Welcome to our first leap story for 2017! After a summer hiatus, we’re back to embrace all that this new year has to offer. And this year is perhaps especially inviting. According to numerology, 2017 is a ‘1’ year (2+0+1+7=10, 1+0=1), which means it’s a year of new beginnings and a great time to consider taking a leap!
But what exactly defines a leap? Ever since I started this series I’ve wanted to showcase all types of career leaps, not just those into self-employment. Because I believe a leap is fundamentally anything that gets your adrenalin going, feels a little uncomfortable, that feels more authentically you and pushes you to see yourself in a new way. It involves a healthy dose of vulnerability, accepting imperfection, the fear of rejection or failure, and feeling scared and exhilarated at the same time. It moves you closer to who you are, and feels expansive and empowering, rather than sad, weakened, tense, tightened and lost from yourself.
Leap takers recognise they have a choice in how their life plays out. They stay open to possibilities and consciously craft a life on their own terms. They’re aware when things need to change, and that what worked then, doesn’t work now. They embrace that change is the only constant.
Leaping isn’t always a jump out into the wilderness of your own gig full time. Leaping is anything that pushes you live bigger, within your own values. And values change over time.
And that’s why I love this week’s story. Last year Emma Clarke Gratton leapt out of Gratton Design, the furniture design business she and her husband built, into a part-time job as a writer for ArtsHub. While dual self-employment worked for the couple for a while, add two young kids, bigger projects and more staff into the mix and life and partnership becomes complex, both at work and at home. So Emma decided to redesign her life and build a new path forward by reigniting a past love.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I always wanted to be a writer. But I didn’t know what that really meant, just that I wanted to be famous for writing books. I was a huge book nerd (my best friend and I have known each other since we were four and she still teases me about inviting her over for play dates and then spending the whole time reading) and still am a book nerd, and was always much better at English than I was at maths. I still can’t add up or do anything remotely mathematical. Thank god for the calculator app!
What did/do you study?
Straight out of high school, I studied a Bachelor of Communications at Monash and majored in journalism and international relations. I also did a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. I worked night shift as a media monitor throughout uni, so was basically nocturnal for a few years.
When I was about 25, I had a quarter-life crisis and decided to study interior design, something I had always wanted to do. I graduated when my first son was about six months old, and then joined my husband’s furniture design business.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
I’ve made several leaps. The first was from writing to interior design, and putting all my eggs in one basket by running a business with my husband. And now the most recent leap was the opposite to what most people dream of doing: moving from self-employment back to a ‘day job’ working three days a week at ArtsHub.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
My husband and I were running GRATTON, a furniture and high-end joinery studio in Melbourne. We had worked together for about four years: him doing the building and running the workshop, and me doing the client work, the marketing and the business side of things. We had expanded from him working solo to a much bigger business with a team of staff, a waiting list and new product ranges.
We are both very different personalities, and while that works really well in our relationship, it made for a very challenging workplace! We have renovated four houses together, had two kids and were very involved in each other’s lives, so we imagined that running a business together would be easy-peasy.
Good lord, were we wrong.
Basically, it came to a point where we were becoming more like colleagues than spouses, and we knew that to keep working together would be to sacrifice our relationship. So I got a job! It is honestly one of the best things I could have done, both for our relationship and for my own identity.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
My dad – he has been described as a hurricane, a steamroller and the Big Kahuna. He taught me how to juggle multiple projects: he currently runs a thriving construction company, a property development business, and one of Australia’s most successful sheep genetic breeding facilities. He is super-involved in all of his projects (he has produced films, built apps and was president of the local football club for years) and still manages to leave presents in our letterbox for his grandkids.
My husband, Lee – he is like a soothing balm, the yin to my yang. I have workaholic tendencies (inherited, see above) and struggle to relax, but Lee has taught me the value of chilling the eff out. He sometimes puts me on the ‘Couch of Silence’ where I have to sit on the couch and not think or speak until I am sufficiently calm.
My girl squad – I am surrounded by excellent, feminist, go-getting, creative women who I am so lucky to call friends: artist Sam George, florist Marnie Cunningham, jeweller Liz Ickiewicz, and the indomitable Tess McCabe, plus a whole posse more.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
In many ways my leap was a backwards jump compared to most people, going from self-employment where I had no sick leave or entitlements, no boss, no regular work hours and no regular pay, to a way-less-scary leap of a regular paycheck, set hours and no more hustling to find work.
Most people seek self-employment to find freedom and be their own boss, but I was sick of being my own boss! There is something really freeing about being told what to do every day (creativity thrives with limitations!) and having the safety net of superannuation, sick leave and all that, especially with two young kids.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?
