At 23 Samantha Dunne walked away from a career as an exercise physiologist to become a full time mum, believing that the only way to become the best mother she could be was to throw herself 100% into it. Twelve months later, her identity was lost in a fog.
What Sam discovered in that fog, was a creative woman that her scientific academic self had overshadowed. She launched an online store, started a blog, created the Creative Exchange, and opened herself up to creative adventures and collaborations.
The haze of new parenthood affords us time to confront who we are in ways we’re unlikely to have experienced before, especially if you’re the primary caregiver. The mix of sleep deprivation, relentless reoccurring demands, tonnes of sacrifice and social isolation all contribute to a shift in our perception of who we are, want we desire (mostly sleep!), what we value (again, sleep!) and how we see ourselves.
Sam completed her science degree with an honours year, studying the effects of exercise on brain function. In these last 12 months as a freelance creative, she’s been on a self-study quest to understand the mental side of small business. Sam’s leaps seem to be joining the dots in areas of her curiosity, and I have a feeling that she might be on verge of another leap soon. Stay tuned. x
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I never knew. I wasn’t the type of kid who had a defined answer. At school I wanted to study Sports Science as I was intrigued with how the body worked, but I still didn’t see a defined career path. Exercise physiology was such a new field, it still is. Everyone encouraged me to put in a range of course preferences, to have a back up plan that was more ‘traditional’ or defined. I’m not good at back up plans though, to me a back up plan is akin to admitting that you might not be capable of reaching your goals. I only put in one preference and said if I didn’t get into the course I wanted I’d deal with that later. My plan worked and I got into the course. You have to back yourself.
What did/do you study?
I studied a Bachelor of Applied Science in Exercise and Sports Science and then did an Honours year looking at the effects of exercise on brain function. I went on to work as an accredited exercise physiologist and began teaching at Deakin University and later lecturing at Deakin College.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
Deciding to leave my job after having my first baby. Deciding to take my ‘hobby blog’ seriously and turn it into a business.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
I was working as an exercise physiologist at The Sports Injury Clinic, I began working there when I was 18 as a receptionist, I’d just started my degree and I knew that if I got a job there doing anything I could, that in a few years when I was qualified I’d have a better chance of getting a job there in the exercise physiology department. And that’s what happened. I worked as an exercise physiologist (whilst also teaching part time at Deakin University and Deakin College) until I had my first baby two years later when I was 23. My husband and I had always planned on having our kids young and that I would stay at home whilst they were young, but I had never really thought through what that meant for me in terms of my own path and my career. At 23 I’d dedicated everything to getting qualified and building a career, and then I walked away, what did that mean for the rest of my life? After 12 months of only being a mum, I felt lost. I felt like I had lost my identity and when people asked ‘What do you do?’ I felt I didn’t have a worthy answer. For the first time in my life I wasn’t working towards anything and I felt like I was just floating in a fog.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
My parents. I’ve never met two people with more of a work ethic and a commitment to each other to make the best life possible for their family. I’ve learnt everything I know from them. When I was 14 and got my first job I went and put a pair of shoes on layby as a reward. When I got home, my dad asked me why I had done that and I said I was going to pay them off over the next month while I was working. He told me that it was a ridiculous plan and that if you can’t afford it today, you shouldn’t have it. It stuck with me and is a mentality I’ve adopted through our whole lives.
My mum was a stay-at-home mum who always had a side project and business of some sort to contribute to the family. She would have sacrificed anything so that she could stay at home and raise us and she committed her life to make sure that none of her three children ever came home from school to an empty house as she had every day as a child. I’ve learnt all I know about the juggle from mum and she reminds me, on an almost weekly basis, when I’m struggling with something ‘that this too shall pass’ and she’s always right.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
At the time I never really saw any of my leaps as leaps. When I quit my job I wasn’t leaping towards anything except being a mum. Then when I started Dunne with Style it was such a progressive project that the leap was more of a mental shift of owning my worth and turning it into a business.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?
My leap to starting my own business was defined by the lack of identity and worth I felt as a mum. I had given my entire self, my time, my career, I’d given everything up, to focus on being a mum because I thought that would make me the best mum I could be. But I felt completely stripped of my identity and my purpose within the community and world. I hated the term stay-at-home mum and I’ve still never written it down on a form when they ask for your job and very rarely used it to define myself. I knew that I needed to have something that I was in control of and that would give me a sense of achievement again, but I had no idea what.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
When I first began Dunne with Style there wasn’t a whole lot of fear because I really didn’t have any expectations for it. The fear began about 18 months ago when I decided to take myself seriously and treat it seriously and turn it into a business. I’ve spent every day since learning about the balance between fear and courage. When you are the face and voice of your brand there is a tidal wave of insecurities that come with that. You can’t package up the expectations, successes, failures and criticism and place it upon a product. The product is you, so the criticism is so personal.
