Radical acceptance with Kirsten Ellis

Moving forward is an impossibly heavy task after losing a partner. For Kirsten Ellis, it became the only way out of losing herself to grief. Soon, she would become a business scholarship award-winner and triple her business’ revenue, all while navigating parenthood alone. She tells Metropol Deputy Editor Nina Tucker how.

Losing her husband Austin to suicide in 2018, Kirsten’s life quickly swerved away from destination ‘happily ever after.’ Somehow, she found a way through it, holding close the term radical acceptance. “I needed to grieve, to have a moment and then turn it around and go okay, what do I still have,” Kirsten explains. While the experience felt impossible, she focused on support that built her up, rather than cocooned her into sadness. “If I kept moving, even if it was really slowly, I could get back on my feet.”

Between Dr Lucy Hone’s Resilient Grieving and Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, she focused on mindset and perspectives, adopting a fresh approach to a harrowing experience. Life became about accepting that this wasn’t the path she wanted, “but you can choose to grow and be resilient from it.”

Stacked on her own grief, Kirsten watched her children undergo the same heartbreak. She helped them search for the safe space they needed. For her son, it was a new school and a fresh slate, while her daughter benefitted from the normality of the life she already knew. “Chaotic, happy, busy, but a really positive place,” is how Kirsten describes her home now.

When she heard news of becoming The Icehouse and Frank Accounting Women in Business scholarship award-winner, for the business she took over from her husband in his passing, Global PC, Kirsten was in shock. Excited, grateful, and nervous about the pressure that came with it, bottled into one. “If I do it, and I win, then I have to commit to doing it.”

Through a seven-month course, Kirsten would gain invaluable advice, tools, and skills to propel the Christchurch-based business, forward, as a company and as a leader. She says the best part of it is the peer network she will gain. “As a business owner, you don’t always have peers. That network will be brilliant.”

At the beginning of her career, Kirsten studied tourism and business before finding herself in Wellington, Sydney, and Melbourne for work. She returned to New Zealand for a tourism information technology (IT) company, yet life had another plan. Within two weeks of the devastating Christchurch earthquakes, Kirsten was flown to Auckland to be delivered the as-expected bad news. She, along with many others, would be made redundant. Kirsten accepted it. “It was a really sensible decision on their part. They were ahead of the game in understanding how affected the tourism industry was going to be.”

Her late husband then encouraged her to join his team in retail, that was soon to pivot into business IT. With a good hand in sales and management, Kirsten studied to become an accountant, to make up the last piece of the puzzle she lacked to understand the business entirely. After losing Austin, Kirsten took over the business, honouring her husband and the commitment she made to herself to move forward.

In an emotional interview, Kirsten is the definition of resilience. She explained accepting help was a dealbreaker in making life easier, from cooked meals arriving on her doorstep, to getting a hand looking after her kids. “From day one, my family, neighbours, and community were there for us. Our corporate clients said to us from day one, ‘we are not going anywhere.’” Kirsten recognised early that her coworkers had lost their boss, while the community had lost a friend. “In both spaces, I was able to talk really openly about my grief,” she explains. “When I went to pieces at home, I went to work, and when I went to pieces at work, I went home.” With no desire for anything else, her work life and family provided everything she needed. “It was just a little bubble for quite some time where that was it.”

Kirsten soon moved away from retail, branching into the space that fuelled herself and her team better. “To run a business that you’re not overly passionate about is really tricky, and we loved business IT but not retail,” she explains. Over the nine-month switchover, Kirsten’s general manager Alan Boxall and his wife emphasised their trust in the decision, and in Kirsten, coming on board as shareholders. Kirsten, Alan, and additional business partner Mark Howat have now been at the forefront of Global PC for the past four years.

A workplace of close-knit staff, most with young families, Kirsten stresses how important work-life balance is. “There’s never an issue if you’re late because you were dropping your kids to school or you’ve got to take them to swimming lessons. We go hard but there’s no begrudge when you want to put your family first.”

As a business owner, Kirsten has always felt the stigma that comes with being a mother and a business leader. From a young age, Kirsten knew she wanted to see herself at the top of the ladder. So, when she first took maternity leave, she returned to work as soon as she could. “I was determined not to lose my spot. It’s harder being a female because people expect you to prioritise your family.

I don’t think males in the workforce have that same pressure. We’re not defined by being a parent or a female.” Kirsten adds her wish for a better balance between juggling parental and workplace responsibilities. “We have a career that is 40 years, and it’s only a juggle for such a small part of it. We need more leniency for parents of both genders to make that juggle.”

Through restless nights, work became her saving grace. “Trapped,” at home with young children and no desire to be social, Kirsten got out her laptop and worked. After a few weeks, she realised that burning the midnight oil was what was keeping her daily to-do lists so small. “I take that forward now, because when I’m really under the pump, if I get up at four in the morning and do a couple of solid hours, the whole day is different.”

Overcoming the trauma, Kirsten hopes the example she’s setting her kids is to find fulfilment. Understanding that success does not look the same for everyone, she encourages them to focus on goals that make them happy, rather than what society deems successful.

While it is not the life she envisioned, Kirsten and her children walk each day with resilience, her husband, and their father walking silently aside them too.



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