Dear Andrea

Red hair, braces, bad skin, long and lanky, you were not really made to be a confident cool kid. Looking back on those photos, I actually am surprised to see you are not as ugly as you thought you were. You sure did have some bad haircuts and those perms were very ill advised. However, Adam and the Ants still makes you dance like crazy so it was not all bad.

Me at 13.

Growing up in Bundoora, a new outer suburb of Melbourne, famous for housing all the city’s mental and drug rehabilitation centres, it was not uncommon for people with mental illness to be around however you are yet to work out why it was always you they sat with to have a chat on the number 86 tram into the city. Kindness always brings people to you.

Dad, who was the CEO of the only seat belt making company in Australia, took you on tours of the factory. You met all the workers, usually people who were new to the country. You were taught very quickly that all people are important in running a business and that everyone deserves your respect. he was a well loved CEO as he laughed and teased them – ‘Oh Mr Kirby sir, you are so funny’. You also learned you can be funny and be in charge!

Your mum, your biggest supporter, worked in the local high school library and you went on to study your Library Technician Certificate with her. She returned to work after we went to school and somehow balanced work, studying and home life whilst Dad travelled for business. Mum ensured that she was always there for us. That there was nothing that was off limits, we could talk about anything and she had our back. I should’ve listened to her when she said I didn’t have to marry my first husband. She is a wise woman.

My Deb

Phil, your darling brother; that outgoing and popular boy, who starred in the musicals, the school band and was known by everyone. To this day, I still meet people that will say, ‘aren’t you Phil’s sister?’ For much of my teenage years, I was eclipsed by his shining star. I was painting the sets for the musicals and selling the tickets at the door. He was on stage and loved by everyone. I envied his confidence. Why did he have it and I didn’t?

All my grandparents were English. In the Depression, my poppa travelled Australia looking for work with a dinner suit in his swag as ‘one never knew when one would need to dress for dinner’. So first impressions always count.

You were so quiet and incredibly shy except with your closest friends. It was quite a sheltered life revolving around church and school. Mum said you had trouble thinking you were good at things, yet you excelled at tennis, and creative writing and had an insane love of musicals. A Saturday night for you was watching Fred and Ginger tear up the floor. You were not invited to school parties as you were a dag – a term that these days is more affectionate than the insult it was then. You were not that keen on kissing the boys, something that didn’t follow you into adulthood. You will still know all the words to Jesus Christ Superstar and Frank Sinatra songs for the rest of your life! You were bullied right through school and still think to this day it has some impact on you. It’s hard to get over some of what happened to you by two very cruel mean girls. But you do.

Leaving school and working at The Victorian Railways Institute Library was your first lesson in the world. You read Mills & Boon books so you could tell Miss Sleeth and Miss Draper (retired secretaries) which ones now contained sex scenes as for them it was ‘so unnecessary to have to read that filth’ You kind of enjoyed them. You met and worked with people you had never met before from all walks of life with their own issues and stories. You loved it and you came out of your shell. You made new friends. You left the church and discovered a whole new way of living but you stuck to many of the values the Bundoora Uniting Church taught you. You broke a heart, you had your heart broken many times. You worked through some interesting libraries from Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind to Monash Law Library where the librarian said you will never be a good librarian. You are too noisy. Find something else. You have been a computer salesperson, bus tour hostess, training administrator, recruitment consultant before settling into a career in HR and specialising in recruitment.

Styling at 19

You are now about to turn 55 in covid lockdown. You have been back in Australia for 5 years after 10 years living in London. You have an English husband, Robert, who gave up London life for you to return home and a 12 year old son, Thomas who you adore more than you ever thought possible. After all, you had chosen not to be a mother but happy accidents happen.

On returning home at 50, you found it hard to get work so you licensed The Recruitment Events Co. in Australia and started running events. Your last event before covid lockdown was a 350 person recruitment festival that was to go to New Zealand later this year and reach 600 in Melbourne. This was to be the year it all happened for you. However, after 3 years of building a great network and running events, you are starting again with a new business, Talent Table. you will build on the network of talent and HR people with vendors you have met, many of whom have become dear friends and start a whole new proposition to support your community in Australia. you know you can do it because you have done it before.

Alas, 2020 is nobody’s year and you have been challenged beyond belief but through it all the lessons you have learned in life you are going to come out of this stronger and better than before. You are truly excited about the future.

These lessons have remained true for you:

Mean girls don’t last forever

Right now you feel you will never be free of the bullying and teasing. There is a small group who tease you, put you down and there were those two girls who are physically hurting you every chance they got….but when you got to your 20 year reunion, one of the girls who did tease you will apologise for what she did and feels sorry as her son is going through it. She cannot imagine how you survived it, but you did. You find good friends who find you funny, kind, loving and crazy. Throughout your life your girlfriends will be your anchor and your validation. You will leave school and find out who you really are and one day, you will be really popular with people that matter and people that love you, just the way you are.

My beautiful family

Walk in, pause, look slowly around the room until you see someone you know and walk confidently up to them with a smile.

You walk into a room and think everybody is looking at you and judging you. You try to make yourself small. But guess what. They are not. And you are not small. When you leave school, your parents buy you a course at Suzanne Johnson’s Finishing School. You are taught to wear makeup, do your hair, and most importantly, walk into a room with confidence You have never lost that lesson and still use it today. It gives you confidence to walk into any situation with your head up and smile on your face. Nobody ever knows how much you are quaking inside. Now you stand up on stages and speak to many and lately host video webinars – still using the same skill – pause, look slowly around the room and smile.

When one door closes, somewhere a window opens.

Every single time life has not turned out as you had planned, something better and often brand new comes your way. Stay open to the opportunities. You can mourn what you think you have lost but in the end, you always find something better. Failure is a part of life. You will fail spectacularly and you will achieve much. Everything is an experience that leads you on. Be brave, go to the window every time and look at what is coming next.

Doing what I love

Surround yourself with good people

You have been doing this your whole life from Catherine, Alison and Robyn who got you through school. To Jenni and Jules, who picked you up after and taught you to stand on your own. To the London pack who got you through pregnancy and early motherhood when you were alone. You have been very blessed to have so many good people in your life. At each stage, you have found them, trusted them, loved them and held onto them. They are your cheer leaders and your confidants. And what you give out, comes back in spades. My goodness, you have no idea how much you will be loved and how much you will love. This will be one of the greatest successes of your life.

Be kind, always

Everyone is flawed and many people will come along and let you down, hurt you and in some cases betray you that you wonder if you will ever recover. However, you find as you go on that if you start with kindness in your response to these things, you will live happier. Lashing out, retaliation gets you nowhere. Start with you how you wish to behave in every situation and go from there and you will always be proud of yourself. You will teach Tom to look people in the eye, smile and be interested in them. Tonight the lady in the local store spoke for ten minutes about his care and compassion and he is just popping in to buy sweets but he knows to take the time to talk with her, listen and be hind. The world needs lots of kindness and it starts with you.

So get back into the world (figuratively) and start again Kirbs. You got this!

With Love,

Andrea

This post was originally published in Hung Lee’s Recruiting Brainfood.