14 Jul 2020

Juggling work, life and learning

Our lives encompass a series of changes – some anticipated, others not so much. So we need to build our resilience muscle to manage change and uncertainty.

Life is often a juggle between work, our personal lives, and the things we enjoy.  At different life stages our priorities shift.  

We don’t always get it right, but we can choose to change things at any time. 

Learning from our experiences can help with this juggling act, and it’s a good idea to be open to new ways of doing things. Here are some observations from my life and work experiences. 

My early working life was full of twists and turns shaped by a lust for adventure, short term relationships, and moving around different parts of New Zealand and Australia.

Relocations happened frequently with work transfers between Wellington, Napier, Auckland and Nelson. At one stage I commuted back and forth between Wellington and Auckland on alternate weekends for 15 months when my partner and I were based in two different cities. 

Unlike many Kiwis, my solo Big OE was slotted in between ending a marriage and going to university. 

Travelling in the United States, an open ticket on a Greyhound bus pass took me through most states covering 10,500 km (6560 miles) before ending up in the Big Apple. That road trip highlighted the diversity of people, attitudes and lifestyles across USA.

After arriving in New York, I spent two years working at the New Zealand Consulate General dealing with visa and immigration applications while working part-time at the Manhatten Squash Club. New York is an expensive place to live on a New Zealand salary! The extra income came in handy for playing squash regularly and meeting many expats. 

On my return to NZ, university beckoned. I soon discovered the pluses and minuses of being an adult student.  

I was more motivated because I knew why I was there. But relying on a part time job while studying part time meant turning down invitations from friends with more discretionary income. Not so easy!

Sometimes our work and life choices are made out of love.

My then partner’s two young children came to live with us after their mum died.  I was juggling helping in a family business while attending university. Something had to give so I withdrew from lectures to be a full-time caregiver. Making this small sacrifice for youngsters when they needed it was the right decision.   

Later I returned to university to complete two degrees. My love of learning was cemented for life. 

Then my career took off after another significant relationship came to an end.  

A succession of senior roles in big organisations reinforced my view that dysfunctional cultures sap our energy and reduce worker productivity. After a harrowing spell at Victoria University reporting to a divisive Vice Chancellor, I chose to exit during a restructure when pressure mounted to make employment decisions that were not values-based.

It was time to make the move towards self-employment for more autonomy, flexibility and a better balance between working and living. 

Over the next two decades I founded two businesses, InsideOutWorks and InsideOutAdventures. InsideOutWorks continues to operate as a niche business consultancy that has evolved to suit changing needs.

So what have I learned from these experiences?

  • Life is full of twists and turns. A smooth linear work and life progression is a myth for most of us.
  • What is more important at one life stage is quite likely to be less important at another life stage.
  • Be mindful of the impact of choices you are making. Are you ‘living to work’ or ‘working to live’?
  • Learning has to be a lifelong pursuit, otherwise we get left behind as the nature of work (and life) evolves. 



Mary Somervell

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