What happens when you set a goal that takes 20 years to achieve? Yesterday I found out. It was both more poignant and happier than I expected.
It was late 1998: The type of summer’s day when the song of cicadas are the loudest noises on the planet, and the heat makes every in-breath akin to gulping over-heated coffee.
My tiny baby was asleep in the house, and I was using the few hours of her sleep to hit the ride-on mower and tame the overgrown grass on my ¾ acre property in the outskirts of Caboolture.
There is something mesmerising about going round and round a paddock on a mower. It is like walking the labyrinth as your mind begins to go deeper and deeper, turning life problems this way and that like a crow turning a bright pebble.
This day my mind was turning the thorny problem of my marriage. Not to put too fine a point on it – It was an unmitigated disaster.
On the surface and to all our friends, we presented as your typical married couple. But there were incredibly dark undercurrents away from the public face that were ripping me apart.
I had watched a relative go through something similar in her marriage and saw the looks in her kid’s eyes everything something happened, or words were spoken. They watched, and they saw, and they understood … everything.
On about the 5th loop around the paddock, I realised that my marriage was not the message I wanted to give to my young girls about what was love, what was OK and what a marriage should be.
A tiny, very scared part of me, decided that I wanted to leave.
A few more loops on the mower saw me continuing to turn my newly minted decision over in my mind: Exploring it in the same way a tongue automatically probes the gap left when a tooth falls out.
My gut-wrenching fear that I would not be able to cope by myself warred dangerously with my fragile hope for a better future.
I vowed on that dusty paddock, with the smell of freshly-mown grass in the air, that as a single-mum I would do everything in my power to raise both of my girls to be happy, well-adjusted adults, who knew and understood their own worth.
I vowed that I would see them successfully through school, help them choose a career that they would love, and support them through university and on to land a stable job in their chosen career.
I vowed that nothing and no-one would get in the way of my love for my girls, and that I would financially find a way to provide all the essentials they needed (even if all the bells and whistles were not within reach).
These were the sort of vows that needed to be accompanied by claps of thunder and explosions of lightning from otherwise clear skies.
But there was no lightning and thunder, just a chorus of cicadas in the heat as I put away my mower and headed back into the house to tend to my baby.
Vows into action
The vows I made to my girls back then in the paddock saw me through many intensely dark days that followed, and many other incredibly dark days in later years.
Life was definitely not easy as a result of my decision, but I knew it was the right one, and I worked through the consequences of my actions with the support of my family (and the wonderful parents of my ex-husband who could give the middle-east a lesson in peace-keeping and love no matter what).
My vows ended up becoming my overarching goals in every life and business choice I made. Every decision was checked against these goals: Would the decision take me towards or away from the goals?
My vows that became goals were my “big why.”
You see, if you have a big enough why, the impossible becomes possible.
Yesterday I finally achieved my 20-year goals — the vows I made on that rider mower on a summer’s day way back when were now fully complete.
You know how some years are crap and make you wish the year would end? This year has been the total opposite.
This year has been a year where every tiny piece of life’s jigsaw fell into place.
This year saw my eldest daughter, Rachel, who graduated university two years ago with a Bachelor Mass Communications, come into her own.
She has had a few false starts with some jobs from hell, and came into my business to heal and build her skills.
While we worked brilliantly together and she is truly talented in what she does, every bird needs to fly on their own wings, so she left the safety of our business and landed her dream job.
Rachel is now positively challenged every day in her role, works with a team of people that value her and all her quirks and is kicking amazing goals in that business.
She has her degree, great friends and a job that she loves while making a difference to small business owners.
She is not only flying; she is soaring.
This brings us to my little baby. Yesterday Teagan graduated with a Bachelor of Information Technology (Computer Science).
A little backstory is needed. Teagan’s love of computers was spotted by an eagle-eyed female IT teacher in High School. She pushed for Teagan to be sent to a special program run by QUT, that encouraged year nine girls to consider tech as a career.
In this program, Teagan went to uni for a week and took a number of classes to give her a taste of what was possible.
A fire was lit during that week, and Teags knew that she wanted to pursue cybersecurity and encryption as a career.
Her senior years of high school were darn tough. Even though the school was massive, only a tiny handful of girls chose to pursue computing subjects, which meant in many classes she and one other girl were the only girls in her class.
When you add typical teenage boy behaviour (they loved snapping her bra straps each lesson) coupled with many IT teachers whose examples all focused on sport and typical bloke type interests, it was amazing Teagan’s conviction to stay within IT remained.
Unfortunately, Teags did not get the OP mark she needed to get straight into uni. She knew the OP target and hit the target she aimed for, but that year the OP mark changed by one.
Teagan was intensely gutted.
One of my business colleagues who owned one of the few female-owned IT companies in Brisbane, knew Teags was distressed. She sat Teagan down and discussed her own career path in the IT industry, and encouraged Teags to consider going to TAFE and doing a Diploma of Information Technology Networking as a pathway into uni.
So that’s what Teagan did.
Teags went from initially thinking TAFE was a very poor consolation prize, to being the best thing that ever happened to her.
She averaged 95% in every exam, and while there was still only approx. 5% women the course, the lecturers were supportive and inclusive. Teags not only completed her Diploma, but she also added in a stack of CISCO and other certifications as well.
QUT accepted Teags into the degree course she wanted with advanced standing, but Teags was not finished yet.
Most students that come from the Diploma into Uni take 2 ½ years to complete their degree and would not be able to do two of the subjects that Teagan really wanted to do simply because of the timetable structure.
That wasn’t good enough for Teagan as she had been dreaming of this course and these two subjects since year 9.
She went to the head of the IT school and argued her case.
After a lot of debate, he permitted her to do a number of subjects in parallel (the prerequisite course at the same time as the requisite course). This would mean she could graduate in two years as well as doing the subjects that she wanted.
It was tough for Teags, and many nights she was up till 4 am working on assignments and trying to understand the new material while battling feral group projects.
We had amazing IT friends who were always at the end of the phone to help during some of the most challenging parts (an especial thank you to Matthew!)
Teagan finally made it through the treadmill of assignments and exams to achieve her degree. Not only did she make it through, but she also achieved a high GPA which meant she graduated with Distinction, one of only two women in her course this year to do so.
Next week she starts as one of only a handful of IT graduates in a prestigious two-year government Graduate Development program.
She ended up her studies with five interested companies and three job offers on the table, and chose the agency that demonstrated they had an active and practical commitment to diversity in IT. Pro tip for recruiters – representation matters!
Which brings us back to the beginning
Yesterday, as I tearily watched Teagan receive her degree and shake the hand of the Vice-Chancellor, I knew that my 20-year goals are now complete, and my vows have been met.
I have done what I set out to achieve all those years ago on the mower, and it is time to set new long-term goals and a new “big why”.
However, big why’s often find you, rather than you actively choose them.
So, for the next little while, until my next big why finds me, I will simply celebrate our successes in achieving the 20-year goals and raise a glass to both my truly amazing girls from their much-loved Pop and their Grandpa, both of whom did not live to see their success, but who were a massive part of their journey.
You see, no-one succeeds in life on their own. There are no self-made successes.
What my girls and I have achieved comes from decades of support from my father, brother and his family and my ex-husband’s mum and dad.
It comes from my girls and I working together and supporting each other through thick and thin, and from friends and colleagues who have mentored and guided us through bumpy bits.
And it comes from keeping that tiny, fragile flame of hope alive when everything seemed to be determined to snuff it out.
As I wrap up, it seems fitting that today the cicadas are once again deafening while singing their song of happiness. It’s as if they know and remember that long ago summer’s day.