Book review: Work Strife Balance by Mia Freedman

Friday, May 5, 2017 Permalink

Regular readers of this blog will know I don’t read non-fiction. Indeed, I usually don’t touch it with a ten foot pole. However… sometimes I find myself stretching out of that comfort zone (as I’ve done recently in relation to romance and historical fiction).

And while we’re confessing to our many sins, I should add I don’t recall reading Mia Freedman’s work before. I mean, I don’t live under a rock, so I know who she is and I’ve seen her speak on TV shows and probably browsed snippets here and there. Perhaps I was still reading Dolly or read Cosmo during her editorial years. I’m not sure. But I’ve not been a regular reader of Mamamia and I hadn’t read her previous books before picking up Work Strife Balance.

And although I’m not entirely sold on the structure of the book, I LOVE her writing. Like, LOVE love it. It’s like the proverbial warm blanket you pull over yourself as the cold air hits. You’re engulfed by something intimate and familiar and comforted by its ease and honesty. (And yes, the whole blanket metaphor went out of the window at the end there, but you know what I mean.)

Book review: Work Strife Balance by Mia FreedmanWork Strife Balance
by Mia Freedman
Published by Macmillan Australia
on April 26th 2017
Source: PanMacmillan
Genres: Non-fiction
ISBN: 1925479935, 9781925479935
Pages: 340

This is also not a book about gratitude or being #soblessed. This is not a gosh-gee-aw-shucks book that shares heart-warming anecdotes in a bid to make me seem artificially relatable. You can't fake authenticity.
This book is not about my journey. It's about yours.

I want this book to be helpful to every woman. And I know from experience the best way to be helpful is to be honest. It's easy to share your successes and your triumphs but the real stuff of life is far less transient: Eating disorders. Grief. Divorce. Losing a job. Losing a loved one. Losing your mind. Infertility. None of these things have rituals. In an age of social media brag-fests they mostly exist underground.

But the way women connect is by sharing failures, disappointments and insecurities. Quietly. Privately. Over wine. Over text. Over fences. Female connections are forged through vulnerability not Facebook brags.

This book is about my most valuable failures, my most significant setbacks and my most mortifying slip-ups in life, love and work. At Mamamia we call it FLEARNING - failing and learning. Learning through failing. In my teens, 20s, 30s and 40s, I've done a lot of both.

As is obvious from the title, Freedman’s talking about the old ‘work / life balance’ chestnut. Utopia. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. First division of gold lotto and similarly unattainable goals.

Work-life balance is like thigh gaps. It’s yet another rotten external pressure women are putting on ourselves. Another impossible standard against which we’re measuring ourselves and our lives. And for what? p 332

Freedman leaves us in no doubt as to her thoughts on unrealistic goals and fakery via her introduction in which she touches on her experiences in the media and its ability to have us comparing our pathetic existence with the flawless lives of those manipulated by a gazillion behind-the-scenes puppeteers.

I make a deliberate decision never to Photoshop myself or my life. I write about the ugly bits. The embarrassing bits. The vulnerable bits. I take pictures of myself looking terrible as well as when I look nice. I tell the truth about my age. This is important. For me.

Because if anyone is going to compare themselves to me, I must not present myself as a lie. That’s deceptive and unhelpful; a betrayal of women. p 113

As I’ve said, I’ve not read Freedman’s previous work and what surprised me the post is that she’d not covered any of this earlier. Although she doesn’t talk a lot about her magazine roles, we kinda kick off with the fallout from her short stint in television. (And, as an aside, having worked overseas in ‘volunteer’ roles which didn’t exist I could very much relate to her frustration at working while having nothing substantial – or substantive – to do!)

Freedman then goes into detail about the establishment of Mamamia – starting off with the website which she wanted to be a voice of reason and inspiration for women – a huge gap she saw in the market – and from those early struggles to the building of a media empire of sorts.

As someone who floats on the outside of that world I liked that she didn’t shy away from some issues which often get raised when she, or Mamamia come up – namely paying of interns, clickbait-y headlines and her moderating of comments on the site.

Interestingly the shortest of the three sections is ‘work’ and I suspect it’s because it pervades much of the rest of Freedman’s life. She openly admits to being pretty lousy at separating the work and home stuff; and her business partnership with her husband and her oldest son’s involvement in Mamamia means that’s no surprise.

I have to admit, the Strife and Balance sections (though the latter to a lesser extent ) were a little random for me. I enjoyed the anecdotes about her losing her virginity, pregnancy scares, the selfie culture and the notion of the Patriarchal Bargain – taking a tool of female oppression and using it to get ahead. But some of the chapters, such as the letter about porn to her son, blurb about botox and even the chapter on therapy seemed a little left-field and I wasn’t sure of their purpose. They were witty and interesting, but I finished a couple of chapters, wondering…. “Why?”

However, she also talks about her marriage at this point, the separation from her husband and eventual reunion. She’s blunt and appreciably honest about that time. As she is about pregnancy and motherhood.

The section on Balance felt a little more logical as there was a common thread arcing through the chapters… mostly about the fact we need to be easier on ourselves. She revisits many of the topics already covered such as our relationship with our bodies, our relationships with friends and family, with children, and dealing with the negative, the unhelpful and the soul-destroying.

I’m actually interviewing Mia about the book, so looking forward to getting a little more insight into her increased ability to filter out trolls and criticism… listening to those she cares about.

If you’re in the public eye, its also given anyone the ability to put their words into your ears and your eyes.

If you let them.

For a long time, I let them. There’s something perversely intoxicating about knowing what other people think of you. p 316

Freedman quotes Caitlin Moran (who I hadn’t heard of) and Elizabeth Gilbert a lot. And I appreciated the influence the latter (in particular) has on her thinking in terms of creativity, passion and achievement and her thoughts about taking chances, but noting there’s a difference between work, a career and a vocation. (Something I’m grappling with as we speak, umm… well, as I write and you read!)

I mostly liked that Freedman tells it like it is. Her writing is hugely accessible, engaging and often wittily self-deprecating. I loved it and it was as if I was talking to a friend. In fact, in writing this I kept thinking I was trying to recall a conversation, rather than words on a page.

We’re of a similar age and probably have some similar values so I could very much relate to a lot of the stuff she raises: I also want to barf when people use #soblessed and #gratitude and can certainly relate to her experiences with bulimia and disordered eating. Not to mention her fascination with former Dolly model Sarah Nursey. Similarly (as a single woman) it’s probably understandable that I couldn’t really relate as much to the motherhood and wife-stuff, though I’m sure many will.

Other than the slightly repetitive and occasionally random structure, the only thing I did note is that the blurb suggests this book isn’t about Freedman’s life, but about mine, and yours. For me however, it was very autobiographical, and that was okay cos it was also very entertaining. And enlightening.

Work Strife Balance by Mia Freedman was published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and is now available.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes.


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