Get out of Teaching

Episode 2 Get out of Teaching Podcast: Elizabeth with Robyn Hawke (interior designer)

February 09, 2020 Elizabeth Diacos Season 1 Episode 2
Get out of Teaching
Episode 2 Get out of Teaching Podcast: Elizabeth with Robyn Hawke (interior designer)
Get out of Teaching
Episode 2 Get out of Teaching Podcast: Elizabeth with Robyn Hawke (interior designer)
Feb 09, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
Elizabeth Diacos

In Episode 2 of Get out of Teaching, Elizabeth Diacos interviews Robyn Hawke, founder of Inspired Spaces. Robyn shares her story of her journey out of Education, the training she needed to do to work in her current role and the fears she faced about whether or not to stay or go.

At age 43, with a severely disabled teenage daughter, a 6-year-old daughter and a husband who frequently travelled, Robyn took the bold decision to go back to full time study.

Giving up a solid 20-year career in high school, teaching design, she chose to follow her passion. Despite all her in-depth knowledge, she still felt it was imperative to become fully qualified so she could confidently offer clients professional, knowledgeable and quantitative skills to give them comfort that her designs would be both structurally and aesthetically robust.

After graduating from the 3-year design course at Nepean Design Centre, she worked for Clarendon Homes to gain invaluable experience, learning how to design everything including the kitchen sink. This knowledge allowed her to understand contracts, builder’s inclusions and anything associated with building.

Living in Sydney, Australia Robyn can be contacted for interior design work at
P: 02 9894 7548  I  M: 0401 068 670
E:  I



Show Notes Transcript

In Episode 2 of Get out of Teaching, Elizabeth Diacos interviews Robyn Hawke, founder of Inspired Spaces. Robyn shares her story of her journey out of Education, the training she needed to do to work in her current role and the fears she faced about whether or not to stay or go.

At age 43, with a severely disabled teenage daughter, a 6-year-old daughter and a husband who frequently travelled, Robyn took the bold decision to go back to full time study.

Giving up a solid 20-year career in high school, teaching design, she chose to follow her passion. Despite all her in-depth knowledge, she still felt it was imperative to become fully qualified so she could confidently offer clients professional, knowledgeable and quantitative skills to give them comfort that her designs would be both structurally and aesthetically robust.

After graduating from the 3-year design course at Nepean Design Centre, she worked for Clarendon Homes to gain invaluable experience, learning how to design everything including the kitchen sink. This knowledge allowed her to understand contracts, builder’s inclusions and anything associated with building.

Living in Sydney, Australia Robyn can be contacted for interior design work at
P: 02 9894 7548  I  M: 0401 068 670
E:  I



Elizabeth Diacos:   0:01
Welcome to the get out of teaching podcast presented by Larksong Enterprises. I'm your host, Elizabeth Diacos. On the show, we'll look at the who, what, why, where, when and how of moving out of your Education career and into a life you love.  

Elizabeth Diacos:   0:17
We'll meet ex teachers, delve into what we love about teaching and how to translate that into something new. We will talk to people who can support and inspire us as we make the transition and work on identifying the legacy we want to leave in the world. So come along for the ride as we get out of teaching!  

Elizabeth Diacos:   0:39
Episode two:  Welcome to the Get out of Teaching podcast and today's guest on the show is Robyn Hawke and Robyn is an ex -teacher from Sydney  and now she's running a design company called Inspired Spaces. So, Robyn, thank you so much for joining me on the show today, and I guess maybe you should be really introducing yourself. Can you give us a little bit of your backstory about how you got into teaching and what was the context of where you were teaching and and how that impacted on you and your family.

Robyn Hawke:   1:15
Okay, so we're in for a bit of a saga. Epic story here... I was one of those kids that was at school very, very shy. Always, always interested in design, but didn't have the confidence to actually take it further. So I was offered two scholarship to teaching so I took 'em. It was in teaching design. So it wasn't totally left field to go into interior design, but even partway through the degree course, I knew it wasn't what I wanted. But back then, you didn't leave a course, you stayed there. You finished it. So I finished the four year degree, then tried to get a job outside of teaching and wasn't  successful. I could always get down to the last two interviews, but didn't quite have the right qualification to get over the line. So accepted a teaching position at a good school. A very, very good school... did that...

