Anne Shea leads content and communications at Up, the next-generation Australian digital bank that’s grown from a startup to half a million customers in just three years.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
My LinkedIn history looks like pure chaos, till you look at it as ‘learning how to make stuff’.
I was an absurdly tall 90s kid in country Australia. I had to wear XL men’s jeans and tees just to be not naked. It’s hard to explain today, when internet shopping existed, just how limited we were to what was on the racks at the Ballarat Kmart.
So I learned how to sew, and fell in love with the confidence and possibilities that exist when you know how to do things yourself. Sewing turned into a little work at the Australian Ballet – then a dream of costuming for film – then a sculpture course – then a side of literature for the stories – and ultimately I found that I loved making words move, just like fabric.
And that’s how my first business, making clothes for tall women like me, became an online blog and community. I was away in digital marketing. I was one of Australia’s first social media managers, and I wrote about PDF technology at a little company that is now a very big company called Nitro.
(I did say it looked like chaos…)
Several marketing roles later, I’m leading content and comms at Up, which is changing Australian banking forever and for good. Amongst other things, I write the most bonkers finance and technology newsletter on the planet. So somehow I’m getting paid to make stuff and learn things. Don’t tell anyone.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I’d really love to tell you that I start each day with a green smoothie and a run but I absolutely do not. I share custody of two adorable, very small girls, so the day either starts at 6 with someone shouting MUM I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING, or with a blissful lie-in till 8 with coffee and a book.
The Up team has adopted core hours of 10-3, so I can usually catch up on something before our small team standup. Then it’s usually writing, editing, managing our PR opportunities, or planning what’s needed for the app or any of our marketing channels.
Fridays are the best day of the week: we have an all company demo where anyone can talk about anything they’ve made or fixed or dreamed up. Demo reminds me how lucky I am to work with people who aren’t just at the top of their game, but creating phenomenal things for others and having a great time doing it.
At 5ish I usually stop work, get the kids if I have them, and lie to myself that this will be the last night this week they get fish fingers.
When they’re asleep I can tune out and make stuff in the physical world, not the written. The last few nights I’ve been perched at the top of a ladder painting a sad old light fixture bright gold, which has been intensely satisfying.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
We’ve moved to be ‘mostly remote’, with regular Melbourne catch ups for both the whole company and smaller teams. I love it. It’s unlikely I’ll go back full time to the office till my kids are older – working from home is just easier.
That said, we just got the keys to a stunning new office in the Melbourne CBD. They’re fitting it out for us now, so we’ve only just had the chance to run around and play hide and seek in it. I’m excited to spend real time with the team, and for the fact that I’ll ride my bike more when I go to an office. Pre Covid, riding was most of how I moved in a day. I miss it.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Truly it’s quite rare that I can make my energy work 9-5. I’ve never wanted the kind of ‘work life balance’ that watches the clock. For me, balance means being able to give energy and focus to all of my most important tasks and joys. So I work with a weekly list.
I’m writing this late on a Saturday night because that’s when my head was ready. Sometimes I go through an entire Tuesday with not one useful thought in my head, and give it up and go muck around in the shed for a bit. Or my kids need me. When I have custody, there’s no backstop. If they need someone it’s me. But later, I’ll happily work through till the early hours.
If your mind or life are built like this it’s easy to beat yourself up for both ‘wasting work time’ and ‘spending leisure time on work’. I try not to. I’m furiously grateful for a company and a role where the focus is on what I bring to the table, not a timesheet.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
My life changed when I made more time to be with my friends, but in a different way.
12 months ago I started out at solo life for the first time since my twenties. I thought I’d be lonely but I’m much less so. I’m surrounded by creative, loving and inspiring people. The trick has been swapping out coffee catch ups for doing life with them.
It’s a ‘please hold the ladder while I fix this’ or a ‘you’re sad so we’re bringing chips’ kind of togetherness. And when I meet a new person who seems really cool, finding space for them in my chaos and calendar becomes a priority. Everyone’s got something they need from Bunnings or IKEA – I’ll drive. We can get meatballs.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living has broken my heart and rebuilt it many times. And I’ve just started on Writing Better Lyrics (Pat Pattison) because I’ve decided I’m too old to care that I suck at guitar.
Podcasts are absolutely my jam – right now I’m loving the Maintenance Phase which has changed everything my 90s, diet culture brain thought I knew about bodies.
Favourite newsletter is easy. The largely unhinged stylings of Jonathan Seidler for Unyoked light up my inbox. We have a passionate love affair. I mean, we like each other’s copy heaps. He has a partner and a new kid. Also we have never met.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
Get a bike. Bikes are magical. Mine takes me places for free and almost makes up for the fact that I will never like green smoothies. I’ve tried wherever possible to make sure I do life on a bike.
As for apps – the Up app changed my relationship with money forever. I was a fangirl long before I started working on it. I have an Up Saver for everything, and can easily prioritise my money for things that matter. Like bikes.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’d like to hear more from people who are objectively hitting goals left right and centre but are willing to talk about what hot messes they are in their heads and in their calendars.
Personally I run on a mixture of playlists, anxiety and joy. PS: send me playlists please. I’m @Annie_Shea on Twitter.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Make time for the projects that thrill you or scare you, and everything else will likely fall into place. I won’t promise you it will feel like that in the day to day – it never does for me. But over the years, it’s felt true.
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