How Joy Adan Successfully Navigates a Portfolio Career and Motherhood

For our latest conversation, we’re thrilled to chat with Joy Adan, the Senior Thought Leadership Manager at Reward Gateway. Joy’s career is anything but conventional; she describes it as a ‘portfolio career,’ combining various roles in the communications world.

In this interview, Joy shares her journey through various industries, starting with content production and community engagement at World Youth Day, moving into internal communications at the University of Sydney, and eventually finding her niche in employee recognition and reward.

She also talks about how becoming a mother made her intentional about where her energy goes, leading her to part-time roles that offered more meaningful work and better work-life balance.

Joy, you describe your career as a ‘portfolio career.’ Could you tell us more about what that entails and the journey you’ve taken through various industries?

I didn’t start work with the intention of building a portfolio career. In fact, I wasn’t even familiar with the term in my twenties!

My first full-time role was in content production and community engagement for Australia’s largest youth festival, World Youth Day. From there, I tried a few different jobs before entering internal communications as a team lead at the University of Sydney’s ICT department where I honed skills in stakeholder engagement, change management and employee engagement over my five years. 

When I started a family, I became very conscious of how I was spending my time and decided I wanted to be very intentional about where my energy was going. I left full-time management and took a part-time content and editorial role in a tech startup arm of The Big Red Group, where I entered the world of employee recognition and reward. Moving from a full-time management role to a part-time individual contributor naturally meant accepting a significant pay cut, but that decision led me to more meaningful work and better work-life balance, which was a huge gain. 

It also led me to Reward Gateway, where I produced local content, case studies and reports on all things employee engagement, and I’m now responsible for developing the local research strategy and sharing these insights to the HR community.

I am rarely satisfied if I’m focused on one thing. I constantly find myself looking for ways to explore my interests and passions either by volunteering my time and skills to local community causes, or taking on creative projects as a freelance writer, editor or artist. I started my business, Finding Joy, as my creative outlet, and I am also a presenter for Enlighten Education.

I spend 2-3 days a week running workshops in schools in NSW and Victoria introducing tools that help students decode limiting stereotypes, develop confidence and media literacy, and build the skills to nurture healthy relationships. It’s work that I’m incredibly proud of, and these doors probably would’ve never opened if I’d stuck to the same day job or industry I’d started in. 

My career is definitely not linear – it’s taken a lot of unplanned turns and loops. However, looking back at it now, the common thread in all the roles I pursued has been a love for storytelling, creativity, and a constant desire to engage and educate the communities I work with.

You wear many hats, from managing thought leadership at Reward Gateway to running your own business and presenting. How do you keep everything aligned and manage your time effectively?

Time management is a huge skill I’ve had to hone over years. I’ve learnt that if I’m not managing my time, I’m not managing my energy, which isn’t a sustainable way to live or work. 

I haven’t perfected this by any means, but I do have systems to help me protect my time while staying on top of multiple things. I have different calendars where I manage different streams of work and events I’m attending or presenting at.

I also have a shared family calendar that my husband and I both manage – and yes, all of them are colour-coded! My calendar is usually the first thing I check before I say “yes” or “no” to anyone for anything – whether it’s a meeting, speaking engagement or a birthday party.

Transparency and flexibility is really important. I diarise when I’m travelling for work, who’s doing school drop offs and pick-ups, any of my kids’ sports commitments, and all of our social events. That way everyone knows where they need to be. 

Having an employer who gives me a lot of autonomy in terms of when and where I do my work is a huge help. I can determine which days are best spent in the office collaborating with my colleagues, which days I am more effective at home focusing on writing, research or admin, and which days I’m available to run a workshop or speak at an event. I make full use of Google calendar’s “Out of Office” function, which auto-declines meetings if I’m not available. 

I usually try to carve out about 15-20 minutes on Sunday night or early on Monday to review the week’s upcoming events and workload. I actually transfer all of it into a “weekly spread” in my bullet journal (nothing beats pen and paper).

It might sound tedious, but this exercise helps me identify key outcomes I want to achieve by the end of the week, assign time for specific tasks, and be really conscious of the days I’m going to need a lot of energy, and days I need time and space to focus or rest. If I don’t carve out focus time or diarise when I’m working on certain things, I find people assume I’m available when my calendar is clear, which isn’t always the case.  

Balancing work and motherhood is no small feat. Could you share how you manage stress and keep your well-being in check amidst such a busy schedule?

I wish there was a magic formula for managing stress and wellbeing. I’d bottle it and be a billionaire! That said, I will share a few things that I’ve had to learn the hard way.

Having a family taught me that I’m ultimately replaceable at work, but I don’t want to be replaceable at home. I’m very conscious of who’s getting the best of my energy. Thankfully, Reward Gateway provides its employees with a lot of wellbeing support, including monthly coaching and therapy sessions, and I make full use of these resources.

