By Sandy Burgham
(Occasionally, I interview someone for my column who is an embodiment of change in their “Second Act” asking them questions like ‘how does one earn money from what they love?’ And ‘what happens if what they love changes?’).
Stonefields resident Sarah Tuck is a freelance food and travel writer, food stylist and photographer. As well as being a contributing editor to both Dish and Cuisine, Sarah creates recipes, which she photographs for her blog, From the Kitchen. Growing up in Meadowbank and Remuera, she has fond memories of playing on the sewerage pipe which stretched across Hobson Bay. I wanted to feature Sarah in my series of “Second Acts,” as her life has been a series of successful reinventions, where she simply followed her heart.
Wandering along that Hobson Bay pipe as a girl, what did you dream about being when you grew up?
Aged eight, I think I wanted to be a hairdresser but by the time I was 15 I had decided to be a lawyer, while also tossing up the idea of becoming a diplomat. And how does that resemble where life took you? Well, none of those options ever developed! Instead I started my career at 19 in the sales side of magazine publishing, where I climbed up the ladder for eight years. And since then I guess I have reinvented my career several times.
How many reinventions have you had?
Including motherhood, I’d say five main ones. At 26, ten-foot-tall and bulletproof, I leapt happily from a safe position in magazines to a senior position in the global beauty industry. Suddenly I was running a 16-woman sales and promotional team, which was exciting and rewarding, and it really stretched me. I am so grateful I did that before having children. Then two years into it, I fell pregnant and totally fell in love with motherhood. I made the decision not to work full-time again until the kids were at secondary school — I’ve never regretted it for a moment. During that time, I was living in Sydney and decided I’d use my free time to get fit. This lead to attending a hard-core boot camp training gym run by a South African guy. I was used to being pushed past my mental boundaries, but for the first time I was pushed well past my physical boundaries and discovered that I had the makings of an athlete. Who knew? I was so shocked at the results I was able to achieve! I became something of a convert. I wanted to spread the word. I completed a personal training and gym instructor course on my return to Auckland, and started up my own boot camp business called GPT, or Group Personal Training. It was immensely satisfying to see my clients becoming fitter and stronger. Suddenly I was running a business, which I sold six years later.
What spurred you to sell?
I decided to sell the business after that time, as frankly I was a bit knackered — six years of training twice a day, five days a week can do that to you! Also I had developed the business to fit in with my kids’ schedules, and the older they got, the less important that was. And it was time for a change. It’s also a cautionary tale in pursuing your passion as your business. What you do for the pure joy that it brings you, can change when it becomes your job, so from pleasurable hobby to daily grind. A month later [after selling GPT], I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma and it was quite a watershed moment. It forced me to consider what was truly important to me, and after a few months of feeling sorry for myself, I once again decided to put myself back in an arena exploring a passion — food and cooking. The melanoma is an ongoing issue, with check-ups every three to four months and constant excisions. It has been an ironic gift and a reminder to focus on what is really important in life. Family, friends, health – at that time I let go of things that were done out of a false sense of duty … such a relief.
What happened next with the food and cooking?
I was approached by a friend, asking if I would be interested in testing recipes for Annabel Langbein. All I had to do was send in my feedback and take a few snaps of my efforts. I have always loved food and cooking, so this seemed easy, but as a perfectionist I took it all seriously! I was invited to meet with Annabel, who offered me a job working at her house, developing recipes, styling for book and magazine shoots and running her social media. Sounds like a dream. Aside from loving every minute, it was a near-vertical learning curve! But I also realized that I wanted the opportunity to share my own ideas, and take the creative process right from the nub of a recipe idea, through development, styling and photography to the finished product. And so From the Kitchen was born.
Four years and 2.28 million views later, did you ever imagine it would be as successful as it’s become?
I think somewhere inside I am still 26, 10-foot-tall and bulletproof. Yes, it is going pretty much as I expected, and there is more to be done. Initially I used the blog to practice my photography skills, but now, four years later, it’s also my portfolio and my passion. What has surprised me is the From the Kitchen community of like-minded souls cooking my recipes all over the world, and sharing comments and feedback.
What seems to capture them?
Probably that in a sea of vegan and Paleo and mile-high cakes and raw recipes saturating the media, I focus on seasonal, often healthy — and also not — food. Real food for real people. What have you learned thus far? Everything can basically be summed up with this — I have learnt that you can do anything. If you want it, really want it, then you can do it. But just wishing doesn’t cut it. You need to understand your abilities, work to fill in the gaps in your skills then get out there and hustle.
Can you share some tips for budding midlife reinventors?
First, don’t be afraid. By midlife I would like to think we are all past worrying about what people will think. Life is too short to be crippled by a fear of others’ opinions. Secondly, start. There is no perfect moment, next week, month or year when you are more prepared. Start, and get yourself up to speed along the way. Once you have started you will find that you already know more than you thought. Thirdly, find a mentor. Even if it’s via the internet in terms of identifying people already doing what you want to, and doing it well — study them. What makes them successful? Will their strategy work for you? What do you want to do better or differently? Contact them for tips.
And how about a recipe tip from the kitchen?
Follow the bloody recipe and don’t be scared!
— Sandy Burgham
This post first appeared in The Hobson December, 2016