Reading: The Reality TV Reinvention: Chyka Keebaugh

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The Reality TV Reinvention: Chyka Keebaugh

At midlife she became an Australian reality TV star, influencer, and entertaining expert. This is how they do reinvention Down Under

By Lesley Jane Seymour

Chyka Keebaugh in red dress for Christmas
Chyka Keebaugh in Christmas red. Photo by Commission Studio 2019

Move over, Bethenny — the biggest housewife-entrepreneur is actually Down Under. Chyka Keebaugh, a former star on The Real Housewives of Melbourne and a stylist, design expert, author and business owner, sat down with us to talk about midlife reinventions, knowing when to say no, and meeting her style icon.

How One Career Change Leads to Another

TheCovey: You’ve changed direction in your career several times. Explain your last few reinventions — when, why, and how you did them.

Chyka Keebaugh: It’s funny when you start a career; you think that’s all you will ever do. 

At 45, I was asked to be on the cast of The Real Housewives of Melbourne, and at the time I thought it would be a bit of fun and I’m a great believer in giving everything a go, walking through doors and seeing where it takes you. For four years this show completely changed my life and suddenly people knew who I was and everything about me. My profile grew and I had a girlfriend who was in magazines who sat me down and suggested that with the follower numbers I had on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter I could have really good reach if I created an online magazine. 

I’ve always been passionate about things around the home, decorating and lifestyle. It was a perfect idea and something I loved creating from scratch and growing. It allowed me to be creative, and I had a lot of fun putting together things and themes that interested me. As my numbers grew I soon had brands that wanted me to be an ambassador for them. Creating content for them on Chyka.com, doing photo shoots for social media, and so on. 

I was asked to start talking and doing public speaking about my career and how Bruce and I began our company The Big Group, what it’s like working with your husband, balancing work and children, etc. For someone at school who hated public speaking, this was a new world for me and something I soon realized I actually enjoy doing.

It’s been so interesting to have women of all ages ask me for advice on family business when they are things that I have just learnt along the way.

The next part of my career came in publishing my first book, Chyka Home. It was always a dream to create something like this, and seeing it selling now in bookstores is honestly so exciting.

I am now just about to launch my second book, Chyka Celebrate, that shows my love and passion for creating and hosting different events throughout the year — everything from Christmas to Easter, Halloween, Chinese New Year, and so much more.

 At 50,  I’m having so much fun doing what I genuinely love to do — creating, growing, and sharing. 

The Joyful Part of Reinvention

TheCovey: What is the hardest part about reinventing at midlife? What is the most joyful?

Chyka Keebaugh: I now know myself better than I did in my thirties and forties and really own all the decisions I make. I feel very comfortable saying the word “No” — something I could never say earlier in my working career. I love the feeling of being  in control of what I’m doing now.

TheCovey: What are you able to do today that you were not able to do in the past when pursuing your bliss?

Chyka Keebaugh: I trust myself more to act on my gut instinct. I’m a very visual person and I know instantly when something is right for me. I no longer second-guess myself and believe that the decision I made at the time was the right one. I never look backwards only forwards, and I also believe that everything happens in life for a reason.

The Role Family and Children Play

TheCovey: What part do family and children play in your reinventions — in directing them or in making them change course?

Chyka Keebaugh: My children were both teenagers when I decided to do things a little differently and go on a reality TV show. I’ve always talked to them to make sure that the impact on them wasn’t one they didn’t like. We are a family that constantly talks about everything so I knew that at any time and place if my kids weren’t happy about something they would tell me. I’m incredibly lucky to be supported and loved by both Chessie and Bj, and Bruce, my husband. It’s incredibly important to have those that you love the most always by your side.

Reinventing Through the Empty Nest

TheCovey: How does the empty nest play into this current reinvention and the book you wrote? Does it make it easier because you have more time? Does it mean you really NEED a distraction now?

Chyka Keebaugh: Both my kids now live in the USA, which is incredibly exciting for them, and as much as I miss them I love that they are spreading their own wings. I definitely don’t feel like I have a void to fill as life has always been busy, and in fact has only become busier. Like I said before, I believe everything happens for a reason and when the time is right. For me writing and creating my two new books came at the right time.

The thing I have realized is that I need to slow down more and enjoy what’s around me. Weekends have become precious, and being down on the peninsula at our weekend house even more so. I have new hobbies like gardening and really hope to take up another hobby — botanical drawing.

I’m at a really happy and exciting stage of my life.

Words of Reinvention Wisdom

TheCovey: What are the phrases and insights you rely on to keep yourself going through this period? Anyone you admire or follow or read about out there whom we should know about?

Chyka Keebaugh: I am a great lover of quotes and have many that I live by. One of my favorites is “you can have everything you want in life, but not all at once.” “Perfectly imperfect” is another favorite, and “more is more” when it comes to decorating, fashion, style, and design.

I try and see the world as a glass half full not half empty. I always try and put a positive spin on any situation good or bad, and I also try and see only the good in people.

I’m an avid reader and love reading books by amazing women who have lived extraordinary lives. I am such a great supporter and believer in raising women higher, being there, listening and supporting. Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama are two women I love and admire. Recently I was lucky enough to meet Iris Apfel, a woman I have always admired for her strength of character, individuality and style. I want to be just like her in years to come.

TheCovey: What are the most important words of wisdom you can pass along to women 40+ who are trying to discover the purpose in their second half of life? What should they do? What should they avoid?

Chyka Keebaugh: I think when you turn 40 you suddenly realize that the things you constantly doubt about yourself are not that important and if they are then you’re in control of changing them. I’m feeling mentally stronger than I have ever felt in my life; I believe I am a good person and that whatever I want to do I can.

I’ve lived a life balancing all kinds of things that people are interested in and want as life lessons. Now that time is moving quickly and I need to enjoy every minute doing what I want and love. I surround myself with people who are like-minded, kind and generous of spirit. I don’t have drainers in my life anymore and have learnt to say no thank you to things I don’t want to do.

My body is the way it is because of the life I have lived, the children I have had, and it is the storybook of my life. I accept that. I’m kinder to myself and less judgmental. I wake up every day knowing I am in control.

TheCovey: Any parting words?

Chyka Keebaugh: I think it’s exciting to grow old and not have to worry about the things you did when you were younger. My girlfriends are a great source of inspiration and advice. I’ve never asked for help before and now I do. I say what I feel and don’t avoid a confrontation if it’s needed. I love that my kids’ friends see me as an equal and ask for advice, too. I feel incredibly lucky to still be married to my best friend and loving waking up everyday to whatever is in store. We are building a new home in the city at the moment and to have a project that Bruce and I are sharing together is wonderful. I can honestly say that right here and now, life is exciting and fun and I just love it all!!!

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