Sunday 26th June 2022

Women Of Courage Series. #58 Tracey Lee. 71/2021.

Women Of Courage Series. #58 Tracey Lee. 71/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda

In counting back the years, I realised that I met Tracey Lee, aged 55 via twitter first…back in what we affectionately call ‘the good old days of twitter: 2010-2012’. Then I also got to meet her in real life at a mutual friend’s book launch. Over the next few years we chatted and caught up, in that social media way, on both facebook and twitter. When we moved from Sydney to the Central Coast of N.S.W. I knew that I had a friend I could meet up with again, and we did and have for coffee and chat. Love those connections. But in recent times, I was also delighted to be both an encourager and cheerleader in Tracey Lee’s ventures which she writes of here. I will let her share the story. Thank you!


What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

Is there anything more terrifying than your “baby” starting high school? Is there anything more potent to ring the alarm bells of what will you “do” for the rest of your life!

  • Let’s take it back a decade, to when I was made redundant from my permanent part-time graphic design job, secretly 8 weeks pregnant with my second child and knowing I had no chance of finding another position that would fit me and my childcare needs.
  • With support from also-redundant colleagues and bereft clients, I set up a computer and dial-up modem in my dining room, establishing my freelance business.
  • While I never “made a living”, it was enough to keep our nose above water and pay for family holidays.
  • It gave me flexibility to be at school: helping in the classroom, canteen, P&C, and cobbling together costumes for the dreaded Book Week.
  • And extra time to spend with my Mum, who lived alone since we lost Dad, and who was showing early signs of dementia.

I had fallen into graphic design when I dropped out of law school (a terrible choice!) because I had always been “good at art”.

  • I enjoyed design, and it certainly honed my skills as a communicator, and I loved working in publishing (because books!), but it was never a goal that set me alight.
  • Into the presumption of stability known as “mid life”, little ideas crept into my head, of how I would resurrect my creative practice beyond on a computer, to find that part of me that the responsibilities of adult life and parenthood had driven out.

Enter Twitter! 

At the (since lamented) suggestion of my husband, I started an account.

As a SAHM/WFH (Stay At Home Mum/Working from Home) freelancer, I was thrilled to expand what had become a narrow social circle. I started with old friends from publishing, then followed the bread crumbs, gathering a group of individuals whose interests mirrored mine.

It did not occur to me until later that I had created a virtual curriculum vitae for future ambitions.

I followed parents and teachers, artisans and creatives … and a cluster of allied health professionals working in mental health.

I remembered the psychology I enjoyed as a part of my abandoned law studies, and the kindling started to smoulder.

If only I could resurrect my art practice and, through the joy I knew it could invoke, help people heal from self-doubt and hardships in their lives: art … and, therapy? That’s a job!

Putting aside qualms from my flawed experiences, I spent the rest of that year secretly searching qualifications and university degrees. I discovered mature-aged admissions pathways. I applied. I was accepted. Dear God!


How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

I was used to work schedules and deadlines, but now I needed to factor in the unexpected, to learn how to drop the ball and catch it on the bounce when a child became ill or a paid freelance job turned up without warning.

I learned to focus my research and to “kill my darlings”, the factual nuggets or personal theories that just would not fit in under the word limit. (My worst effort was the 6000 word “draft” for the 1500 word assignment).

And then there was the dreaded Group Assignment: how to get my work done and learn to trust everyone else to do their own work … or to let go when it was obvious it was never going to happen.

I needed to allow myself to hand in work that I was not 100% happy with for the sake of getting it out of the way, ready to start on the next project.

Being the anxious type, that did not sit well with me!

And then there were the results that were disappointing, especially on assignments I felt I had “nailed”, to learn that there is more than one way to interpret an assignment, and that I would not always be “right”.


Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

But the hardest thing to learn was to be self-centred, not in a selfish way, but in a way that allowed me to believe what I was doing, my aims and ambitions, were important.

