Career

Kiwi women who've turned their passions into careers

Meet three Kiwi women who have made a career out of doing what they love.

By Sharon Stephenson

When I was eight, my dream job was to become an air stewardess. By the time I'd turned 10, I decided I wanted to be the female equivalent of James Bond (I wasn't sure exactly what he did, but I thought it looked cool).

Fast-forward to my teenage years, and various dream jobs had been identified and discarded including, in no particular order, a vet, lawyer, ice cream taster and prime minister. Fortunately, at some stage the planets aligned and I got to do my ultimate dream job – writing for magazines.

Just like finding our one true love, nailing a dream job is a goal that virtually everyone has. Probably because during the course of our lifetimes, we'll work around 90,000 hours – which is a lot of time to waste if you're not passionate about what you do. A recent US poll, for example, found around 70 per cent of workers were not actively 'engaged' in their jobs. What's more, a further 18 per cent hated their jobs so much they had actually tried to sabotage their company!

But while one person's ideal career might be another person's nightmare – flying a helicopter, for example, would be anathema to someone afraid of heights – we all have our own version of what constitutes a dream job. NEXT asked three women with highly covetable occupations how they took their passion and turned it into their dream career.

Jyoti Morningstar: Founder of a fashion yoga brand

It's hard not to envy Jyoti Morningstar. As the head of fashion yoga brand WE-AR, the 42-year-old spends half the year on Auckland's Waiheke Island, where she's just built a house tucked into the bush, and the rest in Bali, where her organic, ethically-produced garments are made. She also spends as much time as possible on the idyllic island of Gili Meno, off the coast of Indonesia, where her Spanish fiancé Enrique owns a hotel and yoga retreat.

"Do I have the dream job?" asks Jyoti, folding her tanned, yoga-honed legs into a chair.

"It might not be for everyone, but I love travel and not being in one place all the time. I'm also profoundly grateful for a successful business that's ethically, ecologically and financially sustainable."

Although she sounds British, Jyoti was born in Auckland to British expats.

"They were hippies but my name actually comes from my Anglo-Indian grandmother."

Looking for meaning
Her mother, a yoga teacher, inspired a love of yoga in her children. Jyoti grew up in Whanganui before moving to Wellington to study biological sciences, anthropology and contemporary religion.

"I've always had an interest in how people think and find meaning in life. It's a genuine curiosity that's been invaluable in business," she says.

Having inherited her travel gene from her parents, after finishing her degree Jyoti lived in Thailand, India and Australia as well five years in Japan, where she taught English and yoga. Back in Wellington, she opened her own yoga studio, which she ran for two years. But in 2005, Jyoti realised she wanted to help alleviate some of the poverty she'd seen during her travels, so she moved to Auckland to do a Masters in Development Studies.

"It wasn't hands-on enough for me. I dropped out to set up a company that would support those involved but also be founded on the core values of fair trade and sustainability."

WE-AR, a mash-up of the words 'we are' and 'wear', seemed the perfect opportunity to marry her love of yoga with fashion.

Learning on the job
"I've never trained as a designer but I have a certain aesthetic which seems to appeal. I've learned and developed my design skills along the way."

As with all great business ideas, Jyoti's fledgling label filled a yawning gap in the market.

A hit from the get-go
"At the time the only activewear you could buy was made from petrochemicals and plastics. I knew there was a gap for earth-friendly activewear that also looked good."

She began designing not only the garments but also the brightly coloured patterns, and in late 2005, Jyoti took her ideas to Bali. There she formed relationships with family-run producers who still pump out two fashion collections and one activewear range a year.

"That's about 130 designs a year," says Jyoti, who still creates all the designs herself. Initially she started wholesaling into stores in the US, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada, but seven years later she now has six brick-and-mortar stores, including two in Auckland and four in Bali. Online sales also account for almost 20 per cent of the label's turnover.

Although it's been hard work and more late nights than she can count, Jyoti admits she always knew WE-AR would be a success.

"It had a lot of resonance from the start. I'm so thankful customers understood and appreciated what I was doing."

Future plans include opening a store in Wellington this year, getting married in September and travelling with her new husband to see his family in Spain.

"I get so inspired by places I haven't been before. Last year we did a photo shoot in Andalucia and the amazing light and bleached-out colour there has filtered into my current design work. I'm so thankful this business allows me the flexibility to travel and have the kind of lifestyle that feels right for me. It really is my dream job."

Carla Potter: Tour manager

Carla Potter is describing what 100,000 screaming people sounds like. "It's a wave that gets bigger and bigger until the sound fills the entire stadium," says the 41-year-old.

Carla knows the sound well: the London-based Kiwi is a tour manager for international and Kiwi bands, including Broods, The Black Seeds and I Am Giant. She spends weeks, or even months, on the road in Europe, the US and Australia, organising everything from dates and concert venues to sorting out the sound equipment, hotels and catering for the band and crew. At times, that can mean Carla is responsible for up to 40 people.

It's a role she admits is "part camp mother, part babysitter and part troubleshooter".

Lightbulb moment
"When people ask what I do, I often tell them I babysit adults for a living!" she laughs.

"Fans don't see how much work goes on behind the scenes, particularly in setting up and keeping the wheels on the tour bus spinning. We start ironing out logistics months in advance."

