The Leap Stories #37: Penny Locaso

I’m a firm believer that what looks like a big leap from the outside, is a series of smaller leaps accumulating on the inside. I believe that all leaps start with increased self-awareness. I believe that leaping is an act of uncomfortable courage. And I believe in surrounding yourself with supportive kinfolk.

So when Penny Lacaso founder of BKindred, a new coaching consultancy and community for entrepreneurial women, reached out to me it was like finding a long lost relative.

Claiming the title of corporate escapee, Penny launched BKindred in 2015 after a leaving a well-established career for a global giant. A period of self reflection after a family tragedy lead Penny to consider what impact she truely wanted to make with her life, and when you read her story you’ll see that she’s taken significant leaps in all areas of her life in the last 12 months. However the seeds and skills for them were harvested over time.

Some of the many beliefs Penny and I share are the value of bringing the experience and insights learned in big business to small business, of honouring the humanity in our work, and collaborating with like minds (it’s no accident that we both have ‘kin’ in our business names!).

To celebrate our kinship, we’re co-hosting a live workshop of The Time course, in Melbourne on Monday 29 February 2016 (yes, the leap day!!). Details and early bird tickets available here.

BONUS: I hope you enjoy this week’s story, and at the end you’ll notice there’s some bonus content – a podcast interview that Penny and I recorded about resetting for the new year. You can hear us chatting away on her couch on a particularly humid Melbourne morning, about how we reset and recharge to take on our next challenges. Oh, and there’s a little bit about my own leap thrown in too. I think you’ll love it.

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Penny Locaso, Founder of BKindred.

Penny Locaso, Founder of BKindred.

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

In my early years I always wanted to be a fashion designer, growing up on a farm where gumboots were considered accessories gave me a strong desire to dress up. I had a sketch book when I was 8 and I loved drawing designs. It fascinates me now as I always say how I am not a creative type but I now realise creativity takes many forms and I can be creative but more in a business sense than an artistic one. As I evolved through the years I discovered a strong interest in criminology and understanding tipping points that made people break a little earlier than the rest of us and do things that seemed incomprehensible. I still have this niggle to go back into this space as it fascinates me but perhaps my interest has just now evolved into trying to explore and understand human behaviour.

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What did/do you study?

I packed my bags at 18 and went across Bass Straight to Hobart to study Law. Whilst that may have been what I was studying on paper I think I walked away after that year with a degree in partying and living the good life. Law bored me to tears and I was diagnosed with a chronic illness at the end of my first year so I returned home to have major surgery and venture into the career unknown.

Later in my career I was fortunate enough to be supported by my employer Shell to return to study in an area I was passionate about; business & marketing. Postgraduate studies agreed with me and I thrived amongst like minds and the stories they shared on how big business was trying to flog their wares to the unassuming customer. I think this was one of the periods in my life when I worked the hardest. Studying two subjects part time, working a full time job and travelling for business two out of every four weeks, and yet I loved every minute of it because I was passionate in my career pursuit.

I now believe my studies are ongoing and more free range and unstructured which is refreshing. My studies are in the areas of life and relationships. I learn so much every day from the inspiring and amazing small business owners and peers that I surround myself with and the best part is it’s free. There is no greater education than life experience.

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

I have taken what I would call little leaps over the years but nothing compares to the leaps of the past 12 months.

In the last 12 months I have walked away from a 16 year career as an executive in an oil and gas giant, relocated a family from Perth back to Melbourne, separated from my partner of 18 years and started my own purpose-driven company BKindred.

I have basically changed every single structural element of my life with only constant being my beautiful five year old son.

I recently went through the Talk on Purpose Program at the Slow School of Business and had the unique opportunity to share the learnings from my leap with an audience of 100 which was terrifying and empowering. I would highly recommend this program to anyone seeking to take a leap and struggling to find where to next.

What were you doing before you made your leap?

I am extremely grateful for the amazing career I had in the corporate world, many of the people I worked with are still close friends to this day. But, that said, I feel like before the leap I was unconsciously enjoying a well established, highly paid, successful career. One that I had never thought to design but that just kind of unfolded before me based on opportunities, gaps in the business and expectations that I conceded to.