  • Even more so than parenting demands, reasonable when my children were younger, which I had let persist because what I was previously doing was “not so important”.
  • I would like to say we blossomed graciously as a family, but it was a lot bumpier than that.
  • My new priorities were resented, and I had days when I struggled with guilt.

Yet, oddly, no one died. No one got injured or even particularly hungry, although a few dirty uniforms might have been shaken out at 8am and quickly sprayed with deodorant.

I learned that when I centred myself, others would fall in around me.

As a primary caregiver it can be confronting to be the instigator of one’s own obsolescence. It can be frightening to peel off the cocoon of parenting to see if what emerges will have beautiful wings, or be incomplete and damaged, unable to fly.


Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

While this is about my year of Open Foundation, the next chapter was the four years of ups and downs it took to complete my three-year Bachelor’s degree (with Distinction!), with Mum leaving us in my final year.

By then I knew I was not cut out for the post-graduate Master’s as I had planned, so I looked for smaller certificate courses, finding one I could mostly complete online. And then …

And then COVID-19 spat its contagion, hungrily eating its way through freedoms I took so for granted.

I was used to WFH, but now my husband was WFH, my oldest had TAFE shut down and my youngest was studying “FH” as well. I was happy we could be safe and not suffer financially, but as someone who requires a quiet space, I shelved my plans for the year.

Sometimes courage means knowing your limits and when to say no.

Sometimes courage is an understanding that life will throw sharp sticks, and you need to protect yourself and regather for when it is safe to start again.


Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

If years as a mature-aged student — forging a pathway to my first ever burning passion — taught me anything, it is that by creating a clear image of who you are, you can hold steady.

If who you wish to be is not possible right now, do not believe it can never happen or that your efforts have been wasted.

Such intrinsic courage does not fail at the first, or even fifth, hurdle.

I once read that direction, not speed, is pivotal when finding your way through life.

With a few pressing family issues and my youngest attempting the HSC in 2021, I’m still not quite ready to spring ahead, but I know my pathway when I am.

And hey, 60 is the new 40, am I right?

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post. For example a website or help line.

From UON / Open Foundation:

“Open Foundation is a free pathway program offered at the University of Newcastle for people who do not have the qualifications required for direct entry into an undergraduate degree program.’


Gosh I loved reading this from Tracey Lee because I remember a lot of what was happening as she plunged in…and see the top photo? A proud artist. Lately I have been loving her instagram pics where she includes art and art via nature. I was incredibly pleased to know of her graduation. However, like everything in 2020, the graduation could not happen in person. The photo here is from her graduation from the pathways’ program. Lots to be proud of here and perhaps for others to find encouragement in their tertiary study ventures.

Thank you!


Tracey Lee’s  Social Media:

Business Facebook is:



This series continues over the next months.

If you have  story to share, please leave me a message in the comments.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 – All rights reserved.



  1. “But the hardest thing to learn was to be self-centred, not in a selfish way, but in a way that allowed me to believe what I was doing, my aims and ambitions, were important.”

    “As a primary caregiver it can be confronting to be the instigator of one’s own obsolescence. It can be frightening to peel off the cocoon of parenting to see if what emerges will have beautiful wings, or be incomplete and damaged, unable to fly.”

    Substitute parenting in the second paragraph for caring roles and you could have written this about me. This section bookended by these two paragraphs spoke volumes to me, as did the whole interview to be honest.

    Thank you for sharing your beautifully written and articulated story. I see so much of myself here in your words.

    “Sometimes courage is an understanding that life will throw sharp sticks, and you need to protect yourself and regather for when it is safe to start again.”

    I’ll be back to visit these words as I find my place again in life after losing my husband recently. I was his primary carer but we were a team. I still care for my 86 year old Mum at home. Life is very, very different.

    I sure hope 60 is the new 40 as I too am 55 years old.

    Your story gives me hope. Thank you so much for sharing. Xx

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      This is why I blog.

      To connect.

      Us with others.

