In conversation with Berry Family Fellows Ana Tiquia & Reanna Browne
We caught up with 2022 Berry Family fellows Ana Tiquia and Reanna Browne to hear about their career paths so far, their project After Work, and any words of wisdom they have for current students.
Hi Ana and Reanna! Firstly, can you share a bit about how you became creative partners?
We first became friends while we were studying a Master's in Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University. Our creative partnership really developed when we had the opportunity to travel to Finland together to take part in a Futures Studies summer school at Turku University.
The summer school and conference raised a lot of questions for us about the ethics of doing futures work and particularly around the question of what is the ‘right work’ to do in this time – one we feel is marked by huge transitions, complexity, and crises both societal and ecological. In the Finnish midsummer with a sun that only dipped below the horizon in the early hours of the morning, we found ourselves staying up late in endless conversation and dialogue around questions that had come up during the day. We ended up co-authoring a paper on futures practice and the ethics of ‘right work’ after this. The process we developed to write together continued the dialogue we began in Finland, and it has continued in different forms ever since. After Work, we feel, is an extension of this dialogue around ‘right work’, but one where we are able to invite in other voices, other perspectives, and other experiences of work.
Your 2022 fellowship project explores the future of work through the voices of workers – past, present and future. What has your experience with work and finding a career path been like so far?
ANA: I have been lucky to have a career that has been varied, taken me across the world several times, and enabled me to pursue work that holds personal meaning and hopefully allows me to contribute value to others. The flip side of this, however, plays out in the highly work-centric society and culture I have been brought up in. Work, or more precisely, what one ‘does’ as a job is used as a key measure of value in our society – both in terms of measuring one’s ‘economic value’, as well as one’s personal value and currency. Neoliberal ideologies have definitely shaped my personal sense of self-hood and value at several times in my work life.
While huge emphasis is placed on individual ‘achievement’, ‘improvement’, and ‘progression’ at work; within my lifetime, conditions for workers and the contract between employers and employees have been eroded in Australia and elsewhere. We witness this dis-ease on a collective level through the prevalence of burnout, exhaustion, and work-related stress and illness.
I like to think of myself as a ‘recovering workaholic’. After suffering burnout and workplace stress a number of times in my own career, I’ve re-evaluated my own relationship with work as well as taking a more critical view of the societal forces that drive worker exhaustion. These days, I try to resist the pressure to define myself wholly through my work and what I ‘produce’.
Working with Re has been a joyous part of my slowly transforming relationship to work. Before we started researching After Work we explored a range of ways we could support each other in our own work lives. Both of us had begun running our own consultancy practices and we started working together in the same space a day a week. We called this working alongside, and it was an experiment in how we could collectively hold space for each other, support and offer feedback on issues or questions that arose in our work day. We had both stepped away from working from an employer and stepped into individual practices but felt the freelance model to be somewhat unsustainable. Trialling ways to work collectively, equitably, and in more life-affirming and nourishing ways has been one of the larger aims of our working together.
REANNA: If we look back at our careers, especially non-linear careers, there’s often a subtle emerging practice that can help tie threads between our choices over time. For me that thread is work. The past, present and futures of work. The systems, deep beliefs and ideologies of work. The theatre and the reality of work.
When I use work as a lens and theme to reflect on my career I can see how a seemingly disparate range of jobs and education have led me to the work I do today. Over the last decade, I’ve been experimenting with futures thinking ideas and methods to help organisations anticipate and navigate futures of work changes.
What became clear was that many of the important conversations about the ‘future of work’ did not align with my day-to-day corporate consulting demands. Seldom, if ever, came a consulting request to focus on the likely inhabitants of these futures of work, us the workers. And so, a career junction emerged bringing with it a range of questions that continue to shape the work I do today. Where are the spaces that allow us to turn and face the strange and hidden futures of work change? How can we unfreeze the everyday ‘future of work’ discussions dominated by large corporations and consultancies? What happens when we centre workers in ‘future of work’ enquiries? And how can I shape my own practice to move this enquiry from a private distraction to a productive contribution?
