This week’s leap taker is creative maker, Ellie Beck, perhaps better known by her business name, Petalplum. Six years ago Ellie and her partner Sam took the leap to make a tree change from Brisbane to the hinterlands of Byron Bay. They sold their house, left their jobs and today are both running creative businesses, hand-building their house and raising three children.
Ellie now runs textile workshops for makers, has an online course called The Creative Year, is an Instagram influencer, and blogs regularly on slow living. Sam has his own creative business, making accessories from upcycled skateboard decks. Ellie leads from the heart in everything she does, reminding us to pause, slow down, reflect and notice everyday ordinary joys. But she is not shy of having conversations about the challenges of pursuing a creative life, and her Instagram posts give an honest insight into choosing a life of freedom over financial stability. These are often her most popular posts.
In our interview, Ellie mentioned that ‘acknowledging my fears helps me sit with them.’ It’s true that recognising and labelling our fears helps move beyond them. Neurobiologist Dr Dan Siegel has shown that naming our emotions can diffuse their charge and lessen the burden they create. His practice coined the phrase ‘name it to tame it’, whereby naming the emotions we’re experiencing gets us off autopilot of habitual responses which can lead us to becoming overwhelmed by our emotions, to accepting them, letting them go and transforming them. As he points out, there’s a significant difference between saying ‘I am afraid’ and ‘I feel afraid’ – the first statement is a kind of limited self-definition, the second suggests the ability to recognise and acknowledge a feeling without being consumed, defined or limited by it.
‘Naming it to tame it’ is a tool I use in my consulting practice. It’s helpful in exploring assumptions, fact-checking reality, getting unstuck and staying self-aware. Because it’s only when we can acknowledge the inner working of our own mind can we be empowered to make change.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
An actor, a teacher, a shopkeeper. We used to play schools and shops when we were kids! If I look sideways at my current ‘job descriptions’ then I’m pretty sure I almost fit into those categories. I have an online shop (and market stalls occasionally), I teach workshops, and I present events and have my Petalplum persona.
I’m not sure I ever wanted to be an artist, I grew up in a very creative artistic family. I didn’t see ‘artist’ as a role I would become, perhaps because it was so innate in my lifestyle, I didn’t separate it, it just was what we were or perhaps because there never seemed to be a lot of money in it, I wasn’t sure it was a ‘real’ job. I’m not sure.
What did/do you study?
After school, I studied a graphic design course, but it was so long ago that it was old school style. Mostly, since then it’s been a whole lot of self-training (with some online courses, often in small business and such). But, you know, there’s that school of life sort of thing.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
I didn’t actually ever think much about how I leap, until someone mentioned to me once that I make big decisions, and take big leaps. And then I started thinking about the leaps I’ve jumped feet first into throughout my life. It must just be me. When I met my now husband, I was barely 20. I quit college and followed him halfway up the countryside (from Brisbane to Cairns) away from my family and any friends. I barely knew him at all. 18 years later we’re still together.
Almost six years ago we made the massive decision, in a very light and ‘let’s just do it’ manner, to leave the city (Brisbane) and move back to the countryside. We now live on my family land, slightly inland from Byron Bay. We’re still building our own home and our business.
Leaving the city meant leaving Sam’s full-time job. It meant moving down to no ‘set’ jobs and having to make our business work (and rely on our savings to get us through). Perhaps we should have planned it a bit better, but then we probably wouldn’t have done it. I feel like I’m always leaping from idea to idea, business to business, moment to moment. Sometimes that’s good – sometimes I need my husband to reign me in!
What were you doing before you made your leap?
Living in the city working on making projects and businesses happen, and mothering full-time. I was trying to open a creative workshop space, which fell through and I was teaching workshops out of a little studio space.
