Lifelong learning is the secret to success

by Annelise Ball

Most people know nothing about staircases until they need one. Since staircases are one of the very few products you buy only once in a lifetime, those selling and making them must know how to produce a masterpiece each and every time.

I know one man, Graham, who’s worked in staircases all his life.  He’s edging his way to retirement, after forty-seven years of doing a job he loves.  What can we learn from him?  What’s his secret? How do you stay passionate about something for almost half a century?

According to him, it’s got something to do with staying passionate about learning, keeping up to date with technology and spending your time with the best people in the business.

Worthy advice from someone with forty-seven years of work experience, wouldn’t you say?

A young guy in the 60’s

Graham’s favourite subject at school was woodwork.  So, when the boss’s sister asked him if he wanted a job at her brother’s staircase manufacturing firm, he agreed.  At fifteen years of age, he was ready to ditch school and get stuck into the real world.  It was such a normal thing to do at the time, his parents readily agreed.

Graham recalls there being few different choices for a young guy in the 60’s. If you were rich, you paid the full fees to go to university.  If you were brainy, you got a scholarship.  For everyone else, there was the banks, insurance companies or trades.  Since Graham wasn’t rich, and not brainy enough for a scholarship, a trade apprenticeship was the way to go.

Decision Made

Graham was only fifteen, and far too young to drive.  He caught buses and trains across Melbourne to get to building sites by 730am.  At the time, the new estates in Doncaster and Glen Waverley were booming. There were plenty of staircases needed and lots of opportunities for Graham to learn. Since he couldn’t carry his tools on the train, another tradesman would deliver everything he needed onsite for him.  The tools and timber would be left there overnight, ready for him in the morning. Graham laughs at the memory of leaving such valuables on an unguarded building site … ‘no risk of getting your tools stolen back then, not like today’.

Graham spent the next five years learning the art of staircase making and installation, taught by the guys at work whilst also spending a day a week learning carpentry and joinery at Caulfield Technical School.  He completed his apprenticeship and took out the prize for being the ‘overall best apprentice’ in 1970.  Graham knew early on if you’re going to do something you love, you might as well give it your absolute best.

The company, Slattery & Acquroff, were successful, well-respected and generous.  In those times, people could count on having job security if they worked hard.  So Graham stayed, not just for a few years but for the rest of his career.  Forty-seven years and still counting!

He built and installed staircases for almost twenty years, enjoying the craft of completing a functional piece of furniture built to last.  It was clean, accurate work allowing him to produce unique, design showpieces guaranteed to last for decades.  His work still exists in buildings all across Melbourne.  Graham recently found a staircase he built way back in the 70’s featured in the Herald Sun’s ‘Home’ magazine.  He certainly built them to last.

Despite having a full time job, a wife and three little kids; Graham also studied for his Building Diploma in his spare time.   Why?  Because he enjoyed learning and wanted to know everything he could about building and construction.  He’s still a Qualified Building Inspector today.

From Tradesman to Salesman

By the mid-90’s, the company was growing.  Someone needed to concentrate on sales. Graham was offered the job, even though he’d never sold anything in his life.  ‘I thoroughly enjoyed my time building and installing stairs,” he said, “but I was interested in challenging myself even further in a totally different game.’

‘I now had to sell the stairs first, measure them up, then design and detail them for manufacture.’ Graham recalls. ‘Not only that, I had to build good relationships with all types of people… from owners of big building companies to ordinary homeowners.  I wasn’t just a tradesman anymore, I was a professional.’   He found selling the product the easy part, since few people know anything about stairs, his knowledge and expertise were crucial in allowing people to make informed decisions about what type of stair would best suit their home, their wishes and their budget.

However, the new job also had not-so-easy parts. Graham was now required to make frequent use of a fast growing new technology…  ‘the computer’.

New-Fangled Technology

Graham had never really used computers before, he’d only recently just bought one for his kids to do their homework.  So, he was faced with the task of learning to use a computer from scratch.  Just to make it all a little more challenging, he was forced by necessity to learn a Computer Aided Drawing program at the same time.  Learning complicated design software whilst also mastering computer fundamentals was quite a task.  Not at all daunted, Graham acquired the skills he needed through hard work, persistence and the growing awareness that keeping up to speed with new technology was absolutely crucial.

