Gretel Killeen has a particular set of skills. She’s part mother, netball coach and Judge Judy…and she’s here to solve your problems.



This is my first advice column. The plan is for it to be published monthly – unless it’s a complete flop.  I suspect, however, it will be a huge success because I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life and in the process have acquired great wisdom.

In fact, my advice is so good nowadays, that I’ve often found myself jealous of people who receive it. In this column, we’ll try to focus on career and work-life-love balance. Think of me as a cross between your mother, a netball coach, and Judge Judy. 

Having said that please don’t assume my advice is right. It’s your responsibility if you take it. And now, let us begin.




Dear Gretel, I work as a freelance writer in the arts. A while ago a co-worker asked me on a date and I declined. Since then she’s received a promotion and excluded me from all the projects we would have normally worked on together. This is hurtful and it’s affecting my career. I don’t know if she’s doing it to punish me or because she finds me so attractive that she can’t bear to have me around, but either way I don’t know what to do.


Dear Irresistibly Attractive,

Many people find themselves in this situation, not necessarily because they’re hot or beautiful. In fact, it’s even happened to me! The first time I experienced it I handled it very badly! He went on to global domination and I sat in a corner and whimpered about how it was all so unfair. So I know I’m supposed to side with you and say damn your workmate, dob her in, dress like a potato, publicly yell ‘I deserve to work on these jobs!’

But the reality is that people get left out of freelance work opportunities for a multiplicity of unfair reasons ⎯this is just one of them. People are rejected because they don’t join after-work drinks, because they have children, because of their age or gender, because they’re too nice or because their neighbour is the boss’s ex-wife’s sister! It’s wrong, and you could confront this woman, but I suspect she will never admit her actions or motivations and no one else will have even noticed. You can report her, if that’s the workplace process, but in the freelance world, it’s unlikely to be the case.

With the freedom of freelance comes a certain lack of protection – every job is an audition, a test, a trial, an advertisement for what you’re capable of. If you want to be successful you’ll not only need to have great work skills but the extra talents of resilience and self-confidence because a freelancer’s only real security comes from within.

So what should you do? Take a look at yourself  – because the biggest issue here may not be this woman, whose actions none of us condone, but the fact that you’re not made for the battlefields of freelancing.




Dear Gretel, I’m a husband and dad. My wife and I both work and are always exhausted. We have very little time together and rarely even have sex. When we do I’ve begun to suspect that she’s faking it. I find this rude and silly. But does it mean she’s no longer attracted to me?


Dear Sex Pot, 

Talk to your wife! She is possibly simply exhausted, or trying to expediently accommodate your desires in amongst all else she has to do (iron uniforms, prepare for a client presentation). Take time to talk and discover the truth, and in the meantime accept that faking an orgasm is not disrespectful, and she might actually just be trying to be polite.




Dear Gretel, my mother is ninety-three years old. She lives independently but is growing frail. I have two brothers but, while they love our mum, it doesn’t seem to occur to them to visit or take Mum to appointments. And so the responsibility falls to me. I’m annoyed about my brothers, but the problem is that doing everything for Mum is affecting my work. I keep having to take calls at work, miss meetings, and take days off. I’m not at risk of being fired but my lack of reliability in the office is affecting my career path, and my career is important to me. What should I do?


Dear Fabulous Daughter,

I’m glad you shared. There are so many people in your situation – good people wanting to do their best; juggling work and pissed off with their siblings.

First, I imagine you also get little praise or support. So let me tell you that what you’re doing is important. Now, you can try to share your Mum-load by talking to your brothers, creating a roster, letting them know how you feel and are struggling. But the reality is this possibly won’t work. 

You could talk to them about paying someone to take your mum to appointments and see if this changes things. It may. But most importantly we need to change you.  Treat your mum as you imagine you’d like to be treated yourself. We live in a world that treasures power in the workplace but surely a truly powerful life belongs to the person who can find time to give love to their loved ones.

Life is more than work. Life is about…well, experiencing life and all of its facets – the fabulous, the thankless, the well rewarded, the resented. You need to shun any notion that time spent with your mother is wasted and hindering your climbing of the corporate ladder. Life has thrown you a curly one but it’s not without lessons – for all we know you’re learning patience, compassion, and even time management – all of which may be the key qualities that help you get to the top of your career, albeit by a slightly unpredictable path.  



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