Three years among the vines

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The view over the Barossa from Mengler’s Hill – 29 July 2017

Three years ago today, a family of four, including two little boys aged three and five, left their motel in NSW, drove through Victoria and arrived in South Australia. In the early afternoon, with two children asleep, they drove into Tanunda, the place they had decided (with only some online research, two friends and a handful of visits) was going to be their new home. Leaving the boys to sleep, they drove by the school (where they were meeting the principal the next morning), and the house they were hoping to rent. The weather wasn’t great and as they arrived at the motel, they were a bit worried about that choice, but it was exciting. Besides, since leaving their house in Hanoi six weeks before, they had already stayed in eight different places. A massive storm hit as they were picking up supplies from the supermarket and as they put together a meal of pasta and sauce on the floor of their motel room, she was grateful they were together – even if they didn’t know what would come next.

That family was us and I still can’t believe it has been three years since we moved here. We have had our share of ups and downs, but I don’t think we have ever regretted the decision to move here. It still surprises me how quickly it all happened. We arrived here on the Tuesday and moved into our house on the Friday, with the stuff we’d had stored in Canberra arriving that same day. The boys started school and childcare that day and Simon started work the following Monday. Suddenly I was at home alone, the reality of my career and lifestyle change slowly sinking in.

I wrote this post a year after we arrived and I think a lot of it still rings true. Probably the one thing I didn’t expect was while you can make friends and feel settled quite quickly, there are still days where it doesn’t come easy. People often joke that you need three generations of Barossan family buried here to call yourself a local. While we have made incredible friends through school, work, the kids and their sport and more recently through Crossfit, there are times when you can’t help but feel like an outsider. I think it’s for that reason we’ve tried extra hard to learn about the history, explore places to eat, find our favourite cellar doors and get involved in the community.

We’ve really appreciated the friends who have provided job opportunities for us both, got our  boys playing hockey and basketball, invited us to social activities and made us feel welcome. When Simon had surgery in early 2016 to have a cancerous tumour removed and 20cm of titanium inserted in his arm, we were blown away by the support that was offered to us. The boys consider this their home, and after we bought our place last year, I have to say that I feel truly at home here.  A wardrobe full of too small clothes is also evidence that I’ve heartily embraced the best the Barossa has to offer, but fortunately in the last year, I’ve started to focus on exercise again and I’ve started running again.

After three years, I still find the juggle of part-time work,  housework, the boys activities, trying to develop a writing career and have a social life can become overwhelming and I think I’m just coming to terms with what a big change it was to leave a 15 year career. Deciding to wind up the consulting business I started was a difficult decision, but it has been great to just focus on  my part-time job in the wine industry while I try and write more. Leaving my career and not knowing what I would do next has probably made settling down more difficult, particularly as it isn’t something my friends here have experienced. I am only just coming to terms that making such a big career change also necessitates a big lifestyle change. There is the odd pang of jealousy when I see a Facebook post from a friend on an overseas posting enjoyable some fabulous travel experience but then I remind myself of the beautiful place we’re living and the opportunities that we have on our doorstop.

One of the highlights of living here has been visits from friends and family as it always provides a great opportunity to explore new places and revisit and share our favourites. It is hard being away from family, especially when they might be unwell or missing important birthdays and other activities, but it has also made me appreciate friends and family more. We couldn’t have made such a massive change without their support.

Reading back over my post from the first year (and a post from one of my favourite bloggers about her tree-change seven years ago), I was trying to think whether there was anything I would have done differently and I honestly can say, I don’t think there is. I think had we thought too much about our decision, the enormity of it all probably would have caused us to chicken out. I feel like three years on, we are all starting to feel settled, having our own house has given us a base to build on and there is no question this is where we want to be.

And while the locals might not see us that way (and the Swans remain my number 1 footy team), this is our home and we’re pretty happy about it.

 

 

Career change 1.0 – redefining failure

Last month, I finally decided to face something that had been on my mind for some time. After much thought, I decided to call it quits and wind up my consulting business.

Admitting that my idea hadn’t worked might have felt like failure, except I had made a decision when I started that I would give the business two years. When I started, I reasoned that I could spend two years researching and talking to people, or I could just launch the business, and test and change along the way.

While I was able to contribute to some interesting projects with local industry bodies, I realised that my original concept of providing research and analysis to identify opportunities might have sounded good on paper but it was not what small businesses needed. Working for a small winery,  I realised that small businesses needed concrete introductions and contracts and there are other organisations (mainly government) better placed to provide that.

