Jane Caro: social commentator, writer and lecturer looks back on her successful career

Jane Caro is an Australian author, novelist, journalist, broadcaster, columnist and  advertising writer! She is known for saying exactly what’s on her mind and her informedness in doing so. She is also a social commentator and lecturer, whose opinion is trusted by many.

She has published nine books, including two novels: “Just a Girl” and “Just a Queen”, about Elizabeth Tudor; and a memoir: ‘Plain Speaking Jane‘, which is her personal reflection on overcoming anxiety and ‘not giving a toss’.

Ms Caro has appeared on Channel Seven’s Sunrise, ABC television’s Q&A, and as a regular panelist on The Gruen Transfer. She also undertakes regular radio work, and is a speaker with Australia’s Premier International Speakers Bureau, Claxton Speakers.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up becoming an author/ journalist.

A: The only thing I have ever been any good at is words so I did a straight English Lit degree at Macquarie Uni in the mid 70s with no real idea what I wanted to do except that I didn’t want to be a teacher.

I left and got a job in marketing, thanks to contacts of my dad. Then I went into advertising and in 1980 was lucky enough to get a job (it took some years of knocking on doors) as a junior copywriter at USP Needham (now DDB).

At last I had found something I was good at and I spent the next 35 years (with 5 years off to have my daughters) as a creative writer in various advertising agencies.

Despite the rampant sexism in the industry (its bad now, but it was appalling then), I managed to do quite well, win awards, rise in reputation and learn a great deal. What I could not seem to do was get promoted to Creative Director and by the mid 2000s I felt I had muscles I simply was not using.

Some years previously I had begun submitting Op-Eds to the SMH and getting most of them accepted. I was also active advocating for public education, and was one of the first disinterested voices raised on behalf of public schools.

This began to give me opportunities and, when I was offered a job analysing the daily newspapers for Channel 7 Sunrise, I grabbed the opportunity to get out of advertising and see where the winds took me.

Although the Sunrise gig only lasted for a few months, I soon found myself able to support myself nicely from writing articles, books, media appearances, some freelance advertising work and, most lucratively of all, professional speaking.

Q: What were the major challenges you had to overcome to get to your current position?

A: At first, I took a huge drop in income but, fortunately, my husband was well paid and the kids pretty much grown up so we could manage. Now I earn more than I ever did in advertising.

Most of the challenges were to do with my own self-doubt. I was not sure that I was good enough to be a real writer as opposed to an advertising one but I screwed my courage to the sticking point and found to my surprise that the things I had learnt as an ad writer stood me in very good stead when it came to other kinds of writing.

I also think my timing was good, because social media has helped me and women like me to gain audiences directly which has mad us desirable to publishers.

I also had to learn to live with uncertainty and insecurity about where the next job was coming from but I have now learned to really like the adventurous nature of my peripatetic work life.

Conversely, sometimes I get overwhelmed with work (the freelancers lot; feast or famine) and that can be challenging but somehow I always manage.

I have also learned to say yes to whatever comes my way, the more left-field the better. And – by doing that – I have increased my confidence and learnt an enormous amount. Taking risks pays off.

Q: What has been the most important thing you have learnt throughout your career?

A: You are not as crap as you fear you are and other people are not as great as you think they seem. Oh, and all comparisons are odious. Say what you think, nothing bad will happen and there is a career in it.

Fight for things that are bigger than you are and you will always have a sense of purpose and a sense of purpose is a great motivator.

Don’t make unnecessary enemies (treat everyone courteously and be respectful) but don’t fear offending people. If you stand for something some people will like you for it and some people won’t – c’est la vie. Try to do what you say you will do.

Q: What words of wisdom would you give to those aspiring authors or journalists?

A: See above. Don’t try to please others. Write what you want to write about the things you care about as much as you can. That is the way to develop your voice. Don’t worry about being the best or the most famous.

Just do the next thing and then the next thing and then the next thing. Don’t work too hard. Make sure you have lots of fun. Stay curious and read, read, read, read, read.

A lifetime of reading creates a well-stocked mind and that is a real asset for a writer. Tell the truth and be kind. Do not build your career by trashing, hurting or abusing others. All ideas can be robustly criticised but never attack a person.

Q: How do you define success? What does success mean to you?

A: Getting published, having readers, being understood and heard. Finishing a task you set yourself. Holding a published book in your hand for the first time.

Being happily married for 43 years. Having two lovely, independent, interesting and contributing daughters. Having a grandson. My friends, my neighbours, being part of my community.

Making a small difference to how teachers and public schools feel about how they are regarded. Seeing feminism really start to bite and feeling like I may have had a tiny part in that as well. Staying curious and interested and getting opportunities I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would.

Q: How do you think the industry has changed since you first began your career?

A: Technology has changed everything and all industries are in flux. We must now live in a constant state of uncertainty.

There have been great opportunities for someone like me who has not had to try and build a career from scratch but I think it is also much harder for young people trying to get established in their lives than it was for me.

There is much greater exploitation, much lower pay and much more expected now than there used to be. This shows in the quality of much of the published work but, on the upside, anyone with a genuine voice can and does find an audience. So, like everything, there are good things and bad.

Q: What would you say is your single greatest achievement, and why?

A: Maybe it is in remaining grounded. I have never felt like an important person and I am intensely grateful for that. I just want to use my skills as best I can to enhance the society and times in which I find myself.

I have a simple moral code; if what I am about to do, write or say will add to the sum of human happiness and opportunity then I will do it, if I suspect that it might add to the sum of human misery and despair for no good reason, then I do not do it.

I think my greatest single achievement is in remaining determinedly myself and saying what I thought, even when it did not work for me. I am proud of many things – my novels, my body of work, my feminism and my advocacy for public education and equality of opportunity – but most of all I am proud that I remain me.

I hope by doing that I model how to be yourself to other women and girls who –as I did when I was young – find they cannot be what is expected.

Jane Caro is a true inspiration to all aspiring authors as well as Australian women. She has worked hard to ensure women continue to have the same amount of opportunities as men. You can follow Jane on Twitter.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Executive Editor at Best in Australia. Mike has spent over a decade covering news related to business leaders and entrepreneurs around Australia and across the world. You can contact Mike here.
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