On being Aunty – Child-free, but childful

This week I had a significant challenge. I went and collected my Diploma of Leadership and Management.I had not enjoyed the course as I wanted to – a combination of me having different expectations of the course itself and disliking some of the women that shared the classroom, whos’ internalised misogyny grated on me. Despite this, I was able to complete it over the last twelve months, alongside my Masters studies and full-time work. My only wish for the afternoon was to thank our facilitators, spend the afternoon with my close friend who I completed the course with and exit with grace.

This was not to be as I was publicly berated (across the room, at volume) not once, twice but three times by a fellow student, being called a “baby hater”. This had been said in previous classes. This person had completed a diploma that had been about leading, diversity and respect. She assumed that she had enough knowledge about my life that she could say this with impunity. No one in that room sought to correct this for me. I let it go the first two times. The third I simply said “I don’t hate babies”. She insisted “kids then”. I was like “no I don’t hate them either”. She said “oh I misunderstood”. No apology for rudeness.

I shared this on Facebook, and was overwhelmed, as normal with my friends supportive attitudes, from those who shared my choice to remain childfree (for reasons which are individual as each of us) to those people who have had children, and shared their children’s life’s generously with me.

It got me thinking about two things:

Firstly the ongoing challenge of dealing with people, particularly women who feel it is somehow an affront on their personal situation when you choose something different from them. My decisions do not invalidate yours. As Amy Poehler says, good for her, not for me. Furthermore, the reasons for my decisions are none of your business.

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The thing that gets me, is that this sort of judgey behaviour is the sort of thing most of us face – if you are single, “why are you single”, if you are in a relationship “when are you getting engaged”, if you are engaged, “when are you getting married”, when you marry “when are the kids coming”, after the first kid arrives, “when is the next” in a pattern that ends I assume with “when are you going to kark it” as a blue haired senior (I’m always blue haired in my visions of my dotage) .

I would ask that next time you feel like commenting on someone’s life choices: partner, kids, job, clothes, family, education, or whatever ask first, is this respectful, helpful or necessary.

Secondly it is sad for this woman to fail to understand that the desire not to have kids does not mean I hate children. In fact the opposite is true. My favourite days are those that include slobbery wet kisses, snotty cardigans and tipping small people upside down. I am blessed with being the aunt to some truly gorgeous kids. These kids are a part of my life not because of blood, but through the ties to their parents and my desire to be involved in their lives. This is family of my own choosing.

I was truly fortunate to be guided in life by amazing parents, who introduced me to my own ‘aunties and uncles’. These non-blood relatives exposed me to a range of ways of getting through the world, to art, theatre, books, music. They shared their experience, knowledge and skills. This is a gift to me, that I want to be able to share with my friends children into the future.

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The issue boils down for me, is the negative portrayal of feminists as unnatural, as taking up too much space in the world, for making choices that are against the (patriarchy’s) grain. When I had talked about being child-free in a course with other women, I had incorrectly assumed that these women could respect my choice as I respected theirs. The problem of course is that doing anything that is counter-cultural is uncomfortable. I think that this is a lesson that I’ll keep repeating, and the challenge will be to do so with grace and understanding.

On why my fashion blog hasn’t worked

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So, I’ve come to a realisation recently, that the reason that this blog is neglected, underseasoned and generally a bit meh, is that it is deeply inauthentic for me to be focusing on their latest fashion escapades, like some brilliant and wonderful bloggers I follow do (shout out to my favourite Australian blogs in this area: Blonde Ink, Wait Until The Sunset and Frocks and Frou Frou).

When I started this blog last year, I was in rut, and it sounded cool to talk about the intersection of fashion and feminism. I wanted to have gorgeous just posed but not quite posed pictures of fabulous outfits accompanied by witty banter about life, accompanied by incisive commentary on feminism.

