In December 2013 I was invited to speak and present awards at my high school, Randwick Girls. I’ve never been so proud to be called an ‘old girl’. A ridiculous honour. Read my speech below.
Have you ever had a moment in your life when you felt like you were exactly where you were meant to be?
Last Friday I spent eight exhilarating hours recording my first TV show called Foundis. It was my mini-Ellen moment. There were big cameras. Big lights. A big set. Big egos – and one of them was mine. But it was a child’s ego – that innocent, I’m just playing, wrapped up in my own world, no judgement, no cares, kinda ego.
I experienced that priceless moment where everything just feels, right.
Sure, there were nerves. I’m not a sociopath. But this was something I’d imagined all my life. I’ve just never had the courage to own this dream.
Never thought I was good enough. Smart enough. Tall enough. Gorgeous enough. Busty enough. You get the picture. Who does she think she is?
Well as a 43 year old mother of two little boys, I have finally tapped into it – the thing that shuts up the critics, the naysayers, the stuff that makes you succeed beyond your wildest imaginings.
It’s something you can’t be taught – because you were born with it. You can’t like it on Facebook. Or read it in a Tweet.
It’s the power of you – the authentic, amazing, incredible, you.
And when I stopped apologising for this sometimes, intimidating power inside me – things just started falling into place.
My life hasn’t always felt so shiny, so exciting – but more importantly, so right.
A few hundred years ago, I climbed those steps as a fresh-faced teenager with more collagen than I knew what to do with to accept an award for coming first in English. I was nervous. I was proud. But deep down I felt like I didn’t belong.
You see I was never the dux student here at Randwick Girls High. I wasn’t the school captain or a prefect. I wore braces. I stuttered. I lusted after Michael J Fox, Michael Jackson and Madonna’s talent for wearing lace in a way that made her look like the coolest bridesmaid in town.
Let’s face it, I wasn’t the poster girl for academic success – and back then I believed in life’s hype –
Go to private school.
Be a huge academic success.
Be the popular girl.
Turn down the volume on your heart’s desire and pay attention to society’s expectations of you instead.
Keep your hair long and lustrous – so men have something to run their fingers through.
If these supposedly magical ingredients didn’t make up your life after highschool, well, you’d just have to work harder than the chosen few.
So I graduated from this fine school in 1988, with long hair, two or three close friends and an acceptance into Sydney University to do an Arts Degree with a major in English.
But deep down I wanted to be a journalist. So I slaved away at a degree I had no interest in simply because it was what I was expected to do. 20 months later I deferred my studies and sat for a three-hour exam at News Limited. I was one of 300 applicants and when I got through to the first round of interviews, I couldn’t believe it. So, of course, during the interview, I blew it.
When I was asked what my favourite part of the newspaper was, I replied.
‘The star signs and the comics.’
I missed out on the cadet journalist gig, but that was fine. My life on the road less travelled had already begun. And within weeks I landed my first job as a junior copywriter for an advertising agency – a world populated with loud personalites, big thinkers and creative freedom. I was 21. And utterly thrilled.
I spent the next few years polishing my skills as a writer and public speaker. I had to stand up in a boardroom filled with articulate, confident people and present my ideas – stutter and all. It wasn’t fun. But somewhere between sheer horror and embarassment, I found my voice.
At 26 I got a short pixie hairstyle, landed a new copywriter position for a multinational agency in Milsons Point and picked up a very tall boyfriend. I wrote copy for large ad campaigns sitting in an office with a harbour view until… that road less travelled beckoned again. Next stop – Canada and the UK, with boyfriend in tow.
The plan was to live and work in Toronto and London for a year and then come home for the Olympics in 2000. Well, ten years and a few dozen passport stamps later, the boyfriend morphed into my husband and in 2006, with our first son growing inside me, we flew home for good.
While we were away, I wrote a book, a stage play, performed at the Edinburgh Festival and interviewed Hollywood celebrities all with the cries of ‘when are you going to settle down, get married, have a family, buy a house and stop all this nonsense?’
