R U OK?

 

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Credit: RU OK

Today is R U OK Day but I hadn’t planned to write a blog post about it partly because I’m not an expert in mental health. But then I wrote a post on Facebook this morning and I thought I should share a slightly edited version of that because while it is all very well for me to share social media posts from organisations like R U OK and their partners, I thought it was also important to be honest and say that I am not OK every day.

Like most people, some days are tougher than others. Making as big a change as we did three years ago is not without stress. We are lucky to have great friends and family to support us, but that doesn’t mean that it has been a walk in the park. I left behind a 15-year career and we moved to a place where we had two friends. We had a child starting primary school, one back at home after two years in an international pre-school, we had to find a place to live, make friends, find jobs and carve out a space in the community. Leaving my career didn’t just mean a change of jobs but it was required a lifestyle change – because deciding not to work full-time, means we had to change the way we lived (and that has not been easy).

It is also tough being a parent sometimes, hoping you’re getting the balance right between doing much and not doing enough for your kids. Should the boys watch less TV? Have they had too much screen time? Do they eat the right food? Are they doing well at school? Do they know they are loved – even when Mummy screams about the messy room for the 500th time?

And as if Mummy guilt isn’t enough, then then is the career guilt. Did I do the right thing leaving DFAT? I still don’t know where I’m going with my career, and I’m still feeling a little flat that I had to concede the consultancy was not the gig for me. I’m tired of juggling the never-ending bills, the piles of washing, the overgrown garden, the constant shopping and cooking, the cleaning and all the other stuff that is just part of adulting. Simon’s tumor and ongoing recovery was a curveball we could have done without but we’re forever grateful for science, incredible medical professionals and the support he has received.

My heart really does hurt for the people doing it much tougher. As we prepare to vote on the marriage equality plebiscite (a resounding YES from me but I wish our leaders could have just sorted this out years ago), I am so distressed for those affected by this awful vote. Love is love and surely we can all agree we need more of it. The government’s stance of refugees makes me sad that we are not the welcoming and inclusive country I was born into. I hate to think what my Dad, who gave so many years to working with migrants and helping them to settle and be included, would make of this poor treatment of refugees. I’m concerned that there are those that believe we can continue to ignore climate change and the impact we are having on the environment. For someone that has always loved the news and staying abreast of current affairs, I find myself switching off because it is all too depressing.

We also need to remember that if we are not OK, we are not OK – regardless of whether we think what is bothering us is less than someone else is dealing with. This sort of stuff is not a competition. While I try not to “sweat the small stuff”, I am aware these days that my small stuff can add up and cause me to feel less than OK, even when I know it pales in comparison to someone else’s problem.

But on the upside, I am mostly be positive about the future and I am thankful that at the moment, we can deal with what’s on our plates, and that the good outweighs the bad. I watch stories on Australian Story like the one on how RU OK was created and the two guys who have fostered so many kids, and I have to believe that there will always be good people out there and that there better days ahead for everyone. I also have to believe that while I might be only one person, I have to try and make a difference where I can.

In the meantime, we all need to take care of ourselves and be there for the people around us – especially those who might not be so ready to say they aren’t OK. There’s some great resources here on the RU OK website that I’m going to explore further but I’d also think its important to get professional help when you need it.

I hope you’ll join me in committing to have that conversation, listening better to your friends and family and asking for help when you need it.

 

 

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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Learning to find (make) time to write

Last week I published my first blog post in 9 months. I use the word published because I’d actually written it 2 weeks ago when I’d decided I really did want to write again. But I procrastinated for a fortnight because I didn’t have time to sit and upload photos. So I hit publish and then did nothing else. No social media sharing – despite having set up (and then unpublished a Facebook page for the blog).  I even changed the name, the theme and the profile on my blog. But apart from the 40 odd followers who will probably unsubscribe when they see the notification, having forgotten who I am or that they had even subscribed when they get an email, I didn’t tell anyone – not even my family.

Given this lack of self-promotion(?), even I question the need for a blog. Surely a diary would suffice. But if I’m really honest, two years on from starting my blog, I still do like the idea of building a community and interacting with those people. I have no grand plan to become a BabyMac or Mrs Woog but I’d be lying if I said, I’m writing just for me or my friends and family.

My excuses for not writing are varied but in short, I’ve backed myself into a spot where I  only seem to write at the desktop computer and I had to have photos to upload. The silly thing is, when I first moved here and left my career, my big thing was being free of being tied to a desk. I wanted to work anywhere. That means that when time is short, I don’t just sit and write and yet, mornings in the shower, evenings cleaning my teeth and other times in between,  I find myself dictating blog posts in my head.

