Welcome to the Freedom Fridays Project podcast. I'm Pete Clark, your host, the Whispers Guy. It appears that work expands to the time that we give it and I started to explore how I was investing my time and effort, particularly on Fridays. It's evolved to an exploration and experiment with time, energy, attention and identity. And a mindset shift from I have to, to I choose to. So if you're interested in exploring some changes to the way that you invest your time and energy, if you'd like some tips on the way as you make some changes, perhaps to your identity. If you would like the freedom of I choose to, away from I have to, then this is the podcast for you. So welcome to the Freedom Fridays Project podcast.
Welcome to this week's edition of the Freedom Fridays podcast where I have a special guest Anne Neilan with me today, so Anne I've only known for probably a couple of years, we met on a development opportunity together, we probably kind of passed, ships passing in the night and then connected actually post the program. We've become connected in many different ways so Anne welcome to the podcast.
Thank you, Pete, great to be here.
Glad to have you. Anne I always start with the question, in trying to give more life to our years, moving from something to something, kind of this I have to work to I choose to work. I've interviewed many people with big changes that they've made or are thinking of making. So let's start with that. What's the big change you have done, or you're considering making?
Okay, so in November 2018, I took a redundancy from corporate. So I had always worked in a corporate job. Bit of a goody two shoes, goody two shoes, I think, coming from a middle class family where you worked, you went to university and you got a job. And you worked and you worked hard for the man if you like, and that had always been my mindset and my mentality. And in the lead up to that actually, for about six months, I'd been really unhappy in corporate life a bit sick of the politics, I was working on this project that I loved, the project was amazing, I'd learned so much. But the corporate elements were just dragging me down my kids were eight and ten at the time and I kind of realised I need to be around them more, they need me more now than they did when they were little. And so for six months, I've been kind of thinking about how was I going to get out of corporate. I'd worked in digital marketing for a long time but it didn't really feel that that's what I really wanted to be or didn't want to be this old lady working in digital with all these young people. So I was trying to think about how what was my next move, what do I do, and then this golden opportunity of redundancy landed on my lap and so I thought right this, I've been looking for this. So I decided to become my own boss work for myself and my husband had been doing freelance, he'd been a stay at home parent and we decided that we would make a go of building his business. So yes, so that was my kind of big, I guess, change from this mentality of, I have to have a job, I have to work for someone I have to be a good employee, to, well, no, I don't have to do any of those things and I can choose to be my own boss. I've got some good knowledge and experience and there's a different sector that I want to apply that knowledge and experience to. So I took, I also decided, it used to really irritate me that on the second of January, every year, I had to go to work, because I only got four weeks of leave year and the kids are at school, and there's like, I don't know, 60 days a year when there's no school and so I had the summer of fun, I didn't work that summer and then just started to kind of look at what we did next after that.
Cool. I'm going to pick up a little bit later on the what you did next. I'm interested in the catalyst because what you've described to go from working for the proverbial man, to pay the taxman, etc, etc, to working for yourself in whatever circumstance it seems like an aspirational dream for many people. Maybe I want to run my own business, not even thinking that they are the business themselves but have an ABN, directorship, I'm the CEO of my own business, which always makes me smile a little bit. You said you were unhappy for six months prior. Up to that point, were there any whispers that gave you a bit of, are there any weak signals you kind of go, Oh something's not quite right.
