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Mia Freedman: We need to talk about the 'other' Walk of Shame that's holding women back.

At Mamamia, every day is International Women’s Day. But this year, we’re celebrating March 8 by sharing stories from some of Australia’s most influential women. You can find all our International Women’s Day stories on our hub page.

I came back from the holiday break at the beginning of this year feeling excited – but there was a time, 13 or 14 years ago, when I was sh*tting myself at the idea of going back to work.

I used to say that I started the Mamamia in my kitchen following the most god-awful job of my life.

But looking back, like every other woman who starts their own business, I think that the seeds for the idea were planted way before I actually took the leap. You see, for years leading up to this point, I’d been thinking about how magazines weren’t meeting the needs of women anymore and how the future for women’s media was going to be online.

So a few months prior to walking out of that big swinging door at the short-lived TV Exec phase of my career and away from many big swinging dicks at that god-awful job, I sat down at my kitchen bench, cut some letters out of a magazine to spell Mamamia and sent it to a friend of a friend who was a website designer.

I was 20 per cent exhilarated, 80 per cent terrified and 100 per cent full of self-doubt.

That’s a lot of percentages of feelings.

For a long time, I’d dreamed of being my own boss – having time freedom and location freedom over my work life. The dream, of course, was far, far away from my reality which involved the daily nightmare I came to think of as the Work Walk Of Shame.

Mia Freedman LadyStartups
This is what 'being your own boss' looks like. Image: Supplied.

It’s like the other Walk Of Shame (not that any woman should be ashamed about having sex with whomever she chooses but I digress), except it’s every day, you’re completely sober, and you’re walking past sneering co-workers and probably your boss, instead of sneering strangers and maybe a judgey Uber driver.

Picture this:

I’ve got two kids at home, one of whom is just six months old - and I’m breastfeeding. I also have a husband who is running his own business and works long hours. My job involves a commute of over an hour if the traffic is bad which it always is. I’m new to a company of mostly male execs and desperately trying to prove my commitment to the role while balancing a new baby, a tween, my shitty health (seven bouts of mastitis in six months) and shittier mental health (anxiety off the hook), my husband and then some.

Every day, I leave the office at 5.30pm to make child pickups, and snatch an hour or two with my kids before they go to sleep. If I’m feeling opportunistic, I try to go on the treadmill to help manage my anxiety or call my parents. Cooking? Lol.

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Yet every day, I come up against the same snide stares from my co-workers. They’re silent, but they speak volumes:

Where does she think she’s going? She’s leaving now?! She mustn’t be serious about this job. Probably going to go get her hair done.

Out of pure necessity, I created a way to avoid the Work Walk of Shame - the way so many of us do when we need to leave the office on time to meet our obligations outside of work.

I'd take my handbag and car keys downstairs every lunchtime to hide them in my car, under the driver's seat. Then, at around 5:40pm, I'd pick up my phone and a random manilla folder and pretend to be having a phone conversation as I walked confidently to the lift.

Just going to a meeting in another part of the building, folks. Definitely coming back. Nothing to see here. 

Of course, once pickups, feeding, dinner, bathtime and bedtime were all sorted, I’d be back online and working for hours. But did that matter? Yeah, nah. As far as they were concerned, the only way to show how serious you were was by warming an office seat for as long as possible. The last one to go home wins... but what do they win exactly?

I call this my The Rest Is History Moment. Because from here, the rest of the story did become history. I took those magazine cutouts, registered the URL Mamamia.com.au, negotiated a redundancy and created Mamamia; now Australia's biggest women’s media company.

Listen to Mamamia's podcast, Lady Startup. In this episode, hear more about how Mia Freedman started Australia's biggest women's media company. Post continues below.

But it all started with feeling micromanaged, unheard, underappreciated, overwhelmed and incredibly lonely.

Consider this my call to arms to remind you that there is hope and that an amazing working life is possible for you. That the pit in your stomach feeling isn’t going to be around forever, and that things will get better, because they did for me, and they did for so many of my friends who once hated their jobs, too.

And so if you think that it's time to explore working for yourself, think about doing the Lady Startup Activation Plan - it's an online course I have put together (and which I personally teach) that you can do in your own time, around whatever else you've got going on at the moment.

I’ve been a Lady Startup (a woman who started my own biz or side-hustle) for 13 years, and I can tell you, trying to nail down THE BIG IDEA is a cracker of a task. Because if it’s something you’re going to be doing for the next 5, 10 or even 20 years, you want to make sure it’s something you enjoy, yes?

That’s the thing about business. While people think that the hardest part will be things like tax, social media, finding distributors and getting customers - those are only temporary challenges.

The hardest part is just getting started. 

It’s. Just. Getting. Started. It’s taking an idea, and getting it off the ground. Not perfectly but just done (remember that perfect is the enemy of done). Or it’s coming up with an idea, or finding something you want to pursue, and then going with that.

It is my 100 per cent burning mission to empower women to start their own businesses (1.2 million of us already have). Because it's just one of many ways to avoid that 'other' Walk of Shame.

Mamamia is funding 100 girls in school, every day with our charity partner Room To Read, and our goal is to get to 1,000 girls every day. To help empower women this International Women's Day, you can donate to Room to Read and make a difference in girls' futures.
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