I’ve always loved a challenge.
I got that from my parents, not that they’d admit it. They took a risk when they came to Australia, found a house to share with two other Greek families, and started working several jobs each, even though they could barely speak a word of English between them.
They did it because they wanted a better life for those they loved – specifically, my two older sisters and I. Fortunately for me, by the time I came around (nine years after my second sister), Mum and Dad obviously felt like they had a grip on the whole parenting thing, and I was free to experiment and challenge myself without them hovering over me at every moment. That surely helped too.
Growing up to be someone who never shies away from a challenge, who rejects contentment and the status quo, and who can keep their ego in check in the pursuit of important, selfless work that has the power to change the world might seem almost a given, considering the circumstances.
The truth, though? That last part, at least, took time.
As a kid, I didn’t understand why my parents were so committed to serving others. They had so little time to spend outside of work, why would they choose to spend it helping other people?
This question informed the decisions I made throughout high school and into university. My plan was to become an academic. To devote myself to mastery of my particular interests, and to revel in the selfish pride that such achievement would ultimately bring. Nothing could change that!
Then I fell pregnant.
Nine months later, I was balancing a young child, my education, and working at a call centre for $8.50 an hour. To say this made it a little tricky to achieve my goal is an understatement.
That put things into perspective. Suddenly, I had responsibility that extended beyond my own wants.
Rather than stress me out, this new situation, in a weird way, gave me relief. My ego was shed away, and in its place came a deeper understanding of the love and connection that had inspired my parents.
I took a job in administration at RMIT University and studied at night. I studied hard, always ensuring I remained ahead of my qualifications so that I could make the most of my time. I still had the same longing for mastery, but now I wanted to use it to bring something positive to the world for both my family, and all others.
The opportunity to do so came quite by accident.
By chance, I found out that RMIT had a job opening in a program that provided training to people in low socioeconomic areas of Victoria. Eagerly, I attended the interview, and started work the next week.
Most of our students were people who had dropped out of school before year 10. They resented traditional schooling structure. They didn’t know how to learn. But they had the ability and desire to.
Therefore, we provided training in their very neighbourhoods. A local home would be selected, and that would become the classroom in which students would receive university-level qualifications.
The program was a great success. Many of the students would eventually go on to pursue their Masters degrees at an RMIT campus.
Eventually, the state government heard about the work I’d been doing with the university, and offered me a position on their community development team. The job would allow me to do similar work on an even greater scale so, of course, I accepted.
It was good work. Important work. Challenging work. But there was a problem.
Everything we did was too emotionally driven. The team, I soon realised, were focused more on feeling like they were doing something of value rather than ensuring what they did was of value.
I felt out of place, a feeling that never really changed as I moved between departments and rose through the ranks. As a heavily tattooed woman managing men and women twice my age, I faced constant discrimination and heightened expectations until they deemed I’d proven my ability to perform to each new group of colleagues.
I dealt with this kind of treatment for 20 years before I decided it was time to move on. I’d spent the last few years of my time at the government working in compliance, and realised I could apply the skills I’d picked up to the private sector.
After working as a post-9/11 aviation, air cargo and maritime security inspector, I eventually made the leap, and started my own consulting company.
Here it was. My first experience as an entrepreneur. It was exciting. It was liberating. It was exactly the kind of role I felt destined to have filled my entire life.
That’s what I would realise later, at least. For the present, my focus was on a messy breakup that left me shaken to the core.
The loss I felt made it difficult to live day to day as if nothing happened, so I distracted myself with a mental health project; a heavy metal magazine I titled Heavy.
I’d always loved heavy metal, especially underground acts from Australia who I felt never got the kind of attention they deserved. Here was my chance to provide them with an outlet.
This passion inspired me to make Heavy more than a hobby. It soon became my life.
I sent the first issue to the printers with literally $0 in my bank account. I received the printed editions – as well as a bill for $25,000 due in 28 days – later that week.
I paid the bill by selling advertising space in the next issue, and continued doing so (albeit with a larger staff and access to bigger acts) for the next three years.
The challenge of not just serving a community, but fostering one, was exhilarating. It truly was special. Always craving the next big challenge, however, I came to a point where I realised it was once again time to move on.
This time was different though. This time, I didn’t just want to change jobs. I wanted to do something radically different, daring, and innovative. And that, I decided, would mean a tree change.
So once again, I tackled the challenge head on.
In May of 2015 I moved to Central Victoria to found ORAAC, an organic training and certification business for farms and other regional businesses.
When not transitioning my own six acre farm, Meraki Farm, to organics, I was connecting with fellow farmers to explain the importance of sustainable food practices, and how I could help them make the change.
Combining my love for challenge with my experience in both the public and private arenas, as well as my passion for doing work with social purpose, it quickly became more than a job. Being in the country, working with these people, the feelings of stress and anxiety I’d fought with my whole life were shed away, allowing me to focus on making a difference like never before.
Organic certification in Australia is a fledgling industry, yet we provide the highest quality certification in the world. When you see the work that goes into it, you understand why. Commit, or fail, they’re the only two options, but those who persevere do so because they know it’s the best way to ensure their work remains sustainable, that organics provide health benefits to people and to the planet, instills a sense of community (that the supermarket will never offer), and is a great way to increase profits.
The people I work with are unified in that knowledge. They understand that the day will come when every consumer will check a product for the organic-certified logo before they buy, because they will understand the quality and value it implies.
Today, going organic seems like a minor decision. It’s only in the future that many will realise just how important it is.
It’s funny. I agreed to work for the government because I felt the system would be able to provide the change the world needed to ensure its survival.
Now I know better. I know that those who want the world to survive need to create that change themselves.
Everyone is capable of doing so. Everyone can reject the status quo, cast aside their ego, and pursue ways to make the world a better place.
If you think my work can help you achieve that, be sure to let me know. We’re in this together, and I’m always up for the challenge.