I was just really unhappy, I was really stressed, I wasn't enjoying going to work. I'd always liked my job, I'd always liked what I did, I always got fulfillment, I got fulfillment from going to work and working with people and I never wanted to be a stay at home mum. Or sorry, I thought I did and then when I had kids, I was like, actually, I'm not a playdough, and finger paints kind of person. And so a lot of my identity was wrapped up in being good at what I did and I was the classic overachiever. I did well at school, I did well at university, and I did well at work. And in the last six months of my being there I was working on this project, but I didn't feel like I was doing well anymore. And so that starts to really question my identity of well, if I'm not good at this, what the hell am I good at kind of thing. So they were probably some of those whispers and I just the big catalyst too was my kids, I just kind of realised that because I was working for a company that was headquartered in Europe and so I would go to work for eight hours, and then I'd come home and I'd get on calls for another two or three hours. My kids are like why are you always on calls, we never see you, you don't put us to bed. They were eight and ten and so they just, they were becoming aware. And my daughter is quite shy and I just went, do you know what, I actually need to be I need to be present for them. I want to, I don't, I also kind of realised that I wanted, we were at this kind of turning point in their lives where I wanted to know who their friends were, I wanted to be a part of their lives, I wanted to just know who they were hanging out with. I don't want to be their best friend but I could just see we were going to be going into these teenage years and the potential for it all going a bit wrong was high because I was just not present. That was kind of really one of my big motivators was to make sure that we were set up for our kids teenage years from an emotional wellbeing point of view.
Can I pick up on that? Because I'm interested, I fully respect that you're not the finger painting type mum at the time, which I think some mums struggle with not being and some mums struggle with different stages, my wife did. What was the catalyst for you to think that the teenage years were really important, versus the earlier years.
So I think in the earlier years, their physical needs are more important. Like, you know, they've got to be fed and clothed and sounds terrible, but kind of anyone can do that. So they need your emotional needs but you know, I never had any problems sending my kids to daycare. It was interesting. So when my son was seven months old, so I left, I finished, I've always had this kind of little dream in the back of my head to be a consultant. And back in 2007, I left my job, corporate job, went and got married, and was going to start my own consulting business in analytics. And I fell pregnant very quickly. And so went okay, what do we do now? So my husband worked full time in an agency, we do similar sort of work and I had our baby, I had a really nice, easy first pregnancy, I worked part time it was very nice. And then, our son was born in 2008 and so when he was seven months old, we were in the middle of the GFC and my husband was working for a marketing agency and they said we need you to go part time because our work's cut back. And so we were like, what do we do? You know, I was about to go looking for part time work. And he would have probably gone look for a full time job. And we said, Well, why don't you take part time work, stay at home with our son, and I'll go and get a full time job. And once I started going to interviews, I went, Oh my god, this is what I need to do, I actually need to be at work. I need to be with adults and so, it's really interesting, it's come full circle. So back then in 2009 I went and got a full time job and I loved it and I thrived and it was great because my son has this awesome relationship because and both my kids have an awesome relationship with my husband, because he brought them up at the beginning when they were little. Anyway, going back to your original question, so I feel like when they, I kind of realised when they're little, there's lots of people who are in their lives who can fulfill their needs, when they get to eight and ten and when I say what other people's teenagers have gone through the things you read about in the media that I just feel like as a parent, you need to be present, and we can't just turn up when they're 13 or 14 and go, Hey, I'm here to be your parent, you kind of got to set that relationship and trust from when they're eight or ten. And we've seen the rewards of that, that was two years ago, so my daughter was eight, she used to hate getting into trouble, so she wouldn't tell us stuff.
Like a goody two shoes.
She's a goody two shoes, she's so much like me. And so now, when she does something wrong, she comes and she'll say, Oh, I need to tell you something. And I go, thank God, I've spent the last two years at home.
Yes, the power of that's amazing.
It is, because I go, when we were doing that course, at one point we got say, what are your goals for the next five years and I would say to my accountability group, I remember this clearly on one call, I went my goal for the next five years to get my two kids to 18 in one piece.
And that's it. So going from being the corporate, I was never a high flyer but a corporate achiever, you know, defined by my job to this actually this little unit of four people here, that's my goal at the moment and my job is to get these new humans out of my responsibility in a healthy and safe way.
Yes that's our deeper legacy, isn't it? Anne, do you mind if I ask you about the working mum thing because I know it's a bit of a title that gets used for you know, any mum who works and there's different definitions. And I don't want to put words into your mouth but I'm interested in the shift that you made early years versus the teenage years, when you look back is there any sense of guilt or regret or have you been able to just let that go and focus on the future?
