Susan Carland’s life is frenetically busy. That’s not so surprising for someone who is a full-time university lecturer and researcher, media personality, speaker, mother to two kids, and author of the recently published book Fighting Hislam. What is striking is her jovial and relaxed demeanour, as she recounts her ‘all over the place’ routine.
Dismantling any assumption that it’s possible to be both busy and perfectly composed, Susan admits there are plenty of moments of stress and overwhelm throughout her days. ‘I rush around like a maniac,’ – an admission that only confirms her down-to-earth charm.
For Susan, what helps to keep everything in perspective is sleep, exercise and plenty of lists. ‘When I feel myself getting overwhelmed I know it’s time to go to bed!’ she says.
Asking for help also makes a big difference. ‘There is no point in feeling miserable or even resentful if you are not telling people you need assistance.’
Being married to The Project’s co-host Waleed Aly can at times create a sense of living in a 24-hour household. ‘He is a night owl and I love getting up early in the morning, so I feel like the lights are on all the time in this house.’
Despite the pair’s conflicting and busy schedules, after 15 years of marriage they continue to make time for brunch most mornings. ‘It would be really easy to lose sight of each other, so it’s a good thing for us to try to hang onto rituals where we are reconnecting just the two of us.’
There are many moments in Susan’s day that prioritise this sense of connection – from listing three good things and one bad thing that happens each day with the kids over dinner, to nightly cups of tea with Waleed before bed.
Finding time for these quiet moments of happiness requires a constant checking of priorities. ‘There is my work, my family and then there are lots of things on top of that that are vaguely connected in one way or another. I want to say yes to everything, but I have keep reminding myself that every time I say yes to one thing, I’m saying no to something else – be it my kids, my job, or my sleep.’
Susan reminds us that there is no perfect balance for anyone when it comes to building relationships of any kind, and doing meaningful work. Rather, life is a series of trade-offs, and it’s okay if it’s a little all over the shop from time to time.
I’m pretty all over the place! I would love to be able to say that every day I get up and follow a particular routine, because I find it quite soothing, but because the nature of my work is all over the shop, every day is different.
Going to bed early and getting up early is my favourite thing to do – the other day I woke up at 3:40am – I bloody loved it!
But sometimes, if I’m up working really late, I’ll sleep till 7am. Sleep is more important to me than sticking to a schedule and feeling horrendous all day.
The first thing I do when I’m up is drink three coffees in a row while I check my emails and the news.
When I feel vaguely awake I head to the gym and do 45 minutes or an hour of something cardio-esque that doesn’t require any thinking. It’s so good for me mentally, especially if I’m feeling stressed or agitated.
I pray five times a day and that is a real recalibration too. When I am at the gym I will read a litany while I’m on the exercise bike and that really helps settle me and clarify my purpose and intention – intention is a really big thing in Islam, similar to Buddhism, actually.
While I’m at the gym I will listen to podcasts or watch TV. I normally end my workout on the exercise bike so I can pay my bills on my phone and answer emails or the many text messages I haven’t got back to – I can’t believe I still have any friends, I’m so terrible at that!
I’ll come home and the kids will be getting themselves ready for school. If I know I’m not going to be home that the night, I might cook dinner so the babysitter has a nice home-cooked meal to have with the kids. I might also put a load of washing on while I’m helping my son pack his lunch for school.
I never do the shopping until we’ve run out of food, which is such a dumb silly thing to do! So I might do an order for Coles online – I could tell Waleed to go, but by the time I make a list I may as well order it online.
I can’t eat before I go to the gym – it just makes me want to vomit – so I’ll eat a bit later.
Because Waleed and I are on different body clocks, one of our favourite things to do is have brunch together. We spend far too much doing it, but as Waleed says, it’s cheaper than getting counselling! We just sit there and chat to each other and it’s our favourite part of the day.
What happens after brunch really depends on my day – certainly if I’m teaching I’ll head off to Monash, lecture or tutor or go to a meeting. I try to go to Monash as much as I can, not just for the teaching but also for my office!
When you live with your partner and kids there is no space that is your own – but my office is my own quiet space and I love just going there. I also work from home a lot, but when I do I find myself putting on that load of washing, or quickly unstacking the dishwasher. It’s too easy to lose focus!
Other times I might have media things, and there seems to be a lot of photo shoots!
There’s also so much travel – I don’t even unpack my toiletry bag anymore. I do always just feel exhausted. I’ve just got this sense I’m going to feel tired for the rest of my life! The tricky thing for me with travel is sorting out care for the kids. I try to organise as much as I can before I go so it runs as smoothly as possible, but in the end if they live off takeaway dinners the entire time I’m away, I just have to let that go and know they will be fine. Everything is just triage – what is the most pressing issue here, and everything else has to fumble along.
When I’m home I usually pick up our son from school. Normally I will make something for dinner and chat with the kids and check in with what is happening with their day – if there is homework to do be done or music practice I will supervise that.
I’m always checking my email and responding to work stuff, always.
The kids and I will sit down at the table for dinner we always play this thing called 3-G-B or high-low where we share three good things that happened and one bad thing. Often I think as parents we shield our kids from the bad or hard things that happen in life – and that is important certainly, you don’t want kids worrying about adult problems – but this is showing them it’s okay to share these bad things as a family.
Occasionally we will watch The Project, but not every night because it’s often when we are having dinner. Waleed normally gets home at about eight o’clock and I’ll be getting the kids into the shower and ready for bed, but it’s good that he gets to see them before they go to sleep and have time to chat and catch up.
I know we sound like the most boring old couple, but we do love having cups of tea together. We don’t drink alcohol, so we will have a really nice tea blend that Waleed brought back from London.
If we don’t have much work to do and I can stay awake, we also like watching a series together. Then I’ll normally stumble to bed and Waleed will stay awake for a while because his brain doesn’t normally wind down till after midnight.
‘Two things make a life extraordinary: deep, meaningful relationships with friends and family; and meaningful work, whatever that may be. Meaningful work is not attached to how many people know about it, it’s work with purpose that makes society better in one way or another. And there are a lot of ways to do that – staying at home raising your children, or working as electrician or a plumber, that is meaningful work, that is work that makes people’s lives better.’
Fighting Hislam is published by Melbourne University Press and retails for $24.95 at Booktopia and all good bookstores.