It's an incredibly busy job, but it combines her three great loves: music, people and travel. But don't imagine Carla gets much time off to sight-see.

"People say to me, you're so lucky visiting all these countries but I usually just get to see the airport, the concert venue and the hotel. I've been to New York so many times but I've never even visited the Statue of Liberty!"

But the pluses make up for it: Carla has met Alice Cooper, Dave Grohl and the band Kiss, and dined with Chrissie Hynde.

"It'd be easy to get star-struck but you have to remind yourself this is a job and get on with it. Besides, I'm usually running to put out one fire after another, so there isn't time to be awestruck."

It's a long way from Westport, where the second daughter of a coal-mining father wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do. Carla's 'a-ha' moment came when she started dating the drummer of the Buller High School band.

"I realised I wanted to play the drums too!"

She later moved to Christchurch where she played support for bands such as Shihad and Head Like a Hole, before moving to Auckland when she was 25 to become a tour manager for acts like Blindspott, Elemeno P, Goodshirt and Goldenhorse.

Life was good. Maybe too good, because when she was 33, Carla "woke up and realised things were too comfortable. I needed to shake my life up". So she sold everything she owned and bought a one-way ticket to London.

"The Black Seeds were coming to Europe so I ended up managing their tour for a couple of months. And then the band Six60 came over and it just went from there."

It also helped that Carla fell in with Jaz Coleman, the former lead singer of UK band Killing Joke. She ended up working for his company, which manages bands like Charli XCX and The Libertines.

The call of home
Carla, who recently married long-time partner Adrian Dobbie, admits hers is a pretty charmed life.

"Homebodies or those who like their sleep might not think this is a dream job, but I love what I do and I'll keep going as long as the bands will have me. This kind of lifestyle gets in your blood."

But there have been hard moments. "In 2015 I was working with an Australian artist who was performing down the road from the Bataclan Theatre in Paris when the terrorist attacks happened. They locked the audience and our band in the venue for seven hours and wouldn't let us leave. It was horrible, people were crying and screaming and telecommunications were down so we couldn't text or phone. We were incredibly lucky though."

While travelling the world has its perks, Carla tries to get back to New Zealand every summer.

"As soon as it starts getting cold in London, I book my tickets home! I'm still working though, as there are usually music festivals or tours around New Zealand to manage."

Sandra Reid: Film programmer

Living in Paris would be dream enough for many of us. But imagine also being paid to fly around Europe to watch movies all day.

Sandra Reid doesn't have to imagine. Since 1994, the former Wellingtonian has spent several months a year sitting in darkened cinemas across Europe helping to select films for the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF).

Culture spree
"It really is a dream job," admits Sandra, 58. "It allows me to indulge my passion for cinema, to meet other people equally as passionate and to share that with audiences in New Zealand. Making a living while pursuing a passion is a rare situation to be in – what better dream job could there be?"

Sandra's first port of call is the Berlin International Film Festival in February, where she spends around 13 days attending screenings from 8am until midnight. She can sometimes watch up to six films a day.

And then it's onto the Cannes Film Festival in the South of France, followed by the London Film Festival and the world's largest documentary festival, which takes place in Amsterdam each November.

Film lovers will no doubt salivate at the thought of being one of the first in the world to see such a variety of movies, but Sandra says festival hopping can have its downsides.

The lure of travel
"There's a lot of standing around and running from one screening to queue to get into another screening. And there are hours of meetings with film distributors. Although I might get to see famous actors, I don't get close to any of them!"

There's also the fact long hours can play havoc with her wellbeing. "Sometimes we joke the only fruit we eat during a festival comes in the form of fruit lollies!"

But after so many years of helping to fill the NZIFF's annual programme of 170 or so films, Sandra says she still pinches herself that this is her life.

"If you'd told me I'd one day get to meet some incredibly talented film-makers and have a network of friends from around the world who do what I do, I would have laughed at you. But I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do this job."

The second eldest of six children of a social worker and teacher, Sandra was always drawn to the arts. After college she enrolled at the New Zealand Drama School and ended up acting in TV series Close to Home and at Auckland's Mercury Theatre. But the lure of an OE proved too much and when she was 21, Sandra headed first to London and then to Paris.

Nannying paid the bills for the first few years, until Sandra fell into costume designing for the theatre. "I'd loved fabrics since I was a child and knew my way around a theatre, so it was a good fit."

Returning home 10 years later, Sandra "stumbled" into a job with the NZIFF, handling film publicity. It was her entry to film programming, and when she returned to Paris for a relationship (it didn't work out), Sandra continued doing the job from there.

The parisien life
When she's not watching films for work or pleasure, she works as a freelance translator from her garden flat in Montreuil, a suburb around 15 minutes from the centre of Paris.

"I mainly translate texts related to the arts, including film scripts and copy for websites," says Sandra, who didn't speak a word of French when she arrived in Paris in 1981.

Sandra bought the one-bedroom apartment 10 years ago and owns another in the same block, which she rents out. "After so many years of living all over the place, it's great to finally have a base here."

Sandra manages to get back to New Zealand each year and admits it gets harder every time she leaves.

"Europe is changing and with Brexit and all the political rumblings, New Zealand is certainly a safe haven. But being a film programmer for the NZIFF is truly a once-in-a-lifetime job and I'll keep doing it as long as they'll let me."

How to find your dream job

read more from