When Simon’s tumor was diagnosed in February, part of me wanted to write. But another part of me felt it was his story, not mine to tell. And to be very truthful, I didn’t like the idea of starting a story where there was a chance the ending wouldn’t be great.

I’ve also realised that something else holding me back has been this idea of separating the blogging me from the consultant me. I wanted to write about the challenges of starting a business but what would that say to people who might want to hire me. The word authentic is almost as overused as journey but not writing about how it feels to start a business from scratch and juggle it with a part time job and a family didn’t feel very authentic.

The truth is, I have a wealth of knowledge about trade policy, free trade agreements, negotiations, market access and amazing networking skills. I am great at connecting people, identifying valuable research and opportunities. None of that is erased by me saying that starting a business is hard.

During our trip to Vietnam,  I was struck my this need to write something about our the 3.5 years we spent there, as well as this recent visit and my first visit in 2003 (which I still have a full journal of notes about). While a true writer would have scribbled a first draft, I mulled over ideas and signed up to a writing course which will be launched later this year and will hopefully teach me how to be a better writer and to allocate time for it.

While I don’t often back myself, I have a small arrogant streak that truly believes I could write a book. But in order to do that, I need to cast off some bad habits and just write. So first step, writing this on the iPad in bed, (even if it then took be another week to edit and post) and maybe, just maybe along the way, I can entertain my readers as I improve my craft.

Happy Indpendent’s Day

BizHub Facebook

So today is apparently Independent’s Day. A day to celebrate the work done by people like me, working alone in their spare rooms, at the kitchen table and at cafes around the world.

Perhaps simply because I’ve started a business, it seems like there are so many more people doing the same. And while some are boot strapping start-ups with a goal of becoming the next big thing, there are many like myself who have chosen the path of working alone to escape from a full-time job.

I have definitely gone from one extreme – a large Commonwealth government department to working alone. Of course, this was never my plan, but as I have written in other posts, as I explored my options after 15 years as a diplomat and trade policy specialist, I realised that I could make a contribution in the Barossa, and in South Australia more broadly by sharing this experience with small business looking to take advantage of the many opportunities coming from the FTAs Australia has recently signed with Japan, Korea, China and the 12 countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Working alone is challenging. There are days where the juggle seems too much and where you second guess whether you are doing the right thing. These days there are so many e-courses, apps, podcasts and webinars available to help run your business, but every so often you need to step back and just DO THE WORK.

One of my biggest challenges is finding the people I can best assist. While many small businesses know they need an accountant or lawyer, bringing someone in to help identify trade opportunities might not be something they have considered. Which is why, I am doing lots of networking, a course on social media to try and work out how best to reach my ideal customer and trying to write more.

We are also very fortunate in the Barossa to have a very active Regional Development Australia organisation who have established the B2B (business-to-business) network of service providers. I was able to access – for free – 2.5 hour sessions with accountants, marketing specialists, social media experts, business coaches and others as I launched Angela Pickett Consulting. And now, i’m very excited to be one of those providers, giving local business a chance to sit down and discuss their trade and export goals and opportunities.

The B2B group also run some great networking breakfasts, and I also leave these feeling really inspired by the business people in the room. The small business community seems to be growing and there is so much knowledge to be shared, which is why I am so excited about our application in the Your Say program to share in a $50 000 grant to get a co-working space and business hub off the ground. This will be a great opportunity for small business owners to network and collaborate and more importantly assist and mentor new small business owners or those considering starting their own business.

I’d really encourage you to head here and vote.

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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12 months in the Barossa – and some tips for making a lifestyle and career change

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Today marks 12 months since we arrived in the Barossa Valley. As is often the case with milestones like this, in some ways it feels like we’ve been here forever, but at the same time, the year has flown.

Looking down over Tanunda - the place we now call home
Looking down over Tanunda – the place we now call home

When we decided to make the move to South Australia after our 3.5 years in Hanoi, we didn’t really know what we were in for. For me, it was about leaving a career of 15 years behind to do something new. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew I wanted a more flexible lifestyle and that I wanted to be doing something that made a contribution to my community. For Simon, it was about getting back into the wine industry after being the stay-at-home Dad for most of our time in Hanoi. For the boys, it was about embracing life in Australia, the outdoors, fresh air and friendships. We chose South Australia because the cost of living seemed low and there were numerous wine regions to choose from.

