into how our workplaces could be if they were more innovative and collaborative, supporting their people to work autonomously, flexibly and courageously.

The stereotypical coworking space may be envisaged as the opposite to traditional corporate work spaces, with a focus on technology, socialising, and informal ‘play’ spaces. However, new and more sophisticated coworking spaces have emerged providing concepts more relevant to larger organisations.

In our report ‘Coworking Spaces Australia’ we provide an introduction to the coworking phenomenon and an overview of the state of coworking in Australia. In doing so, we analysed over 300 coworking spaces active in Australia (as of March 2017) to unpack this phenomenon and to derive a taxonomy of seven distinct types of coworking spaces which we describe in detail. We further provide learnings about how to translate the concept of coworking into more traditional small business and corporate work realities and how to get you started on your own coworking journey.

Download the full report here

Building spaces that inspire: Four lessons from the first 2 years of The Village by Tim Mahlberg

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of a bold experiment inside one of Australia's big banks. On the 25th November 2013, The Village at National Australia Bank opened to it's customers and the public in the new 700 Bourke Street building in Docklands. What unfolded over the years is truly remarkable and something that I am still so proud to have been involved with.

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THE FUTURE OF WORK by Tim Mahlberg

I’ve always been curious to understand and explore better ways that people can work together, whether through building high performing cultures, celebrating world class customer experiences, or inspiring and empowering others to imagine more for themselves through their work.

Since studying psychology and workplace performance, I’ve found myself drawn further into conversations and experiments around the future of work. My recent work has been my boldest experiment to date; establishing the innovative business community that is The Village. Facilitating the success of this space has exposed me to thought leaders in the future of work from around the world who see The Village as a clear example of how we will all work in the future. 

The Village is an embodiment of how I imagine the future of work to be; where people are authentic and supported to bring all of themselves to work, with a focus on their strengths, areas of passion and finding greater purpose and meaning in their work. My views on this have been shaped by my studies in humanistic and positive psychology, and the vision of thinkers like Maslow, Rogers, Czikszentmihalyi, Seligman and Deci & Ryan. I'm curious about how we can translate their amazing research into everyday life to make meaningful impact to as many people as possible. For me, the laboratory is the workplace.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been involved in numerous conversations with corporates, entrepreneurs, the start-up community, and politicians about the future of the digital workspace, and the evolution of existing platforms like Yammer, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. I envisage that coworking communities like The Village will realise their full potential for social and economic impact when they are underpinned by a strong digital offering that doesn’t yet exist. This platform will have maximum impact when it replicates the authentic human interactions that make places like The Village so appealing: sense of identity of the community, innovation and experimentation, access to thought leadership, curation/hosting of the space, and finally, “accelerated serendipity”; where people are curious and drawn to a space for who they might meet and what they might learn, which is unexpected but comes at the right time. It's that social alchemy that creates a pull. 

My vision for the future of work is a continued growth in collaborative shared workspaces, including coworking spaces, that are connected across Australia’s metropolitan and regional centres, positioning us as a role model for community and innovation for our region and the world. We need to prepare for the next generation of workers who will demand greater flexibility in working, with preference to access distributed hubs that better support their preferred lifestyle, rather than waste away valuable time and energy in traffic and transport.

I believe that we will continue to see an employment growth in small business rather than big business, which will require a new way of organising and sharing knowledge. I see the important role of digital spaces to help facilitate meaningful connections between diverse groups of people, giving a platform for ideation, debate and civic engagement. Social media and enterprise collaboration platforms will continue to evolve, and we will see a shift away from the “email and meeting” cultures currently experienced in so many organisations.

Our aging population will put pressure on our economy to be more productive and move solutions to market faster, which will be accelerated by strong digital collaboration platforms. This will also coincide with Australia further embracing the start-up and entrepreneur culture, reversing the talent drain to Silicon Valley.

Finally, I believe that work will continue to embrace authenticity, compassion, and innovation, particularly as we see more female leaders come to top positions of influence and traditional institutional hierarchies continue to flatten. Leadership will shift from authoritative to more adaptive, authentic, transformational, and servant leadership models, which inspire and empower employees to be the very best they can be.

Imagine if we could create our ideal workplace. For me, The Village was the start of creating this.  After all, it's not every day that you are invited to build something from the ground up, so a huge kudos to NAB for this opportunity letting me experiment with them. I recognise that this was just one step towards a much bigger change in how we work that the world is hungry for.

