Who said you had to stick to one field of expertise in your career? Certainly not Helen Farmer, a freelance writer, editor, voice over artist and family celebrant. Originally from the UK, Helen lives in Dubai with her family and writes an award-winning blog called The Mothership. She writes about the highs (and lows) of being a working parent living abroad. Helen shares her career story and proves that being a mum needn’t restrict your career options.
Tell us about yourself
I knew from age 14 which degree I wanted to do, and tailored all my education options and weekend jobs to getting on it: a Broadcast Journalism course at the University of Leeds, where all of the tutors were current BBC employees, and work experience took place at the same studios where Countdown was filmed. It was competitive to get on, and even more so once I was there, with stressful projects and my fellow students frequently in tears in our ‘newsroom’ (this is back in the day when we felt lucky to have a room with internet access). I quickly realised that this wasn’t for me, and my first job was in print, working on a small magazine in Northumberland where I was both writing features and selling ads. I learnt a lot about both disciplines – fast. Afterwards came a stint in PR and marketing, working for one of my property clients. Then came a move to the Middle East age 24. In truth, it was a choice between moving abroad and moving to London – and Bahrain scared me less than the capital. Classic Northerner!
I worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency before moving to Dubai with a rather regrettable ex. Thankfully, while the relationship didn’t last, the UAE has been a fantastic place for my career. For three years I worked for a guidebook publisher, writing and editing books for expats all over the world, before launching their website. Next came three years as deputy editor on an entertainment magazine, where we worked hard, but enjoyed the best the city had to offer, from concerts to dining, plus interviewing visiting celebrities and reviewing hotels all over the world. I stayed with the same publisher and was promoted to editor of a new magazine, one I was able to be instrumental in creating, that’s all about normal life in an extraordinary place. We supported small businesses, sought out inspirational people and created a really feel-good title that I’m immensely proud of to this day.
And somewhere in there I met my husband and got pregnant with my first daughter and starting blogging, launching a website called The Mothership. I went part-time when she was a year old, then a few months later decided to go freelance, focusing on the blog, writing for other titles, working as a voiceover artist and start training as a family celebrant, allowing me to create and conduct wedding blessings and baby naming ceremonies. Something of an eclectic mix.
It’s been a year since I went freelance, and I wouldn’t change a thing (apart from the unreliability of payment). My blog has been nominated for (and won) awards, I’ve written for some of my favourite magazines, and I’m loving my work as a celebrant. It also allows me more time with my toddler and newborn baby. Yes, it’s chaotic, and there’s always something for me to be doing, but it’s working.
How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?
I’ve always written, so starting The Mothership was really just a way for me to deal with the newness and weirdness of being a mum. What has followed, however, has been fantastic, and one of my favourite parts is the social media community I’ve built – I’m all about those ‘me too’ moments in parenthood, the ones that make us feel less alone and less mad. That it’s okay to admit that you don’t love every second. Digital technology has also been really helpful for the celebrant side, from brides connecting with me on Instagram to having Skype meetings with couples from all over the world.
What are you tips for managing a multi-faceted career?
I love a routine, so after nursery drop off at 8am, the mornings are for work, then it’s pick-up, and more work during naps, and then it’s family time. I usually meet brides via Skype or in the evenings, then weddings take place in the afternoons – the first ceremony I did was a month after giving birth, and my mum was in the hotel lobby with the baby in case I needed to breastfeed her!
Helen is following…
Anna Whitehouse AKA Mother Pukka: we met in Dubai (her husband was my editor) and we all became friends. I really admire how she’s using her platform to promote flexible working in the UK, and doing it with a sense of humour. And I really respect her transparency when it comes to working with brands and doing sponsored posts. She’s a breath of fresh air – and I can’t wait to see her at a wedding in September. Mummy bloggers gone wild…
I did a yoga class with Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn) last year, and it changed the way I think about exercise. She’s truly inspirational, and has made me feel less self-conscious about being the biggest girl in the gym. Her Instagram feed is full of laughter and advice, and I’ve started doing her Every Body Yoga video classes via an app called Cody.