Truth be told, I hate having my picture taken if its posed. I love to be in pictures that are within the thick of life’s action, among my friends and family, doing things outside in the world. I’m photogenic, but not in photos that are meant to be about the clothes, so I ended up feeling the very opposite of body positive. No longer did I see the fun and engaging part of myself, I self-criticised every portion of how my body and face looked in a shot, that simply did not capture my essence. The clothes I wore, no longer looked like an expression of myself in these pictures, all I could see were the flaws, the wrinkles, the pilling and the age.

Furthermore, I simply didn’t make photographs a priority. It has been a busy year (when is life not busy for everyone) and I simply forgot in the midst of packing for this, studying for that, thinking about some project or running out the door to get the express bus to work. I could probably work on getting that just right measure of posed but casual look I would love, but it wasn’t a priority for me, and I think that’s going to just have to be ok.

Beyond this, I’ve gone through a change in aesthetic and lifestyle this year. After collapsing with exhaustion prior to our trip to Africa, I realised that some things had to give. A process that begun with a move last year, I had been slowly decluttering my environment, but it had become important to both declutter my energies and to reduce my environmental impact. This realisation meant that only aspirational rather than actual me was going to put in the time, money and resources (space, environmentally, brain wattage) to be able to offer beautifully put together outfits that changed with the seasons, styles etc. My wardrobe, while extensive, I decided wasn’t going to grow further. I wanted to shift gears to wearing things out, to reducing my wardrobe size over time. This seemed inconsistent with the blogs I loved, that would often have something new and adorable to show off, rather than the same old ratty pleated skirt again.

So, what now? What comes out of this revelation? I know that clothes are a big part of my self-identity, so I’ll continue to weave that into my posts, but its unlikely to feel like a fashion blog. My knowledge and experience of feminism has grown within the last twelve months, and I really want to offer those perspectives more regularly. I think that greater diversity in the career and financial advice we receive is needed. My experiences of travel are probably something I could offer more perspectives on. I also want to explore the body positive movement, which I’ve observed but not yet really engaged at an analytical level. Thinking about reducing my impact on the environment, whilst stretching myself (and maybe others) to make an impact for the better in the world is where I’m at.

A slice of delicious – Salted Caramel and Peanut butter slice

After a frantic beginning to 2016 (bringing much joy and happiness, as well as a few metaphorical grey hairs), I am desperately clawing back time to cook and blog and all the things that fall out of the bucket when you’re racing through. Finishing my final masters assignment of the semester bought to a close a six month period that included: the joy of being a part of two of my favourite people’s wedding, a fundraiser for dancing goddesses, trips to Melbourne, to Sydney and to Africa, visitors, my 30th birthday, learning a new job, dancing, two courses running concurrently, some setbacks and some great laughs. In the interests of bringing more home-time and down-time, some cooking was achieved this weekend. Its like the last six months, some sweet experiences and others that zing on the lips with salty flavour that you’re not quite sure you like. 

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Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Slice

FOR THE BASE
225g butter chopped into cubes, plus a little for greasing (the tin not your face)
140g unsalted peanut, toasted and cooled
225g plain flour
50g cornflour
2 tbs golden syrup

CARAMEL
1 tin condensed milk
½ cup (120 grams) smooth peanut butter * salted *
1 tablespoon brown sugar
45 grams butter
Good couple of pinches of salt
CHOCOLATE
300 gram chocolate buttons

METHOD
1. Use food processor to process the base ingredients all together – it will go like breadcrumbs then a big lump.
2. Turn out the lump into a greased lamington tin. Cook for 18-20 minutes at 160 Fan forced. Cool it down in the fridge or if you’re being leisurely just out on the bench*
3. Once its cooled prepare the caramel sauce. Melt all of ingredients in the pan on low heat. After melting cook through for 5 minutes. Spread over the base and cool in the fridge
4. Once its cool, melt the chocolate and spread over the caramel and cool in the fridge.