I was lying awake at night worrying about how I could “fix” things and telling myself I needed to be more aggressive in selling myself.  I tried to find articles about what I should be doing – and whether walking away was the right move but it would seem that unless it is a massive failure that leads to the next big thing, many people don’t talk about failure or even just when to walk away from a business. (There’s a whole other blog post here).

I was feeling like a fraud and found myself stepping away from the networks I had made because I didn’t want to talk about what wasn’t happening in my business. I was unhappy and stressed – which was not the plan when we embarked on our career and lifestyle change. And I reminded myself that it wasn’t this business idea itself – but rather the need for a change that was the reason I left my previous career.

I felt that it was time to try something different, and I just wasn’t going to be able to find something new while I worried about where to take the business. Even my goal to write more had fallen by the wayside becuase it’s hard to be creative with something unresolved hanging over you.

And while I knew this business wasn’t my big life passion, it still wasn’t an easy decision to admit that something I had created – and that bears my name, hadn’t worked.

 

“We must be willing to let go of the

Sending the first few emails to those contacts that had supported my business was tough but I was positive. While the experience hadn’t turned out the way I had hoped, I had learned a lot about the realities of small business, about the region, about myself and most importantly, established an incredible, diverse network of contacts. I am confident that good things will come out of my experiences and my networks.

The next step was to post on Facebook. It was actually harder admitting to family and friends that my business idea had not worked – but the positive words of encouragement I received from so many people helped me confirm in my own mind that I had made the right decision. I had tried, it didn’t work and I was moving on.

Throughout it all, my family have been amazing and while this first career change might not have gone as hoped, we have no doubt our lifestyle change and moving to the Barossa was the right move.

 

I have a great job (which I describe as everything but winemaking) in an industry I’m interested in and I have time to spend with my family, watching my boys develop their interests. We have a beautiful little house in a town that we love – and a garden that needs a lot of love and attention. I have time to pursue all those interests I never had to for before – from exercise to cooking and I am keen to focus on my writing – both this blog and my book on Vietnam and I may even take some formal writing lessons.

 

Despite this, it would be very easy to feel pressured to come up with my next move. I’m almost 43 and it’s almost three years since I left my government career. Shouldn’t I be doing more? For a brief moment, I even considered going back to the public service and trying to juggle full-time work.

But I am taking comfort in knowing that there are many successful people who have changed careers late in life. This article from Australian journalist and academic Jenna Price on her 60th birthday makes the point that in our 30s and 40s, we seem to racing to the career peak, when really we have a long career left in front of us. There is time to find the right thing and it is OK to take things slowly.

 

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A year on – and the parallels between having a baby and starting a business

I’m normally a great one for anniversaries and milestones, and while I knew it was coming up, I completely missed that last Friday marked a year since I started this blog. Sadly in recent weeks, I have been finding it hard to come up with anything to write. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t think of anything to excite you the reader, but I couldn’t even think of anything to write that I wanted to read. I guess like many bloggers, I’m probably using Instagram more, and happy to share a daily shot of life in the Barossa Valley but writing has proved a little more elusive.

Another beautiful Barossa winter sunset
Another beautiful Barossa winter sunset

It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything, in fact, I feel busier than ever – especially as I finally get used to a life that isn’t 75 per cent defined by work. A year on, I am finally finding the balance I need to do everything I want to do – from getting my business off the ground, to getting fit, cooking, getting involved at school and Kindy and spending time with family and friends. It finally feels like we have a “normal” existence after the years overseas that were a constant round of high profile work events, welcomes and farewells and holidays. I always said I felt like we were living in a bubble, and away from it for over a year it really does seem quite unreal. But as much as I love my simplified life, I’m not sure anyone wants to read about it.

My old job did have it's perks - hanging out with Katie Noonan, her husband Zac Hurren and Stephen Magnussen for a week as part of their tour to Vietnam which my team and I organised
My old job did have it’s perks – hanging out with Katie Noonan, her husband Zac Hurren and Stephen Magnussen for a week as part of their tour to Vietnam which my team and I organised

So, I started thinking about this post when read a great post from an old friend from Hanoi that talked about how raising a newborn can be a bit (OK a lot) relentless. One of my favourite parts was when Tabitha talked about how she had prepared herself “for a 12-round boxing match, but what actually ensued was more like one of those games of noughts and crosses where nobody wins”.

I read the post, thinking simultaneously that it was lovely to read Tabitha’s writing again (her blog in Hanoi was one of my favourites – even before I met her and attended her fabulous “traditional Vietnamese” Hanoi wedding), how I was glad to have survived the newborn phase (which seems much longer that almost 5 years and 6.5 years ago) and how starting a business felt a bit the same.