Elizabeth Diacos:   2:11
So was that in Sydney?

Robyn Hawke:   2:13
That was in Sydney. Yes, ah, then there was, you know, forced transfers etcetera, etcetera. So then I ended up in a whole variety of different schools. I think I taught at a total of seven different schools,  so a lot of different socioeconomic groups, lot of different cultural groups, etcetera. Then I had my daughter in 1987 but she was born with severe disability and I actually had resigned from teaching. I had actually no intention of ever going back to teaching, but she required 24 hour care. She required every waking hour to train muscles to work properly... feeding because she had a heart condition. Feeding was was just tiresome. Ongoing emotionally and physically. We had to set the alarm every two hours to feed her 24 hours a day and all these things. And in and out of I went back to work one day a week just to have a break.

Elizabeth Diacos:   3:15
That's ironic, isn't it? Usually people want to take a day off from work, OK...

Robyn Hawke:   3:20
Yeah. My mum looked after her and did her therapies for her for that one day ...two became three, three became four. Next minute I'm running the department again and I'm working full time. Because of her disabilities...back then...she's 32 now. Back then, you didn't really have vacation care. We didn't have out of school care. So I was forced to really stay in the system because of her  needs, with the school holidays and  finding someone to do it and my husband's job took him overseas and interstate all the time. And that wasn't a conscious decision that he would be the breadwinner. But he earned so much more than me and because she was under 10 specialists, it was a logical solution to do.

Elizabeth Diacos:   4:09

Robyn Hawke:   4:34
but it came to a head in about 2002. I think she might have been about 14 or 15 at that time, and I was constantly reminded in the classroom about what she couldn't do, what she couldn't achieve. What she won't, wouldn't achieve.the because.

Elizabeth Diacos:   4:34
Was that because you were comparing her to your own students? 

Robyn Hawke:   4:34
Yes, I was. And that was subconscious. It wasn't a conscious thing. It was only later that I realised that I was.. I was getting there is short with the kids, losing it with them and because they had a chip on their shoulder about what I considered were very insignificant things because Mum and Dad's budget was a bit tight that week and they couldn't do what they wanted... things that I just thought were irrelevant.  

Robyn Hawke:   5:00
But obviously to a teenager, it was big time. But I had no empathy for that. I was sick of using humour, I used humour a lot in the classroom because that was...I've been at some tough schools a tough school. Some tough teaching schools. And humour was my way of controlling the classes, but that's exhausting. So you're finding yourself coming home, yelling at your own kids. But you're using humour on someone else, and I just thought...that's not right.    

Elizabeth Diacos:   0:00

Robyn Hawke:   5:26
One day I was just walking through the office and the principal said to me.. "How  are you Robyn?", I broke down...left. She sent me home thinking I'd come back because I was running the department, I was on the Finance Committee, I was on the management committee. I was running extra classes for computing studies for design the whole bit... writing curriculum to be approved by the board. So I was doing all that. So she just assumed I would be back. I never walked back into that school again, couldn't make another step in! So, took three months, sick leave, ran out of sick leave and took three months extended leave, leave without pay and in that time looked at what I wanted to do and every single thing that I wanted to do and loved to do was to do with design. Now, originally at school, I always want to be a fashion designer. But as I said, I didn't have the confidence, but we went through, looked at my age and really my age when I went back to full time study to do the interior design course it was actually an advantage because I'd had life experiences. I knew how spaces need to function. I knew how things needed to function. So that was to my advantage. Whereas...

Elizabeth Diacos:   6:40
 ...just let me stop me there for a moment. Do you mind me asking how old you were when you did go back, to further study ? More or less?

Robyn Hawke:   0:00

Elizabeth Diacos:   6:54
 Okay. All right. That's what I was when I started teaching!

Robyn Hawke:   6:55
Oh, right (laughter).I was   42. And so then, as I said then fashion design would have gone against me. That age would have gone against me to try and break in the fashion industry. And, so, I thought: interior design. And although I could have actually just got an ABN and set up a business, I wasn't confident enough to do that. Plus, I wanted to do more than just toss cushions, so I didn't want to, just to be a decorator. I actually wanted to be a designer, and as such, as I said to you before, we do big renovations and extensions, I need to know a lot of building and construction and all that. So I needed to study for that. So we're back to three years full time study to do that. A huge commitment from all the family...Yeah. And, you know, and luckily, we were in a position, in a financial position that even though it was a strain, we could still do it.