Luckily for me Ana and I crossed paths, and we soon realised that we share a ‘maximal interestingness’ around work(er) futures. Since this time, we have spent countless hours contemplating how we might explore work from a more emancipatory standpoint - both through our practice and through our experience as workers. More recently we have shifted our focus from casual contemplations to more purposeful and formal collaborations such as the Berry Family Fellowship.
How have you both found sharing a project like this, and do you have any tips for working collaboratively?
ANA: Yes! One of the things I love the most about our friendship and creative partnership is our dialogue – I feel it is a way we sense-make together through complexity and complex issues. There is a very generative and creative aspect to it, in the sense that we both emerge from dialogue a little transformed – often with a new perspective on whatever we’re working on. We often emerge from a day of working together feeling energised rather than depleted; something we feel is sadly uncommon in work life.
I also feel our collaboration is based on a huge amount of respect, understanding, and ‘mutual admiration’. One of the things I think we do really well in our collaboration is centering each other’s health and well-being. Sometimes that means taking on less work if we feel it might jeopardise our health or place too much stress on one or both of us. It means respecting each other’s time and energy, including the limits to both. Ultimately, I feel that care is really at the centre of our collaboration.
REANNA: In a world that encourages separation, I think relationships are not only primary but are the only way we should operate now. I’ve spent years working on my own which really hit its limits during of pandemic enforced isolation. But like most things, we need to hit the edge of something before we really decide to change. As we slowly came back together, I decided that any of the work I now do will be working with or alongside others. And so, I jumped at the chance to submit a joint application for the SLV Berry Family Fellowship.
As for tips on working collaboratively, I think it's just as valuable to have an intentional focus on how you practice together as much as it is to focus on what you are practising. As Ana mentioned, we have developed an ethos over time that informs the way we work with and alongside each other. It is a deliberate approach to create our own relational field where we are not separate. Where we aim to forge new meanings and perspectives on things together, rather than staking individual claims. Where we can make sense of these issues and of ourselves through and alongside each other. Where our work is always generative - a safe space to develop a deeper affective tolerance, accessing the kinds of insights that we may have been afraid to otherwise. Taking refuge in each other, building the capacity to sit, be still, stay with the trouble and notice what emerges. What has evolved from this approach are some of the most enriching working experiences that I have had to date. And that’s exactly the kind of future of work that I want to be creating in the present.
What kind of studies led you to become work and future strategists? And do you have any advice for students with creative ambitions like yours?
REANNA: We’ve both studied a Master of Strategic Foresight (sadly the program is no longer offered). As brilliant and life-changing as this experience was, mostly in part because of the educators themselves, I don’t think it's essential to enter the world of futures via formal education.
More generally, I think a lot of modern education (for now) is primarily geared towards the goal of ‘job readiness’ - which as a result has co-opted our learning enquiry. Sure we need learning to help architect our careers and we need to acquire skills in order to be good workers. But elevating this as the primary purpose of education ensures we miss one of the most significant means by which we are truly educated - learning that helps architect a life, and how we might want to live it, together.
ANA: A few years ago I led a research project for a client, exploring the career paths of public servants. After interviewing several workers across a range of ages and departments, our findings were that career pathways are generally “messy, serendipitous”, and influenced by the types of work and roles one gets exposed to. I feel my own career path is reflected in those findings, to a degree.
In terms of advice, I’d say to not worry too much about where you’re headed in terms of a final ‘career destination’, but be open to where study, work experience of all sorts and life may take you – you may find your interests, passion, and energy for work in unexpected places. I never knew one could become a ‘futurist’ when I started studying, and I’ve held job titles such as ‘digital producer’ or ‘creative producer’ that didn’t exist at all when I was growing up. Be open to moving across disciplinary boundaries. Break them down! Defy categorisation!
Thanks for your time! Finally, we’d love to hear how your project is going and how our members can get involved?
We are currently running an open call for interviewees for After Work. We’re wanting to speak to any Australian-based worker who has worked in any capacity at any time in their life – whether through unpaid work, casual, salaried, precarious, volunteering, performing domestic labour, or studying. We would love to hear your story, and there is the possibility that interviews may become part of the State Library Victoria permanent collection.