Carer Conversations

Carer Conversations 003 – Reinventing your career when you are a carer

Episode Summary

Have you ever wondered if it’s too late to change your career? Our inspirational guest this month is Lauren McGurgan, who had a long and successful career as a teacher before transitioning to a full time carer for her daughter. When it was time for her to go back to work, the teaching environment was no longer sustainable for her caring role, so when a position was advertised through the Disability Gateway that didn’t initially accept her qualifications, Lauren called the number, and convinced them otherwise. Lauren also shares tips on how valuable it has been for her to share about her caring role with her employer.

Episode Transcription

Lauren:

Well, you know, as a as a lot of, a lot of roles in the disability sector the role was advertised with a preference for disability qualifications. So social workers or speech therapists were being encouraged to apply.

And I didn't have that skill set, so I called the phone number that was attached to the job advertisement, and I said, “I don't think you're aware yet, but you need a teacher on your team”.

And they encouraged me to send through my resume, which I did, and lo and behold, here I am.

Patty:

Yep, Yep. So you basically said, “hey, the essential criteria needs an edit to include my qualification, and then I'm going to apply for it and you're going to give me the job”. 

Lauren:

That's pretty much how that went.

Patty:

And they did and they didn't just give you the job, they gave you a senior role!

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Billy:

From the Carer Gateway at the Benevolent Society, we welcome you to, Carer Conversations with your host Patty Kikos.

The Care Gateway is the Australian Government national care hub and provides reliable services, support and advice especially for carers.

This podcast is where we share interviews with guests that have specialized knowledge to help support carers to look after their emotional, mental and physical well-being.

We are recording on Aboriginal country, on lands which were never ceded. We acknowledge the traditional custodians and cultural knowledge holders of these lands and waters. We pay our respects to Aboriginal elders, past and present.

Always was, always will be.

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Patty:

Welcome folks. Thank you for finding the time to join us again at Carer Conversations. My guest today is Lauren McGurgan. She's a mother to 2 1/2 wonderful children. Jazz who's 11 years old, Kyan, who is 5 and another one, is on the way in her belly.

Lauren has found strength in being a carer to her daughter and has applied these skills and strengths to her career.

I'm personally very inspired by her story as she has pivoted in her life, and completely changed the trajectory of her career, so that she can care for her daughter Jazz.

I know that many of us have moments when we wonder what life would have been like if we had chosen a different profession or a different personal life path.

Maybe some of us consider career changes later in life, and perhaps we even hesitate to instigate this change as it can seem like an enormous, and even overwhelming process.

I know in my younger years I was always very impatient to get to the next stage or chapter or season of my life.

When I was at school I wanted to be at university. When I was at Uni, I was impatient to finish my degree so that I could go travelling. And just like the seasons, our life chapters will always come to an end.

For a while we might focus on adventure and then study, then work, and we might even embark on various interests and even connect with different friendships along the way.

But ultimately, everything has its own timing.

And this is all part of our own personal learning.

Certainly, as we get older our responsibilities to our family increase and this is emphasised, even more so when we are a carer.

For many of us today, our current chapter is emphasised by our caregiving role, and for some it's a very new stage, and for others it's already been many years.

As a collective.

Many of us were able to initiate a new way of being employed in the last few years during lockdown when working from home became more available, and this has allowed many employees the opportunity to negotiate these terms of their employment to ensure a more aligned work life balance.

As individuals, we sometimes need to call upon a sense of self approval to not only initiate our own terms, but also to advocate for ourselves, and for our family’s needs.

And this is part of what Lauren will be sharing with us today.

Lauren is a wife, a friend, a mother and is passionate about supporting the growth and development of children, having started her career as a teacher in inclusive environment.

She discovered a niche skill set and worked on several projects for the Department of Education capacity building other educators in their inclusive practice, and also hosting coaching sessions.

Lauren currently feels at home in her role as a senior Connect Partner with The Benevolent Society, where she can connect people with a disability to support services as well as her team members.

In addition to supervising her team, she also trains, mentors and guides them through changes and growth.

