My 40th year: a time capsule of reflections

Where are you now?

Currently at work in my lucrative but dull-as-dishwater contracting job. Workload has slumped to a minimum, hence why I’m writing this. I have a beautiful view of the lower end of Melbourne CBD (Docklands end) from the 23rd floor.

What is the date? What is the weather like?

It’s 29 November 2017, my weather app tells me it’s 35.1* (feels like 34.8*) outside. Blue skies and minimal cloud cover. We’ve had a heat wave with temperatures in the 30s for the last fortnight.

What movies did you see this year that you loved?

Haven’t been to the cinema as much this year (probably due to Netflix-effect) but movies that spring to mind are Lion, A United Kingdom, Hidden Figures, Kingsman 2, A Trip to Spain,  Dunkirk, Beauty and the Beast. A United Kingdom would be the one I loved most.

What are you listening to?

Nothing right now. KIIS FM in the car, although even that is becoming unbearable now. Aussie radio continues to be terrible. Lots of 90s playlists on Apple Music. The last song I played on my phone was Superstylin’ by Groove Armada.

Favourite podcasts include Chat10Looks3, The West Wing Weekly (although I’m way behind now!), Radio4 Friday Night Comedy and the odd Graham Norton podcast.

Who are you in love with?

No-one.

Who is your best friend?

GS and I’m going to miss her terribly when I move back to London.

What do you wish you could own right now?

I wish I owned a lovely little bayside property here in Melbourne which would keep one foot in Aus. I fear by the time I come back I’ll be well and truly priced out of the market.

What cities/countries did you visit this year? Where is your next holiday?

Broadbeach on the GC with Mum, London for Mum’s 70th and Brisbane for work. It’s been a pretty boring year travel wise!

Now I’ve realized, I’m definitely visiting Tassie before I go and plotting a little tour of Spain by train next year in March/April.

What are you most worried about?

Never finding love again and not having enough money are the two things that keep me up at night.

What is one amazing thing you expect to do in the coming year?

Re-connect with my family by spending some quality time with Mum, Sis and the kids.

What are your favourite memories of this year?

Dancing to Bjorn Again with Mum at Melbourne Zoo was pretty special.

Surprising her in London for her 70th was also lovely.

The amazing feedback I received from the board and exec on my strategy, hitting budget and overseeing some amazing events whilst being 2 team members down.

What were the top 3 accomplishments from the last year?

  1. Definitely the work and recognition I got from my charity gig – even if it did almost kill me.
  2. Gaining a 2:1 in my Graduate Diploma in Psychology.
  3. Taking control of my finances.

What made you laugh the hardest this year?

Is it bad that can’t think of anything? I don’t seem to have done much laughing this year.

What do you think are your greatest assets and skills?

I’m smart, creative and analytical and good at the big picture stuff. At the same time, I don’t mind getting my hands dirty and understanding why and how things work. I’m calm under pressure and solutions-focused. I also have a strong social conscience.

What are your life goals at the moment?   How have you progressed them this year?

  1. Change careers from marketing to psychology.
  2. Create balance in my life.
  3. Make a difference.

I’ve made progress on all 3 fronts this year. Graduating and the move back home may actually help progress #1. I’m enjoying a part-time lifestyle which has created headspace for the first time in years and even with the extra time, I’m naturally gravitating towards volunteering in community projects.

What was the best thing you bought?

A toss-up between my Koala mattress, my Matt Blatt glass table and my Pilates membership.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Take That coming to Melbourne.

Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. Happier or sadder?

Happier, I feel like I’m making progress and there’s a plan of sorts in place. Even though I’m leaving a home I truly love.

ii. Thinner or fatter?

Possibly slightly thinner although there’s still considerable improvement to be made in this area.

iii. Richer or poorer?

Definitely richer. I have significantly less debt and actually have a savings account with money in it! Thanks, Barefoot Investor.

What do you wish you’d done more of?

Now I wish I’d laughed more and had more fun. Worried less about what people think of me and had more confidence in my abilities.

How will you be spending your birthday and Christmas?

Birthday will be with GS and KF at Taste of Melbourne possibly underwater as it’s due to rain up to 50mm on Saturday. The on my actual birthday I’ll be at Pilates and then volunteer at Love Your Sister.

Christmas plan will be crashing GS and MF in a cottage in Olinda in the beautiful Dandenongs. Lunch tbc.

Who was the best new person you met?

Samuel Johnson.

What valuable life lesson did you learn this year?

To have confidence in my abilities. Don’t default to thinking it’s your fault.

What do you think you will be doing this time next year?  

