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The Balancing Act- Sacrificing your everyday ‘NORM’ for a different life.

I constantly am asked ‘How do you do it all?’. It is the most annoying and frustrating question anyone can ask me, because I don’t know how to answer this. But what I can say is I learn how to prioritise, delegate and sacrifice. I don’t have a magic power or solution, but I am well trained in my own abilities and have set tools I use each day, to focus and apply consistent routine behaviour to my somewhat nomadic and hectic lifestyle.

Everyday I wake up and have to prioritise my work load, my time and what I believe is important to me. Running a travel agency online is tiring but rewarding. Most people think I sit behind a desk 24hrs a day and demand information, as they don’t understand where I work and some of the challenges I have to solve. For example power cuts without warning, which may last eight hours.

Being that strong leader to multiple all male conservation teams in North Sumatra Indonesia, usually takes the toll on my patience and after 1 week I need to retreat back to Medan (where I live) for MY TIME OUT. Everything I do has emotional weight and my past baggage (which my self conscious has to deal with as well), is constantly balanced every morning I wake up. It became critical for me to learn how to delegate and trust my team members, otherwise I would have already fallen into a heap. At times that also happens!

When I have so much piled on my shoulders to get through and I don’t even know where to start, I somehow find my rhythm and work very differently to most ‘normal’ people would in their careers.

The tools I have developed are somewhat unique and have helped me to get really clear on my time management and work through balancing personal and professional lifestyles. If you are like me, working 9-12 hours per day is common, so finding the right management tools and routine, is critical to survival!

For as long as I can remember, I have been determined to reach my career goals and that often means sacrificing what others would call the ‘norm’. My teenage years started when I had my job at a private Australian wildlife park, starting at the age of 12 years old. While most kids were out enjoying themselves, forming friendships and young female teenagers were dealing with body changes and having their first menstruation, I was working on the weekends. I always felt older than my age (perhaps as my parents divorced I grew up fast and had to learn to be independent) so when my friendships were sacrificed for career dreams, I believe this is where it all started.

I learnt very quickly to focus and I loved the work handed to me. I always had a strong work ethic and strived for perfection, but I also loved the responsibility I was trusted to work with. The friends I had were always older, which I looked up too and respected, adopting me as one of their protégés; hence perfection was a bad habit, as I never liked to disappoint them. Never did I get involved with small talk about school hassles or becoming a young woman. These topics were not a priority in my life, as my career dream was always number one.

I went to Loreto College private all girls’ school, and I now see this as an enormous privilege, but at the time I hated the school. I wanted to be outdoors and the school did not offer subjects I wanted to learn. My friends were always the ones who were ‘bullied’ or ‘picked on’, because I hated the female bitchiness that went with the school. The elite, pretty and skinny girls would all ban together and here I was just being a bit of a tom boy, going through my own personal issues by myself.

My parent’s divorce impacted me more than I sometimes like to admit. I lived with my father, who was rarely at home and would leave money on the table for me to shop and find my own way to school. This began my journey to independence and I learned how to grow up very quickly.

I now understand that when I was working each weekend at the wildlife park , it was my natural way of healing and focusing on my future, whilst knowing I never wanted to be in a situation relying on someone else. People will often disappoint, like my father constantly did throughout my teenage years….

Some people will often start work around the age of 15, or believe this is the age you should start to discover what work is all about. I think this is complete bullshit, as it depends on your attitude and how bad you want something. Only YOU know when you are ready. I hate it when age is referred to, when determining if you have the ability to do something successfully, or if you are mature enough to do so.

During my teenage years I was shocking at school, distracted and felt my time learning textbook studies was a complete waste of my life. I learnt more each weekend working with animals and surviving every day by myself at home! Therefore, my self-development plan at this stage of my teenage years, kicked into action and it was here I started to teach myself self-discipline tools, which I still use today!

No one knew I spent most of my time living by myself, isolated and often bored and lonely. I became so adapted to my time and used my loneliness towards a larger focus on getting into the work force. At the age of 14, I decided to move in with one of my best friends house and board from her mum. It was the most important part of my life, where I had no one I could depend on except myself. I matured fast, learnt how to be a young adult and also got myself into so much trouble with boys, alcohol and drugs! If I think back now, its hard to imagine….

I was seeking attention, something I never received in such a long time (perhaps as it was missing in my key developmental stages as a young female from my closest family members), and I wanted to be recognized because my self esteem issues were also peaking at this point. I never classed myself as attractive, so having any form of attention was pretty special, but that’s another blog to write about! One thing I never gave up was my time working with wildlife. When it came to a time to earn a salary to pay board and living costs, I moved into my own rental at 18 years old. I was working at a fish and chip shop and also studying. I was fed up with my life, but I also loved the growth and how I could control how I would live it. I had to prioritise my goals and make some strong decisions during this period if I wanted to continue to work in a wildlife industry. What did I want to do?….

