Yes, my journey down Nerdy Lane started quite early on in life.
I was given the choice of a bike or a typewriter for my 10th birthday. My brother had gotten a bike for his 10th birthday. Surprisingly enough, I don’t remember a typewriter being an option for him. One nerdy introvert in the family was probably enough.
To this day I still don’t know how to ride a bike properly. But boy have I had a lifelong love affair with The Written Word.
I can still remember the feeling of slowly releasing the Paper Release Lever (the Official Technical Term) and the sound of putting a clean white sheet of paper through the roller. And then clicking the silver bar* across the front of the paper back into place. Followed by a huge sigh of contentment.
* The Official Technical Term is ‘Bail Rod’ but I doubted you’d know what that was… my sincere apologies if I’ve just insulted any equally nerdy old-fashioned typewriter lovers. (I am secretly hoping I’ve offended at least one person reading this… please reveal yourself so I know I’m not alone in my skip down Nerdy Lane).
And ribbon changes, how I LOVED those. The anticipation of forever embedding an ocean of My Words onto a pristine new ribbon. We’re talking sublime nerdy territory here.
Seriously, check out the following instructions for ribbon changing… it’s like an excerpt from Fifty Shades of Grey for Nerds. As I read it slowly, it’s as though Liam Neeson [insert sexy-voiced man or woman of your choice] is whispering sweet nerdy nothings into my ear. Another sigh of contentment.
Ollie was such a great companion and with his patience and guidance, I taught myself to touch type. Yes, at the age of ten. That probably isn’t such a large feat nowadays given children are learning to program DVD recorders at the age of three, but back then, it was something I was extremely proud of. Anyone - okay, almost anyone - can ride a bike but not everyone can touch type when they’re in primary school!
I would never have done such a despicable thing to Ollie.
I’m still not sure if my typing ability impressed or annoyed The Typing Teacher. Let’s face it, it did allow me more time to distract everyone else in the class. Something I spent quite a lot of time doing throughout high school, despite my nerdy straight-A student status. I always suspected the teacher felt ripped off that I didn’t need to look at her liquid paper-graffiti-covered keys anyway. You’d think she’d be grateful it was one less teenager to teach.
So my ability to type was the one defining factor in the First Tentative Steps Toward The Career of My Dreams.
Oh, and the fact I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
After much searching and more rejection than I care to remember, I got a job in the typing pool of a large stockbroking firm in Melbourne.
When I say pool, I should point out there were only two of us, so it was rather more of a puddle. Just in case you were picturing a room filled with women all lined up in rows tapping away on their typewriters.
Sorry, are you asleep yet?
Clearly, it wasn’t the most exciting or stimulating job but it was a hugely fun environment in which to work and that firm put on The Best Work Parties Ever! You know, the kind of parties where at least one staff member needs to resign out of embarrassment the next day? This was in the late 80s and although it wasn’t quite ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, it was a ridiculously huge amount of fun… until someone had to resign from embarrassment of course. And I’m not kidding; they literally resigned because they were too embarrassed to stay.
Okay, seeing you insist, I’ll share a couple of stories.
Embarrassing Resignation No. 1
Let’s call him Tom… just in case, almost thirty years later, he stumbles across this random blog and decides to sue me for defamation. Tom decided it would be a good idea to remove his pants at the staff Christmas Party. In the middle of a ballroom. On a brightly lit dance floor. Surrounded by 400 of his colleagues. And management. And the partners of the firm. And by remove his pants, I'm talking The Full Monty.
Embarrassing Resignation No. 2
Let’s call her Sally… (I think this actually happened at a later job I had but it still makes for a good example of What Not To Do At A Work Party). Sally was a young secretary who had consumed rather too much alcohol at the Friday night boardroom drinks (a weekly occurrence in most large firms in Melbourne at the time). And while Sally was at her desk collecting her belongings before stumbling home, she threw up on her typewriter and passed out. As you do. A couple of hours later her boss (a partner in the firm) went back to his office to find her asleep on her desk. Being the gentleman he was, he pushed her on her secretarial chair to the hotel adjoining the building we worked in (I’m not making this up) and booked her a room to sleep off her hangover. She was so embarrassed (and quite possibly very unsure how she got to the hotel room) that I don’t think she even came back long enough to resign, she just sort of left a message on someone’s phone and disappeared.
Oh, and that’s not one of those stories where The Writer is actually talking about themselves. I’m not Sally.
Really, I’m not.
I worked at that firm for three years and diligently achieved my yearly goal of Not Doing Anything Embarrassing Enough That I Had To Resign Over, while I saved money to go and live in London.
Three years after leaving high school, my first major career goal was sorted:
I worked for Bethnal Green Neighbourhood (part of the London Council), which was like living amongst the characters of the TV show ‘EastEnders’. What a delightfully colourful group of people to work with. And they were so fascinated by an Australian Girl (which I always found quite amusing seeing as London was absolutely covered with young Aussie girls at the time).
One lady, quite seriously said to me one day, ‘I didn’t know Australia celebrated Christmas in the middle of the year instead of December’ and I said ‘ummm, we do celebrate Christmas in December’ and she said ‘but they had Christmas lunch on ‘Neighbours’ on TV last night’. Bless her cotton socks! I tried my hardest to keep a straight face as I replied, ‘Oh, I think the episodes are 18 months behind here so that’s why it’s being shown in July’. I think she appreciated the fact I didn’t make fun of her but boy did my flat-mates laugh when I told them that night!