I will be living in Streatham in London. It won’t be 35* and I hope I’ll be still doing Pilates and will be connecting with old friends and families as well as making new friends and continuing to contribute to the local community. Possibly working in a psych job…hopefully. Possibly booking a ticket to escape the cold for the Aussie Open.

 

7 Top tips from an AirBnB host

While I’ve been selling my corporate soul in a dull but highly lucrative contract, I’ve also been supplementing my income by offering out my spare room on Airbnb. Initially, it was a case of “needs must”. My cash flow was so ridiculous that I forced to get past my aversion to sharing my personal space and beautiful home with strangers.

Airbnb was a good alternative to a more permanent housemate and the variety of guests means you don’t get bored or annoyed with anyone for long. I’ve been doing this for 3 months now and as we head full throttle into backpacker season, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Know your market: Who do you want to stay in your home? Couples? Singles? Backpackers? 20-year-old party animals? It might seem obvious and I’m sure there are a million articles advising you to tailor your ad to that group. My advice – work out who you DON’T want in your home and then pepper your ad and descriptions with words that will deter them e.g. I stress how Elwood is St Kilda’s quieter neighbour with a lovely grown-up cafe/restaurant culture, away from the hustle and bustle of late night bars.
  2. Screen, screen, screen: No matter how long you pour over your listing, there’s always a surprisingly high number of people who will pay it no attention and try to book without checking suitability. Use Airbnb’s booking criteria and screening functionality. I have one queen bed in a medium sized room, yet I’ve had booking request from a family of 3 (including a small baby), a woman wanting a 6-month rental, and friends wanting single beds. Don’t be scared to screen and ask lots of questions up front.
  3. Manage expectations: If you offer use of your washing machine, dishwasher, tea/coffee/breakfast etc make sure you can sustain that offer and include washing powder. These are all lovely touches to increase your ratings but manage expectations by offering a shelf in the fridge and pantry for their food so they don’t eat your breakfast morning, noon and night. Make it clear where the washing powder lives and where crockery lives so you don’t come home to unloaded dishwashers every night. If you need access to the shower at specific times to get ready for work – let your guests know.
  4. Don’t underestimate how much loo paper you will go through! My guests are usually backpacking couples. So far all very sweet and lovely and we’ve had lots of fun swapping travelling stories. On one couple’s visit, I went through 10 toilet rolls in one week! That’s a pretty extreme example but and luckily I had plenty in stock.
  5. Limit your length of stay.  I read this as a tip to deter squatters when I first started hosting. Initially, I limited my length of booking to 14 days, but then naturally found longer than 7 days and I craved my own space. So now I limit stays to 7 days. Most bookings are for the full 7 days (given the profile of my guests).
  6. Stay strong around your rules. I’ve never had a bad guest and I’m sure it’s the case for 99% of cases. Any problems are usually down to miscommunication (see point 2 & 3). I’ve had two cases of guests wanting to stay longer – I’ve said ‘no’. I had one couple (the super poopers) live in their room caining my broadband – I pulled them up on it and explained their use excessive, they stopped.
  7. Always ask guests to dispose of their own rubbish and food at the end of their stay.  Guests will always generate waste and rubbish and if you hate putting out the rubbish – like I do – make sure it’s clear in the checkout instructions that they leave the pantry/fridge as they found it i.e. clear and dispose of rubbish appropriately.

I’ve found guests to be respectful, quiet, rule-abiding and very pleasant so far. Hosting isn’t going to make you rich overnight but it’s a good income supplement. I regularly make over $300 (profit) a week from offering out a room that would normally just gather dust. Plus you get to meet some pretty interest folk along the way 🙂

For someone I know…

It’s Daffodil Day here in Australia. A national campaign which nods support to all those affected by cancer. And that is one in two of us fine folk.

Today acts as a bit of a reflection day for me. Particularly this year, as for the past few years, as per the campaign, I’ve called out someone I know dealing with the roller coaster of a cancer diagnosis publicly on social media. This year for the first time in – I can’t remember – no-one in my close circle is affected.

7 years ago Mum had a malignant mole removed from her back.

5 years ago, it was my turn with a malignant melanoma found in my calf.

2 years ago, my school friend died at 37 of advanced ovarian cancer.

2 years ago, my brother-in-law, a fit personal trainer aged 37 was diagnosed with stage 4 anal cancer.

1 year ago after enduring the most aggressive chemo and radiotherapy available, he went into remission.

6 months ago, we were devastated to here the cancer had returned in his stomach.

2 weeks ago his scans showed up nothing abnormal. His body, used to fighting the crap out of cancer for the past few years had killed it off once more. He’s back in remission.

