Crafting a career is a creative act. It might involve moving cities, trialling a range of gigs, applying your skills in unforeseen ways, partnering with other pros to start new things, and working both freelance and employment to find a mix just right for you. And this week’s leap taker Lani Pauli has taken her love of communication and community building and explored all those avenues. From working in traditional PR agency land in a new city to local community building for US startup app, to then leaping into her own business with allied professionals, Lani has joined the dots between ideas and opportunities.
You’ll read in her story, that one of her favourite insights is to ‘Keep your eyes on your own yoga mat.’ Even if you don’t do yoga, you’ll want to take heed of her advice when pondering a leap. Because getting caught up in comparison, not-enoughness, what others might think and over investing in trying to please everyone, all lead to leaping paralysis that holds us back from exploring our own unique potential.
Today Lani combines her own freelancing work, with values-aligned agency Deane & Co to service a range PR clients. She’s crafted a working life that also allows her to take care of her health and plunder possibility. But she readily admits that self-employment isn’t for everyone, and I totally agree. But we also agree that taking a leap, even a tiny one that feels a little bit scary, counts.
Creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns or relationships, to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods or interpretations.” We were all born creative. When we were young we all took risks in the face of uncertainty, dared to try new things and got back up when we fell over. These were the essentials to expanding our life when we were kids, and they’re same for us as adults. The smallest of leaps is a creative act that expands what you see for yourself in your life, no matter what season you find yourself in. Because the truth is, we never really stop growing up.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
The earliest thing I can remember wanting to be when I grew up was a forensic scientist. Looking back, that young, I definitely didn’t know what it was. I always want to know the ‘why’ behind everything – why someone does something, why things are the way they are – you get the picture!
As I went through high school this transitioned into wanting to be a journalist. If I could tell myself then what I know about myself now, I’d remind the past me that she doesn’t really have the constitution to be a journalist and she’ll find that out in an interview for a cadetship with a major metropolitan newspaper when they ask if you would be comfortable doing a death knock (essentially advising a family member their loved one, for example, has died and proceeding to ask questions for a story).
What did/do you study?
I studied journalism and public relations.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
Although my barely 21 year old self didn’t think it at the time, moving out of home for the first time, not just to a share house in the next suburb, but from my hometown (about 90 mins from Brisbane) to Sydney was one of the biggest leaps I took. More recently it was jumping into a job with an international app that on paper seemed too good to be true. It was four of the best years of my career and I’m glad I took the leap from the comfort of an office job with an ad agency to see what it would become. It absolutely has led me to where I am today.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
I was the community manager for an app that helps people find the best places to eat, drink and shop. I got to spend my days working with some awesome small businesses and it was their stories that I loved most I think. It was four years where I pushed myself, met amazing people, and learnt a great deal. It was something that took this natural introvert into some pretty extroverted situations!
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
Good question! I would say working in larger agencies in Sydney (and later in Brisbane) helped influence what I do and don’t want in a career and workspace. I’m thankful for people like the person who hired me for my role at Yelp who opened the door to showing me that, for want of a better phrase, you can have your cake and eat it too. And as naff as this may sound podcasts like On Being and a few others that give me food for thought on topics largely unrelated to work that end up influencing your view of the world and as a result how you work.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
I would have preferred to have a lot more in place before I made the leap financially speaking. You know they always say that you should have at least 6-12 months of a salary saved. I didn’t. I did have two clients in place that I knew could be the foundation of my finances after I jumped.
Honestly, it was one of the least planned things I have done in my life. I generally plan and overthink things to the enth degree. And although ‘the leap’ had been playing on my mind for a while, the moment that led to it wasn’t planned. Mind you, I went back to the safety of a contract role in between because I thought it was ‘the right thing to do’ before I committed to where I am now. I don’t regret it for a second and along the way I’ve learnt that you need to trust the net will be there to catch you. That isn’t to say it will be easy. It won’t. But it will be satisfying (for the most part), the (right) people will be willing to help you, and the worst case scenario (going back to full-time work in an office) still isn’t my worst case scenario.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that led you to the leap?
