Below is a transcript of a talk I delivered at the Living Well – Considerations for living an ethical, thoughtful and happy life forum at the Mildura Brewery, on Wednesday 16 September 2015. Speakers were Rowena Keenan on Home Birthing, Sam Burke on Yoga, Dr Hieu Pham on Mindfulness, Deborah Bogenhuber on Slow Food and Helen Healy on Changing your life. Moderator Donata Carrazza
Introduction to Helen Healy
Up until 18 months ago Helen ran an award winning Event Management Company until the voice within could no longer be denied. She sought wise advice, helped her staff find jobs, streamlined her finances and took a leap of faith to follow her heart, write her first novel, compose music and smell the roses.
Helen Healy – Sweet Surrender
I acknowledge Traditional Owners of the land we meet on tonight and consider how blessed we are to have the choice to live well.
I took leap of faith over a year ago, walking away from a life of pressure and deadlines, to follow my dream of writing and composing and also to create the space to say yes to opportunities – to travel, to be with the people I love and to reconnect with my world.
When I look back through my diaries, which I’ve kept since I was 8, I saw a pattern emerging around 6 years ago that sounded a little like a Church song, as in the band [sing] “What about me, it isn’t …”. I used to live with the constant feeling that something was missing. I had raised up two children, two husbands, established an award winning business and even though it was fulfilling on so many levels, it was about other people’s dreams and visions. I had shelved mine. And that’s OK because it wasn’t the right time. A few things had to happen. Namely it was all about faith and vulnerability.
I had a thriving business, twice finalist in the Australian Event Manager of the Year and by 2011 we were working and travelling around the country, producing more than 60 events over the next two years including 40 for the Centenary of Canberra’s Indigenous Program, working with Robyn Archer.
One night early in 2012, I woke in a motel room and could not for the life of me remember where I was – and I couldn’t find the light switch. I felt for my phone and it was flat. I found a bedside phone and pressed what I hoped would get me reception.
‘Can you please tell me where I am’ I whispered hopelessly
‘You’re in Point Sampson Motel love’ she said very kindly despite the hour
‘And where is Point Sampson’, I asked pathetically
‘It’s near Karratha’ “You’re in the Pilbara love, Western Australia, you OK”
After I thanked her and recalled why I was there, I walked to the beach and the distant lights of ships loading minerals 24/7 felt like my life. As the sun rose over the ancient Burrup Peninsula, I made the decision that had been bubbling in the background for a long time – to sell or close my business by the end of 2013.
In 2009-2010 when I had a quarter of a million dollars per annum of contracts locked in for 3 years I tried to sell my business, but it was too much about my passions, my networks, my reputation and it didn’t sell. I remain proud, however, that I walked away from a business that was in great shape.
In preparation for the leap, I set to streamlining my life financially and was staggered by how much I had spent on maintaining the busy life style – eating out because I was too tired to cook, counselling, driving instead of walking and shopping (I was horrified to find clothing and shoes still with labels, I had never worn them). I saw so many of my friends and associates compromising their relationships, health and hopes in pursuit of money. For me, money is no longer a driver. It’s essential but my focus is on having enough- that’s all.
But at the time, I started having panic attacks questioning the insanity of walking away from a successful business, the uncertainty of income, the loss of ego around my work and position, but mostly, questioning if I could be a good writer. I had never really believed in my talents. Never given it my best shot. My self-talk, especially in the middle of the night, was toxic.
But the thought of staying, was scarier than the thought of leaving. I started planning for my new life – developing my consultancy brand, enrolling in a Funeral Celebrancy course and selling my investment property. I referred to wise people and started reading/following inspirational people – Brene Brown, The Power of vulnerability; Amanda Palmer, The Art Of asking; Robin Sharma’s ‘How to have the best year of your life and Pema Chödrön’s The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness.
