SIMONE NOVELLO ON LIVING THE GOOD LIFE, ALIGNING YOUR VALUES & LEVERAGING YOUR SOLO MUM ASSETS
With a desire for a simpler life born from her Italian heritage
and a belief that we, as humans, do better together, single mum Simone Novello gave up a corporate career in Sydney and moved to the Blue Mountains with her sons Sebastian ( 14) and Jasper ( 6) to set up her own partnership business called Partner2grow. Simone is a firm believer that your fairy tale may just be found in places you would have never discovered
had life gone according to plan.
HI SIMONE, THANKS FOR JOINING US. LET ME START FROM THE BEGINNING. AS A CHILD, WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
My big ambition was to be a professional ice skater. I did it for a few years but then realised there was no money in it as an Australian so I refocused on my education.
WHAT WERE YOUR CAREER PLANS WHEN YOU LEFT SCHOOL?
To never study again! But eventually I listened to my mum’s advice and studied a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in marketing. From there I did all the things you’re ‘supposed’ to do. I got married one month shy of my 19th birthday, then focused on finishing my degree and setting up my career. By the age of 25 I’d bought a house and had my first child.
HOW DID YOUR CAREER UNFOLD FROM THERE?
My first job after finishing my degree was with a stationery company. Everyone told me how hard it was to find employment straight out of uni, so I felt pressure to take whatever I was offered. On my first day I was led to an office in the middle of a stinking hot warehouse where I couldn’t leave a cup on my bench because I’d find cockroaches swimming in my tea. I quit after nine months.
After that I found a position in banking where I worked for nearly a year until I realised I’d really started to hate myself. At 21 I was frumpy, married and had one pair of sensible black shoes that I wore every day. My idea of exercise was going to the biscuit tin for another Kingston. So I left and found a position in an entrepreneurial company working with banking loyalty programs. It fit so much more with my values. All of a sudden my life changed. I started exercising again, making new friends and within 12 months I’d lost all my extra weight, had a thriving career and by the time I turned 22, I was heading up a team of 25 people across Australia and New Zealand.
SO YOU BELIEVE YOUR CHOICE OF JOB IMPACTS THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?
Absolutely. In my pursuit of certainty and security I’d wrapped myself up in so much cotton wool that I’d made myself depressed and that flowed into every part of my life. Part of finding the job that’s right for you is to align your career to your values; whether it’s running a business or finding an employer with the right culture for you. It’s interesting to reflect on that time in my life actually. I have less security now than I’ve ever had, but it’s also one of the happiest times of my life.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
I think I found the security I wanted inside myself. When you’re less secure as a person, you have to find security outside yourself – in your job, the people around you, routine, that sort of thing. But we live in a world that’s everchanging and ultimately there is no real security outside of ourselves. Trying to fill your need for security externally is like strapping sandwiches to yourself and trying to get full. Now I have a deep-seated belief that when you’re ok on the inside, everything on the outside will be ok too.
HOW DID YOUR CAREER CHANGE WHEN YOU BECAME A SINGLE MUM?
The few years around the time I became a mum were huge. My husband wanted to have a baby in the year 2000. When the time came I was reluctant, but we’d been together for nine years so I went ahead. We separated within 12 months of having my son and suddenly I was a single mum with my career on hold.
It was a huge shock. I’d lost everything I’d worked so hard for and I didn’t understand what went wrong. Now I can see that the relationship was very co-dependent – the more I established my sense of self, the worse my marriage became. When it all happened I didn’t know what to do, so I packed up my son, Sebastian, and we went to Europe for seven weeks. While we were there I got a call from the Commonwealth Bank offering me my dream job with an amazing salary increase, which of course, I took.
HOW DID YOU BALANCE YOUR CAREER WITH HAVING A YOUNG CHILD?
My ex-husband and I worked up to having 50/50 care of Sebastian by the time he turned two, then things got easier. I was a single mum half the time but I was also a single lady half the time. In the next few years I got promoted to the head of partnerships and created a new division which allowed me to travel regularly. My life was a lot of fun at that time.