Day 1 of being a parent to 2 boys - almost 5 years ago
Day 1 of being a parent to 2 boys – almost 5 years ago

Just like having a baby, in the early days before starting a business you can read lots and get things set up. Then you bring the baby home (or launch the business) and there are some exciting milestones like getting an ABN, or registering you business name or getting your business cards. (in a baby’s case this using revolves around sleep, smiles and noises and later crawling, walking and food).

But then there is a lot to both parenting and starting a business that is just work – even if you’re very excited and focused about the end result. Like Tabitha says, its not that its bad but you do have adjust you view of what time well spent means and get used to the fact that while there are sometimes moments of great success warranting a Facebook post, on many days, especially in the beginning, there is nothing to report.

Just like being a new parent, being a new business owner, especially working on your own, can be really lonely. This is probably why you do want to share those milestones and why, when there isn’t anything to report, you can start doubting that you’re even doing the right thing.

Fortunately, I survived the newborn phase for both of my boys thanks to brilliant support from my husband, family and friends, coffee, wine and some time out to read, shop or exercise. So I’m following much the same formula for getting Angela Pickett Consulting off the ground, knowing that in the end, these months of laying the groundwork, will all be worth it.

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How my Masters degree took me from my old career to my new business

Final hours of study
Final hours of study

Things have been a little quiet on my blog for a few weeks, mainly because I was finishing of the final 2 subjects of my Masters in Arts and Entertainment Management. I can’t say I enjoyed the last 2 subjects, mainly because I started to resent the time I was spending studying a couple of subjects that I didn’t feel were going to take me closer to where I wanted to be. Instead, they were keeping me from focusing on getting my business off the ground and from writing this blog.

However, I was so close to the end of my Masters, I had to get it done, and it was a great feeling to do that last exam on Thursday afternoon, exactly two years after having been accepted to the course. And while I have chosen to take my work in another direction, I don’t regret the last two years (even if it comes with a large debt) and there are three main reasons why.

  1. Starting my Masters gave me the courage to see that there was a world beyond my career in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

I started the Masters because I was starting to think seriously about a career change, but like many public servants, I was struggling to see how the skills I had acquired in 15 years working for foreign affairs and trade could be useful in the real world. I had originally thought about PR, but it was a time where there were a lot of redundancies in the media sector and I figured that there might be a lot of competition for jobs. I had also been running the cultural program for the Australian Embassy in Hanoi and was having a great time working with the artists and performers that were visiting Hanoi. Suddenly I could see some alternative career paths and so it became easier to get my head around actually leaving the career I had started out of university. I figured I could start with one subject that was closely linked to what I was doing at work and go from there.

  1. Study reminded me that I was smart, could research and write and had many useful skills

I did really well in most subjects and realised that I was a good writer. I was good at developing project plans, no doubt after many years of organising events and visits – and it was useful to see that these skills could be valuable.  I was contributing to discussions and realising that I actually had quite a lot of experience behind me in a range of areas. I realised that I was also a very good researcher and compared to my undergraduate degree where I wasted whole rainforests photocopying articles I would never read, technology had made research so much easier thanks to iPads and online journals.

  1. I have learned some valuable business skills especially in financial management, business strategy, human resources and marketing

In addition to the specific arts management skills I acquired – in arts management, arts marketing, developing community projects and running cultural events (where I was often able to drawn on activities my team and I were running or would liked to have run had we had some budget), I was able to develop and consolidate a range of business skills. Despite struggling through undergraduate financial subjects, I did really well in my financial management subject, largely in part due to the practical experience of having read financial reports and analysed business performance. I was able to revise some of the fundamental marketing topics I had learned as an undergraduate while updating my skills and knowledge in online marketing, which didn’t exist when I was an undergraduate.

I think the other thing that my Masters allowed me to do in deciding to make a career change was to have a safety net. Although I still wasn’t clear on what I was going to do when I finished work 12 months ago, at least I could tell people I was studying and that I planned to look for opportunities in the arts management area. It didn’t feel so risky to be leaving work when I was going to be studying full time. It also gave me some focus and some structure to my days.

“We must be willing to let go of the

So what happened? Well, I guess I decided that the career path in arts management in the Barossa was limited. Once we got here, the idea of commuting to Adelaide a couple of times a week no longer appealed. But on the plus side, I realised there were great volunteer opportunities and I have and will continue to make the most of these, so in that respect, my degree is definitely not wasted.