*I wanted to hand this over pretty quickly, so I made the process quicker by freezing each layer in the freezer. I did this with a few tea towels protecting the glass freezer shelves, with about 30 minutes for the first two layers and about 15 for the third.

The chocolate layer is much crackier and thinner than others I’ve had – I don’t like the sickly sweetness of too much chocolate.

 

My Two Thousand and Fifteen

Its the second week of 2016, and I’m still wondering where 2015 went. Actually, where did 2014 go as well?!

This time of the year, a lot of us get a bit reflective. I thought I would return to the blog after a hiatus (oh hey exams, full time work, travel, moving house and jobs, thanks for the struggletown) with a two parter – reflecting on my 2015 and its lessons, and then next time thinking about 2015 for women generally. Sound good? Great!

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So what did 2015 look like for me? What did it teach me?

Two thousand and fifteen started off to a rocky start – breaking my foot at the 2014 Christmas party threw a spanner in my plans. For a few short weeks a round the world trip was seemingly getting cancelled and there may have been a bit of light melodrama. I’m incredibly grateful that the injury wasn’t as bad as first thought, and that the doctors gave me the all clear to travel.

From this experience I learnt that I am pretty inflexible once I have made a plan and worked towards it. Planning is awesome in achieving goals, but they need to be able to take shocks better. 

Today is the anniversary of my departure to Chile. I would not recommend travelling in economy for 14+ hours in a moon boot.  I went to Chile on a study tour to study power and politics in Latin America in Santiago. It was my first time to South America, and I was able to go to one of my bucket list items – Easter Island. Due to the late-ish notice of the program, I was *forced* to buy round the world rather than direct tickets allowing me to re-visit Sweden.

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From this experience I learnt that I could achieve personal and academic goals by taking risks and asking for support. 

Getting home and settling back into work was hard. My foot was weak, I wasn’t able to go to the gym or dance, removing two of my favourite activities. The physio was amazed at just how much I had walked on my trip, which helped keep muscle tone but probably wasn’t best practice.

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From this experience, I relearned about patience and about not being in control of progress.  

Things had changed and stayed much the same in my work. I was challenged by a female boss to be better, do better and push myself harder. Although we didn’t see eye to eye at first I’m pleased that I did take on her advice. From this relationship I was able to be mentored by two amazing women who both have different strengths.

From this experience, I learnt how important mentors who are similar and are different are. 

I was hitting road blocks professionally. Reflecting about what I could control of this, was finding opportunities for development for myself. I’m so proud of the things I could do. Raising money for Nepal, RSPCA and setting up a clothing donation for Communities at Work gave lots of feel goods.

From this experience, I took the advice of a fabulous mentor about reframing situations and drawing from my strengths. 

After two years of running a book club with fabulous women (oh hey!) I had well and truly experienced what it is to have a sounding board for personal and professional issues. This inspired me to think hard about how I could facilitate this for others in my organisation. The development of a network program was one of the hardest things – to get support and build it in such a way that was organisationally appropriate.

From this experience, I learnt about how important resilience is in organisational change, but also about finding lots of messengers for the cause (and that my style doesn’t convince everyone). 

I started a Diploma of Leadership with the local YWCA in September. This is ongoing. I am challenged by the different women in this group.

From this experience, I have already learned that I needed to make changes to make my activities align better with my values and that I needed to articulate these values better.

Travelling back to the Island Kingdom of Tonga, after almost five years of absence was emotional. Spending time with not only my husband, but two of my favourite people was so important at that point in my year.

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From this experience I was able to relive the amazing time I had in Tonga, but also reflect on how lucky I am to have lots of friends who have so many different perspectives. That adage that you should have friends of different ages, backgrounds and experiences is so totally true. 

After coming back from Tonga, I was refreshed. I shook things up – leaving my gym, moving house and then recently taking on a temporary transfer position in a completely new area and department. All of this in December, with 2016 all ahead of me.

