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How I Found Light in the Darkness of Dementia

by Thought Starters

In this article I explore how I found light in the darkness of my Mother’s journey with dementia.

For regular readers of my blog, and those who have been part of my journey since Think Bespoke was first established, you’ll know that one of the driving forces behind starting my business was my Mum’s diagnosis of dementia (specifically vascular dementia and alzheimers) in 2010. The story of how we realised this is where Mum was at is for another day. What this diagnosis did do was turn my world upside down.

As an ex-corporate career professional, and mother of two pre-schoolers (at the time of her diagnosis), I decided to see if I could carve out a more flexible career, leveraging my skills while being present for Mum and my boys. If you’ve established and grown your own business, you’ll appreciate the personal mountain climbing that comes with this decision. For the first 3 years I continued to work part time for a boutique training organisation, as a business trainer and facilitator with leadership teams across Melbourne, as I developed and refined Think Bespoke’s career and business services.

When I listened to the Engage with Story podcast interview with Ben Amos, I found it interesting that I mentioned Mum’s diagnosis right at the start of sharing my story. I’ve been reflecting on this since, and realise that a number of the key decisions I’ve made about Think Bespoke, as our service offerings have expanded, have been driven by parallel decisions I’ve had to make in regards to Mum’s health and ongoing care.

From Little Things Big Things Grow

What began as a resume writing service, grew over the next 3 years into LinkedIn Profile writing for job seekers and self discovery workshops for professionals in the mid stage of their career. There is a common saying that people buy from people they know, like and trust. Being somewhat desk bound with the care of Mum and the boys, LinkedIn became a critical tool for how I leveraged my networks and generated leads and referrals for Think Bespoke.

With a content marketing strategy in place for Think Bespoke from 2013, this began to influence my community and previous colleagues began to reach out to me on LinkedIn. When people ask me why they should connect with everyone they’ve ever worked with on LinkedIn, I am reminded of a chain reaction of events that led me to an important client relationship and guest speaking opportunity.

With a background in leadership roles in sales and marketing for global brands, past colleagues (who’d been watching my business journey from the sidelines) began to refer their friends and family to Think Bespoke’s LinkedIn and career planning services. A previous boss, Peter, from Diageo Australia, had a colleague, Lou, who’d chosen a redundancy. Peter suggested to Lou that he give me a call to discuss his next career move and updating his LinkedIn Profile. After a lovely chat and my recommendation to travel, Lou returned from an overseas holiday and I updated his LinkedIn Profile. Now on the job market, Lou made contact with an Executive Recruiter he’d known for years. She took one look at his profile and asked who wrote it and then contacted me to discuss my LinkedIn Profile writing services. We agreed an ongoing arrangement for her clients and, as our business relationship developed, she introduced me to her network of recruitment agencies. I went on to work with a number of other agencies and was invited by one of them to guest speak at a conference in Melbourne.

I sometimes share this story to help explain the importance of connections on LinkedIn. It was this experience that found me speaking at a global recruitment conference, after Emma Isaacs, Global CEO Business Chicks, on a Friday afternoon at the Intercontinental Melbourne.

Find Your Voice, Tell Your Story

It was the advice of Marina Pitisano, who suggested my knowledge of LinkedIn for business growth was deep and my approach was unique. This encouraged me to focus my LinkedIn insights and training on B2B clients, tailoring my training to the Australian market.

Curious by nature, and valued as a social media strategist, I also spent this time exploring the value of social media channels to help attract, acquire and engage my ideal clients. Think Bespoke’s online footprint now extends far beyond just LinkedIn, with a following of over 8000 readers across our social media community.

Attending business networking events helped me learn many of the skills needed to run a small business in the digital age, and also connected me with many talented service providers who I’ve since formed strong collaborations with. Think Bespoke is now the LinkedIn Strategy Partner for Your Time Matters and a Platinum Sponsor for the Monash Business Awards.

We are also now recognised as one of Australia’s leading independent LinkedIn consultancies and have been contracted by many Australian B2B organisations to develop LinkedIn strategies and content marketing plans to attract, acquire and engage their business and stakeholder communities.

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

My personal mantra is borrowed from Gandhi and is to Be the Change You Wish to See in the World. Rather than complain about the circumstances I find myself in with my dear Mum, I have inadvertently used this as a key driver to create the life I want for myself and my family. It has not been easy and I have stumbled and fallen along the way.

I’ve been less vocal about Mum’s journey recently because it’s heartbreaking. Until 12 or so months ago, she was stable and content. ‘I’m a valley girl now’, she’d often say, in regard to her move to residential care in Yarra Junction. She was fortunate to befriend a companion, who was also a resident where she lives, and they filled their days with conversation and laughter. Whenever we visited Mum, we were in many ways a distraction as she wanted to get back to her companion and continue their good times together.

While I regularly mourn the loss of my dear friend and movie companion, I am grateful that she is still with us. There are good days and bad days and this been the toughest journey I have ever encountered. The gift is the absolute clarity I have about my priorities and purpose. I am blessed to share this journey with my wonderful sister, our dear Auntie and the wise counsel of our Dementia Consultant, Leah Bisiani.

For those of you navigating your role as carers, parents, partners, business owners and employees, I encourage you to be kind to yourself and ruthlessly focus on what it is that brings you joy.

Karen Hollenbach, LinkedIn Expert Consultant, Educator & Mentor

Karen Hollenbach, LinkedIn Expert Consultant, Educator & Mentor

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