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.

 

 

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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!

From public servant in Hanoi to business owner in the Barossa

Leaving Hanoi, June 2014
Leaving Hanoi, June 2014

For the last week, I have been struggling to come up with a blog post to mark one year back in Australia. What could I say that wasn’t simply a rehash of the last month or so of Timehop photos I’ve posted from our last weeks in Hanoi and our arrival in Australia. I thought of trying to come up with a list – maybe the things I’ve learned, the best bits about being back in Australia, the things I miss most in Hanoi.

My boys on our last morning in Hanoi. Hard to believe they were only 2 years and 3.5 months when we arrived
My boys on our last morning in Hanoi. Hard to believe they were only 2 years and 3.5 months when we arrived
My favourite photo from our Disneyland stop-over
My favourite photo from our Disneyland stop-over

But nothing really flowed, and to be honest, I’ve been fairly busy trying to get my business off the ground and getting organised to head back for our first trip to Canberra, Wollongong and Sydney since we moved to the Barossa.

But as the week has gone on, I felt like I needed to write something about the last year, because when I look back at it, it has been pretty amazing and I am sure a period of our lives we will look back at and wonder how we did it.

The blue skies and open spaces were things we'd really missed in Hanoi. Tanunda, August 2014
The blue skies and open spaces were things we’d really missed in Hanoi. Tanunda, August 2014
  • We packed up 3.5 years of our lives in Hanoi and moved back to Australia
  • I left the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade after 15 years – my first (and only) full time job
  • We moved to the Barossa Valley (where we only knew a couple of people)
  • Simon started back in the wine industry and now has a fantastic position at the Artisans of Barossa tasting room
  • Angus started Primary School and Xavier started Kindy (pre-school)
  • I started a blog
  • And probably the biggest of all, at least for me, I decided to launch Angela Pickett Consulting
View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa
View from the deck at Artisans of Barossa

I am not very good at keeping a diary or journal, but I recently found some entries I made last year about taking a redundancy, deciding to move to the Barossa Valley and restarting our lives back in Australia. There was an entry where I scoffed at the suggestion from my good friend Lisa (who would become my business coach ) that I should start my own business. There was also an entry about crying myself to sleep because Xavier only had a couple of friends coming to his 4th birthday because we’d only been in the Barossa 6 weeks and I’d planned his party for the first day of school holidays and the AFL (football) grand final. Reading that, I really wished I had written more because it was great to look back and see how far we’d come.

He didn't care how many friends turned up - as long as the cake was great
He didn’t care how many friends turned up – as long as the cake was great

I think one of the hardest things for me over the last 12 months, but also one of the most exciting was losing the part of my identity that was so closely tied to my career. It has been refreshing to make new friends who have nothing to do with work and who have no idea of what I have done in the past. Many of my new friends are the Mums of the boys’ friends and I feel very fortunate to have such an amazing support network. I truly feel part of a community where I know there is someone to call if I’m running late for school pick-up or need a last minute babysitter. Not only that, but I know have exercise buddies, ladies to chat and laugh and share the (occasional) glass of bubbles with.

The Young and the Breathless taking on the 6000 Adelaide Oval Stair Stomp
The Young and the Breathless taking on the 6000 Adelaide Oval Stair Stomp

At the same time, thanks in part to social media, I’ve also developed my own networks and it is through these networks that I have been able to take opportunities and start my own business.

New hobbies in the Barossa - playing German bowls - Kegel
New hobbies in the Barossa – playing German bowls – Kegel

When we left Hanoi, I knew I needed a break from work, and as I wrote in my last post, my study provided with a bit of a safety net. For me, and I’m sure for friends and family, giving up a career didn’t seem so crazy because I was studying towards something new. I’d always said I just wanted to change the way I worked, and I wanted to be more flexible and yet, I dismissed the idea of having my own business.

While it is still (very) early days, I wouldn’t change this decision for anything. While my initial post-fulltime work idea of going to the gym after school drop-off has been replaced by early morning workouts and I am still doing way more housework than I’d like to do, I am loving being my own boss. I am busy but it is doing the things I want to do and it is exciting. For so many years, my working life was so tied up with the frustrations of working in a very bureaucratic structure, where responsibility and reward were tied to your role and level. Now its just me, and while this can sometimes be a bit daunting after so many years of asking permission, I am actually enjoying being in charge of both my own business and my own choices. There is no-one else to blame if things don’t go the way I had planned and I finally feel like I can make mistakes that I can learn from.

I do miss having colleagues to brainstorm ideas with but thanks again to social media, I have great networks across the globe who can provide advice, support and encouragement as I tackle things I never expected I would be doing – setting up my accounts in MYOB, briefing a graphic designer, setting up a website and writing proposals for clients. I’ve become a huge podcast fan – especially during my morning workout – and have learned so much from podcasts like Being Boss and The Lively Show.

I finally feel confident and in control and while my to do list is never ending, I love being to pick the boys up from school, catch up with my friends for coffee or take some time out to cook. I’m finally getting my fitness and nutrition back under control (which is really hard when you are surrounded by great food and wine) and I’ve even started running and agreed to do an obstacle course event next month.

Of course, there have been moments where I have wondered if it was the right decision and wished I had had the foresight to know I wanted to start a business and put away some money to start, rather than waiting until I worked out that the perfect job didn’t exist because this was what I was meant to be doing. I’ve also realised I’m really impatient. When I feel like the business should be further advanced and I should be doing more, I have to remind myself about how far I have come.