 

The Highlights Reel

I was again amazed at the generosity of my friends in supporting Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia.

I was grateful for the support I had in planning charity events

I wish I could laugh as hard every birthday as I did on my 29th birthday

Completing five units of my masters with HDs this year – made it to the half way mark

Spending time exploring more parts of North Queensland with my parents

Easter Island 

Revisiting Malmo and reliving my student exchange with my favourite Swede

Decluttering our old place and a new start in our new home, including setting up a reading corner (totally going to take more time out in 2016) 

Almost growing out a pixie cut (seriously this is hard work)

Meeting new friends, and keeping old ones

All about women festival 

Ruby our new car

High tea at Raffles

Cuddling alpacas

Riding funiculars in Santiago, Zurich and Valparaiso

Seeing flamingos and baby hippos in Zurich

Speaking at  Melbourne University

cuddling a koala

my bird cardigan

swimming 

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Joining Obsidian bellydance and performing with them 

Celebrating the arrival of Elijah 

Preparing for my besties marriage in March

Volunteering at lifeline bookfair 

spending time with favourites 

celebrating our second year of marriage, which has been yet again filled with love and laughter 

 

Supporting women’s health, one story at a time

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Imagine this. You are young, pregnant and scared. You are hungry, because the yields in the village this year were poor. You are tired and in labour with your first child. You felt like you were too young to marry but it was the way it was done. You married shortly after your first period at age 13, but you did not yet look like a woman.  The women surrounding you now, are afraid, the child isn’t moving. There are no doctors, or nurses, in your village or the next. There is no help. Two sunsets have fallen. 

Eventually your body ejects the baby, though it is dead. You are in pain, your insides are on fire. A hole has been torn  between your  bladder and vagina and another between your vagina and rectum. The damage left your body unable to control its normal excretory functions, and urine and faeces were constantly dripping down your legs. Your husband quickly rejects you as do the village people. You live on the outskirts of town, alone, poor and ill. 

You can read real stories here

Childbirth, especially in the developing world, is a dangerous business. It is often compounded by poverty, poor health, lack of choice and education, and structures that do not respect each woman and her rights. According to the World Health Organisation:

  • Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
  • Maternal mortality is higher in women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.
  • Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
  • Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.
  • Between 1990 and 2013, maternal mortality worldwide dropped by almost 50%.

Last year, I read a book about an Australian doctor, Dr Catherine Hamlin, and her husband, Dr Reg Hamlin, and their story of moving to Ethiopia and setting up a treatment clinic for fistula. To give you context, for a population of almost 100 million, Ethiopia has less than 200 obstetricians or gynecologists and less than 5,000 trained midwives. Poverty is rife and access to healthcare is difficult. Their organisation, not only treats these injuries but also has changed lives by setting up a group home for those with nowhere to go to and trained midwives.

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Following that lasting impression, and hearing the stories of women not only in Ethiopia, but in other parts of the developing world, motivates me to regularly support this charity’s work. This year, like last year that means selling (or asking people to sell) fundraiser goodies, and hosting a high tea, though this years will be a smaller affair than last. The organisation also sets you up with a fundraising page which is linked below. I am hoping to raise $1000 this year. Last year we raised almost $2000, which exceeded all my expectations. So I am encouraging you to help me reach my target by heading to my fundraising page.

My August Wishlist

August has been crazy and shopping has taken a hit. But I have been having a bit of a wanty sort of week but unfortunately I haven’t actually won lottery yet.

  1. I would love a bow shirt.

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Like this beauty from Asos (AU$49)

2. This table which could make all my stashy needs come true from West Elm at a bargain price of AU$799.

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3. This trip to South Africa from Intrepid

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4. A time expander so I can finish all my homework and sleep.

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5. Another pleated skirt or two.