Lee and I had a huge argument about work and money and the business and we had the epiphany that this wasn’t sustainable, for us or for the business. At first we thought that I could try and get more freelance writing work, but frankly I was a bit burnt out with self-employment and at least one of us needed to have a regular income. I was stoked to go back to ‘proper’ work – it meant getting a large chunk of my life back.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
In the circles I move in there are lots of entrepreneurial, self-employed ladies and men. I totally applaud that and am entrepreneurial by nature, but I think this can make people feel like a failure if they get a ‘proper job’. I never really felt like that, as I have been self-employed and it was bloody hard work!
Working for someone else (in the right job!) can be very liberating, as you don’t have to think about where your next dollar is coming from, and there can be a distance between you and your work that can be quite emotionally freeing.
I also think that the reality of running a small business is incredibly difficult: lots of nights spent on the couch on the laptop, working weekends, losing money, hiring staff and doing everything yourself. It can be a huge emotional rollercoaster, especially doing creative work like we were. Lee was regularly working 14 hour days and was so exhausted the rest of the time.
Now, he has more stability as I am bringing in a separate income, and has taken on more responsibility with the kids. By leaving that behind, I have found a lot of space to do the things that I really love. So I am writing a novel, am really getting into my garden and am spending more time with my gorgeous boys.
And I love my job at ArtsHub. I have a lot of freedom and a very understanding boss who is sympathetic to the unique challenges of working mothers.
How did you fund your leap?
Ha, the leap funded ME! It wasn’t really a matter of needing cash to make the leap, but rather that I was leaping into a big pile of cash in the form of a regular salary and all the other benefits that come from working for The Man.
What other leaps have you made?
I think I’m more of a planned and careful leap-taker, so they haven’t felt like big scary jumps, but more like a series of decisions. I tend to go by instinct a lot and trust that things will just work out, so things that might seem risky to other people seem fine to me!
Renovating houses has been a series of leaps. I met Lee when I was 20 and then six months later went backpacking through Africa, Eastern Europe and India. When we came home, we bought a house in Northcote (I was 23) and renovated it, then bought another one in Coburg and had our first son there when I was 25.
We purchased a house in Brunswick about 10 minutes after inspecting it and lived with my parents for a year while we renovated that, then finally purchased our dream house in Warrandyte, a 1960s Robin Boyd home on a bend of the Yarra River. The house purchases all seemed like big scary decisions at the time, but in hindsight, they made financial sense.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
At a risk of sounding like a massive wanker, I think everything has worked out perfectly. Lee’s business is still thriving, we have two beautiful boys and we are healthy and happy and safe.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
Bugs. I think it stems from having terrible eyesight and thinking every speck of fluff was a spider ready to kill me.
Also, dying with unfulfilled dreams. That’s why I am finally tackling my novel. I tend to be quite pragmatic about my fears and emotional issues (my husband would say that I am ‘the bloke’ in our relationship: I have to work hard to listen and be empathetic instead of trying to fix everything immediately) so I like to investigate my fears and try to tackle them.
I have seen a therapist on and off since I was 16 and have been on anti-depressants for over twelve years and will probably be on them forever, so am firmly in the ‘GET HELP!’ camp of self-care.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap? 1 being sad, 10 being rad.
Maybe a 9/10? Some days it’s a ten, other days trying to get my kids and myself out of the door at 7.30am is bloody hard work. But it’s only three days a week. I have a long commute (which I LOVE) so the mornings can be a bit hectic. But then I get on the bus, get out my crochet, pop on a podcast and exhale.
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Having my own life, separate to my husband. When you work, play, sleep and parent together, it can be smothering and claustrophobic. Now we have new things to talk about, I have colleagues who aren’t all tradies, and I can exercise my brain a bit more, doing the thing I love.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
I don’t think there is a downside! My husband probably finds it a bit harder that I’m not in the business, and I see my kids a bit less, but it has been a life-changer for all of us.
What might be your next leap?
God, who knows? I have been permanently clucky since I was about 15 so maybe another baby. But Lee is not 100% on board so I’m slowly convincing him that we need a house full of loud and cheeky kids.
What are your favourite words to live by?
‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ – Maya Angelou
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
I don’t actually know many people who have made the leap I did – most people are trying to do the opposite! The people I admire tend to be trailblazers, people who are tough in the face of adversity. People who are open and honest about the difficulties they have faced and overcome.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Just bloody do it. You might fail, but it’ll be a good story for the grandkids. Life is for doing, not thinking about doing.
Right now I’m:
Hearing: The koalas mating in the big eucalypt outside my bedroom. Not a pretty sound.
Eating: A mandarin.
Drinking: Copious amounts of my favourite tea: Dilmah’s Green Tea with Moroccan Mint.
Reading: So many things! The gut-wrenching poetry of Warsan Shire, Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things and books on writing by Stephen King, Catherine Deveny and Anne Lamott.
Loving: The change in seasons!
Life is for doing! Here’s to doing yours this year and beyond.
P.S. Pick up your copy of The Leap Stories book here, and tap into exclusive leaping content only available in print.