Elizabeth Diacos:   7:55
Right, that I was going to ask you about that. Because when I went back to do my masters, I've now still got a student.. like a HECS debt... A higher education debt from doing that extra study. So how did,  was that a consideration for you? That just accruing more debt while you did further study?  

Robyn Hawke:   8:15
Yes, It was something that had stopped me earlier. Like years earlier. I wanted to leave, but there was also, you've got that mortgage to repay. Or you've got that surgery coming up for my daughter or we need a new orthotic. So..or we needed something to do with her. So it was always... can I walk away, can I walk away? It became obvious to both my husband and I that for my own mental health, I couldn't go back. Oh, and for the health of the family and couldn't go back. So, you know, it was hard. WeII, we're still doable. You're in a position at my age, at 42, you know,  your mortgage wasn't huge in comparison to when you were younger.

Elizabeth Diacos:   8:59

Robyn Hawke:   9:00
Yes. You had to tighten the purse strings, but it was doable.  

Elizabeth Diacos:   9:04
Yeah. Okay.  

Robyn Hawke:   9:05

Elizabeth Diacos:   9:06
And so,  was their fear around making this transition for you?

Robyn Hawke:   9:13
...a little. But, I think by the time I'd have six months off and I couldn't physically make myself walk back into that classroom. I think the fear had dissipated. Having said that, though, I didn't burn all bridges and I took another 18 months leave without pay. So...

Elizabeth Diacos:   9:32
Okay, so you actually were on leave for over two years, while you kind of worked out exactly what you wanted.

Robyn Hawke:   9:41
Yes. Yes. So I confirmed it in my mind that I was doing the right thing. So I hadn't burnt all my bridges.

Elizabeth Diacos:   9:49
So Okay, so there was this. There was the fear had dissipated by the time you actually went to do the study. So if if...

Robyn Hawke:   9:58
...the was the fear, the fear was more about the thought of walking back into a classroom...that was more fearful than leaving.

Elizabeth Diacos:   10:05
Yeah, okay, because people say that that you're...that its bravery to stay...and other people say it's brave to leave. So what would you say to that?

Robyn Hawke:   10:18
I think it's stupidity to stay.  

Elizabeth Diacos:   10:22

Robyn Hawke:   10:22
...maybe that's too strong a word. Stupidity for me, because it was affecting my family, it was affecting my health. I wasn't doing right by the kids in the classroom. 

Elizabeth Diacos:   0:00
  Yeah,...I wasn't being anywhere as an effective teacher as I could be because I didn't want to be there, and  it becomes a vicious cycle... we become... Then there's a resent happening, etcetera and then it goes around and round and round in circles so that I... for me , walking away...was it brave?  For me,  probably? Yes, People considered it very, very brave step to do. But from my perspective for staying was not a good option. Yeah, yeah, yeah, and it's very difficult. Everyone has a different know, I don't know people's mortgage repayments. I don't know their support system repayments. Do they need to stay where they are for various family reasons? Whatever. So it makes it hard. I think.  I can't say you can  definitively say anyone's brave or anyone stupid, or silly to stay. But in my case, it was definitely stupidity to stay

Elizabeth Diacos:   11:41
right? Yeah. Okay. So if, if you were to advise someone else in your position back then who was feeling just that it was unbearable. Untenable. To set foot back in the classroom (because I talked to a lot of teachers who feel that way). Who...It's just like such a struggle every day. They're crying in the car on the way to and from work. What would you say to them about when they're feeling sort of trapped like that? What was it that you drew on within yourself to overcome that? That sort of, I guess, the fear of the change, but also knowing that it was unbearable to, continue.

Robyn Hawke:   12:29
D'you know the catalyst... someone said to me, one of the professionals said to me... (Well, I think in hindsight she was probably saying it to goad me into it.) She said, "I don't think you're going to change. I think you're just going to keep going back to where you work, for all you're talking about it,  I don't think you will walk away". And it was like, you watch me, bitch! I will prove you wrong! And I think for me, that was the you know, that catalyst that.. Wait a minute. You're not going to tell me I'm a weakling for essentially inferring that I haven't got the strength of character to walk away. I'm going to show you I have!So was this the psychologist..that was the psychologistI'd been working with, yeah   

Elizabeth Diacos:   0:00
Wow...OK, so challenge accepted! ... Can you pee whenever you want to pee?!

