Aligned and Thriving Podcast | Strategies for Work Life Balance

Letting Go for Your Ideal Working Life: A Conversation with Artist and Disability Advocate, Casey Gray

February 12, 2024 Judith Bowtell | Career Development for Achieving Work-Life Balance Episode 7
Aligned and Thriving Podcast | Strategies for Work Life Balance
Letting Go for Your Ideal Working Life: A Conversation with Artist and Disability Advocate, Casey Gray
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, our host, Judith Bowtell, a former burnt-out executive turned creative career and leadership development coach, is joined by Casey Gray, an artist, an agent for change in her community and author with a focus on disability advocacy and inclusion in the arts. The speakers met through a program called Front and Center, which supports women with disabilities in pursuing their ideal working lives. Throughout the episode, they discuss the importance of letting go to create space for an ideal working life, work-life balance, and the impact of values on career choices.

Podcast Episode Summary:

  • The significance of creating space for an ideal working life.
  • Casey's journey from disability advocacy to embracing her creative side and pioneering Easy Read literature for adults with disabilities
  • The impact of values on career decisions
  • Productivity hacks, such as the Pomodoro technique and overcoming resistance to tasks
  • The role of programs like Front and Center in supporting individuals with disabilities to pursue their ideal working lives
  • The importance of work-life balance and managing anxiety-provoking situations
  • The transition from traditional employment to a more creative and flexible working environment
  • The impact of the Front and Center leadership program on identifying and pursuing a career as an Easy Read content specialist
  • The development of creative writing workshops and an accessible book club for adults with intellectual disabilities or difficulties in reading and writing

Casey’s Valentine’s Day event: Love tales: An accessible story sharing workshop for Valentine's Day

Casey Gray website:

Front & Centre Program:


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Episode 7 - Letting Go for Your Ideal Working Life: A Conversation with Artist and Disability Advocate, Casey Gray

[00:00:00] Welcome to the Aligned and Thriving Podcast, the best place to get the support you need to turn your working life from a struggle to a success. I'm your host, Judith Bowtell, and I'm a former burnt out executive who used to yell at my psychologist. who then had a midlife crisis and eventually reinvented herself as a creative career and leadership development coach.

[00:00:26] This show is for anyone who is struggling with having time for yourself amongst work, family, caring for others, medical issues, community needs, and even the work of staying in touch in a digital age.

[00:00:37] So this is for anyone who has seen the cracks in their life and wants to turn things around. Join our community to navigate your own way to a happier, healthier world.

[00:00:46] And healthier working life.

[00:00:50] Welcome everybody to our seventh episode of Aligned and Thriving. Today we're going to be talking about how sometimes letting go is what you need to do to actually create space for your ideal working life.

[00:01:05] And today I'm joined by Casey Gray who is an artist and a change agent and a writer and an author. Casey lives and works on Darkinjung Country. Casey is a creative who is celebrated for innovation and as an agent for change in her community, using more than 20 years of experience in disability policy, advocacy and governance to champion the inclusion of adults with disability in the arts, with a particular focus on engaging those with intellectual disability.

[00:01:38] Casey's work is values driven, shaped by extensive training from leaders in the field internationally. Casey herself lives with complex mental health. Once identifying with disability, she was able to access the services and supports that now enable her to thrive in work and life. She shares her lived experience loudly to break down ableism and to support others to move into their space of wellness.

[00:02:03] Casey is an Easy Read content specialist. Now that's interesting. Currently breaking new ground in literature by pioneering the way in a fresh literary genre called Easy Read. These books not only reflect the experience of adults with disability, but are also accessible for adults with disability who may find reading and writing difficult. Casey's visual arts practice is political in nature and often controversial. I'm just going to say I have some of Casey's art, and it is a little controversial, but it is also quite powerful.

[00:02:37] If you get a chance to check out her website, have a look at her artwork. She had a recent exhibition at the Gosford Regional Gallery, which featured feminist artifacts inspired by the 1950s public service art. The piece has entertained, shocked, and disgusted audiences, though they sparked conversation about the often overlooked and uncomfortable experiences of the fourth trimester.

[00:03:00] So welcome, Casey, and all your talents and amazing achievements into the Aligned and Thriving space.

