In 2010, I was 18 years old, had just finished school in December 2009 and was about to embark on the first year, and decade, of my life that had not been written for me – a decade where I would be expected to be in the driver’s seat for the first time.
Well, I’m not sure I could have predicted the path the last 10 years would take. There were so many people I hadn’t even met yet who would play substantive roles in the next 10 years, there were events that I had no way of foreseeing, and opportunities that I never would’ve dreamed in January of 2010 would come my way. Let me walk you through 10 photos that tell a lot of the story of my 2010s.
1. My First Overseas Experience
Still pained by the rejection from not being accepted into Broadcasting School (don’t worry, I’d make up for it in the second half of the decade), I felt a bit unsure about what I wanted to do with my life – radio was where I’d put all my efforts (well, consciously anyway), and so I felt at a bit of a loose end as to what to do next. Volcano Radio in Lyttelton took me on as a production assistant, and let me have a whirl with my own afternoon programme Heading Home with Kenny. In April, my part-time contract came to an end and I headed to the UK for 6 months on what would be my first solo overseas adventure. It started with a bang – literally – when Mt Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland erupted and created the volcanic ash saga that saw me stranded in a Dubai hotel room for a week. Of course, if that happened nowadays, I know enough about the world to make the most of such a situation, but back then, it was a lot to process as an 18 year old on your own thousands of miles from anyone you know. I made friends with a British family from Milton Keynes – Mike, Kim and their son Joel, who looked out for me. They visited New Zealand the following year, and we caught up again there – I loved this affirming example of humanity shining through in a difficult time.
Once I finally made it to the UK, I spent the next 6 months ping-ponging between England, Wales and Scotland spending time with family, and looking for work. I ended up taking some bar work at The Beaufort Arms in Kittle on the Gower Peninsula in Wales, an interesting job given I didn’t drink back then (Uni would change that). Despite a few quirks such as the customer in his late 50s who came in every night to avoid his mother, the place still had a way of endearing itself to me, and besides, I think everyone should do hospitality work at least once in their life to get that perspective.
Of course, the real highlight of being in Britain was spending time with family in England, Scotland and Wales. Sadly, not all those family who I got to spend time with in 2010 are still here with us today, tragically taken before their time. I look back on this trip in 2010 with immense gratitude to have had the opportunity to share experiences and make memories with people I wish were still here today.
2. Christchurch Earthquake – 22 February 2011
No-one who was in New Zealand will forget where they were at 12:51pm on Tuesday 22 February 2011. I had been sat at that broken chair underneath that concrete chimney pictured above a mere 30 seconds before the earthquake. I’ve written all about the strange circumstances and coincidences that occurred that day in my 2012 book My February 22nd, but needless to say it was a defining moment that in the space of 25 seconds changed my entire perspective on what’s important in life. The fragility of life was made sickeningly clear that day. Everyday life in Christchurch was challenging for many months and years after 22 February 2011, but I count myself incredibly lucky that it went on – for so many other people that day, it didn’t.
3. The Day I Became a Kiwi – 21 November 2011
With my 6 month jaunt to the UK the year before, it was becoming clear to my parents that there’s a risk that me and/or my brothers may leave NZ for longer than 6 months in future, and in doing so, forfeit our ability to live and work in New Zealand. The idea of not being able to come back to the country we grew up in was a scary one, and so after 11 years in NZ, we bit the bullet, took the oath, sang the national anthem, paid the extortionate fees and became fully fledged New Zealanders. Having dual nationality and the freedom to come and go between NZ, Australia, the UK and the EU is an incredible privilege.
As happy as a moment this was when this photo was taken with the Mayor of Christchurch at the Citizenship Ceremony, I now look back on this picture with a lot of sadness. Unknown to at least 4 out of 5 of us, this was to be the last family photo we’d ever have as a mere 7 months later in July 2012, Dad announced he was leaving. There’s not a lot of support out there for people who are adults when their parents separate, but it’s harder than you might think. Not only do you become everyone’s confidante, but your world view and trust gets shattered at a time when you’re just starting to learn about relationships of your own. No longer having your parents to look up to as the exemplar model is tough.
4. Becoming a Speech Language Therapist – 2012-2015 (Picture: November 2015)
One of the great things about working in the stockroom at Dick Smith was that it helped me realise quite quickly it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever. Without wanting to dig up too many old wounds, it was a place where I was subjected to some pretty nasty bullying which led to me dropping to part time and eventually quitting (I’ve since learned, there’s a term for what I experienced – “gaslighting” – where someone makes you feel you are so worthless that you start to believe it must be true, and doubt your own competence).
