RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Awards – week 26. Half way!

Last week I had a powerful and unexpected experience, and as a result, received one of the biggest gifts the Rural Women’s Awards journey has offered me so far!

Us all glammed up at the national RIRDC Rural Women’s Awards, Parliament House, Canberra

It was at the awards ceremony for the announcement of the national RWA winner. It’s a big, glamorous affair at Parliament House in Canberra, and weeks of thought and planning had gone into the dress, hair and make-up, numerous fittings for the tuxedo hire (for Hugh, not me), and, of course, the speech. Without wanting to be presumptuous, as one of 7 finalists I had to assume I had reasonable odds of becoming either the winner or the runner-up, and I was determined to be prepared, just in case!

As the days passed and the evening drew closer, what had started as mild butterflies got worse and worse. By the time we were actually in the Great Hall, seated at our tables, I was as close to a panic attack as I’ve ever been – sweaty palms, running to the toilet every few minutes and unable to eat a mouthful. If I hadn’t had Hugh by my side talking me down, I’m not sure I would have been able to resist the urge to walk out!

What on earth was going on? Wasn’t this supposed to the pinnacle, the ultimate achievement on offer? Wasn’t this what I’d signed up for?

Well, no, actually. At least not consciously. When I first put in my application form I was focused on my project, the attraction of the bursary was a definite plus, and I was really keen to do the Company Director’s Course. The idea of winning the Victorian award was butterflies material, but I also wanted it, quite definitely. What’s more, I’ve enjoyed it. Yes, it’s stretched me repeatedly as I’ve had to learn new skills to meet the opportunities that have come my way, but on the whole I’ve loved it.

The idea of being projected onto the national stage was another thing altogether, and as it turned out, not a welcome one! In fact everything about it was terrifying, from the idea of having to make a speech, to being interviewed by multiple national media, to the thought of the many, many speaking engagements that I would be asked (if not expected) to do over the coming year.  To their credit RIRDC do their utmost to prepare all the finalists for the demands of becoming the national winner, from providing a day’s expert media training through to repeated assurances of our freedom to refuse requests for our time, plus they provide ongoing support throughout the year.

Before the national awards night I was telling myself (and anyone else that would listen) that not wanting to win was just about not wanting to give it the time it would demand. My life is already full of the many things I’m committed to and love doing, and I just couldn’t imagine how I’d fit in a full 12 months of new obligations. Which is all true, but doesn’t come close to explaining the extreme level of stress and panic I experienced! Or the huge and overwhelming feeling of relief I felt when my name was not called, and again first thing on waking the next morning, when I realised I was “off the hook”.

At this point I must say that as soon as the winners were announced my self-obsessive feelings were quickly overtaken by a rush of pride and joy for Sarah Powell, this year’s national winner (from South Australia), and Carol Bracken, the runner-up (from Tasmania). They are both lovely women that it’s been a joy to get to know over the last couple of months, and they will both be marvelous ambassadors for their states, their projects and their industries. RIRDC chose wisely!

It’s only been since getting a little distance from the experience that I’ve been able to reflect on what else might have been going on for me that night, and this is where the unexpected gift lies. What an amazing opportunity to get to know myself a bit better and understand the parts of myself that maybe, just maybe, are limiting me. It’s already starting to seem a bit silly in retrospect that I wouldn’t welcome the chance of being given a national platform to talk about the issues I’m passionate about – organic farming, farmers markets, and a fair go for small and medium-sized family farms! It’s not like I’m ever short of something to say on any of those topics after all!

Back in one of my first posts since winning the Victorian award I talked about ‘imposter syndrome’ and the intense discomfort that came from being thrust into the spotlight; I think what I experienced in Canberra was anticipatory impostor syndrome on a whole new level! Now I’m not suggesting that my fears had anything to do with RIRDC’s ultimate choice, and I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that they haven’t chosen the two best candidates. But it’s given me a great chance to reflect on why my fear of having to show up on a national stage was so much stronger than my willingness to embrace the chance to use all that attention to achieve my own cunning plans. Drat! And at the same time, great! Another opportunity to be stretched, to recognise my self-imposed limits, and hopefully to be ready to overcome them at the next available opportunity!

Coming down after all the excitement and coming home to the farm was lovely. And my justification about having a full life without the pressure of a national award is also true, so it’s been wonderful to be able to turn my attention back to the many interests in my life – my RWA project, the farm, our Grow Great Fruit online business, The Growing Abundance Project, my board role with Melbourne Farmers Markets, and the brand new Mount Alexander Local Produce Network that I’m itching to spend more time on. Plus I still have to do the final assignment for the Company Director’s Course (they were happy to give me one extension, not sure if I’d be stretching the friendship to ask for another!).

So I’ll be cheering Sarah and Carol on over the next 12 months with great enthusiasm, ready to help if needed, and keeping one eye out for that next chance to push myself back into uncomfortable territory!

The last fortnight I’ve:

  • Been to Parliament House in Canberra!
  • Attended a one-day media training course
  • Given the last of the series of six workshops for farmers market stallholders
  • Been accepted to present on the topic of farmers using technology to connect with their customers, at the ‘Local Lives, Global Matters’ conference in Castlemaine

My project, called “Growing Communities Around Farmers Markets” has been made possible by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Rural Women’s Awards.

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