The more I explored my opportunities, the more the idea of using my experience overseas and working with rural and regional business to discover new overseas opportunities seemed like a more natural fit for a business that would match my skills and experience with what businesses in the region might want and more importantly need.

The other great thing that I found in the last few weeks of my Masters was just how excited I was about starting my business. Suddenly the degree I had started to distract me from a job I was unhappy in was getting in the way of the business I wanted to launch. The stress of juggling multiple tasks also made me very excited about being able to concentrate full time on my business. Finally finishing my degree also gave me some space to get clear about how I wanted my business to look and what I wanted to do.

This experience has also taught me that we should all continue to learn and to be open to changing and adapting our plans. No experience is wasted and in fact, as I realised, sometimes you need to start something in order to move from where you are. It would be so easy to see the last 2 years and the cost of a Masters as a waste, but it was anything but.

Hopefully my eating habits will improve, now that study is done!
Hopefully my eating habits will improve, now that study is done!

But now, study is over, there are no excuses. A little while ago, I might have used the fact I still don’t have my branding or logo or website or business card sorted as reasons to spend a bit more time planning. It’s time to get Angela Pickett Consulting up and running and see what adventures are ahead in the next chapter.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a bit more about my experience in setting up a consulting business as well continuing to post on life in the Barossa. After all, one big reason for this career change was creating a career that allowed me to enjoy my lifestyle. I also hope that my sharing this experience, there will be more people whop decide to take a leap and find that career and lifestyle that really works for them.

Inspiring career changes: From international development to bringing beautiful hand-crafted products to the Barossa Valley

I’m really excited to be able to share the following inspiring career change with you as it’s my first from someone here in the Barossa.

Lisa first got in touch with me via Facebook after I had made a comment on a post about Vietnamese street food. Lisa had also commented on the post and realised we had probably had some similar overseas experiences. We finally met up for coffee in early March and not only had we both lived in China and Vietnam, but it turned out we even had a mutual friend. The world is small and social media is making it even smaller.

I had been admiring Lisa’s beautiful shop Elemental, with it’s wonderful collection of handcrafted products from Australia and around the world, since it opened last year so it was lovely to meet Lisa and hear her story of how she came to be living in the Barossa and making a career change from international development.

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  1. What did you do before?

I was wonder woman, more commonly referred to as a stay at home mummy, to my now 5 year and 3 year old boys. Prior to that I was working in International Development and I spent nearly 10 years working in China, Vietnam and Laos, during which time I completed my Masters of International Development. I worked for a range of agencies including Australian Volunteers International, CARE Australia, Mines Advisory Group and lead consultancies for UNDP and UNICEF. In Vietnam and Laos I primarily worked in the UXO (Unexploded Ordnance) clearance / community development sector. Laos and Vietnam were so heavily bombed during the Vietnam conflict and the legacy of the UXOs mean a lot of injuries are still occurring when people are going about ploughing a rice field and accidentally trigger an UXO causing it to explode, or people will intentionally collect the scrap of the UXO or try to defuse the bombs with devastating consequences. It was an interesting and challenging sector to work in.

Laos was so heavily bombed during the Vietnam conflict that it is common in the rural villages to see bomb casings used as stilts for houses
Laos was so heavily bombed during the Vietnam conflict that it is common in the rural villages to see bomb casings used as stilts for houses
  1. What are you doing now?

I am the owner of Elemental Barossa in Tanunda, a shop full of gorgeous hand crafted products from around the world. Having worked in community development I have seen first hand how assisting communities to have a market for their crafts can be so beneficial and Fair Trade ensures people have been paid a fair wage for their work. My partner Steffen is German and when we visited Germany I always loved the Christmas houses, full of so many beautiful products. Elemental Barossa also stock the beautiful hand crafted Christmas and Easter products from Germany. It has been wonderful to have so many people come into the store and recognise the beautiful German products from their own families that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Just a sample of the beautiful handmade products from around Australia and the world available at Elemental
Just a sample of the beautiful handmade products from around Australia and the world available at Elemental
  1. What made you decide to take the leap and change?

Steffen and I returned to Australia 5 weeks before I gave birth to our first son. I was originally on maternity leave, but we made the decision to stay in Australia as I was working remotely in southern Laos where the medical facilities were not the best and so we decided not to return with a young baby. So we stayed in Australia and settled in the beautiful Barossa Valley, where we have met wonderful people and love living. Steffen and I had always had the idea in the back of our minds of opening a German Christmas house so I used the time that I was at home with the boys to do a Small Business Management course to plan what would become Elemental Barossa. What made me make the final leap and change career was when I started applying for work in Adelaide in community development and found it difficult to get back into that field of work. I was left wondering if people had trouble relating the work overseas to an Australian context and what my steps forward would be. After some deliberation, I decided to take the leap and open Elemental Barossa.

