Ms Alchemy

For the last six months, first thing in the morning, I have written down five things for which I am grateful.

It’s really interesting to see what comes up each day.

Recently I have been grateful for: friends, my passport, my family’s health, my determination, great food, coffee, holidays and the freedom to make my own choices.

What has surprised me most is how often work comes up in my daily gratitude list.

Work often seems like such a burden, particularly on a Monday morning. The whole world seems so hard! Waging war against the strong desire for a sleep in, battling along on public transport or fighting traffic, dodging airborne germs as people sniffle and sneeze. Lamenting with colleagues about how good the weekend was, and how long the week feels like it will last!

Yet I look over my gratitude lists and I see it written time and time again – work. My job. My career.

It got me thinking I should have been a little more specific about what it is that tickles me about work at these moments. But, since it is a ‘first thing when you get up’ job, my lists are usually short, sharp and to the point.

If I wasn’t so bleary eyed, I’d probably write some of the following.

I’m grateful for my work because:

  • I work with beautiful people everyday. People who are strong, funny, intelligent, passionate and committed. People who make me laugh, who care about me and make me welcome, who drink coffee with me in the morning and share a celebratory drink at the end of the week. People who are at work to make a difference, in every way they can. People who, as well as doing their work, are also looking after their partners, children, parents, grandchildren, pets and themselves. People who make my every day a blessing.
  • I work on important issues. Working in human services is about exactly that – humans. My work is my contribution to try and make the world a little bit better.
  • My work is an ongoing education. As well as the formal opportunities I have for professional development, every day I learn something new, from what I read, who I talk to, or who I work with.
  • My work keeps me busy and keeps my achieving. I celebrate the little wins and know that I continue to get better at my job all the time.
  • My job is secure. I am very lucky to have a stable job, with leave and other entitlements.
  • My work gives me a steady income, which allows me to make choices with my money. My income gives me independence and options, whether I choose to use it to save, travel, shop, eat, explore or give it away.

My job is not perfect. I don’t think I know anyone who has the perfect job. It’s also not always easy, and I certainly have my bad days. I am however, lucky to have my job, and I will continue to be grateful for it, and all the options it allows me.

Rowena Southgate (aka ‘Ms Alchemy’) is based in Melbourne. While she would love to write as an occupation, she still needs to earn a living. This living so far has seen her work in research related to employment, in policy related to disability services, in HIV prevention in Vietnam, and also in the sexy world of communicable diseases. An acute observer and amateur photographer, Rowena likes to think twice about she sees in the world around her, and what it would take to make it a little bit different – for the better.

I’ve been writing and re-writing this post. Trying to find a pattern, a rhythm, a balance, in talking about my reflections on the year. I’m finding it very difficult – to list the accomplishments over the year seems like bragging, yet treating them with brevity and flippancy seems disrespectful to what I have achieved.

So, I’ve decided I need to change tack. I don’t need to tell you what it is I have done – just that I am very proud of it all. In the last twelve months, I have started things from scratch, continued with previous activities, and finished things that have been important. I’ve let go of relationships that held me back, I’ve renewed friendships that make me feel good, and started some new relationships with people who are strong, supportive and on my side. I’ve learned to understand my body better, to listen to it, to give it more of the fuel it needs, and have avoided the things that weigh me down. I’ve sought advice and support in the right places, and learned to quiet the voices that cause self doubt. I’ve persevered with building myself up when I thought I couldn’t. I’ve stopped sabotaging myself when I fell into old habits. I’ve tapped into some creative outlets, with the hope that one day, they will flow more easily. I’ve challenged myself in many different ways, and brought myself both to tears and to laughter.

While it hasn’t been perfect, 2012 has been a good year. It’s been a good year because I’ve had support, strength and a vision for the person I want to be. I’ve also been determined to make my world different, and better in any way I can.

And it’s with this sense of accomplishment that I will plan my year ahead. For me, 2013 will be a year to build on the momentum I am gaining. I will continue with my current projects, start some new ones, and leave some old things behind. I will inject into every day the experience I have gained in 2012 – the successes and the failures. And, with a sense of pride in what I did in 2012, I am setting out to make 2013 even better. I hope you too can see the good in yourself, the great work you have done, and that it is just the beginning of many wonderful things to come.

Rowena Southgate (aka ‘Ms Alchemy’) is based in Melbourne. While she would love to write as an occupation, she still needs to earn a living. This living so far has seen her work in research related to employment, in policy related to disability services, in HIV prevention in Vietnam, and also in the sexy world of communicable diseases. An acute observer and amateur photographer, Rowena likes to think twice about she sees in the world around her, and what it would take to make it a little bit different – for the better.