The future of work is unwritten, and we have the opportunity to shape it now. Since leaving NAB, I've been fortunate to be sponsored by Deloitte Australia to undertake PhD research into the Future of Work and the Digital Workplace over the next 3 years at the University of Sydney Business School. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to dive deeper into what work might, and will look like for future generations. I'm currently holding some big questions in mind to shape this research, including:

- What would we like the work in the future to look and feel like and why?

- How could we organise work differently and what elements of our current workplace would we keep or change?

- What could we learn about work from other cultures and incorporate into the future workplaces?

I'll be sharing my findings and insights here regularly, and am committed to sharing the journey with as many people as possible. If you see an opportunity for collaboration, please reach out to connect

On Indigenous wisdom by Tim Mahlberg

I'd like to start by acknowledging and paying my respects to the traditional custodians of the land where I am writing this, the Cadigal people of the Eora nation, in what we now call Sydney.

I was born on the lands of the Wallumedegal people. This may seem like a strange thing to hear from an Anglo-Australian, and it is an idea that I myself am still sitting with. After all, we traditionally trace our lineage back through our great-grandparents, following surnames and marriages back through time. About two years ago, I was introduced to a very different concept of personal history by an Indigenous friend of mine; one that has resonated and stuck with me. He shared with me that Indigenous Australians trace their history back to the land that they are born on, because land is at the heart of their culture and the way their beliefs and whole society is structured. He had me curious to understand more because, as somewhat of a nomadic being, I've struggled to identify one place as my point of origin.

To be honest, I've never had much exposure to Indigenous Australians. As a young boy, I lived in cities and suburbs which were relatively culturally homogenous: the Hills district of Sydney, Hobart and Canberra. It was only after living close to central Adelaide that I started to watch, learn and listen. Adelaide has a thriving Aboriginal art community centered around the Tandanya Arts Centre, like the Spirit Festival, which I would often go along to to marvel at the incredibly beautiful painting and music I find so haunting and mesmerising. I noticed the huge disconnect between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians, and my own ignorance was and still is a challenge. I want to know more; to uncover the wisdom of this culture that is right in front of us all. With some strange feeling, I sense a strong pull within myself to delve deeper into the rich cultural messages and open myself to listen and learn.

Back to my friend who was sharing his message of belonging to land and place. His vision for Australia is that one day all people here, whether Indigenous or not, feel a deep connection to the land upon which they are born and live. He wishes that the philosophies of his people are shared and owned by all Australians, and celebrated, in a similar way to what is experienced in New Zealand and other countries celebrating their indigenious cultures. He dreams of a national festival where we all learn, watch, perform, and partake in traditional cultural practices (where appropriate and respectfully, of course). And, he hoped that this would help the dire situation that many Indigenous Australians are in today.

So, I held this for over a year, and started to talk about it with people around me. I started to see the larger story unfolding; after all, Indigenous Australians are such beautiful story tellers. For a people that represent the oldest continuous living culture on Earth, over 60,000 years, how does the story continue? There is no doubt how devastating the last 217 years have been for them, but what is the next chapter in this narrative? What might it be? As I reflected, the significance of now dawned on me... 

People from all countries of the world have arrived here to the oldest lands with the longest custodianship. Why? How is this meaningful for all of humanity? What is the learnings that we have been unable to hear up to now, and the answers that no other culture from East to West have been able to provide? How can we live more meaningfully and purposefully because of this ancient wisdom? These are some of the questions that I have pondered for the last year.

I was fortunate earlier this year to meet a mob from the coast of northern NSW, the Goodjingburra people who are sharing their wisdom for the first time.

Baanam is the name of the organisation, which loosely translates to "second brother", the member of the community that is dedicated to supporting the "first brother", Gogaun, who is the traditional custodian of one piece of community knowledge. Over a day with them, I learned about how knowledge is transferred through a beautiful system of mentorship, respect and community who collectively hold and share the wisdom and understanding of the land. We learned about the model of "5 stars" or "5 stones" which is the philosophical framework behind their relationship to land, law, ceremony, language and each other.

After a visit out onto the land they look after, I walked away with a much deeper appreciation for ways that indigenous culture is organised, some ideas about how we might learn and integrate this knowledge into Australian society. After all, the way we do things now is far from perfect; there are lots of social challenges that we'd love to improve.

I feel there are plenty of clues about how we can do things differently right in front of us, and that by listening to Indigenous wisdom, we might just find that the current poor conditions of many Indigenous Australians is lifted to a status of recognition, respect and that their beautiful culture is embraced by all Australians.  