DID YOU FEEL YOU’D HIT THE PINNACLE OF YOUR CAREER AT THAT STAGE?
One of them, for sure! By my late twenties I was the youngest business director in the company. I had a beautiful terrace home and gorgeous shoes, I went to lots of parties and drank lovely wine… and with all that came the young, good-looking boyfriend with the six-pack who was studying to be a doctor. I’d really established myself as an individual and it was then I decided to take the plunge and start my own joint-ventured business.
EXCITING TIMES! AND SO HOW DID YOUR FIRST BUSINESS VENTURE GO?
It was steaming ahead until we hit an iceberg. I unexpectedly fell pregnant with my second son, Jasper, and the global financial crisis hit. I went from joint venturing with one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs to being heavily pregnant, living with my mum while my student boyfriend worked in a warehouse and I took a sales job cold calling people to ask them if they got their baby bottle of Tabasco sauce in the mail. Somehow I ended up tumbling off my perch, losing everything and feeling humiliated. In the words of my neighbour (words I can now laugh at) “You had the best life and I just watched it go to shit”.
SHIT INDEED! WHAT DID YOU DO FROM THERE?
There were so many different ways I could have responded to what happened, but I made the choice to pull myself together and secured a contract working with Darrell Lea. The plan was that it would set us up financially while my boyfriend was still studying, but although I tried to make it work, we weren’t value-aligned so by the time Jasper was nine months old I became a solo mum again facing my worst nightmare of raising another young child on my own.
NEVER LOSE YOUR OPENNESS, YOUR CHILDISH ENTHUSIASM THROUGHOUT THE JOURNEY THAT IS LIFE, AND THINGS WILL COME YOUR WAY.
THAT’S ALSO BEEN ONE OF MY BIGGEST FEARS AS A SINGLE MUM. WHAT IF I RE-PARTNER AND IT HAPPENS AGAIN?
You know, you can look at life any way you want to. You can hold back and worry about the ‘what ifs’ or you can live and know that even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expected, it might lead to something better. When the separation happened, I remember sitting in my mum’s house wondering how I’d made such a mess of my life, but then I realised it was an opportunity. So I packed up everything and moved to the Blue Mountains for six months to get healthy and figure out what that opportunity was.
AND DID YOU FIGURE IT OUT?
You could say that! Six months went by and when it was time to move back to Sydney, I couldn’t leave. The mountains were my opportunity. They are where I belong. By getting away from everything I realised my old life had been quite superficial, so I sold my house in the city and bought a rustic farmhouse on half an acre of beautiful gardens. I felt so much more centred, so much more secure in myself and I landed a half a million dollar contract managing a partnership program for a massive retailer. I invested heavily in it, but when it came to achieving outcomes for them, I couldn’t get the approval I needed to take action. Eventually I had to terminate the contract. I lost a lot of money. That was another great lesson for me. I thought I had to go big to restore my financial situation quickly, but at that point I finally realised it was ok to take things slower.
WHAT WAS YOUR NEXT STEP?
For a little while, nothing. Literally! Not long after that realisation I broke my leg on a flying fox. So I’d just lost a shed load of money, ended a huge contract and was raising a three year old and a twelve year old on my own.
JUST A FEW TINY HURDLES. HOW DID YOU RECOVER FROM THAT?
Well, my initial response was to start a new relationship, drink wine and eat chocolate while I waited for my broken leg to heal.
But it really was a blessing. It gave me time to see that one of my biggest assets is my ability to make the impossible possible by creating and leveraging win-win relationships. It was then I decided to fully commit to the vision I’d had for my company since 2008 and empower other people and businesses to do better together through strategic partnerships. I finally realised that all these twists in the plot were moving me towards fulfilling this purpose.
