WorkLife Profiles: Jake de Luca

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Jake having his morning coffee on the balcony at WorkLife Berry

Jake is a healthcare HR and recruitment consultant and an aspiring aviator. He, his wife Lucy and son Alfie shifted from Sydney’s northern beaches to Kangaroo Valley seven years ago. Jake is often seen in Berry sporting his signature red Converse (their slim soles are perfect for controlling the rudder pedals of a Citabria aircraft) and an aviation theory textbook tucked under his arm. Here he sits down for a WorkLife Balance chat; letting us in on his special brand of blue sky dreaming, where to find the best goat curry outside Brick Lane and how the key to success can be as simple as remembering to put one foot in front of the other, breathe, blink then repeat.

1. How and when did you choose life? What’s your tree change story?

My tree change story started when my dear Australian wife took me down the South Coast to Jervis Bay. We headed through Kangaroo Valley on the way home. It reminded me of the UK, where I grew up. It didn’t necessarily feel like home, but there was something about the beautiful rolling green hills and the cows and we always thought; “hey, how nice would it be to bite the bullet and live down here?”. At the time I was sitting in traffic in what could be a 90 minute commute to the city from the Northern Beaches. I was working for a recruitment firm where ‘working from home’ just wasn’t an option. So there wasn’t much in the way of work life balance. Added to that our son Alfie just wasn’t enjoying school. He was one kid in a class of 35 in Sydney and was getting completely lost. So we made the leap. We sold our house in Narrabeen and built a house in Kangaroo Valley and now we’re living the dream. In Year 2 down here Alfie lucked in with an awesome teacher. He was one in a class of 12. That one on one attention was a game changer and he started to flourish. He loves school now. It was mainly for him that we made the shift.

2. What was your greatest fear about making the leap?

Having to go back to Sydney with our tail between our legs. The biggest fear for was me working for myself again. I set out my own shingle in HealthCareFirst as a recruitment and HR consultancy for the health care industry. I’ve got a background in Health Science and fell into recruitment after university and have been in it for 15 years. Moving down was the first time in a while I’d been working for myself, so I certainly felt the pressure.

3. What’s been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?

It’s been maintaining a relative solid income for the last five years. If that works, then it opens up other opportunities. Making that a reality hasn’t necessarily been about putting in long hours, it’s about making the hours count. Down here, I’m doing the pick up and drop offs at school. My wife Lucy still works as an Executive Producer for a commercial television station in Sydney four days a week. But no longer having a massive commute makes such a difference to daily life. I can do school drop off, be at a desk by 9, then knock off by 4 and have got everything done in between. Then there’s time to jump on the ride-on mower and slash the acres of grass, you know — country life. The work balance was the thing I was striving for. Since we got here I’ve been trying to work smart, not hard.

4. How does it work for the rest of the family? What’s been the impact on them?

The commute up to Sydney each week is tough for my wife, but we have an apartment up there that she can stay in, which makes things easier. Alfie’s now in high school and doing great down here. He’s just got his first job in a nursery in Kangaroo Valley. He’s getting remunerated in plants. He’s really into his science. He is striving towards becoming a vet when he’s older. So plants and all things science work just fine for him right now.

5. What’s the biggest cliché of country life that’s turned out to be true?

Everyone knows your business. You can’t hide from anything. I’ve only been working in Berry for 11 months. And I don’t even live here. But everyone, even the cafes, they know who you are. They call you by your first name and know your business. You say one thing and it ricochets around town before you know it. But that can also be a good thing.

6. Is there anything that’s been a surprise to you?

Everyone’s got more time for you. For instance, you might say one thing in the pub on a Sunday afternoon about your wife and son being away for school holidays. And everyone knows you can’t cook. So before you know it you’ve been invited into friends’ houses for burgers on Monday and Indian on Wednesday and the pub with a gang on Thursday. You would never get that in the city.