Lauren, you are a carer for your beautiful little girl Jazz. Can you tell us a little about her diagnosis and your journey as a carer of course?

Lauren:

Sure! Jazz is an 11-year-old girl. She is so strong and resilient and cheeky and playful and I get the pleasure of calling her my daughter. Jazz was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta when she was still in utero.

Osteogenesis imperfecta is a very rare condition, and in a nutshell that means that she is short statured and her bones break very easily.

But with that new diagnosis coming so early, it meant that my caring journey began before she was even born. So for a very long time there, my focus was on learning about her condition and trying to understand what that would mean for her life to come, and for our family as well. 

And this was a challenging space of learning and adapting and trying to come to a point in our lives where we could feel that strength and resilience again.

Patty:

Yeah, so you had the benefit of being prepared. How far along were you in your pregnancy when you found out?

Lauren:

I wasn't that prepared, actually. I was about 32 weeks pregnant, and Jazz was diagnosed because they could see fractures in the ultrasounds with her.

And, you know, there's not a whole lot of information out there when it is a rare condition. So, it was still a matter of searching the Internet and trying to connect where we could and navigating a minefield of resources and services that we might be able to tap into, you can only imagine. 

Patty:

I can only imagine! What was the most poignant turning point for you during this period?

Lauren:

I think that the most poignant turning point for us was... Actually, it came a little bit later when we enrolled Jazz into daycare and.

Patty:

How old was Jazz?

Lauren:

She was about two years old.

Patty:

And in that period, had it been only you and your husband that was taking care of her?

Lauren:

She had a little bit of grandma as well, but yes, it primarily just myself and my husband.

Patty:

And did that mean that you also didn't go back to work for the first couple of years?

Lauren:

I didn't go back to work, no, I was primarily her carer and I was quite happy to do that at that time, as that was what our family needed. But we were venturing into a space where Jazz needed to be able to socialise with other children.

Patty:

And to be stimulated externally?

Lauren:

That's it! And to have that education that would come from day care, and I needed something that was beyond the caring role as.

So we'd been told so many things about what Jazz couldn't do, and we had a child who would fracture bones incredibly easily, so there was a lot of fear about putting her into a social setting and we could definitely see all of the risks involved.

But we could also see the positives that would come from that, and we were lucky enough to find a fantastically supportive daycare for her to be able to attend.

And she found fabulous friends she has still managed to remain connected with, and we've learned how to let go of that caring role and expand that space. For her, sharing that with other people is just so vital.

Patty:

Was it difficult to do that initially?

Lauren:

It was so difficult. Trusting other people was so difficult.

Patty:

It’s your precious cargo.

Lauren:

It is. It is.

But you know the space that it allowed me and allowed Jazz and our family was just so valuable. 

Patty:

Yeah, I can imagine and I guess Jazz being in daycare, made you realise that you could share the caring role with others.

And that would have been a massive, massive reset for your family as well.

Lauren:

Definitely, definitely, yeah.

Patty:

Was there a should-a would-a could-a moment that might be able to serve as a cautionary tale or a teaching moment for our carers that might find themselves in similar situations?

Lauren:

I think that, you know, for a very long time I had wanted to keep my professional life and my caring role very separate.

Patty:

Was this a personal decision or is this because you wanted to be (in inverted commas) “professional”?

Lauren:

Yeah, the latter, yeah, yeah. I wanted to be able to be seen as equal to my colleagues and I wanted to be able to perform on the same power as them.

And I didn't want to be held back by my role as a carer at all?

Patty:

Did you feel at the time that if people knew about your caring role and its demands, that it wouldn't be seen as something positive about the characteristics and the expertise that you'd bring to your professional role? 

Lauren:

Yeah, definitely and particularly in an interview situation, I was quite concerned that there would be discrimination that I would experience there, and  that it would always just be something that was an excuse. Almost that I wasn't quite at the standard to my peers. 

Patty:

So you wouldn't mention your caring role?

Lauren:

I wouldn't in interviews, no

Patty:

And I guess that cut you off having that support network at work that could accommodate for your caring role?