I was heavily involved in the local Brisbane crafting scene, a part of markets and events and things. I miss a lot of that now, but I have a new community down in this creative region I live in. Murwillumbah (northern NSW) is one of the most creatively diverse regions in the whole of Australia.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
My mother, Michele – she taught me that I really can do anything, be anything, that I want to. Her own sense of self (my perception of it) has allowed me to move through a lot of self-doubts and realise that someone else’s version of success or happiness doesn’t matter, that it’s just what I want/need that matters. In terms of creativity – a lot of who I am came from her, and her working hard in her life for us to live a full creative upbringing.
My dad, Eric – in a totally different way to my mum, my dad continues to make me see how just being who I am is the best way. How to slow and breathe, how to go about life in a quiet humble way. I know that I’m always trying to impress him and make him proud of me, and while he doesn’t outwardly declare it from the hilltops, I’m pretty sure he’s proud of me.
Sam, my husband – I’ve known Sam since I was young (just barely 20), so we’ve creatively grown together over the years and shared our ideals and wishes, as well as our artistic frustrations. He pushes and guides me, offering insights and assistance. His own work and dedication constantly inspires.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
Before we moved away from the city to live our ‘slow simple living’ we barely had anything in place. We moved to a leaky shack, with no electricity or proper internet. To make our artistic businesses worked required a lot of resistance, physical hard work and dedication, as well as sheer willpower to keep on going! I’m pretty sure if we’d thought about leaving a regular full-time job and income to be full-time self-employed creatives, we may not have made the leap. But then we’d still be living in a rental house in Brisbane.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that led you to the leap?
We really wanted our kids – at that stage, Ari was 6, Mishi 3 – to grow up in the forest/country the way we both had. That was more important to us than a job or a house or anything else. We were living in a horrible rental place (after having sold our house and waiting to buy something new). Sam was working in a job he loved, but it meant he wasn’t doing the creative making that he also loved. We knew in order to make the change and become full-time artists, Sam needed to give up his full-time job to truly invest himself into his making practice.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
Oh – perhaps one way of overcoming the fear is not overthinking it. I’m pretty good at seeing the things I want and just jumping for them. Once I’ve jumped, that’s when I learn to fly and sometimes I have to make my own wings on the way down before we crash. It’s all a learning curve really and I’m eager for the adventure. I always think, what’s the worst that could happen? Generally, the worst is we have no money. We’re pretty good at living frugally and we know that our family will always help us out if it gets to a really dire situation financially. So, with that in mind, we just leap. Well, often I leap (throwing myself in the new project/idea/wish) and Sam has to come along with me.
The other possible fear is the fear of failure. I’ve been through this and spent anxious moments not wanting to fail. But I talk myself around to the reality that failure is just another lesson. If one project doesn’t work, then I have to decide if I really really want to keep going, if I love it that much, or if I’m happy to let it go and realise that some leaps crash land. And a crash landing isn’t necessarily a bad thing – you just have to get up and keep trying new things.
How do I choose courage? Hmm – I’m so curious about the journey, the process, the doing rather than the outcome needing to be the final destination. If I listen to myself, my own heart helps me be courageous. I think it’s when we stop listening to our soul and heart that we get too swayed by external forces and that’s when the fear seeps in. In those times I step back from it all, settle into my mind, busy my hands with my making, get down and play deeply with my children, go for walks/meanders/foraging journeys into the forest – ignore the taunts and the calls and the perceived perfectionism of the outside world – I’m never going to be that, why do I keep trying to please other people?!
Acknowledging my fears helps me sit with them, quiets them in my brain. I don’t let them overtake me. Talking to myself rationally about any fear does really work. Writing it down, putting it out there in the world – sometimes when I talk about certain fears (particularly on my Instagram account) I get such wonderful feedback and conversations, and I’m reminded that we all have the same fears, and also that we’re all in this together – that I have people cheering me on, and not laughing at me if I fall flat on my face.
How did you fund your leap?