[00:03:07] Thanks for the invite, Judith.

[00:03:09] I'm thrilled to have Casey. I met Casey probably about three years ago, two or three years ago. And we've had some very interesting conversations over that time. And I'm just so thrilled to have such amazing person with us today to talk about work life balance when you're working for yourself, working in non traditional spaces and also in a service oriented way.

[00:03:35] So what work life balance means in all of that. Let's get started. So Casey, what have you done lately to improve your work life balance?

[00:03:44] Since the beginning of this year, I have been employing some productivity hacks. So two main ones that have been working really well for me. One is based on the Pomodoro technique where you set a timer, sit at your desk and work or sit there and do nothing, but you have to sit at your desk for that period of time and then have breaks, the regular breaks which actually help you become more productive in some way.

[00:04:10] And the other is if I feel like I'm resisting doing something. So if I've got to sit down and I've got to write one of my books today. But I really am I'm cleaning the bathroom sink. I actually sit down, set that timer and then promise myself that I'll do something fun afterwards, like a visual art piece or something. So both of these things have really helped me to become way more productive as well as actually enjoy what I'm doing. It's no longer laborious. Oh that's fantastic.

[00:04:39] Yes, you do know that you really are avoiding something if you go to cleaning in the bathroom. That shows me if I ever stepped that way, I have probably gone a bit too far. It's that or filing. And yeah, so Pomodoro technique. So is that like a time boxing type of thing where you, yeah, yeah, yeah.

[00:04:57] Exactly that. And because I'm doing that and getting way more achieved I'm actually able to now have days off and have those days off without any guilt. And I don't feel the need to open my laptop and do something every single day. And so those days off are actually really important to me now.

[00:05:15] Fantastic, fantastic. I love that because, yes, when you can actually take your weekends, feeling like they are weekends without work bleeding into it. So well done, well done. I am very inspired to try some of that myself. People who might've listened last week might've heard a bit about my struggles. This year with social media scrolling and how easily your brain can get hijacked into some of those things. So I think a little bit of time boxing for me could be useful too. So I'll let you know how my experiments go. So. We're talking today about your understanding of work life balance, how you've brought that into your work and how values have shaped that. But as we know, values are often inherited from our parents, from people around us when we were developing our psyche. And so what did you learn as a child about work and life?

[00:06:12] Basically. That you do education, then you do tertiary education, and then you work in a Monday to Friday nine to five job, and you buy a mortgage, and you, you know, have that traditional path which when I was doing my careers counselling, they were like, oh, you should definitely be a journalist, an artist. So when I was. doing my careers counselling and they showed me that I could go move into a more creative line of work. It completely was misaligned with the values that I'd grown up with. And so as a result, I left school and started university in a double degree because I could, and inevitably that did not work out. And it took me 20 years, I guess, to get to a point where I am now.

[00:06:58] Oh, interesting. So what you learned as a child, in some ways it didn't support you as much as perhaps the people around you hoped it would support you growing up.

[00:07:08] There was definitely great intentions, you know, you're, you know, getting the education and which I'm so very fortunate to have had and I guess my studiousness was supported but it just was misaligned with my actual interests and things. It's not until I'm an adult myself and I can make these decisions that I can then move into the creative space that I wanted to originally start in.

[00:07:31] Right, right, fantastic. So how did you get to that creative space? Where did you come from and how did you transition into it?

[00:07:40] Yeah, so I was using, I guess, creativity within my roles within the disability space. Whether that was creating easy read stories, social stories for adults whether that was, doing some creative stuff within my trainings that I would facilitate but the Monday to Friday nine to five expectations of me as a worker were just not actually very helpful in terms of my health. And so I left mainstream employment and then once I was, well, I went back into mainstream employment. After becoming unwell, taking time off, going back into mainstream employment and becoming very unwell again that this Monday to Friday, like societal expectation of the way I would work was no longer suiting me and it just wasn't available to me. And so knowing that I had that creative drive I found the Front and Centre Program initially just to help me transition from the disability space into the arts with a disability lens so that I could still continue to make those important changes that I want to make in the community, but really like embrace my creative side.