Robyn Hawke:   0:00
Yeah, or have something to eat whenever you want to eat, or sit in your trackie -dacks all day, its that sort of thing. So, yeah, I suggest that you take the time. Sit down, give it for the first couple of weeks. Do nothing. Just do whatever you want to a book. Go  swimming. Whatever you want to do. Just do it so that you're not actually. So you actually having this downtime...You're not stressing about what am I going to do? Just let your body relax. You know, give itself heal itself.  

Elizabeth Diacos:   15:14

Robyn Hawke:   15:14
Once you've done that then The key to me was actually writing down two columns: Every single thing I love to do whether it be. ..And I didn't specifically have to be design. It could be like fixing up bedrooms, making clothes, doing my art classes, reading books doing that. And then I had another list of: What a really dislike doing and it then came down and it became down that it's just a brain dump you didn't even think about. It was just a... Absolute brain dump of the things you love to do the things you dislike, to do. Because. then it came out that everything I did ('cause I even looked at, before going into interior design, I actually looked at even possibly event planning) 'Cause again, that's a design component  in doing all that sort of thing. I also, in that time there, before I went back before time study, to fill up my time during the week, I actually just did as business certificate in business administration.  

Elizabeth Diacos:   16:23

Robyn Hawke:   16:24
...and again, that was just to keep the brain going because I had this vague idea Well, yeah, I might set up a business at some point. And that was because of my daughter's disability. It was... She's getting to the age where we didn't have school transport. She was going into adult facilities... to have to get her there and home. It was a sort of situation whereby it was very difficult to actually...actually to work out the logistics. Even teaching. It was becoming a problem. Yeah, you wouldn't be able to get there on get her to her day placement at the allotted time and be on time for classes, impossible. And there in the afternoons. And there was no care available before and after that. So there's always the idea that I set up a business. So that was in the back of my mind. I didn't know what sort of business, whether it be event planning....Whether it be decorating, designing? I wasn't sure whether it that was be dressmaking. Even tossed up all those ideas until I then started. So once I worked out, everything was design that I loved, I started researching.... What sort of take courses were available... and then I read the synopsis for the Interior Design one. and went... I love it, love it , love it, love it love it

Elizabeth Diacos:   17:46
Yeah. Okay. So what was the what was the actual qualification that you ended up with?

Robyn Hawke:   17:51
An Advanced Diploma in Interior Design.... as I said, because I taught design the thought of getting a degree... 1. I already had a degree. So I didn't need another one for my own self esteem. I've already proven myself that I could actually get a degree

Elizabeth Diacos:   0:00
  Yep   Didn't need the HECS fees and the TAFE was the cost effective one. And when admittedly,  when I did my qualification, there was only basically one Uni running the degree course, anyway, and so the events  diploma still had a lot of  status, whereas now, you'd probably go and get your degree

Elizabeth Diacos:   18:34
right. OK, so where did you do your advanced diploma?

Robyn Hawke:   18:38
Nepean Design centre.    

Elizabeth Diacos:   0:00
  Oh, nice, OK

Robyn Hawke:   18:40
Okay, that was again worked out. I could go on to Enmore, which had more of a status. But again, that was more to do with the fact that the impossibility of getting their logistically

Elizabeth Diacos:   18:52
Yeah, so travel Yes. So when I did my... I had the same issue. When I did my teaching qualification, I could have gone to Melbourne uni or, you know something more high status. But I live eight minutes drive from Latrobe. So that's where I did my Teaching.

Robyn Hawke:   19:07
You have You got family that you're going to look at

Elizabeth Diacos:   19:09
here. That's right. So we all make those decisions based on what's going to actually work for us. Okay, so... So it sounds like you've actually, if you've been in business now, for how long?

