Inspirational Women: Joanna Gruenberg

October 17, 2014

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.

Name and role:

Joanna Gruenberg, senior tour guide for AAT Kings

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I lead groups of up to 50 people on cultural tours around the base of Uluru, hiking through the domes of Kata Tjuta and along the rim of Kings Canyon.

How/when did you know this was what you wanted to do as a career?

Public speaking is something that has always come natural to me and is why I originally pursued a career in broadcast journalism in my home country of Canada, where I had a few good years dabbling in sports radio. Journalism is an extremely competitive industry, however, and I wanted to find something a little more stable. I had co-workers, friends, and bosses in recent years tell me that my ability to connect with complete strangers was being wasted as a waitress while I waited for my radio career to take off. They encouraged me to look into the tourism industry and try my hand at guiding. AAT Kings took a chance on me in March 2013 even though I had no experience in leading tours or much knowledge of Australia and its indigenous history. The more I learned about this ancient land and the people that inhabited it, the more I fell in love with the place. Within a few months I was receiving positive feedback from guests on a daily basis and being asked to train new staff. For the first time in a long time I felt successful and realised this could be the career I’d always dreamed of having, and I haven’t looked back since!

Where do you find your inspiration?

There are few words that can describe the feeling of seeing the sun break the horizon behind Uluru in the morning. You would think nearly two years of desert sunsets would get tiresome but it’s the natural beauty of this place and the simplicity of life that drives me each and every day. I’ve been privileged in getting to know the Anangu, the traditional custodians of this land, and being trusted to share their history and stories with visitors is a role I do not take lightly. They have an incredible connection to each other, the landscape, the animals, and it’s impressive to know they are continuing to pass down traditions from over 22,000 years ago. It’s something that many do not fully understand when they arrive here but I am always confident that a tour with me allows people to leave with open minds and acceptance. As advanced as our society has become, the Anangu have so much wisdom to offer us. They inspire me to take better care of myself and my surroundings, and when I hear whispers of similar sentiments through my groups, I just know that I’ve chosen the right career path.

Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career off the ground?

When I moved to Australia four years ago, I had no connection to the country nor anybody here who would compliment my speaking and social abilities and encourage me to try something different. I figured I had to trust my gut instinct as I had nothing to lose. I quickly found that the skills I learned in college, and refined in the newsroom, could be applied in the role of a Tour Guide and if anything gave me a boost in solidifying my role within the company. Constant encouragement and praise from my Managing Director and colleagues made me want to go above and beyond my job description. In a way, I felt like I was back in school and trying to be the best student I could be; not for the approval but to see what I was capable of. Without all of this support, I never would have taken the leap in the first place.

What were the stumbling blocks, initially getting started on your career path, and since then?

When I moved to Australia from Canada in September 2010, I was still trying to make a real breakthrough with broadcast journalism but was overlooked for a lot of jobs due to my visa work restrictions and was stuck doing basic hospitality work. Coming to the realisation that a career in journalism wasn’t going to happen was not an easy reality to accept. I hadn’t dreamt of doing anything else since I was eight years old. I had also felt guilty that I had spent my parents’ money on a degree that was going nowhere. I met many young Australians in my first few years in Sydney who suggested a career in tourism would be perfect for an outgoing, independent traveler like myself. I had always had an interest in this industry but was denied every job I applied for as most places wanted Australian citizens or permanent residents. Since becoming a permanent resident in April 2013 I have found doors open much easier. Occasionally though I still get eyebrow-raises from people who think someone with my accent has no business recounting historical events and stories from Australia’s oldest indigenous community.

How did you overcome these?

I made sure to always remember not to take the job rejections personally. Work laws are strict in this country and I had to respect that and simply wait for my time to come. I took this transitional period to research Australia’s history and involve myself in the culture. I wanted to get a real sense of what Australians value, their attitudes towards work, how they unwind, etc. The longer I spent here, the stronger I felt about the idea of making Australia my permanent home. This desire drove me to stick through the stressful times of immigration uncertainty and keep focused on a new goal of working in my new dream career. I got the sense that Australia was happy to reward its inhabitants with success but you’d have to work for it and so I was happy to accept this challenge.

What are your goals for the future?

I’d like to take my experience as a Day Tours Guide on the road. There are people I have only met for an hour or two on tour who feel compelled to give me their address and invite me to stay with them if I’m ever in their city. If I could use these strong interpersonal skills of mine, along with the knowledge I’ve gained from living in one of the most remote places in Australia, and apply them to personalised, small group touring which would give me a great sense of accomplishment. I want to bring out a sense of wonder in people all over the world and encourage them to see this planet beyond their front door.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?

I am often told by guests that I have so much passion for my job. I always tell them, “When you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like a job.” I want people young and old to know that the “best” jobs aren’t always the ones that have the highest income or the richest benefits. You will feel so much more productive and fulfilled when you spend your time doing something that drives you.

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