Who modeled success for you growing up? How did that shape the way you approached life as an adult?
Growing up in my family, success was a straight and narrow road. It started with good grades in school and ended with a stable career. And without question, there would be a pit stop to higher education along the way.
It wasn’t ever really about making loads of money, but about working hard and providing the best for your family.
And on that last point about family? There was an unspoken expectation that family (and I mean that in the traditional sense of marriage and kids) was part of the picture of success.
We were white, suburban, middle class and I enjoyed all of the privileges that come from growing up in that way.
I was a pretty compliant kid—keen to please. So although I dabbled in some rebellious diversions, my general trajectory in life followed the straight and narrow— good grades in school, higher education, marriage, kids.
What does success look like to you now? How has its definition evolved throughout the years?
We talk a lot about midlife identity crises in men, but I think there’s a much more prevalent matrescence identity crisis we don’t acknowledge so much.
When I talk to the women in my life about my occasional fantasy of becoming a wilderness ranger on a remote Tasmanian Island—or otherwise pulling the rug out from under my idyllic life and escaping to a place where I can live a more solitary existence—there’s not a single one who doesn’t recognise that feeling.
I wish someone had sat me down at 19 and said “think, really think, is this what you want or is this what you believe you should want? There are other things to want”.
Or maybe not, I was so sure of my plan I wouldn’t have listened anyway. Maybe I wish I’d seen more positive and celebratory representation of women's lives that didn’t look like the straight and narrow growing up.
It wasn’t until after I had achieved all the things on the straight and narrow that I started to question whether I actually wanted them. Which turns out to be terribly inconvenient timing.
Because at that point in my own matrescence identity crisis I realised this was my life— whether I wanted it or not. And that I’d not only hit a point of no return but left it in the dust long ago.
I’m really aware that I’m probably making it sound like I hated my life, but I truly didn’t. And I didn’t want to burn it all down, or maybe only a little bit. It was just that success on the straight and narrow didn’t feel the way I thought it would. It lacked teeth and texture. It wasn’t satisfying.
I realised, if all this wasn’t enough then what was I missing? What wasn’t I seeing? What did success really look like? And how could I get a bit closer to it?
And through all of that questioning I developed a much more holistic sense of success. One that’s centered around how life feels instead of what it looks like.
I want to be creatively inspired and energised. I want to be well loved and I want to love well.
I want to squeeze as much out of life for as long as I possibly can.
And if I’m doing that? That’s success.
A few years ago you moved from Melbourne to regional Victoria. What have been some of the unexpected benefits of that move?
I didn’t really know what being part of a community was until we moved here. I think city and suburban living can be much more siloed.
The local school here has 13 kids. Total.
There isn’t a massive network of teachers and families working behind the scenes to make sure it all runs well. Which means I don’t automatically assume there will always be someone else to do the caring, to take the load, to step in when stuff needs to be done. There’s just us. And there’s a real sense of everyone being in it together.
Let's talk about creativity on demand. When you need to bring out the big-guns for a client but you're not "feeling it" how do you get yourself in the creative move?
Phew, ok, let’s. The thing about having creative inspiration is that there’s no direct line to it. You can’t just go “wow, I’m not feeling it, I’ll do *insert thing* and I will be again”.
Creative inspiration is a state that you need to cultivate so that you can proactively avoid the “not feeling it” thing.
I read good books and essays. I follow writers with sharp, witty and unique voices. I go to museums. I watch comedy shows. I eat out at restaurants. I take breaks from the work so I can feel hungry for it again. I subscribe to literary magazines and mostly read them. I take my stupid little walks in nature. I notice things that make me feel big feelings (this happens a lot). I talk to people I respect and admire about these big feelings. I write about them, too. I spend time with my olive trees. I write really horrible haikus and make slightly less horrible pots on a pottery wheel. I dig in the weeds and bake bread. I make collages. I try to spend just the right amount of time on Tik Tok and social media (where I can be in awe of what people are creating without losing hours of time— and sleep). I save swipe files of great work that I’ve found. I listen to new music.
I cultivate a state of creative inspiration, so that I rarely find myself in a place where I’m not feeling it. And when I am in that place, I power on or take a break (depends on the deadline).
When you’re not grabbing everything by the horns (as you’d like to say 😁), how do you find calm and stillness?
I read books. Mostly novels, sometimes memoirs, rarely non fiction (I prefer listening to non fiction). I was one of those kids that would be forced to put my book down at the dinner table. I’d eat with one hand on my fork and one hand holding the page I was up to. I don’t read at the dinner table now but I still consider reading both a professional obligation and a relaxation activity.
Reading Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
Watching Pieces of Her
Listening to The Resevoir Dogs soundtrack when I work and crappy romcom audio books when I run
Smelling Wood sage and sea salt (the Jo Malone fragrance)
Drinking The weather is changing so I’m loving a light Pinot Noir (I like Mac Forbes in the Yarra Valley)
Follow Anna on Instagram.