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“How 2020 Changed Me”

10 women on the year that reshaped their lives

By Felicity Robinson & Anna Saunders

“I’ve taken charge of my career”

Alley Pascoe, journalist

In August, I was slinking through the streets of Sydney in feather-cuffed designer sleepwear and strappy heels – with a photographer in tow – for a story I was writing about pyjama dressing.

It was a regular Tuesday in magazine land. And I was living my dream as the features editor of the biggest-selling fashion magazine in Australia. At least, that’s what it looked like on Instagram. In reality, I was anxiously waking up at 3am every morning to check my emails, and breaking out in a cold sweat every time I received an all-company meeting request (or as we started calling them, ‘Zooms of Doom’) because they usually spelt another round of redundancies.

So, in September, I resigned from my dream job, and moved back to my hometown on NSW’s mid-north coast. Now I wake up at 3am because the cicadas in the bush outside my window are so bloody loud.

I’m still working in an unstable industry (aren’t we all?), but as a freelancer I have more control over my future – and I’m pouring my energy into myself instead of my job title. This year, I also wrote my first book: Fiona O’Loughlin’s memoir Truths from an Unreliable Witness. It’s ironic (in the Alanis Morrisette way) that the uncertainty of 2020 has made me take charge of my career and back myself in a way I never thought I would. Or could.

Today, I’m writing this sitting on my loungeroom floor. But you better believe I’m still wearing the designer pyjamas. You can take a girl out of the city, and all that…

“I recognised the need for balance”

Michelle Wood is a cellist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

“Between April and October, we were all stood down from our jobs – a lot of us did a bit of work for social media, but we obviously couldn’t meet or rehearse with each other because Melbourne was in hard lockdown. Everything just stopped.

I realised I hadn’t had more than a few weeks off since before university and I was actually pretty burnt out. But at the same time I really struggled with a lack of purpose, because I couldn’t play with my colleagues or for other people. We weren’t deemed ‘essential workers’, yet in lockdown, music and art were what people turned to for solace. It became important for me to structure on my day – as long as I went for walks, completed little projects at home and did some practice, I was fine.

I’m lucky to love my work but I recognised that it can become almost obsessive, in that you say yes to everything you’re asked to do. Being forced to stop enabled me to see that I do need downtime and balance, and I should take it without feeling guilty that I’m not at the instrument.”

“I will never sacrifice time with loved ones again”

Marlee Silva is a podcaster and author

When I look back on 2020 in the years to come, I’ll see it as a year that changed me for the better. Before COVID-19 halted my world as I knew it, I was sprinting through life, panicked that there was never enough time and I was never doing enough.

Sacrificing time with loved ones and time for fun, to work myself to the bone.

I will never do that again. I will never take those things for granted and I’ll always remember we only have one life to live and we should fill every possible moment of it with joy for the sake of joy, without feeling guilty!

“I rediscovered the joy of stories and connection”

Merinda Dutton, 30, is a lawyer, the co-founder of Black Fulla Book Club and a Gumbaynggirr and Barkindji woman

“This year has been a kind of returning for me – a returning to the things that I know to be true. I’ve always loved stories and storytelling, but as a lawyer I haven’t nurtured that part of my brain.

Then, at the beginning of lockdown, I started an online book club with a few black lawyers as a way to catch up and connect with other people. My co-founder Teela decided to start an Instagram page, and it’s just grown organically from there.

Today we have more than 30,000 followers and we review First Nations stories from Australia and overseas. People seem really curious and excited to hear more about First Nations stories, and I think that because Teela and I don’t have literary backgrounds, there’s an accessibility that people like, too. One really beautiful thing that’s happened is that we’ve also created a network of Indigenous bookstagrammers from around the world, and it’s been incredible connecting to that global story.

I don’t think that Black Fulla Bookclub could have happened in any other year. I think we’re all searching for meaning and, personally, I’ve found that, this year, through stories and in connection.

“2020 was the year I had two babies – in ways I didn’t expect”

Sarah Tarca is the co-founder of Gloss etc.

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t hate 2020. And I’m even a little sad that it’s ending. It was a year that laughed in the face of plans and threw pie at the status quo. But it also taught us how to adapt – and quickly – because we didn’t have a choice. The world slowed down, and I along with it. And the longer I exhaled the more silver linings I found.

I fell pregnant with my second child this year, and unlike my first dream pregnancy – where I ate my way through Italy – this time there was COVID-19. Instead of swims in the Mediterranean, I swam in waves of nausea for what felt like months. There were no blissful ultrasounds where we cried at our baby’s heartbeat. Instead, I Face Timed the scan so my partner could watch from the carpark. Grim.

I thought COVID-19 would be over by my due date in November but instead restrictions increased… and this very thing pushed me to make a decision I’d been long considering: homebirth. My son was born two weeks ago, in a peaceful, candlelit, four-hour water birth, in one of those experiences that you think is only reserved for new-age, Insta yogis. It was both magical and transformative, something you’d never usually hear associated with 2020.

