have always approached a job as something that I do so that I can enjoy my life outside of my job, even when I'm doing work that I find meaningful or that aligns with who I am or my personality in some way. Having to give an elevator pitch of my job to someone is a poor way for me to explain who I am as a person.
You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. My guest today is Amanda Young, who is a Service Delivery Relationship Lead in Melbourne Australia, working on risk mitigation and problem solving. Prior to this, she was a linguist focusing on how changes to the English language in Australia reflect the context of the wider society or...
what my PhD supervisor always called the seedy underbelly of language
Amanda likes coffee, reading, running, and finding new things to delight in. And in this episode, we focus on those diverse and delightful interests and what we can learn from them.
I used to think the confidence came from only being good at things. But making mistakes can be fun and funny. And part of the process, it doesn't have to be anxiety inducing.
We talk about Amanda's experience as a mixed-race Australian, multiculturalism, and her first trip to Vietnam to visit family.
When we got to the house, everybody kind of stopped. And every single one of us just burst into tears. It was so great. It was so emotional.
And because in the end, everything connects, we discuss how Amanda's hobbies and interests contribute to her success in the workplace.
A soft skill makes it sound as though it's almost useless. But in fact, I'm much more able to drive an outcome because people want to help me.
Amanda and I were good friends when I used to live in Melbourne and it was a great pleasure to reconnect with her for this wide ranging chat. I hope you enjoy it. It's Amanda Young coming up after the music break on today's episode of the Still Curious Podcast
Amanda, welcome to the podcast. How are you?
I'm good. Thank you. And thank you so much for having me.
Oh, It's a great pleasure. I'm going to start with asking you about your interests Cause there's so many of them. them and rather than ask you to list them, I think I'll just ask you what's in your calendar this week and we'll go from there.
Okay. I do have a lot of interests. I think this week, every morning I'll be doing either a workout or a run, and I'm currently doing a 30 days of yoga journey.
I try to do this every January and, full disclosure, this is the furthest I've ever got with it.
Usually about day 13 that falls by the wayside.
I had my vaccine booster recently and had some side effects, so I had to skip two days. So then I had to double up on two days as well, just to make sure that I caught up and I am planning to do some guitar every day and to improve my Excel skills. So I'm doing a course in that.
The 30 days of yoga journey. What's involved in that?
There's this fantastic YouTube channel called Yoga with Adrian and she has hundreds of yoga videos and every January she does this journey. That's free. Anyone can just go on there and she puts out a new video every day for people who are new to yoga or have been doing it for a long time. Just something that there can be some kind of community around.
And like a lot of people when it comes to January 1st, I need a resolution of some kind. And So for the past five or six years, this has been how I kick off the new year. And then I think like most people I fall off the bandwagon pretty early on. This year I've made it fairly far in the month.
So a week to go.
Nice. You keep coming back to it, is yoga something you do the rest of the time as part of your fitness regime anyway.
It used to be. I didn't do it for a long time but I know it's something that I usually need. It's interesting you ask that question because my dad asked me what happens after the 30 days ends.
Do you just stop? And I said, I probably should come up with a plan of what I'm going to do.
I don't think I can continue to do yoga every day forever, but hopefully I can find a way to get it in two or three times a week.
I'm wondering if you can paint a picture of the fitness schedule since that seems to be the bedrock of the calendar.
So four or five days a week in the morning, I go to the gym. The gym that I go to has a combination of boxing and running and treadmills. On the days that there is no running component, but I'm at the gym.
I will usually go for a run in the evenings on the days where I'm not at the gym. I will go for a run in the morning and otherwise I walk.
Very active.. it something that you do for enjoyment or is it for health or both?
It's for both of those. It's just something that I have done as long as I can remember. I enjoy physical activity. I enjoy being fit. It's good to have a focus. And that's usually the easiest focus for me.
If everything else is a disaster that week, I can always come back to the exercise and say, at least I did that.
