I am good enough
Carolyn Geyer was brought up on the notion that it’s the husband’s job to provide for his family, and a wife’s duty to raise the children and run the household. But having initially devoted herself entirely to her family, she decided to break the self-imposed shackles at 36 and pursue a career. Today, she is a woman with a big job and a big family.
“Am I intelligent or not?” Ms Geyer asked herself at the age of 36.
An education in accounting was something she secretly aspired to, but her upbringing steered her towards a life of home duties and family.
Ms Geyer’s self-doubt often stood in her way like a gatekeeper.
And although her childhood was joyous, filled with the kind of space and freedom you can only find in a remote country town, Ms Geyer grew up in a time when it was common for girls to be told that their place is in the home.
She was taught to aspire to marriage and motherhood, rather than an education.
“I was raised as the only girl among three brothers. My parents were beautiful parents, I had a great and fantastic childhood. But I was brought up to believe that reaching year 12 was a really good accomplishment for a girl,” says Ms Geyer.
Back then, country girls followed a well-trodden path.
“You work in a shop for a couple of years, you get married, have children, care for the house, while the husband earns the money, and everything is as it should be,” she says.
And that is precisely what Ms Geyer did. She had three children in the space of three-and-a-half years, and ran the household while her husband pursued his career.
“I only ever worked little part-time jobs, doing peoples ironing, housework, delivered pamphlets,” she recalls.
Leaving your comfort zone
But at the age of 36, Ms Geyer found herself wanting more. Having moved to Melbourne with her husband and their young family, Ms Geyer was ready for a full-time job.
So she began packing boxes in a factory at Coles Myer. But the long hours and strenuous work conditions would eventually push Ms Geyer to dream of an office role.
“I was very grateful for the job. It paid for the kids sporting activities. But I was standing there in the cold in the winter and the stinking hot in the summer and looking over at the people just across from me who worked in admin,” Ms Geyer remembers.
“They were warm in the winter and cool in summer.”
But her daydreams were often rudely interrupted by self-doubt, and she began to wonder whether she was intelligent.
In order to solve her dilemma, Ms Geyer mustered the courage and enrolled in a few Vocational Education and Training (VET) subjects.
Inspired by her father, who got his accounting qualification following the war, Ms Geyer decided to give numbers a go.
But her new life wouldn’t be without its setbacks.
“I failed everything in the first term. I could not figure out how on my bank statement it said credit, but in accounting terms when you put money in your account it says debit. I couldn’t reconcile that at all,” she says.
Then the penny dropped.
“I ended up a full grade above everyone else from there,” Ms Geyer says.
Having overcome one hurdle, Ms Geyer’s thirst for an education grew and soon she enrolled in a part-time degree at RMIT University in Melbourne.
“I was astounded to be accepted there,” she admits.
However, a couple of years into the degree, Ms Geyer made the decision to shelve her dreams and spend her nights with her family.
“My husband was in the police force and in the army reserves at the time. I couldn’t guarantee that he was going to be home for the children. It got too hard for me. I couldn’t meet my requirements and I couldn’t commit to group work. I couldn’t put the kids aside,” explains Ms Geyer.
In the meantime, Coles Myer transferred Ms Geyer to the admin department and soon a part-time development opportunity popped up within the company.
“If you are deemed to be good for the company’s future development, they pay for your education. So, I applied for that through Monash University, and I was accepted.”
Ms Geyer proceeded to finish a Master of Practicing Accounting, but during her studies she received the unpleasant news that she was being made redundant.
Never too late
But losing her job and feeling discontented in subsequent roles didn’t set her back. Instead, Ms Geyer found her inner strength and launched her own business.
“I started tiny. My friend from across the road and her husband ran a cabinet making business, so I set up a table and a computer in their factory office. I sent out letters everywhere, trying to get some clients,” she says.
As a next step in her self-development, Ms Geyer became a licensed tax agent.
And a few years later, in February 2009 and at the age of 53, she bought into a slightly bigger small practice.
“I sat in that practice and thought ‘how hard can this be?’ Then I worked out it was,” she laughs.
“I worked very long hours and eventually I decided to seek some business guidance. For 18 months I regularly had a cup of coffee with a friend of mine who is an astute businessman.”
From there Ms Geyer purchased another three small practices, and merged all four into one successful, small-business focused accountancy firm, Geyer Accountants.
“There are 12 of us now. We have this beautiful building that I purchased last year. It was an old restaurant and we gutted it and rebuilt it,” she says.
“My team is crucially important to me today and I would support any of them if they should want to continue their education.”
A woman in a ‘man’s world’
Ms Geyer explains that being a woman in business comes with many trials. Some she admits are a result of her upbringing, while others are prompted by gender stereotypes.
“When I first bought the practice 10 years ago, several clients refused to transfer over to me because I was a woman,” says Ms Geyer.
“The other thing is, when you have been brought up to believe that business is not your role, it takes a little bit of time to come to terms with the fact that it actually is. So, it took me some time to realise that I can do anything I want.”
And once she did, there was nothing stopping her.
“If you have your goals strongly set, there isn’t anything that can really hold women back,” she adds.
Today, Ms Geyer is inspired by her daughter-in-law who, having grown up in a business-orientated family, juggles her home, children, job and a social life with ease.
“I look at her and I am in absolute awe of how she juggles her high-level work. She has two children, a third on the way, and she manages to get to the gym three or four times a week, and keep herself healthy,” she says.
“She is a hero of mine. I think it takes a lot of work to do what she does. It takes a lot of self-discipline and commitment. But I’ve come to realise that how you bring up your daughters has a lot to do with it.”
That awareness has influenced her parenting style.
“I have brought up my daughter to be a strong individual and to do whatever makes her happy. And she has done that,” Ms Geyer adds.
She advises women who are contemplating going into businesses to set themselves clear goals.
“Business is exciting and very rewarding if you can focus on your goals. It’s all well and good to say that there are some things you excel at and some things that you don’t. But, being good at certain things ultimately comes down to setting yourself the right goals,” believes Ms Geyer.
“Every day when you get up, tell yourself this is how it is going to be today. Soon, that will become your norm.”
She admits, however, to occasionally reverting to that old sense of unworthiness when surrounded by successful businessmen.
But, only for a few seconds.
“If you’re surrounded by strong, intelligent men, the thought ‘am I good enough’ can cross your mind, but for me it now disappears just as fast as it came. I am good enough,” Ms Geyer says with self-assertion and a laugh in her voice.