[00:08:54] Fantastic. So you were working in disability as an advocate, as a trainer, so fully embraced in that space and found that it wasn't supporting your mental health, which

[00:09:04] That's right. I can totally relate to.. 

[00:09:06] to. And so Casey applied for, got selected for a program that I run in partnership with accessible arts called Front and Center, which is a program for women with disability. It's an arts leadership program. So it was a chance as Casey said, you took a year to reflect on your goals, to come up with your own career strategy, and then to find ways for you to develop your practice in a way that is aligned with your values, but also make space for your disability. So it makes space for medical needs and other needs that, and other access needs. And for a lot of the participants cause it's been running for three or four years now. It's a moment of being able to say, Oh, I can do it my own way. Like it's that opening of going, actually, there's nothing wrong with me. I can do things my own way. There are ways to do that. And then that takes a bit of work to work out what that's going to be. But it s a really fantastic trajectory and there's some really interesting outcomes from it. So yeah, so do you want to perhaps tell me a little bit then about how that program supported you? Not as a plug, but just to let me know what you learned through that year that sort of gave you the tools to support you to relaunch. Into this stage of your working life.

[00:10:25] Yeah, sure. So I'm just going to say up front. It was life changing. The first, there was a couple of key things that occurred for me and at the beginning when you gave us some exercises, like crafting what our ideal working life would be I was like, well, this is great, but how is this relevant? Can we actually just craft what we want to do in our working life and then make it happen? Because as simple as that sounds, I don't think actually a lot of people truly believe in it. And I didn't until I got to the end of the program and realised I am now working my ideal life. So that straight up life changing. And I disability or not, I really do believe everyone needs to sort of sit down and look at that and see how they can apply it in their life. Another thing that happened was you gave us a skills matrix to work with where we identified our skills and what we liked doing, what we didn't like doing, where we wanted to develop. And one of the things that I realised in that was just because I'm good at something. So I am told on a regular basis that whatever I apply myself to, I'm really good at doesn't mean. I have to do it. And so one of the things that I realised when working traditionally was that several times a day my anxiety was being triggered. And now I sort of have control. I can control the amount of times my anxiety is triggered by identifying, yes, I'm good at this, but it causes anxiety so I no longer want to do this. I was able to eliminate those sources and I still push myself. I still get anxiety and I think certain levels of anxiety are healthy, but I'm controlling that I'm managing that. And so all my work tasks that I do now, I mean, I'm not, thinking about them before I go to sleep unless I'm having amazing ideas. And I'm, certainly not approaching my day with this like starting school for the first time that anxiety. So yeah, life changing in those two respects.

[00:12:24] Yeah. So thanks for sharing that. do think it's interesting how, the first exercise is sort of a full on everything on the table and just let your imagination run wild. What would be your ideal working life? And can you describe what yours was, what the key elements of yours was, Casey?

[00:12:40] Yeah,

[00:12:42] One of the key things was to, I guess, minimise the anxiety provoking situations, but it was to be able to work at home where I'm grounded and I'm close to my bed because I need a lot of sleep. And that I could work with my dog constantly by my side. And I can enjoy being outside. I can put the music on that I need to, I can be grounded in this space and I can then go out and engage with people when I choose, but I keep engagements to a minimum in terms of controlling that anxiety. Yeah.

[00:13:15] yeah. So I think that's great because the exercise still takes you from the morning through tonight what you wanted to be like. And this is where work life balance can come into like sometimes it may be that simply the environment you're in really doesn't suit you. And so you carry a lot of your work with you when you go into your life space. And so being able to control your workspace, being able to have that, I guess, that privilege to be able to do that. It is a privilege to be able to do it, but also to have the courage to take the chance that some of these things or the steps to start working on to make that work. So well done to Casey. So maybe we might drill into that a little bit more. So what were some of the steps that you apply you took through the year of Front and Centre and since then? What have you been doing?

