Courtney Linnecar has a vision of a world where volunteering is as a normal part of your week as meeting a friend for a cup of tea. Back in New Zealand, after 8 years travelling, working and helping social enterprises, she is bringing her passions and strengths together by working on a new digital platform that helps people lead happier lives, designing an eco-retreat with her partner and being mum to beautiful son Noah.
I caught up with her one early morning in December (on her birthday no less!) with Noah happily playing around her to find out more about her vision for simplicity and what is driving her to make it happen.
To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link below.
I really don’t like the question “What do you do”, so how about we start with “What are you working on at the moment?”
I hate that question as well! I always had this vision that when you meet people whether it’s in social situations or networking it would be the question “What are your causes?” or “What are you passionate about?”, as it’s so much more interesting to discuss and most of the time what people do for work doesn’t define who they are.
So what is taking up your time at the moment?
I’m working on a digital platform called Happylocal. It’s been a work in progress for a while but it’s never been the right time and I really thought it would work well to start off with in a place like New Zealand. The primary goal of Happylocal is to get people participating in more local experiences and opportunities to help them thrive, resulting in an increase in social connection, community engagement and good mental well-being. You put in your preferences as a user, under three different categories – Do (your skills), Play (your interests) and Give (your causes) – and then local experiences and opportunities specifically based on your preferences will get sent to you via a push notification. So rather than having to Google events or be on this newsletter or read this newspaper or keep an eye on this Facebook group, everything comes to you. It’s a private and personalised experience.
I’m really passionate about happiness, giving back, and purposeful work and also obviously in New Zealand and the world over there’s such an issue with mental health. My strengths are talking to people, networking, volunteering, event management and marketing, so for once in my life I wanted to do something that I was not only passionate about but that also played to my strengths.
Can you tell me a bit about your career journey to date?
The journey probably began when I was 16 and I hated going to school in New Zealand; I was bored. So I convinced my parents somehow to let me go to Germany where I spent a year in Berlin. I skipped 6th form and then I came back to Otago University. I got a degree in German and a degree in business tourism because I thought if I can travel the world and speak languages for the rest of my life I’ll have a good time and have great life experiences. I think people who travel a lot are envied, but along the way I started to feel that although being on the road is amazing, there’s this downside to it in that you can’t really build ties and relationships. So for me the idea behind it felt slightly flawed. I have always been passionate about volunteering and helping others so I just thought right, where can I combine this somehow, and that was when social enterprise was just starting in the UK. So after some time in Madrid and then London and now New Zealand it’s all sort of tied in that way.
I guess I haven’t had a traditional career journey. If employers were to look at my CV they might think it was a bit all over the place as most of my jobs didn’t last for more than 2-3 years. I always knew I would run my own businesses one day, but I don’t know where that came from as my parents don’t own their own businesses, but I just always knew. Right from an early age I knew I wanted to build skills rather than becoming a specialist in one thing.
I like the expression of being a wide achiever rather than a high achiever as I think the future is going to reward those with portfolios and multiple skills and experiences and passions.
I am finally doing something that plays to my strengths and focuses on the things I believe in rather than just needing to earn money to keep in the rat race. I have made that conscious decision and shift. And I know that a lot of people don’t have that luxury but I think at the end of the day, less is more.
What’s the best part of your day or your week?
For the first time I am feeling quite content with my lot. I was definitely the person who would go through experiences with jobs and go “why didn’t that work out” or “this is so hard”, and it’s not until later that you realise that that was really important that I learnt that. I’m very impatient so it was never enough, or it was always the next thing, or why didn’t that work out or I’ve got to move on and you don’t always know the reason but then later on you look back and say “if I didn’t have that experience….”
I think it’s about the WHY. Who am I and why am I doing this. It’s about backing yourself. I’m not completely great at it yet, but I’m getting there! I just think it’s quite nice that some of those risks and some of those leaps of faith are paying off for me.
Could you sum up what your WHY is at the moment?
