Never give up.
There’s no such word as can’t.
As a kid growing up on a remote cattle station in outback Central Australia, we heard these phrases from my Dad regularly. At the time, I had no idea they would one day shape my approach to business, and life.
From a young age, I gained an intimate knowledge of what running a small business was like. We lived and breathed the station. My brothers, sister and I were taught to ride a horse from the time we could walk, and by the age of seven, we were out with our dad and the stockmen mustering cattle for days on end. Even if we’d been mustering in the 45-degree heat all day and were utterly exhausted, we couldn’t give up, because the goal was to get the cattle to the dam and to the yards and then to market.
Those years on the back of a horse taught me many lessons: about goal setting, and persevering until a goal is achieved, about being responsible and accountable, but still working as a team, and about falling off the horse, literally, and getting back on.
It taught me about always looking at the bigger picture – in this case, the reasons we were doing such hard work – so that we had a purpose to what we were doing; a ‘why’ to our efforts. You can’t give up if everyone is relying on you, and you know you are part of a bigger story, and that the final outcome – cattle to market – is the key to continuing to eat and live. Pretty primal, but effective as a purpose to children and adults alike!
I also learnt we had to have pride and passion for what we did. It gave meaning to our ‘why,’ and underpinned it with something bigger than just survival. Appreciating and respecting our horses and the cattle, polishing our bridles, saddles and boots to an inch of their lives, loving the space in the hills and the gullies in which we galloped to muster our cattle, gazing wondrously into the magic of the night stars in inky black, watching in awe as the first drop of rain brought the outback to life with colour and beauty – all these things brought reverence and joy. We felt proud to be part of our world. Loving what we did helped us overcome the long, tough hours in the saddle and kept us going.
Being miles from nowhere also taught us to be self-sufficient, resourceful and resilient. There were no shops to pop down to, so we grew our own meat and lived on a diet of potatoes, pumpkin and tinned foods as well as bread that Mum baked in the oven. She also made our clothes, darned our socks and mended everything. We fashioned toys out of sticks and rocks, built dams and roads out of the dirt, and played ‘cattle thieves’ on horseback.
Being on a remote station, there were no schools nearby, so I did Correspondence School lessons by mail and attended half an hour of School of the Air daily via two-way radio. This was my opportunity each day to pursue my passion for books and learning. It was also my only opportunity to connect with other kids outside of our remote station. School of the Air opened my eyes to the fact there was a big world out there and instilled in me a fascination with travelling far from our isolated home.
While millions of children worldwide have been introduced to remote learning due to COVID, it was always the norm for me and my siblings. From an early age, I learnt how to be a self-starter, learning from books, and reading Dad’s dictionary in my spare time to absorb new words and worlds.
The first step in discovering this world was boarding school in Adelaide, thousands of kilometres from the station, and initially a cultural shock. Despite being dreadfully homesick, and constantly missing the wide-open spaces of the station, I managed to excel at boarding school, partly due to my sisterhood of boarders, who became my second family. We lifted each other up, revelled in each other’s successes and supported each other when things were challenging.
It was a fantastic grounding for supporting other women in the workforce, particularly in the profession in law, which when I started out, still had the glass ceiling firmly in place. Years after I became a lawyer, I was headhunted for an inhouse legal role as General Counsel and ran the company’s multi-million dollar litigation. I built an in-house legal team predominantly comprised of young smart female lawyers from top tier firms who’d hit the glass ceiling and had become disillusioned with the legal world, and were glad to come into a small, private business.
I took the same approach to manage my team as I’d learnt on the back of a horse: know ‘why’ your role is important, focus on the end goal and work collaboratively towards that goal. I wanted them to feel excited about what they were doing, and to know they could keep ‘stepping up’ in law.
Despite setting up my own small business as a consultant, spending years in courtrooms, and working as both strategic counsel and a solicitor, I left law many times to travel to the places I’d read about in books. All along, there was something else bubbling away underneath.
What I really wanted to do was to write stories.
After living in Prague for two and a half years, I was hungry to write about the Czech people and all they’d given me. So, in 2003, I began. From 2003 to 2018 I wrote “Alice to Prague” (at nights and on weekends – basically any time I wasn’t working) and received constant rejections –about 30 in total. I had to use the same approach I’d learnt by my father’s side – resilience, focus and to keep going. Being rejected when you are so passionate about telling your story is challenging, but I kept getting back on the horse.
It took me 15 years, but I was finally offered a two-book deal by Allen & Unwin (every writer’s dream). I had to use all my business skills to finalise the second book, and then a third. The publishers asked if I could work to such tight deadlines, and I reassured them of course I could, I didn’t dare even think that I couldn’t.
Now I’ve started, I want to keep going, and I have a lot more stories to tell. My dream is to be able to turn writing into my own small business, taking all the skills I’ve learnt in my life and career to become a professional writer and spend each day legitimately putting my nose in a book and happily creating stories for others. There is still a way to go, but the one thing I know about business is – never give up.
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