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I was recently asked to share my leadership story with a group of students participating in YWCA Canberra’s She Leads Diploma program. Below is an abridged version of my talk – enjoy!

I would like to start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people as the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we are meeting on this afternoon.

I would like to particularly extend my respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who for thousands of years have preserved the culture and practices of Aboriginal nations across their countries.

Having just last week hosted Julia Gillard at an event at the Portrait Gallery, where she discussed her memoir, My Story with 300 adoring fans, I’m feeling a little dwarfed, standing here with you today as I share my humble insights into my own experiences – I hope you take something useful from them.

So what I’ve decided to share with you are three moments in time, that I believe have fundamentally shaped my leadership journey and my career.

But first, a little about my early outlook on life – to set the scene.

When I was 16 I wanted to be a rock star. I had green dreadlocks, facial piercings, and a really intense death stare.

I played bass guitar and sung in a couple of punk and metal bands with my brother and friends.

We were about as “out there” as you could get for kids from the upper middle class, lower North Shore area of Sydney.

We wrote music about stuff that concerns most angst-ridden teenagers: conformity, oppression, “the system” – all that.

But at the heart of what we were doing, were a set of strong values, and a desire to see all people treated equally – regardless of the way they looked, how much money they had, where they were from, what music they listened to, or what they believed in.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we were proponents of social justice principles.

So I always thought I’d make a career out of writing the kind of music that would fundamentally change the world – but in my final two years of school I made a conscious decision to pursue photography and film making, my other passions.

It was a really difficult choice because I loved to do both, but as my HSC exams loomed, I reconsidered my potential career path.

I decided that storytelling through visual and written media was where I really wanted to focus my energy.

Which brings me to my first stand-out moment in time.

BROOME 2004

It was a bright summer morning, the day I found myself in a small plane, descending on Broome Airport – which looked more like a garden shed than any airport I’d ever seen!

I was about to embark on my broadcast internship with Goolarri Media, an Aboriginal owned and led television and radio station. Their vision – “to close the gap for all Indigenous peoples across the Kimberley region”.

So looking out the plane window at the red dirt and dazzling aqua blue water, I felt pretty scared.

I’d only had a short video-conference interview with the Director and staff at Goolarri the week before, to see if “I’d be alright out there”, and all of a sudden I was on the other side of the country, about to live and work with a crew I’d never met before, in a place I’d never been before, immersed in a culture so completely different to my own.

I reminded myself of my purpose and intention – I wanted to learn to harness the power of communications and media to tell important human stories, and facilitate positive social change.

It’s hard to put into words exactly how much the time I spent out there blew my mind, both on a professional and deeply personal level.

From working on documentaries about hunting and cooking in the middle of the desert in 40 degree heat, to producing important community service announcements and health campaigns with incredibly knowledgeable local people – to mentoring a young, deaf Aboriginal man in post-production techniques – it all pushed me way out of my comfort zone.

But it wasn’t just what I learned about my professional craft that shaped my world view, it was the first time that I felt like I was part of a minority (I’m pretty white as you can see), it was the first time I had met Aboriginal people the same age as me, and it was the first time I’d ever been trusted so much as a young professional.

I think I learned more about this country we live in, and my own leadership potential in that month than I have from any other experience in my life.

POP PRINCESS 2008

After a few years freelancing in film and television production, I finally came to terms with a few cold hard facts about the industry I was working in.

The penny finally dropped while I was working a 16 hour shift on a shoot for a very well known “Princess of Pop’s” music video. I realised that:

  1. The hours were long, the pace furiously unrelenting, and getting decently paid work involved competing with a lot of other people
  2. The gigs were mainly corporate – commercials, training videos, and the like
  3. I wasn’t prepared to claw my way to the top of the industry food chain

So one day on set, as she tried to get me fired from the crew for purchasing the wrong brand of herbal tea for her dressing room stash, I knew I had to face up to the fact that my dreams of telling important community stories, and making the world a better place were not coming true.

In fact, I was exactly where I didn’t want to be – spending my time and talent working for people I had little connection with, on projects that I largely didn’t care about, in an industry that facilitated an “every man for himself” culture.

So I finished the shoot, had a BIG sleep, and thought hard about what to do next.

THE CANBERRA MULTICULTURAL FESTIVAL 2009

As I wandered around my first Multicultural Festival, I took some time to hang around the not-for-profit stall area.

I was working on a project for the Heart Foundation, and really wanted to grow my networks in the sector. I was on the hunt for a volunteering opportunity.

I’d never heard of the YWCA before, and wondered if the well-intentioned ladies behind the stall had their wires crossed.

But after hearing about their mission to “work for a world where reconciliation, justice, peace, health, human dignity, freedom and care for the environment are promoted and sustained through women’s leadership”, my interest was immediately sparked.

As I signed off on my membership form that day, I had no idea what opportunities would present themselves to me in the years to come.

A friend of mine, who was also a member, spent the next few months harassing me to undertake the Y’s Board Internship Program. I gave in, applied, and much to my surprise, was selected.

In 2011 I was actually co-opted to the YWCA Canberra Board when a position became vacant.

The next year I was again politely harassed into standing for Vice President, and was voted in by the membership.

That same year I was also successful in applying for a Great Ydeas grant, which enabled me to bring together an offline and online community of women martial artists here in Canberra – to share knowledge and skills.

Last year I was politely harassed into applying for a Communications and Advocacy internship with the World YWCA in Geneva, and I was truly shocked and delighted when I was selected.

In Geneva I was fortunate enough to spend time with the World YWCA and UN Human Rights Council to explore how digital communication can enhance the work of international advocacy efforts.

And now here I am, Director of Corporate Relations and Communications at YWCA Canberra – one of the most influential, dynamic and innovative NFPs in this town.

I can honestly say that I’m “living the dream”, albeit my dream of helping share important community stories, and facilitating positive social change.

So what did I learn from Broome, a Princess of Pop, and the Multicultural Festival exactly?

On reflection, my time in Broome gave me the perfect opportunity to explore and understand my values, passions, and innate leadership qualities. Agreeing to get on a plane with a week’s notice to do that internship, was the first time I had said “yes” to something pretty big, that I didn’t feel at all confident about. I had no real reference point, no support, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’m so glad I said yes.

From The Princess of Pop I learned that sometimes it’s incredibly valuable to have a clear understanding of what you don’t want to do. While some people might see these experiences as “wasted time”, I am thankful that I had a chance to live the life of a freelancer in Australia’s film and television industry. I honed my business acumen, organisation skills, technical ability, and it definitely tested my resilience on a number of levels.

Through my membership and now employment with the Y, I have been exposed to life-changing opportunities that have allowed me to explore my own leadership potential, to understand what positive social impact I can make as a communications professional, and to form friendships, skills, and experiences that are well beyond any dollar value.

One of Her Canberra’s 15 Women to Watch in 2015

Her Canberra - 15 Women to Watch

Nominated for Mamamia’s Most Clickable Women of 2013

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