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Balancing the Grind with Chris Tanti, CEO of The Leukaemia Foundation

Chris Tanti is the CEO of The Leukaemia Foundation, a national charity dedicated to helping those with leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma and related blood disorders survive and then live a better quality of life.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I began my career in social work and in clinical settings as a psychotherapist working across acute and public mental health.

I then transitioned into management 25 years ago and have since held national and international senior executive positions including CEO of Australia’s National Disability Services and leading mental health organisation, Headspace. 

In February, I became the CEO of the Leukaemia Foundation which supports Australians living with blood cancer and has an inspiring vision to dramatically improve the lives of the people we serve.

Sadly, you only have to mention the words leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma and you’ll soon come across someone who’s faced blood cancer themselves or knows someone who’s been diagnosed. 

Additionally, I co-chair the Blood Cancer Taskforce which unites 32 of Australia’s leading haematologists, researchers, patients, and members of the blood cancer community to help tackle the key issues in blood cancer today and as we head into the future. 

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

To try and balance my workload and enjoy some ‘me time,’ I start the day, where possible, by spending time outside or heading to the gym. 

As the Leukaemia Foundation moves towards adopting new strategies to better support people with blood cancer, each day I speak with patients and their families or carers to talk about their diagnosis and to better understand what they go through.

I also try to be as hands on as possible and truly immerse myself in the services we provide as an organisation and that involves visiting our facilities when it’s safe to do so. 

My work days also involve engaging in media interviews and just recently I met with the Federal Health Minister’s team to talk about the impact of blood cancer in Australia. 

I make it a priority to enjoy time with my family each day, eat well, do some reading to wind down an evening, and ensure I get a good night’s sleep.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

Absolutely, we now live in a ‘new normal’ where flexibility is really important. However, I still do really enjoy working from our office as it allows me to connect with the entire organisation. I like to say hello to everyone, check in and see how they are, be close to patients, close to our people and get involved in the day-to-day.

I do feel it can be difficult for many people to get the balance right between working remotely and in the office and I’m personally conscious of getting better at compartmentalising work versus home life as they often tend to bleed into each other.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work-life balance is a work in progress and something I’m heavily focused on.  For a long time, my sole focus was work and I didn’t have any hobbies. 

My friendships dropped off and my own mental health wasn’t a priority. It was then that I realised just how important work-life balance is and the need to find myself some hobbies to combat the number of hours I was spending working. 

If you told me three years ago that I’d be a keen gardener and enjoy spending time at nurseries, I’d have thought you were mad, but that’s the stuff that I take pleasure in now. 

I also enjoy riding my motorbike which allows me to apply myself to something that’s totally away from work and just reflect and spend time in my thoughts. Heading to the gym and shopping at the fresh produce markets in Melbourne also helps me to wind down.

All my hobbies require focus and creativity and help me be in the moment. I’ve discovered that it’s hard to be in the moment and not be distracted by things that just pop up over the course of the day. These things that I pursue really allow me to focus on one thing and I get a real sense of having had a break.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

That’s a really interesting question. For me overall, COVID has fundamentally changed the way I think about the world and how I live my life.  Relationships and family are more important than ever as is being happy, having a laugh and getting out of the house as much as possible. 

I’m a planner and I tend to think towards the future rather than the present.  During the peak of COVID, a friend reminded me that I need to start living more in the now, so I’ve really tried to apply that and to enjoy not getting too caught up in what the future holds.

Working at the Leukaemia Foundation has also helped in that regard as you realise just how quickly life can change and how much your physical and mental health needs to be a priority.  

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

I really enjoy biographies and autobiographies and recently finished Paul Keating’s which was a good read.

I’m more inclined to read clinical journal articles at night which might put most people to sleep. I’m also really interested in keeping up to date with what’s happening in both Australia and across the world, so I subscribe to the Australian Financial Review, Harvard Business Review, The Economist, and the New York Times. I get my information from a variety of sources. 

I haven’t really gotten into many podcasts, but I’d definitely be open to recommendations if anyone has any?!  

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I don’t think I could live without Spotify. Initially I disliked the idea as I had a sizable CD and record collection, but no matter what I’m doing whether it’s gardening, working out or on my motorbike, Spotify allows me to listen to music and transport my mind somewhere else.

I’ve got a very eclectic taste in music from classical to opera, heavy metal to rap. I’m partial to a bit of Kanye West and recently discovered I don’t mind Justin Bieber.

In addition, I couldn’t live without my cooking gadgets and I love my blender.  Anything related to cooking I enjoy using.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?   

That’s a great question! To be honest, I deeply value my family, circle of friends and my networks who continue to teach and inspire me.

Plus, the patients I have met who fight for their life every day, and past and current board directors as well as fellow members of the Blood Cancer Taskforce who all have taught me so much. I’m more of a practical and lived experience person.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

My perspective on work-life balance is that it’s important, and sometimes difficult, to get the balance right. Work has always been a primary motivator for me but by doing what I love it doesn’t feel so much like work. 

I recently lost a friend who was deeply involved in our community and I spent a lot of time with him.  He was one of the most relaxed people I’ve ever met, and his personal and professional life was deeply intertwined.

What motivated him personally also motivated him professionally and as a result, he was probably more satisfied and happier in his last 5 years of life than anyone I’ve known. 

I therefore feel it’s important to find something you have a passion for and do it well. Developing your talents in your work environment is extremely important as there’s a lot of satisfaction in that, but developing your talents outside of work is equally satisfying.

For me it’s a continuous journey and I’ve been fortunate that my passion for the health sector and the many patients and families who use our services, has tripped over into my professional life. 

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.