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UNSW Canberra Public Service Research Group’s Dr Fiona Buick has faced many challenges in her personal life and career. By facing the messy reality and stepping into these challenges head-on, Dr Buick has learnt to be more compassionate, with a clear perspective and confidence. In this very personal interview, Dr Buick shares the challenges she faces each day and the strategies on how she balances it.
My career challenges have included being terribly micro-managed early on in my career, which completely eroded my confidence. At the same time, I was working in a role that I found cumbersome and boring; it didn’t stretch or challenge me at all. I now know that the combination meant I wasn’t living some of my core values – having autonomy and being intellectually stimulated and challenged. This was a recipe for a massive crisis in confidence and a dark mental health period for me. At the time, I attributed it to other things, but once I realised what was happening, I moved jobs and saw a psychologist to work through my challenges. What also helped was undertaking my Masters, where I met one of my mentors who has been an immense source of support for me, who continually inspires me to develop and grow and was pivotal in my decision to do my PhD and start a career in academia – a career I absolutely love and aligns with my values.
My personal challenges primarily centre on our children. I am the mother of two beautiful children – an eight-year-old (Harry) and five-year-old (Mia). We had a traumatic experience during childbirth and our son has complex disabilities. Our daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes a month before her 2nd birthday (she also has hypothyroidism). The combination means that our parenting journey has been incredibly bumpy at times – this is due to daily challenges that we face (including sleep deprivation!), as well as the massive mental load associated with constantly thinking ahead and making hundreds of decisions regarding diabetes each day. It is also due to the high amount of advocacy work involved in trying to set up a school environment our son can function in, as well as the planning work associated with diabetes management in school. These challenges have been exacerbated over the past three years, with periods of home learning and lots of illness, while juggling dual career responsibilities.
How I have met these challenges is stepping into them and the messy reality of them. This means being more compassionate with myself, and maintaining perspective about what the most important things are in life and ensuring I prioritise them.
Constant communication (and negotiation) with my partner is essential to meeting challenges. This includes both practical elements of our lives (i.e., juggling work calendars, various appointments, domestic and caring responsibilities etc.), as well as the more uncomfortable, emotional aspects. We work well as a team and negotiate various responsibilities well (most of the time!). It is important to both of us that we feel we are on the same page, heading in the same direction.
Finally, I think that central to meeting these challenges have been a supportive workplace – the School of Business is an incredible place to work, with very supportive leadership and colleagues. The ability to work flexibly (both in timing and location of work) has been integral to juggling it all and maintaining my mental health and well-being.
A mindfulness notion I learnt a long time ago was radical acceptance – accepting things for what they are.
I think this is pivotal – so sometimes we will experience things that are deeply unsettling, and we wish they were different, but it’s important to move through the grief cycle and then reach a point of acceptance. I have learnt to embrace our reality which frees me up mentally and helps me focus on what I can do to make the most of situations. This also helps in the workplace and means I don’t exhaust excessive energy on things outside of my control.
I think key is having an open mind, being open to learning and the vulnerability that brings, learning to be more adaptable and flexible, often reflecting on what has worked / what hasn’t / what I could do differently etc (which helps moving forward). My self-awareness has improved – I am aware of my own assumptions and triggers, as well as my strengths and limitations.
I have also learnt to not care about what others think so much – as a chronic people pleaser this has been huge, but when we have felt the incredible weight of judgement at times over the past eight years; I have learnt to bat it off. This also helps with an academic career where we frequently receive feedback on our teaching and research – I have learnt to not take negative (yet constructive) feedback so personally and to work with it.
I am also generally an optimistic person – I try and see the positive side of things / the silver lining in adverse circumstances (after I have processed the full range of emotions that come with them). For example, I truly feel that our son’s circumstances have made me a better person as a whole – similarly, our daughter’s diabetes has led to us being much healthier as a family and we also don’t take our health for granted.
Having good relationships are also key – in particular, my relationship with my partner and children, ensuring I spend quality time with them to maintain that sense of feeling connected and together. Having a few trusted friends is critical, as is having good relationships in the workplace.
You can manage a family and career (plus any other responsibilities), but please try and accept you will do things completely imperfectly, and that is OK. It is OK to be good enough, as you are enough.
You will surprise yourself with how strong you can be – you can overcome what is thrown your way.
It is important to know what your priorities and values are and live in accordance with them – this is so important for mental health, it is energising, and helps fill your cup.
Surround yourself with good and supportive people – they make a huge difference and can help weather the storms when they come. In saying that, I would also suggest they reach out for help when it’s needed, which is something I am still learning to do – our survival strategy is to bunker down and get on with it, so I can become a bit of a hermit.
Something else I would suggest is making time for yourself and engage more in self-care (something else I am working on).
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