My last blog for 10thousand girl was written just before I went off to the planning workshop, held in Melbourne. I’m really glad that I did! It was a great opportunity to listen to some different perspectives, some experts, other women, and get some great information.

Most importantly for me, it was a time of inspiration. While the workshop went for one day, the impact on me is really just beginning. As part of the workshop, I had an opportunity to look at what I really want from this life. As happens in many seemingly small moments, that end up being significant turning points, looking at what I wanted and what I was doing, showed me that the two did not match up. It is, I think, a very rare but valuable experience to have this opportunity to analyse and compare the life lived, and the life imagined. For me, it has certainly turned my world upside down.

So, after the inspiration, comes the change. As a result of the workshop, and a whole lot of ruminating that has filled most days since, I have begun to make some of these changes. In change there is often great excitement, as the possibilities open up. The number of ‘unknowns’ increase, each with their own opportunities and risks. There is a focus on new goals, new milestones, new challenges and new achievements.

In order to get to this exciting new world of possibilities and new perspectives however, part of the old world has to go. And that, for me, has been really tough. To see that while I loved parts of my old world, and that I was enjoying, to some extent my life as it was trundling along prior to the workshop, in order to get more, to go where I really wanted to go, there was a need for some fairly massive shifts.

In order to achieve my change, my new vision, to open up my new world, I had to make a break and change a significant part of my old world. In order to focus on the new, I had to take my focus off the old. To set my new goals, I have to let go of some of my old priorities, as the sad truth is, I can’t have both. My change in direction means saying good-bye to the old path, and it’s safe and comfortable environs, and treading onto the new.

So, in the very nature of its being, change is exciting, tumultuous, and at times, exhausting. From the centre of it, it often feels like it’s not worth it – I know that there have been times where I have doubted my own decisions, and been tempted to go hurtling back to the old and the comfortable. But I know in myself, that I don’t really want to just trundle along any more. I want to soar, at best, or at the least, skip along, enjoying every step of it. I know that if I want to change the world, or at least a small part of it, I need to go through the constant process of change for myself. As hard as that is, I’m starting to come out of the change haze now – it feels like I’m coming up for air. And it feels good.

Rowena Southgate (aka ‘Ms Alchemy’) is based in Melbourne. While she would love to write as an occupation, she still needs to earn a living. This living so far has seen her work in research related to employment, in policy related to disability services, in HIV prevention in Vietnam, and also in the sexy world of communicable diseases. An acute observer and amateur photographer, Rowena likes to think twice about she sees in the world around her, and what it would take to make it a little bit different – for the better.

In the last entry to this blog, I finished wondering how it was that I will be remembered in the world. I actually spend a lot of time thinking about this – not in a ‘I’m going to be famous’ kind of a way, but in a ‘what am I going to be when I grow up’ kind of a way.
In this thinking, I also spend a lot of time writing. On scraps of paper, in diaries, making lists, writing on the computer. Much of my writing has a theme – what I am going to do, how I am going to do it, how I am going to be ‘the best I can be’.

As obvious as it may seem to others, it hit me just recently, that I am not just going to ‘be’, but I already ‘am’. Until now I have had some sense of ‘when I get a house’, or ‘when I start to write’, or ‘when I have a family’, that is when my life will start. That is what I am planning and waiting for, and that’s when the fun of ‘being grown up’ will begin. It occurred to me though, in the revelation, that my life has not only already begun, but it has been going for thirty years now! I feel like I have been preparing for something that is ‘somewhere, in the future’, whereas it is all really all happening right now.

My personal life, my career, my ambitions, are all being produced as we speak, either through action or inaction. My plan to buy my own little piece of land is in train, even though I am not spending my Saturdays trawling through house inspections, but I am reading and researching and saving. My ambitions as a writer need more action, and more access to readership, rather than to be furtive little secrets that only I can read!

My future from yesterday is happening right now. How I will be remembered is happening right now. There’s the opportunity for ‘someday’, for ‘future’, for ‘plans’, but there’s also the opportunity for ‘now’.

As all this insight was falling on my like a tonne of bricks, so too did an opportunity: to attend the 10thousandgirl planning workshop. It was like finding ten bucks in your jacket pocket, when you thought you only had ten cents – all the possibilities open up!

There’s little point in berating myself for the lost time, waiting for a new start, something better, or for the right time to make a resolution. Every action from yesterday is already having its consequences: what are the consequences of today’s actions going to be?

For me, I have decided the workshop is the perfect opportunity to think not only about the ‘future’, but also the present. What am I, can I, could I be doing right now? How am I going to educate myself, to make the most out of now, and ensure that I don’t look back, and be sorry?

I’m really looking forward to the workshop, to meeting other people who want to do the same thing I do – to be the best we can be, and get started straight away!