Yeah, that's a really good point. There have been a lot of weeks over the last couple of years. I imagine when that's been an important thing to come back to.
I used to really enjoy running, but during lockdowns, when it became the only thing that I could do lost its sheen a little bit.
Let's talk a bit about when it had its sheen more perhaps. Cause I know you've participated in not a number a small number of Disney races and that's a really interesting kind of thing. such a huge community that probably a lot of people have never heard of.
Disney world in Florida and Disneyland Paris have race weekends, Disneyland, Anaheim use to, but they're not on at the moment. I've done rice weekends at both Florida and Paris. When you get there, the races start pretty early.
We're talking get there at 4:00 AM early, the only time jet lag has worked out well for me. So if you're staying on Disney property, there are shuttle buses that take you to the race, and I would say at least 80% of the people at the races are dressed in running outfits that might tie into the theme of the race.
For example, I did a 10 K with my dad that was Little Mermaid themed. He was dressed as the chef in Little Mermaid. I was dressed as Sebastian, the crab.
I saw someone dressed as a bathtub once, so people can get very creative and yeah, it's not easy to run in costume.
So when you get to the start of the race, there is a DJ there, the race announcers, there are Disney characters there.
You're waiting with a crowd of tens of thousands and the atmosphere is just absolutely buzzing. Once you start the race there's entertainment along the course, more photo opportunities with the Disney characters, you're running through the parks. So many people are lined up on the sidelines to cheer you on.
It's extremely fun.
It sounds really wholesome aside from anything else. So you've been to several of these at the different parks and you fly from Australia specifically for this and then go straight into it off the back of jetlag. Sounds really intense.
It is very intense. I don't think it would be easier if I weren't jetlagged though, because you're having to get up at two 30 in the morning. So the first time I did it, I did the 10 K with my dad, and then I did a half marathon the following day.
So I had to do it at the start of my trip because if I did it at the end of the trip, I would have been exhausted and probably the experience would not have been as fun. As it was, we had a great time doing that with lots of really nice memories and then we did another one, the following year with my sister's fiance. We were all going as characters from Peter Pan.
And who were you?
I was Smee. It was the one costume I had wanted to do ever since I first found out about Disney races. I just thought that would be a great costume.
That's Fantastic. How did you find out about this in the first place? This is a whole family affair. I imagine you're the one driving this.
I told my family one day, I'm going to do a half marathon in Disney world. And they said, ' we're going to come too'.
It was just such a nice time to spend together and such a great activity to do. I don't remember how I found out about it, to be honest. I've wanted to do it for so many years before I actually did maybe in a running magazine or something, but when I found out about it, I knew one day I'm doing that.
You strike me as someone who's always trying something new. What is an interest you've developed recently and how did that.
come about? You can say Excel if you want, or there might be something else.
There is definitely something else. I think that Excel is more out of necessity. Probably learning to play guitar. So we touched on that before, past couple of years there has not been a lot of opportunity to go out and do things. I really needed a hobby that was not baking bread or running. I needed to do something else.
And so I decided that I would learn an instrument and guitar seemed like a relatively easy instrument, not in that is easy to play, but in that it's easy to get a guitar. So my dad plays guitar as well. He dropped me off his old one and I learnt from that. So that was about the middle of 2020 when I picked that up.
And so it's not recent, but it's probably the most recent that has endured,
Yeah. A lot of things are for a season or a reason. And that
the baking bread.
Yeah. Well, I wanted to come back to the bread because there was a period during a lockdown where everyone got into sourdough starters and everything, but you'd already been doing all of that, for many years previously, hadn't you?
I was baking already previously, but actually I had never made bread before locked down.
Yeah. My sister really got into baking the bread and she's very good at it. So I didn't really see that much point in me picking it up because she was making extra loaves for me. I like bread, but there is only so much bread one person can eat.
So was that when you picked up the guitar instead?
