Women can have it all

AROUND 50 people, including staff, turned out for an International Women's Day (IWD) breakfast at Kerang library on Friday, where two busy career women addressed the question "Can we really have it all?"

Erin Hein and Judy O'Connell addressed the International Women's Day gathering.

Erin Hein and Judy O'Connell addressed the International Women's Day gathering.

The answer, it seemed, was a qualified yes.

It is possible, Victorian Small Business Commissioner Judy O'Connell said, because everyone gets to write their own wish list.

Ms O'Connell and local speaker Erin Hein both expressed a belief in the importance of taking on challenges and living life to the full.

Telling her personal story publicly for the first time, Ms O'Connell revealed that at 16 her ambitions consisted of a job as a legal secretary, a husband, three kids and a house with a pool.

Life, it turned out, would serve up some unlisted items, including a rare, life-threatening illness, a high-level career in the public service, two sets of twins and a professional sojourn in Paris. 

The paralysing Guillain-Barre syndrome, which she suffered from in her early 20s, was an eye-opening experience, Ms O'Connell said. 

"It left me feeling life is very precious and we should live it to the full and enjoy every moment." 

Ms O'Connell, a taxation specialist, had to find her own career path after she found the commitments of motherhood had disqualified her from the standard track for advancement at the office.

The niche she found took her out of her comfort zone and onto the world wide web, which was beginning to take off at the time.

After overseeing the set-up of the first Australian Taxation Office website, she moved to France with her family to supervise the creation of an international tax site for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

Back home in the district, Tailored Peach co-owner Erin Hein, also a mother of four, found that managing a business, household and farm often left her feeling like she was "running on a treadmill and the slightest slip-up could result in a face-plant." 

But the young mother, who fondly remembered girlhood adventures with her sisters on a Pee Wee motorbike, grew up with the philosophy of giving everything a go.

"Go for it all, and lean in to what is most important at the time - some weeks it's work, sometimes it will be family and sometimes it's mental health," said Mrs Hein, citing New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern as a great example of someone who is flexible with their priorities.

She observed that positive feedback could be extremely valuable to women who are struggling to cope. 

Mental health was also an issue on the Small Business Commissioner's agenda.

Small business people and farmers can't take time off, she said, but have to make "me time".

"Sometimes you need to program that in. Otherwise you won't be good for your family or your business," she said.

As well as telling funny stories, both speakers offered sage advice to the audience.

"We are all so different so how can we expect everyone to reach for the same goals or expectations when they vary so wildly?" Mrs Hein said.

"Don't take life too seriously," Ms O'Connell said. "Because you're never going to get out of it alive!"

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