It's interesting I kind of wore that working mum badge as a bit of a badge of honour like yes, I work full time. I remember going to kindergarten, I work full time I work full time and I kind of look back now and go, God I was a poser. I was, I think I was trying to be, just be a bit different you know, I'm a bit different. So on reflection that's an interesting thing for me. I never had guilt really about going to work because it made me a better mother. Because I didn't resent being here, I didn't resent them. I had my life like I've always been very clear that I am me as a person and I'm there you know, yes, they're my kids but they don't define me.
Well, I've got a little bit of goosebumps there as you said that. Seriously, just that connection because I think our experiences are unique. Whether we agree or not on terms like working mother allow us to have a conversation about it but deep beneath that it's your own construct of that and to hear you say maybe not consciously but on reflection that working full time made you a better mother, I think a lot of people will be relieved to hear that that's okay.
Well that was my experience. Like I said I'm not, I didn't want to be finger painting and I'm still friends with the people who are in my mother's group. We met, my son's, my eldest has just turned 13 and I'm still in contact, we don't see each other a lot. I was the first one to go back to work and I went back full time. Okay, she was here and now she's gone. But I don't know maybe because I was an older, like I didn't have my kids until I was in my mid 30s. And I'd had a, my husband's four years older than me, and I'd had this whole kind of life and I didn't give that up if you like, and I wanted I did want kids, but maybe I'm a bit, not selfish but I just knew I couldn't kind of lose who I am as a person. And I definitely was a better mother by going to work.
Can you share any Why? Any reasons you think that's the case?
I think part of it is my sense of, it comes back to that sense of achievement. At the time, my sense of achievement was wrapped up in having a good job and doing well at work and working for big companies, I worked for big well known companies being able to say I worked for this company, this company, this company, there was a bit of ego in there. That's probably a bit of, I grew up in the western suburbs of Penrith, there's probably a bit of a Western girl, Western Sydney girl makes good kind of element to it. There's all sorts of probably complex psychology according to me. I escaped because my family, and I'm probably more proud of my heritage now than I've ever been, but there's always, there's a lot of you want to escape that kind of stigma of being from the West. And so there's probably an element of that, I've made it, I've got a good career, I'm not the stereotype of where I came from.
I feel a little sense of it. I grew up in Scotland, as you know, in a pretty working class average household. I guess it's only in comparison, because I had no idea what life was really like. And there's a little bit of drive in me that kind of fuels my fire around poor boy done good. But it's interesting, the good, might be seen materially by others. Whereas, more and more over the years, it's been for me more about being a better human.
Yes, and I think I've now probably, that's where I am a bit too now. It's like, it doesn't matter where I live, or came from or the clothes I wear. That's never, the material has never really driven me, money has never driven me. But for me it's about am I a good person, am I bringing up good people who are making a contribution to the society that I live in?
And so does that now give you as much sense of achievement? And is the achievement the fulfillment part than the corporate job did before?
I don't know, and that's probably where I'm at a bit of a crossroads again, now is trying to think about well what does give me fulfillment? I kind of wish if I could be paid to read a book would be, my life would be complete. I'm two and a half years into running our business, financially we've got a bit of a way to go for it to be successful. We've still got to, that was always my big fear, making that decision to leave corporate was will we still have a roof over our head. And I know we always will, because I can always go and live with my parents, I'd rather not do that at my age and my two children, but if worse comes to worst.
Your parents are probably saying the same thing.
Well my sister's living with them at the moment so it's a bit busy. Anyway, two and a half years in I've realised, okay well, the money always comes, the contract job turns up when you need it to or in COVID, the government steps in and helps you out. And we're still here two and a half years later. So I'm at this point where I'm going well what does give me fulfillment and purpose. I feel like I'm, I'm trundling along a bit at the moment. And part of it's COVID related, I used to, I was the president of the local OOSH, which is the after school care, and I stopped doing that, that was a volunteer position. I'm on the netball club committee which is fine, but I don't feel like I have to change the world. I just, I just have this kind of nice, normal life, I'm always about no drama. If I have a life with no drama, I'm happy. I'm very happy being average. It's when you said, talk about people are ordinary, doing extraordinary, like, I don't do anything extraordinary. I'm very happy, just being happy. You know?