It was during the first long lockdown that we had, or maybe the second long lockdown down. So I got the guitar from my dad and just decided, spend some time with this. And I didn't know how long that was going to go on for, and for some reason it's just stuck.
It's so easy to go over and pick up the guitar. It's just sitting behind me. If I need a small break from work, I can just turn around, grab the guitar, play a song or two helps me have that mental reset, put down the guitar, get back to work.
How do you go about learning something new?
I try a lot of different things to see what sticks rarely do I just go with the first thing that I try. It depends on what it is with guitar. I looked up a few YouTube instructors and I've just followed what they did. They had some kind of beginners program that you could follow along with.
And I landed on two that I liked their approach. I like the things that they were teaching. So I just went back and forth with them. I don't mind mixing and matching the approaches of two different teachers if I like them both. I probably am someone who needs to watch someone doing something and then do it myself as well. I'm terrible at just listening. Don't absorb any information that way whatsoever. Reading something is almost as bad.
That tends to be my approach for most things. And then if it's a particular skill that I might need for work or something I might pay for a course, just for that extra accountabilities there. If I think that I might have my interest flagging,
I will put the money down so that I stick with it.
So you take it more seriously if you've put some money down or is that because there's someone at the other end who might have opinions.
Yeah. You obviously know me very well. Theoretically, it's the money thing, but it's definitely not the money thing. It's the other thing,
Well, I think that's very normal actually. Isn't it? I a lot of good research that shows that's true.
I have not read anything about that, but I know for myself that is definitely true that I will follow through more with something if I know that somebody is expecting something from me or if they might follow up,
if it's some course, and there's an automatic thing that comes through, like with Duolingo, it bugs you every now and again to say, oh, you haven't done this and you haven't done that. It does that have the same effect It has to be a person on the other end.
Absolutely has to be a real life person, not a frightening owl.
Not that frightening when it wears the bathrobe.
I think that he's pretty frightening. I think that he's got a lot of power that he's not telling us about.
Well, he can speak a lot of languages. So...
That's definitely a power.
Which is probably a nice segue into your linguistics. You did. quite a bit of study as a linguist.
I did. I did a degree that initially was supposed to be in communications and linguistics. I took up for credit points and then I ended up finishing the course, doing an honors year, enrolling in a masters degree, not finishing the master's degree, jumping into a PhD program, not finishing the PhD program, but it was still a lot of years as a linguist.
When I picked it up for credit points, I didn't realize that it was something that I was going to fall in love with, but also something that I had been interested in since I was a kid. When I heard about linguistics, the first time I thought that meant grammar and I think that a lot of people think that linguistics is grammar.
And so when they find out that's what I studied, they get nervous that I'm judging their language, but that's what it's about.
like seeing the personal trainer and immediately apologizing for what you've eaten? Is it like meeting a linguist and then apologizing for your grammar
? I have never apologized to a personal trainer for what I've eaten.
You said something really interesting just now about falling in love with linguistics. You weren't expecting that but then you had already been interested in it, but there must have been a moment when that crystallized for you, that that was happening.
The linguistics that I was interested in when I was younger was along the lines more of what people traditionally think linguistics is, learning about the structures of language, which is definitely a part of linguistics. And that is something that at the university that I went to is taught to first years.
So it always had this nostalgia for me. When I was in my second year, maybe I was at my parents' house and I found one of my favorite books as a kid. And it turns out that it was actually just an exercise book full of language and linguistics exercises. I didn't remember that about the book. I thought it was just a story that I liked, but then when I looked through it again, I realized that about a third of it was just pages with these exercises that I had filled in.
Wow. You generally have to love something to be doing that kind of thing. Don't you?
I think so. I just, I didn't remember that part of it. I just saw the book and said, that is one of my favorite books as a kid. Picked it up, saw that and thought, okay!
It's called Little Singing River, some random book that probably was passed down through my family that ended up with me. Nobody else had filled in those pages, I can tell you that.
Did you read a lot when you're a little?
