The Leap Stories #15: Catherine Wilson

I’m not sure exactly how I tripped over Catherine Wilson in the digital wonderland that is Instagram, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with her brilliant #createorcredit initiative, which I wholeheartedly support.

Catherine is (was!) an IP lawyer by trade, who then decided to become an lifestyle blogger, photographer and product stylist for small businesses at catherinegrace.com.au. You’ll read in Catherine’s story that she’s very upfront about being risk adverse and having the strong financial support of her husband in order for her to make the leap.  Over the last few weeks we’ve read from quite a few leapers about the importance of having someone in your corner to make their leaps possible. And while there’s no doubt that minimising risks can help make decisions easier, it still takes courage.

It still takes a large degree of introspection, personal growth and emotional insight to acknowledge that you want to change, and to actually do it. Catherine walked away from her own well paid legal career that she’d worked hard to achieve and earn her place in over many years. Redefining that ‘I’m a lawyer’ identity to throw yourself into a creative field, and put new skills and talents out into the world takes guts.

One of upsides to moving industries is taking all that knowledge you’ve gain in one field and applying to it another. When Catherine started using social media to promote her business, she noticed other people using her images without crediting her as the creator of the original image. That’s when she started the #creditorcredit hashtag on Instagram – to raise awareness that that kind of reposting behaviour is not only bad digital citizenshipery (I made a word!), but that by doing so you’re actually breeching copyright law.  Catherine has written two blog posts about copyright laws and misleading and disceptive conduct on social media here.

Catherine’s leap has opened doors for her perhaps in ways she didn’t expect, and in doing so she’s started a movement so desperately needed to protect the work of makers. In many ways her leap has served not only the lifestyle change she craved, but the intellectual property of a creative community. That’s a win.

 

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The gorgeous Catherine Wilson of CATHERINEGRACE.

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

A Olympic gymnast – it’s all I ever wanted to do from the age of 4 when I started, until I was 16 when I injured myself and was forced out of the sport. My grandfather was an Olympic rower (Rome 1960, Double Sculls) so I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

What did/do you study?

Bachelor of Laws / Bachelor of Science at The University of Sydney.

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

Resigning from my very well paid in-house legal role at one of Australia’s big corporates knowing I probably would not step back into the role of a lawyer again.

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What were you doing before you made your leap?

I worked at the leading specialist wealth management company in Australia and New Zealand, as an in-house lawyer, advising the procurement team, and working to implement new software and IT systems across the company.

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

My husband – not only has he been incredibly supportive, his choice of, and passion for, his career helped make the decision to move on from my corporate life so we could retain some sense of work/life balance between the two of us, and subsequently with our little one.

The mentors and anti-mentors (as Kirstie Clements calls them, see her new book, Impressive) I worked with, and for, during my legal career. These people, specifically the women, showed me what I wanted and, perhaps more importantly, what I didn’t want, out of my career.

My family and my husband’s family. My immediate and extended family, and my husband’s family are all very hardworking – whether in a corporate career, creative pursuit or in the home. I was taught to have a good work ethic at a young age.

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

I have to be honest here and let your readers know that I did have the support of my husband, and his well paid job, in place. There are many others who have made much more courageous leaps than me!

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

I didn’t really have a ‘can’t do it’ moment. It was probably over a 12 month period that I realised that the corporate environment was possibly not the place for me to thrive. It coincided with my marriage to my husband and a move to Newcastle where he was working at John Hunter Hospital. After spending our engagement both working full time in different cities, we decided to start our married life in the same city. I resigned (as I worked in a small group and did not feel it fair to take unpaid leave in case I decided not to return). By the time we returned to Sydney I was pregnant with Isabella and when she was around 12 months old I started playing around with creative ideas. What is now CATHERINEGRACE come into existence a little over 12 months ago.

How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?

It may not be want people want to hear, however, I don’t subscribe to the ‘just do it’ philosophy. I love when I hear people say that, and sometimes I wish I had that type of courage, however, for me, I needed to have a safety net in place. I was fortunate to have my husband’s support. I had also left my in-house role in such a way that I maintained very good relationships with both my then-boss, the rest of the team, as well as the larger business team I predominately worked for. If CATHERINEGRACE did not work out as I had hoped, or I was not enjoying it, I was confident I could at least make contact with my old employer to open a discussion about working for the company again in some form or another. It may not have been in the same role, or at the same level of remuneration, however having retained good relationships with my past employer I felt more comfortable making the leap to a creative field.

For me, the courage came with putting my new ideas and work out there. I have no training in any creative area and all my friends and family knew me only as a Type-A corporate lawyer. Just starting my Instagram page and effectively saying “come and follow me, I have something valuable to share” was completely overwhelming. I remember thinking how strange, and rewarding, it was when the first person {I didn’t already know} started following me. I still think many of my family and friends don’t realise I actually make money from what I do, and my dad asked me recently if it was ok if he shared my website with someone {he thought it was a private page and had no idea that the more people who saw it the better}!

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What other leaps have you made in the past? What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?

Following the global financial crisis the firm I worked at, like many others, froze salaries. I found this very difficult given the work I had achieved that year and how well our particular group was going, despite an overall difficult time for the firm. I took it personally and jumped to another firm, swayed by a sign-on bonus and higher salary.

It was a terrible, shortsighted decision and I was not happy at the new firm at all. I was young and too proud to admit I made a mistake and ask for my old job back {which may or may not have happened, but I should of at least asked}. To begin with I was too stubborn to do anything about it! After a few months my old boss called to say an in-house role at one of our old clients was available and that I should apply. I did and I really enjoyed the in-house position. I was very lucky to have people looking out for me at the time.

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

8

What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?

Being my own boss.

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

Not having the everyday interaction with colleagues. I do miss bouncing ideas off each other and working with different people everyday.

I get through it by collaborating as much as possible – I love working with other people, coming up with ideas together and solving problems as a team.

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What might be your next leap?

I think I’ll be jumping into a bit of a home reno. We have recently sold our house and we are currently looking for a project.

What are your favourite words to live by?

And this too, shall pass.

Who do you admire who also made the leap?

Megan Morton – I just love what she has done with The School. Not only leaping; giving so much back to the creative world.

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

Happiness cannot be measured in dollars.

Right now I’m:

Hearing: “Mummy, mummy, mummy” from my gorgeous toddler
Eating: Too many sweets
Drinking: Flat whites, multiple times a day
Reading: Every interiors magazine available
Loving: Sleeping in linen

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Thanks Catherine for your words and honesty. We look forward to following your home renovation and seeing what beauty you make. In the meantime I hope the #createorcredit initiative grows and becomes a global call for ethical and gracious behaviour online.

Kylie x

  1. Thank you so much Kylie for a great interview and your kind and supportive comments. As a update for your readers… we have now purchased our new place and the renovations are about to begin with the wonderful cm studio leading the team. Lookout of updates on Instagram (@catherinegrace_ _). xxC

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