By Lisa Burling
but in moments of darkness and despair, little dreams saved my little boys and me from sliding further down
Growing up, it is in our genetic make-up as conscious beings to fantasise about how life will be: with whom we will spend it, the career we will pursue and the family we will create and nurture.
While some of those visions come true, more often than not, life doesn’t turn out the way we plan. I don’t know about you, but I can say I’m not surrounded by a lot of people who proclaim: “Yes! That’s pretty much exactly how I thought life would turn out for me.”
Now, life throwing us surprises is half the fun and not having everything mapped out makes being here on Earth a wonderful adventure. But I have always been a dreamer about what will be and, up until my early 30s, I was pretty certain that I was fulfilling the vision I’d cast for myself as a young girl.
I never thought it would be this way
It won’t come as a surprise to you that not once did I dream I’d be an unemployed single mum of two little boys in my late 30s. That’s not a dream, is it? That’s a complete nightmare!
Have you ever been brutally dumped? We bet it’s nothing on this poor woman whose partner said her ‘misleading’ makeup was to blame. Or, worse, getting the flick on reality television.
Back then, I was pretty sure this sort of reality doesn’t happen to school prefects who are educated, work hard and who grew up in a stable household.
Or does it?
Yes. It turns out it does.
Because it happened to me.
The last four years of my life have been a hotpot of overwhelming devastation and amazing excitement all at once. One day I was kicking career goals with an international PR career and was a proud mum of a beautiful little boy, with a supportive partner to help me out.
The next, I was an unemployed single mum of two little boys under three, one of whom was fighting for his life as a preemie in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
My parents never had to worry about me because I did everything by the book and stayed out of trouble. I was always the teacher’s pet, finished school with excellent grades, went to university to study journalism and public relations, got a great job straight away (and continued to get great jobs) and excitingly moved from Australia to London at 23 years of age to further my career. I had a fantastic circle of friends in countries all over the world, a high disposable income and a loving family.
I had it all
When I reached 33, after ten years living away from home, I felt the pull to go back. London was never the long-term option and, on the inside, I felt like my time there had expired. I also heard my biological clock ticking louder each year. I missed my family and I was tired of missing out on the big stuff – weddings, birthdays, births – and the little stuff, like coffee catch-ups on Sunday morning.
So I packed up my life in Old Blighty and came back to the land Down Under. It felt right and I was pleased to be on Aussie soil again. I started working at a leading Sydney PR consultancy and loved being in close proximity to people I’d only see once a year when I came back home to visit from London.
Then, in a seemingly random chain of events, I reconnected with an old flame from high school. And that’s when my life began to morph into something very different.
With this man, who I’d known since childhood, I embarked on a love affair that I honestly thought would last a lifetime. In just three years, we had a baby (my beautiful Luca) and I moved my professional career from Sydney to Kiama, a beautiful but small town about two hours south of Sydney.
In quiet moments, I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d got to this place where the pace was much slower than I was used to, both literally and metaphorically. Sure, I’d made the decisions, but it didn’t feel like they were truly conscious ones. I wasn’t in the driver’s seat; I was simply agreeing with what the car’s driver was suggesting.
I was so unfulfilled
Regardless of these thoughts, I talked myself into believing that this was what I should be doing in my early 30s. I was a mum now and that meant I couldn’t have a high-flying PR career anymore. My role was to be the homemaker and support my partner as he earned the big bucks.
I wasn’t unhappy, and I was so grateful to be a mum, but I was unfulfilled. Something just didn’t feel right about the situation. And yet, I kept convincing myself that I was where I was meant to be.
I was 35 and I’d had my fun. What goes up must come down. I was also never going to unravel this reality: I didn’t want to break my little family up just because I felt a bit bored. That didn’t seem like a good enough reason to turn my life in a completely different direction.
Yet, it seems that the Universe heard me, saw me, FELT me. Something wasn’t right and what happened next, all of it completely outside of my control, changed my life path forever.
I was 32 weeks pregnant and my baby was coming. Less than 24 hours later, I went into full-blown labour. The contractions were thick and fast and there was no question that this baby was about to arrive. I vividly remember my obstetrician holding my little boy above the green screen and saying, “Lisa, he’s here. Your little boy is here.”