I came across Debbie Spellman and a program called Detox Your Mind and it was the best $900 I ever spent, on myself. For three months we spoke fortnightly for 2 hours by Skype. She busted open my bullshit, we explored where it came from and I developed strategies to deal with it or gave it the flick. She taught me to talk to myself like I was talking to someone I love. I even made a huge vision board that included a mock-up of the front cover of a bestselling novel – by me!
On 1 September 2013 I told my staff and contractors that I was closing the HHO Events CBD office on Xmas Eve and was committed to helping them find new jobs. On 1 November I sent an email to my clients, associates, and friends. My finger shook over the enter button, my heart was thumping out of my chest but after I pressed send a stillness washed over me. I had done it.
The money thing is fascinating, once I shifted the focus, it just came. Inspired by Brene Brown, and feeling completely vulnerable, I lodged a request for support on Patreon and the response mostly outside of it was amazing. An anonymous donor gave me $1000, friends gave me a lawnmower so I wouldn’t have to pay a gardener, someone gave me access to a beach house to write, my brothers bankrolled Christmas at my house, I got a coffee card, restaurant meals, free counselling and my accountant gave me a $500 discount and on and on.
And I say yes to opportunities – a friend rang and said you’ve got the time, I’ve got the money do you want to come to Malta (that’s where I started my novel, Kiss Underwater); another had free accommodation in Argentina and we found dirt cheap airfares and I got to write in the cafe around the corner form Borge’s last home; another offered a swagging trip up the Centre where her new job paid all costs to get her car to Fitzroy Crossing; my brother rang recently and said bring Mum up and I will pay your airfare, give you a car and a ticket to a writing workshop at the Byron Bay Writers Festival.
What has moved me most is the love and encouragement. If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me that they admire me for what I have done, I would have about [pause] $100.
I am privileged to attract consultancy work that excites me – social media and marketing for the ART Vault’s Australian Print Triennial, managing the business of the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, the Complex Pain Art project on the walls of Gallery 25, coaching communities how to deliver events themselves and running Event Management for Hotties workshops. I also run an Airbnb at home that exposes me to wonderful people from around the world. I am inspired by and mindful of Elizabeth Gilbert‘s warning on considering what flavour of shit sandwich you are prepared to eat to follow your inspiration. I ensure I have enough and do not compromise on the quality of life – my health, professional development, attending events, maintenance of my car & house, my family and worthwhile causes. I am careful but not mean about money.
I’m 45,000 words into my novel, Kiss Underwater, composing songs, and I have a short story, The Stolen Child, being published in a US literary journal this month. Sometimes I walk away from a day’s writing thinking ‘what a pile of steaming shit’ and other days I am staggered by the words and sentences falling onto the page. But every day I know I was born to do this.
So much about my life now feels right. I am more content and more connected. My daughter had a really tough time this year and I was able to be totally there for her. I have got to know my mum and found I really like her. I formed a writers group that meets fortnightly at my house. I am the Green’s candidate for the 2016 federal election. I play cello in the Mildura District Orchestra. I do paid work at home and write at the Art Vault (where I get to be surrounded by real artists). I don’t air kiss people or give the ’call me’ hand sign as I walk by, I stop and talk with them. I hang out, rather than catch up with friends.
It’s almost the second anniversary of the day I told the world and myself that I was surrendering to the call of my dreams. It has been a sweet surrender. This morning I woke up as I wake every morning, enormously grateful and with a sense of being where I am supposed to be. I didn’t feel that way 2 years ago.
Helen Healy, September 2015
thx for marvellous presentation, well crafted well delivered, awaiting the book!!! FB
Thoroughly enjoyed your talk last night, it really made me stop and think about my own situation. Thank You. MC
I really enjoyed your talk last night. I love the way you write. RD
My mother in law heard you speak last night and was really impressed. She said you were a fantastic speaker and she was really inspired. Well done you! MJ
Stay true to yourself. I am very proud of you xx JM
I found your presentation inspiring, Helen. HT
So disappointed I was working & missed it, heard great feedback KT
Image: excerpt from Mildura Brewery, Living Well forum promotional material.