But doing what you love and more importantly, being who you love often makes no sense to others.
In life there are no absolutes, no sure-fire ways to success. The only thing, the only force that can guide you is – you.
So here’s how to live a life you’ll love until the day you die, in 10 easy steps.
1. Do who you are.
Your personality is the first clue to discovering your destiny. What juices you – is it nature, teaching, singing, writing, healing? Whatever it is, you have a natural flair for it. But if you haven’t got a clue, that’s fine. Do anything – just get out into the world and get busy. Your passion will find you.
2. Love your elders
If you’re lucky enough to have parents who love you unconditionally, cherish them. Yes, they can be annoying – but you’ll miss them when they’re gone. And if you don’t have a parent in your life – seek out the people who support you in spite of DNA.
3. Spend less time connecting online – more time connecting in person.
With so many tools for communication available to us, we have never been so out of touch with other. We’re quickly losing the art of human connection. The handshake, the eye-contact, the smile, the warmth of rapport. Our obsession with online at the expense of offline relationships, really, really scares me. I don’t care how many degrees you have, how skilled you are, if you can’t connect with another human being, face to face, you are a failure.
It’s the people you connect with in life who have the power to change your life.
4. Don’t be a gunna.
Facta non Verba – actions speak louder than words. That’s the RGHS motto. And it’s true, talk really is cheap – everyone does it, constantly. I’m gonna do this, gonna do that. Be a woman of your convictions. Do what you say you’re going to do.
5. Honour the great men in your life.
Don’t be one of these women who can only assert herself when she tears down a man. Women’s liberation, gender equality has come a long way and it’s up to you to keep it going not as a movement, but as a way of life.
6. Love the skin you’re in.
Beneath this dress hides what I call ‘expensive drapery’. After the birth of my second son, my belly didn’t snap back to bikini-worthy status. It’s a little saggy, it’s a little dimpled. But it’s me. My peers have ‘Mummy makeovers’ where stuff gets pulled up and sucked in – but I say again, that’s not me.
7. Don’t be a fashion victim.
Know what looks good on you. If you have delicious curves, you’re 5’3 but you insist on wearing a microscopic crop top because Miley Cyrus poked her tongue out and rode a wrecking ball and well, she looks good (!), why can’t you? Don’t do it. Wear what flatters your shape.
8.You’re not going to live forever.
When you accept that this miracle of life is a privilege and not a right, you will truly feel free to be who you are. I learnt this the hard way when my beloved father, Dino Foundis died 2 ½ years ago. His death forced me to look at my own mortality and really question what I was doing with my life.
9. Do whatever you can to be a star
And I don’t mean that in the Kardashian-reality-TV-star-date-a-man-named-Kanye-and-have-a-tabloid-baby-named-after-a-point-on-a-compass-sense.
“To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your own path, and not worry about the darkness, because that’s when stars shine the brightest.”
10. Give up on the female trap of ‘having it all’
…simply because the notion of ‘all’ doesn’t exist. Your idea of ‘all’ could be living in the Himalayas drinking yak’s milk and reciting Shakespeare to Buddhist monks versus your best friend’s version of ‘all’ which may be working in a yoga studio teaching male models how to do the downward dog.
‘All’ is personal – to you.
My name is Phyllis Foundis. I attended two fantastic public schools, Kensington Primary School. And Randwick Girls’ High School where I was taught and inspired by wonderful teachers including Ms Christodoulides.
I wasn’t dux. I received an average ATAR.
I began one career at 21. I married at 30. Gave birth to my first son at 36 and my second son at 39. And at 43 I’ve embarked on the beginning of a career I’ve prepared for all my life. There are no rules. There are no expectations.
Yes – we are here today to celebrate great academic achievements – and I congratulate the young women who will be recognised today. However, in my experience, age, gender and education shouldn’t dictate the levels of your success. As passionate, intelligent, empowered young women of the 21st Century you are capable of reaching heights you haven’t even imagined yet.
So I sincerely wish you lives full of love, hope and adventure – but mostly, I wish you amazing lives full of YOU.