Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Bri Hammond
Georgia Frances King
When talking with Georgia Frances King, it struck me how much she resembles the beloved Roald Dahl protagonist Matilda – only with much nicer parents.
A self-confessed ‘precocious little thing’, as a child Georgia taught herself to read and remembers attempting Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea when she was nine or ten. "I probably had no idea what it was actually about, but I was always seeking to push myself."
From working as the Assistant Editor of frankie magazine while still studying at university, to freelancing in New York City before taking the helm at Kinfolk, it’s easy to see Georgia has retained her knack for pushing herself.
Such a quality is often associated with detachment from reality or even vanity, but Georgia is grounded, self-aware and maintains an almost unparalleled sense of curiosity for ideas and people.
"I'm definitely a dichotomy – although I talk a lot, I also listen a lot. I'm very extroverted, but I need more alone time than most people I know."
After three years living in Portland while working at Kinfolk, Georgia said she was ready to return to a faster pace of life. ‘Finishing up as the editor of Kinfolk was scary, but it was the right decision because I made it for me rather than for my career. Fun stuff is happening in New York with my career, but that's not the point.’
Before she set off back to New York for her new role as Deputy Ideas Editor at Quartz, Georgia opened up her childhood home and shared her daily routine. With art collector parents, growing up she was surrounded by a "clown-car cavalcade of interesting people." Being exposed to such an eccentric and exciting artistic world from a young age would undoubtedly shape your character and bring a unique set opportunities, but much like her teaching herself to read, her drive and determination has always come from within.
"People have asked whether there was pressure put on me by my family, friends or teachers at a young age, but the pressure has always come from myself."
Every wall in the Melbourne home is adorned with street art by some of the world’s most renowned artists – Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Ron English – and local talents including Rone, Meggs, Kid Zoom, Ha Ha, and Anthony Lister. Yet amongst the grander, Georgia was approachable and warm as she shared her reflections on navigating the ‘grey area’ in life.
"We waste a lot of time worrying about things that never end up happening, and we can put that energy toward trying to effect change on the areas that we do actually control."
Instead of worrying, we might as well put our energy into our wildest plans and make the most of what we have – sometimes it's a little, sometimes it's a lot. In the words of Matilda, "Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable."
Even without a home filled with street art, enviable career trajectory, unique opportunities and charming demeanour, Georgia’s approach to daily life, drive, generosity, and curiosity teaches us that we are closer to the unbelievable than we might think, and we can all be a little outrageous.
I'm one of those really annoying morning people! No matter where I’m living, I get up roughly three hours before I need to be at my first thing for the day. I wasn’t always a morning person, but I become one when I started working for Kinfolk and the rest of the team were early risers.
Exercise is a very important part of my routine – I go crazy if I don’t exercise. I set my alarm knowing I’m going to press snooze once or twice, then I roll out of bed and pull on my gym gear. By the time I’m onto mile three of my run and turning around, I start actually waking up and think, What the hell am I doing?! It’s the best time to exercise as you don't realise how much pain you’re in because you haven't really woken up yet – that's my theory.
I’ll normally start my work day by doing some emails from home. For breakfast, I love having muesli, but Americans don't know what muesli is! You can be in the cereal aisle at Wholefoods and there’ll only be one box of muesli, and even then, it’s pretty much just granola, which is like dessert for breakfast. (Which I also enjoy, but not every day.) So I often make my own by buying different fruits, nuts and rolled oats and mixing them together.
I drink at least five cups of English breakfast tea with milk a day, and I try to only have one coffee – try! Definitely no coffee after noon though, otherwise I don't sleep.
When I was in Portland I would walk to the office, which took about 20 minutes. I've learnt that an easy commute is very, very important for my quality of life. It's not necessarily the time that can frustrate me but rather the mental energy you waste with the stress of getting into work. If it takes too long or it’s too complicated, I find myself dreading going to and from work, and that makes me work even longer to avoid traffic.
Once I'm in the office there's usually more emails. I've tried lots of different ways of organising my day, so I’ve worked out what works for me. I know that everyone tells you to get the most important things done at the start of the day, but I get so many emails from different time zones that I need to reply back to those people immediately otherwise I lose a full 24 hours of communication. Starting with emails is also a nice way to ease my way into the day.