I did read a lot when I was little, I read a lot now, but when I was little, that was maybe my only hobby.
Not my only hobby, but it was the biggest one. I always had a book. I was always reading.
I don't know if you did this, but the MS readathon
... sounds vaguely familiar.
You would raise money for MS awareness by reading books and people could sponsor you. My primary school did it. And you get a page to fill in each book that you read and people can sponsor you a total amount or they can sponsor you per book. But I was one of those kids who filled in the page and then ask for an extra page to add the books too. And so after that they just gave a bulk donation.
Very wise and probably quite beneficial for MS. Did you have a favorite book when you were little or was it Little Singing River?
That was my favorite book, but not necessarily my favorite story. I really loved Rowan Of Rin, the Emily Rodda book as a kid.
It's actually a really sad book and I'm surprised that I liked it so much. It's about this boy named Rowan, who lives in a village called Rin. and the water comes from a mountain, but the river has dried up for some reason, definitely telling the story wrong.
So he goes with a group of travelers to find out what has happened. None of them want to go with him because he's a kid and he's weak and he's frail and they're all strong, tough adventurers. But along the way, something happens to each one of those adventurers. They get injured or they turn away for some reason. They have some traumatic memory that pops up that makes them unable to continue with the journey. So by the end of it, it's just Rowan who saves the day.
Wow, that sounds sad.
It is extremely sad. yeah, I never liked getting to the end of it. I never really relishing the fact that Rohan became the hero because I was so sad for him that by the end of it, there wasn't anyone with him, but the cattle got to have their water.
You're always good for a book recommendation and I think one of the best books you've ever recommended to me was A Thousand Splendid Suns. Is that a book that means something to you?
That is my most recommended book. I don't just recommend books that I love. I usually will ask people what their three to five favorite books are. So I get a feel of who they are as a reader. And then I will recommend something based on that, but A Thousand Splendid Suns is one that I will just recommend off the bat to most people. That is a really impactful book, really emotional book, just beautifully written. And the story is so sad, but it's also so warm.
I can very easily get lost in a book. I think that for some people you're getting this from TV shows and movies also works or podcasts or music. For me, it's the imagination of reading and imagining what's happening, but also the opportunity to close a page when it's a little bit too overwhelming, sit back, take it in and then dive back into it.
You don't necessarily get that with TV shows and movies. You can press pause, but the effect isn't quite the same, or it's not for me. If I'm pressing pause on a TV show or a movie it's because I've been distracted by something else.
Has there been a time that leaps out to you where you've been reading a book and you've gone? Oh, I'm going to close the book now because I just need a minute.
Most of the way through Lord of the Flies.
Yeah. That's not a nice book.
I would say that is another one that has really sat with me and changed my worldview, maybe even more than A Thousand Splendid Suns, but in the opposite way. I never recommend that book and I never want to read it. Not because it's not a great book because it is.
But as you say, it's not a nice book. Think that reading it once was definitely enough for me. It's had the longest lasting impact I think of any book that I've ever read, because occasionally I will still think about it and get chills.
Wow. What do you think about?
Just the terribleness of humans when they're left ungoverned. Just horrifying.
They're 14 years old and I'm not sure how long they're on this island, but just how absolutely feral they turn and how violent they become so quick. I've never seen a stuck on an island story where everyone decided that they were just going to be kind and nice and build shelters for each other.
It might be very boring.
One of the things I have to mention it on here because I never thought I would meet someone else who shared this kind of quirk, which is having irrational loathing of books that have a cover on them that are, so let's say, 'now a major motion picture'. Tell me about that, Amanda.
I don't even know what to say about that. You are right to say that its an irrational quirk and it is true that I share that with you. What I'm about to say really proves how irrational this is. I want to know what a cover illustrator thinks about the book and how that ties in with what the story is about, but the now major motion picture cover still does that because that is still someone else's interpretation of what that story is about. But for some reason it drives me absolutely bananas. It's probably just a form of snobbery. You can go back and say, I liked this book before it was cool. i.e., before it was made into a movie,
But also something about the way they look on the shelf.