Robyn Hawke:   19:21
Set up the business in 2005. I registered the business in 2005 because I graduated...finished in 2005 However, I took a job. Well, actually what we did at the end of the course, as a reward for the whole family. We went overseas for six, six weeks and travelled Europe did that came back and got a job with Clarendon homes. And we worked with them... I worked with them for 15 months. And then they made us all redundant, which I was happy... I was bored. I was doing the fit out of people's homes rather than designing them. So it was wonderful, wonderful experience. I've learned so much about what goes into a house including the kitchen sink, including the hot water system, worked to understand plans and construction. That was an invaluable experience, but I was bored. So when they made us redundant. It was a good opportunity to actually take, take advantage of it and really concentrate. So even though I registered the  business in 2005, (I was still working small projects, but it wasn't the main focus). I need to add, though in between all this, I've had two bouts of serious illness, So the businesses was going... I had a back injury that left me virtually unable to walk and it took me three years to get back to where I was... got over that. Then I have breast cancer....Got over that... the business was up, down, up, down. But we got through it, and now it's really going.

Elizabeth Diacos:   21:09
But you are an amazingly resilient woman! To go through all that and to still be keeping going. That's incredible. Thank you for sharing your story. I really appreciate you...

Robyn Hawke:   21:19
Yeah...thank you...I've loved...

Elizabeth Diacos:   21:19
You telling us everything  

Robyn Hawke:   21:23
I've learnt through my daughter with disabilities that if you go on the "what if's"... you look back... You just sit in a corner and cry. So, if you look at what's possible, what is good...then you keep going

Elizabeth Diacos:   21:43
Yeah, Wow okay, so now you've been, you've had all these setbacks and yet you're still keeping on going. How's business for you now?

Robyn Hawke:   0:00

Elizabeth Diacos:   21:56
It's the start of 2020  It's pretty nice weather here in Melbourne, at least

Robyn Hawke:   22:01
It's shocking here. It's so hot and humid. No good... it's going really well. So we're actually aiming to go to Milan Design Fair. It's been on my bucket list forever so I'm actually going to the design fair in April, to Milan. Yes, so that's that's something that's just been on a vision board for so long. To actually be able to cross that off is going to be exciting. We're moving more and more into the design commercial space at  the moment. We'll never, ever give up our residential because we love it. However, from a financial point of view commercial's where it is because you finish a commercial job in six months. A residential takes you two years,

Elizabeth Diacos:   22:49
What would be the other way around?

Robyn Hawke:   22:52
No, no residential. Because if you go DA? You've got builders've got to do construction certificates. You've gotta do designs, you know, time you do it all. And like in, for instance, at the moment, we've got one in the DA that's in a fire zone. Because of all the fires, it has to be approved by the rural Fire service. So we're gpoing to be delayed and delayed...and delayed

Elizabeth Diacos:   23:19
... just for the lingo. I don't know what your lingo is. What's DA?

Robyn Hawke:   23:26
Ah... Development Application .

Elizabeth Diacos:   0:00
  Oh, I see...

Robyn Hawke:   23:27
We do all the development applications to council... and touch wood we've been 100% successful... shouldn't say that, should I? 

Elizabeth Diacos:   23:38
because we've had such bad bushfires in Australia this summer season. You're saying that from now on, if there's a house in a fire zone, it has to be approved by the fire service?

Robyn Hawke:   23:51
always has to be. If it's in what they call now, it's called a ?? 40 route in this particular house. So that means it's the next level from sort of, like ignition. So it's a really dangerous area. So it's always been that the Royal Fire Service then has to approve any extension so that you met the guidelines, you've used fireproof materials, you've cut off the eaves. Let's make sure the the eaves are securing and embers can't go in to it. I f you certain thickness certain types of gyprock that's fire resistant. All those sort of things. The windows are fire  resistant, so there's a number of those things, but they have to give the final approval

Elizabeth Diacos:   24:33
Well, so that's a whole other element of the expertise that you've developed since you left Education.

Robyn Hawke:   24:39
Oh yeah, I just pinch myself. The  irony is, I'd probably make the better teacher, design teacher now then what I was, because of my understanding... I truly, truly believe that I think our system is flawed, whereby we go from school to Uni and from Uni back to school.  

Elizabeth Diacos:   25:00

Robyn Hawke:   25:00
I was in the fortunate position in that my husband wasn't a teacher, so I had a little bit of the touch of the corporate life from, through him. But I really do think that's a flaw in the system. I really think we should have at least a year outside of an education environment as my personal opinion.

