Common wisdom suggests you should start before you’re ready. I really wasn’t sure how to start this blog and was even less sure about what people would be interested in reading. But, thanks to some encouragement from a lovely lady I met this morning, I am just going to write like I speak and hope that something interesting appears on the page.
As the title suggests, this is a blog about my career change and my move from Hanoi, Vietnam to the Barossa Valley in South Australia. After 15.5 years as a public servant with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (including two postings in Beijing and Hanoi), I decided I wanted to do something different. Unlike many people who decide to change careers, I didn’t have a hobby or a passion that I thought I could turn into my own business. In fact, I wasn’t sure (and am still not) that I wanted to work for myself. What I did know is that I wanted to change the way I worked and the environment I worked in. I wanted to be surrounded by entrepreneurial spirit, enthusiasm and excitement – something that the bureaucracy doesn’t always promote. I wanted to be flexible about when I worked and where I worked. After 3.5 years in Hanoi where blue skies were few and far between, I wanted to be able to make the most of beautiful days and work outside, or from a café. And as I began to explore social media further, I wanted to do something where I could engage with people online – as well as in real life.
Not quite two years ago, I learned the value of jumping in without a plan, when a chance comment to my boss about wishing I could do part of my colleague’s job saw us doing a job swap five days later and me taking over a significant program of events to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam. Suddenly I was not only managing the Embassy’s bilingual Facebook page with my team (only the second Australian Embassy to have a Facebook page) but I was coordinating a Vietnam-wide program of events that included performances by Bangarra, a three city 40 piece Questacon exhibition, concerts by Katie Noonan and Elixir and numerous other events.
So, the idea of a career change and some new exciting work came together. There are two moments that still stand out. One was after Bangarra’s second performance, in Ho Chi Minh City. After running the Hanoi event with my team, I was really only there to support my colleague and to farewell Bangarra when they left Vietnam. There was a moment during the post-performance reception I remember thinking – “this is I” but not really knowing what “it” was – apart from a feeling about how I felt. Emma Grey from Work Life Bliss talks about a scene from Wind in the Willows where Toad is sitting in the dust beside his damaged gypsy caravan, drooling over his first glimpse of a car. As she describes it “A whole world of possibility opened up”. This was reinforced a few months later watching a veteran Australian ballet dancer – 79 year old Colin Peasley instructing a group of dancers from Vietnam’s national ballet company. Sitting cross-legged on a couch in a sundrenched studio, I realised I couldn’t stop smiling because I was surrounded by the passion of people doing something that they really loved.
I decided to test the waters and start a Masters in Arts and Entertainment Management, reasoning that it was perhaps better to spend a few thousand on a unit of study, than tossing my 15 year career in. At the same time, I was able to continue running events and applying what I was learning, as we started to plan our return to Australia.
The opportunity to take a voluntary redundancy came along (and was a long drawn out process not worth recording) but at each step we would ask ourselves whether we were doing to right thing, as I prepared to quit work without still being 100 per cent clear where exactly this course of study would take me – or where I wanted it to take me.
Around Christmas, we spent some time in Hanoi exploring our options. As much as we loved Canberra, we both agreed that in a climate of public service cuts; it was not going to be somewhere that provided the opportunities we were looking for. With a husband who had spent most of his working career in various aspects of the wine business, we’d also entertained the thought of moving to a wine region and South Australia stood out, partly due to the cost of living. Gradually I started following people and businesses in the Barossa on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and in my mind’s eye, I started planning our move to the vines.
I can save the ups and downs, stresses and worries of quitting work and moving to a place we’d previously only visited for another day, but 2 months after leaving Asia, and here we are. It’s only been three weeks and while our world is still quite small, it all just feels right. From the first day we arrived, I was blown away how welcoming people are, how friendly, and most of all, how much people enjoy living here. And while there are obviously lots of families who have been here for generations, newcomers are welcomed. Most of all, life is easy, and after the chaos, pollution and hustle of Hanoi, we can’t help but love being five or ten minutes to wherever we need to be, a great gym close by, fantastic schools, great cafes and amazing food and wine – just as we’d imagined.
As for the career change, while my studies continue, I’m even more excited by the chance meetings and the opportunities that are presenting themselves. I’m hoping this blog will be an opportunity to record some of our adventures as we make a new life in the Barossa, while also taking some time to sit back and reflect on a very busy 3.5 years in Vietnam.