[00:14:08] So since finishing the front and centre leadership program, I have, been able to identify myself as an easy read content specialist, which means I'm actively working with people and organisations to make their information more accessible to more people. And. I am completely dedicated to trying to start easy read as a genre within the literature world so that we can make literature accessible to people with disability. Because how awful would it be to walk into a library and there's something for everyone except for you. Or going bookshops are just not a place that I want to go because there's nothing there for me. And it's all about the building those social relationships. Which is at the heart of everything that I really want to do. And I've also been stepping out and hitting anxiety, like, driven sort of activities by running creative writing workshops. I've started an accessible book club for adults with intellectual disability or difficulties reading and writing. And I've been able to access different arts programs and have exhibitions, like, whoa, that's amazing. I would never have thought that any of this was available to me prior to Front and Centre.

[00:15:22] Wow. Wow, I'm so proud of you for the exhibitions but also for following your passion around Easy Read, because it sort of wasn't there at the centre of what you were doing to start with, but I can feel that it sort of become it's like you've concentrated all the things you wanted to do and have found this platform this art form, this form of literature to take that forward.

[00:15:48] That's right. And I think also during Front and Centre or during that year, I was actually had the space to try out other activities or other work programs and realize, Oh, hang on a minute. It's not ticking these boxes that I set out at the beginning of the year. 

[00:16:05] Yeah, great. Yeah, so you've been able to say where things fit and where things don't fit. Yeah. You said it's a values led work, the easy read work. What are the values that underpin that?

[00:16:17] Yeah, sure. So the key value that I'm working towards, I guess, is relationships. So adults with intellectual disability being able to enhance and create new relationships, whether that's enhancing the relationship they have with their support worker who is basically one of the key drivers of quality of life for that individual or whether it's expanding a social network or developing one. People missing out on intimate relationships. So, how can I work in a way that's going to foster opportunities for that, as well as the overall social cohesion of our community. Having people out there in mainstream settings and part of mainstream calendars of events like the local writers festival. Starts to see people incidentally interacting with each other and fostering a more inclusive and interesting society.

[00:17:12] Yes, so I remember now when I was starting to work with Casey that was one of your real goals was to be able to have this idea of people of with all abilities being able to work together, being able to be together and socialise together. And you had an idea of to create a space for that but I'm sort of taking you into other people's spaces and facilitating that with them. So much easier.

[00:17:40] Oh, okay. So let's get to the juicy bit now. So what have been some of the challenges you've faced on this journey? 

[00:17:47] I guess you have to have like resilience and perseverance. So I have been actively trying to get an inclusive accessible event in the local library for 18 months and was successful finally in January this year. I've been trying to get accessible calendars of events on writers festivals. And a lot of the resistance I'm having is that I just don't have the market there, but you can't have an audience without building an audience first, especially when the audience you're trying to tap into don't actually have access to social media, or they are heavily reliant on others facilitating that connection. So I guess. Yeah, just that perseverance to be, okay, we don't have our audience now, but if you want to work with me to build one, we can do it. But just, it's going to be very slow and that's okay.

[00:18:46] Yeah, yeah, oh that's such a good message that things do take time when things are facilitated through when there are other people involved and it's not the direct response that you're used to in marketing. How have you found your conversations with like festival directors and marketing people? How have they been going? I don't want you to, you know, spill the tea, but I'm just sort of interested in what their sort of questions are and what their concerns might be. Yeah.

[00:19:14] So overall, I've found everybody excited about wanting to do these things. They're interested. It's just that I get questions from how do I even speak to an adult with intellectual disability or disability because I've just never really encountered that before. To Oh, that's a very niche specialist market. I don't think that we've got the skills and abilities to actually support what you want to do. And I guess. You know, we are unfortunately living in a world where we need to make money from things and so the organisers see that I don't have actually a massive following and is it worth their marketing money or efforts, I should say, to put on this event when the cashback, I guess, is not going to be so great. And there's like societal bureaucratic barriers like I can't advertise through my local council an event for this group of people because I'm going to make some money from it. If I run a free event, we can advertise it. But. I still need to eat. So yeah, there's like a bit of a conflict of interest happening there where the council can't support me as a person with disability to make money and also can't afford in that process and not allowing people with disability to access accessible events. So yeah, there's a few barriers there, but overall the mood, I guess, is that people do want to jump on board. They just don't know how, and they need that support to do it.

