Balancing the Grind with Sarah Curtis-Fawley, Director of Programs at SBE Australia

Sarah Curtis-Fawley is the Director of Programs at SBE Australia, which connects Australia’s female entrepreneurs seeking capital & partnerships for growth to a global network of investors, businesses, domain experts and successful women business leaders. 

Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

I grew up in Philadelphia and then attended college at the University of Virginia where I studied psychology. After graduating I worked on a national research project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation on criminal justice reform, which took me inside prisons up and down the east coast of America.

This sparked my interest in restorative justice, and I was lucky enough to be granted a Fulbright Fellowship to do research on this topic in Australia. I fell in love with Australia and my 1 year research stint turned into 8 years – following my Fulbright year I worked in various roles for the South Australia government, focused on policy and service delivery for complex social issues like homelessness, gender violence, and mental health.

In 2009 I decided it was time to return to the US, and after a lot of soul searching and engaging a life coach, I set out to start my own business. From humble origins selling pies and baked goods at local farmer’s markets, I scaled my business to include a hospitality company operating restaurants and cafes, a wholesale manufacturing facility supplying high end baked goods to grocery stores and other retail outlets, and a corporate catering company.

I sold my business in 2019 and then returned to Australia to raise my young daughter as an Aussie. After completing an MBA at the University of Adelaide I started working with SMEs and startups, sharing my knowledge and experience as a business owner to enable others to live out their dreams and create purpose driven and profitable ventures.

Today I wear many hats – sometimes too many but it is indicative of my passion for business and empowering entrepreneurs! I am the Director of Programs at SBE Australia, where I have the privilege of supporting ambitious women founders to start and scale their businesses.

I am also a Growth Expert at the Australian Centre for Business Growth, where I work with SMEs to create and execute growth strategies. I teach entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of South Australia, and also have the pleasure of serving on several start up and scale up Advisory Boards, as well as acting as the Deputy Chair of the NFP Renew Adelaide. 

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

There really isn’t a typical day in my working life, and I prefer it that way! My day quite often starts early with a meeting with a US based expert advisor for SBE. Then I will make coffee, do a quick scan of the local and global news and browse a few of my favourite email newsletters (The Broadsheet, the Daily Upside, International Intrigue, Patent Drop).

This is followed by a meeting with a woman founder to discuss her current stage of business and how SBE might be able to support her growth through our programs and services. There will be time to connect with my SBE colleagues in Sydney and Brisbane to discuss upcoming programs and events, and perhaps another meeting with a founder who is raising capital to provide pitch feedback. The afternoon may hold a call for one of my Advisory Boards, followed by an evening event for Renew Adelaide or attending soccer training for my daughter.

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

I actually don’t really believe in the whole concept of ‘balance’ because I think it is something you can forever chase and never quite achieve. I adhere more to the idea of life seasons – there are stages when you might spend more time focused on your family or personal pursuits, and then other times when it is all about putting your foot on the gas to achieve your business and professional goals.

My partner also operates his own businesses, so our work and home life boundaries can be a little blurry. Having said that, we prioritise eating dinner together as a family, planning weekend getaways in our caravan, and telling each other a lot of bad jokes so that we laugh together each day. 

Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

I recently read the book The Third Space by Dr. Adam Fraser, which is all about the power of purposeful transitions in our day to ensure that our mental state matches our intentions. This has led me to consciously build these transitions into my work day so that I am not careening from one virtual meeting to another without taking a breath.

Sometimes I will do a short mindfulness meditation (on the Kic app, a company I worked with through SBE!), take a walk around the block, or make a cup of herbal tea as a way to pause and integrate my thoughts in a focused way. 

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

I listen to podcasts all the time – some of my faves are We Can Do Hard Things, How I Work, and 10 Percent Happier. I am also currently reading the book Quit by Annie Duke – a great counterpoint to how we privilege grit in our culture. Sometimes quitting – or saying no to opportunities – is absolutely the right thing for our personal mental health and professional success. 

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

When I work with founders, I always challenge them to think bigger – what if everything worked out and you achieved your wildest dreams for your business and your life? I try to be a ‘best case scenario’ thinker – there will always be problems and stressors, but I see it is a privilege to be able to work through those to create value and impact in the world. 

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.