It's that giant star that says now a major motion picture, which is really the worst of it.
Yeah. I don't know, maybe there are other people who feel this way and they'll come out of the woodwork and say something about it. So coming back to the linguistics, because that was really interesting. We've talked a bit about what linguistics is not about, what is linguistics about from perspective.
I suppose when I said linguistics is not about grammar, It is partly about that. The linguistics that I was looking at is just how language is actually used in the context of the society that it's in it's not about correctness, it's just, what's actually happening in a conversation in a community, in a society.
Do you have any examples about that looks like?
What I looked at was language, taboo in Australian English across time, and they're things that make people uncomfortable, things like gender identity, things like race, mental health. The words that we use to talk about those things change across time, because the way that you're referred to something can become offensive or rude or derogatory, even when it used to just be the standard.
And that has to do with a lot of things. But primarily what it has to do with is that when things are still considered to be taboo any language that you use to talk about them, even if it's co-opted by the people that it is referring to can eventually continue to become derogatory.
And so that new words need to be found each time until those things stop being a taboo.
I'd love to go a bit deeper on that. If you've got a specific example that you've particularly find interesting.
I think that when you talk about major depressive episodes, for example, they used to be called nervous breakdowns. That was really common way of referring to. A lot of people don't realize that a nervous breakdown is a major depressive episode.
They haven't connected in their head that those are the same thing, but they are. When people are thinking about nervous breakdowns, they're thinking about that happened 50 years in the past to people.
It's not something that happens anymore. It definitely happened. It's just that there wasn't anything in place for people to get that help that they needed. And so they thought when those things were happening, that was just, this person has had the nervous breakdown. They are unable to cope.
And you've got the change along the way, where there is support for people and people are able to come out and say that they have depression. When people who are in the public sphere, come out and say that this is something that they're struggling with, that breaks down that taboo.
And so it, isn't something that you need to be as wary of discussing,
And even though the language of saying nervous breakdown is not something that is particularly offensive. It definitely is a language change where people aren't really using that language anymore.
So you can see the societal change through the language that's used and how that shifts over time. Am I understanding that right?
Yeah. That's right. And not just in terms of a concept, but just a way of referring to something. The actual title of it, for example, but I can't think of any examples off the top of my that aren't more offensive than I'm comfortable saying.
That in itself is interesting to me because you're very polite, and studying taboo would put you in, contact with a lot of things that are less polite, I imagine. Can you tell me something about that?
I do try to be polite, I'm looking at these things and they're a good marker of what not to do, but between extremely polite and what my PhD supervisor always called the seedy underbelly of language there's a lot of gray area. The stuff that I was looking at was on the very, very far end of the spectrum of things that nobody would be saying to people's faces. A lot of the modern stuff I was looking at was just stuff that people were saying online. The historical stuff was stuff that only in the context of the society we live in now seems terrible, but probably was not terrible at that time.
that's I guess part of what's interesting about it. Isn't it?
Yeah. The changes of what seemed appropriate. You can go back a certain way and then you stop knowing if actually it was okay to talk about it like that in that time, you can't know for sure that people weren't saying these things, knowing that they were terrible things to be saying,
If someone wanted to explore this further, where would you point them as a good place to explore?
Anybody who's interested in taboo language or euphemisms or metaphors, I personally would recommend the work of my PhD supervisor, Kate Burridge. She has got some fantastic books that are easily consumable by non linguists.
And that's a good start, but also there's probably a lot of stuff online where you could just learn something on YouTube or a course run by a university that is focused on that one thing.
Do you still have a love of linguistics?
I don't have the same passion for it that I used to have. It's something that I'll always be interested in, but I can't see myself ever going down the path of jumping back in for that to be my career.