[00:20:46] Right. Right. So we're in that stage of we're beyond where it is an unconscious incompetence so like we're not even aware that we don't know how to do this. And now we're at a stage of, okay, we know now want to learn, but we don't know how to do that. And so that's where you come in to be able to provide that skills. And I think it's fantastic also that you bring in the way that you speak the knowledge that you have of the disability sector and the lived experience of people with disability and intellectual disability. It's quite refreshing often when you speak to people who want to do great arts projects. They want to do it for the community and they don't necessarily have a connection or a lived experience themselves or anything that brings with them that nuance. And the important information so I think that's also really important in what you're doing. Yeah. Yeah. So do you have a council or do you have a reference group of your own that you work with who keeps you honest in your practice?

[00:21:45] Yes, absolutely. First and foremost I have a long term friend. We've been peer workers together. We do lots of socialising together. And we also do things to support one another's business. So, for example, I'll support him to write a grant for something and he will read one of my books that I'm working on and tell me whether that makes sense or not. But it's not limited to him. I guess just being in the disability sector for so long, I just have people that I can go to, to say, is this working? Is it not working? And I guess in this day of social media, you know, if it's not on social media, it didn't happen, but putting it on social media and showing the processes and things that definitely keeps you honest.

[00:22:28] Right. Yeah. Yeah. And Are you okay to tell us a little bit about how you manage your anxiety through that? Because I know when I go public with something, my first response is no one's going to turn up. No one's going to come to my party. you, how do you with somebody with anxiety get 

[00:22:48] My, My, anxiety is actually a little different in that. I hope nobody turns up like all week I'm promoting and I'm really wanting to get as many people there as possible. And then on the day I'm sitting there, I've got my shoes off. So I'm grounded to the floor and hoping no one turns up. You know, the minute people do engage, something switches, I take a back seat, this other Casey just goes into her drive and I'm sitting there sort of watching her, encouraging her from the sidelines. But then in terms of managing that anxiety, I keep it brief. So a one hour or a two hour, I set my limits and I work within them, once a week as opposed to several times a week or even several times a day. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:23:33] Yeah. So you've talked about a few strategies you have for work life balance. You've looking about productivity hacks, where your time, limit your time, keep focused, allow yourself rewards for when you do complete something so you can do something fun. And also yeah, that idea of boundaries being really clear on your boundaries, how much time you spend with other people, how much time you need to be. As you say, grounded in your own space. So what are some of those things you do for fun? 

[00:24:01] I guess, it probably doesn't sound like much fun, but sleeping and exercising some of those more rewarding tech, like things that I do. So after this, I can go and have a sleep after this I can go and do a yoga session. But also I've always got these like bubbles of creativity to make new art. 

[00:24:19] So what else are you practicing to keep your boundaries?

[00:24:24] Okay. One of the biggest things that I've been able to do is learn to say no to things and in determining what I say yes and no to. I frequently ask my question, how is this activity going to support me toward my overall goal? And if the answer is it doesn't, or it's not going to do it very much, then I do not do it. So that's actually really helped me to limit the scope of activity that I'm working on at any one time. I also think having four activities at once on the go, everything else has to go into my ideas box for a later date. And also I think you taught me to really work towards my values and by working in these activities, I'm able to do that, whereas prior I was working within a system that was broken and it was heartbreaking and that led to the ultimate demise. So I think yeah, being able to really embrace your values and work on those is also something that helps you to sustain work life balance. Yeah.

[00:25:35] One of the things I also work with my clients on, we talk about the career is the journey. You and your skills and your talents are the boat. So what I'm doing is helping you to sail your boat towards your destination. That's it. And so I guess one of the skills is learning how to say, Again, this is going to help me get towards my goal. These are just nice side trips. Do I have the energy to go on a nice side trip? Is that what I need right now? Yes. No. And then move on. So I think that's fantastic. And I like that rule of four, of four things that's maximum, or even three. Because I know I like. 

[00:26:13] I think part of my overwhelm at the end of last year was because I had too many things on the go and trying to do them all too quickly. So yes, sometimes four. I have a folder in my email called for when I'm rebooted. And that's where I just put anything that's kind of like an interesting newsletter. Something that comes by that I go, Oh, that's interesting, but I just do not have the energy to deal with it right now. And it pops in there. And do I go back to it sometimes it's sort of there that I can always just rifle through it if I need to. But yeah, so it might be a little bit like your ideas box.