Rowena Southgate (aka ‘Ms Alchemy’) is based in Melbourne. While she would love to write as an occupation, she still needs to earn a living. This living so far has seen her work in research related to employment, in policy related to disability services, in HIV prevention in Vietnam, and also in the sexy world of communicable diseases. An acute observer and amateur photographer, Rowena likes to think twice about she sees in the world around her, and what it would take to make it a little bit different – for the better.

Rowena Southgate (aka ‘Ms Alchemy’) is based in Melbourne. While she would love to write as an occupation, she still needs to earn a living. This living so far has seen her work in research related to employment, in policy related to disability services, in HIV prevention in Vietnam, and also in the sexy world of communicable diseases. An acute observer and amateur photographer, Rowena likes to think twice about she sees in the world around her, and what it would take to make it a little bit different – for the better.


A few years ago, my gorgeous younger sister was asked a really interesting question at a job interview. It was interesting enough to be recycled here.

The question was – if you could have anyone at all, who would you have to a dinner party and why?

While I’m not quite sure what relevance this has to a job interview, I think it’s interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the question basically asks – who is important to you? Who are you fascinated by, inspired and motivated by? Who is it that you remember, that first comes to your mind?

The second reason is the possibilities that your imagination can run away with! The people who would be there, the conversations you would have, the mix of the people and what would happen – truly the stuff that fantasies are made of.

So, my dinner party…

My first choice would be actress Angelina Jolie. I would like to have here there, because though every second magazine has an opinion, rumour, or story on her, I’d like to hear her side of the story. I would like to ask her about her work, both acting and advocacy. I would like to know how she manages it all, along with her growing family. I would also love to hear if she reads what the tabloids write about her, if she ever regrets any of her tattoos, and to ask if life with Brad Pitt is really as glamorous as it sounds. Speaking of Brad, I’d let him come to the party – but they’d probably have to get a babysitter for their small army of children. 

My second guest, also involved in international aid, would be the Reverend Tim Costello. I would like to ask Tim about his work with World Vision, and his past work here in Australia, particularly his work related to gambling. I would like to ask what is his idea of the perfect world, how do we get there, and what Christmas is like at the Costello’s – does he fight with his brother, Peter at home?

My third guest would be Juan Mann, also known as the ‘free hugs guy’. I don’t know if he still does it, but Juan used to stand in Pitt Street Mall in Sydney, each Thursday, with a sign that says ‘free hugs’. Apparently, Juan started to offer free hugs when he himself was missing his family, and feeling lonely. You may have seen the video of Juan in action – it has been played on the internet, and also as a film clip for a song. The video clip shows Juan, a twenty something guy in a purple velvet jacket holding up his sign, and giving away hugs to anyone and everyone who wants them. At one stage it also shows police and security guards trying to stop him, but that is quickly followed by a petition to have him reinstated. I would love to have Juan to dinner to hear what inspired such an initiative, and to hear the funny and not so funny stories that he would hear. I would also like to tell him how watching his video made me laugh, and almost made me cry at the same time.

Another man who makes me laugh, and who I would love to have to dinner, is comedian and performer, Eddie Perfect. Eddie Perfect is an Australian performer, who writes on issues ranging from politics, globalisation and war, to Ray Martin’s hair and shopping at Ikea. You might have seen Eddie Perfect in the musical Keating!, Shane Warne the Musical, or more recently, the television show, Offspring. I think that it would be great to have someone at dinner who can make us laugh, but more importantly, make us think.
If I could have anyone from throughout history (and I can because this is hypothetical, not to mention, my rules) I would like to invite Dr Marie Stopes, a public figure in the 1920’s. Marie Stopes was an advocate for women’s sexual and reproductive health and developed methods for, and taught birth control to women all around the world. This was particularly amazing given that this was in an era when English women had only just got the vote, very few women went to university, and sexual matters were never discussed. I would love to have Marie Stopes to dinner to find out how she found the courage and inspiration to challenge the world as it was, and change the lives of so many people for the better.

A sixth guest (seventh if Brad ended up coming) would be Allan Atwood, the editor of The Big Issue magazine. I would love to hear about the inspirational work that he does, and how he got into it. I once read the Really Beautiful People edition of The Big Issue (to contrast the Most Beautiful People issue that People Magazine does annually). This issue photographed a lot of people who were not chosen for their appearance, but because in some way, they made a big difference to the lives of others – they were carers, volunteers, foster parents, and advocates. I would love to talk to Allan Attwood about the people he met, and to tell him that I really love the magazine, and the way it makes a big difference to people in need. 