By mid-morning when Australia and Asia falls asleep, I’ll start doing some serious editing work or more cranial, involved stuff.
I nearly always pack lunch or have leftovers – on a Sunday afternoon I’ll often make stews and soups for the week. I also keep fruit and vegetables in the office fridge to snack on, but my guilty pleasure is definitely baked goods. (I think that’s another reason why exercise is important to me, because I really, really love to eat!)
I do eat lunch at my desk, but I try to take at least 15 minutes to read something like The New Yorker or The Atlantic; half work, half play. I’d love to try and start to get away from the computer at lunch, even just for my eye health!
There tends to be more meetings in the afternoons, and it’s also when I like to commission stories. I find that between 2-4pm my brain is very calm and I feel creative, then between 5-7pm I’m often not feeling it, and then I’ll have another kick between 7-9pm, so sometimes I’ll do a second lot of work then, if I’m not out.
"I've tried lots of different ways of organising my day, so I’ve worked out what works for me. I know that everyone tells you to get the most important things done at the start of the day, but I get so many emails from different time zones that I need to reply back to those people immediately otherwise I lose a full 24 hours of communication."
I try to get out of the office by six or so and go to a yoga class a couple of nights a week. I really love yoga, but I'm terrible at meditation… and I know that means I should start! I can't seem to slow my mind down – I’m reading all the time and talking to different people who might spark off story ideas, so everything could potentially be an article. I love that feeling, but I still want to learn how to turn that process off in my brain.
The one thing that has almost always worked for me is choral singing – I like that collaboration and listening to other people to harmonise. Whenever I'm doing that, I find that I don't think about anything else. I even joined the Portland Lesbian Choir when I moved to Oregon!
There isn’t just one way that you should try and live your life or live mindfully – we can find different versions of it.
When I get home, I’ll normally work for a bit as Europe is waking up. I've definitely gone through phases in my life when I’m far too social and don’t leave enough time for myself: I’d have a drink after work, then head to an art opening, then meet someone for dinner, then meet someone else for a night-cap. It was very socially gratified and I learned a lot, but I was spending no time by myself. I’ve discovered those moments of quiet are really, really important to me, even as an extrovert.
So now I try to stay home at least two nights a week. I'm also getting better at feeling like I need to go out because it's Friday or Saturday night. I’m definitely a FOMO sufferer.
I try to be in bed by 10.30pm, which gives me seven hours of sleep a night. One thing I’m trying to do is go to bed even earlier, which I realise makes me sounds like even more of a nanna than I already am! I'm often the first person to leave a party because I want to go and sleep, and I have no shame about that.
I have a stack of books on my bedside table, but I don't read as often as I would like to. I often bring my phone into bed at night because that’s when Europe is waking up and Tokyo and Australia are in the middle of their workday, so I get to talk to them and do an email burst before I go to sleep.
I don't think everyone should live like this – working in little bursts from waking to sleeping instead of a solid eight-hour stretch –but when you have staff in six different time zones, you need to. But email is social for me in a certain kind of way, so it feels less like work and more like keeping up friendships.
"There isn’t just one way that you should try and live your life or live mindfully—we can find different versions of it."
BEHIND THE SCENES
On banning the words ‘I’m busy’ from your vocabulary…
In early 2015 I came close to having the mental breakdown that everyone told me I’d have if I kept working at the rate I was.
It was scary, and it made me want to change. At around that time I coincidentally interviewed author and life coach Greg McKeown about the curse of being busy. When people are asked how they are, their answer so often is “I’m so busy.” And I was completely guilty of that. So I banned those words from my vocabulary and decided that I wasn’t going to define myself by how busy I was.
That also helped me to stop caring what other people thought of me. I'm still struggling with that, and I think I always will. When you work in a field where your product is bound by an audience, you’re always in the mode of being aware of how people perceive you and your work—both professionally and personally.
"When people are asked how they are, their answer so often is 'I’m so busy.' So I banned those words from my vocabulary and decided that I wasn’t going to define myself by how busy I am."
On learning to be okay with not knowing what is next...
