Throughout her whole life, Amanda Thompson had the chance to choose and work hard toward her own goals. She got to play whatever sport she liked. She fought to stay at the school she loved. She chose her career path in the finance industry.
But there are some things in life she had no real control over.
At 33, Amanda unexpectedly became a single mother. At 34, she suffered from a heart attack. At 36, she was diagnosed with melanoma.
“Through certain parts of my life, and some really brutal experiences I’ve had through my life, I lost my identity,” she told Women’s Agenda.
“There’s no such thing as balance in my life. It’s perfectly unbalanced.”
Despite all the ups and downs life has thrown at her, the choices Amanda made have shone through. Now, she is a mother, a successful business owner in financial planning, an author and an elite endurance athlete.
Amanda is passionate about getting women “financially fit”, empowering them and giving them opportunities to make choices around money that work for their lives.
“There’s no use pointing fingers at why the gaps between men and women exist,” she said.
“Knowledge truly is power, and it’s the power of choice. For women, there’s no better time than to start now.”
Amanda and her brother were raised in a single parent household, and from a very early age, she learned that money was all about choices.
“I always knew that my mum struggled financially. But I was also aware of the choices she made to put family first,” she said.
Growing up, Amanda’s mother would make $100 stretch for the week for her and her brother. She would choose to go without new clothes or a new car, and these choices allowed Amanda to participate in every sport under the sun.
“I never felt like I went without,” Amanda said.
Amanda received a scholarship to attend a private school in Year 5 and 6, but for the rest of her schooling life, it was the hard work and generosity of her mother, grandparents and other family members that helped her stay at that school.
In her final two years of school, it was her own hard work that kept her there. Amanda was working 30 hours a week on top of her schooling and sporting commitments to hold her place.
“The idea of money for me always came with this thought of choice. We can choose what we want to do most of the time,” she said.
“We can choose to risk all of that money in gambling, or we could choose to have an experience, or to have instant gratification, or to put it away for retirement. It all comes with a choice.”
Career in a man’s world
Amanda went on to study sports science at university, encouraged by her school, but a two-week temporary job at a fund manager re-kindled her interest in becoming an accountant. So she went back to university and entered the industry as a financial advisor.
But it was a “man’s world”, Amanda said – and it was tough living in it, especially when, at 33, she unexpectedly became a single mum.
“The problem with working in corporate financial planning and becoming a single parent was trying to be perfect at both in a man’s world,” she said.
“The men would still be (at work) at 6-7pm at night because they’d go back home to meals cooked by their wives. Their wives would have picked up the kids from school, had them bathed… whereas I had to go home and make the meal and bath my kids.
“So I found myself working all hours of the night, but people just never saw that. So it was tough.”
It wasn’t just being a single mother that made working in corporate financial planning difficult, it was also being a single woman.
“Being a single female in a middle-aged white male arena was even tougher because it was kind of like I became meat. I wasn’t taken, I was single, I was free. It was just awful, actually,” she said.
“I got told… that I had to play as hard as I worked to fit in, and I had to learn to drink or play golf, otherwise I was never going to do business well.”
Amanda had a choice. She could have chosen to let her male-dominated colleagues, who were just as smart and capable as her, rise to the top. She could have chosen to perpetuate the beliefs that male clients had of her – that she wasn’t smart, wasn’t capable enough, as her male colleagues.
Instead, Amanda let her results as a financial planner speak for themselves. She was driven by her competitive edge and her determination to prove she could do it all.
At age 34, her life came to a halt when she had a heart attack.
“Having a heart attack at 34… the true definition of burnout,” she said.
“I worked myself to death – literally. I’m lucky to be here.”
Amanda spent four weeks in hospital, taking the time to reflect and assess her life and her choices.
“I realised a lot about myself and who I was, so I kind of really sat with my morals and values,” she said.
“It really drove home that I wanted to work with and for people that were on the same bandwidth as me in terms of having true goals and putting well being before anything else.
“I didn’t want people who were driven by money as the number one priority of life in my own life any more.”
It inspired her to embark on a new journey. In 2016, she chose to begin her own business, Endurance Financial, as a financial advisor. It was none other than her mother, the woman who taught Amanda the idea of choice that is inherently attached to money, that named the business.
With all she has learnt throughout her career and her personal life, there are two overarching things she wants to drive home.
“Money is a conduit to achieve personal goals… and it comes with emotion,” she said.
“For me, money will allow me to enjoy my children laughing on a ride at Disneyland, for example.
“I wanted to be around people that also felt the same way, and this is probably why my business morphed to like-minded women.”
Although women, on average, live six years’ longer than men, the national gender pay gap means women still retire with 43 per cent less superannuation.
“Which effectively means we need to make less money last longer than our male counterparts. That’s scary,” Amanda said.
“Until men can actually carry and give birth to babies, we are still going to be having career breaks.
“We have more societal expectations on us, and those societal expectations will often relate to negative money connotations.”
That is why Amanda’s business and her latest book, Financially Fit Women, targets women and provides them with financial advice to be “money fit”.
The business wasn’t without its challenges. As a single parent, living on a single income and raising two children, it was hard.
And it wasn’t long until life threw Amanda another curve ball. At 36 years old, she was diagnosed with cancer.
“Most things I can rise from, but cancer was something I don’t have a single bit of control over,” Amanda said.
Amanda had a choice. She could have chosen to give up, to throw in the towel. She could have chosen to let her illness win.
Instead, she chose to enter a triathlon.
“That, to me, was something that I could control,” Amanda said.
“And it was the most therapeutic and eye-opening thing I’d ever done.
To Amanda, training for triathlons, Ironman competitions and any endurance fitness challenge she can sign up for is a chance to rise to a challenge, to commit to achieving a personal best. It is a retreat and respite from her work, her family and her health issues.
Most of all, it is a choice she has made for herself and herself only.
“There’s a saying in triathlon – that halfway through, you meet yourself,” Amanda said.
“And it is so true, because you are so physically and emotionally depleted. The only person standing in front of you is your very true self.”
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