Of course, work was also a rollercoaster. I lost clients… but in return space opened up. Space for creativity and reflection and to ask myself what I really wanted. And in this space I created gloss etc with a friend and ex-colleague. A weekly edit of the best products, tips and advice, delivered straight to your inbox, gloss etc is exactly what I’ve been wanting to do, but had always been “too busy” to think about.

And so, this year I had two babies – just both in ways I didn’t expect. I’m poorer, and more sleep deprived and happier than I’ve ever been, and my heart is so full. 2020, you’ve been a ride, but I think you’ve been my favourite one yet.

“I took back my power this year”

Priyanka Ashraf, 33, is the founder and director The Creative Co-Operative

For me, 2020 was the year of action. It was the year that I shed my skin – and shed society’s expectations of me.

It was the murder of George Floyd that prompted me to question everything. As a migrant in Australia, why did it take the death of an African American man to catalyse me into action? I don’t know. But it was a defining moment, and it made me think: what’s my role in all of this? What is my role as a South Asian woman who benefits from having light skin?

So, a few months ago, I helped create a directory of racially diverse founders so that when panels are looking for more people of colour they can use that. Then I launched Share The Platform, which are conversations about meaningful change between white and ethnically diverse leaders. Finally, I launched The Creative Co-operative, which offers business services from migrant women of colour. So, for example, if you need creative work done we’ve got graphic designers. If you need a website designed we have web developers.

It’s been a big, tiring year, but I feel so inspired. We’re just getting started.

“I’ve realised that time is precious”

Alisa Visan, 37, is a single mum who spent eight months of Melbourne lockdown with her 10-year-old daughter

“I’ve always had big hopes and dreams, but in the past, I’ve had the tendency to think: ‘That can wait’. Since lockdown I’ve realised that time is precious. After having our civil liberties taken away –not being able to drive anywhere, go out for a meal or see our family and friends – I’ve realised that when you have those opportunities you have to take them.

I’ve always believed that it’s better to have regrets over something you’ve done rather than ‘what ifs’ about something you didn’t have the courage to try, but I now I’m really focused on finding my passion again from a professional perspective.

This year also made me realise how precious relationships are. Even before lockdown, I saw my mum a lot, but now I’m more focused on the quality of time we spend together and making more of an effort. Lockdown also brought my daughter and I closer together. She’s a lot more open with me, as though she’s realised that I’m her support person. After spending so much time with me, though, she’s less independent, which breaks my heart. I think the effects of 2020 will linger for a long time.

“2020 taught me about inequality”

Isabelle Truman is the co-host of After Work Drinks podcast

A huge wake-up call for me this year was learning just how incredibly complacent I’d been in regards to structures and systems that are oppressive or damaging towards other people.

The pandemic has really brought to the forefront the massive issues the world has been facing for a long time – centuries of systemic racism and capitalistic structures that leave millions without adequate care during a crisis – and I’ve realised how important it is to challenge this and to continue to actively engage in learning from people whose lived experiences are different to mine.

“I realised the value of community”

Bar owner Anh Rattigan, 38, from Mount Martha

Lockdown was incredibly stressful for my husband Tom and I, as we didn’t know how long our bars would have to stay closed – and our income depends on the company’s cashflow, so money was tight. As a way to occupy myself at home in Mount Martha I decided – along with a thousand others – to perfect my sourdough. I’ve always been a perfectionist and I like a challenge.

After posting photos of a few of my loaves on Instagram, people started getting in touch asking if they could buy some. So, I bought myself an oven that can bake six loaves at a time and started taking orders, hanging the loaves on a tree at the end of our driveway for contact-free collection.

The ‘bread tree’ was massively popular – it was like a nightclub sometimes as customers drove past for pick-up. People loved it, and it made me feel part of the community.

Before moving to Mount Martha, we’d lived and worked in the city, and with the bars our focus had remained there. I realised that I’d been so busy doing my thing, working with Tom and looking after our daughter that I hadn’t got to know anyone locally, and I regretted that. You appreciate community in tough times, and now I really value – thanks to the bread tree – the good friends I’ve made here.”

“I worked out what I wanted to do”

Frances Donnellan, 26, from Melbourne, has just finished a degree in international studies

“This year, I had only one subject to finish, as I was doing an internship at Sisterworks, a not-for-profit organisation that helps refugee women feel empowered through work and training. In a way, the fact I had to be online at a certain time was good for me (sometimes I wouldn’t make it to in-person classes…).

My placement was three days a week initially, doing all sorts of tasks, helping with fulfilment of online orders and supporting the refugee women so that they felt comfortable with the process of selling the products they’d made. I loved hearing their stories; they’ve come from all over the world and it was a privilege to learn what they’d experienced. Gradually, my hours increased, as this felt like good work.

Previously, I’d had the mindset that I was too busy for charity work; this year I discovered how rewarding it was. I know now that I want to make a career in community work.”



BY Felicity Robinson & Anna Saunders

Fliss and Anna are the co-founders of PRIMER

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