Founder / Midnight Mischief
Tess Nguyen has a cool career that has the entire office envious. This young woman has the work ethic of a beast, and the gumption of someone double her age. Needless to say I am so obsessed with her incredible career story.
From growing up in Sydney, to a life changing trip when she was eleven, Tess really goes there in this interview. With meticulous detail she takes us through every moment in her life that influenced her career trajectory, including all about that life changing scroll on Gumtree in 2018 where her life changed forever.
In this interview you will learn what Tess studied at Uni, what a day in her busy life looks like, what her new business is and all her must have tips and resources for anyone wanting to follow in her footsteps.
Please meet Tess.
Tess, we are so pumped to have you here. Can you start by telling us where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I was raised in south west Sydney by Vietnamese refugee parents. I am the youngest of five children which means I had a very fun and colourful childhood! My parents ensured we grew up with strong cultural values and discipline just like how they did in their home country.
My parents enrolled my siblings and I in Vietnamese school and we went to temple every Sunday. This routine provided us with good values, morals and work ethic. My siblings and I were taught to focus on our studies because my parents believed a university degree was the road to success. My parents only completed primary school in Vietnam yet they managed to navigate their way to Australia. It is inspiring that they came here with physically nothing (including no education and understanding of any English) and made a life for themselves and their children.
My parents took me on a life-changing trip back to their beach-side village in Vietnam when I was eleven. That trip changed my entire perspective on life as I had a glimpse of the conditions of what my parents grew up in. I had bucket showers outdoors, I climbed on roofs and through windows, rode on motorbikes with five people clutching onto dear life and had to use a squat toilet at my grandma’s place! It made me extremely appreciative for the life and opportunities I had in Australia as my cousins in Vietnam were not as privileged.
One of the lasting memories I had was when a handful of people from the village had passed away from preventable illnesses… and I was only there for a month! It highlighted the difference between the access and quality of healthcare in a developing country. Ever since that trip, I wanted my life to serve a higher purpose – to help others in need. That was one of the main reasons why I decided to become a physiotherapist instead of pursuing my passion in business after year 12.
I currently call my physiotherapy career as my main profession. I love physiotherapy as a career however I always felt there was something missing. That was when I decided to pursue my passion in business on the side with my personalised sleepwear brand Midnight Mischief and hair brand De Har. Being aware of the fact I am in a fortunate position to have access to a plethora of opportunities, I wanted to explore other options because I believe variety is the spice of life.
So, inspiring Tess, what a story. So tell us, when you were a young girl what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a young girl, I wanted to be so many things while growing up. I wanted to be a high jumper, an author (I was always reading in primary and high school!), a teacher, a yoga teacher, a dermatologist. Name a job out of a career advisor’s book and I have probably dreamed about it!
In primary school, I loved reading so I wanted to be the next JK Rowling (I also wanted to be Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movie but that is another story…). Throughout high school, I fell in love with fashion Tumblr content and blogs such as Sabo Skirt (crazy to think I used to follow them in their early days!). I loved the creative world and I wanted to become a photographer, a stylist or a makeup artist. Before there was a world of Youtube I was so excited to purchase my first makeup book; Makeup: The Ultimate Guide by Rae Morris. I was obsessed and would study the book and try all the makeup looks with my $2 drugstore makeup.
Upon reflection, it is so interesting to see that I have come full circle and I am now able to fulfil my creative passion with Midnight Mischief and help others on a personal level with physiotherapy.
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to two high schools in western Sydney. The first high school was enjoyable because all my peers from primary school friends went there. Unfortunately, the experience was ruined by the unpassionate and unsupportive teachers. Most of the time, the teachers put on movies for us to watch during class! At the end of year 7, I felt that I was not being challenged enough and I asked my parents to change schools. My parents objected at the time because they thought I was too young and naive to make big decisions about my education. I was lucky I had an older sister who explained to them that my HSC results would be below average if I stayed there. Since my parents put a strong emphasis on education they finally gave in and let me change schools.