Camino de Santiago Part 2 by Tim Mahlberg

Each day on the Camino, I've been writing in a small journal about the trip. This is quite strange for me as I very rarely keep records of my journeys, but something at the start made me sense that it would be a rewarding part of the experience. It became an important part of my daily routine that framed the rest of my walking. I tended to wake up around the same time each day, usually waiting for all the other pilgrims to finish rustling, packing and leaving, then I'd depart the albergue (pilgrim hostel) around 8am, bee-lining to the nearest cafe for a couple of cafe con leches and a napolitana de chocolate whilst reflecting and recording activity or thoughts on the previous day. The added benefit of writing was that most of the other pilgrims had walked ahead, leaving me to enjoy the way mostly to myself. It's not that I didn't want to walk with others, it was just that after a few pretty intense but terribly exciting few years, I needed some quality time alone. It might surprise you that there are now over 250,000 people walking the Camino each year, with the June/July period being the busiest. That is a lot of people, and especially the last 100kms, I often found myself in a long, stretched out trail of pilgrims. But the times where there was no-one in sight on the way in front or behind were the most perfect for me. 

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

It struck me wandering and wondering along one day just how important it is be comfortable in your own company, and to be able to enjoy it. It really is the most important relationship that you will ever have, but for me it has taken time to come to peace which who I am and to actually like the way I am, actively choosing the qualities in me. 

Over the years, I've formed a belief that our concept of self is more flexible that we actually think. We often have a fixed idea of the kind of person we are, with special quizzes and tests to confirm our suspicions that we are in this "category", or that "box". On the Camino, we are all pilgrims, with unique experiences that have shaped us, but the act of walking unites us all regardless. Each time we cross paths though, we are able to choose how we relate and connect. Is it a simple and polite "Buen Camino" or an opportunity to share more. Back home, I've always thought that each day gives us the opportunity to interact in the world the way we want. Are we the introvert or the extrovert? The agreeable or the provocateur? Each time we choose. I think this is what is the most exciting about life. It's not only is it "choose your own adventure", but also "choose your character". Who is the person you want to be in the world? Do you want to inspire? Heal others? Be a trusted friend? How do you want people to remember you and what do you wish that they would say when you are not in the room? What will be your legacy? They are questions that fuel me every day to make the most of each moment, and never miss the opportunity to inspire. 

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

There is one special point on the Camino that is very significant for thousands of pilgrims; their moment at the Cruce de Ferro (the Iron Cross), which marks the highest point on the way to Santiago.  

This pile of stones under the tall cross have been carried by pilgrims along their walk from all over the world. It is an impressive monument, and I spent a lot time just sitting and reflecting there. Many of the pilgrims I'd met shared what their stone meant to them, representing what they wish to leave behind from their life. Some were the weight of the death of a loved one or destructive relationship, others a enduring mindset that no longer served them. But just what did this stone that I'd brought from Australia represent to me? I realised that I had a very strong sense of contentment in the person that I am, and my past has shaped it and I bring it all with me wherever I go. And so, my small stone from the eastern coast of Australia came to represent all that I was willing to leave behind: a small piece of me to mark that I am also at home here, as I am wherever I go. Each place I've traveled has always felt so familiar, and my "nomadic life" of moving around across my life has allowed me to continue to grow and be at home wherever I may be (Spain is firmly on my list of places to live one day now!). It is an incredible feeling of security in myself, and one I hope to help other people to foster in themselves too. None of us are really broken, but the symbolic act of leaving behind what has physically weighed us down in our lives, and the feeling of lightness as each of us begin our descend down to our final destination. But more on the growing analogy of the Camino to our lives later. 


Camino de Santiago Part 1 by Tim Mahlberg

I've been walking across the north of Spain for the last 24 days along the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pagan and Christian pilgrimage. It is so strange to type that I've walked around 550 kilometres so far, with another 210 to Santiago de Compostela, plus about 100 to Finisterre; the end of the world, well at least it was the end of the known world then. I've met hundreds of other pigrims from around the world over the last few weeks, who all undertake the walk for different reasons. Some religious, some spiritual, others to enjoy some space from a busy life at home. But many walk the Camino to find the next step in life.  

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

The countryside here is so beautiful. Today for example, I walked over a mountain covered in wildflowers of yellow, purple and red. Other days find me meandering along old country roads surrounded by wheat fields swaying and twisting in the wind. It is amazing to just stop in my tracks and take the time to marvel at nature. The fresh air, sweeping panoramic views coupled with walking 20 to 30 kms each day, makes for a epic journey. I am overwhelmed by gratitude for this opportunity to experience the Camino, for my health to walk it, and the joy I am able to experience in the ever changing scenery. Simply awesome.