Don't think I'll ever grow tired of wide open skies and vineyards
Don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of wide open skies and vineyards

12 months on, I think we can honestly say we made the right decision. We’ve got some great friends, we’re doing work we love and we have 2 happy kids (and a happy cat).

Boys at Mengler's Hill soon after we arriving - the sculpture park is still a favourite spot
Boys at Mengler’s Hill soon after we arriving – the sculpture park is still a favourite spot

Some of the highlights from the last year include:

  • starting a business from nothing that I really hope will contribute to the local community
  • making lots of great friends – from Mum’s at school to work contacts and friends of friends

    New friends and exercise buddies
    New friends and exercise buddies
  • being involved in the Vintage Festival parade – being part of the community and connected to the history of the place

    One of the floats from the 2015 Vintage Parade - which was also a part of the first parade in 1948
    One of the floats from the 2015 Vintage Parade – which was also a part of the first parade in 1948
  • getting involved with the Kindy
  • starting this blog
  • getting involved with the Spence Club – writing content for the blog and nominating for the board
  • having time to cook, knit, sew and read
  • having family and friends come and visit and love the place

    First Barossa Christmas with the family
    First Barossa Christmas with the family
  • shopping local – the Barossa Farmer’s Market Facebook posts for about 6 months before we arrived were a big influence on my feeling that this was the place – and I love that we can buy local, meet the people we buy from and contribute to the community

    Our first visit to the Farmer's Market was as good as we expected, and has been a weekly trip since
    Our first visit to the Farmer’s Market was as good as we expected, and has been a weekly trip since
  • the power of social media – as in Hanoi, Twitter andInstagram have been great platforms to learn about theBarossa but also to connect with people and make friends

    New hobbies in the Barossa - playing German bowls - Kegel
    New hobbies in the Barossa – playing German bowls – Kegel
  • the beautiful scenery and history that surrounds us – from old buildings and churches to living a 5 minute walk from the oldest Shiraz vines in the world – and of course, lots of great wine

    The Freedom Vineyard at Langmeil - some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, 5 minutes from home
    The Freedom Vineyard at Langmeil – some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, 5 minutes from home

It hasn’t all been sunshine and lollipops, and there have been some big adjustments.

  • being at home – without the household help – and trying to balance studying then starting a business with cleaning, cooking, school pick-ups etc
  • losing my identity – so much of who I was, was tied up in my job and it was strange to not have that
  • not earning disposable income – and not being able to find the “bridge” job I thought I could have because
  • stress of the early days – no one to call if I was running late for pick-up, crying myself to sleep because Xavier didn’t have many friends to invite to his party and feeling like an outsider at school
  • doubts of starting a business for the first time

But the highs definitely outweigh the lows and there is so much that we’re looking forward to in our next year here. – Finding our own house – but given gardening abilities haven’t been as I’d hoped might need to find a compromise between the rural idea and the ‘burbs – but I do want chickens

  • Getting my business off the ground
  • More great adventures with family and friends as we explore theBarossa Valley and more of South Australia

    Definitely looking forward to exploring more of the beautiful coastline of South Australia
    Definitely looking forward to exploring more of the beautiful coastline of South Australia
  • Getting to know even more of the fantastic people that bring us our great food and wine
  • Seeing our kids continue to thrive
  • More cooking, crafting and maybe even some preserving
  • Getting my health and fitness back on track and running the Barossa Half Marathon next year

    Definitely need to expand the veggie patch
    Definitely need to expand the veggie patch

And for anyone thinking of making a big, bold lifestyle and career change, here’s a few things I have learned:

  • it takes time – there will be good days and bad days but stick with it, and know some days you just have to cut yourself some slack
  • knowing why you want to make the change makes it a lot easier to cope with the challenges
  • be open to new stuff, say yes – but don’t completely overwhelm yourself.
  • If you’re a planner, you’ll still need to plan. I realised I still need menu plans, to-do lists and I still need to get up early because even though I I’m working full-time and be flexible with my day, part of my career change was about having time to do other things like cook, exercise and craft – and there are still only 24 hours
  • Coaching and networking is so valuable – especially if you’re starting a business. It’s great to have someone keeping you accountable and cheering you on, especially when you are doing something completely new and don’t know that many people.
  • Enjoy it! Celebrate the little victories, get to know your new town and focus on the good stuff!

IMG_3269 Finally, a huge thank you to Simon and my boys, our family and friends – old and new, who have provided so much support along the way. We couldn’t have done it without you!