Through my simultaneous volunteering work at Cleft New Zealand, I realised the difference I wanted to make in the world wasn’t by selling things to people, but by helping them through some of life’s trickier moments. Looking back on my own life, I realised that speech therapy was something that had got me to where I was today. People who have never had any difficulties communicating will not realise what an immense advantage and privilege this is, trust me, the world views you differently when you sound different, and gates that are open for everyone else are slammed shut in front of you. Speech language therapy had helped me climb over those gates, and I wanted to give somebody else the same leg up over similar hurdles.
So from 2012 – 2015, I went to the University of Canterbury and studied alongside 39 of the most kind, compassionate women you can hope to meet – I definitely felt I found my tribe with speech therapy, and I loved my subsequent Speech Language Therapy roles (and am looking forward to resuming this in 2020). Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that at the end of the decade, I still have good friends from my Uni days. One of my biggest regrets of the decade is that I didn’t go to my graduation ceremony – I was in a strange head space at the time (although didn’t recognise it for what it was at that point in time) and didn’t want to be around so many other people. I hope to right that wrong when completing my Masters.
5. Climbing the Ladder and Becoming a Charity CEO (2012-2015)
This is me at the 2013 Cleft New Zealand youth camp. I was rather terrified – I didn’t really want to climb up this pole, let alone jump off the top of it. But what you can’t see in this picture is the children’s faces looking up at me, wanting me to go first before they will do it. I worked so hard to pull this camp together in order to let people know that a cleft shouldn’t hold them back in life. I knew I had no choice but to climb this very high pole and jump off the top, throwing my comfort zone to the wind! A year ago in December 2012, at the age of 20, I had become the CEO of Cleft New Zealand, making me NZ’s youngest charity CEO at the time. What a steep learning curve that was, but an incredible privilege and highlight; an experience I never thought I would get at the age of 20. I look back on the 3 years that followed and although there are things I’d do differently with the benefit of hindsight and life experience, I am immensely proud of what me and the Chairperson, Louise Ayrey achieved in that time. Thank you to everyone who made the 2013 and 2015 camps happen, they were a dream come true to see to fruition.
6. Three Surgeries, Three Recoveries, Hundreds of Decisions (2013, 2014, 2016-17)
These moments were not highlights of the last 10 years, but they were memorable. It’s a strange one to me because writing off a portion of my year each year to deal with medical stuff has been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember. However, I’ve become more aware as time goes on that this is just not a set of experiences most people have, and I find that hard sometimes when people don’t quite understand how those experiences still influence my decision making everyday. I’ve done my best to explain what these three operations were all about, and how I feel about them: The Wisdom Extracted alongside Four Wisdom Teeth, Orthognathic Surgery, Rhinoplasty Surgery.
7. A Career in Radio (2015 – 2018)
Well I regret not taking my sunglasses off for this picture with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, but nevertheless, I love this photo. This photo represents so much – the surgeon who said when I was 12 “You’ll never make a career out of public speaking”, the Broadcasting School thinking I wasn’t the right type of person for broadcasting. Standing there, having just done the interview of my life was an incredibly affirming moment (you can listen to it here), knowing that all my broadcasting efforts were recognised, and I was being judged on what I had to say, not how I looked. I love that aspect of radio, and although I have nothing official to announce yet – there’s an NZ election, US election, Cannabis referendum and Euthanasia referendum in 2020, and a political broadcaster would certainly be in their element with that combo – watch this space. 😉
8. A Place to Call My Own (2016)
One of the definite highlights of this decade has been taking the leap into home ownership – I love my little 2 bedroom place in Christchurch and often yearn for it, and am looking forward to being back there next year (and hopefully filling the spare room with my new friends from across the planet). But, perhaps these cushions that I bought knew more than I did with their “Adventure is Calling” and “Wander and Dream” slogans.
9. Living in London (2018 – 2020)
There were so many great pictures, featuring so many great people that I could’ve picked to illustrate this point. Spending 2018 and 2019 based in London has been the most incredible way to round off the decade. Working for CLAPA has been amazing, and I have had so many amazing professional experiences and travel opportunities while I’ve been in Europe that I never thought I’d get and am so grateful for.I feel that I too am an evolved person relative to the one that left Christchurch in early 2018. I am most grateful for all the incredible people I’ve got to meet and spend time with in the UK and Europe – you’ve made my time here so special, and are making it so hard to leave – thank you.
10. The Friends Made Along the Way (2010 – Present)
It’s what life is all about right? Connections with other people, sprinkling a little bit of yourself into the hearts of the people you meet. Thank you to everyone who has either become part of my life in the last 10 years, or to the people who have continued to strengthen your presence in my life in the last 10 years – thank you, I’m so glad you were here to share this chapter with me, and I sincerely hope you stick around to find out what happens in the next chapter. And to those friends and family that we lost in the 2010s, your legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who loved you. ❤️