The Leap Stories #20: Susan Nethercote

I believe that when we take a leap we’re doing it with the hope it will lead to better things. Maybe even bigger things. Susan Nethercote, this week’s story teller and multiple leaper found early success in one of her many leaps. But what is surprising about her story, is that one of her leaps was to downsize her ‘success’ – to pull back on what she had created, to realign it with her health and to explore other avenues. Leaps aren’t always forward. Leaps can involve a step back. And that’s what I love about Suse’s story.

Realising that the stress of running her own business in it’s current form was leading to fertility problems, Suse knew that her life needed a major overhaul. Dismantling her retail store to pivot to selling purely online was the first step. Exploring other opportunities to use her talents was another. I hope you enjoy reading the ins and outs of this warm, creative and courageous a serial leaper. Happy reading beautiful kin. xx

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Beautiful Susan, multiple leap-taker and founder of Creative Conversation and Manque Design.

What did you want to be when you grew up and why?

A gymnast, fairy, car mechanic, artist, Madonna, the usual stuff.

What did/do you study?

When I finished High School, I did a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne. I LOVED studying, did quite well, won an Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship, and stayed on to start my MA and teach there. Since then I have never stopped learning. I’ve done countless courses, both online and off, around design, business, spirituality, creativity and everything in-between.

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What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?

I’m a serial leaper. My first big, scary leap was leaving my MA and giving up my scholarship to start Manque Design back in 2000.

My second big leap was making the decision to pack up my Collingwood studio and Northcote store in 2011 and transition my business to a purely online business. This was kind of a leap in reverse, but it brought about the freedom I needed for the subsequent leaps.

My third big leap was starting my consulting and coaching business, Creative Conversation, in 2012. This is a business I run alongside Manque Design Online, so while it was a leap, it wasn’t one that required giving up what I had.

My most recent leap is allowing my hobby – painting – to become a paid pursuit. I love to leap, but it’s really scary every time.

What were you doing before you made your leap?

I was an art history post-graduate student on scholarship, lecturing and tutoring, and being constantly distracted by being creative on the side. I first started Manque Design when I left my MA in 2000.

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Susan’s beautiful painting, titled Winter Storm Dreaming, which you can purchase online here.

Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?

My mum and dad: Helen and Neil Brock. They have always been there with their unwavering support. They have always encouraged, never told me that my dreams were unrealistic, and taught me what true love really is. My Mum was always very crafty and took us with her to her craft market stalls when we were kids. I think that ingrained in me at a very young age that it is possible to make money out of being creative. My parents are both very grounded people which was a beautiful energy to grow up with. I hope I can be half as good a parent as they have been!

I had a rather famous uncle, Peter Brock, the racing car driver, who sadly passed away a few years ago. I lived with my aunt Bev and Peter in the very early stages of Manque, and they provided a beautiful space to work in up at their farm for a year and lots of encouragement. Bev loaned me the money to manufacture my first line of pants, which continue to be the backbone of Manque. I learned a lot from both Peter and Bev about unabashedly pursuing your dreams; about the power of focus; that everything, including money, is just another form of energy; and about the importance of making the most of the opportunities we are blessed with.

When I was 15, I begged my parents to let me take a painting class with a local artist called, Ellen Michel. I think I was forever enamoured with the idea of making my living from being creative from that point on. She used to say, “If you are going to paint, paint like a millionaire!” I think that has really affected my ability to back myself with full gusto and give my enterprises all that I have.

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What did you have in place before you made the leap?

Not much! I was quite young before my first leap, so there wasn’t much to risk! I did have a solid education in art history and I had one very important understanding – all great artists are completely and unabashedly themselves. I’ve tried to follow that.

I had no training in fashion, just what my mum taught me about sewing when I was a kid. I built my first business really organically from the ground up. I starting with doing markets and just weaving my way from one opportunity to the next. I have always had the good sense to seek help when I needed it and hire people with a skill-set that I don’t have.

My second leap, which was kind of a leap in reverse, was to downsize my clothing label to a purely online business. I had employed three full-timers and several part-timers, I had commercial leases, I had stockists all over the country and I had worked really hard to build my business.

My decision to dismantle that was one of the hardest of my life, and it took a two-year plan to carry it all out. My husband Mark’s support was paramount to the process. Giving up the success I had built in order to step into more freedom and an unknown creative future was a huge letting go that took far more courage than the leap to make the business in the first place.

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What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?

All my leaps have been preceded by waking up in cold, sweaty moments of ‘knowing’. The time it has taken me to respond to that knowing has varied with each leap in my journey. The first one was literally made overnight, though I had been thinking about it for a long time.

My ‘I can’t do this anymore’ at Manque went on for a couple of years and eventually culminated in a breakdown in my emotional and physical health. I learned a lot through that process. The breaking point was finding out that I was going to have to do IVF to have a baby. That was when I decided that it really had to go. I was so stressed and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being an employer and shouldering the responsibility of the business, and I knew that it was impacting on my ability to conceive.

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How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?

