Editors / Freelancers / Interviews / Writers

Balancing the Grind With Philippa Moore, Freelance Writer, Editor & Communications Consultant

Philippa Moore is a Freelance Writer, Editor & Communications Consultant, covering the finance, travel, the arts, sustainable living, business, environment, food, health and wellbeing industries.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

My career path has been a long and winding road, that’s for sure!

I have always wanted to be a writer but despite harbouring quite grandiose ambitions as a young person, I somehow ended up working in finance when I left university and did very little with my writing for years.

That all changed in 2005 when I moved from my home town (Hobart, Tasmania) to Melbourne and started a blog, which was a fairly new and unknown thing at the time.

Starting my blog seemed like a small decision but it completely changed the trajectory of my career. It taught me how to write for an audience; it taught me the importance of showing up each day to write; and it taught me to be less afraid, both of life and of sharing my work.

Within a year of starting it, the readership had grown and the blog was getting between 30 and 50,000 hits a month.

I eventually decided to go travelling and moved to London, but I kept the blog going – in various incarnations – for nearly 10 years and it was ranked consistently in the Top 10 health and fitness blogs in the UK as well as retaining its substantial audience in Australia.

It also won best health, diet and fitness blog at the 2011 Cosmopolitan Blog Awards and received a lot of media coverage. It sounds impressive, but blogging back then wasn’t what it is now!

For the most part, brands didn’t really value bloggers and their ability to engage audiences in the way they do these days, so trying to take things to the next level and earn an income from it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have done things very differently!

What I did do, however, was leverage the blog’s success with publications I wanted to write for and with future employers. It was a great way to demonstrate my skills in building an online community and creating engaging and accessible content.

I ended up working in-house on the digital team at Cosmopolitan UK for a time, and then freelanced for them for a year after that, as well as other UK consumer publications.

And in the background, most of this was happening while I was working full time in publishing and, later, corporate communications.

In my last full-time in-house job I got trained up in SEO, copywriting and learned how to write for a very different audience – investors, stakeholders, finance professionals and corporations.

I built a very valuable skillset in B2B content creation and found I really enjoyed turning dry, technical information into something accessible and engaging.

I also found time to write a book! In 2012 I finished the first draft of a novel which got the attention of a literary agent who offered to represent me (and still does).

Over the course of two years, I reworked and resubmitted the novel on her advice, but eventually she suggested that I try to write the story as non-fiction, as the novel was based on real events from my own life. The result was The Latte Years, published in Australia by Nero Books (a division of Black Inc) in 2016.

I returned to Australia at the end of 2018 with my British husband after nearly 12 years living and working in London, and we decided to settle in my hometown, Hobart, to be close to my family.

I hoped this move was my chance to finally, with all the various skills I’d accumulated over the course of such a diverse career, be able to start my own freelance communications business – which is exactly what has happened!

It began with copywriting and online content strategy – which is still the bulk of my work – but I also do social media strategy and management, corporate report writing and editing, tenders and applications, feature writing and editorial work in lifestyle content for international publishing houses. No day is ever the same and I love it.

Over the last six months another long-held dream has been realised – I am also doing my PhD in Colonial History and Creative Writing at the University of Tasmania, where my project is a work of historical fiction based on the life of a real convict woman who came to Hobart in the very early days of white settlement.

I didn’t think I’d ever be able to juggle postgraduate study and running my own business, but somehow I am managing it! The balancing act is made so much easier by the fact that I’m doing work I’m passionate about and finally have the confidence to own my expertise in.

My husband is also incredibly supportive and I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do without him.

So, yes, it hasn’t been a linear progression and there have been many interesting detours and dark nights of the soul along the way. But I am profoundly grateful to be where I am right now and I hope my story reassures anyone who might be worried that their career doesn’t look quite like they thought it would.

There is no time limit on your dreams. You just have to keep working hard and believing in yourself and eventually, if it’s meant for you, things will fall into place.

Sorry, that was a long answer to a very simple question!

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

I don’t have a ‘typical’ day any more, which is just the way I like it!

But the first thing I do when I wake up is to meditate for five to ten minutes, then have my first coffee of the day – I usually have at least two. I will try to do Morning Pages (three pages of stream of consciousness writing) but don’t always manage it, depending on the morning’s work ahead of me!