When I started Dunne with Style I tried as hard as I could not to have to be the face and voice of it. I wanted to hide behind it because I didn’t have the confidence to say ‘hey this is who I am and this is what I do’. The list of ‘what ifs’ was too long for me to even comprehend. I’d come from a science background, where everything you do has to be validated by research and letters after your name. Now here I was standing up and saying hey, here I am, I’m a writer and creative freelancer, buy my products, hire me to design a DIY project with your product, let me help you with your social media – what gave me the right or the worth to stand up and say that?
I became so interested in the mental side of business that I spent the past 12 months reading every book and listening to every possible podcast on fear and success. The most powerful lesson was from Liz Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love and now Big Magic) who said in a podcast interview that ‘creativity and fear are like conjoined twins’ – that the absence of fear shouldn’t be the goal, because the absence of fear results in recklessness. She says you just have to learn to look at fear and say, ok fear I know you’re there but here’s where I’m going, so sit down so I can strap you in and take you for the ride. It resonated so strongly with me because we seem to spend so much time talking about eliminating fear, the idea that when we feel the fear we’re making ourselves feel even more incompetent. I like to know what the fear feels like, acknowledge it and keep moving forward.
How did you fund your leap?
My leap never involved huge financial investments. It began as a hobby when only one of us was working so we really didn’t have any spare money to spend on a hobby. When I first set up my Etsy store selling handmade party décor items, I would make a sale and then immediately spend that money making something new, it was all self-funded.
I’m very cautious about taking financial risks. I’m all for it if there’s a vision and a plan, but I will look at every avenue possible to see if I can do something without a financial risk. I am a huge advocate for collaboration and a barter society. I think the success of small micro businesses could be increased tenfold if we looked to what product/skills/services we have and how we can use them to trade for what we need.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
I’ve made lots of side steps with Dunne with Style. I started out with a little Etsy store selling handmade party décor and that led to styling parties and events. I then started blogging to share some of the behind-the-scenes of what I was making and this lead to a stream of DIY projects. In 2014 I started to collaborate with other creatives and artists to put together creative kits. I’ve learnt (particularly in the creative world) that you have to be prepared to keep moving and side stepping and that letting things go isn’t necessarily them not working out or failing, it’s just acknowledging that they had a lifespan and that by closing one door it allows you the time and space to open another.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
Failure. I have such high expectations of myself and anything that I dive into. I’m a complete all or nothing person, so if I get involved in something I will do whatever it takes to make it work, which means the expectations I have for projects are so high. My daily mantra is ‘what is the worst possible outcome?’ and by packaging it up and realising most of the time the worst possible outcome is someone saying no, that it’s worth the risk.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
8 – I don’t ever want to be a 10, because once you’re a ten you lose the drive to keep getting better and better.
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
The sense of achievement, and not missing a minute of my kids growing up.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
The juggle. I love that I get to be home with my kids every day, but that often means that at 7pm when I get them in bed my work day has just begun and often doesn’t finish until the early hours of the morning. I think every choice we make about working and having children involves a sacrifice, whether you work from home or not. It’s a give and take battle and there’s no such thing as balance. It’s about being a good juggler, allowing the rhythm to change and knowing that on some days you’ll drop the ball.
What might be your next leap?
It might just be in the works as I write!! I’ve been on an enormous growth journey this year and the time is right for change. I’ve loved what I’ve done up until now, but I have a drive to be able to serve my community with so much more. I’ve learnt so much about small business through my mistakes and now I want to be able to share that knowledge with other small business owners so that they can get to the success bit without all of the mistakes.
We are in a time of so much potential. You can start a website, a blog, a business today from your couch with minimal investment, the power of social media to create communities, packaged up in our back pocket and we carry it around with us. We need to be using that to our best advantage. I’m passionate about small businesses succeeding because small business matters. Small business allows creatives to make profits from their passions and not have to work a 9-5 that they hate just to fund their hobby. Small business allows mums to stay at home and look after their kids whilst maintaining an identity and sense of worth and purpose. I don’t think anyone can deny that those things matter.
What are your favourite words to live by?
Get out of your own way. So often we are the only thing holding ourselves back, our own insecurities, our own self doubt. If we can get out of our own way the world better watch out!
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
There are so many amazing woman who are leaping all around the place, a few that 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 Melbourne.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
There is no such thing as the right time, but there is now.
Right now I’m:
The paradox of life is that it’s both long and short. It’s too short to sit on the sidelines wondering ‘what if?’ and letting fear take the driver’s seat. But it’s long enough to realise that leaps have a, and our job is to keep making them, over and over. Onward.
Love Kylie x
The Time Workshop
Melbourne, 29 February 2016
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.