My second high school was filled with great memories. Due to my last minute move, I was thrown into the lowest academic class in grade 8. It was an eye-opening experience. I was in a class full of ‘troublemakers’. The school was notoriously known for school stabbings, school fights (a student from my class was on A Current Affair for fighting at the canteen!), drug dealing and kids coming from disadvantaged families.
On the bright side, the teachers were wonderful and really cared about the students. They always made an effort to answer our questions and wanted the best for us. The school was classified as a lower socioeconomic school and not a lot of opportunities were presented to us. When we did have extra opportunities I put my hand up for everything. I loved staying behind after school for dancing class, basketball practice and Chemistry tutoring. Note, all the teachers stayed behind unpaid because they were passionate about helping and developing our knowledge and skills!
Although my high school experience was not the norm it has made me resilient and more compassionate towards others. I witnessed first hand the inequalities and barriers that each child faced to further their education and careers. Only a handful of students from my grade went to university and we all had a similar mindset. We knew that there was more to life after school and through hard work we can achieve anything that we set our mind to.
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
My high school was not built on academic success. One of my SRC teachers told me one day in a meeting that I look like I would make a good Physiotherapist. Apart from that I never went to the career counsellor or sought any advice from any teachers because I barely knew myself at the time. Most of my peers did not know what they wanted to do after high school either so we were all lost together.
My sister was the main driving force on why I chose physiotherapy. I initially wanted to study dietetics because I was interested in holistic health and how food impacts our bodily functions. My sister who is an exercise physiologist stated that there were no jobs in nutrition and dietetics so I should choose physiotherapy as a degree. The goal was to complete my masters in dietetics after my degree but that never happened because I ended up loving physiotherapy as a profession!
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
In Year 10, I had my work experience placement at a GUESS store. I had a lot of fun because I loved learning how to work. My parents prohibited me from getting a real job during high school because they wanted me to focus on my studies. It was also then when I discovered the power of branding. I remember reading a list of the wholesale prices of items and my whole life changed. I was bewildered by the fact they could mark up their jeans and people would still purchase them.
I completed my Chemistry unit for the HSC in year 11 which meant I had free time in year 12. I went through a phase of dying my hair so I enrolled myself into a TAFE course in hairdressing. It was a great experience however I did not enjoy the practical side of it. By the end of the course I knew hairdressing was not for me.
Throughout primary school and high school, my sister would take me to her workplace. She is an exercise physiologist and fortunately, I was exposed to the world of rehabilitation exercises. I loved spending time with the physiotherapists in her workplace which may have foreshadowed my future degree choice!
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I did my Bachelor of Applied Science (Physiotherapy) at the University of Sydney. In the first year of university, all the units are compulsory such as anatomy (yes, learning with cadavers!) . In my third year, I wanted to make the most of my university degree therefore I completed a unit overseas. I volunteered for a month in a disabled orphanage in Cambodia. I treated children with learning disabilities and conditions such as Cerebral Palsy. It was a wonderful experience and they taught me to appreciate the small things in life.
I also did a semester abroad in Birmingham, England which was the best part of my university degree. I studied advanced physiotherapy units and learned about concussion, women’s health and other interesting topics. I have always loved travelling and I knew this was one of the best ways to have a true ‘dorm’ university experience.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights?
In my first year out practicing as a Physiotherapist I wanted to make the most of my youth, time and energy – I was working seven days a week! I was working at 2 clinics. I chose one clinic as it was linked to the elite football team I was managing and the other one I chose was for its Pilates classes and sports clientele. I wanted to absorb as much as I could so I dipped my fingers in everything. On Saturdays, I would normally do sports Physiotherapy coverage for AFL/soccer/gridiron teams and on Sunday I would manage the 7 elite teams for Football NSW.
The highlight of my career was being able to prove those who said I would never make a good physiotherapist wrong! As a student I received comments from some peers and patients that I would not succeed in the profession and to re-evaluate my career choice because I was too ‘skinny’ and ‘ weak’.