They say that the Camino works on you in mysterious ways, bringing out what you need to confront in your life. Perhaps it is due to the routine of walk-eat-wash-sleep that is shared by all the pilgrims, or the mystery of an ancient soul-line stretching across the old world which allows what is suppressed by the grind of daily life at home to surface and confront you. For me, I've had to confront physical pain. Coming over the Pyrenees from France, my feet swelled up and my shoes were too small (were perfect for hiking in Nepal a few years back though!). This left them covered in blisters, and as I hobbled into Pamplona on Day 3, I had to buy shoes another two sizes bigger. Of course, new shoes need to be broken in too, so new blisters under blisters made the pain excruciating quite often. What was the lesson the pain was trying to tell me? I was frustrated that my body was refusing to allow me to continue at the pace and distance that I desired, ans as I tried to continue to push through the pain, my feet would just get worse. My body was telling me to slow down. If fact, it has probably been telling me that for a while at home too, as I continue to persist in my daily life at a fast pace, driven by passion and a strong sense of purpose. If I only wasn't so damn strong-willed, and listen to the limits of living in a body. As I slowed down, somedays only walking 3kms, the pain would dull and the pace allow me to soak in every step in this beautiful walk, almost meditative.

A few weeks later, I stayed at an albergue (pilgrim hostel) where a renowned healer lived, and he took a look at my feet before I began again for the day. As he held my feet, he said that the Camino had a way of letting the body and mind work through and let go of what has bottled up in the world at home. For some, it is confronting personal demons, unresolved issues or attachments. For me, it was pain that needed to be expressed. He reminded me that pain doesn't exist in the feet, but in the mind. The act of walking and connecting with the ground, coupled with gravity, made the feet the perfect place to push out what needed to be expressed. he said, after a few days walking slow in my sandals for plenty of air, I would be fine. And he was right. 

Photo credits: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credits: Tim Mahlberg

There is a mystery in the Camino, and I observed many others working through challenges of life, love, and meaning of life. The focus on walking one step and then another (I estimate that I'll have walked 2 millions steps by the end) is the perfect opportunity for each of the thousands of pilgrims that travel it each year to find their way to a sense of personal renewal and absolution.    

On leaving a job that I love by Tim Mahlberg

I believe that each day you get out of bed and head out to work is the day you choose your current job. It's an active, daily choice, rather than just a decision you make when you put in your application, have the interview and score the role. The day you start thinking that you want to do something else, or dream of the next stage, is the day you should start to create that next move. 

After I announced to my work community that I was moving on from my amazing role as Host of The Village, many people couldn't believe that I would leave. After all, it is clearly a role that i loved and was proud of (and still totally love it). When you find (or in my case, create!) your perfect role, then why would you choose to give it up? 

And just why did I love it so much? Well, because I was paid (by a bank!) to:

Photo credit: Kate Hanley

Photo credit: Kate Hanley

  1. Bring my whole self to work every day, and invite others to do the same. (Somedays that just meant being a dag)

  2. Build a community based on inspiration and empowerment

  3. Work with some of the most awesome people I've ever met (small business owners, entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders and big business innovators... what a mix!)

  4. Help other people to imagine more for themselves and their work, and build courage to act on their dreams

  5. Hold a vision for the community and the organisation that supports it (in this case, a top 4 Australian bank)

Yep, it was a pretty special gig, and definitely not your standard job description (I'll admit that the "official" one wasn't so inspiring)

So why would I leave it? After all, people can go a lifetime toiling away at work that they are not passionate about. Well, I believe that this work is just a stepping stone to something even bigger and I owed it to myself to explore that. I wanted to create the space and time in my life for that next big thing. In fact, I believe that it has been preparing me for something even more exciting. 

There was a quote that played on my mind as I contemplated leaving:

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for

J. A. Shedd

If The Village was my harbour, and I was the ship moored there, then really, it was an easy choice to leave. The very nature of the harbour and the people visiting, whispering stories of seas yet sailed upon, and lands yet explored, did nothing but feed the growing curiosity of what is possible outside. Being surrounded by amazing entrepreneurs and innovators does that to you!

I wanted to feel the waves on my bow, the wind in my sails, and the sun on my face. I definitely didn't want to be safe, because that's not where the fun is. So, after a year and a half of building the harbour and the ship, I was off sailing. 