Lauren:

Definitely the support, definitely the understanding and my caring role changes quite frequently and it changes at the drop of a hat.

So you know, we've got our day-to-day things that we need to do, but in an instant, everything can turn into an emergency situation, and that can last us many weeks.

Yeah, So what I what I've come to realise though, is that the carer in me and the professional in me, are the same person, and without the right supports, I can't do either job well. The caring role and the professional role both add value to each other.

Patty:

And it makes you authentic, doesn't it?  You don't have to put a mask on and then come home and be yourself. Or mix the two up?

Lauren:

Yeah, I don't need to do that, I guess who you are should be acceptable in both sectors.

So now I'm really open about my caring role, and I reflect constantly on myself and I communicate and work out what my needs are and communicate those with my employer. 

Yeah, and I guess my advice to other carers, is to regularly have conversations with yourself and understand what it is that you need and seek ways to have that fullfilled.

Patty:

Yeah, that's right. Because even in your caring role, there were different chapters in your life, weren't there? They were getting pregnant, having a baby... And then the knowledge that our baby is going to need some extra special care, and then the first two years of what that entailed, that would have been a very different chapter.

And then the end of that chapter is, “OK, now it's time for me to do other things, and it's time for her to go to daycare”

Lauren:

Yes, absolutely.

Patty:

That’s the thing about chapters and seasons, they’ll always come to an end and there’ll always be a new one that starts over.

Lauren:

Yes, that’s right

Patty:

So speaking of speaking to employers, you have a very inspirational story about how you created and then rocked your Plan B when you reinvented yourself and your career. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Lauren:

Yes, I used to work as a teacher. And I was in a leadership role and that was a career that I had so much passion for, and had spent many years working towards where I was.

Patty:

What was the leadership role in the teaching career?

Lauren:

So I was I was working between directing services, and also being a head teacher. So yeah, so being responsible for all of the programs that would go out, their educational programs, and communicating with families and that sort of thing.

Patty:

Because it seems that the two things that align here in both roles is that you're very much a leader.

That's what most carers don't realise. You're actually in a leading role, even if you didn't apply for it, you've inherited it.

Lauren:

Yes, you're right, you're right.

And I think it's a skill set that we can all harness in on for sure.

But being in a teaching role, it was a very difficult role to drop everything and run, to come to an emergency situation.

Patty:

Is it because the hours were so structured and rigid?

Lauren:

Well, the hours are structured and rigid, but also you know you've got a requirement to be present in in the classroom and you've got 20 odd children who are reliant on you being there and so getting that phone call that you need to rush to go and be present for your child, that doesn't always work in that line of work.

Patty:

So when you went back to work after Jazz went to daycare. Is that the role you initially went back to?

Lauren:

It was in the role I initially went back to and so I struggled a little bit initially. I had to find my footing again. I had to work out what I needed, what my family needed and how to achieve that.

And it took me quite some time and I had to grow the skills to be able to make a transition as well. 

Patty:

When you say that took some time, it does, doesn't it? When you're uncomfortable and you don't have a blueprint for what's next because you're cellular memory has never done it before, so it's overwhelming, isn't it?

Lauren:

That's it. That's it. And you know, I haven't worked as a teacher for quite a few years, but it's still part of my identity I would still I still identify myself as a teacher and I think it's ingrained into your foundations, and so it's very difficult to leave a profession that you are so passionate about.

If you can expand on those skill sets and harness in on what it is that that you are and what you've now learned as a carer, and apply that to that work it can, it can really take you places.

Patty:

Tell us about where it took you.

Lauren:

So I began expanding. I came out of the classroom and started working on some projects for the Department of Education and I was working on projects in the disability sector, so it was, capacity building educators on their understanding of inclusive practice, and understanding disability and.

Patty:

And applying for the NDIS as well?

Lauren:

That's right.

Patty:

There should be a course on how to do that. You almost need a PhD to do it.

Lauren:

Haha! You would need a PhD for it. So that's something that that my caring role definitely added value to that to.

