Each week, SHESAID features an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chosen field, someone still on their own path striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. These women contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.
Tell us about what you do? What do you get up to a day-to-day basis?
On a day-to-day basis I wear many different hats, depending on the day; so it’s fair to say no two days are the same. My current roles include being the Chapter President and Events Director of Junior Chamber International Illawarra, which is a partner of the United Nations global non-profit organisation, whose mission is to provide development opportunities that empower young people to create lasting positive change in their communities. As well as this, I am the community engagement co-ordinator at the Innovation Campus branch of Commonwealth Bank of Australia and pharmacy assistant. Previous roles which contributed to my nomination for 2015 NSW Young Woman of the Year include being a registered nurse, reaching the top 10 at the National Finals of Miss World Australia in 2013, and my extensive volunteer work with a wide variety of local, rural and national charitable organisations.
How/when did you know this is what you wanted to do as a career?
Frankly I didn’t, it all happened as a result of a fortunate chain of events. Although I enjoyed the clinical and hands on side or nursing, I was unhappy in my role due to the culture within the hospital workforce, but I was too stubborn to throw in the towel. After I suffered a snowboarding injury, I was forced to take a back seat and take stock of everything in my life. It took me quite a while, but I eventually realised my injury was a blessing in disguise. After I had recovered enough I needed a challenge, something to keep me distracted and mentally busy for the next part of my rehabilitation. I decided to enter the Miss World Australia pageant. I quickly decided that to be successful and competitive in MWA, I would put all my efforts in to Beauty with a Purpose, where contestants raise funds for a specified charity. In the six months I campaigned, I raised $15,700 by holding fundraisers, including: raffles, fashion parades, bare foot bowls, a wine drive, a trivia night and a burlesque themed ball.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I haven’t ever had to look to far for inspiration when I’m feeling lazy or hard done by. My older brother, Jared, has profound cerebral palsy. Jared, despite his condition more often than not has a smile on his face and is rarely grumpy. So it’s pretty difficult to feel sorry for myself when I have Jared to compare to. He is a reality check; he makes me want to be the best possible version of myself and to not waste a single second.
Since my injury, I have looked to Turia Pitt for inspiration. Burnt within an inch of her life in 2011, she’s undergone multiple surgeries and rehabilitation since. Now she does amazing things, like walking the Great Wall of China to help raise funds for charity. It’s mind blowing how tenacious she is and it gives me hope seeing someone who has sustained life threatening injuries achieve so much. As a young female building on my career in Australia, Ita Buttrose is another great source of inspiration. As a young professional female in the 70s, Ita was and remains a pioneer for women in the workplace. Throughout her career, Ita has contributed greatly through service to her community and charities, serving on the boards of multiple organisations since 1979. If I can be half as empowered and accomplished as Ita Buttrose by the time I’m 73, I’ll be a very happy woman.
Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career off the ground?
Not a specific mentor per se, but I’m very fortunate that over these past few years to have been offered support and encouragement by a range of different people. Mainly as a result of my networking and JCI Illawarra engagements, I’ve met some very wise and notable members of the Illawarra Business Community who have been happy to share their knowledge and offer me advice. I like to approach things with the view that I know nothing, and I have everything to learn. Last, but not least, friends and family has played a huge role too.
What were the stumbling blocks, initially getting started on your career path, and since then?
The main barrier has been my injuries, but also my depression. My injuries have impacted numerous segments of my life; they have made bathing, dressing, walking, sleeping, working, socialising, finances and transport more difficult. There is very little that hasn’t been affected hence, I’ve struggled with depression as a result. It’s incredible how crippling depression is but with the help of psychologists and medication I’m managing it well. I’m very open about this when I speak with friends and family. I’m very lucky to have the support that I do.
How did you overcome these?
I think I have a well developed sense of self awareness, this has enabled me to swiftly identify when I’m not coping as well as I’d like, and sub in people to share the load. There’s no shame in saying, “I need help”, because there is only so much determination and optimism can achieve when you’re unwell, a healthy dose of patience doesn’t go astray either! You really need to surround yourself with the right team of people to support you when you can’t be fully independent. I’m lucky that I have a nursing background; this has come in very handy in navigating the road to recovery. On the flip side, I’ve always said the activities I’ve done since my injury have just been a distraction from my rehab, but they have been as equally therapeutic. Volunteer work makes you feel great, it fosters personal growth and builds character, and that’s something I’ve really needed and thoroughly enjoyed too.
What are your goals for the future?
Obviously I’d love to physically recover from my injuries and return to dancing, I miss it very much, but right now I can only focus on what I can currently do, it doesn’t stop my brain from wandering off though. My goals as the current President of JCI Illawarra are to expand the geographic footprint of our chapter, strengthen the reputation of the brand and create a measurable impact with the projects we deliver. Long term, I plan to return to university to complete a Masters in Public Health focusing on health promotion, social marketing and project management. As a sibling of an adult with special needs, I intend to use these qualifications to work with others to advocate for and address their needs. In a family with a child with special needs, the healthy child’s needs are often not met, and can lead to problems later in life. Also one day, I’d maybe like to settle down and have a family of my own.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?
This goes for every career path, network, network, and network! Never underestimate the power of networking as a business tool. Having a well established and maintained business network is a career long safety net, and at some point you will need to rely on it and/or leverage off it. Trying to establish one once you need it is a very difficult task. Identify your personal strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses. Be patient, respectful and transparent. Keep your resume current. Assume you deserve nothing, and be prepared to work really hard.