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Veronica* says losing her Sydney hospitality jobs managing a restaurant and a cafe in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic was “probably the best thing that could have happened to me”.
Originally from Mexico City, Veronica moved to Australia seven years ago and found learning about the culture and customs of her new home difficult. “One of the first things I realised is how important lines are in Australia,” she says. “If you are waiting for the bus or to buy a coffee, you line up and it would be rude not to. I really liked how polite and considerate that is.
“I also realised that a common mistake Spanish speakers make when asking for something, for example while getting served in a restaurant, is starting a question with ‘Can you give me …’ which is the literal translation from how you ask the same question in Spanish, but it can be considered rude in English.”
Veronica had the idea to create a website for Spanish speakers visiting or moving to Australia containing all the things she wished she knew when she moved, but she didn’t know where to start and didn’t have the time. “You know, when you’re working 10 hours a day in hospitality, it makes you too exhausted to think about doing anything else.”
She was also scared. “There was also a comfort in having a set amount of hours each week, and having a regular income. And that was what kept me in the same position.”
For many Australians, the economic impact of Covid-19 has been devastating. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that between March and April, during the nationwide lockdown, almost 595,000 workers lost their jobs. Separate data shows these losses were concentrated among young workers, with almost one in three workers aged 18-24 losing their jobs.
But for some people, the pandemic has forced a change for the better. After Veronica’s employers shut down their businesses, she enrolled in online courses for coding, website design and search engine optimisation. She had no experience in those areas.
“A change was something I’d always considered but I never had the opportunity until now,” she says. “I was conscious of not spending too much money, but thankfully some companies were offering free courses in coding to help people like me learn something new. I discovered a passion for it, even though it was hard to get my head around. It gave me so much satisfaction to learn something new and made me appreciate [that] it is such a big world out there, full of things we don’t know.”
The result is her website for Spanish speakers, Sydney at a Glance, which is already generating income through advertising and commissions. Veronica is also applying for coding jobs.
“Covid gave me the opportunity to refocus on where I want to go and what I want to do, so I am really grateful for that because I do know that for many people, it has been a difficult time. But I think it can also be useful to highlight the positives to come from a bad situation as well.”
Escaping the ‘rat race’
Jo Yates, 41, thought it would be impossible to leave the “Sydney rat race” before the pandemic hit. Her job as a video producer was very city-centric. On the side, Yates would sometimes buy, renovate and sell houses but that was more of a passion project for her.
In January she went to Noosa in Queensland to renovate and sell a house and was intending to move back to Sydney to resume producing work in April.
“All that changed when Covid hit, as my industry pretty much came to a standstill and there was no work in Sydney,” Yates says. She decided not to sell the Noosa property and stayed until the situation settled. But after a few weeks she realised she never wanted to leave.
“Now I’ve decided not to sell the house and to stay here permanently. I have also retrained as a property buyer agent and launched my company Bricks & More, because I realised having one string to my career bow is very limiting when something like a pandemic happens.
“A change was something I’d always considered but I never had the opportunity until now. I think I got sucked into the daily grind, thinking I’ve got to keep working to pay the Sydney rent, and it’s not until you have a circuit breaker that you begin to question whether things are really working.
“I love Sydney and loved my job for the longest time but the pandemic made me question whether I wanted to spend the next 20 years living in this big, busy city, just trying to keep myself above water. I now live in a four-bedroom house with more space and it is such a friendly, more calm way of life.”
A clinical psychologist in Sydney, Emily Dowling, says stories such as Veronica’s and Yates’s are the exception. She says fewer clients than ever are interested in changing careers.
“There has been a massive drop in confidence, I’d argue, across society,” Dowling says. “Many people are commenting that Australia has coped extremely well but that’s also linked with a real sense of possible doom around the corner, and with it risk aversion.”
Rather than changing skills or careers during an uncertain time, Dowling says, most people are more interested in changing the way they work. She says “almost 100%” of her clients have spoken about wanting greater flexibility in their workplaces.
“A huge proportion like the idea of a three-to-four-day week working from home, and one to two days in the office. And a surprising proportion want to work from home permanently. There is a massive correlation between wanting to spend more time at home and home ownership, being financially stable, having space at home for a private office, and often a partner, kids, a well-established social network so they get lots of contact with other adults, and don’t feel they need work colleagues any more.”
Opportunity to reflect
But for Jemimah Ashleigh, continuing her work was not an option. She flew home to Australia from Canada for Christmas in 2019, staying with her family in east Gippsland in Victoria. It had been a worrying time, with her family’s property close to the bushfires that swept through late last year. She planned to visit for a month but Covid meant she kept pushing her flight back until eventually it was cancelled.
All of her clothes and other belongings are still in Canada. An entrepreneur, she had moved there to try to expand her business, The Visibility Lab, which helps get exposure for businesses and entrepreneurs, especially women.
“Toronto was named one of the most entrepreneurial communities in the world so it made sense to move there and build my profile there,” Ashleigh says.
“I was ready to go back there after Christmas, but it turned out due to Covid I would need proof of residency to go back. I only had a working visa. I thought, ‘I can’t stay in east Gippsland with Mum and Dad forever’ so I moved to St Kilda and then, of course, Melbourne went into lockdown.”
She had to cancel all her speaking engagements overseas, losing $40,000 of work in one day. She could no longer network and build her reputation.
“Things got tight. So I went back to government administration work, which is not something I ever thought I’d go back to. It was hard to get my foot back into it but I was willing to take on any role. And when I was offered a contract, it was such a relief.
“So many people lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to pay their rent and so I feel such huge gratitude. I also got divorced during the pandemic and so I actually probably needed some quiet time to reflect on what I want my life to be about.
“This pandemic allowed me to fall in love with my life again during some very turbulent events. We are very lucky here in Australia despite all that is going on. And we are learning things like we don’t have to be in the office to be productive, we don’t have to burn out, and sometimes we have to surrender to choices we aren’t making and events we can’t control. But you can still make the best of the situation.”
*Not her real name.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid pivot: the people who changed careers and flourished in 2020 | Coronavirus