My husband and I aren’t afraid of hard work and we want to engineer a situation where we work for ourselves, do good and we feel that you do good by doing good work, by making good money and making that money work, as well as the ethos or the mission. But for us it was always about allowing ourselves hard work, yes, but also that would allow the time to spend with a young baby or be healthy or have good wellbeing. Time is so important.
So it’s basically about engineering a situation that allowed joy and time rather than being on someone’s clock or under someone else’s control.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I actually really hate this question! I think life is a journey about small wins and things happening for a reason. I think there’s a real value in failure and things not working out and I’ve had a lot of that.
I arrived in London just as the crash happened. It’s hard enough as a kiwi to convince the UK / European employer why you are better than the next person anyway. I didn’t have it easy so I had to take temping jobs and just get in the system which was really tough going. I was never too proud to take anything. I just got in there and did it and once you’re in there somebody is thinking of you. So whenever I was unhappy at work I’d go home and work on something different to get me out of there and when I’d lined up something else I’d move on. I just feel that life is way too short to spend too much time at work. You either need to be earning loads to afford you the lifestyle and experiences you want or alternatively you need to be really thriving on what you are doing day in and day out.
I think that the buck stops with you. It’s the same with relationships or a bad friendship. A lot of people stay in things or let things keep happening to them, but then why does it keep happening to you? You’re allowing it. I am saying this from a 33 year old, wise old woman (!); I’ve learned the hard way! We are so privileged that we were born here and that we got education and that we have no war and that the majority of us have love and health and things. It’s what you do with your choices.
And your biggest lesson?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that there are some really mean people out there that don’t want you to do well and thrive and make a difference. I think it’s really important to take it on the chin and take it as a lesson and that it’s good to have thickish skin as it comes in handy! And you can create your own luck, destiny, story, whatever you call it by being the one who supports people on their own journey. It is super important what you did and what your legacy is or what you achieved and things that you can be proud of and attributed to, but it’s also about how you treat people.
I had an awful boss one time and all I could think, even though it was destroying me, was at the end of the day, man she must be going through something to be taking this out on me like this. I know it’s soul destroying at the time, but you do look back and at the end of the day it’s just a tiny, tiny chapter. I’m a big advocate for create your own story.
What is next for you?
It’s just tying everything up. We want to get the eco retreat established and Happylocal would ideally be a passive income, so building the engine behind it and then it would be self sustaining.
We just want to simplify our lives, strip everything back and just live off the land.
Our indicator of success isn’t a big boat or a nice car or anything, it’s going to be able to go away one month a year and do a project somewhere. My husband started a charity in Madagascar called Blue Ventures, so he has a real tie to Madagascar. I was in Sierra Leone with a charity called Tribewanted. My husband is passionate about the oceans and I’m passionate about the forests so I want to go to Indonesia, he wants to go and check out Timor-Leste. We want to have a cause that we do something towards each year in a big way. Really just enjoy! I think your late 20s to your mid-30s they’re so busy and full and you do so much. So it’s about taking a step back once you’ve got to a position of comfort.
I’m not a massive fan of short term voluntourism, but I think that if everybody had one or two causes that they supported in their life and supported them well, whether with time or money, social media sharing or fundraising, that would be amazing. It’s not asking that much! And then you feel empowered when you are approached by other charities to say “you’re doing a great job, I really admire what you’re doing but I’ve already got my causes.”
What would your piece of career advice be to a 16 year old?
I’d say you change a lot as a person over the course of your life so don’t worry about having it all worked out at the start. You are never locked into one career. Never stop educating yourself and I feel that’s been a huge benefit for me. Asking yourself if what you are doing with the majority of your time is contributing to your legacy or who you want to be. Every individual matters. It’s all about your choice and what you’re going to do about it.
And what’s your legacy?
I would love as we have just been discussing, that instead of asking what do you do, people would ask what your causes are. So that volunteering in people’s days or weeks is as normal as catching up with a friend once a fortnight for a coffee or going to the gym. I would love it to be so integrated and ingrained in people’s lives and choices.