Short life advice from Chelsea Green


Chelsea Green is the Head of Operations at IVHQ
Photo credit: Dom Prestidge

Inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book, Tribe of Mentors, Johnson Corner has started a new series, asking its regular users and community members to share their best life advice! 

Born in Austin, Texas, USA, Chelsea Green sold everything she owned, downsized to a backpack and moved to New Zealand with her partner. After travelling and living in a caravan for a year, they decided to settle in New Plymouth where they now own a house and have a 2-year-old Daughter, Evergreen. 

New Zealand suites the avid gardener, cook and music lovers lifestyle, she has travelled to 30 different countries and is the first person in her family to have graduated with a university degree. 

Chelsea has worked for International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ) for nearly 8 years, starting as a fixed-term administrator and working her way up to Head of Operations. 

What are three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

Letters to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Rilke 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho 

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last 6 months (or in recent memory)? Give us specifics like, what brand and where you found it?

I got a great cookbook from Unity Books in Wellington for around $50, A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones, which is a vegetarian cookbook broken down by preparation time. Food and cooking are very important to me, it’s a way I show love, so it’s been awesome to get ideas on how to do this simply while figuring out the whole working-full-time-while-parenting balance. I’m not really interested in shopping or seeking happiness from material things, I’ve been focusing on the simple things that make me healthy and content.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

Before coming to New Zealand, I was in corporate sales. I interviewed for a job I thought I had wanted, and I didn’t get it. In retrospect, it would have been a re-creation of the same situation I was already in professionally at the time – bored and unfulfilled. When I didn’t get the position, at first I took it quite personally, I spiralled for a bit in my mid-twenties, but upon reflection, ultimately that point is what transformed me. I began relaxing and freeing up my thinking to consider other ways of pursuing fulfilment, it is what propelled me to come to New Zealand. Although the failure of not getting the job at the time was devastating, it ultimately opened up this much more exciting and life-altering choice than some new job could never have fulfilled. 

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting the message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph (If helpful, it could be someone else’ quote: are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?

Nobody loves perfection.

What is one of the best or worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, and energy, etc.)

Buying and renovating our first house! For the first 5 years, my partner and I were in New Plymouth, we lived in furnished houses and crappy apartments while saving to buy a house, they never really felt like home.  About 3 years ago, we started renovating, doing a lot of it ourselves, project managing ourselves, predominantly while we were both working full time and while I was heavily pregnant. It was such a huge expenditure of time, money and energy but the end result is a space that is aesthetically us, with functional consideration of how our life flows within it.  It makes such a difference when your home jives with how you live in it. 

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love? 

I wake up early every morning to sit on my back deck with a coffee by myself, listening to the birds singing while the sun comes up. I watch the changes in the way the light falls on the plants and trees. I don’t get quiet time in the day, and as an introvert, this peaceful time is very special to me.

In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life? 

It is so, so cliche, but honestly, regular yoga practice. About five years ago I lost my dad to leukaemia – we were very close and I struggled with grief, especially being so far away from my family. I threw myself into yoga – every day – and just learnt to be with myself, with my thoughts and feelings, and let myself process them.  The most lasting effect of this has not been physical – though those benefits are numerous, it’s actually been perspective.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Take some time to say “yes” to as many things as you can. Travel. Make yourself uncomfortable. Learn by doing. Live in the questions instead of searching for answers. Explore fulfilment first, then work on defining what your own success looks like.

“Clear, timely, open and honest messaging – with an opportunity for two-way feedback- is key to being a people leader. “,h_700,al_c,q_85,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01,enc_auto/7a5d6b_42a1cd8776b243a292bfb10da8162350~mv2_d_4000_2667_s_4_2.jpg

What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Almost all of my career has been focused around people-oriented roles where communication is absolutely critical to success.  The bad advice is “Manage the message” – getting caught up in the strategic delivery of messages means you’ve already become less effective in communication. Clear, timely, open and honest messaging – with an opportunity for two-way feedback- is key to being a people leader. Without those elements, the message is already subject to misinterpretation.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

If I’m being honest, this is something I’m actually not that great at. My partner always jokes that I’m a “gold star collector” – essentially, I take on way too much for the “Good job!” moments, much because that’s what I was raised to believe an overachiever does. However, it’s not actually an achievement if those gold stars don’t actually do anything for you personally. Not that you shouldn’t do things for others, but you should focus your energy on things that make your life what you want it to be. I’m working on this aspect of myself as I type.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

Before anything else, I’d set aside some time in nature. Even if it’s a 30-minute walk in Ratapihipihi after work, to breathe and be alive in what is real. So much of what we actually stress ourselves out over is made up.

Then, once I’m in a better headspace I’d usually ask myself the following questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish or achieve here?

  • Is that answer in line with the bigger picture of what’s important to me?

  • How much control do I have over the circumstances in the situation?

  • What are the aspects of the situation making me feel uncertain?

  • What actions/tasks can I do quickly/easily to help myself feel less daunted in order to begin making progress?