Wisdom from Ordeals

She herself passed through a very painful journey of overwhelming and complex hardships, but today Fiona Boyd, CEO & Co-Founder of ParentPaperwork, tells women to explore the untapped power they posse

Hello, I’d really like to thank The Womenz for the opportunity to tell my story and give maybe a little bit of mojo juice to those women around the world currently doing it tough and wondering if there’s a way to get out from under whatever situation is keeping them down and to move forward with dignity. 

My name is Fiona Boyd and I’m currently the CEO and Co-founder of an education technology startup based in Melbourne, Australia called ParentPaperwork. We replace paper forms in K-12 schools worldwide via our cloud SaaS solution and aim to make teachers and administrators lives better by handling their data capture, management and reporting tasks. Think permission forms, enrolment forms, student surveys and that’s pretty much what we do, but we take it all online in a really secure and robust way. 

This isn’t my first technology startup. Indeed since 2000 I have been starting and running online ventures, some have worked out really well and gotten respectable exits and a couple have sunk without a trace. The one I’m most proud of is Arts Hub - an online home for arts workers that I started with my life partner and co-founder, David Eedle. 

I am a firm believer that much of the beauty and sweetness in life comes to us through the arts, through a song, poetry, music, dance, a painting, a film. I also feel strongly that those who work in the arts should be acknowledged and respected. Arts Hub is a place where arts industry workers can get together, share knowledge, get a new job or commission, and find out the latest news. And whilst we started Arts Hub in 2000, I am happy to say the business is still going strong today and serving its constituency under the current owners in 2017. 

The Womenz is a global platform for women, and about time too I say! When women take the time to listen to each other and form solutions together to problems they jointly face, we start to explore and understand the power we have to transform ourselves and each other. Women probably have always had this power, but it’s not really been in the interests of patriarchal societies for us to get together and talk with clarity about our experiences in the world. Indeed in many parts of the world, women’s behaviour is so effectively policed that the idea of having an independent point-of-view is considered an unachievable luxury. You may be reading this and that may describe your situation. 

So I’d like to pose a question to you. Can you imagine a life where you are in charge of your own economic model? Where you make the major decisions about whether to marry or not? Whether to  have children or not? To get an education or not? Start a business or not? Does such a world exist for you already or do you believe that such a place is a mirage? 

Just so you don’t think I was born in a Fort Palace and that all in life has come supremely easily to me, I’d like to share a bit of my backstory, so that you understand that I am where I am not because I’ve had it easy but because I haven’t and that I’ve learned and grown through the challenges. 

My upbringing is what you could call fraught. I’ve come to the conclusion at this point in my life that both my parents had a psychological disorder, one had a diagnosis of manic depression and spent many years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I suspect the condition was actually severe PTSD due to experience in war zones with some bipolar as well, but since he passed away 27 years ago it’s impossible to know for sure. 

The other, well shall I say that the behaviour we are witnessing in the 45th President of the United States shows great similarity to that parent’s behaviour from pretty much my babyhood, through to the current day. Being the eldest of four children and the only daughter, I had the ignominy of being expected to do much of the household work and certainly care for my younger brothers. Responsibilities that should have been those of my parents were hoisted on my shoulders. In addition when it was evident in school that I was a high performing student, the expectations of performance just kept getting higher and higher. And there was never any encouragement, in fact if I showed any sign of self-satisfaction at doing a good job or getting a good result on a school project or test, it meant a beating was soon to follow. Or a full blown rage assault from an out-of-control envious parent. 

My parents ruled their roost by making sure their daughter was the Cinderella, or slave of the family. And it wasn’t just practical domestic tasks that were shunted my way, I was also expected to look out for and solve complex emotional problems for my brothers, even though I had no-one looking out for my emotional needs or development. That I developed any emotional competence at all is quite amazing. If you find this confusing, then you can imagine the general state of anxiety and overwhelm I experienced throughout my childhood. I could give you very specific detail but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about and can tell your own very specific story around the generalities of what I’m describing. 