So know I have a room full of people – Angelina Jolie, Tim Costello, Marie Stopes, Juan Mann, Eddie Perfect, Allan Attwood. I’m not sure how all these guys would get along – so the last two people I would have at the dinner would be my sister, Fiona and my housemate and good friend, Travis. I would have these guys because they both have the amazing and priceless ability to be able to talk to anyone, about anything – and that would be a very valuable skill with such a diverse range of guests. Also, I don’t think Travis would forgive me if I had Angelina Jolie over for dinner and he wasn’t invited.

So there is my hypothetical dinner party list. I’m not sure what this response would say about me to a potential employer in an interview. However, having answered the question of who inspires me, it does lead me to a second question – how do I want to be remembered? What reason will people have for inviting me to dinner? That question might take a little longer to answer, and to realise.

Rowena Southgate (aka ‘Ms Alchemy’) is based in Melbourne. While she would love to write as an occupation, she still needs to earn a living. This living so far has seen her work in research related to employment, in policy related to disability services, in HIV prevention in Vietnam, and also in the sexy world of communicable diseases. An acute observer and amateur photographer, Rowena likes to think twice about she sees in the world around her, and what it would take to make it a little bit different – for the better.

I’m sitting here, with a glass of wine, trying to figure out how best to introduce myself. So I guess straight away, you can deduce that a) I like wine, and b) I’m indecisive.

This is the first ever blog I have written, so I figured I’d tell you a bit about me, and how I came to write here.

There are so many angles, so many different paths to take! Do I introduce myself by work and education history (an age old favourite); with six kooky facts (not really my style, but it is a great game to play); or give you a chronological account of my past thirty years on the planet?

So many options. So I’ll just start with a few little things about me.

First thing is that at times, I can be stubborn. I actually prefer the word ‘determined’, but my dad, the very man I inherited this trait from, calls it stubborn.

This can definitely come in handy at times – like continuing on a holiday that has a rough start, but ends up being literally unforgettable (in a good way). Being stubborn (or determined) can be destructive as well. Like playing poker, knowing that you should pass your hand in, but knowing that you’ve bet too much on a pair of four’s. Or that moment in a debate where you realise that you are wrong, but you’ve come too far and too strongly to concede.

My stubbornness has been evident at many different stages in my life. My parents love to tell the story of the three year old me, who argued with them vehemently that it was a dog, not a kangaroo, that jumped across the road in front of the car during a drive in country New South Wales.

As a fourteen year old, I became a vegetarian partly because I didn’t like the thought of animals being killed, partly because I didn’t like the taste of meat, but mainly because Dad was really against it.

As a seventeen year old, I refused to chose between a school trip to France and a school trip to Vietnam in the same year, and instead insisted on saving up to do them both.

Stubbornness has served me pretty well throughout my life. I am determined to have new experiences, and therefore hang in there despite the part of me feels that I shouldn’t.

This brings me to the second little thing about me. I love the concept of change. Some people are scared by change, others are unable to sit still – I’m in awe of and constantly fascinated by the possibilities of change. The way things could be, rather than the way things have always been. The change we can make, whether big or small, in whatever way we can.

This covers a whole spectrum of things – the way that someone’s smile can change the whole tone and expectation about your day – and the way that some well thought through programs and intelligently donated cash can turn someone’s life around.

Mind you, I’m not always happy about change – I’ve recently had to move, for the second time in six months. Then again, I’ve had 12 addresses in 12 years, so maybe it’s not change, but just the norm.

So that’s one of the things that brought me to 10thousandgirl. After having to move on the whim of another landlord selling another house that I rented, I decided I needed to ‘change’ my home ownership status. Ideally I’d like it to change to ‘home owner’ sooner rather than later. However, for the moment, it’s going to have to be ‘potential home owner, looking for all the finance info and education she can get’.

So as well as wanting to change my own personal circumstances, one day, I’d like to think that I left an impression on at least a few other people. I love words, and the impact they can have, when said in the right way, to the right people. I love the idea of education and inspiration, for those who are ready, willing and able to receive it.

That’s another reason that 10thousandgirl caught my eye – something for me, and something for someone else. The potential for change that is inherent in education, money, and investing in girls and women overseas. A few years ago, I lived and worked in Vietnam for 12 months. While it was definitely a challenge, I absolutely loved it. It was an education that I will never forget. I realised the power of money, of position, of education and of gender. I saw the power and choice that being able to invest in a small business gave some families.  I also saw the exploitation and lack of choice in other industries, where such an investment wasn’t viable.

So that’s me – I’m indecisive, love wine, am stubbornly hopeful that I will leave the world a little bit better than I found it. I love words, I am aiming for big things, and am ready for the fun that little things bring me while I am on my way there! I hope you enjoy reading, and will check back to see what these things may be.

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