Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Careers, Lives and Making It All Work

Friends and I have been chatting a lot recently about careers and jobs, and who has the most difficult, stressful and demanding lives. I always think family lawyers have a tough job. Teachers too. And working mothers probably have the most demanding lives of all.

Recently I was touched to be asked to give a speech alongside an extraordinary journalist called Sara James. Sara is a former foreign correspondent (Afghanistan, Sudan), US Today Show anchor, NBC reporter, and the subject of a moving Australian Story episode. I was travelling at the time so couldn't attend the event and I deeply regretted not being able to meet this incredible woman, who—even though she has a far more demanding life than I do— graciously promoted my New York book at her sell-out event. 
(So here's a plug for her fantastic book in return: An American In Oz

Sara is the sort of woman who makes you feel very subdued about your own life. Her CV covers stints in Afghanistan, Sudan, Bosnia and Somalia. When she wasn't flying into war zones she was filling in for Katie Couric on the Today show in Manhattan. 
Cos, you know, that's what busy people do.

When Sara met Andrew Butcher, an Australian working for Rupert Murdoch in New York, she fell in love. Then she followed him back to Melbourne. They moved from Manhattan (pop. 8 million) to Macedon (pop. not-quite 2000). I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to leave a busy, fulfilling career in New York and move the other way, no matter how beautiful Australia is, but she did—and with barely a murmur, too.

Then, Sara and Andrew discovered their youngest daughter had learning issues — detailed beautifully on ABC's Australian Story  [Link here: Australian Story], so she began driving the 3-hour round-trip from Macedon to Port Melbourne every day to take her to a particular school. Sometimes, on the drive home, Sara would contemplate her life. Just as we all do. But she didn't dwell on the negativity and the If Only. She just got on with things. She created a new existence for her family, and although there was probably a tear or two on that dusty country driveway at the end of the day, she faced her life and its issues with humour, dignity and gratitude.

I love women like Sara. In an age when social media and society is becoming ever-more negative, critical and even vicious [see this great article here], Sara James reminds the rest of us to be humble and kind. She reminds us to see our lives with rose-coloured glasses rather than a narrowed, shallow vision, and to treat our issues (big or small) with guts and grace, rather than rants and complaints.

We need women like Sara in our lives. They remind us to be decent human beings. 

They also remind us that life sometimes doesn't go as planned; that careers spiral this way and that, in order to survive, you sometimes have to be willing to adapt. 

I have a friend called Tricia Foley, who lives on Long Island, and is so gorgeous, generous and gracious she naturally befriends everyone she meets. [website]

Recently she held a farm-to-table dinner in a field with Isabella Rossellini, on Isabella's farm. (Which Isabella bought to save the land from developers.) The dinner was to raise money for the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society. Such a simple idea that bought together friends, food and landscape for a great cause.

{Photos by Tricia, Marili Forastieri + Patrice Casanova, via Tricia's website and Facebook}

Tricia and Isabella are two further examples of women who have changed careers and refashioned lives. Both moved away from Manhattan and both created new roles for themselves (and in villages where it's not easy to do so) – Tricia with her beautiful website, her General Store and her writing, and Isabella with her farm, her stage roles and her academic research.

Hearing about these three women is inspiring. Watching them work—navigating their careers and lives with grace and humour and gusto—is even more so.

They remind us that anything is possible. Even when it seems impossible.
Changing careers mid-life is never easy. But it is achievable. And you never know, it could turn out to be one of the best things you ever do.


  1. An uplifting post to start the week, Janelle. I love reading about women of character and substance--it is humbling, but also inspiring. We as a species can be so much more than we are.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly Kathy. I suspect many of us think we can't reach our goals, but it is possible, albeit with hard work! India Hicks has started doing inspirational interviews on her website: they really inspire me every week. Lovely to hear from you, as usual! (You and all the other readers inspire me too...)

  2. Of course we can re-invent ourselves, now all I need do is follow my own advice! M xx

    1. Yes, I don't listen to myself much either Mills! But you are brilliant in your current career.


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