Apologies if anyone is subscribed to website updates, this year I’m going through my old websites and importing old blog posts, adding them to this site, so there will occasionally be notifications that posts have been added but it’s really old stuff.
I don’t know how much ambition I should have. I used to feel like a cool kid, walking into my super cool workplace and working with cool brands and getting paid well and still having a good work/life balance . . . I used to read stuff like Lean In and mentally punch the air, “Yeah! I’m not gonna step back in ambition if I have babies! I’m not gonna start pulling away from work when I haven’t even started maternity leave! I will remember to still push for a promotion before I leave, and go on a high note, so that I can jump back in – after a baby – more advanced!”
Then I realised I didn’t like the work I was doing. And I quit and started freelancing, and as a freelancer, there wasn’t a way to “lean in,” and there weren’t any promotions available. And I got pregnant and had the baby and experienced an astounding lifestyle shock and I thought, “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t have this baby straight after that fast-paced full-time work. I’m glad I gradually slowed down. My lifestyle shock could have been so much worse.”
And then I spent my days looking after the baby, and with my family – mum, dad, brother, sister – and with my partner/best friend in the mornings/evenings/weekends – doing the simplest of things: sitting in the back garden, in the sun, having long talks; sharing meals together; playing games together; walking to the library and the park and spending time outside together – and I thought, “Some people get to retirement and finally slow down enough to do all this, and they say: ‘It’s so dumb that we do this when we’re old.’ I feel so lucky being able to experience this slow-down, this miniature retirement, in the middle of my life.”
And then I wonder, so how ambitious do I feel now? I see desperate requests at the community centre and the toy library (both are fantastic organisations) for leaders, committee members, and volunteers, and I think, “I could do a really good job with that,” but also, “Oh no you don’t! I don’t want to fall into that trap – it’s a role that the community needs, but it’s the type of role that women get sucked into after becoming mums, and they get paid nothing (which isn’t on), and loads of other people could be doing a good job with that and feel passionate about it, whereas I feel like I could potentially put myself to use doing something those people wouldn’t/couldn’t do.”
So then I’m working on a small business idea and I wonder, “Am I thinking too small with this? Am I just scared and too intimidated to think big?” And I listen to a Creative Mornings podcast with the guest Sarah Hernholm, who talks about doing “whatever it takes” – to make a difference, to make something happen, to make a big dream come true – and I think again about my small business idea: “Gosh, I am so not doing ‘whatever it takes’! I’m not putting my all into this. I’m treating it casually, like a side project. Why? – Because I’m afraid of failing? Because I don’t want to lose money on it? Because I don’t even know how much I believe in the idea? Because I’m scared of negativity and meanness? Because I’m lazy? Why?”
. . . I don’t know. So far I have only spent about $100 (and a lot of my time, and my business partner’s time) to get the MVP out the door. I do feel like I’m holding myself back.
Another comment in the podcast was: Who do you spend your time with? Are they people who encourage you or dissuade you? (Paraphrased.)
It’s a prompt I’ve read a bunch of times before – that, and the concept of needing to find your “tribe” or find your peers – the people who have the same values and similar goals as you, who will support, encourage and inspire you.
And I wonder . . . I wonder if I could find more people who are striving for something more. If I was surrounded by them, would I be more “all in”? Could I get to a point where I feel like I’m putting something on the line for this? All of my side projects have been low risk. Is it just my personality to make them low risk? Is it just smart and practical to make them low risk? (At least at the beginning!) Where do I find people who want something more, to try out my theory? Question mark? Are you my real mother? Who framed Roger Rabbit? Ssshhh.
I was writing in my journal on one of my soveryprecious mornings off (making the decision about where to go for a coffee and some people-watching was overwhelming, so I chose a local place that is crazy expensive but has gorgeous interior design) and every now and then, I looked up at the people around me. Two beautiful women came in, and took a table opposite.
The woman on the left held her newborn. There are little things that tell you a person is wealthy – immaculate grooming, tailored clothes, shoes that are a bit unusual but well-made. She had those things.
The woman on the right looked French. The hair said French, the red lipstick said French, the simple & slim black clothing said French. Her accent was French. There you go. I couldn’t get that one wrong.
They were getting to know each other: Ah, the French woman is the new au pair.
The woman on the left ordered one of the café’s magnificent dishes – something I would not buy, because even though they are stunningly presented, they are ridiculously priced and would leave me still feeling rather hungry. Nope, I had ordered toast. The toast was $7.00. The coffee was probably $5.00, I can’t remember. $7.00 toast stuck in my mind, though. I can buy two loaves of really nice bread for that.
The woman on the left asked the au pair what she would like. The au pair ordered the same magnificent dish as her employer. I’m talking something that’s probably $25.00 and contains flecks of activated almonds and pomegranate seeds with a whiff of kale basted in activated beetroot. (I’m not joking about the activated stuff. There were multiple activated items on the menu.)