With Midnight Mischief, the highlights would be meeting like minded people who support you and push you to become a better person. I am so grateful for those who have helped me throughout my business journey!
How did you get into the job that you are in now?
After a few months of running Midnight Mischief, I was burnt out working in private practice and commuting over 2 hours a day to work. My friend referred me to an aged care facility position and I am now working there part-time. I stumbled across Midnight Mischief in a Gumtree advert. I essentially purchased and created my second job! De Har is my 3rd little passion project which I also created for myself.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
For physiotherapy, the hardest part would be the emotional impact of the aged care industry. Although there are many joyful moments, I am constantly surrounded by immobility, sickness and death. I am grateful for the current experiences because I believe it is really important for us to understand that life is precious and to make the most of our life and health while we can!
For Midnight Mischief, the hardest part is the fact the journey can be quite isolating. It is still a small start-up and I struggle trying to balance being most of the roles of the business along with my personal life. When there are issues within the business, I turn to trust ol’ Google to help me with the answer.
I believe the experiences in my current physiotherapy role help keep everything in perspective for me on a daily basis. For example, if something does not go my way in my business or any issues arise I know that at the end of the day it is a miniscule obstacle in comparison to the one’s consumers face in aged care.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you in your current job?
On a typical aged care day, I will wake up around 6:30 a.m. and check my e-mails and ensure my parcels are ready to be collected while I am at work. I start work at 7:30 a.m. in my Physiotherapy job and use my lunch times to catch up on e-mails/calls/send outs. In my peak time periods I will go straight home after 6 p.m. to embroider and pack garments until 12 a.m. (I am still working on getting enough sleep!). When it is not as busy I will make sure to fit in a workout before I go home to work on Midnight Mischief
My weekends are dedicated on catching up on all my orders and other administrative work – if you have ever ordered from Midnight Mischief and received emails and tracking numbers on the weekend that is the reason why! I work 7 days and I schedule my work times on the weekends around social events and my gym sessions.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
I was extremely influenced by Buddha growing up as I was introduced to his teachings early on in life. Most of his teachings I have carried into my everyday life. I try my best to practice his philosophies and way of life where I can (still a work in progress). I believe through practising good thought, good speech and good speech you create a harmonious and happy life.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
For Physiotherapy, I would say try your best in university – aim for the Dean’s medal because knowledge is power! The lecturers and professors are all well respected in the academic world. Make sure you engage with them and become their friends – they are always willing to help! Get as much real life experience as you can and shadow experienced clinicians as much as possible. The real learning begins in the DOING. You will never become an amazing therapist by reading a textbook. The better communicator you become, the better Physiotherapist you become. Know the patient’s WHY and they will always come back to you! Dig a little bit deeper. The client wants to run 1km. Ask why! They will say something superficial like I want to be healthy and fit. Ask them why again! They will most likely divulge a bit more and you will find the real emotional reason why they are seeking your help. Knowing a person’s emotional reasoning behind their actions is paramount for patient outcomes. As a new grad we focus on treating the condition and forget to treat the person.
In terms of e-commerce, I would say get advice from an accountant early on (my biggest mistake). Know yourself, know your motives and your purpose. When times are difficult, it is important to know why you started because that will be the reason that pushes you forward.
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Websites: For Physiotherapy, it would be the Learn.Physio, Physio Network and Clinical Edge. For business it would be the Later blog, Australian Financial Review and Forbes.
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: @midnightmischiefsleepwear and @dehar.official ! My partner’s instagram account @g.physio is also a great resource for easy to digest physiotherapy evidence.
- Favourite Podcast: She’s on the money, Seize the Yay, Biz Bites, The Mentored, Be The Girl.I am digging these podcasts at the moment!
- Favourite Netflix/Stan/ Series: I don’t watch any TV shows (I know, I am not normal!!)
- Who is your mentor? (This can be a person you follow for advice, or an IRL person). I always turn to my amazing PR Jessy from HIVE HQ for some solid advice.
- Favourite all time book/s: Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss
- Favourite App that you use every day: Instagram and Gumtree!