Mostly by being very frugal with our spending, and also from the sale of our house in Brisbane seven years ago. Everything we earn goes back into a new venture.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
Hmmm… I can’t remember. I think if leaps don’t work out then I reassess it – why didn’t it work? Was it me, did I not try hard enough/want it enough/put enough work in, or was it the wrong leap? Some leaps are the wrong leaps. That’s ok too – those are lesson leaps. As I get older, I’m better at learning what those leaps have to teach me; about myself, my audience/community/customers, society, how I fit into it or not.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
I’m most fearful of not reaching my own potential, not having the time/space/finances/motivation to be what is my whole full self. I’m not yet sure how I deal with it, keep writing lists and dreaming, keep working slowly in becoming the real whole me – listening to my own heartbeat and not the thrum and thud of society. Also realising that things happen in their own time, pushing something isn’t always the right thing. Flowing and allowing brings me further away from fear and closer to truth.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
A bit fat 10! I am so content and simply happy living the life we live. Sure there’s a lot of hardness and big work to do, but I couldn’t be on this journey (and I’m pretty sure Sam couldn’t either) without us having left the city and jumped feet first into hand-building our house. We’ve built it from digging the holes in the ground up. It’s taught us persistence, respect and a lot more – and also reminds me good things do come, but you have to wait for them, slowly, slowly.
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Living the life that is truly me. Knowing that now each day is a journey towards being the creative artist, the quiet achiever, the mother, the person who I’m meant to be. It’s brought me back to so much of what I was. Realising that we don’t need much to be happy and content, that simple living is the truth we need.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
Probably finances – not having a ‘proper full-time job’ can be hard. Occasionally I ponder if I should go and find work, but the truth is I know we don’t need to. What do we do? We tighten our purse strings a little more, we get back to our making and creating, we keep on going and doing what we love, and hoping people will keep on loving what we do.
Having both of us self-employed and also hand building our home has been long slow work. It’s been hard – it’s taken way longer than we thought it would. We get through it by being grateful for what we do have, while dreaming of the next phase, and mixing dreams with reality to live our days.
What might be your next leap?
I’m dreaming of creative retreats on our land. This means we’ll need to find some funds to help build a studio space. But I know it’ll happen and soon we’ll be sharing our piece of magical forest with other creatives.
What are your favourite words to live by?
I seek contentment in the daily mundane moments. I don’t have particular words I live by, more a feeling, to be grateful, to seek/see/notice or create beauty in little everyday moments.
I also tell my kids regularly that life isn’t fair – that we’re not entitled to everything just because we want it, or think we deserve it. Sometimes we don’t get what we might deserve. It reminds me to be grateful, to just be happy with what we do get.
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
I admire my friends Jo and Andy Olive, from Olive and the Volcano Letterpress. They live in our town (on the other side of the dormant volcano mountain) and have a beautiful at-home creative studio.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
What’s the worst that could happen if you make the leap? What’s the worst if you don’t? If your heart tells you that it’s right, then go for it – and be prepared for a beautiful journey along the way.
Right now I’m:
Hearing: The birds calling in our forest home.
Eating: Leftover cake from birthday gatherings (both my sons share the same birthday, 10 years apart. So there’s always lots of cake!)
Drinking: Coffee, green tea, beautiful fresh rain water.
Reading: Old crafting books, my kids’ homework… Listening to talking books on BorrowBow – loving The Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman about NZ aviator Jean Batten – wondering if she’s a long-lost relative and being crazily inspired by the leaps she made in her life. She was a woman who went after what she wanted – breaking flying records and paving the way for women in the world.
Loving: Spending time with my basket weaving, the new courtyard we’re slowly bringing to life, the amazingly beautiful bracelets Sam has been making in his studio, the potential of all the things in my life at the moment.
A question to ponder this week: Where in your life might you have a self-limited definition of who you are, because a negative emotion came to town and set up camp in your front yard? Might it be time for an eviction?
P.S. Grab your copy of The Leap Stories book here, and tap into exclusive leaping content only available in print.