Another French woman walked in. Also beautiful. It appeared to be a handover meeting. I wasn’t eavesdropping, I was paying attention to my journal and my gourmet toast, so I don’t know what they were talking about in detail. Just caught a phrase here and there, and a laugh here and there.
The au pair hirer had popped her baby down for a nap in the pram, but the baby wasn’t into it. There was newborn cry-cry-crying. The mum picked her up, standing, patting and soothing her.
Every now and then when I looked up from my journal, I was glancing at the people in the café, and sometimes I’d be lost in thought and I accidentally / vaguely stared. I was doing this when the mum was holding her crying baby. She caught me looking at her, and gave me a little smile, and said, “Why, what are you thinking?”
I don’t know what she meant by that. She said it like she knew me. I must have looked like I had some thoughts about a crying baby. I didn’t. I did think, in a microscopic-flash-thought (as are all thoughts) about what her life was like. I wondered what her house was like, if she had any other children, what her partner was like, if she worked, what she did for work, what it was like for the baby to have an au pair, and what it was like for her to have an au pair in her life. I also, in a microscopic-flash-thought, said to myself: “This is the area where I live. Some of the houses around me have au pairs.”
To answer the woman’s question, I didn’t say, “Oh, nothing, just staring into space here.” Instead, I said: “It’s nice hearing that newborn baby sound – I mean, not for you, you wish the baby wasn’t crying! – but for me, it’s nice.” It wasn’t the truth, but I felt like it was a more acceptable and bland response, somehow. There was something odd about her tone, like when a person can sound perfectly warm and nice but you learn, afterwards, that they felt insulted by something that you said. I wanted to deflect and vanish. I jumped back into my journal, and the women went away.
I started to write about how I’ve worked on being happier over the past few years, and how it’s been a slow ride, but the things I’ve been doing have been working for me, when I realised:
Maybe I wouldn’t be happy today if I didn’t find love in 2013.
Which got me to thinking – yes, working on my happiness has probably also been significant, but – I don’t think we let each other talk enough about the astounding significance of finding, losing or lacking love.
In 2012, I went looking for love on a dating site, almost ashamed, wanting to play it down. Just looking for some dates. But I wasn’t. I was looking for long-term love. I wanted to love someone, to be loved, to really connect. I thought about it a lot. I was alone and lonely. It’s not cool to say that, but it’s true.
I wish I could have said to myself: It’s OK for this to feel very important. It is. You should work hard on finding love. Make it a project. Give it your time, creative thought and attention. Don’t feel ashamed. Look everywhere, find new ways to meet new people.
James changed my life. He made me feel secure and supported. I wouldn’t have quit my job, become a freelancer, and written a novel draft (while living off my savings) if he wasn’t in my life. I wouldn’t have gone to Burning Man, which was one of the most beautiful (and scary) experiences I’ve ever had. And I’m not sure about the maths on this, but people tell me I wouldn’t have had babies without him. Those babies have levelled-up my happiness like nothing else could.
I probably wouldn’t be working on my side-project-business-idea if he wasn’t in my life. 💌
So, I just want to say, if there’s anyone out there reading this, looking for love:
It’s OK for this to feel very important. It is.
You should work hard on finding love.
Make it a project.
Give it your time, creative thought and attention.
Don’t feel ashamed.
Look everywhere, find new ways to meet new people.
What is the word for the level of sophistication of a philosophy or idea?
Like – when you’re younger, and you wander through the city and see people begging, and you think, “I’m not going to give them any money. That will just encourage them to keep on begging, and their begging makes me feel unsafe and uncomfortable, because I’m worried they might become confrontational with me. Plus, they will probably just spend any money on booze anyway. How hard would it be for them to really just get a crappy job at McDonald’s or whatever? Are they too lazy for a crappy job?”
And then, with new experiences and information, maybe you think about the people begging, “Their lives must be shit. $10 might hardly mean anything to me and it might mean a lot to them. Who on earth am I to judge someone else – and my gosh, as if it’s enjoyable for them to sit on cold pavement and be demeaned by all the passersby. I can’t put myself in their shoes at all.”
Oh, here’s another awful belief I had when I was younger (and I’m embarrassed to admit it, but there you go) – “Isn’t it stupid how we have to do training and get a license to drive a car, but people don’t have to get a license to have a child? ” Inferred: Some people shouldn’t be allowed to have children.
And then, the evolution of that belief: “Jeepers. Through the lottery of birth and the hideously unfair distribution of wealth, some people have everything, and some people have nothing, and the people who have everything stand there and say, ‘You should need a license to have a child…’ Life is so unfair, and humans are so cruel.”
Are there standard levels of wisdom that we can evolve through, and are they documented somewhere?
With social media, I feel like sometimes there is a push for a certain philosophical levelling-up, and it spreads like wildfire – wokeness – like #everydaysexism, where people acknowledged: “Women get treated like second-class citizens all the time. Still.”
Sometimes the populist philosophical evolution concerns me, like the aggressive demand that people always believe alleged victims of abuse/assault, because alleged victims are always right. I don’t think that’s a levelling-up.