To say this is a relief is the biggest understatement. The father of two kids under 3, he’s a walking, talking example of how looking after yourself, enjoying a healthy balanced lifestyle puts you in the best position when fate deals you a doozy. He enjoys a beer every night and eats the odd tub of ice cream in one sitting but also works out for an hour 5 times a week before work.

The chemo he was given was tough, new and scary but he handled it like a dream. The doctors were amazed how he bounced back. I firmly believe this was due to his lifestyle and physical fitness.

But this drug would not have been available if it hadn’t have been for campaigns like Daffodil Day across the world, funnelling money into research. In Australia only 10% of research projects receive government funding. We as a society need to chip and do the heavy lifting when it comes to ensuring progress is made.

One in two affected by cancer is one too many. So please, on your way home tonight, buy a bunch of daffodils, a dougal bear or a pin.

Bucket List: The Dandenongs

Practising mindfulness is something I have found invaluable over the years. It doesn’t need to be sitting in a circle with your eyes closed, breathing in the good and breathing out the bad – that’s meditation and I HIGHLY recommend 10-15 minutes practice of that every day. No, I mean practising being present. Not worrying about the future, lamenting over the past but just understanding where you are, seeing, breathing, hearing, appreciating. It is liberating.

As part of my ‘6 months left in Aus’ countdown, I have promised myself to enjoy moments of my life here mindfully so I do not take for granted. I do not take regrets onto the plane, but can look myself in the mirror in March and say “I lived and enjoyed my life in Aus”. There will be things I don’t get around to, but that’s OK, it’s always good to leave a reason to come back.

So without formally coming up with a Bucket List, I’m taking that format to describe the next 6 months. First up a walk in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges.

Being the arse of winter here in Victoria, we’re all a bit fed up with the endless cold, the rain has finally arrived to fill up the reservoirs ahead of summer but it’s doing nothing to lift our spirits. It’s been a cold winter. So a weekend of temperatures in the high teens and a full day of sunshine brought Melbourne temporarily out of hibernation. And it’s on that coattail, I decided to jump in the car and head to the ‘Nongs.

An hour(ish) out of Melbourne and you’re in the woods. But seriously take some time to look at the trees. They are spectacular. On this visit, I forwent the touristy, heart-attack inducing 1000 steps, and did a short walk to Sherbourne Falls. The falls themselves are not spectacular but there’s plenty of trails to follow and fellow walks to nod to. It was very muddy and I did think 5 mins in, this was a bad idea but 10 mins in, I didn’t care about how dirty by trainers were – there were silvery poles everywhere, a thick springy carpet of moss everywhere, sun bouncing off a thousand surfaces.

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Walking along, I followed a family of Dad, boy and girl through the forest. The girl, possibly 5 years old, wasn’t happy traipsing in the mud in her wellies. She saw me with my camera and asked to see my pictures. I showed her, and her immediate question was “But where are all the fairies?”

“They are hiding from me, maybe one day we’ll catch them” I responded.

I was only half humouring her, it’s not difficult to believe fairies live in this forest.

A trip to the ‘Nongs is not complete without visiting Sassafras to pick up a coffee, wander around the tiny shops especially the sweet shop to stock up on retro 80s lollies. There’s many beautiful tea rooms up there, but as I mentioned, most of Melbourne had come out of hibernation and had the same idea. I was happy with my rhubarb and custard boiled sweets and takeaway coffee and singing to Smooth FM all the way home.

Mastering Your Own Destiny

Decision made: Operation Ausexit is a go.

There were lots of tears. Tears when I told my boss I wouldn’t be stepping into her shoes and taking the promotion, tears when I broke the news to close friends, one by one. Tears when I finally told my team, relief that it’s no longer a secret but sadness that it’s now so real. Tears of joy from Mum every time she remembers I’m coming back. And tears every time I see or do something I won’t be able to do again once I move back. Walk on the beach after work, have my birthday in summer, surrounding yourself with gum trees on a Sunday morning and basking in the magicalness of it all.

One of the life lessons I have learnt is that you are the master of your own destiny. Things came to a bit of point a month ago when decisions made, resignation submitted and all the best intentions made, work needed to replace me and advertise for my replacement. I needed to earn considerably more money to pay for apartment renos, and a shipping container to take all my stuff home. Fortunately, I have skills I can whore out to the highest bidder and it turns out I’m quite the whore.

A stressful couple of weeks touting myself around my network, came back with 4 potential roles on a 6-month contract. Crunching number showed 2 of the 4 weren’t worth jumping ship for as the incremental increase in wages would be negligible. 1 wasn’t a solid offer and the final was the perfect solution. A very lucrative part-time gig allowing for a handover and keeping my hand in at my current job. I thought I’d crashed out of the interview and following an angsty weekend of waiting got the wonderful news the job was mine. Cue more tears.