It was during a quarterly conversation with my then manager. Looking back now I’d been trying to keep plugging away for months. I liken it to trying to keep a relationship going when you just know deep down your heart isn’t in it and each person has naturally grown apart. It eats away at you and the more you put the smile on and pretend it’s okay, the less it is so. Lucky for me, my manager at the time was also a friend, so I suspect she knew where my head was at. It was during this call that she tactfully suggested that perhaps I would be happier doing something else. In that moment it was like I gave myself permission to believe the ‘gut feelings’ I’d been pushing away were actually trying to tell me (probably screaming at this point) something. My manager saying those words opened the gates and gave me the strength to say, ‘Actually, yeah, I think I would be.’
That moment led to leaving a role I’d adored for four years but knew wasn’t right for me anymore. I’d done all I could and it was time to finish that chapter. I believe that leaving when I did, I still learnt from the experience and didn’t overstay to a point that I felt bitter about it all. That said, it took time to come to peace with it all, like any good relationship ‘break up’, but it had to be.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
I’m still learning how to harness the fear and choose to, in Elizabeth Gilbert’s words, have an old fashion chit chat with it. In a good week all the routine things like making sure I’m eating well, getting adequate sleep and moving, mean the fear that comes with leaping is kept at bay. Self-care gets a good whip as the buzzword of the moment but it is the act of maintaining a routine, that helps me perform at my best. And I don’t always get it right! Yin Yoga has been the biggest thing to help me continue to overcome those racing and nagging thoughts we all have. I started Yin thinking it would improve my flexibility (and it has) but more than that it gives me space to defrag everything (like you used to do on an old school PC!) and have more clarity when I’m not on the mat.
A support network – it would only be in the past 18 months that I have found a small but mighty group of women who have become good friends and are often going through similar things. Having a safe space to vent, sound an idea out or say what’s causing you the most anxiety (however silly it might seem in your head) has been a wonderful gift.
Redefining my definition of success – the past 12 months have thrown me challenges, good and bad, that have forced me to look inwards and spend time working out what is important to me. The closer I hold my definition of success to my chest the easier it becomes to let go of some of the fear-driven decisions and actions we make. Success doesn’t have to be buckets of cash, fancy cars and a jet-about lifestyle!
How did you fund your leap?
Having two clients already on board made the financial stress of my leap a fraction less. I certainly didn’t have the ‘war chest’ I would have liked to when I took my leap. If this process has taught me anything it’s that even the best plans go astray. I often think that had my hand not been forced, to a degree, I would never had made the jump in the first place. The lack of funding, so to speak, made me work a little harder because I knew I didn’t have the biggest cushion to fall back on.
What other leaps have you made?
Saying yes to partner with two colleagues to work on an education platform for small business owners in Brisbane. We also wanted to create a series of non-networking events where everyone could forge genuine connections through conversation without it being about, ‘How many business cards did you hand out?’, as many networking events we were going to had become and there was a lot of pink washing. Claire and I are both introverts so a small supper club to gather with women from all different stages in business was a natural way for us to operate. The response has been wonderful and I’ve been lucky to meet people like Rachel Service (aka The Happiness Concierge) along the way who teaches me so much each time we catch up!
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
I would say the leap to Sydney. It wasn’t the city for me (although I enjoy visiting it now) to live in and I was too stubborn (and young!) to see that admitting it wasn’t right was a sign of strength not failure. I didn’t have the support, community or sense of self to thrive there and it wasn’t until I moved back to Brisbane in 2008 that I started to find that. That said, I wouldn’t take it back. The lessons I learnt during that time stay with me to this day!
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
Other than clowns? On a daily basis I fear losing my ability to think critically about a problem or a way to strategically approach work. I’ve started working on, as I say, slowing down to do more. This frantic pace we’re all working at, responsive to pings and alerts, emails with perceived urgency – it creates an environment to rush everything and often not think something through as well as it should be. I try, for example, not to answer emails from my phone to ensure I’m really thinking about the response; work on one thing at a time and not be afraid of saying to a client that something isn’t quite right yet and it will be to them in a few hours. Making sure I’m setting boundaries in the way I work help ensures I’m in the best headspace possible to work diligently and effectively for my clients.