My biggest enemy is myself. I put a lot of pressure on myself by comparing the current me to the ideal version of the person I want to be. But I’ve realized that where you want to be and who you should be are just arbitrary metrics that you’ve decided: You’re only binding yourself to yourself if you think like that.
When I decided to move back to New York, I went through a process of not knowing where my next job was going to be, where I was going to live, what was happening with my visa, my car, my lease, my cat—not knowing anything.
But instead of thinking of all the worst case scenarios for all of the what-ifs—as my brain is hard-wired to do—I tried to only focus on one what-if at a time, which helped me take control of my own worrywartness. We waste a lot of time worrying about things that never end up happening, and we can put that energy toward trying to effect change on the areas that we do actually control.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself by comparing the current me to the ideal version of the person I want to be. But I’ve realized that those are just arbitrary metrics you’ve decided. You’re only binding yourself to yourself."
On being comfortable talking to strangers…
Throw me into a room of strangers and I thrive. That’s my happy place! I know that’s really abnormal, but I think part of it has to do with having eccentric parents who were in the fashion industry and involved in the art world; there was always this clown-car cavalcade of interesting people coming through the door when I was growing up. They would throw these dinner parties where I would get to sit at the table as a seven-year-old and interact with really incredible adults. That probably spiked my curiosity for people, and from a young age I was never afraid of putting myself out there or knowing less than what other people know. I always want to continue learning.
Now I talk to everybody from people in coffee queues to the person I sit next to on public transport. I believe that everyone has an interesting story to tell. Even if you’re at a dinner party or family gathering and you’re stuck next to someone that you don't necessarily want to be next to, try to pull stories out of people and understand who they are. People can teach us so much about ourselves.
A lot of how I learn isn’t necessarily through reading, but having conversations with people. I really use people as a way to navigate through the world—which is a lot more fun than binding learning to traditional academia.
"Even if you are at a dinner party or family gathering and you’re stuck next to someone that you don't necessarily want to be next to, try to pull stories out of people and understand who they are."
On the myth of the perfect group of friends…
I'm a very social person, but I've never been someone who has a clearly defined group of friends. Instead, I've always had individual friendships with individual people. For a long time I felt like I was always searching for that Friends-style group of people where there was always drinks happening somewhere in a big happy clan, but someone recently said to me, “Georgia, that doesn't exist. Stop trying to seek it.” And I realised they were right. My friends are everything to me, and I find I can give myself wholly to them in one-on-one situations instead of navigating a constantly shifting group.
"The qualities I’m most attracted to in people are passion, determination and drive."
On experimenting with your days...
It has taken a lot of experimentation to get to a point where I’m really happy with my routine. I don’t have a firm eight hours that I work for and then switch off, but that doesn’t make me feel overworked, tired or stressed. I work a little bit, socialise a little bit, learn a little bit and read a little bit all day, and that works for me.
"Life is always changing and we are always changing, so you have to constantly check yourself and look around to see if the decisions you’re making are still working."
It may seem like I have everything put together, but I swear it’s not! I’ve only gained this control over myself in the past year or so, and I’m still learning every day. Life is always changing and we are always changing, so you have to constantly check yourself and look around to see if the decisions you’re making are still working.
On planning to be spontaneous…
I'm really trying not to overcommit myself in my spare time to allow more time for life to happen naturally. I used to say that I like to “plan to be spontaneous” by blocking off sections of time or evenings for spontaneity. I know that defeats the point of being spontaneous, but for someone who is anally retentively organised like myself, it’s a medium ground to mark off time to do something that’s not planned ten days in advance.
On when days don’t go to plan…
The days I feel the dullest are when I have set out to do something, and I haven't achieved it—even if that something is to do nothing and I've accidentally done something all day! When I sleep in too late, I also feel like I’ve set off on the wrong foot and I'm rushing to condense everything into the day. So I still try to be out of bed at a reasonable time on weekends… which often doesn’t happen after a fun Friday night!
I'm trying to be less organised, live in the grey area more and fly by the seat of my pants more. I sometimes find that the best part of having such a structured routine like mine is that I can break it. I’m learning that I don’t always have to stick by these arbitrary rules that I've created for myself.