      Oh Sandra, I am so pleased that this story from Tracey not only resonated but also was one you could strongly identify with in your long, long walk home now without your dear Doug.

      You know intellectually you can do this but emotionally it is a tough one and one which will see you slip a bit, then right yourself, then move on for a while.

      I am in awe as I watch and read about your life after the love of your life has left you (no thanks to Head & Neck Cancer) so early.

      Much love and biggest hugs,


    • Firstly, my deepest sympathies for you loss. It sounds like there was a long illness there, and that intensity of caring can define you to the bones and leave you wondering, on the darker days, where “you” went. I spent a long time looking for “clues” … but ultimately something will resonate. All the best and thank you for your kind words xxx

  2. I loved the starting of a business after being left redundant when expecting a baby. . . Ugh – that must have soured the stomach. I had a similar event, when as newly weds, wife working on her graduate studies and me, just having bought us a new-to-us car because I had a great new job, we went from a starving student lifestyle to hopeful about the future with some new money in our pockets. But it only lasted 1 week, because that new company that hired me, itself lost a primary customer and after interviewing me for 3 months, laid me (and everyone else) off. I was devastated, but decided to try my hand at starting up a one man, computer science training company. I was scared to death and worked like a mad man to find my first clients and earn my first gigs.
    But it worked and changed our lives.
    But I will never forget how scared I was.

    • Oh Gary, what an experience and like you say, something you will never forget but then again…look at you now.

      I am so glad your risk taking worked and it did change your lives…but a crystal ball would be good at time.

      Thanks so much for sharing your story and coming over to comment on Tracey Lee’s story.

      Have a good weekend, we have a long one here in Australia.


    • HUZZAH! I imagine if a poll was ever run about why people start their own business, a large percentage of the anwers would be thus! I remember visiting the local council small biz incubator and they were all about business plans and projections and i was all, Uhhhh … I HAVE A LOGO! The classic, When you’re up sh*t creek, it’s not the time to stop paddling rings very true for us. I consider it a huge achievement that the majority of my clients came from wordof mouth too. I was clearly doing something right 🙂

  3. It is hard to find our way as individual people when we are being mothers and the supportive person for the rest of the family.

    • So hard. Indeed that is all I remember of being a mother and having a full time career…where IS the me time??

      Oh, now. I have it now. Aged 71. And I appreciate it even more.

      Thanks for visiting Deborah and for your acknowledgement of the toughness of those times.


    • Isn’t it Deborah! and so often the things we try to do for ourselves (a day at the library, yoga sessions, a bushwalk with my pastels packed ready to sketch) are the first things we drop when there are last minute complications. With the external demands of returning to uni, my children learned some days were just out of bounds. It’s much harder to prioritise internal demands …

  4. What another wonderful story of tenacity and finding our way through adversity, thank you for sharing your thoughts and story with us Tracey Lee, and Denyse for introducing us to you. This statement is so very true! Sometimes courage means knowing your limits and when to say no.
    Just wonderful!

    • I am so glad this story from Tracey Lee resonated. She is indeed a Woman of Courage.

      Thank you as well to you Debbie, for sharing your story in 2019…where has that time gone!


    • thank you Debbie, still figuring out the Saying No bit … although I am much better at saying Not Now!

  5. Congrats, Tracey, on your graduation and other achievements! Thank you, Denyse, for introducing Tracey to us and linking with #weekendcoffeeshare.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thank you Natalie, I agree Tracey needs celebrating for her achievements and I am pleased she chose to do so as a Woman of Courage.


    • thank you Natalie, and isn’t Denyse wonderful? I always think about her and other people I have met through Twitter when some say Oh social media isn’t “real”!


    If you want to follow my bouncing career ball, i didn’t think to add my Facebook (@LPFdesign) page . Facebook is making it tough for micro businesses who do not sell products (instead of services like mine) nor have a budget to advertise, but i would love to catch up with you all there

    xxx Tracey