  1. What has your career change given you?

Family time. Steffen still works away and is away for 6-9 months of the year, so one of the key reasons for starting my own business has also been about being able to spend time with our boys. I can do school drop off in the morning and when I close at 4.30pm I am home straight away to play and hear about their day. I am so blessed to be able to do this, as many families have long commutes to and from work, which means missing out on this precious family time that I am so lucky to have.

It has also kept me connected with my Community Development background that has been such an important part of my life to date. In sourcing products from around the world it is important for me to know where products have come from and know the story behind the group / individual who are making the products so I can then pass on to customers.

  1. What have you learned?

That I will make mistakes, very possibly lots of them! I need to learn from them, not dwell on them and move forward. Coming from an environment where I worked in a team to where I work by myself, I have missed having other people as sounding boards, so I have learned that I need to seek support in the areas that are not my strengths so I have people to use as my sounding boards who have experience in this area to help build the business to where I want it to be.

  1. Is there anything you would do differently?

I would never change taking the step to open Elemental Barossa, however starting my own business has been one of the biggest learning experiences of my life! So with that wonderful thing we call hindsight, there would have been things I did differently and although there are always things to learn from the past, I look forward to the future.

  1. Inspire us – your favourite quote, mantra or piece of advice for anyone else thinking of a career change.

Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover

Mark Twain.

This quote has been my mantra for a long time. For many years I had my sails up, exploring and discovering the world, and now I am in a different phase of my life with young children I try to instil this exploring and discovering mantra with our boys. Be it the backyard with the palaeontologist dig we have permanently set up in South America or at a local park for a fun afternoon of play, there are so many possibilities to explore and discover and create life long memories.

  1. Where can people learn more about you and the things you are doing?

You can learn more about me on my LinkedIn profile, Lisa Ognjanovic

Find out more about Elemental Barossa at:

Web: www.elementalbarossa.com.au

Facebook: ElementalBarossa

Twitter: @EMBarossa

Instagram: elementalbarossa

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You’re not lucky – you deserved it!

I have been meaning to write this blog post for ages, and it is a month (eek, how did that happen?) since my last post, so when this quote posted by Leaders in Heels popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday, I thought it was a sign I should get on and write this.

Credit: Leaders in heels
Credit: Leaders in heels

Until recently, I often referred to my 15 year career working for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade using the words luck or lucky. I was lucky to be selected in a group of 30 or so to join in 1999 from 2500 applicants, I was lucky to be posted to Beijing early in my career,  I was lucky to be able to take maternity leave for 7 months, I was lucky to get the posting to Hanoi, I was lucky to have taken a redundancy and be reshaping my career. I could go on.

It was only during my coaching sessions with Lisa from Multiples of Two that I realised it was not about luck but hard work. It wasn’t like I was entering the lottery and being randomly chosen (although believe me, the postings process can feel a little that way). The reality was I studied hard to get my undergraduate degree. I worked hard on my application and put my best efforts into all steps of the interview process. Once I joined DFAT, I worked hard to learn new skills, develop networks and understand how the organisation worked. Learning Chinese for two years full time was a great opportunity – but I still had to do the work. And my career change – yes, again I am fortunate to have been in a position to take a redundancy so we can make this lifestyle and career change, but again, this was due to taking chances, opportunities, working hard rather than being lucky.

I think the fact we to refer to our achievements as being due to luck probably has something to do with the way we (women in particular) downplay our achievements. And we agree when people tell us (no doubt in a well-meaning way) how lucky we are to have a great career or opportunity. To correct this and say, “No, actually I worked really hard”, may sound to some like we are complaining.

But instead, if we take out luck, and realise it is about hard work, determination, commitment, persistence, personal choice or doing our best, then perhaps we would all see that we are all capable of great things and of creating the lifestyles we want. It isn’t just about someone else being luckier.

I think the same could also be said for the choices we make about how we live our lives. One friend told me she was often exasperated when people suggested she was lucky to only work three days a week. As she said, this isn’t about luck, its about her designing her life the way she wants it.

Before I saw the Margaret Thatcher quote, I had been searching for some other quotes to sum up this idea of shifting our mindsets from talking about being “lucky”, and I came up with the following quotes:

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity – Seneca (Roman philosopher)

I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it – Stephen Leacock

So the next time you find yourself downplaying your choices or achievements as just luck, stop and be honest about it. You made a choice, you worked hard, you took an opportunity and you deserved it.