I then had a job temping for a large law firm called Stephenson Harwood who had their own building across from St Paul’s Cathedral. I did various jobs there over a six-month period and one of them involved working for the Graduate Recruitment Officer who recruited all the graduates (err, you may have gotten that from her title…) and part of my role was to show them around London. How cool - I was being paid to go sightseeing! Best Temp Job Ever. The grads thought it was hilarious that a young Aussie girl was showing them around the capital city of their own country.
When I returned to Melbourne from London I got a job as a legal secretary, which was the start of a very long journey of Not Wanting To Be A Legal Secretary.
I always knew I was Destined To Do Something Else. Something which helped people.
But initially, I sadly discovered that my desire, motivation and steadfast belief in My Destiny To Do Something Else didn’t appear to be enough. I met with a lady at a job agency who very bluntly said ‘you’re not going to ever get out of secretarial work because you’re simply not qualified to do anything else!’ Oh, that was so disheartening to hear. I had finally been brave enough to take that First Step Toward Something Else and was quickly told I Wasn’t Good Enough.
Even sadder than that, was that I actually believed her.
I got a job at The Smith’s Snackfood Company (where they make chips and Twisties) and I absolutely loved it. It was still a secretarial role but it involved more coordinating and organising and I worked with a fabulous group of people (mostly men) and felt as though I was finally working in The Real World.
And it led me to my career in the not-for-profit sector where I happily remain today.
I still remember sitting on the floor of my unit in Brisbane one Saturday morning in 2001 reading an ad for a job as an ‘Administration/Volunteer Coordinator’ at the Starlight Children’s Foundation and as I read through the criteria for the job I said out loud to myself, ‘I’ve never done that’, ‘I have no experience in that’ and ‘I definitely can’t do that’.
And yet I applied anyway. And it was one of the best decisions of my life.
I got an initial interview with the employment agency and spent an hour talking about what I couldn’t do and she kept nodding and making notes and at the end of the interview, she said ‘that’s one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done’ and when I asked why, she said ‘because you were so refreshingly honest’. So this particular time, my honesty won out over my skill or experience and she arranged an interview with the Queensland State Manager, who is one of the most fabulously dynamic women I have ever met. That day she saw something in me – the potential to do the job well I guess - and she believed in me more than I believed in myself at that point. And I got the job.
And that was my Very First Experience of Taking Less Money in Exchange for More Job Joy. And what an experience it turned out to be.
To this day, that remains my ‘Dream Job’. Anything after that has been an absolute bonus in my eyes. Working at Starlight for four and a half years was the best work environment I’ve ever experienced – the joy and enthusiasm that people brought to their roles and the fun we had together was just incredible. And we cried too. A bit too often sometimes but at the same time it was comforting to know we were doing something positive for the families we worked with. We all worked so well together and everyone was willing to put in 110% every single day. You don’t find that in many workplaces so we knew just how fortunate we were.
I knew I was ready to leave that job a year before I actually did but a Rather Large Pay Rise kept me there longer than I should have stayed. It was lovely to have my work acknowledged in that way but it always felt as though I was just putting off the inevitable.
You cannot buy job satisfaction; it’s just not possible.
A year later, I took a Rather Large Drop in Pay to go and work at The Smith Family and I’ve never looked back. I started as their Volunteer Relationships Coordinator and I am now a Program Coordinator working on one of our mentoring programs. I really do adore going to work every day. I love being part of something that evokes change and growth and empowerment in people – adults and young people alike. I am so very grateful to be doing what I’m doing and I will stay working with them for as long as they will have me. I’ve been there almost five years and I’m currently doing my fifth role so it’s also the first workplace I’ve had where I’ve been able to move around and try new things.
So learning to type at the age of ten has taken me on a long windy road of interesting experiences, and some days, as I mindlessly type away at work or at home, it occurs to me that I would quite possibly be capable of typing if I were ever in a coma. I’m not making light of people who have been in comas but if I’m ever unfortunate enough to be in one, please pop a keyboard beneath my hands as I’m fairly certain I will start typing away. Or if you can get your hands on an old Olivetti, that would be just perfect.
I know I could get paid more as an executive assistant back in The Corporate World as I was born to Type and Organise but I also know I was born to Support and Empower so the not-for-profit world is Exactly Where I’m Meant To Be. I find so much joy in the work I do. It feeds my soul. And I adore the challenges it brings and the professional and personal growth I’ve had from the various jobs I’ve done.
And the people I’ve met. I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve learnt, and continue to learn, from the often quite simple interactions I have with all sorts of fascinating and fabulously unique human beings. Random strangers reach in to squeeze my heart on a regular basis. I just adore connecting with people.
People who give their time as volunteers, people who work in schools and community organisations, people who ring up asking for support who Simply Want To Be Heard, my colleagues who I work with day after day To Make Stuff Happen and the students I work with who make me laugh and who unknowingly inspire me to continue to follow my dreams as they take their first tentative steps toward discovering their own.
I am so very grateful the State Manager of Starlight saw something in me that day that I didn’t quite see or believe in myself at the time. I see it and believe it now and it has been the most enjoyable journey getting from where I was back in 2001, to where I am now. Still without any 'qualification' to speak of Miss Blunt Agency Lady. But what I do have is an abundance of life experience, a set of ears, a desire to learn and grow and a willing heart. Ollie would be ever so proud of how far we’ve come.
Money is something which allows us freedom and exploration and most of all, it gives us The Power of Choice, but never having to spend Sunday night dreading work the next day, now that’s priceless.
‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.’ Steve Jobs