In the bigger picture, like most, my personal perception of failure is the fear that hangs heavy over you. It’s crazy that we do it to ourselves and as much as I like to think it keeps me hungry I also try and work on challenging it. If failure means I end up working in a stationery store or a bookshop while I figure out my next step, then it could be worse! I used to see the catastrophic and fishbowl effect of such small situations when I worked in PR agencies and it is a good reminder to always look at the bigger picture.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
It’s always rad. Some days are always better than others but I’ll always come back to being thankful for the opportunities I have right now.
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Having time to work in a way that I am most effective and being able to look after myself more diligently. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in early 2015 and being able to work in a way that feels in alignment with what I need, take due care of myself (mind you even now I still forget to sometimes and feel the consequences as a result) and be mindful, I think, allows me to give more to clients. Similarly, the biggest upside is being able to work with clients in a way where I am truly an extension of their organisation. I’m really proud of some of the goals I’m kicking with clients at the moment.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
The isolation and the ‘Am I doing enough? Am I good enough?’ imposter syndrome. Working in a co-working space twice a week helps with the isolation and also gives space for collaboration and some good-old fashioned brainstorming. I also find practising Yin yoga helps calm my mind and the overwhelm. When I’m in a good rhythm practising one or two times a week I feel far more centred, together and in control. And no surprise – more productive!
What might be your next leap?
I keep coming back to the idea of studying my Graduate Diploma in Psychology. So maybe that when I summon the courage to take the leap!
What are your favourite words to live by?
In the last six months it has become, ‘Keep your eyes on your own yoga mat.’ I’m not sure where I heard it but I’m thankful I did. For many years I realised I was holding myself back by focusing on what everyone else was doing and comparing my actions to that. It’s a devil’s game. So, keeping my eyes on my own yoga mat means I keep my eye on what I’m doing. Of course you still look externally at times for inspiration and such but I try to do it from a better place rather than from a place of thinking whatever they’re doing is better or more valuable than my actions.
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
This will sound naff as it is on the Of Kin blog but, Kylie Lewis. I remember talking with Kylie in one of my previous jobs while she was at kikki.K and being in admiration of what she was doing then. When you took your leap into Of Kin and consulting, the admiration continued and you showed there was a way to create your own path, be true to your beliefs and values and ‘be successful’. I also admire people like the manager who hired me for Yelp, Laura Nestler for always being ready to take a leap. She is strong, supportive and someone I definitely look up to. She’s also a great reminder that the leaps you take don’t have to be ones into running your own business.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Take it. Leaps don’t have to be grand gestures. The smallest leap may have the biggest effect. Take one small leap every day or once a week. It will all add up.
Don’t feel you’re ‘less than’ if you don’t or you choose to do it to your own time. I think there’s a huge fetishism of the freelance/location independent/entrepreneur life right now. It can be easy to feel like if you’re not doing it right, or not leaping at all, or you’re not working poolside from your Balinese retreat, that you’re not achieving goals.
While it has definite perks, a leap into working for yourself isn’t for everyone and that’s okay. I remember reading an article about intrapreneurship and resonating with some of the traits. It is okay if you’re not an entrepreneur. I’d love to see that getting as much spotlight as those who choose to step out and work for themselves. Sometimes a leap isn’t to work for yourself but perhaps finding a company more aligned to your personal values and beliefs. I feel like I’ve been lucky to find a good balance of both working with a handful of my own clients and working with a small group of entrepreneurs and small businesses with Deane & Co that align with my values and beliefs.
Right now I’m:
Hearing: My podcast binge is never ending. I’m that person that starts a sentence with, ‘I was listening to a podcast the other day and…’
Eating: Naked Byron Bay dips. Especially the turmeric and ginger one! They go with everything.
Drinking: New Farm Confectionary Dark Hot Chocolates with almond milk.
Reading: Helen Garner Everywhere I Look and Carolyn Tate’s Conscious Marketing
Loving: Always my dog! A 40-minute walk with him is the ultimate meditation.
Keep your eyes on your yoga mat this week, and keep growing up. You are a work in progress, always.