Graham has spent the last twenty years working as the Sales Manager.  He’s out on building sites, meeting with architects and builders, negotiating pricing and competing to win work so others can keep their jobs.  The tradesman had become a master salesman, no training…  no experience…  just someone willing to learn, accept challenges and move with the times.

Helping Others Learn

Graham is now transitioning again into a mentoring role.  If it’s one thing he values highly, it’s helping people to learn, grow and reach their own potential.  Graham is teaching the sales team at Slattery & Acquroff all about staircase knowledge, pricing and customer service.  His philosophy on customer service?  ‘Listen, ask questions and thoroughly understand your customers needs.  Then, design the product and service to match those needs precisely.’  If you’re interested in a sales career, take note.

He loves his job… always has… in whatever form it’s taken.  For some people, loving their job every single day remains a dream scenario.  For young people, just figuring out where to start is the biggest obstacle.  Everyone needs a little help sometimes to figure out what to do.

So, Graham would like to offer some advice…

‘Never stop learning, especially technology’ he says.  ‘You’ve got to make sure you’re keeping up with everything that’s happening, otherwise you’ll just be left behind.’

‘When I was fifteen, stairs were made only out of simple timber.  Now, sophisticated technology I’d never dreamed of in the 60s can make stairs out of all sorts of materials… like steel, glass and stainless steel.  Technology has allowed us to be so much more creative.  Slattery & Acquroff used to be a bunch of tradesman building stairs, now it’s the number one staircase building firm in Australia with educated teams of designers, marketers and craftsmen’.

Graham’s also just completed the Diploma in Competitive Manufacturing, a testament to his passion to keep learning, growing and moving with the times.  He’s also certain that finding your passion and working with the best of the best is a great way to be happy at work.  He should know… he’s done it now for forty-seven years and counting.

Never one to miss an opportunity for sales, Graham asked me to put in the Slattery & Acquroff website address in for readers.  So, if you need a staircase built by the best in the business… check out  


The F Word

By Annelise Ball

You and I both know one of the worst F words in the English language…


Do you know the F word that’s much worse?!

If you don’t…lucky you’re reading this blog!  Changing careers or starting your own business requires a thorough examination of this word.   You’ve got to understand how ‘it’ affects you.  You need to realise much it just loves to sabotage all your dreams and goals.

So, what is this nasty, no-good word?

The word is…


Yep, that’s it.

Here’s how I see it…

Fear gets in everyone’s way.  We do all sorts of crazy, destructive things…often unconsciously…to avoid it.  I know it myself; my own fears nearly stopped me from doing exactly what I loved.

See, ever since I was ten years old, I wanted to be a journalist.  I was great at English.  I loved to write. So, when I finished high school and got good enough marks to go to university, did I apply for a place in a journalism course?



I was too scared!

People would say things like ‘so many people want to be journalists, but they never make it.’  Or, ‘heaps of people do journalism degrees then can’t get jobs’.  Or ‘you have to be pretty good to do that’.

I foolishly believed it all!

So instead, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts.  I was barely conscious of it at the time, but my rationale was ‘at least I’ll learn stuff that’ll help me be a journalist…one day…maybe’.   A teacher of mine even organised work experience for me at Channel Ten.    After two weeks hanging out with the news crew and on the set of Good Morning Australia with Bert, I was still too scared to take the initiative and do anything about it.

I’m sure youth and immaturity played their own part, but in all honesty, I just didn’t have the guts or self-belief at the time.   I was terribly afraid of failure.  So, I took what I believed was the easier option.  I spent ten years studying and working in social work, only to later realise it was the wrong choice.

Enough about me.  Let’s talk about you!

What are you afraid of?  Is it

  • Total failure at something you really want to try?
  • Major embarrassment at exposing yourself as just-no-damn- good?
  • Losing everything:  money, relationships, security?
  • Success?  Too scared to really live your wildest dreams?

These questions can be mind-blowing if you really take the time to explore them.  It’s completely in your best interests to discover the things which really hold you back.  You’ll on benefit from being really honest with yourself about your fears.

 Imagine – ‘what would you do if you weren’t afraid of ANYTHING and had ALL the cash you needed?’ 

 Would you be?