"The days I feel the dullest are when I have set out to do something and I haven't achieved it—even if that something is to do nothing and I've accidentally done something all day!"
On dating and having compatible schedules…
When I was living in Melbourne I was dating an artist. We had the exact opposite schedules and it drove me nuts. I would want to go to bed at 10pm but he often worked till 2am, then I’d be wide-awake by 6am while he’d want to sleep in till noon. I loved him, but it only gave me a narrow window of time to love him! So when I moved to America, I wanted to consciously try to date people who worked on a similar schedule to me.
But then in Oregon I developed the wonderful habit of dating winemakers! That worked out quite well, not just because I had a lot of awesome wine around all the time, but also because I would go and spend my weekends in the countryside, where they lived and worked, and still get that alone time I craved during the week. At one point I dated someone for nine months who lived three hours south of Portland. For the first little while that commute was a good time to read and I loved my weekends away, but then I started to lose connection with my Portland social life because I was spending all of my free time either on a bus or in wine country. It started to feel very unbalanced—there always has to be a sacrifice somewhere.
On surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you…
I tend to surround myself with people who are as intellectually curious as myself but who are focussed on a different area. The qualities I’m most attracted to in people are passion, determination and drive. I don't care what you’re passionate about—you can be passionate about investment banking and I’d still want to have a four-hour conversation with you trying to learn more about that.
On job titles, prestige and the pressure we put on ourselves...
People have asked whether there was pressure put on me by my family, friends or teachers at a young age, but the pressure has always come from myself.
Professional success has always been important to me, so one of the things I grappled with for a long time was defining myself through my job first and as a person second. In Australia I used to define myself by saying "I work at frankie magazine." Then when I moved to New York my freelance writing life was how I defined myself. And then for a long time when I was working at Kinfolk, that was the first bit of information I’d share with people, because that was the only way I knew how to explain who I was. It was really unbalanced.
I realized that as soon as you define yourself by your job title, people only see you as that, rather than as a human being. It forced me to confront myself in a personal manner, because who was I without my job? It was a tough shift! Now I’m trying to restrain using my job as a barometer of success. I do need to be successful in my career, because that’s important to me, but it’s not the only thing that’s important to me anymore.
"As soon as you define yourself by your job title, people only see you as that, rather than as a human being. Now I’m trying to restrain using my job as a barometer of success."
“Make the choice that makes the best story.”
Georgia Frances King
I have subscriptions to The Atlantic, Harper’s Quarterly, The New Yorker and The Economist.
I get my news fix in the morning through a carefully curated list of newsletters—I don’t read traditional news sources anymore. That list includes daily newsletters from Quartz, The Conversation, Aeon, Hyperallergic, MIT’s Technology Review, Slate and The Business of Fashion.
I’m definitely a reader over a watcher in my spare time, but I love going to the movies as it forces me to switch off for a few hours! Whenever I’m watching Netflix on my couch, I end up answering emails on my phone and having to re-watch the same episode of House of Cards over and over.
I wear a lot of vintage. Like, a lot of vintage! But everything that I haven’t sourced from op-shops tends to be by Australian designers such as Handsom, Leonard Street and Obus. I like repping pieces from home overseas.
NPR is always on in the background of my life. I’m completely hooked—I will plan my Saturday and Sunday around being at home to listen to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and A Prairie Home Companion. I listen to podcasts when I’m jogging though, which helps me take my mind off the fact I’m jogging… I’ve been getting into Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, Note to Self and Reply All recently. Then when it comes to music, some days I’ll start on some Sam Cooke, move to Glass Animals and Alt J in the afternoon, then I’ll be streaming Beyonce while I get ready to go have a beer and watch a honky-tonk gig in the evening. It’s a mixed bag!
Art art art and more art. I can’t get enough! I would be at openings every night if that wouldn’t devastate my liver (and potentially my wallet). Though I’m quite closely entwined with the graffiti and street art worlds, I also love modernist American art and a lot of the old Dutch masters. Similar to my odd taste in music, I think that having an appreciation for an array of time periods and styles makes for a more rounded cultural experience. I’m a terrible artist myself though—I can barely draw a passable stick figure!
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