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City chic – please stop taking my money

and Zelie for She bring this back please:

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6. Volunteers for helping out with annual Hamlin Fistula fundraising. This year a casual type “low” tea for their High Tea campaign and all the fundraising chocolate. Hamlin Fistula is one of my favourite charities – it focuses on providing essential healthcare for women suffering from fistula as a result of childbirth, and also on training midwives from around the developing world in Ethiopia. Dr Catherine Hamlin is an amazing woman and doctor with a spirit that I love reading about. Last year my wonderful friends contributed to almost $AU 2000 of fundraising, which is probably about 3 or 4 life changing repair operations.

7. A lifetime of Instax film for my adorable instax camera, for a lifetime of wonderful memories.

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8. Peonies

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9. For my Lean-In group to take off in my workplace; to provide greater networking and support to develop stronger leadership in men and women.

10. To have time to develop a reggaeton-bellydance chereography.

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Not sorry

This morning I was beating myself up – I haven’t blogged in three weeks I said, I’m going to let it all go to hell again I ruminated. Then I was like…

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I mean, I love writing, and really hope I can continue to write in this blog into the future, but I’m not going to get an attack of the guilts. Spending time with my girlfriends over the last few weekends, taking a long road trip, having my mum visit, hanging with the husband, sleeping, working and doing homework? All important parts of my life, some of which I can’t or won’t trade in, that I’m not going to give up easily. So I was like, I’ll just try to fit it in as best I can – maybe this weekend I can do some photos. No harm right? No need to get guilts – sorted!

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Then today as I walked around, I noticed women, who were always sorry. Sorry for me walking past them, sorry for crossing the street, sorry for reaching over to grab something off the supermarket shelf, sorry for taking up time, sorry for having an opinion, sorry for talking on their phones, sorry for taking up a seat on the bus, sorry, sorry, sorry. I was like… Ladies, we don’t have to keep apologising for existing, for taking our place at the table, for occupying space in peoples minds. We are just as valuable as the apologee. Or voices, bodies and actions are worth so much more than we are giving them credit for.

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So I dare you, don’t say sorry for a day. Challenge yourself to be only sorry, when you need to be. Accept that you are allowed to take up space in peoples minds, in meeting rooms, in buses and in life.

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Rollin with my homies – my clueless shirt and what I’d tell my teen self

This weekend, he and I went to a place about an hour out of Canberra, called Grandmas Little Bakery, which I had heard lovely things about, which I thought would be fun to take some non-work outfit shots. The cafe is set in an olive grove, which was a delight to walk around and play with two farm dogs on a crisp winter day. However, the food, was a bit of a disappointment for me – I continued by three for three streak of getting raw meat. He loved his.

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This adventure in the sun gave me some time to pose for some casual photos for the blog, including my most favourite purchase over the last few months. Like many women my age, I loved Clueless as a young teenager. With its witty banter, fabulous clothes and storyline based on Jane Austen’s Emma, it was a glamorous world. As I went through my teens it was clear that there was less fancy clothes and carefully planned parties, and more homework and giant pimples of epic proportions. But it developed a nostalgic appeal, that has well and truly stood the test of time.

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I mean I’ve never got over this closet

So I was in that mecca of cheap and cheerful delight, Kmart, I was pretty excited to see this tshirt.

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In honour of my awesome Clueless find, I thought I would write a listicle of the eight things I would tell my teen self throughout my teens. One for each year I was a teenager:

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1. Your mother, is almost always right. You wont work that out until you are about 26, and will refuse to admit it until you are 27. Learn to appreciate your parents more, you will meet people who don’t have parents as wise and hilarious as yours.

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2. You will be surrounded always by wonderful women, who will be increasingly a vital and important part of your life. Some are your friends now, and those who stick around during your bratty VCE years, really probably need a medal. Remember that there is life after VCE. A life of university exams and work trials.

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3. However, beware of some of the ‘friends forever’  you make, they won’t necessarily love you forever as you grow into an adult.

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4. Please Renee stop wearing brown, you are a light spring and it isn’t your colour. Also, your mum (see no. 1) is right about the awful tracksuit pants.