A recent workday began at 7:30 am with conference calls comprising teams in Sydney, London, New York and Chicago. Thankfully they are not video calls, otherwise everyone would see me in my pyjamas and dressing gown!

Those usually run until 9 am, by which time my husband has left for work. Depending on the weather, I will then usually either go for a short run or do a home workout (Bodyfit by Amy on YouTube is my favourite). If I exercise in the morning, I find it sets me up really well for the day.

I find it useful to block out days as “Client A Day”, “Client B Day”, “PhD Day”, etc, to give the week a loose structure.

As my head was already in the work of the client I had the conference call with, I spent the remainder of the day working in my office at home on their project – social media strategy and content for a FinTech event happening in London.

Other days it might be working on web content for a wellness business, devising a social media content calendar for another client’s upcoming promotion, or even editing a cookbook (those are my favourites).

I have worked across such a wide range of sectors so I find I can turn my hand to most kinds of content and these days most businesses, even those that are Corporate with a capital C, want their messages to be accessible and easily understood.

I try to do some reading for my PhD each day – on the advice of my supervisors – but I usually find myself thinking about it anyway, as I’m so obsessed with the story.

I update my own personal social media accounts if I have anything I particularly want to share, and I’m also active on a few professional media networking sites so I usually check in on those too.

Unless I’m behind or on a mega urgent deadline, I try to wind my day down at the same time as my husband is leaving work, so when he gets home we can have quality time together and switch off.

When I freelanced full time a few years ago, I didn’t have that hard boundary with my time and found work constantly ate into my evenings and weekends.

It’s hard when you are creative and your mind is always ‘on’ to some degree, but it is important to get into the habit of keeping regular hours when you’re self-employed, otherwise it’s so much harder to have a life of your own and to be fully present with your loved ones.

I love to cook and find it relaxing, it’s a nice way to switch my mind off at the end of the day. So I will usually make dinner for us – a weeknight favourite is rigatoni with roasted pumpkin, basil, chilli and ricotta – and we’ll chill out together in front of the TV.

We’ve recently watched the entire series of The Walking Dead, which is not normally my kind of thing but my husband convinced me to give it a try, arguing that colonial and post-apocalyptic societies have many similarities and he was right!

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes, my work is very flexible and I can work from pretty much anywhere.

I like to have a structure so there are designated days in my week that I like to be in my office at uni, or I might decide to work from somewhere else outside my home – I don’t find cafes all that productive, but I am a member of a gallery which has a lovely quiet members room so will sometimes go there or to the library – just for a change of scene.

I also travel to my Hobart-based clients if they prefer to have a meeting in-house, which happens quite regularly. And whenever I’m in Sydney or Melbourne I try to meet up with my clients there and have a day or two with them in-house, which is always great fun. I am an extrovert so I need the face-to-face interaction sometimes!

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

I have “working music” so when I start playing that in my office, it almost sends a signal to my brain that it’s time to work. I have a couple of playlists on Spotify that I alternate between that I find easy to work to. It gets me in the zone. Ludovico Einaudi is a particular favourite.

I also don’t know what I would do without TweetDeck, it’s a lifesaver if you manage Twitter accounts!

5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Having built a reputation over the years for being someone who was very goal-oriented and always striving for the next thing – whether it was moving overseas, running a marathon, or publishing a book – it has taken a lot of courage and self-forgiveness to change that narrative because, ultimately, being in the endless cycle of achievement, which I’d been in since I was a child, was not sustainable for me and was starting to have a detrimental impact on my mental health.

For the past year or so, certainly since the move back to Australia, I have focused less on self-improvement and more on self-love. It sounds counter-intuitive to say this as someone who is self-employed and also pursuing a PhD but this approach has really worked for me.

It has taken a while to untangle my sense of self-worth from my productivity and achievements but ultimately it has resulted in getting what I always wanted – being able to do work I love, having more control over my time and the freedom to follow the deepest, truest yearnings of my creative soul. That is the engine that drives me now.

Work-life balance for me stems from being kind to myself – to not let myself off the hook all the time, but to acknowledge what I *do* achieve rather than move on quickly to the next thing.

I have to remind myself that I am my manager now, and a good manager acknowledges their team’s hard work and expresses appreciation for a job well done. And even lets them work from bed on the odd occasion!

