Happy women on a cliff

Follow your dreams

February 26, 2019

Elvis Presley taught me how following my dreams could be a lifeline; pulling me towards a bigger, better life.

My uncle Jimmy was an Elvis acolyte, and when I was five, he educated me on how a person with no birthright or privilege became the king of the world. Jimmy explained, accompanied by his Sony cassette deck and personal insights, that to make it big in Brisbane and beyond, talent isn’t enough. Luck isn’t enough. Timing is important. But the key to having a big life is dreaming. Big. Elvis dreamed, from his two-roomed house in Tupelo Mississippi of a bigger life. And he followed his dreams, wherever they led.

I got older. Cassettes disappeared. Jimmy stopped listening to Elvis, transferring his passion to line dancing. Elvis left the building and dreams became prosaic. And now, I ask, how do we carry the dreams we have when young, and bulletproof through our life? Do they change, do we jettison them as we shed our skin of innocence, are they a burden, or are they carried forward, fulfilled when we have the time and space to revisit them in our complex modern feminine lives?
We continue to be brave. And dream. Big. And inspire others. Women like Macaire Bromley, 46, who at 43 shed her Armani skin as a high earning partner in a big end of town law firm where she was acknowledged by society, her peers and a Women in Law Awards nomination as someone powerful in the man-made corporate world. Macaire chose to leave all the trappings of that kind of success to pursue her unfulfilled dreams of becoming a novelist.
“I loved being a lawyer. It was what I had dreamed of when I was a young girl. I wanted to be a lawyer or a teacher, get married, and have children, a dog. When I retired I wanted to travel, and live in a village in Spain, outside of Barcelona.” Macaire’s dreams were far from soft-focus; her early childhood was spent in Port Lincoln, a small fishing town 650 km away from Adelaide in South Australia, and directly across the Southern Ocean from Antarctica. A place where resilience and fortitude were as common as the huge tuna which, nowadays, has made Port Lincoln the town with more millionaires per capita than anywhere else on earth. Macaire achieved her dreams by her early 40’s, becoming a partner at a leading Sydney firm. And when she realised that she still had a good 20 years left of work, she considered if her achievements could sustain her.
“I have never placed a lot of value on the trappings. The money and the prestige were never the reasons I wanted to be a lawyer. I loved being part of a team. Becoming partner changed the way I worked, I was there to build a business, meet targets. I had wanted to build a practice to a point where I could pass it onto someone because of merit.”
After her third annual performance review as partner was sent to the board, Macaire saw her likely future of lawyerly success, and it wasn’t what she wanted. Another dream that she had beckoned; to become a storyteller – a wordsmith of dreams, wrapped up in a 90,000-word novel. Within a month, Macaire had resigned, handing in her executive washroom key to work on the craft of becoming a novelist. “Being a lawyer was great training for becoming a writer,” Macaire said. And instead of tying herself up in knots of self-doubt and angst of where to start, she wrote. Within a year she has finished her first book, currently being considered for publication, featuring Ash, a female lawyer in London – the literary daughter of “I Don’t Know How She Does It” the 2003 novel by Allison Pearson, where the protagonist wrangles a big career with parent guilt. ‘Working women’s lives have moved on a lot since that book was written. I wanted to tell a story of how nowadays, we don’t try to do it all, but it’s still a compromise,” Macaire said. She’s half way through the sequel and considering her third book. “I am happier now then ever. I am a writer.’

Macaire’s story of reinvention as a writer though the dusting off of old dreams when the time is right is echoed in some of the stories from the 43 women who are the Northwestern University sorority sisters of Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace interviewed for their ground-breaking book The Ambition Decisions. MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski says about the book: “These are the ‘know your value’ conversations that we need to have. These women–their challenges, choices, and successes–are all of us.”

Women like Macaire and the 43 women interviewed are making their choices unsupported if knowing if what they are feeling is common, or if they are aberrant. The Ambition Decisions helps set a road map of what women are deciding as a group.

“Women in their 40s don’t often get asked how they are, and aren’t often provided the space to reflect on their life choices and their dreams,” Hana says when explaining why she wrote The Ambition Decisions. “So doing that was very emotional as our friends talked about things they’d wanted to do that hadn’t materialized, or the painful things that happen over the course of a lifetime––losing a parent, or managing a child’s health condition, for example/”

The book revealed that although women make career and life decisions for intensely personal and individual reasons, there are similar pathways; generally choices of one are often echoed in choices of others, on a similar place on their career or life trajectory.
“Our friends life and career trajectories broke down into three paths: Opt Outer, High Achiever and Flex Lifer,” Hana explained. “The Opt Outers were women who chose to stay home for significant periods of time with their children. The High Achievers are women who have classically successful careers––they’ve climbed the corporate ladder, or are recognized in their fields. The Flex Lifers is a label we coined for the third group of women who typically stayed at the same level in their jobs for a long time, or worked part time or freelance gigs, in order to have more flexibility in their lives for things like childcare or hobbies or living somewhere beautiful. Not only do these buckets exist, but women are able to move across them over the course of their lives.”

Elizabeth and Hana decided to write the The Ambition Decisions when facing their own “mid-life crisis”.
“We were trrying to figure out how we felt about our where we were in our careers, our marriages, our parenting, and where we wanted to go next. And probably the strongest driver was this feeling that everything was so much harder than we’d ever anticipated it being. So we wanted to know if it was just us––like we were just totally incapable of leading satisfying, happy lives––or if other people were struggling as well. That was the impetus of the book,” Hana says.
And they discovered that their fear of making the wrong choice by making a choice was shared by other women, their sorority sisters.
“We discovered that many of the friends we interviewed felt alone in making these life decisions—like they were the only ones going through these difficult life phases,” Elizabeth says. “We felt isolated in facing our midlife questions, as well. We have heard from many women that this book was the book they didn’t even know they needed, that they felt less alone after reading it. Our purpose in writing the book was to provide a roadmap for women who are encountering these life transitions.”

And after the success of the book, and the way it echoes and fulfills their earlier dreams of being published authors with flourishing writing careers, Hana and Elizabeth are in agreement of how asking their sorority sisters to share their stories has helped them.
“I think we both have learned to be easier on ourselves—and others—in this process,” they write in an email, “We understand that we still have dreams we wish to fulfill, and that also we have a lot of commitments and are trying to do the best we can, every day of our lives. Throughout this process, we have become interconnected friends and partners, and have become interconnected with many of our interviewees as well, and know that community support around work and life fulfillment is paramount to success for us.”
And in the words of Elvis, a man made king through singing in “If I Can Dream,”

“Deep in my heart there’s a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there’s a beckoning candle”

“Thank you very much”, Hana and Elizabeth.

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