The Leap Stories #9: Margaret Kelly

Today she is an artist and a doctoral student in gender studies, but when I met Margaret Kelly over ten years ago, she was the founder of a highly successful corporate relocations business that she had just sold to the ASX100 company I was working for.

She was quite unlike anyone I’d known – she was the first person in business I had heard talk about being ‘values’ led and ACTUALLY living it. All her staff operated from an understanding that they were there to serve and care for fellow human beings. Having herself experienced a stressful and ultimately unsuccessful job transfer from Sydney to Johannesburg for the advertising agency she was working for, she eventually returned and pioneered the corporate relocations industry in Australia (not before running away with a photographer to trek through Botswana for a year!).

In her business, Margaret employed experienced, senior women who sought flexible work practices based on trust, and who understood the complexity of family life. Her staff were responsible for relocating C-suite executives (and their families) of global companies who had much invested in a successful, quick transition to a new life in Australia.

Margaret and I worked on change management programs together, and when I travelled to Sydney for work she would always offer for me to stay with her. We became great mates, each sharing what we knew about the world and holding space to listen and learn from our experiences. I have seen Margaret leap from corporate life, to student life, to full time artist (she’s had many art residencies in Italy), to gypsy (a few years back she sold her property and gave away all her possessions to travel, explore and heal) to asylum seeker mentor and gender equality activist.

Margaret is an important part of my wise council (do you have one of those?). She is unconventional, deeply curious and mightily courageous. I seek her advice on important decisions and she makes time to help me sort myself out. I feel truly blessed to know her and call her my mentor and my friend. Enjoy. x

Margaret Kelly The Leap Stories

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

I considered being a teacher of History, English Literature and Art however my history teacher, Miss Lemmon, advised me that the bureaucracy would drive me crazy. Apart from this, I did not have one defined career I wanted to follow. I knew I wanted to travel, enjoy a life of freedom, and not follow a conventional life.

What did you study?

I studied English literature, psychology, art history and the practice of art. I am now studying sociology, philosophy and gender studies.

What were you doing before you made your leap?

I created and operated a relocation company, in Sydney, for twenty years. International Corporate Relocations had fifteen full and part-time employees, and our clients included many companies in the top 100 ASX.

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

My history teacher Miss Lemmon; she identified that I am a creative innovator and require freedom to learn, to change and to express myself.

Women who lead unconventional lives, like Anais Nin, who said, “Had I not created my whole world, I would certainly have died in other people’s”.

Germaine Greer and Anne Summers. In the 70s, they were role models for women who wanted to live their lives on their own terms, rather than bowing to the rules of convention and taking only those scraps that tradition allowed them.

What did you have in place before you made the leap to become an artist?

Ten years of art lessons, two years part-time study at University resulting in a Master of Art.

A number of group exhibitions.

Financial support via proceeds of the sale of my business.

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

It was a gradual realisation that the business world had changed; it was harsher, driven by low cost rather than quality. I no longer fitted.

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How did you decide to choose courage?

Circumstances pointed the way. I had to follow them and my intuition. The thought of remaining became more unbearable than the fear of the leap.

As Anais Nin explains it, “Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind a death”.

My decision to start my company was not so much a matter of courage, but rather a sense that I had to go out on my own. My, at times, life-threatening experiences in Botswana had imbued me with a new perspective on life. It was pointless sitting on the side lines, taking orders from someone else, I had to be in charge of my destiny and that meant that I had to be in charge of my work.

What other leaps have you made in the past?

At 21 I left Australia for Europe with no accommodation or job pre-arranged.

In London I left from a career in optics to advertising. I had wanted to enroll in a Bachelor of Arts when I left school but was convinced by my parents to do something more practical, Science – Optometry. I hated every second, and left after one year to enroll in a Diploma of Optical Dispending at Technical Collage. I worked for OPSM in Sydney and after one year, left for London. Mutual friends worked in advertising and introduced me to this exciting world. After only a few months, I gained a job as an Assistant Account Executive, at Foote Cone & Belding, on the British Airways Account. I was in love with this wild unconventional world, up until then, I had only imagined.

I returned to Sydney, and after a number of tries, got a job as an Account Executive with George Pattersons Advertising. Keen to combine my love of travel, my restlessness to keep moving and experiencing life, in 1981, I relocated to the sister company in Johannesburg.

I leapt from that career to join a wild life photographer on a 12-month trek into Botswana.

On my return to Sydney, I started my own relocation business.

When I sold my business, I went to University to do a Master of Art Post Graduate Degree.

Last year, I returned to University and am now enrolled in a Master Research PhD on gender studies.

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

Definitely a 10.

What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?

The biggest upside is a sense of self fulfillment; a sense of purpose in one’s life.

What’s the biggest downside to making the leap?

The hardest thing is managing the fear.

I think that as you do more leaping, you realise that the world will not collapse if you follow your dreams. Quite the opposite could happen. The first leap is the hardest.

I started to meditate to help manage the fear. I had a guided meditation on a Walkman, then an iPod, at the ready, on my bedside table. I listened to it each night before going to sleep and when I woke, in the middle of the night, in a panic, I would play it and re-play it until I calmed myself enough to go back to sleep. On some particularly stressful nights this would happen up to six times. Meditation is a gift, another upside from taking the leap.

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What might be your next leap?

Last year, I returned to University and am now enrolled in a Master Research PhD, with a view to start a new career as an executive with UN Women, when I complete my studies.

What are your favourite words to live by?

Trust your inner voice.

Who do you admire that also made the leap?

Kylie Lewis

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

Do your homework. Work out the logistics. Then close your eyes and jump.

Again, to quote Anais Nin, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight as a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”.

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A lifetime is a series of leaps, big and small, forward and sideways all strung together in gloriously unpredictable ways. Knowing stories like Margaret’s helps me not get too caught up in the small stuff, that change is essential, that fear can be overcome. and that human relationships are all that matters.

I’m curious, do you have a wise council? Who is in yours?

Kylie x


 

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  1. Kylie – Such a moving and very special Leap Stories. I have loved them all so much. Margaret Kelly – WOW! How much you have achieved, believed, accomplished and continue to grow with your studies and general zest and passion for life as well as helping others. It is no wonder such a beautiful soul in Kylie has you in her circles and particularly her ‘wise council’. Here’s cheers to you both. Nellie x

    Reply

  2. Thanks for your gorgeous comment Nellie. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the Leap Stories! When I see what amazing leaps Margaret has made in her life, I get a sense that anything is possible. I feel very blessed to have her in my life, encouraging me along my path. Much love to you, xx

    Reply

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