Well, that's extraordinary. And the reason I, this has become interesting for me is a bit of a backstory I, a good friend of mine is an Olympian. He showed me some slides that Michael Johnson shared for the Australian Institute of Sport. And this was a few years ago now. And it was here's Michael Johnson's tips for being successful: set some goals, work hard and learn change, right? Very common bullet points, tips, strategy, but because it's Michael Johnson, he's lived and breathed it became it well, it must be true then. And what I've discovered in chatting to normal-ish people like you and I, is that we've all got that story too. And it's just that the interesting thing about our comparison with Michael Johnson is well, it's only Pete and Anne. But we're doing extraordinary things in a sense of within our lives. Because that's what it is and it's often that comparison with other people.
And that's the big I think shift in me the last two and a half years
Sorry, I've just got a little dog who's coming to play, they never usually come in here, that's funny.
I saw him walk behind you.
He's a very cuddly dog. He's always putting his, the face on your lap and they reach up with their paws, he's always doing that which is quite it's quite lovely.
I think that's been the big shift in me in the last two and a half years is I don't worry about things, I used to worry all the time. What do people think or where's the money going to come from and or...
How have you done that without going through years of therapy?
I don't know. I live near the edge of the bush I do a lot of walking.
Not that bad an idea, I read if you're feeling a bit meh inside get outside.
Yes, and I'm looking out now onto trees we live in a beautiful place so lucky. I don't know I've done a few courses, I'm now friends with people like you and other people who I've met through these courses. I'm just, my circle is different I think I'm friends with entrepreneurs, I've done courses about entrepreneurship and because I was always so petrified of failure, God I was that classic type A personality from school all the way through, I just don't fail I don't do failure. And so, business is all about regular failure and just picking yourself up and so having to do that on repeat and getting to the end and go well my kids are still okay, we've still got a roof over our head. Doesn't matter what people think it's taken me a long time to be okay with that. So I think like that's the thing I don't know I can't remember what the question was but...
Anne I wonder if there's a connection in my head and I wonder if it's the one in your head, you started by saying that shift you made was partly down to how you saw yourself you shifted identity and you now surround yourself with different people and if we accept that there's some science around you become like the four or five people you surround yourself with the most. Is there a connection there for you in your next iteration is something to do with identity and surrounding yourself with different people?
Maybe yes, probably. And I'm a planner but I kind of let things happen. Like I don't feel like my life has ever been hugely planned out. Expecially my career, so went to uni, I did actuarial for a year, hated it. Saw these ad for the television ratings, a new job to do the television ratings for them in the newspaper back when job ads were in the newspaper and went, Oh, that looks interesting, that seems like me. I look at the TV ratings in the newspaper every week, I'm going to apply for that job. Got that job, Okay do that for two years. Then went overseas, came back wasn't settled, went overseas again. When I was there, I lived in Ireland for three years. I met my husband when I worked there. So my life has just followed this meandering path and I kind of have finally gotten to the stage where I go, that's okay. Like, I'll just wait and see what the next thing kind of comes at me.
You're more peace more contented?
Yes I mean, I know that I feel like I'm having a little bit of downtime now, having a little bit of a lull to go, Okay, I kind of know what I want to do next, I want to help small businesses with systems and process, particularly the area of marketing, because there's so much behind the scenes stuff that they struggle with, I've probably still got a bit of imposter, when you asked me that question about the people you surround yourself with, that just made me feel a little bit ichy, because I know I need to surround myself with successful people, but I feel like an imposter in that group. So I don't even know how to go and find them and be friends with them.
There's plenty of us in that group Anne.