Continue the path of self destruction? or embrace my motivation and natural skill to work with wildlife?

After finishing my former 2 years at High School, I decided university was not for me. Like I said, my attention span was non-existent at this point, so I decided to study at a college to get a Diploma in Natural Resources. I lasted 8 months and got my job at Melbourne Zoo. Best day of my life! I sacrificed so much of my teenage years, grew up fast and was ready to start my professional career at 19 . For most teenagers, this is not normal. Being independent from the age of 12 years old, working and taking care of yourself, is not normal or exercised frequently. But I did, because I had no choice, and it was the best learning years I could ever have.

Fast forward to today… I live in Medan North Sumatra, and that is also incredibly challenging. Everyone hates this city, but I have a love-hate relationship with this area. It’s really restless, and never boring! Something is always happening and even though it is over populated, my home is my sanctuary, rather than in Australia. I spend most of my time in the rainforest and working with field teams who are also passionate. I don’t care what I look like and wear and have some of the closest Indonesian family members I would consider soul mates. What I have given up has been enormous. Sacrificing hot water, food (which was never important to me anyway), friendships, relationships, starting my own family and the list goes on.

I left my ex husband to follow a career in conservation; failed my last relationship as it was too challenging having a long distance relationship. Both relationships I had a home, comfort and had anything I wanted… A perceived happy life to most outsiders who knew me. But it was not enough and I felt like I was missing a link. I hate being controlled so it took me a long time to understand the word ‘compromise’. I wanted to travel, see the world and help people and wildlife. It inspires me, moves me and educates me more than a classroom could ever do. Is this selfish?

My relations with men just suck and maybe that is because I am too independent, and I just cannot connect with someone with a similar lively spirit. Not like my choices in Medan North Sumatra is that good either! Hahaha

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I find it hard to also come back to Australia and connect with people. While everyone is whining about the school not offering some service and we didn’t get enough pay rise, I find this really hard to respond too when I am tied to these conversations. I live in a country where a roof, food and family is the most important thing to survive and if you are lucky enough to go to school then that is a major privilege. So coming ‘home’ is always a mental challenge and takes me about 1 week to adapt.

Working in a male dominated environment and then going back to Australia is also unusual. I find it hard to control what may come out of my mouth and will at times speak from my heart, which often offends people. But I really don’t care, as they should never ask my opinion if they don’t want an honest answer. I am spoken up front with every day and I have developed this trained behaviour, which is what gives me the strength to survive.

While I sit in on my family conversations, watch my niece grow up and everyone discusses kids, school and what’s for dinner?, I find it hard to adjust and don’t think I can ever go back to that lifestyle. For now, I am living in the chapter of my life in Sumatra, where I am comfortable, more at home than within Australia (not to mention my new boyfriend who is an absolute champion). It sounds sad for many people, but for most expats I am sure they feel the same. We miss our birth country and when we visit, we cannot wait to also go back home. Something changes and priorities in your life become very different than your own family and friends.

What I can say is, it comes to a point when you realize you coexist and you need to make yourself happy. In Australia, I coexist. I enjoy my time when I go home, find it hard to connect with others, but I try and adapt. My closest friends understand me and that is all that matters. Others most likely think I am mad!

No, I would say I am not your typical woman with homely aspirations. But I am an individual with a clear goal and want to help conservation achieve many great things.

As slow, painful and depressing it can be in this industry, I am also very fortunate I do not have a mortgage hanging over my head, I get to smile going to work everyday, I get to travel and visit some great unique destinations and most of all, I get to go home and love my life. I have no regrets… Loneliness is my best friend and my networks are my friends. The rainforest is my recharge and wildlife is my purpose to exist.

So going back to how to balance your workload and lifestyle, in particular within the fields of wildlife and conservation. Three things must be realized in the 'industry'

  • Sacrifice,

  • Prioritising

  • Change management.

If you feel like you are in a similar environment like I have described above, then ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you open to sudden changes?

  • What is stopping you from change processes?

  • What is your ethical values which you will not alter?

  • What’s your switch off at the end of the day?

  • What is really important to you with no consumer value?

  • What is your normal lifestyle include?

  • What will you sacrifice to make yourself happy in your lifestyle?

How to balance your work/life balance requires some strong training tools to help you manage your expectations. The Jungle Sistas mentorship program can help you navigate some of your current challenges and put in place some solutions, harness the art of managing your lifestyle, which will help you develop a productive, balanced and healthy life.

The hysteria about keeping up with a ‘normal’ life, which is thrown down our throats with media, is that none of it really matters at the end of the day. Only you know what is best for you and no one can judge you, or answer this for you. What makes you happy, comfortable and normal is your own personal journey and decisions you make each day. You are an individual and therefore have freedom to express who you are. Make the most of your life, and do not alter your ethical values.

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” ― Ann Landers

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