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.

 

 

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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5 reasons I don’t stop working when my boys come home

Leaving on our posting to Hanoi - and going back to full -time work with a 2 year old and a 3.5 month old, January 2011
Leaving on our posting to Hanoi – and going back to full -time work with a 2 year old and a 3.5 month old, January 2011

I went back to work when my oldest was 7 months, my youngest 3.5 months, and by then I was working long hours, and sometimes weekends during my posting in Hanoi. I was lucky because I was still able to be involved at pre-school but I also missed out on things like the day-to-day stuff of kids growing up.

Reading to Xavier's class in Hanoi on his 3rd birthday - before going to work, September 2013
Reading to Xavier’s class in Hanoi on his 3rd birthday – before going to work, September 2013

I remember an Australian colleague in Hanoi recounting a story about another father at the international school who didn’t want to give up his weekly golf game to coach the kids soccer team. What he said to the other dad really stuck with me:

“your kids are growing up really fast, and soon they won’t want you coaching them. Make the most of the fact they do want you around, and your golf game will be there later”.

Now, I’d like to think my boys will always want me around but it did get me thinking. I also realised I was dreading the thought of work more and more and I was procrastinating by doing other things when I should have been focusing on my work (which meant I worked longer hours because I still got stuff done). I realised that if I was going to miss out on that time with my kids and my family and friends, it had to be to do something that I really loved and that I felt really passionate about.

As busy as it was, my job in Hanoi came with some great opportunities - like hosting this social media training session for local journalists
As busy as it was, my job in Hanoi came with some great opportunities – like hosting this social media training session for local journalists

I didn’t actually set out to have my own business. As I have written in some previous blog posts, deciding to set up my consultancy was a decision that evolved. Leaving Hanoi I said I was happy to work full-time and long hours, provided I could have some flexibility about where I worked and again, was doing something I really believed in. But as I settled into the life of the stay-at-home mum/student in the Barossa, I realised that actually I did want a lifestyle that provided a lot more flexibility and the opportunity to be my own boss.

A big plus of working for myself is being able to take time out to do the things I enjoy
A big plus of working for myself is being able to take time out to do the things I enjoy

So unlike a lot of other Mums that become business owners and entrepreneurs, this decision wasn’t just about spending time with my kids, and consequently, I don’t always confine my working hours to the time they are at school or asleep. I’ve heard a lot of entrepreneurs talk about always being present for their kids, and not working if they are around, and I completely get that. I certainly don’t want my work to stop them from being able to do after-school activities or spend time with friends. But some days, when they are just having out at home (and they are only 6.5 and almost 5), I do work from our home office. That said, I do prefer to work when they aren’t here so I’m not distracted by constant requests for food and the adjudication of fights!

There's also time to bake and invite some of our friends and kids around for an after-school playdate - which I missed when working
There’s also time to bake and invite some of our friends and kids around for an after-school playdate – which I missed when working

At first it wasn’t really a conscious decision, but then I realised that they really didn’t “get” that Mummy wasn’t working. Working to them involved me putting on a suit or a nice dress and “going to work”. It probably didn’t help that to start with, I was also studying.

I hope as my business takes off, they will start to understand more about what I do. For now, the 6.5 year old thinks my business is my website and he’s very encouraging.

For now, the boys see my consulting business as just a website
For now, the boys see my consulting business as just a website

So I was listening to lots of great podcasts and this idea of not working while your kids were around made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was guilt, but I also realised that I want my boys to see me working, for a number of reasons:

  1. I want my boys to understand the value of hard work, failure, entrepreneurship and setting goals.
  1. I want them to see a strong woman and realise both parents have jobs, careers and contribute to the running of the house. Having boys, I think it’s especially important that they don’t pick up gender stereotypes from a young age.
  1. I want them to appreciate that Simon and I work hard to provide stuff for them. Our lifestyle in Hanoi probably set up some false expectations for the boys – having a housekeeper, disposable income to buy stuff and lots of holidays and we are working to refocus that
  1. I want them to understand that as important as they are, the world does not revolve around them. Simon and I also have goals and interests and friends. We’re a family, and a team and we all have to play a part to make things work.
  1. I want them to be able to play together, entertain themselves, use initiative and be creative.

At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. Right now, as I work on finding my first clients, I am still getting that balance right. It seems to me that technology has changed the way we work and there are more parents –male and female – working from home. While the goal for many, and the reason for doing this is to spend time with their kids, I don’t think anyone should be feeling guilty if their kids are playing on their own (or watching TV) or waiting 5 minutes for their next snack while Mum or Dad gets some work done. Hopefully the next generation seeing the entrepreneurs and small business owners of today, working hard and hustling to make a success of their business is providing role models and inspiration for a future generation of entrepreneurs and business people.

My business cards for Angela Pickett Consulting - helping businesses to expand their international engagement and opportunities
My business cards for Angela Pickett Consulting – helping businesses to expand their international engagement and opportunities

P.S: I got my new business cards last week and I am so damned excited. After years of plain black and white cards with only a government crest for decoration (and maybe a foreign translation on the back), I finally have fantastic, funky cards for my own business. I’m so grateful to my graphic designer Erica Brady, who was able to take my creative brief what she knew of me from our interactions on social media over the last year, to create my fantastic brand identity. It has been great to go to events and hand these out and I’m looking forward to updating my website, social media and other marketing collateral in the coming weeks.