So, yes I just kind of, the whole thing I didn't like corporate, and then I got this lovely opportunity of redundancy.
Would you have done it without that?
I don't think I would have. I think I needed that push. I needed that financial security blanket, right? Because the thing that had been the blocker for me was, how am I going to pay for this? How am I how are we going to support ourselves? And so to get a nice lump sum, I went okay, well, that answers that question.
And yet, you said earlier on that your philosophy now is that the money usually comes, ou usually are okay. You didn't feel like that then?
No way, the last two and a half years have taught me that's probably been one of the biggest lessons in the last two and a half years for me, is that financially we will be okay.
If anyone's listening, and they're thinking about making that sort of change, with or without the redundancy, I know it's your own experience but sometimes that can be instructive. Do you have any thoughts about do this, don't do that, or here's what I did, here's what I didn't do that might be helpful for people?
Nothing is permanent. So that's kind of, yes, I see some friends, I've got quite a few friends still in corporate and I see how unhappy they are. And I don't say to them just quit because I know it took a massive boot in my back. So there's this thing leap and the net will appear. But my own experience was I needed a big catalyst and I think that's true of most people. I think that's a decision that sometimes it is better when it's taken out of your hands. But I think if you do make that choice, then have some kind of support structure ready to go. So for example, because I took redundancy, I had outplacement support. And so because I walked into the first meeting with them, and I went, they're like, Are you okay? this is straight after I've had the letter. And I'm like, this is awesome, and I said, and I want to start my own business. And they said we'll partner you with an expert in that. And so I had this small business expert as my outplacement support person, which is amazing. So I think it's don't just jump because it's crap, have a bit of a plan, sign up for a course or go and see an outplacement person, a career coach or guide or a small, find someone like, I always thought I had to do, and part of that overachiever was, I had to do everything myself. I had to be the best at everything. So that's probably my second biggest learning is, just lean on people. Ask for help. I've always been quite good at asking for help.
Be an overachiever at leaning on others.
Yes, that's a great way of putting it. I decided very early with my children that I wouldn't be I wouldn't try and be the hero mum, it takes a village and I'm okay to ask people, Can you pick my kid up? Can you give them a lift? Can you? I'm more than happy to ask people for help. Because I think a lot of people don't like to ask for help because there's this whole obligation so I kind of feel like right if I asked for help first, then they might ask me for help back because they can see that it's okay. So I did that with my parenting but I didn't ever do it in my corporate because I just saw it as a sign of weakness.
I hear that all the time Anne, somebody has a quality or an attribute that shows up at home but not at work, or in one relationship but not in another relationship or in one project but not in another project. And part of my job is to help them understand what is the recipe for doing it well in that context, because you've got the ingredients. It's then how do you transfer it into a different context? Do you know when you picked up the belief that asking for help is ok?
I think it's just this kind of combination of the last two and a half years of successive failures, things not going to plan and it's like, well, I can't do it all anymore. I can't, I'm never going to be good at all of this stuff of running a business. So I need to. And it's just the mental load too, I also, and this might be a bit of ego, but I'm kind of trying to demonstrate to my friends and people that I know that it's okay to just go, you know, that was really crap and that was shit and that was, I struggled with that and that's okay. Like, I'm part of trying to lead, I guess I'm trying to lead by example, I'm thinking out loud now and it's only just really hit me. I'm trying to lead by example to my friends, and the people I know that it's okay to vocalise stuff, and that it's okay to for things to be a bit crappy. And to not try and just be perfect all the time. Because I do have quite a few friends and that are just still trying to be like that. And it's like, that's exhausting.
I wish I could remember the word but there's a guy, I think it's John Koenig, I think or something and he's put together these words that are an expression of our unexpressed feelings so that you might have heard of the word sonder and the definition of that is everyone you meet has got as exciting and as a boring life as you. We're all the same in that sense. And what I've heard you say my interpretation of that is, and I think he's put a word together for that, is that, more often, and maybe because of the society we live in, there's so many people that have got this mask on and what sits inside is different. And what I'm hearing you saying is what sits inside is coming more and more to the surface. And so they're becoming closer and closer together so there's less effort required to keep up appearances, there's less effort required to keep up with the Joneses. So there's a stillness, there's a contentment, there is a coherence between the different versions of ourselves that sit within, and what shows up on the outside. And that's what you're trying to role model for people.
