Stuck on a 'productivity hamster wheel'? Sarah Davidson on the play & joy found elsewhere

Stuck on the ‘productivity hamster wheel’? Sarah Davidson on the play & joy found elsewhere

Sarah Davidson

Sarah Davidson is a self-described lawyer turned ‘funtrepreneur’. A term she took on after making the shift from corporate lawyer to founding Matcha Maiden, as well as a plant-based café in Melbourne, and starting the chart-topping podcast Seize the Yay, also the name of her just launched new book

But she says none of it would have happened without a number of massive sliding door moments that put her life on the course she’s on today – a course that now sees her emphasis gratitude, elevate positivity and encourage everyone to find some time for fun and ‘play’ between work, sleep and everything else.

The first “sliding door moment” as she calls it when speaking on The Women’s Agenda Podcast, came when she was adopted from a South Korean orphanage at six months old, by “an incredibly white country bumpkin Victorian family.”

She says her adoption gave her a strong appreciation for the life she has, but also saw her placing significant pressure on herself to make the most of what she’d been given.

Sarah’s book documents her path into entrepreneurship and more of these sliding door moments – including how a trip to Rwanda where she saw endless happiness, followed by the parasite she picked up on her travels that made her extremely ill – saw her eventually leaving the legal career she thought had her entire life planned.

Despite the parasite leaving her exhausted and losing weight, Sarah kept working and exercising frantically before eventually crashing.

On recovering, she was told she couldn’t drink coffee, so she searched for another energy source: green tea powder, which she was initially able to pick up during a brief stint working in Hong Kong.

When Sarah and her then boyfriend (now husband) Nic Davidson couldn’t find that product in an easily accessible form in Australia, they decided to purchase it on mass and then sell off the leftovers – and before they knew it, they had created Matcha Maiden.

Realistic positivity in lockdown

Sarah describes herself as the “positivity panda”, but living through Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne when she speaks to Women’s Agenda, she concedes she’s being testing during this period.

The café she opened in St Kilda, Matcha Mylkbar, was still serving takeaway only when Sarah spoke with Women’s Agenda, but has since reopened for seated guests as restrictions were lifted this week.

Like most career and business goals in 2020, Sarah says it’s been a rollercoaster year of emotions. She accepts 2020 may be a “a write-off” when it comes to business goals.

“We have made out peace with coasting along until we can do better.” she says.

She adds that one of the challenges with staying positive in lockdown is the fact the things you may have typically relied on for help – like going to the gym, getting breakfast, sitting with friends – are not available for you to use.

As such, she says she’s relied on some of the strategies in her book – which was mostly written before COVID.

“The whole concept of ‘seizing the yay’ is not that you should be happy all the time,” she says.

“I have a bubbly disposition generally and that comes easy for me — it’s spurred on by the adoption in my heritage and that extra layer of gratitude — what I’ve had to remind myself is that if you don’t have the bad times you won’t recognise the good.”

And while no one would wish to have experienced this period, she believes it’s still possible to find some great learnings in what’s occurred. “Even to jump off the auto pilot, away from the crazy pace.

“We’ve had a reset, a mass slowdown and a mass re-evaluation on what is working and what isn’t.”

She says it’s possible to be grateful and positive but to also feel like it’s tough and crappy at the same time. “It’s ok to have both levels of emotions and that adds to the richness of life, just be gentle on yourself as you go up and down those emotions.”

The value of play

Much of Sarah’s ‘Seize the yay’ mantra centres around the notion of play, something many of us have forgotten to do since childhood.

She describes play as one of the biggest revelations of her life. When she was working in law, she recalls people asking her what she’d be doing if she wasn’t at work. The fact she couldn’t name any hobbies alarmed her.

“Since I was five, I had forgotten how to play,” she says. “We are so focused on our time being made worthy and useful, we forget,” she says.

She realised the times that she found she was actually having a really great time, were the times that she realised she was doing something just for the sake of it: especially manual tasks that make it difficult for you to try and work at the same time like gardening, tennis, painting, pottery.

“My brain was able to breathe away from its productivity identity and just get lost in the things that have nothing to do with my job or require me to be ‘on’. My life energy, everything flourished.”

Over the years, Sarah’s ideas of success have changed dramatically with her sliding door moments, and it’s refreshing to hear.

Having never considered anything but “law or medicine” after being considered academically successful at school, she’s now seen the broad range of career and business options available.

“I got on the productivity hamster wheel and that conventional view of life being linear”, she says on having a clear and set career path initially in law.

“I thought you get on the hamster wheel and then forty or 50 years later you get off the wheel and retire.”

It’s a good reason why there’s so much angst around making those decisions, just out of high school, regarding what to do next in your career.

But as Sarah says, you don’t have to be the same person in every decade of your life, or even every month or day.

As we’ve all seen this year, change happens fast and in unpredictable ways.

Listen to the podcast below and subscribe to The Women’s Agenda Podcast on iTunes.

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