Only a handful of years ago I found myself back in Western Sydney, after several years abroad. I thought to myself “surely I can’t be back here again!” You see, I’m a creative person – I love arts, intellectual conversations and techno music. I had never envisioned that I would be able to have a career in my profession as a photographer in Western Sydney.
Although my first instinct upon returning was to move to the city, I decided to stay for a few months and started a project interviewing and photographing interesting people in Western Sydney. I actively made a choice to look for the good things around me and boy, did I find them. Everywhere.
The project I called The Westies has grown into a not-for-profit organisation and allowed me to fall deeply in love with the area after seeing it through a fresh new lens. I now see the region for what it is – vibrant, diverse, complex and full of opportunity. I realised I didn’t need to change anything, I just needed to sit still for a little while and pay attention.
Since moving to Parramatta, I have built my photography business, booked several jobs for Monocle, my favourite London-based magazine, developed new relationships and fostered old ones. I’ve founded The Westies Markets which provides a platform for over 45 local makers to sell their creations and, with two new locations having just been announced, that number is set to grow, and you should find a market close to you soon. As for techno music, I run No Lights No Lycra every Thursday evening in Parramatta, which is an hour of dancing in the dark. I really have everything I want right on my doorstep.
Here are some key takeaways I’ve learnt in Western Sydney.
1. Help is all around you.
The great thing about being in business is that it’s been done before. Over and over! Never have we lived in a time where so much information is available to us in a matter of seconds. There’s so much support and knowledge around you at all times and there’s just one thing you need to do to access it. Ask for help.
2. Think Small.
I recently saw Rory Gallagher speak. Rory works with the Behavioural Insights Team which was established by the UK government in 2010 and is the co-author of Think Small. He confirmed what I had already suspected. Effective change comes from small tweaks, not sweeping transformations. Big picture thinking is a vital part of any business however the real work happens on a micro level. It’s the small, everyday actions where the work gets done. Try starting your day by deciding what one thing you can do to make it a great day and each night reflect on one thing that you enjoyed. Try it for a week and see how much of an impact your small thinking makes.
3. Western Sydney is the definition of diversity.
Diversity, it’s such an over-used buzzword that often means only one thing – more than one nationality. Well, that’s about as diverse as a packet of M&Ms; they look different but taste exactly the same.
Diversity is about so much more. It’s different ages, levels of education, political beliefs, physical and mental abilities. I love that I live and work in a place where there’s a good chance that the person next to me in the cafe has experienced life in a completely different way to me and that their experience is just as influential, rich and valid as mine.
It’s in our differences that we find the opportunities and the key to learning and creating new, stronger paths.
4. Never force anything.
Push, massage, nurture, feed, tap, but don’t force it. It’s a fine line between pushing and forcing and it can take a few snaps to discover our breaking points.
I have learnt through experience that forcing something never ends well and rarely does anyone come of it happier. This is where clear boundaries come in, set them up and protect them. If something comes close to breaking through, it will be a lot easier to say no.
5. Don’t choose an ending.
Had I ever only stuck to my training as a photographer and not let life lead, I wouldn’t be writing this post for you. I would be a miserable mess that no one wanted to hang out with.
Thankfully, I have remained open to all possibilities and have done a lot of learning along the way. For example, I started the markets simply because I wanted to go to them – no experience, no qualifications, just a desire and belief that I could start something great.
Setting up a not-for-profit, I had never done that either. That’s where I took my own advice as stated in my first point and asked for help.