We named this little boy Nate (because he was a Neonate) and he’d been alive for just 48 hours when I reluctantly left his side to have a quick shower in my room. An hour before I’d noticed a phone call from Nate’s dad; I’d assumed he was calling to see how I was and perhaps come to the hospital. I called him back, thinking it was a check-in call.
I’ll never, ever forget that moment when I called him back
In that shower room, in that hospital, on that day.
After a few questions about how Nate was, he dropped a bomb on me.
He was out – he was leaving me. It wasn’t working, he wasn’t happy and that was it. Done and dusted.
I felt like I was in one of those American TV shows, where everyone stands still and then goes, “Ha! We got you!” before rolling around laughing hysterically and backslapping each other on a job well done. Maybe Ashton Kutcher was about to jump out and tell me I’d been Punk’d. But it wasn’t a movie and Ashton was nowhere to be seen.
I hung up, took a deep breath and I sobbed on the floor of a cold, impersonal hospital room for what was probably five minutes, but seemed to be hours.
Was this all one sick joke?
Now, I’m all up for change, but this was just too much. It was like the Universe was playing a sick joke on me. I kept hoping I’d wake up and see it was just a dream. A big, fat, ugly one, but nonetheless, a dream.
But it was real life – it was MY real life – and the eternal optimist in me suddenly felt defeated. Have you ever had that feeling? It’s almost worse than what’s happening, knowing that your positive spirit has been beaten to the point where you can’t see anything good left.
I knew nothing except this – I had to get real with myself and face the cold-hard facts. My old life wasn’t coming back, ever. I was, in this moment, nothing more than Lisa Burling, an unemployed, single mum of two little boys under the age of three.
Lisa Burling. Single Mum. Unemployed.
Once I connected the dots and pieced together this new fractured identity, I suddenly felt so tired. I was tired of pretending I was OK; that my life was OK. I didn’t give in or give up on me, but it’s fair to say my mental, emotional and physical exhaustion forced my hand. And, amongst the exhaustion, I started to feel what is best described as a shift, an acceptance. I had no fight left in me and was definitely over wishing for life to be as it had been.
In the fog that was my mind, I somehow understood how important it was to separate what I could control from what I couldn’t. I reminded myself how short our time on this Earth is and that this was not how I wanted to remember my life on my deathbed.
I asked the Universe if I could use this situation to make good. I just knew this was not how my life was meant to be. I could somehow see this darkness was cracking me open in the short-term, to allow the light to shine from within me in the long-term. I firmly decided that, instead of seeing this perceived utter catastrophe as a bad thing and an end, I should change the lens and view it as chance to start again. Like a blank Etch-A-Sketch, I’d been given an almighty shake, and now it was blank, well, pretty much anything was possible.
New beginnings don’t come along all the time
But here I was with one sitting right in my lap if I was brave enough to go for it; to let go of what was and what might have been, and step firmly into what could be.
Fast forward to today, and I am an entrepreneur with an award-winning PR consultancy, LBPR. I’ve been awarded as a businesswoman in my own right and am a proud ambassador for the AusMumpreneur Network and Inspiring Rare Birds. I’ve built a new house for my family less than three years after I walked into Centrelink (an Australian government agency) for single parent benefits. And I met one of my entrepreneurial idols, Richard Branson, in person less than a year after I made that goal publicly known on my bucket list.
How did I turn my life around? I won the lottery!
Ha! If only it was that simple.
All I did was dream small
Yes, that’s right. I decided to dream little dreams.
If, back when my life was a mess, I’d dreamt about a massive house in St Tropez, a Porsche in the driveway and millions in the bank so I could do whatever I wanted every day, I can tell you now it would have only added to my misery.
Instead, these little dreams were ones I could touch and see so clearly. I knew I could actually achieve them if I just stayed focused and took action and had the gumption to see it through.
This may sound dramatic, but in moments of darkness and despair, little dreams saved my little boys and me from sliding further down the black hole of inaction and, even worse still, inertia.
Dreaming little, not big, was the panacea to my predicament.
Now I believe there’s nothing I can’t make happen with a little dream approach.
Perhaps it’s time to dream a little bigger.
Article first published on Kidspot Australia.
Lisa Burling is Managing Director of LBPR.