  • A successful, thriving business owner with plenty of time for a fulfilling personal life?
  • A dedicated artist with total belief in his talents and ability to succeed?
  • A satisfied professional who knows she can easily get the perfect job anywhere she goes?
  • A student brimming with confidence and self-belief?

What would it take to get you there?  What’s really stopping you?  What do you need to admit to yourself before it’s too late?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon find the price of fear is terribly high.  The price I paid was spending ten years in the wrong career – one that took a serious emotional and financial toll on my life.

Think about it. Find the courage.  Face your fears.

It’s crucial.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.  

Marianne Williamson

From Frustration to Freedom: How to Work for Yourself and Escape the Rat Race

“I’d rather regret the things I have done rather than those I haven’t” Lucille Ball

Are you mid-way through your working life and feeling uneasy about your achievements so far?

Are you afraid of getting too old to try doing something that you really want to do?

Do you feel trapped like a mouse in a turning wheel because you have to pay bills and survive?

Do you deep down know that you can’t continue doing what you are doing for too much longer?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions you need a change and now, at the beginning of 2013 is the time to do it!

If you are one of the 88% of Australians dissatisfied with work and are looking for a more meaningful and balanced life, now is the time to take action!

Call it a tree-change, sea-change, downshifting or scaling back, whatever it is, you are not alone as millions of people are wanting less and working less for it.

People nowadays are craving more simplicity in life and less of the materialistic trappings that can create debt, financial stress and the need to remain a corporate slave to survive.

Welcome to the 21st Century world of work where increasing numbers of people are realising the benefits of being able to work for yourself.

Flexibility of work hours, location of work and the volume of workload combined with an often higher income is possible in your mid-career. Your knowledge, skills, experience and network which are only developed after years of work are an asset that should be capitalised on.

We live in a very exciting time- the Information Age.

The future is here and those who are open-minded to the changes are carving out a balanced and satisfying work life that others are only dreaming of.

The key to making it happen?

Technology and globalisation.

Make no mistake- technology and globalisation have permanently altered the way we work. We are no longer working our way up the ranks working for the same company or organisation for 30-40 years; then retiring.

Instead, the mantra is to transfer skills to a new career, changing careers multiple times, setting up small business, and learning how to work for yourself.

Since the late 1990’s, a revolution has started: thanks to the internet and new technologies such as email, mobile phones, Skype, laptops, social media and search engines, you can now do business all over the world without ever leaving home!

We live in a time of incredible opportunity but unfortunately for many, the changes are regarded as intimidating and overwhelming.

So what barriers are there to overcome?

Your Mindset!

“If you think you can you are right. If you think you can’t you are right again.” Henry Ford

If you have the right mindset and an open mind to technology and new ways to work you will make it happen.

If you are not afraid to seek work and projects and market yourself you will be in a good position to work for yourself.

Each day, in small ways, you can educate yourself and align yourself with others who are doing the same. Learn about technology and how to use it and open up your thoughts to think globally, not just locally. Look at the big picture about what is happening in the world, not just in your city or town.

How to Work for Yourself

There are several new ways to work and create an income that will allow you the flexibility and freedom you have always wanted:

  • Work as a consultant– use your knowledge, skills and experience to offer services or create products to be sold to individual clients or organisations willing to pay
  • Create a portfolio career– combine two or more part-time jobs to create your income. This can create more security as you are not just relying on one source of income.
  • Start an online business– you can do this part-time while working full-time until your part-time earnings are substantial enough to make it your full-time income. There are numerous popular types of businesses such as selling on e-Bay, becoming a virtual assistant, blogging and writing, selling your own product or service and online consulting
  • Develop strategic alliances with organisations/companies – if you have several ‘suppliers’ of work you may be able to work on multiple projects, and if you are lucky- from home.
  • Reverse Marketing- instead of looking for advertised positions be aware of potential new business and make direct contact with organisations to see if there is any work available and what skills they need.

Did you know that the need to work for yourself and ‘start up’ businesses is the fastest growing sector of the Australian economy? Women in Australia own 585,000 of the 1.9 million small businesses operating in Australia.

This is not just an Australian phenomenon; it is global, and growing at lightning speed.

So join the revolution, start to take control of your work-life and not vice-versa, learn what others are doing and most importantly, lose the fear of change and overcome the obstacles.


