Giving back

Women of Balance: Helen Merrick talks about believing in yourself and giving back

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Helen Merrick specialises in marketing and communications for the not for profit sector. Currently the communications manager for Include a Charity and a speaker for the Fundraising Institute of Australia,  Helen is an active champion for giving more and finding balance through the small things in life. She kindly agreed to give us 10 minutes in her day to answer our Women of Balance Q&A to share with you…

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your current job?

As a marketer by trade, I’ve spent the last 12 years working as a professional fundraiser and marketer both in the international development sector and children’s health. My current role allows me to have the privilege of working as the campaign director for the social change campaign, Include a Charity. As a collaboration of over 100 charities, we’re working to increase the awareness of charitable gifts in wills and ask Australians to consider this form of giving and to leave a legacy. Most Australians don’t realise the impact these kinds of gifts have and the amazing potential for social and community transformation if, even a small number of people, decided to leave a charitable gift as part of their legacy.

 

What are you passionate about?

I love what I do.  I get to meet so many different, passionate, purpose-led people through my job every day. It’s inspiring, but also intimidating. It makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with my life when I hear some of their stories! I learn so much from these experiences.

As part of that, I also get to meet some amazing women – many who just don’t believe in themselves! I remember being told about imposter syndrome – and thinking – that’s me (as does 99% of the population).  The older I get, the more passionate I become about helping people to succeed and to do what they enjoy.  I tell them not to feel guilty about putting themselves first!

My goal is pretty simple:  to make sure I’m living my life making a difference and understanding that there are so many ways I can do that.  It’s also to never stop trying. Making a difference comes in all shapes and sizes – it doesn’t have to be saving the world on a mass scale.

 

What are the most challenging things about your life?

Mummy guilt! I like to believe I’m a rational, head-led person. Before I had my son, when people mentioned this phenomenon to me, I thought:  you can have it all and not feel guilty! But I was wrong.

However rationally and logically I think about it, the guilt of working full-time and not being with my son as a stay-at-home mum creeps in! Eighteen years ago, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and it’s been an uphill struggle. My son was born after five years of IVF and then he was four weeks premature – so to put myself first is something I’ve had to learn and I still struggle with this daily. But there are so many people with much bigger challenges than I have, and I’m constantly reminded that there are parts of the world where all these opportunities would not be possible.

 

What are the most rewarding things and what achievement/goal are you most proud of achieving to date?

It sounds corny, but my son is my best achievement – and watching him grow into his own individuality. It took time for him to arrive, and it’s not been plain sailing, but it’s worth every second. I’m also really proud of the work we accomplish through Include a Charity. Working as a collective can be difficult and it will take time to see significant social change around this area, but I believe when we do, it will reshape the social sector and allow some of the amazing organisations I spend time with to enact some major community changes that will benefit us all.

 

 How do you find balance?

I used to think that balance was taking the big holiday, going to the gym five times a week (well, maybe two or three!) and being a social butterfly. But I’ve come to realise it’s the little things that provide me with balance.  It’s things like walking the dog without headphones on or the phone so I can enjoy the sounds around me, that five-minute morning cuddle with my son watching Peppa Pig, not going out on a Saturday night, and having the ability to have a job that provides me with variety that no day is really ever the same.

Stress is also the key activator of my Crohn’s disease, so I’ve learnt to listen to my body and make the changes it needs.

 

Do you have any mentors or people who inspired you to follow your dream?

I’m lucky to have been surrounded by lots of influencers over the years. When I was 15 my mum went to see Anita Roddick (founder of the Body Shop) and bought me a signed copy of her autobiography. Her story informed a lot of my thinking about using your skills to make a difference, sticking to your values and the power of giving it a go, despite things seeming like they’re against you.

Since then, I’ve worked with a variety of mentors from different sectors and established a network of valued colleagues who help me wrangle with some of the challenges I’ve mentioned. They can be the greatest cheer squad when you doubt your ability, or they will question you if they think you’re taking too much on!

 

What is inspiring you at the moment ?

 After finishing my master’s degree a couple of years ago my learning path has been much more ad-hoc and with a toddler, it needs to be a lot less time-consuming. I’m a big fan of Ted Talks, especially on subjects that I would never consider.  It inspires me to hear from all these people who are doing and thinking about things that I haven’t thought about.

I also love a good biography.  I’m currently working my way through some of my most-loved British comediennes: Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Julie Walters. I like finding out the detail – what goes on behind what you see on the screen.

 

Do you have a message for women over 40?

Since turning 40, I’ve started to think about my legacy. What does that mean? Whether it’s how we help the broader community, with time or financially, or how we help family and friends, we often think this is something to put off for another day. But we need to find what gives us purpose, whatever that is, and make sure we keep sight of it on a long-term basis.

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