Sailing has been a powerful analogy in my life ever since I learnt to sail with my Mum when I was 10. There is something raw and majestic about battling the elements in a small boat across rough waters and being confronted by the awesomeness and power of nature. When I was a teenager, there were a few moments where storms had overwhelmed me and my boat, and I felt like it could be the end, or at least the sense that death was a possible outcome if things were much worse. The destructive potential of nature captivated my imagination and grounded me in that moment; a mere child mesmerised by unknowable forces that ruled the world, and a complete surrender to fate. 

There is something about letting go of what is known and controllable with sailing that I find so empowering. It reminds me to imagine what might be, remain in awe of the mysteries of life and be open to surprise and the ever-present serendipity. There are so many uncontrollable forces at play in life that we would be fooling ourselves to believe that even with our hand firmly on the tiller, we are never truly in charge of our destiny. 

This is one last quote that I hold when I make my life decisions. Making big calls in life and work isn't easy for anyone. It takes courage and risk. But, the rewards are worth it, and there is something reassuring and beautiful in falling asleep each day feeling that you have chosen that day in all it's entirety and wouldn't change anything at all.

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. 

Explore. Dream. Discover.

- Mark Twain

Reflections on 2014 by Tim Mahlberg

Wow, what a year. It started with a small number of members who had signed up to our experiment of The Village. We honestly didn't know how the year would turn out. I mean, what would make people want to come into a bank to work, meet others, learn and be a part of a community. Reflecting back, it really was a bold and courageous gamble. And what a result to date. 

1st Birthday celebrations in The Village.  Photo credit: Damian White

1st Birthday celebrations in The Village. Photo credit: Damian White

Thinking about how we've approached the experiment, and what has made it work, I think about where we and I continue to draw the inspiration and motivation, which is from each one of our members, the customers that the bank is here to serve. I've never met a group of people who are so passionate, so driven in their endeavours, be that running a small business or a social enterprise, working in nonprofit, or creative and innovative industries. Each of our members has such an inspiring story behind them, which we just love hearing and supporting in any small way. I've had the true privilege of watching many of our members grow and share their successes with us over the year, and it's an honour to host you in The Village. 

I often think about what the most important or most powerful part of The Village experience, which seems to make the most difference for our members and guests, and what brings the most joy for me, which I believe is The Invitation. It starts with what The Village is. On the surface, it is a place to work, learn and connect in a community. Over the year, it has become clear to me that it is so much more, and many of you might recall me saying this to you. It is a place to experiment in, celebrate success and failure in, play on the edge of your business or organisation. It is a place to be inspired and inspire others with what you are passionate about. A place to bring your whole self, not just your work. It is an invitation to imagine more for yourself and your organisation. 

I've realised that this is not something we are invited to do in many places, if at all over a lifetime, and so is very powerful. For me personally, there is no more amazing moment than when you invite people this way and you witness a light switching on on their eyes; a creative spark perhaps, where they envision more. I just love it. Clearly!

The amazing thing is that we've been able to share this invitation with more than just our members. Their guests, our own employees, school children, and many more in our growing network. I estimate that approximately 25,000 people have experienced this over the year in some way which is just awesome.

Something very special also seems to happen when you bring a whole community of people together under this invitation; it seems to magnify. You might have heard me talk about Accelerated Serendipity; when the right person or solution presents themselves to you and just the right time. It might all sound a bit esoteric, especially for a bank, but I've witnessed it all too many times for it to be simply coincidental. Maybe its something about setting the higher intention of our community that not just anything is possible, but actually more probable here together. 

So, with the close of the year, we now have well over 1200 members representing over 1000 businesses and organisations. I'm excited about what 2015 has in store for each of our members, and The Village as a whole. My focus will be on preparing us for greater growth in members and exploring other sites across Australia. We've started conversations for The Village in Geelong and Sydney, so stay tuned for opportunities to be involved as our sandpit gets bigger! I'm always imagining more for our community and exploring a vision of The Village where one day we have 10,000 members, or even 100,000! What kind of impact could it have in bringing more small business and big business together to innovate and create together? How might The Village help to bridge our regional, metropolitan and suburban centres together? How can we hold transformative conversations for our non-profit and welfare organisations? How could The Village role model the way that we will all work together in the future? They are just some of the questions that I feel we are starting to answer, and I'm excited to continue to share all the important conversations with you into 2015. 