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5. Accept that there will be twists and turns, you’ll have amazing experiences that you didn’t even dream of.

DSC042636. Don’t judge people so harshly, treat them with more kindness. Even though you are learning and developing ideas about the world, that doesn’t mean you should be unkind. Sorry jocks. You were at the brunt of my developing scepticism about the feminist implications of sport and masculinity.

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7. Laugh more, realise there is power in your deeply silly nature. You have a natural gift for friend making that no. 6 is holding you back from.

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8. You will be loved. You don’t realise how close you are to meeting your husband, who is indeed the perfect amount of goofball.

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Headspace

I have a confession, I have a big head. Not in the “I’m full of myself sort of way”, but in a can’t find hats big head. So when I went into David Jones on a whim on Saturday afternoon, I anticipated a tantrum-inducing experience as I looked through the hat racks. The irony is, is that I love wearing hats, but I’m typically stuck with stretchy beanies and floppy berets. But I’m always on the hunt for a felt hat with that lovely structure for winter. Cloche in a perfect world.

But as I picked up this Milana hat, I had a vague sense that my 60 cm head (the average is about 57-58 centimetres) might actually fit within this felt beauty. I tried it on. It must be too good to be true. I ruffled through the vortex that is my handbag, found my phone and took a selfie to send to my Canadian based stylist (and bestie) who can always be trusted to tell me the brutal honest truth. Silly or cute I ask?

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 I mean, how adorable is that face?

So I bought it. Its harder than I thought to pull off – it had its going to work début today and the cape/hat combo was harder than anticipated. I kept knocking the hat off with the capes collar. It totally ruined my mystique, particularly as I hobble-ran to the bus. I suspect I may have looked like I belonged in the mafia or a bad detective novel with my dark glasses. But I love it all the same.

Before the struggle between cape and hat begun
Before the struggle between cape and hat begun

In some ways my head-hat problem is also reflective of sometimes how we all feel. Like when my boof head tries to squeeze into a hat, sometimes our head feels too big to contain all the dilemmas, thoughts, pressures, goals, dreams, fears and feelings at any given time. I’ve tried in the last two weekends to un-plan myself, doing the bare minimum and taking that time out to do only things that energise me with people who’s company I love. Creating that headspace and being honest with myself is really important.

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There is a cult of busy. A competition on burdens we carry. The demand that we ought to be doing more for ourselves or others. Creating headspace to decompress is hard.

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Taking time out is vitally important for wellbeing, mental health and the ability to increase resilience. The ability to “push on” is not necessarily a long term strategy. I love being busy, but it got to the point that I wasn’t doing myself or anyone else any favours by pushing through. I was lethargic, de-energised and grouchy after a long six months of injury (recovering from), travel (harder than it sounds), work and study.

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This is not just a me problem. Brigid Schulte talks about how leisure time is a feminist issue, despite its value for mental health and resilience. Leisure, she argues is not something that is not socially constructed for women, even before entering the workplace became mainstream. It was designed for the wealthy male; who had the paid or unpaid services of others who could complete his household, or administrative functions. Today this persists, but despite more women working than ever, they remain the principal care-givers, house-slaves and administrators, despite working full time. For me, I am fortunate to have a partner in all senses, who does an equal share; but this structural problem remains. In Australia, according to Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought, “76% of full-time working fathers have a “wife” or stay-at-home spouse. Only 15% of full-time working mums have the same”.

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But the second problem in accessing leisure or headspace, is the drive to “have it all”, however you define it. The pressure to build that empire, is immense. The ability to re-frame having it all will be increasingly important for modern women, rather than continuing to ruminate on what’s next, what’s wrong and where you are lacking. Taking time-out to re-frame your goals, opportunities and weaknesses is the way to achieve your “it all”, because you are not becoming a spent husk, from continuing to run the gauntlet-shaped treadmill.

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