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Leadership and women

Inspiring career changes: would you dare?

It’s the time of year when many consider changing jobs and careers. I’m fortunate to know many interesting women – like Antipodean journalist turned historian, author and mother of three Dr Rachel Buchanan – who have successfully changed careers along the course of their working life.

This is the first blog post in a series I am writing on some of these great women, who continue to inspire me on my own career and life journey. I hope you will enjoy the series.
I’ve known Rachel (pictured) for more than 20 years. She began her career as a newspaper journalist in New Zealand: “It seemed like a glamorous and exciting thing to do” and was working for The Age in Melbourne when I first met her.

She’s still regularly published in this paper and other major media but sometimes now finds herself the subject of interviews, as in last Saturday’s Age Writer’s Craft is now a Ghost in the Machine. On this occasion she was interviewed about the rapidly changing world of the literary archivist, having written 10,000 words on the topic in the Australian Book Review as part of a Sidney Myer Fund fellowship.

Rachel began her move away from daily journalism in her late 20s. “I wanted to be better educated and also to have more time to think about things rather than the constant deadlines and rush of journalism. Sometime I felt the world was shallow.”

With a shared interest in looking beneath the surface, we’ve enjoyed many conversations about writing and how in the heck to manage a semblance of work life balance and still be a ‘good enough’ parent as well as an authentic friend.

Academia seemed to offer the depth Rachel was seeking, and after completing a BA (majoring in history) she went on to complete a PhD, which was published by a New Zealand publisher as The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget (Huia).

She went on to work as an Academic at a Melbourne university, lecturing in journalism, being published in academic publications and pursuing further research goals. Half way through this year, after five years as an academic – she quit – bravely, I might add, without any “next job” lined up.

“I wanted to rethink what I was doing with my working life,” says Rachel. “I was unsure whether a university was the right place for me and I wanted a lot more time with my kids.”

By now her oldest daughter Lily was 10, Nettie was seven, and her youngest, Frances, had just started school, and Rachel craved more freedom and flexibility to tailor her work around her children’s lives. Her partner Mike, a landscape gardener, had played the role of primary carer for their children in the shared juggle of parenting, and both were ready for a role reversal.

She’snow a freelance writer and independent scholar, and for the most part, loving the adventure of being more present to her children and partner and “putting them first”.

That’s not to say that at times her latest career incarnation hasn’t caused some sleepless nights.

“Sometimes I feel scared at stepping off a recognised career path and becoming invisible,” she admits.

For anyone who knows Rachel personally – fat chance!

Rachel has had time to think long and hard about work and its meaning and observes, “that overall women are too prepared to suffer too much for our work”. She thinks women need to “step back and not try so hard at work”.

She believes more of us need to recognise that our children need us and want us around and that this is very nurturing both for our kids – and for ourselves.

She also thinks that the older you get the more risks you should take. “The safe option is not always the best one,” she says.

And she practices what she preaches.

Next week Rachel begins a 12 month return to New Zealand with her family, to live there for the first time since she left as a 22-year-old. Whatever she does while she’s there and beyond she wants to “protect my time with the children while also doing work that I believe in, that matters, that might make a difference to people’s lives. I’m thinking about what that might be. Another change is probably ahead….”

You can follow Rachel on Twitter @BuchananRachel

You can follow me @DiFromTheY – and I’ll have another post on another great woman who’s dared to change careers, soon.


About Di from the Y

Dianne McDonald is Executive Manager of Communications with YMCA Australia, and a parent of two primary school aged children, one with additional needs (Asperger Syndrome). She has a strong interest in sharing life's learnings with others.


4 thoughts on “Inspiring career changes: would you dare?

  1. heya: great column, Di. and great to catch up on what’s new with Rachel.
    good luck on the NZ adventure.
    p.s.: looked her up on Twitter and it’s @BuchananRachel (no dot), in case anyone else is searching for her.
    take good care,

    Posted by Martha | January 11, 2012, 3:47 am
  2. Great story! It would have been nice to have more information about her present career. I’m not sure what being an independent scholar entails.

    Posted by europilote | January 11, 2012, 5:46 am
    • Thanks for your response. I’ll have to get Rachel to respond to that one as I’m not 100% sure either…but I think it involves being a ‘researcher for hire’, and lots of applying for grants and funding opportunities to pursue your specific research interests. Rachel might also add it involves a certain degree of unemployment!

      Posted by Di from the Y | January 11, 2012, 6:51 am

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