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Courage + Trust: Self-Leadership and Museum Wellbeing

I’m Lara Day, a transformational coach, yoga teacher, mother, and former museum worker.

I’d like to share with you two mantras: 

  • I trust the path I am on 
  • I have the courage to change the things I need to change 

Quick orientation: 

— On the left is M+, Hong Kong’s new museum of contemporary visual culture where I worked for five years before its building finally opened in late 2021. 

— On the right is me with my eyes closed, holding and being held by my children, after I left M+ to move to Australia.

I grew up in Hong Kong without a museum like M+. As a person of Anglo-Asian descent, I was used to not seeing myself reflected in art, ads, movies, or books. As an adult, I made it my job to write Asian arts and culture into Western and global consciousness through media outlets like TIME and The Wall Street Journal. 

I had taken a career break to focus on creative writing. But when my friend sent me the posting for a digital role at M+, I knew it was my dream job. 

I worked at M+ for five years. During that time, I experienced miscarriages, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake, a super-typhoon, the 2019 Hong Kong protests, the beginnings of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the pregnancies and births of my two children. 

I created the institution’s digital programme and strategy, built the museum’s digital team embedded in the curatorial team, steered the institution’s social media and web-based storytelling presence, published the M+ Collections online, released a public API and shared the museum’s collections data in the public domain, and oversaw a programme of hackathons and Wikithons, web-based artist commissions and online exhibitions.

I also secured millions in funding for digital projects, and introduced many invisible but important processes that shifted the organisation’s culture towards digital practice and thinking so it could withstand moments like these, when our most steadfast way of connecting to audiences is online.   

I was supposed to return to M+ in March 2020, at the end of my second maternity leave. In the end, I said no. I had two small children, a 3 year old and a 5 month old. I was in Australia with my husband’s family. It didn’t seem safe to travel. And it didn’t seem fair to promise a return date to Hong Kong in a new, uncertain world. 

At the time, it felt like my decision was based in fear. But I realise now how much COURAGE it took to say no. 

It took courage to leave my so-called dream job, prioritise my own health and well-being, and build a new life in a new country. 

It took courage to go against what I believed to be my nature, a belief that I was born to “push hard” and “achieve.” 

Instead I chose to use my power to slow down, to hold space for myself and my family, to find clarity and focus, and to honour my own feelings and experiences.

To say yes to the things that nourished me. And from there, to embrace TRUST.

In joining M+ I had chosen trust, maybe even faith, in this slow-moving, miracle project that so many people misunderstood and doubted would ever be born. 

In the end, it felt like a miracle to watch M+ rise from the ground in the harbour that anchored me in my childhood. It feels like a miracle that M+ exists now at all, in the midst of this pandemic, and despite almost impossible political pressure.  

To me, building M+ was about creating a kind of spiritual home, a museum for current and future generations that includes people like me, who might be local in more than one place. 

Today I choose to have trust in my next steps, knowing that a different kind of miracle is emerging here, now, in this present moment, in this time with my family, with the space to nourish and connect me to my deepest sense of self. 

What I’m saying yes to today: a new kind of collaborative global practice, a coaching practice, serving and supporting others to lead themselves from a place of courage and self-trust, to nurture their inner aliveness and the aliveness of the organisations and humans they serve, to connect with what makes them unique and whole, with the goal of creating a better, kinder, more compassionate and truly well world.

Not everyone needs to leave their job to serve in deep alignment. 

In fact, we need people to stay when things get hard. 

But to do so, they need to be given the freedom and space to truly take care of themselves, to honour and respect their own boundaries, to tend to their mental and emotional and spiritual health, to care for their bodies and well-being as a priority, and to weave their humanity and wholeness into the core of how they “do” work, because how we do work is how we do life. 

If you are working at a museum or any other organisation, if things are hard, remember that you’re navigating both your workplace, and yourself as a human being. 

If you’re looking to create change, start with yourself.

Please remember to look after yourself first, because the better you care for you, the more powerfully you can care for the world. 

About the author – Lara Day

Lara Day is a coach, writer, and digital strategist with a global online practice that values creativity, connection, authenticity, and community. With a background in museums, journalism, and storytelling, she brings her rich 15+ year experience to people and organisations looking to create a better world, starting from the inside out.

For five years she led the digital development of M+, Hong Kong’s largest museum, dedicated to 20th and 21st century visual culture. Previously she steered online arts and cultural coverage for Asia at The Wall Street Journal.

Lara’s contributions to museum thinking are featured in an interview with her in The Digital Future of Museums: Conversations and Provocations by Keir Winesmith and Suse Anderson (Routledge, 2020). Her contributions to digital storytelling at The Wall Street Journal were recognised by The Scripps Howard Award for Digital Innovation.

She is based in Kaurna Country (Adelaide, South Australia), where she lives with her husband, two high-energy children, and two Hong Kong street cats.

Find her at lara-day.com or on Instagram at @laraday.wellness

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