So how did I get through? How come I haven’t died already, or given up and become addicted to some toxic substance or toxic relationship? Now this is probably going to surprise you a little. I went to over 10 schools in childhood and in each school I was the outsider and was bullied. In fact so much so that I just came to see being an outsider as normal. My experience is that of the immigrant who comes to a new land and is immediately judged as being ‘not one of us’. The strangeness for me was that I was born in the country where I was being told I didn’t belong. I just happened to have the earliest years of my childhood in London and my so-called Pommie accent called me out as being ‘other’. 

Being an outsider became a normalised state for me and probably saved my life, or at least gave me the capacity to think for myself and not as part of a group or part of the current social regime. And when I was told I wasn’t good enough as a little girl, a voice inside me would say ‘yeah, you are’ and kudos for me, I took the advice of the voice and not the external world. I would say the difference for me that started at the youngest age is that I listened to my inner voice, the voice of my heart and it would tell me to duck here, weave there, avoid this person, that person is okay. This thing is good, this not so much. And it wasn’t that haranguing inner nagging that we now experience as adults as the nagging, hassling inner critic. It was a voice of compassion and goodwill - urging me on, to keep going, to accept that other people were as they were and trudging their own boards, their unpleasantness wasn’t about me, more a reflection of where they were at. 

I also had a couple of angels. Real people who didn’t have power or influence but made me feel loved and connected and worthwhile. One of them was my Nan. A lovely, probably part-indigenous woman who grew up in an orphanage and who worked with kitchen nuns in a new Catholic girls school in Perth, Western Australia during WW2. As a clear sighted woman who had no education and who had numerous exploitative and probably abusive experiences at the hands of various householders that she’d been sent to as a domestic, she decided that her children would not have the same experience of life as her. She negotiated with the nuns and secured 12 years of a good Catholic education for her two girls and boy. Nan was somewhat looked down upon by her children. She was uneducated, messy, her house was rundown and unkempt. They were not proud of her, even though she was proud of them. She had lived through two world wars and a depression and was an orphan, yet they cut her no slack and had no understanding of her or for her. I loved my Nan and would make any excuse to stay weekends with her. She didn’t have much to say, but she always asked how I was and made me feel like I was good enough. 

My other angel was one of the kitchen nuns, a beautiful woman who I named my youngest child after, Sister Colette. We would visit the nuns as children and my narcissistic mother would complain endlessly to them about her wayward children, dreadful daughter who wouldn’t do enough for her, awful husband and challenging job, on and on, you get the picture. And always Sister Colette would tell her she must get close to God, whether that be to pray or meditate but she must find her way to her God. Sister Colette saved our family a number of times, with money, kind words and unobtrusive guidance. She was truly an angel. 

I’m sure you know where we go next. Right in the lead up to my Year 12 matriculation exams my father has the violent meltdown of all meltdowns and suddenly my mother and brothers are living in a women’s refuge and Sister Colette has secured me a room in the boarding section of my school. And that kind of spells the end of my family of origin. 

This could of course have given me a perfect excuse not to get on with life. To decide that it was all too hard and to give up and sit under a rock or on a mountain, which if I have to live a quiet life is what I’d really like to be doing. Instead I got through exams, left my family and went out on my own and started to back myself with my own belief and also the belief of my Nan and Sister Colette. Three university degrees, an interesting career in broadcasting and many businesses later I am now pretty much almost the empowered person I hoped to become when I left home for good at 17. 

There have been rabbit holes and potholes in the road I’ve trudged so far. But there will be for anybody and I can truly say now at the age of 51 that all the adapting and flexibility I had to learn growing up has been able to be put to good use running technology businesses. I stay calm when the guys (and it is guys) around me are losing their heads and dropping their cool, because i know I can get through. I’ve got through major crises before and I’ll do it again and again. 

No matter where you are or what you’re doing right now, sister, you can start looking after you, listening to your inner voice and keeping a friendly eye out for other women. As we encourage and lift each other up, so we lift up our world and future generations. 

Good luck to The Womenz - I hope you become the voice of this generation of amazing and inspired women.

We The Womenz team thank her for sharing her story with us. We are sure that her story will certainly inspire our readers.

Fiona can be reached on Linkedin, twitter, facebook

First Published: 08-Apr-2017- 17:25