7. The hundred thousand dollar question. When it comes to money, how do you make it work?

Still having a connection to Sydney makes a massive difference. Lucy is still working in Sydney. We also have started leaning on AirBnb, both in our apartment in Sydney and the house down here, so other folks from Sydney can come and smell the cow poo and appreciate Kangaroo Valley as a holiday destination. That helps. Real estate aside, there’s a tourist tax that you pay living in Kangaroo Valley all week, particularly when it comes to the price of food or things like coffee. Meanwhile I’m working in an industry that is technically recession proof. Since we moved I’ve been doing the lead parent/ Daddy-Daycare thing Monday to Thursday and getting Alfie through school. Being down here, you’ve committed to making things work. If I was in the city working on my own and found after six months that I wasn’t making much income it would be so much easier to say ‘stuff this’ and go work for someone else. But down here, you have to make it work. You put one foot in front of the other, breathe, blink you’ll will make it work.

8. What’s your passion project/side gig? Is there anything that you’re hustling on?

I’m doing my pilot’s licence at Wollongong airport at Albion Park. I’ve been working in the health and medical industry for 15 years and do a lot of work with rural and regional health services. They struggle to get good clinicians and good supplies. Added to that, Australia is not getting any smaller in size. Aviation is the next boom. The dream is to fly urgent medical supplies. I’ve got a real passion for helping people in regional areas. If they had a decent air service in supplies, then flying that route would be my ultimate gig. I’ve locked in 30 hours of flight time so far. To get my first licence it’ll probably take me another 15. Then I’ve got to knuckled down for the second. To put yourself through flight school is about the same cost and duration as a university degree. It’s a lot of information to take on board that you have to know. It’s an applied science. I’ve got probably another four years. The question of how something so big can stay in the air has always fascinated me, ever since I was a little kid. Now I’ve finally got the opportunity to get my licence and I’m just going for it.

9. Picture your book shelf at home. What’s the one book on it that everyone should borrow?

Charles Kingsford Smith and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, by Peter Fitzsimons.

10. What piece of furniture in your house makes you the happiest?

My wing back chair, in front of the fire. I just need a pipe and slippers. Just joking, no pipe. I don’t smoke, but I definitely have the slippers. The chair is so big that I look like I’m about two years of age when I sit in it, but I love it. Sitting back in that, watching Grand Designs; I’m sorted.

11. If people come to Berry, what’s the one thing they should eat?

The goat curry at the new Indian place opposite the Shell Service Station; Indika, the House of Tandoor. It’s a proper Brick Lane style curry, which appeals to my English taste buds. I think it’s the best Indian food you’ll get outside of Europe. If you like spicy Indian, go there.

12. What’s your go-to listen for your trips up to Sydney?

I’m partial to a little bit of Amy Winehouse. Plus I love the podcasts the live conversations from The New York Public Library. It’s hosted by NYPL live event programmer, Paul Holdengräber hey they always have great interviews/conversations; it’s a great way to continue to educate yourself.treechange

13. What’s your best productivity hack to get the most out of each work day?

Coffee, plus the lure that if I get everything done, then I get to take time out on the balcony with my aviation theory books. I keep my eyes on the prize and burn through the contracts and recruitment work so I can get stuck into those books. I also know that if I put my head down and do the other work that makes the money I can pay for my flying time. That’s what keeps me going.

14. What’s the best thing about your membership to WorkLife?

Having 24 hour access. I come in on Sunday afternoons and do my aviation theory study here. Having that flexibility is key. Also having a work space which feels like you’re not at home being pestered by the pet. My labrador runs around the windows of the wrap around the verandah at home, looking for food all day, which drives me mad. Also, the beers on Friday afternoons are pretty good. The social aspect is a real bonus, plus there’s such a range of professionals. There’s always someone to bounce ideas off and have a chat to. The connections are gold.

15. Imagine tomorrow is a perfect snapshot of your Best Life. What are you doing?

I’m flying a Dash 8 from Wollongong to Broken Hill as the First Officer with a huge bunch of urgent medical supplies to rural and remote health services, knowing that without my skills and knowledge, those supplies aren’t going to get there. And it’s going to get there and help people out. It’s a crystal-clear blue day, and I’m flying directly south west into Broken Hill. Then I’m turning around coming home and having goat curry and a nice pale ale with Lucy and Alfie. That sounds like a great day to me.

You can find out more about Jake’s Healthcare Recruitment and HR Consultancy HealthCare First at

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