I was also trying to raise my little boy and never doing it to the standard that I so desired… like so many mothers. Juggling the constant guilt of wanting to do everything at 150% and delivering only 70% on average because I felt so thinly spread. I found myself often ill with bugs and flus. I now know that burnout was just manifesting itself in other ways. I wasn’t listening to my body, I just kept adding more to my plate.

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

My mother Sandra would be my greatest influence. She is a salt of the earth woman. I grew up on farms and begrudged for years not having a house proud mother who spent her days pampering her children like many of my friends mums. My mum would spend 12 hours a day out on the land working so that she could house, clothe and feed the 3 children that she was raising alone. And we all had to pull our weight with physical labour. I now look back on this life with gratitude, respect and a great sense of pride. The work ethic that my mother instilled in me has most certainly been fundamental to the success I have had to date and the resilience I have in pushing through when self doubt and adversity creeps in.

My uncle Don was a Commercial Property Developer and successful entrepreneur. He was always the one in the family that everyone aspired to be like, deemed so successful. He demonstrated his belief in my ability early on, paying for me to attend a private girls school for my VCE so that I had opportunities beyond those availed to me in the public school I was in. He supported me in so many ways over the years and was a great advocate. Sadly, his influence became even more profound when he abruptly, and in shocking circumstances, took his life after his success collapsed almost 4 years ago now. That moment changed everyone and everything in my family and set me on a path to redefine what success meant for me on my own terms. It made me realise that those who often seem to have it all so often don’t, money does not bring happiness, it avails choice and often pain. Happiness is the holy grail, working out what it means for you is the hardest part.

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When I went to Perth to work in the height of the oil and gas boom in 2012 I met Aden Murphy. Aden was my peer and still is one of my go-to people. Whenever challenged or perplexed by a project I would seek him out to sit in a room with me and bounce things around for hours. Aden frustrated the hell out of me because his thinking was so different and he never gave me the answers, he just posed the questions that helped me to find the answers myself. The growth in my personal development during the time I worked with Aden was exponential. We are still in constant contact and I am bursting with excitement that he is moving to Melbourne shortly.

My sister Donna is the unconventional influencer, she will be surprised to read this but her impact in recent years on my career has been significant. Her career is designed on purpose and it always has been, she is a nurse who often works in emergency and her purpose is to care for others with empathy. She is also an amazingly present and engaged mother to two beautiful small children and manages to balance it all with brilliance. She wants for nothing and leads a very happy, unmaterialistic and loving existence with her family front and center. When I leaped 12 months ago I was seeking another way to work a different career model and a way to balance that whilst giving my son the love and care that he so deserves. Observing her and her happiness set the benchmark for what I aspired to both personally and professionally.

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It was November 2014 and I was sitting on the barstool, peering out the window of Kinfolk Café onto the bustle that is Bourke St, Melbourne. Waiting, over the scent of my almond milk flat white, to meet a person that would fundamentally challenge my belief system on conventional business models and introduce me to a world where business was motivated by purpose and it’s ability to positively impact the lives of others.

That person was Carolyn Tate, an unknown kindred spirit who had agreed to share an hour of her life with a random stranger. A random stranger in career limbo, adequately labelled a corporate refugee some months later.

We sat at that bench like old friends reunited and shared stories of frustration with a business world that appeared to have lost its way, with a drive for dollars over community prosperity. We spoke of the rise of the corporate refugee, a growing trend of well educated, talented professionals who were disenfranchised with their career choice, who felt their values were compromised and who challenged that there had to be a more meaningful way to make a living.

That conversation led me on a journey that crossed suburbs and states, connecting with small business owners who appeared to have found the holy grail of business; one would recommend another and the chain appeared endless. This was the beginning of the evolution of my own purpose driven business BKindred.

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

The first thing I had in place which has served me time and time again is resilience. I believe it is one of the most important skills to hone in life and in business, especially when you go it alone. You need to be able to bounce back and it needs to happen quickly. You need to know that you will fall time and time again and if you don’t pick yourself up and dust yourself off no one else will.