And then I've more recently moved over to the Benevolent Society, where I'm working as a senior Connect Partner with Disability Gateway.

Patty:

You are indeed, but I actually love the story of how you applied for that role, and the reason I love it is because I think, I think as carers, even as people sometimes, it's a lot easier to advocate for someone else.

I know as a social worker that was certainly the case for me and as a carer, it's sometimes easier to advocate for the person that we care for. It's not always that easy to advocate for ourselves. 

Would you mind sharing your amazing and incredibly inspirational story of how you did that?

Lauren:

I don’t know, if it's inspirational, or a little bit cheeky, but.

Patty:

I think it's audacious and I think it's really inspiring.

Lauren:

Well, you know, as a as a lot of, a lot of roles in the disability sector the role was advertised with a preference for disability qualifications. So social workers or speech therapists were being encouraged to apply.

And I didn't have that skill set, so I called the phone number that was attached to the job advertisement, and I said “I don't think you're aware yet, but you need a teacher on your team”.

And they encouraged me to send through my resume, which I did, and lo and behold, here I am.

Patty:

Yep, Yep. So you basically said, “hey, the essential criteria needs an edit to include my qualification, and then I'm going to apply for it and you're going to give me the job”. 

Lauren:

That's pretty much how that went.

Patty:

And they did and they didn't just give you the job, they gave you a senior role!

Lauren:

Well, yeah, I had to wait a little while and work my way into the senior role. But definitely yeah.

Patty:

That's understandable. Did your husband also have a little bit of a career pivot?

Lauren:

With his career, he definitely did. So he's had quite a few pivots. He was working in the hospitality sector, which again was something, which is something that he couldn't just drop everything in the middle of service to be able to go and attend to our child.

Uhm. And so he left there and he started up his own business and that allowed him a lot more flexibility to be able to attend appointments and do those types of things.

He's been able to expand his skill set in other fields as well, so he now juggles 2 different roles on different days and that's given him the flexibility. 

He's got an amazing employer that allows him to have extra time to attend appointments or have Jazz go into work with him if she's not well enough to go to school, and that's incredible.

Yeah. So being able to do everything that he needed to be able to do as well.

Again, it came from knowing what it was that he needed help with, being confident to be able to voice what it was that he needed and having the right employer that was going to meet those demands.

You know he wants to give his all to his employer when he knows they've stepped up and provided him some extra supports, and I feel the same way. I just want to do my best in my role as well.

Patty:

How is your vulnerability in your caring role transformed into a wonderful skill set for your work?

Lauren:

I'm definitely able to relate to my clients on a far deeper level. 

Because I think that I was once the mum who stayed up until 3:00 AM searching for information and trying to understand what the future was going to hold for my child and for our family.

And in my role with Disability Gateway, I get to alleviate some of that concern and the pressure from carers, as I get to be the one that is searching for the answers and the connections that they need.

Staying awake and researching until 3:00 AM would definitely be a curse to so many different jobs, but it's seen as a skill set in in the role that I've, I've landed myself in and achieved with Disability Gateway. 

So I've definitely been able to turn that vulnerability from the caring roll into a fantastic skill set that I can apply to my career, and alleviate other people who are stressing and don't even have the capacity or aptitude to say up until 3:00 AM researching.

Patty:

So what's it like having this new way of being, this new way of living?

Lauren:

Look, you know, I think that when we first began focusing on creating balance in our lives, our lives were so out of order, that we felt like we were living on the edge of a cliff, and anything could topple us over at any moment.

We've achieved a space that has far more stability and security now, but it happened slowly, and it happened without us seemingly being aware.

We're still carers. Our focus and our needs can change in an instant, but we feel far more prepared than we once were. And we are aware of where that support, in any in any facet of our lives, is going to come from as well.

Patty:

Which is a beautiful blessing.

So, Lauren, what's next for you and what does this next part of your journey look like with the imminent arrival of your new baby? And what changes have you implemented to help you and your family navigate this next stage or chapter in your life?

Lauren:

So we've got a great focus on creating balance in our family and that remains the same. We are adding to our family.