“Nothing is impossible- the word itself says- I’m possible” Audrey Hepburn

Work for Yourself and escape the Rat Race

How to Work for Yourself and Escape the Rat Race

Decisions, decisions: Emily chooses a career, finally!

by Annelise Ball

There are so many stories to tell about careers.  Everyone has their own story; good, bad or ugly.  There is so learn to learn from each other, especially the mistakes we’ve made and the things we’ve learnt the hard way.  So, today I’m going to tell Emily’s story.  I think it’s a great story that illustrates the power of following your heart.  It will always lead you in the right direction.

Emily is 27 years old and lives in Melbourne.  In Year 12, her favourite subject was psychology.  She loved it.  Her one and only university course preference was an undergraduate psychology degree.  She got a good score and was accepted into the course during first-round offers. After one semester however, things started to unravel.

‘I hated it’ Emily recalls. ‘ It was really different to year 12 psychology and I found it incredibly boring.  It was all about statistics and research, nothing like the things I’d found so interesting in my Year 12 course, like understanding human behaviour and cognitive development.’

After one semester, she dropped out. A course in Beauty Therapy seemed like the way to go.   She loved it.

‘I loved the course, I loved earning money and I loved the friends I made.  I even planned to start my own business eventually’.  Emily began to focus on skincare.  She especially enjoyed helping people treat problems that were affecting their self-esteem, such as chronic acne. In her spare time though, Emily maintained her interest in psychology.  She read books and stayed in touch with developments in the field.

Yet after a few years, Emily began to feel bored.  ‘I felt like I wasn’t being challenged enough.  I also hated that people looked down on me because I was doing relatively unskilled service work.’

Emily decided to go back to university.  She broadened her options and applied for a Bachelor of Health Science, majoring in Nutrition & Dietetics and Psychology.  Psychology was still just an interest, and Emily was yet to seriously considered it as a career.  However, she enjoyed the course content and earned several High Distinctions.   Nutrition and Dietetics was definitely not her strength and her marks were much lower in those subjects.

Emily finished the course mid-year and had six months up her sleeve.  London called.  She developed a new game plan.  She would apply for Psychology Honours in the new year.  It was common knowledge that only a few dozen were accepted out of hundreds of applicants.  If she got in, she’d come home.  If she didn’t, she’d stay in London.

A few months later, Emily discovered she’d been one of the lucky few accepted into Honours.   She still wasn’t convinced.  She went online, rejected the offer and got on with her life in London.

A month or two later, Emily’s mum got a phone call from the university.  They hadn’t heard from Emily.  Her online rejection hadn’t been received.   Her mum contacted her in London and asked for direction.  ‘Reject it’ said Emily.

However, that same week, everything changed.  She lost her job in messy and unpleasant circumstances.  Both her flat mates decided to move out.  A good friend got engaged.

‘I felt like I was starting to miss out on things.’ Emily reflects.  ‘I was practically homeless and going from job to job. I realised it was time to make a decision about my life.  I had to give psychology a go’.

Emily’s mum called the university to tell them she was ready to accept the Honours position.  ‘Lucky’ they said. ‘We were going to offer it to someone else today’.

Emily packed up her life in London and headed home.  Three weeks later, she started the course.

‘I loved it!’ she said.  ‘I got really good marks and made some very close friends. I knew I was going in the right direction’.  Emily enjoyed it so much she applied for the Doctorate course a year later.  She got in –  one out of a handful of successful applicants.

‘I knew the skills I learned in beauty therapy had a LOT to do with my success in being accepted in the doctorate course’.  Emily said.  ‘It was so important’. Most people wouldn’t make the connection between beauty therapy and psychology.  But for Emily, it was obvious.

‘Beauty therapy gave me six years of experience working directly with people.  I’d learned about client care, building rapport, maintaining a client-base, establishing trust and learning about good interpersonal and customer service skills.  These are core skills needed by a professional psychologist.  I had years of experience in caring for people in a personal setting, helping them improve and overcome problems that were affecting their self-esteem and confidence.  Those skills were completely relevant and transferrable to psychology.’

Emily has a year to go in her doctorate course.  Her advice to others?

‘You have to work hard, but it it’s the right thing for you, it’ll happen.  It might be stressful, but if it’s meant to be, it’ll come to you easily.