After talking to a nutritionist, I realised I had a habit of turning straight to fast-food or junk food when I was stressed or busy. Meal-planning on a Sunday night has not only helped our family save a lot of money, it’s helped my husband and I share the mental and practical load of cooking healthier food during a busy work week.

Scheduling creative interventions also helps me to de-stress. I find calligraphy and brush lettering incredibly therapeutic because it forces me to slow down. I often have a half-finished watercolour painting sitting on my desk or the dining room table so I can come back to it whenever I’m feeling a bit frazzled.

Downtime is now an immovable item on my to-do list. So much creative work happens in our subconscious so I have to deliberately schedule quieter days, or permit myself a “slow day” where I don’t overload my to-do list. I’ve also become a lot more comfortable turning down work or invitations to social events so I’ve time to regroup and rest. 

I’m curious about how you start your day. What does your morning routine include, and how does it help set you up for a successful day?

Every morning is different, but the non-negotiables include morning prayer, taking supplements to manage my endometriosis, a quick snuggle with my kids if I’m at home, and a short walk or workout if the time and location permit. I also usually listen to a news podcast so I’m across the day’s headlines. 

Earlier this year I started doing Morning Pages (a creative exercise that Julia Cameron introduced in her book The Artist’s Way) which involves free writing, non-stop, until you’ve written 3 pages of prose. It was difficult at first but I absolutely love it, and try to start every day with at least 5-10 minutes of free-writing. The exercise clears my head of anything that’s bugging me and helps me start my day really focused. 

With all that you have going on, how do you carve out quality time with your family? Are there particular rituals or activities that help you switch off from work mode?

I usually operate with the understanding that any time I work, whether it’s paid or volunteer work, is time borrowed from my family. That keeps me centred and reminds me to switch off.

Weekends are “sacred” family time – time to take care of our home, explore the neighbourhood, head to a library or cafe, burn energy at the playground, or laze around and watch a movie or play video games. They’re simple activities, but I love experiencing the simple joys through the eyes of my kids. I’m also a huge fan of an afternoon nap – let’s get those trending! 

My husband and I also created a night time ritual for our kids when they were babies. We pray together as a family just before they go to bed which includes giving thanks for things we’re grateful for from the day. We also read with them before saying goodnight. We’ve continued to do this as they’ve grown older, even if one of us is travelling (yay for video calling!). When my son and I were reading the Harry Potter series together, we read chapters with each other over the phone. 

Weekdays are usually busy and can be unpredictable. This simple night-time ritual helps us switch off and connect as a family for a few minutes and develops a habit of self-reflection and expressing gratitude in all of us. Now that they’re older, it also gives our kids opportunities to talk to us about what’s on their mind in a moment where we can give them our full attention and aren’t worrying about rushing to the next thing. 

Over the course of your career, how have you tweaked your work habits to better support your health and wellness?

I have endometriosis and have experienced chronic pain for most of my life, which definitely influences how I work. I’ve learnt that patiently balancing physical activity with my inevitable low-energy days is essential to managing this disease alongside all my personal and professional goals. 

Having flexible and hybrid work means I can fit in a morning walk, a pilates session on my living room floor between meetings, or have the ability to schedule time to play with my kids in the afternoon after school if I’m going to work late that night or travel later in the week. 

I have used my wellbeing allowance from Reward Gateway to get a standing desk and made the most of their discounts platform when I invested in a desk treadmill. Both have been a game changer. Whenever I’m working from home, I can still hit my daily step goal even if I’ve got back to back meetings or have to spend hours reading research or responding to emails. 

Finally, could you tell us about a habit or practise you’ve adopted that has been a game changer for your work-life balance? 

I used to think that rest was a reward or something that could wait – not anymore! I can’t function if my fuel tank is empty, and I’ve learnt that prioritising my nutritional, physical, mental, relational and spiritual wellbeing means that I’m better equipped to give my time and talent to the people who I want to give to (i.e. my family, friends, team, or students). This required a big mindset shift and it’s something I have to remind myself of. I have a habit tracker in my bullet journal to remind me of things I’m meant to do daily to stay on top of it.

The biggest thing to help me go from a mindset shift to a lifestyle shift has been people around me normalising getting access to support. Proactive self-care or preventative healthcare is a challenge for a lot of women (especially culturally and linguistically diverse women), so I’m very grateful to have had employers who have had open and honest conversations about the importance of wellbeing, and provided practical options to support it too.

Whether it’s the ability to work flexibly and autonomously, encouraging me to participate in step challenges, book clubs, or providing free access to online resources, counselling and coaching services – all these initiatives remove some of the barriers that stop so many of us from putting our health first. 

By normalising the support that is required to make our contribution sustainable, I’ve been able to show up as my best self, no matter where I’m contributing on any given day.

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.