Money, no matter how you cut it, money enables choice. I knew, to go it alone, I needed a financial runway to allow me to operate for 12 months on a worst case scenario. I was fortunate to have had a very financially astute partner for many years who taught me so much about how to manage and invest money. This freelance education enabled financial freedom through hard work and saving over many years.

An amazing support network of friends and family that I could draw on to challenge my sanity and bounce crazy ideas off.

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

It wasn’t ‘I can’t do this anymore’, it was more of a ‘why have I not consciously questioned what I have been doing for the past 16 years?’. I knew that if I didn’t leap now I would never break from the cycle of what was expected as opposed to what I truly wanted.

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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 have never been a procrastinator and whilst I find things scary I tend to just dive in head first and trust that it will be ok. I often ask myself what is the absolute worst thing that could happen if it all goes pear shaped and the cons never seem to outweigh the pros.

I chose my attitude and I choose to be a positive person. In my mind there is no such thing as failure, I always figured if this this doesn’t work it will be the platform to launch me into whatever it is that I am meant to be doing. I have always found that nothing worth having comes easy. You can work smarter but hard work is always required for significant reward.

I have learnt so much since I leapt that I can only be a better person for it. Don’t get me wrong, I still have self doubt that creeps in regularly but my mindset allows me to identify the triggers and quickly turn them around.

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How did you fund your leap?

I used my own money and looked at it as an investment in myself. The investment was significant on a personal level but I figured it had taken me 16 years and a huge investment by Shell in my development to get me to the level I was at when I left. It seemed only reasonable to back myself financially, it also made me more accountable.

What other leaps have you made in the past?

After the significance of the leaps of last 12 months all other leaps seem minor by comparison. However, each little leap I have taken over the years has felt like a stepping stone towards the cliff that was the giant leap. These little leaps built up significant courage and self belief to jump off that cliff and know that the net would appear, perhaps not in the shape or colour I expected, but it would be there.

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

I never feel like things don’t work out. I am a firm believer in everything happening for a reason and I don’t live with regrets. For me, as long as I learnt something and met interesting people along the way, it never feels like a failure. Things may not go according to plan but often I find that’s where the biggest opportunities appear and the most interesting people seem to present themselves just when you need them most.

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

I think now knowing what I love doing and having a clear purpose of wanting to help others unlock their potential is enlightening and at the same time terrifying. When you are passionate and highly motivated it can be wonderful but can also create a single minded pursuit, which can mean blinkers stop you from seeing what’s going on around you. I attempt to mitigate this challenge by surrounding myself with a small group of peer coaches who hold the mirror up and call me on my bullshit in a way that is constructive.

My other fear is that I can’t help all the people I so want to help. Ensuring that I don’t give away my value for free all the time is hard when you can see so many great opportunities. Knowing that price supports the perception of value and money is an enabler to scale keeps me focused on a sustainable business model that will enable me to help even more people longer term and make what I do more accessible.

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

15 Elated!!! I know I am where I am meant to be and I love what I do. I get up every day and feel so grateful for the life I have created for myself.

What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?

Without a doubt, the people. Relationships are everything in business. I always say I used to work with some of the most intelligent people you could find but now I get to work with some of the most inspiring people. Both will elevate you in different ways but inspiring gives you a level of energy beyond the norm.

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

Coming from a commercial background and being constantly surrounded by people I find it very challenging not having like minds around at a moments notice to bounce ideas off. I am a firm believer in the more you share an idea the more it grows. One way I have addressed this gap is to create a small mastermind group of like minds with very different skill sets who are all working on their own business dreams. We meet once a quarter and focus on the strategic development of our individual businesses, challenge each other and brainstorm ideas for each other. The other beauty of this concept is that our target markets are similar, which enables amazing collaboration opportunities longer term.

What might be your next leap?

I am so open to leaps now it could truly be anything. Every day I am presented with new opportunities to collaborate, I try to still be loosely planned but not to be planned to the point of inflexibility as the best ideas seem to come from spontaneity and heading down paths you never considered.