Trip to the roof of Africa by Tim Mahlberg

A couple of months ago I returned to Australia from Africa where my Mum and I went to explore an tackle the climb up Mt Kilimanjaro. When I'm asked how it went, the two things that come to mind are "epic" and "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life". As mentioned in previous blogs, we chose to climb for a cause, supporting Plan International's gender equality projects in Africa helping education for girls in Uganda. Knowing that it was for a purpose bigger than us definitely helped in the early hours on the final ascent.

We were a group of 10, with me the only guy, and Mum the oldest woman. She became somewhat of a rockstar to the other younger women climbing and the group of Tanzanian male porters supporting us. Apparently, not too many 60-something people scale mountains, but she is pretty unique.

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg via helpful local guide

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg via helpful local guide

Travelling in a single line, we traversed rainforest, along ancient craters, through shrubs and across alpine deserts. My intention for this walk was to be as mindful as possible, climbing with intention and really immersing myself in my surroundings. Almost meditative. What was unexpected was the response from the mountain. On the third day, I broke away from the group to connect deeper with the walk, and after about an hour, I found myself in a powerful rhythm, with every step connecting with this incredible icon of Africa. I was so moved by the spirit of Kilimanjaro that seemed to reach out to me and beckon for me to listen. My heart raced, my limbs tingled as I powered up this steep slope, jumped onto a massive rock outcrop, and stood out looking out across the continent, with the magnificent Mawenzi peak towering over me. I was incredibly alive in this one moment that lingered forever. As I gently turned, across my shoulder I caught my first glimpse of the peak we were destined to reach: Kibo.

Photo credit: Susanna Franco

Photo credit: Susanna Franco

It was as if two guardian souls were watching me experience something so profound. Just amazing. So, I sat down overlooking the valley and wrote:

With every step I take, I come to realise that I am being supported in my climb by greater forces.

With each step, as my shoes connect with the earth, I feel the mountain propel me forward. It is as though I am just an expression to the earth, a conscious part of it that longs to know itself.

Each breath of air I take in that fills my lungs and sustains my life, is the air coming to express itself through me.

The water that quenches my thirst and ensures that life on the earth can exist, and each mouthful reminds me that without it, I could never be. My existence is but a way that it can know itself.

And finally, as the sun beats down overhead, one of the billions of stars that exist, giving and sustaining life, I feel it feed by body with light.

I am but an expression of these elements, allowing them to realise their greatness in unison.
Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

It took us 3 days to ascend from 1897m to 4720m above sea level before our final push up to the peak at 5895m. After arriving at Kibo Hut at about 5pm, we prepared for dinner, and lay to rest before waking at 11pm to start our climb at midnight. We were blessed with a full moon to guide us, which made it all the more special. We zigged and zagged up the rocky rubble of the mountain, ever so slowly. After a short time, we started to notice the profound impact of the lack of oxygen, the cold (minus 20°C) and the exhaustion started to set in. One of our group turned back, then another. After one short rest, I was hit by a wave of dizziness and started to sway and stagger. This was altitude sickness starting to set in, and consciousness seemed like something that could slip away like water through my hands. How would I be able to make it another 7+ hours to the summit? On reflection it is quite a scary experience, but something in me was determined to make it. In that moment, a peace came over me where the decision to make it or not was taken away. It was up to the mountain if it wanted me to make it, turn me away, or take me away. Death seemed just a natural likely option, of which I was completely ok with. And so, with one step in front of the other ever so slowly, I continued. The connection with the mountain I'd experienced earlier echoed through me and gave me the strength to surrender and trust that I had little control over what would eventuate. It also gave me strength to take each step with my Mum as altitude started to take a firm hold of her too.

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg

After 6 hours of painfully slow climbing, our feet and fingers freezing to the point of no feeling and fear of frostbite, we clambers over boulders to reach Gilman's Point at 5685m and catch the sun pierce the African horizon. It was all so surreal as we glanced down into the ancient volcano and the surrounding glaciers. After another 2 hours we found ourselves at Uhuru Peak, the top of the African continent. 

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg via local guide who probably saved my life

Photo credit: Tim Mahlberg via local guide who probably saved my life

It is hard to remember the extent of the feeling of having made it; the emotion cannot be easily described. I remember the six of us that made it huddled together in a group embrace of support. All of us on the trip felt a deep bond as we shared a personal odyssey that pushed us to our edge.

I'm full of gratitude to the amazing team of guides and porters from Marangu Hotel who looked after us so well. Thanks also to Intrepid Travel for organising the trip and supporting us with our fundraising. I am grateful for being healthy enough to embark on the trip to begin with, and the opportunity to share this trip with my Mum.