I think at each of my leaps it has been the realisation that having courage is, in reality, pretty messy. Usually, before I find courage, I come apart a little bit, whether that be an emotional breakdown or health issues. In some ways I think I need to get shaken apart a bit emotionally to allow the paradigm in which I’m stuck to shatter completely. Only then am I free enough of the energy of the old to leap toward the new.

This process has at times been very painful and produced a very real grief. But it’s part of the birth process of that which I know wants to be created in the future. Leaping usually requires me being backed onto a precipice in life, where the only choice is to either go back to what I have been doing, or jump off.

At the bottom of my ability to find courage to leap lays two things:
I have a profound intolerance for continuing to do things that feel wrong.
I am an intuitive, so I get very clear intuitive and emotional indications of the next direction to take in business and life. I have learned to trust that 100% and this is something that I teach in my e-course, Holistic Business Mapping – Business Planning with Art and Soul.

I think from the outside it may look to others that perhaps I am a particularly courageous person, when in reality I am kicking and screaming the whole way into my next venture. Every. Single. Time. It’s never graceful. And it is always a very emotional and spiritual journey.

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How did you fund your leap?

My first leap in starting Manque was funded by doing markets, and then by doing the NEIS scheme with Centerlink. That was HUGELY helpful. My aunt invested in my first manufacturing, then I was off and running.

My downsize leap was very carefully planned over a two year period. As the GFC had just occurred and retail businesses had plummeted in value, selling my business was pretty much off the cards. Instead, I orchestrated a series of closing down sales over a fairly long period of time. I ended up downsizing for more than I could have sold it for, which was great, because I still got to keep the business.

This money kept me going for quite a while as I had two small kids. I also had my husband Mark’s support. Once I had Manque functioning well as an online business, it became kind of an Angel Investor in Creative Conversation. It took a bit over a year for this business to find its feet.

What other leaps have you made in the past?

When I first started Manque, it was a jewellery and accessories line.

What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?

Making jewellery wasn’t very profitable for me. Then something very fortuitous happened. My studio was in a warehouse that was so cold in winter that I started making clothes out of old jumpers to stay warm. Clients would come to the studio and not be very into the jewellery, but they wanted one of what I was wearing. So I started making up-cycled knitware pieces and they sold like hotcakes. So I just went with it! My label grew very organically from there.

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What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?

I can be very fearful of what others think of me. I deal with that by reminding myself that a) not everyone is going to like me and that is ok.
b) I just have to sing my song, no matter what. Anything else is counterfeit.

How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap? 1 being sad, 10 being rad.

Right now? 10.

What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?

That I get to evolve my business alongside my personal and spiritual growth and nothing is set in stone. And that I get to teach the most important, deepest, soul-felt lessons that I have learnt.

What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?

The biggest downside is that at some stage it hurts, often a lot!

I get through these by likening it to giving birth (which I have done, naturally, twice). It involves pain, but I have learned that I can tolerate more of it than I ever thought I could. And once the leap has occurred, I forget about the pain and tend to my new creation. I try to allow myself some time to feel proud of what it took to get there. And then I get busy.

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What might be your next leap?

I am in the midst of my next leap. I am currently working on my first painting commission and have begun to sell my art at creativeconversation.com.au. This has been an enormous edge for me, since being an artist is something I have longed for my entire life. Only now have I found the time to pursue it, and the courage to take the leap and put it out there in the world.

What are your favourite words to live by?

Kindness is the most important thing (I tell this to my kids all the time!)

It’s ALL about love

Do what makes your heart sing

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Who do you admire who also made the leap?

Recently I’m admiring artist Tiel Seivl-Keevers and Rebecca Rebouche. I also really admire Gabrielle Bernstein, Danielle LaPorte, Rebecca Campbell and Clare Bowditch.

A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?

Trust your itch. Trust your instinct to make a change. The itch to leap is a flow trying to find its way from you, there is truth in that feeling. Your evolution on so many levels lies in your response to that feeling.

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Right now I’m:

Hearing: Birds outside my studio window
Eating: Leftover artichoke pasta with hummus, pesto, grated carrot and beetroot
Drinking: Bone broth
Reading: The Art of Spiritual Harmony by Wassily Kandinsky
Loving: Essential Oils of Cedarwood, Bergamot and Clary sage

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I never underestimate the courage it takes to step back. Defying previous ideas and redefining our ideas of success takes a tonne of personal introspection and self awareness. It takes ‘the Work’. Big W work – where a confrontation with ourself happens. It means that we often are saying no when others are saying yes. It means we’re letting go of the past and of what other’s think of us to make way for something new. Is there something this week you might need to let go of in order to invite in something new?

Much love, Kylie x


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  1. #20 is now my favourite leap story!!

    Suse’s journey, & her innate drive, travelling paths in search of the ones that have nourished her creative life, is a soulful lesson for us all. Suse is one of the hardest-working creative ladies I have met & she inspires with the life she has consciously created for herself. Trust the itch, people!!

    Such a joy to see your leaps (& multiple bounds!!) on Of Kin, Suse… x x

    Reply

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