I started my new part-time life yesterday, and while it’s going to be busy at best and chaotic on an average day, I’m so proud of hustling myself into this position. I get the best of both worlds: living the corporate life in fancy pants offices, interstate travel, enabling weekends away in QLD, earning a disgraceful daily rate; then keep it real in charity world, seeing through my plans, topping up the coffers and living locally. Talk about balance…

…So long as balance doesn’t mean too much office time as my bestie reminded me last night. I have 6 months of Aus life left ahead of me (until I come back of course!) and I will be making sure I will be maximising all the opportunities.

Speaking of which, I must prepare the spare room ready for my next Airbnb guests.

 

The Perils of Cyberstalking

No good comes from cyberstalking an ex.

Everyone knows this. I’ve learnt the hard way and yet like any addict, it didn’t stop me listening to the devil on my shoulder last night when I typed his name into the search field of Facebook.

It all started with some harmless chat with an old friend. I’ve been slowly re-connecting with friends in London ready for my big move next March. We don’t chat often but it was like I’d never been away. Banter flying left and right, catching up, making plans and reminiscing. It was fun. Then out of the blue: 

“How ironic that you split up because he wanted to move home, and now you’re the one moving back. Maybe you should try hunt him down…maybe it’s fate!”

She always was a soppy romantic. It was more than that that broke us. 

And…yet I wondered. I hadn’t so much as thought about him in months. I know I’m better off without him, without his tantrums and put downs. I don’t want him back and so that’s why I thought a little googling would be harmless…I wondered where he’d ended up. Surely he’d be forever a loser.

Within minutes, I was face to face with a picture that floored me. Him, a woman and an unmistakable baby bump. He’s having a baby! 

Why – when I’m a good, kind person – does he get the happy ever after, while I get family stress, financial aggro and struggle on alone? Was I so evil in previous life that this one is filled with punishment. Am I destined to be alone for ever? 

After 12 hours of pity party, an emergency phone call to the bestie and a KFC dip bucket, it’s the kick up the bum I needed. Time to move on once and for all. Time to hit the gym and sort myself out, ready to put my best foot forward when I return to London Town.

Anyone know a good gym program I can follow? Preferably app based?

Maybe good can come from cyberstalking. A new, motivated me.

Ausexit

Sometimes you have to put your faith in the unknown. In recent months (and recent blog posts), I’ve been paralysed by indecision, miserable in limbo, torn in different directions by obligation and responsibilities, failing at feeling anything but despair.

My bestie, knowing I’d reached this crossroads in career, life and happiness suggested I visit ‘Spooky Lady’. A clairvoyant we’d seen in the past, with an uncanny perception of seeing these we normally can’t. Whether her gift comes from an exceptionally heightened personal insight or guided by spirits from the other side, she counsels and reassures in a way I can justify her fee and my time. This visit was as jumbled as my thoughts but one message came through loud and clear: you’re heading back to England.

Before I went to see Spooky Lady, I’d received a text from my sister: my brother-in-law’s scans showed the cancer he’d only gotten rid of 6 months before, had returned. That was 3 reasons to move back. Taken in isolation, Mum’s Alzheimer’s, squatters in my apartment – I could deal with from Aus. All three of these together, the universe was telling me something, and it was time I listened.

I didn’t want to believe it and spent most of the rest of the weekend drinking wine and talking through the options. Could I move back? The more I allowed myself the think about moving, the more it seemed inevitable and the obvious solution. I started to get excited.

I spoke to my sister via Skype and vocalised for the first time a thought that I should come back. Her excitement and pleasure were unexpected. It surprised me how much she wanted me to come back. For the first time in a long time, I felt wanted. We made promises of standing Sunday lunch invitations, trips with kids, holidays in Europe.  I feel a rush of how much I wanted to reconnect with family, to feel like I was something more than a good friend, a good boss, a successful, independent woman. I want to belong.

My time in Australia has been amazing, I’ve done and achieved so much. I look out from the balcony onto the canals at the crisp Autumn cloud-free blue and wonder how much I’m going to miss this when faced with dreary grey London skies. I smile through Elwood Village at the white, middle-class yummy mummies with the prams, babies and dogs and reflect how different life in Streatham will be when my white face will be the minority once more.

I will miss so much. But to stay would mean more of the same. And when the storyline becomes repetitive, it becomes bland. I think this chapter is coming to a close. Not a natural close, but it was always going to take something big (or 3 big things) to make me leave this place.

This reminds me of a scene from one of my favourite shows The West Wing:

So the decision is made, I’m heading back to the homeland. Timeframe: unknown. Let’s start planning Ausexit.