And so, we've had to reflect and make some changes. I'm not as physically capable of lifting as I once was, so we've had to look into some equipment that is going to help be helpful to Jazzy at the moment.

Patty:

I love your foresight.

Lauren:

It obviously means that we have to expand our support network as well and ensure that everybody is trained in how to do that.

Uh, we also need to ensure that our son and my husband have their outlets to express themselves.

As well and for myself, I'm entering a period in my life where my family need me to be mentally and physically present for them. And that need that means that I need to be, I need myself to be, to be well and taken care of, and I need to be able to reflect on what it is that I need and voice that.

I'm sure that it's going to feel like no time at all before I'm preparing to go back to work as well. And that's again going to take reflection and preparation and again, work out how we're going to achieve that balance once again.

Patty:

Well, speaking of balance, I've actually got a question that relates to that, because, I'm going to start my rapid fire wrap up questions with you. Are you ready?

Lauren:

I'm ready, all right.

Patty:

Do you have a non-negotiable self-care ritual?

Lauren:

Self-care for me is going to change according to what I need at any given moment, so I don't have a specific non-negotiable. But I've learned to value the very small things 'cause I'm not always able to do something that's really obvious, like going and having a coffee with a friend or going for a run.

So I've learned to value a pair of slippers and a cup of tea.

Patty:

Who is someone that might be inspiring you right now and why?

Lauren:

My children and I often talk about inspirational people, and one name that we have been sharing with each other recently is Ahn Do, and we speak about him so often.

He was once a refugee, but he's built up on that story and created such a phenomenal skill set in so many different areas.

He's an award-winning children author and adults' author and an artist and to be able to have skill sets in in so many different areas is just so inspirational to us.

Patty:

Yeah, he is amazing. I'm a big fan as well.

All right, Lauren, you have an amazing opportunity to give your 20 year old self some advice.

What would you tell her?

Lauren:

I would tell 20-year-old Lauren to just listen to yourself.

Uh, my life is going to be hard at times, but it is supposed to be.

But when it is, listen to what you need, listen to what you know, and listen to what you've learned.

Patty:

I think 20-year-old Patty could have benefited from that as well.

What's your biggest pet peeve?

Lauren:

Oh, feeling stuck, feeling like there is no way forward and there's nothing more disheartening to me.

I have been there, and I probably will be again in the future at some point, but just knowing that I can inch my way out is so important? 

Patty:

My lucky last question and that is what is the most delicious meal that you cook or maybe base?

Lauren:

It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, it's a Key Lime.

Patty:

Pie Yum.

Lauren:

If you ask Jazz, it's meatloaf.

If you ask Kyan, its cakes and if you ask my husband, it's Filipino soups.

Patty:

My God, how amazing that one person can make so many others happy when it comes to food.

Lauren:

Food is love 

Patty:

And life!

I'm sure the new addition to your family that's currently a bun in the oven will also love the foods that you make.

Lauren:

I hope so.

Patty:

Thank you so much for joining me in sharing your inspirational story with us Lauren

Lauren:

Thank you, Patty. Thank you for having me. 

Patty:

Oh my pleasure! 

You have actually really inspired me to remain present with the stage of my own chapter or season that I'm currently navigating, and to not wish that I was in a different season.

It reminds me of a quote by the late astrologer Jonathan Cainer in an interview.

He was asked if it's possible to change your destiny. He responded by saying that you've got to think of your destiny like a good book.

It's only ever going to be a good read so long as it's had a good edit. 

So may we all find the inspiration to edit that current chapter that we find ourselves in, that might need a bit of a tweak, whether it's related to our caring role or something else.

And if you found this helpful, please do share it with your friends! Until next time take good care of you.

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Billy:

If you are caring for a relative or a friend who has a disability, a mental health condition, a life limiting health or medical condition.

Or they are frail because they're getting older. Please contact us at Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737, or look us up on www.carergateway.gov.au

And if you are a carer, you're allowed to take time to look after yourself. You are just as important as the person you take care of.