[00:26:47] That, yeah. 

[00:26:48] yeah. 

[00:26:53] Let's rename it at least. That's great. 

[00:26:55] yeah, just sort of like it's there there's finance to follow up that's quite important. And then, yeah, for later when I'm rebooted. I've got the energy to actually engage in something new or the space for that. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for sharing all your tips and tricks about having work life balance, how to challenge the mainstream and how your values do guide and motivate you. So, can I ask what's What's gonna be next for you? What's coming up next?

[00:27:26] Yeah, sure. So I'm hoping by the end of the financial year, I will have five easy read books to launch. So they're all works in progress right now. But sooner than that, I guess next week on Valentine's day there's a lot of lonely hearts out there and yeah, I want to provide a space where we can all sit around a table and do some creative thinking activities to share our stories and connect with one another through short story sharing.

[00:27:55] Oh, that sounds wonderful. That sounds like a great thing to do for Valentine's Day. Have you got the details for that?

[00:28:02] Yes, you can check them out on humanitics or my Facebook page, which is by ed. And I also have a website by ed. com. au. So b y e d. com. au

[00:28:15] Great. And those links will also be in our show notes. So do check it out if you're interested in sharing some stories about heartbreak or heartwarming stories

[00:28:25] or a love letter to ourselves.

[00:28:28] You know, a day to celebrate love is a good day and love comes in all many forms. So yes. Yeah. And I think you'll enjoy spending time with Casey cause I always do. All right. So I'm so glad we've had this chance to connect. If anybody's interested in EasyRead and what it entails, do check out Casey's resources and her page. And if you are interested in building audiences with people with intellectual disability, please also get in contact with Casey because she has a wealth of knowledge to share. And it is one of those audiences that do get left behind because of the lack, it might seem too complicated, but actually it probably isn't as complicated as you think it is. That's often the way with disability, you go, Oh no, I couldn't possibly, cause that would just be so complicated. And then you realize it's something like having a car park available and booking an Auslan translator, if that or just putting your information out in a slightly different format, it's often very easy and often very cheap. So it's just, you don't know what you don't know. But Casey knows, so just get in touch with her. And if that's something that you're interested in knowing more about, I'm sure she'd welcome your call or email about that. So thanks so much for your time today. We look forward to hearing more from you. And I look forward to hearing more from people who want to share their stories about work life balance as well, and how you've been able to navigate career change or making improvements in your work life to give you more life and less of the anxiety and horrors of work. All right. Take care. See you all next time. Bye. Oh,

[00:30:10] this series. Bye. Bye. Bye. 

[00:30:13] Welcome to the Aligned and Thriving Podcast, the best place to get the support you need to turn your working life from a struggle to a success. I'm your host, Judith Bowtell, and I'm a former burnt out executive who used to yell at my psychologist. who then had a midlife crisis and eventually reinvented herself as a creative career and leadership development coach.

[00:30:39] This show is for anyone who is struggling with having time for yourself amongst work, family, caring for others, medical issues, community needs, and even the work of staying in touch in a digital age. It took missing a promotion, a serious back injury, and a diagnosis of depression to get my working life back into balance.

[00:30:59] So this is for anyone who has seen the cracks in their life and wants to turn things around. Maybe now. Don't miss a single episode, so subscribe to Aligned and Thriving now to unlock a world of inspiration and practical strategies. And if you have subscribed, why IG account or join our community to navigate your own way to a happier, healthier world.

[00:31:22] And healthier working life.

Introduction of guest Casey Gray, an artist, an agent for change and her work in disability policy and advocacy.
Casey's recent efforts to improve work-life balance, including productivity hacks. Use of the Pomodoro technique and setting timers to enhance productivity.
Learning about traditional career paths and the impact on Casey's journey.
Reflecting on the challenges of working in disability advocacy.
The impact of the Front and Centre program on Casey's life and goals.
Overcoming resistance and challenges in organising inclusive events.
Managing anxiety and setting limits to avoid overwhelm.
Learning to say no and asking how activities align with overall goals.
The boat analogy and sailing towards career goals.
Details for the Valentine's Day event and where to find more information.