I am and I live in quite a, I guess, a affluent part of Sydney, Northwest Sydney, and it's all, there's a lot of BMWs and a lot of Audis and people go to the, they just go to the supermarket and they have to be, don't leave the house without makeup on, I never wear make up. All right, I might do it for a little video or whatever. I feel very different to the people that I'm friends with that live around here, maybe because of where I came from where I grew up, I don't really know. But I was uncomfortable with that. We've lived here for 10 years, in this part of Sydney now and I have some great friends here. But I'm very different to them, because I am at that point where I go, well, I'm not going to put makeup on just to go to Woolworths, sorry. And this is who I am. I'm probably just getting more comfortable in my own skin and it was getting out of the corporate, having all the successive failures, which are fine, that have made me realise it's okay I'm still the same person. I'm doing another course at the moment where one of the big lessons is to distance yourself, your business stuff is not who you are. And it's a work in progress, right but that took a long time.
I read recently that Ash Barty, who you would know, the work that she did with her coach was predominantly about that. About who she was beyond playing tennis. So tennis is what she does but who she is different, but synergistic and compatible. But if who she is is just a tennis player, that's quite limited.
That has really inspired me I read all that stuff too after she won Wimbledon and the interviews with him. And I think I even wrote down his three things. It's okay to say what your goals are and it's okay to not achieve them. That was massive for me to read that stuff.
I remember my first entry into the personal development field. I can't remember who said it, but it's a principle. And if you've been to uni, have you not, so you know the Uni certificate that we get, you got this degree and blah, blah, blah, blah, how often do we use it?
Never, I've an economics degree, right? When I got to the end of mine I went I don't want to be an economist. So am I going to do with this economics degree?
That's right. It's not the achievement of the goal. It's not the piece of paper that's valuable, it's the experience that gets us there. And so that's what I think he's referring to set wildly ambitious goals. And that's okay if you don't hit it. But what you've got to do to move along towards that is what makes you and helps you discover who you are in this part of your life. Because I think that can change. Who I am is a deeply personal and probably dynamic answer.
Have you read Ronnie Khan's biography? So she's the lady who founded Oz Harvest and her biography is amazing. So she's South African and moved to Australia, high flying corporate. Oh, no, she had a big catering company. And one day had catered for a function and had all this leftover food and was driving home, and was like, This isn't right, dropped it off at a charity. And she's redefined herself in her late 50s, early 60s. She's found her calling at that time of her life. And I was just so inspired by, I don't know what my contribution is going to be. But it gives you hope, I just was so inspired, that you can really change your life, and the direction that you're on and the contribution that you make.
Anne I think that's a perfect place to pause. Thank you so much for sharing lots of you in this. I'm going to finish as I do with two or three random binary questions if you'd be happy to answer and go with the flow here. So are you more sunrise or sunset?
Okay, the last movie you cried at.
Oh, God. I cry at nearly every movie I watch. I can't remember, we watched, did I cry? The kids laugh at me every time.
Me and my youngest daughter are the same. And they just laugh. So what was it?
It might have been Rams. It's got Sam Neill, is it Sam Neill and who's the other, Michael Caton. These boring brothers on a sheep farm.
One word that describes you.
What profession would you try if you could?
Maybe teaching or nursing?
What's a maxim you live by?
It always works itself out.
And my last question was going to be the book that's changed your life. But I think we know the answer to that.
Yes it's the Ronnie Khan.
That's cool. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure chatting. And it's been two or three occasions of goosebumps on this one, the stuff you've been saying. So thank you very much.
That's Pete, thank you. Thanks for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it. All right. Take care. Bye.