Beautiful views over Tanunda, May 2015
Beautiful views over Tanunda, May 2015

Looking back, it has been a fantastic year. I think the life we have created here is probably even better than we had imagined, and at least for now, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

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.

From public servant to entrepreneur

Taking a redundancy and leaving the public service with no clear direction, and only a sense of how I thought work should look, was a huge leap. I didn’t really know anyone who had made such a drastic career change which is why I am so excited to share this career change Q&A with you today.

I heard about Matt Fenwick through Emma Grey, who I first worked with in 2011, soon after starting work in Hanoi. I read her e-book 7 Types of Busy, then did her home study course before working through her Career Transformation Course. When she launched this, I was convinced she had written it just for me. I’ve since done her My 15 Minutes Program, which she runs with Audrey Thomas from Chick Chat Coaching.

When Emma introduced Matt on her Work Life Bliss page, I was fascinated. Here was a guy writing a book about leaving the public service to start his own business. I quickly signed up to back the book through Kickstarter and then asked Matt if he would answer my Q&A. I was very excited to quickly receive a positive response!

Although I have already moved to a life without a lanyard, as I launch my consulting business, I’m really looking forward to reading Matt’s book when it is released next month.

Matthew Fenwick
Matt Fenwick
  1. What did you do before?

A lot of things! I think one of the prerequisites for being a writer is to have had a whole load of other random careers first. My first ‘proper’ career was as a legal researcher, but before that I was a library assistant, cleaner and briefly, an ill-fated door-to-door salesman. I also spent five years in the Australian Public Service, first as a policy advisor, and then as a corporate communications officer.

  1. What are you doing now?

I run True North Writing. We’re a content solutions provider. What that looks like on the ground is this: I find out what an organisation wants to achieve, I work out how content fits into the picture, and then I help deliver that. The simplest scenario would be ‘we need a website. Can you write the content for us? (Yes). But I also get into the more strategic side. Right now I’m working with:

  • a coach to define their value proposition
  • a professional organiser to improve her confidence in blogging
  • a Sydney manufacturer to rename their product range
  • a research institute to develop a messaging strategy for new software
  • a headstone builder to write their content.

I’ve also just written a book. Life without Lanyards is a how-to guide for every public servant who’s dreaming of starting their own business. It’s the book I wish I had back when I decided to make the shift. Right now, I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication, which is almost finished. After that, I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief!

Life without Lanyards - Matt's soon to be published book
Life without Lanyards – Matt’s soon to be published book

 

  1. What made you decide to take the leap and change?

I didn’t want to die wondering. Being in government, I had very clear ideas about the type of work I wanted to do, and how to go about it. In government, though, you have to get someone else’s permission. I felt that if I stayed in government, I was only ever going to achieve an average level of happiness and career fulfillment.  I wanted to shoot for more than that. Specifically, I wanted a career that would let become a better writer. I felt that if I stayed in government, I was going to get frustrated; banging my head up against processes.

All this crystallised for me when my wife and I decided to go travelling round the world for six months. At that point, I already had my business running on the side. But back then, I thought it would just be a vehicle to broaden my experience and get a better job in government. I didn’t ever imagine working for myself. But I realised that I couldn’t expect my ideal career to land in my lap. If I wanted to get more interesting work, the only person who’d make that happen was me.

We wanted to have a baby in the next year or so following our travels. I knew that having a new baby, running a business, and holding down a steady government job wasn’t going to work. Something had to give.  So I decided to take an extra six months leave after our travels and see if this self-employment thing worked for me.

  1. What has your career change given you?

Autonomy is really, really important for me. Now, if I see an opportunity, I can go for it. That freedom is enormously fulfilling.

I’ve also discovered things about myself that I never would’ve found out otherwise. In my book, I talk a fair bit about networking. The public service hierarchies never quite made sense to me. I always felt that I was trying to learn a foreign language, with the elaborate protocols. In business, I’ve discovered that I’m actually really good at networking; at finding relationships that benefit everybody concerned. I’ve had plenty of other experiences like that; realising that the ideas I had about myself were actually tied up in my public service identity.  In a new situation, I’ve become someone different.

Matt edits his book with his son
Matt edits his book with his son
  1. What have you learned?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ego. It’s funny.  As I’ve gained confidence, and established a reputation as an expert in my field, I’ve become less and less interested in what I think of my abilities. I’m more objective. If a new, challenging piece of work comes through, I’ll look at my capabilities as resources, and just ask the question: do we have enough to deliver on this work?

Ego is unhelpful at either end of the spectrum. If you think you’re awesome, that leads to over-confidence, which can lead to getting careless. Of taking what you have for granted. If you think you’re terrible, that limits your potential for growth; it’s not a constructive place.

Working that out is an ongoing process, but launching my business has helped me get further along the way than if I’d stayed in a nice, comfortable secure job.

  1. Is there anything you would do differently?

Definitely. There’s always the ‘growth experiences’ where you make a mistake and emerge a stronger or smarter person (when the bruises fade). But one thing I would change is that when I left, I would’ve spent more time doing short contracting jobs, such as writing web content for government departments. At the time, I was feeling all heroic, and wanting to forge a new direction. Looking back, though, I think doing those contracting gigs would’ve helped our cash flow and given me some very useful contacts. 

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

You are enough.

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

You can find my writing business at www.truenorthwriting.com.au, and the Kickstarter campaign at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1373553647/life-without-lanyards-from-public-servant-to-entre.