Anyway. Just thinking out loud.
I’ve been thinking about what motivates me; I’ve been trying to figure it out.
You know how there are some super strong memories in life, like that time you 110% humiliated yourself by accidentally biting a DJ’s nose and he ordered you to get out of the DJ booth? (No? Just me? Oh my goodness. Okay.)
When I was at uni, I was clinically depressed. I had suicidal thoughts, I missed classes and assignments, I didn’t know what I was doing, I was tired all the time, and everything was so, so, so, so hard. For example, and this might sound unbelievable, but this is what it was like – I didn’t know how to use the university library and it seemed enormous and terrifying and I didn’t want to humiliate myself by asking for help. I did two degrees and spent five years at university and never used the library.
But next to the library problem, the career problem was… a trillion times worse. I was terrified of the world-after-university. I saw offices all around the city, and I literally couldn’t imagine what happened in them. What were people doing there, all day? Hundreds of buildings with thousands of floors and hundreds of thousands of desks – what happened at those desks? What did people actually do?
My poor sick body. As university was finishing up, and I was somehow (miraculously, I don’t know how) passing my subjects and graduating, my stress ramped up even further – I felt like my mind was blind with terror.
Somehow (maybe my mum helped) I booked in with a careers counsellor at uni. I had low hopes. The young woman asked me some questions, and I said, “I can’t imagine myself in an office. I can’t imagine working for money, helping some company make money. I can’t imagine being trapped in an office, working at a desk, day after day.”
The woman listened, and gently asked more questions, and then said confidently, “Ah, you’re [______]. You don’t need to go looking for a company to work for. You do your thing, and companies will find you. They will be lucky to have you.”
I asked her for more information, and she explained it further. I felt stunningly and beautifully reassured. Her comments made sense, and for once, I didn’t feel like I was broken. There was a place for me in the world.
The only thing is, I have never been able to recall her definition of me. It was so helpful, and yet… as soon as I walked out of the building, I forgot what [______] was, because it was a new word to me. And as you might have gathered, I wasn’t capable of easily picking up the phone, calling back, and asking for a recap. The thought never crossed my mind.
I had lost the precise information, but my hope was still there. I held onto the thought that the counsellor had made sense of me, and had no doubt that I was going to find my way. That’s been a super strong memory for me. I hold it dear to my heart. She gave me hope when I was so low, I was kilometres beneath the earth.
But what did she say? It wasn’t “altruistic” or “introverted” or anything like that, because I knew what those words meant. Intrinsically motivated, perhaps? I have no idea.
I thought, when I was working for web design companies, that my motivation was status – being paid well and being good at my job. Taking pride in my work. But, money? – when I was on my highest salary, I was very unhappy at work. And pride? – to take pride in your work, you have to gel as a team, because it’s a group effort, and half the time, I don’t think the teams were working well.
I thought, as some bloggers started to earn money, that maybe I could do that. I could blog and have advertisements in the side column! Or I could write a book. A friend had written a book! – Nope, these thoughts made me want to write less.
Then, for two years, I ran monthly meetups/workshops for women, called Girls Club xo, with a friend. Our topics ranged from Resilience to Sex Education. Towards the end of its run, we had 200 women on our mailing list, we had to limit our workshops to 20 tickets, and we were starting to get offers from other companies – free movie tickets, giveaways, that sort of thing. It was starting to get popular. And you know, ideally I would have kept running it, because it was really cool! Like, really cool. But I had a baby and just couldn’t. But during that time, that getting-popular time, I learned something about my motivation: getting popular wasn’t motivating me more. I could have milked it, promoted the bleep out of it, held workshops for 100 people, maybe even turned it into a little enterprise like Work-Shop, Laneway Learning, The School of Life. (At the time, I dreamed about running a Girls Club clubhouse – a centre where women could co-work, have meetups, and take workshops.) But the thought of it all getting bigger overwhelmed me.
(Aside: in a magazine I was reading, there was a double-spread ad for Optus that says “Believe Big” and “No one starts a business to be small”. I do a double-take when I see the ad, because I think: I disagree. I think I’d be happy with a business that was much-loved but small.)
So, I was thinking about the times when I’ve done things that I thoroughly enjoyed and was proud of them, and I think, in a way, they were all times when I set myself a personal challenge.
For NaNoWriMo in 2013, before babies, I wrote half of a novel draft. I’m proud of that, and I want to keep working on it. In my twenties, I wrote a bunch of songs and made a pretend EP, because I didn’t want to be a loser with loads of spare time and nothing to show for it. In my late twenties, I made a list of 100 bars in Melbourne and visited them all over a year, because I wanted to know where the cool bars were. I wanted to make really good workshops for Girls Club xo, and I’m proud of my work there. And I’m currently trying to read books as much as possible, because I managed to not-be-a-book-reader for way too long, and I’m determined to change that – I think reading books is one of the best things you can do for your intellect, your creativity, and your writing skills.
Personal challenges. I think that’s my sweet spot.