Something that comes up on the podcast a fair bit is that learning is never wasted. So with so many interests, are there things you've learned from say linguistics or other parts of your life that turn out to be surprisingly relevant or useful in other areas?
Something that I learnt a lot later than I wish I had learnt it. I wish I learned this a lot earlier is that making mistakes is okay when you're learning something new. I learned French on the weekends for a few years and there is simply no way to avoid making mistakes when you're learning to speak a language. Absolutely impossible. But what I learnt is that making mistakes can be fun and funny. And part of the process, it doesn't have to be anxiety inducing. That has helped me with everything I have learnt since then.
It's okay to be a beginner. It's okay to never be an expert at something. You can still love and enjoy something, even if you're not particularly good at it,
You don't have to max out a skill for it to be considered enjoyable.
So did you enjoy French? It's so complicated,
It is. I think that all languages, when you're learning them, are because you're always going to think of them in the context of the language that you already know.
I loved learning French. That used to be the focal point of my weekends because it was four hours every Saturday for a few years.
It was a big commitment but I made friends in that group and they were terrific and the teachers were fantastic. And even when you couldn't think of the right word and you knew that you knew it, but when you're trying to speak in real time, you just have to go with the flow and say what comes out and it can lead to some pretty funny results.
Yeah, I have had a similar experience learning German, which you also make a lot of mistakes, but It's less funny usually, but it's quite a big insight to have about the making mistakes and not needing it to be an anxiety inducing. That sounds really empowering. Was there a moment when you consciously realized that, or is it something that just gradually crept up on you over time?
It's something that gradually crept up on me over time. It's probably not even something that I've realized was happening until after I stopped doing French and when I noticed it was when I went to learn guitar which previously I probably would have avoided because I just knew that I would never be good enough at it.
Whereas this time I went in with a lot more time for myself and with the understanding that I was never going to be that good at it, but that was okay. That didn't mean that I couldn't enjoy it.
Yeah, as you're talking, I'm realizing that many of the things I enjoy most are things that are never going to be very good at. And don't put that pressure on me. That's so interesting.
It's a really nice thing to learn because I definitely was somebody who would pick up a hobby and then I would hold onto it and I would run with it. And I would create a goal for myself out of that hobby. A lot of the time that was so farfetched that when I wasn't making linear progress towards that goal, in relation to that hobby, I would at best feel really anxious about it.
And at worst feel like an absolute failure. Learning French stopped that for me and now I'm much more open to trying new things.
I'm curious how that connects with what we said right at the start about, accountability and having someone on the other end, who's might have opinions about how you're going. Is there a connection there?
Yes, there is a connection there, and it is still something that I find a little bit nerve wracking to know that somebody might be judging. But the difference is that I've come to learn that getting feedback is not a bad thing. The feedback that I'm getting can only help me, whether it's something that I want to take on or not.
That still helpful. judgment came from feeling like a failure Like in myself, it wasn't that I felt the person giving feedback was actually judging me. So when I am paying money for something and having somebody look at something, it used to be that I would avoid that in all possible senses.
But now I'm just seeing it as a step or something that can help me. And so more willing to do that.
That's a big thing, I think. You said something really interesting there about feedback as a kind of gift, but also you can decide what to take on and what not to. It took me a long time to realize that about feedback, that you can decide what to do with it.
Yeah. I think that if you go in with your defenses up, which is how I approached it and seeing feedback as some kind of attack, it's horrible, but it doesn't have to be like that. Particularly if you're the one who was seeking out the feedback, you can seek it out from people who you trust to give you the best feedback that they can and who are doing it in your best interests.
Yeah. And that way lies growth, I think.
I think so too. It's been a massive shift for me.
Hey, we're at risk at getting insightful or serious here. I think, let's head that off at the pass.
One of the things I find really fascinating about all the interests you have, is they're quite private and compartmentalized? Do people who think they know you often turn out to be surprised at what else you have going on?
Yeah, there's usually at least one thing when