Elizabeth Diacos:   25:24
I was going to say institution...Environement's much kinder part of it. And I see that, too, with a lot of teachers who've actually spent their entire adult life in an education setting and never seen any other possibilities. And so then, when it comes time, when they're in their mid or late forties, even and they are or even into their fifties and they turn around and say, I can't stand this anymore, they're suddenly, you know, confronted with the possibility of having to step outside of that, that environment that that's all they know. It's really scary. 

Robyn Hawke:   26:02
It is. And like even in business, it's difficult. My biggest problem in business is the fact that I give away too much for free. And that comes back from teaching.. teaching's about freely giving information and knowledge away, and that that I do this and of course, as soon as I give them information about a design that I'm doing... It's left my mouth. And then you lose that..that is your IP. It's gone then.  So that is something about teaching. But having said that, I have no problems getting in front of 100, 200 people. I often do seminars to the general public. Don't know them. Do it at EXPO's etcetera. Stand up, Do that... doesn't worry me in the least, so that's a positive from teaching

Elizabeth Diacos:   26:48
Yeah, okay, so you develop the skill set where you're able to present in front of people. You've got the confidence to do that in a way that if you hadn't had that experience, that would be much more of a struggle.  

Robyn Hawke:   27:01
Oh, yeah, You see people who are brilliant at  the work and they're trying to do a presentation, and you just sit there cringing for them. Because you know, the presentations don't  make any logical sense. They mumble, they don't look at you. All these sort of thing, they don't...they just talk at you rather than interact with you. So.. so... It has been a skill set that's held me in good stead outside the classroom. Yeah, And even with Clarendon when I was working there. They used to give me all the difficult clients, and I'll be like, they said because you could handle them. He said you'd have them in putty in your hands, by the end,

Elizabeth Diacos:   27:44
you're used to dealing with parents and you know, your principal and other stakeholders in the school. So you  knew how to handle a difficult customer as well.

Robyn Hawke:   27:53
And then there are  one or two people who want to spend lots of money with you. I signed up to spend lots of money with you. So learning too rein them in was very easy in comparison to 30 rowdy teenagers on a Friday afternoon, last period and a stinking 40 degree day... And no air conditioning. Yeah!

Elizabeth Diacos:   28:18
Sounds like bliss... So if someone wanted to work with you, because, you said you do corporate as well as domestic ...

Robyn Hawke:   28:28
Residential, yeah?

Elizabeth Diacos:   28:36
...What would they need to do... what would be a good way for people to contact you if they wanted to work with someone who has got this amazing broad skill set?

Robyn Hawke:   28:37
Well, there's... You can contact me via the website, which is au 

Elizabeth Diacos:   28:44

Robyn Hawke:   28:44
You can come via our email which is either or

Elizabeth Diacos:   28:55
I put all that in the show notes for this episode so that they can find that easily. Yeah, Okay,

Robyn Hawke:   29:03
people sometimes goes.... Some will often get through messenger, but I do admit messenger sometimes I do miss those that way, so it's probably better not to approach that way.

Elizabeth Diacos:   29:14
Right? Brilliant. Robyn, thank you so much for your time today and for coming on the Get out of Teaching podcast. We really appreciate your wisdom and your insights and also the encouragement, I think that we get from knowing that someone like you who was really, you know, as you say, had been in that Education environment for years and years, and were able to make the break out and be successful in a completely new venture. And you obviously love what you do.

Robyn Hawke:   29:44
I love it. I don't mean sometimes I work seven days a week, but... I don't care. I actually don't see it as work!

Elizabeth Diacos:   29:54
Yeah, people say that if you if you can find something that you love to do, it won't feel like work. 

Robyn Hawke:   30:01
Yeah, it really does not feel like work to me. And I just get such joy out of people being so happy with the end result.

Elizabeth Diacos:   30:10
Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today.

Robyn Hawke:   30:14
Oh, thank you for having me. I hope you enjoyed it.

Elizabeth Diacos:   30:19
You've been listening to the get out of teaching podcast presented by Larksong Enterprises with your host Elizabeth Diacos. Do you know someone else who could benefit from hearing more stories of hope and transition from teachers all around the world? Please take a moment to share this and other episodes via your podcast app. Each share helps me reach listeners just like you, who can benefit from this content. The Get out of Teaching podcast is proud to be part of the Experts on Air podcast network. For show notes and other resources: Please visit podcast