To my two awesome daughters from your mum,

I’m rarely a ‘here’s some advice’ sort of Mum. I’m more a ‘let’s chat and work it out’ sort of Mum. But last week I joined a panel for International’s Women’s Day* and I walked away, compelled to offer you some advice. I was grabbed by the idea that I knew some stuff that could help you avoid spending even one minute of your valuable lives trying to play a game where the rules are stacked completely against you, and winning is defined by someone else’s ambitions, not your own.

So, here’s my advice –

Make your own gender schemas.   

Gender schemas – These bastards are stacked against you. Do not embrace them!

They put everyone is stupid boxes and are completely unnecessary. Whether your partner in life be a man or a woman, make sure all the work around the house gets divided up fairly and in ways that work for both of you. You come from a long line of gender-schema-ignorers – Continue this legacy. It is your birthright.

Here’s a list of roles that your Dad and I have discovered have no gender…lawn mowing, washing clothes or dishes or cars, making dinner, doing plaits in hair, ironing, sewing on buttons….just realised the list is too long to include here. Call me if you have any specific work you want to check for ‘gender’.

Expect to be paid Fairly.

There’s a host of important and clever people working hard to solve gender pay equity. They have a thousand ideas, but despite all their best efforts, on current trends we’ll achieve pay equity in 2186. That’s a very long way off, so whilst (wildly) supporting their lobbying, I suggest you concurrently take this matter into your own hands and do two things – Firstly, Know the market. Salary rates are increasingly available on line and you can ask around. Know what you’re worth. And Secondly, ask your boss (man or woman) to check your pay. Explain politely (or not) that there seems to be a global problem, and ask them to make sure they’re not adding to it by checking that everyone in the team, including yourself, is paid fairly, regardless of gender.

Look for the Career Playground not the Ladder.

The ‘career ladder’ is not nearly as interesting as the ‘career playground’. Up, down, across, and learning a bunch of new stuff. The playground is way more fun! If you take that single linear ladder, you’ll miss out on heaps of cool life experiences. You’ll learn less and your ability will be narrow, if all your capability building is aimed at climbing one skinny little ladder.

Look at the really cool people in the world. Their careers and lives have wandered all over the shop – new countries, new fields of work, new fields of knowledge. Find a thousand dimensions to what you can do for work and for your career. Heck, have five careers.

Perfection is a bizarro illusion. Don’t seek it.

The world is so much more beautiful when it’s real. You can be incredibly awesome, and incredibly interesting, without being perfect. The people who spend their life putting out a curated crafted perception of perfection are not real.  Walk away from them, and embrace being a real human. There are plenty of women (and men) who have done some fabulously meaningful work when their shoes and handbags didn’t match. They’re even done some great stuff in flats with messy hair. Be comfy in your own shoes – whether they’re cool or not.

Be wary of legislation. Make your own rules. Learn to negotiate.

The rules and the laws were put there with best intent, and they’re aimed at making it fairer but in reality, they often box us working mothers into work and career patterns that will leave us less ‘successful’ (whatever that may mean) and poorer (the meaning of that is crystal clear). Make your own rules. Learn to negotiate so you can lead the life you want to lead and have the structure and balance that works best for you. ‘Negotiating’ always trumps ‘speaking to HR’ (and you guys know I love HR, so it takes a lot to admit that).

There’s no manual for being a good Mum.

There’s such thing as the ‘right way to be a Mum’ (or Dad). Be the Mum you want to be. Do your best, and try your hardest, but don’t make the bar so high that you’re too stressed to enjoy the fabulousness of motherhood. I’m far from a perfect Mum, but as we all know, I have the sort of kids who are kind and generous, and love me just as I am, with all the imperfections. I recommend these types of kids. Make it all about great relationships for life, not about perfect photos, or being role models for anyone else. Do it your way. And while you’re there, support and applaud (very very loudly) other mothers (and fathers) doing it their way.

Life is chaotic. Embrace it!

The chaos that is life is so much fun. So much to do. So much to learn. So much to see. On and off the beaten path are all sorts of great things to do with your work and your life. Opportunities come up at all the wrong times, (often at the worst possible times!) and you just have to grab them anyway, and burn the candle at both ends (and the middle) to make them work. Disappointments will mess up your plans too, and take you down different tracks. Sometimes these tracks turn into better options than you ever imagined. Roll with it.

Ambition is personal. Decide on what makes you happy.

Do work that makes a difference. Do work you love.

Be what you want to be. A nurse or a doctor. A café owner, or an artist, or a florist. A journalist or novelist. A scientist or a mechanic. Go for it. Go as high as you like, or as deep in expertise as you can. Be the specialist or the generalist. Serve others or serve the planet. Lead people or lead ideas or lead both. Follow great thinkers and even better, great do’ers. But go for it! Live as big as life as you choose, without limitations from anyone else.

No one else can make the contribution you’re going to make!

Grab life and live it your way!

Have the confidence to change the rules so they work for you.

Make a game that’s worth playing, not just winning.

Just go for it!