My ideal leap longer term would be to become an advocate for the human age of small business. There is this emergence of small business owners challenging the status quo because they want to have a positive impact on the lives of others through their work. I want to work with this community to truly understand what they need to achieve their business dreams and impact. I’d then like to leverage this insight to influence government and corporates to think differently about small business and it’s value and create services, products and structures that make it easier for small business to get better at business.

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What are your favourite words to live by?

Carpe Diem – Seize the day
Listen – People will surprise you with their stories
Simplicity – Keep things simple, we tend to add complexity and it often adds work not value
Work Hard – 1% inspiration 99% perspiration

Who do you admire who also made the leap?

There are just so many but what blows me away is the emergence of all of these amazing young women taking leaps so much earlier than my generation and questioning the traditional career model like….

Erica Geraerts from Frank Body, Willow & Blake & LBSS
Zoë Weldon from Seeker Lover Dreamer
Jess Ruhfus from Collabosaurus
Kate Toholka
Lizzy Marsh from Primal Junction

Then there are those of us who are a little older, who gained amazing skills working for the big end of town and then leveraged that into our leaps like…

Carolyn Tate from Carolyn Tate & Co and The Slow School of Business
Kylie Lewis from Of Kin
Meneka Premkumar from the Common Good Store

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

• You have to believe in your ability to do this because if you don’t you can’t expect anyone else to.
• Surround yourself with like minded peers, god knows you are going to need them.
• Allocate time to not only doing but thinking as well. Reflection each week is hugely powerful. 15 minutes of what worked, what didn’t and what could I do differently next week.
• You are the foundation of your leap so look after you: eat well, exercise, meditate.
• Strap your seatbelt on, it is going to be one hell of a ride, it will be the hardest work you will ever do but by far the most rewarding.

Right now I’m:

Hearing: Acoustic Chill Australia on Spotify.
Eating: Real food, I’m not perfect but I try and eat whole food as often as possible.
Drinking: Coconut water smoothies, espresso martinis and Shaw & Smith chardonnay.
Reading: Collective Hub, Dumbo Feather. I love reading about people doing things differently and having a positive impact.
Loving: Podcasts, I walk the dog and switch one on. I learn so much in 30 mintutes. If I want to be uplifted and focus on my personal development I go to Jess Lively or Gretchen Rubin. If I want something more serious and theory based I go to Ted Talk NPR.

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Maybe it’s turning a certain age, maybe it’s travel, maybe it’s having a child, maybe it’s meeting a person who challenges your ideas, maybe it’s a health scare or losing a loved one that causes you to start really questioning your life. The most important thing is that we stay awake at the wheel and keep asking questions.

Love Kylie x

ps. Here’s my interview for Penny’s Words with Friends podcast where we talk about the magical power of January to reset, and the rituals we have for renewal and regeneration. Enjoy. x


Just Announced!

The Time Workshop
Melbourne, 29 February 2016

Book your early bird seat here

The Time SQUARE - 600 x 600

A creative and interactive workshop for curious and entrepreneurial types, exploring your business goals, knowing what is essential to do, managing your workload, making plans and becoming the master of your time and energy.

SPACE :: TIME :: THINKING :: PLANNING :: TREATS

You know how you say ‘I don’t have enough time to work ON my business?’ or ‘I’m too busy to plan!’ or ‘I’m flat out but don’t feel like I’m getting where I want to be’?

Well, this is your opportunity to do something good for yourself and your business, and get clarity and calm in your working life.

Our most precious resources are our time, energy and mental health. This workshop is specifically designed to create space to think, plan and prioritise your business goals in the next three – six months. Get your business strategy sorted, and create clarity and focus.

Think of it as a strategic planning day to get your mind clear on what are your most important priorities coming up, and how you’re going to get them done.

Book your seat now

  1. […] inspire me and I am so blessed to now have part of my community are Jess Rhufus of Collabosaurus, Penny Locaso of B.Kindred and Penny Hyams of Penny Hyams Interiors and You’re […]

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  2. […] Penny Locaso – Founder of B.Kindred […]

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