On the surface, media personality Mia Freedman has it all. Three kids, supportive husband, her own media empire, cool clothes, perfect teeth, high-profile friends and a long list of career achievements. She’s confident, bubbly and very sure of herself, which is why it’s so disarming when she admits she doubts herself – a lot.
“Of course I doubt myself – all the time,” she laughs. “I’m listening to what I’m saying now and I think I sound like I’m talking rubbish. I’m very nervous about this book coming out – not the personal revelations, but I’ve tried really really hard, harder than I’ve ever tried before. What if no one buys it? What if no one is interested?”
You would expect that self-doubt in someone less accomplished, but this is the woman who became the youngest editor of Cosmopolitan magazine at 24, then became editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, Cleo and Dolly at 32, followed by a short-lived stint in TV, which came to a swift and humiliating end in 2007 before she barely got started, leaving her out of work, depressed and anxious.
But with the drive and determination that seem part of her DNA, she dusted herself off and launched Mamamia from her loungeroom the same year. It started as a blog and in the past decade, has become Australia’s most popular women’s website.
So, after all she has achieved, why the self-doubt?
“It’s imposter syndrome,” she says matter-of-factly. “I don’t know any woman who doesn’t have it, no matter who they are. I have friends who are some of the most successful women in media and there’s no one who doesn’t doubt themselves. It’s that idea of comparisons. You can look at my life – she’s confident, she has a media company, three kids. That’s my highlight reel. In reality I’m eating cereal in the shower and I’m feeling guilty about buying my kids a supermarket cake rather than making one, and I’ve just finished having an argument with my husband.”
Freedman is often the target of criticism due to her outspoken views on a range of controversial subjects, but for someone who has spent such a large part of her life in the media spotlight, she’s unusually real and open. She shares photos and videos of herself looking less than polished on her Instagram account, which has 81,000 followers and speaks her mind freely, admitting she could sometimes be more diplomatic. No doubt she crafts her image to some extent, but the overall impression she conveys is that what you see is what you get.
And what you get in her new book, are warts-and-all stories of her failings and how she has learnt from them – what she calls, ‘flearnings’. She writes for the first time about the breakdown of her marriage, about her career setback at the Nine Network and about a recent miscarriage, which came at a time when her eldest son was leaving school.
“The emotional journey of your child leaving school – it just floored me,” she says.
“It destroyed me. I never expected that. What’s my role in my child’s life if he’s not a child? If he’s 18, who am I to him? It took a long time, it was real grieving. It coincided with acknowledging I wasn’t going to have any more children. I got pregnant around that time and ended up having a miscarriage. It was a bit of a life crisis and it took me by surprise.
“This is the fourth book I’ve written and was probably the hardest,” she says. “It’s different to everything I’ve written in the past. It’s first-person based and has a lot of memoir woven through it. It’s things I’ve learnt through trial and error, things that are common to women. Trying to balance a family with a career, issues like pregnancy loss, infertility, anxiety, eating disorders.”
Work Strife Balance is a self-help book, but it’s not a ‘be your best self’ book, something Freedman says puts even more pressure on women at a time when they’re already putting extraordinary pressure on themselves.
“There is so much pressure on women from the shots we see on Instagram and in magazines to now this idea of work-life balance,” she says. “We always feel we have to live up to these impossible ideals. What I wanted to explore with this book is the idea that there are times when you can lean into work, and times when you can lean into your family, times when you need to lean into your mental health. It’s not one size fits all. There’s not a single formula for feeling good. Some of my most happy times in my life have been when I’ve been incredibly unbalanced, leaning right into family or work and that’s OK. This idea that there’s only one way to be successful is really bad for women.
“Men aren’t talking about leaning in and leaning out, men aren’t feeling guilty they don’t have the right body or a thigh gap or the right meals in their kids’ lunchbox. Men aren’t constantly worried about those things. We burn so much energy, it’s so bad for us. I think we’re biologically programmed to compare ourselves. We’re all terrified we’re doing motherhood wrong, our appearance is wrong.
“[Author] Caitlin Moran says you have to treat yourself like your own baby. The things we say to ourselves, we would never say to our children.”
Freedman says she put off writing the book for a number of years, feeling other women wouldn’t want to hear advice from her, but after much encouragement from her husband Jason, she’s happy with the end result.
“At 45, having established a media company and been a parent for 20 years, I don’t feel like I have all the answers but I feel like I’ve learnt a lot and I feel like it’s OK to share that. I feel like I have permission to do that now.”