It isn’t easy because we live in a culture that rewards go-getters and people who are always striving for the next big thing in their lives – and by no means am I dissing ambition.

I am very ambitious and very driven – but I have a lot more humility and self-knowledge than I did a few years ago and now know how important it is to pursue things for the right reasons. I still love to climb mountains but now I allow myself to stop and enjoy the view.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Self-compassion, as mentioned above, has been key and I think this has grown out of my daily meditation practice. When you befriend your own mind, you become far more aware of your instinctive reactions to things and the places your mind naturally goes to when it wanders.

Knowing myself better, how I work best and what I need to thrive – and, crucially, ensuring that I have those things in my life – have definitely helped me make better decisions, which has ultimately led me to where I am right now.

It hasn’t been easy. It’s meant creating and enforcing boundaries, valuing myself and my time, and standing up for myself where necessary, which I know are hard things for a lot of people to do. But it’s worth it.

I also highly recommend to all creatives, freelancers and entrepreneurs out there to have a hobby that is nothing to do with your work. Make sure it is something where there is no possibility of you ever being good enough at it that you could monetise it!

Mine is gardening. I never used to understand why my parents were such keen gardeners when I was a child – I do now. It’s meditative, it’s physical (so important when you spend so much time in your head and/or sitting down), it’s rewarding, you’re creating something beautiful, and it teaches you so much about life, mostly that you have to relinquish control and let things be what they are.

Sometimes you’ll have a good year in the garden and other years the weather will be bad or the squirrels (or, in Tassie, possums and wallabies) will eat all your broccoli and there won’t be much you can do about it but learn from it and try again.

I also try to network as much as possible. I banish the voice in my head that asks me “who do you think you are, showing up to this event? You don’t belong here!” and dare to approach people I admire.

I still suffer with imposter syndrome a lot and I’ve found the best way to combat that is to do the very thing you’re afraid of. Go up to the person at the event you admire, offer them your hand and tell them what their work has meant to you. I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t appreciate that.

The worst case scenario will almost never happen. And if it does, you will survive – and have a great story for parties.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home – I read this recently when I was feeling a bit overworked and out of sorts, something I didn’t expect to feel being self-employed and pursuing my creative passions! But of course, there is a flipside to everything.

There is a wonderful line in the book where Rubin grapples with the same thing I was – that while she now had enormous control over her time “that wouldn’t do me any good if I didn’t use that flexibility to give my life the shape I wanted.”

That was a huge a-ha moment for me and I remind myself of it every time I feel myself taking on too much and squandering the incredible gift of flexibility that self-employment brings.

Anna Johnson’s Three Black Skirts – I’ve read it every year since I was 17 and its sassy yet humble and practical life advice is still so incredibly helpful. If I have a bible, that’s probably it.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic – a magnificent balm for the creative soul.

Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things – full of wise advice that I revisit often.

This isn’t a book but the Ask A Manager blog is one of my favourite daily online reads and has taught me a great deal about leadership, management and healthy workplace behaviours. I also love Working Not Working’s magazine for great perspectives on freelance life.

The poetry of Mary Oliver – every now and then I just need to read something truly beautiful, to remind myself of the wonder words can conjure.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Apart from exercise, having my phone in another room or on “Do Not Disturb” does wonders for my productivity, as does having a rough schedule for the day and the week.

With so many balls in the air, it is very easy to procrastinate. Having a loose structure to each day, but still with room for spontaneity, increases the likelihood I will achieve what I set out to.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

  • Change is hard, but learn to welcome it rather than resist it. It is the only constant thing in life.
  • Be brave enough to walk away from something when your heart isn’t in it any more – especially if it’s been a success.
  • Be the boss you’d like to have.
  • If you’re afraid to do something, that usually means you should do it.
  • The life you want for yourself is more possible than you think. The first step is believing you are worthy of it.
  • Regrets are much harder to live with than mistakes.
  • When you build a life on your own terms, not everyone will understand or support you. Try not to take it personally. Just keep your head and stay in your lane.
  • Do not wait for permission to do what you want, because you’ll be waiting forever. Just get going.
  • Be kind to yourself. Nurture your talents and celebrate your strengths. You’re doing better than you think you are.

If you’d like to have a conversation with us about how you balance the grind, get in touch with us!

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.