That was three years ago and now I’m very settled in the mountains. My business is growing, my lifestyle matches my values and I get to really make a difference to other businesses. My programs help them tap into assets they didn’t even know they had. Sometimes they even think of their assets as weaknesses! So knowing I can help them turn that around and create partnerships that will take them to a whole new level really fits with my whole life story. It’s always been my partnerships and networks that have been my support and my saviours. Now I get to teach those skills to others.
A HAPPY ENDING THEN?
Well, I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a happy ending. Things still happen. In the past twelve months I’ve had a herniated disc in my back and Jasper’s father died in a car accident. I still have a habit of not leaving enough in my cup and biting off more than I can chew but I’m constantly learning to manage these things in better ways.
AND WHAT ABOUT LOVE? DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN LOVE AGAIN?
I’m in a lovely relationship right now. It’s probably the most undramatic, stable relationship I’ve had for a long time, and I think that really comes down to the fact that we’re fully value-aligned.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE KEY TO HAVING A HAPPY LIFE?
Resilience and how you handle life when it doesn’t go to plan. You have to let go and let things happen. The tighter you hold on, the more your dreams end up being pushed away. When I first went to the mountains I moved in next door to a lady who was like an older version of myself. I now call her my fairy godmother. One day, I was talking with her about something that wasn’t going to plan and I said “But Kay, I try to make these things happen and I don’t know why I can’t!” She replied, “Simone, we don’t make things happen, they just happen”.
I had this fear that if I wasn’t striving and if I wasn’t in control of everything, it wouldn’t turn out the way I wanted, but now I can see that it’s when I finally let go of control and let myself be vulnerable that the things I want actually start coming into my life.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE RAINY DAYS, YOU MAY AS WELL BE PREPARED TO
HAVE FUN WITH THEM
DO YOU THINK BEING VULNERABLE IS HARD TO DO AS A SINGLE MUM?
Absolutely, but part of being vulnerable is learning to accept that it doesn’t mean you can’t handle things on your own. The thing is, you can do it on your own, but you can do so much more with help from others.
And you know, somewhere along the road the world got mixed up into thinking our key relationships only include our spouse and our business partner, but we need so much more.
Movies can be great for helping us see alternative perspectives in this way. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, lock in a ‘date’ night with yourself and watch movies like Chocolat, Fried Green Tomatoes and Under the Tuscan Sun. They’re my favourites. They’ve inspired me to live the life I do now and not feel limited as a solo mum.
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CAREER LESSON SO FAR?
Being realistic about what I can do, focusing on smaller pieces of the bigger puzzle and putting the right supports around me.
Learning how to prioritise the most important things and then executing them really well has also been a big one. You can see the difference in people who keep things simple and those who try to do and be too much. If you get tied up in the fear of not doing or being enough it manifests into the exact thing you’re scared of.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SINGLE MUMS WHO FEEL OVERWHELMED ABOUT CAREER & LIFE BALANCE?
The most important thing is that you will do it. There is no greater driver than the love of your kids. I’ve seen it with my own eyes – women are fantastic at falling on their feet. The key is to get to the heart of what’s important to you and get serious about living it. I went from dressing my son in Ralph Lauren to dressing him from the op shop. Treat it as an adventure, see the small blessings and have fun.
WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER PLANS NOW?
Life will always throw up challenges. Now that Jasper is in school I don’t have the flexibility I used to have so I need to find a new reality around how I grow my business. Being organised and prioritising will be key as well as finding key strategic partners – something that’s already been showing results for me. But perhaps most of all I’ve had to disconnect from the person I used to be and stop comparing myself to her and to others. I used to be so hard on myself. The concept of self-compassion was foreign to me until recently and now I feel like it’s the last frontier to conquer. The ‘past me’ was constantly thinking “Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m not a good parent. Maybe I’m not a good business person” but maybe it’s all about accepting things the way they are. It doesn’t mean you don’t have big plans, but maybe instead of trying to aim for the stars all the bloody time, we can start to recognise how often shooting stars happen to fall into our laps.
I FINALLY REALISED THAT ALL THESE PLOT TWISTS WERE MOVING ME TOWARDS FULFILLING MY PURPOSE.