Episode #2

09 Sep 2019 | Tales of the C-Suite

We all have stories to tell. This is one of mine.

I took my gap year a little later than the Aussie average, at the age of 29. 

I had pressed on from completing secondary school to full time university to full time work. In the absence of other means of financial support, I had no choice but to continue to pay my own way and support myself as I had done through uni. It took an agonising length of time to land my first role in my chosen field of marketing. My degree prepared me to do a job, nothing at uni prepared me to get a job.

My story from there is one of having the courage to follow my own path even when it seemed scary, unfamiliar and risky to those around me.

My career story kicks off with my first role as Marketing Assistant at Lever and Kitchen, a division of fast-moving consumer products multinational, Unilever. A highly prestigious organisation at the forefront of marketing and sales, Unilever had been the subject of many a case study for students of marketing in my era. My career was off and running!

After just thirteen months at Lever & Kitchen, I made the fortuitous decision to accept a role at OTC Limited, the international telco. A close friend from uni lured me from soaps to satellites with stories of an industry in transition, with large marketing budgets and extensive training programs, a well-developed marketing strategy, and opportunities for promotion.

This decision was viewed as a risky and very surprising career move by my colleagues and managers at Lever & Kitchen. Why would an aspiring marketer leave one of the most prestigious marketing firms in the world?

As it turned out, I received five promotions in the five years after joining OTC Limited. The “risk” had paid off for my career.

Then, at about the time I was considering taking a belated gap year, I was offered a General Manager position in the recently merged OTC and Telecom, which would be known as Telstra.

Should I stay or should I go?

To be a General Manager at 29 years of age was beyond my wildest career expectations. The consensus among the significant people in my life was to “take it”.

Yet I was restless, unfulfilled, with a wanderlust that would see me keep every packaging box for every appliance I ever purchased … because I always knew I would be moving house again soon enough. None of my family or friends ever recorded my contact details in pen, pencil was the implement de rigour when it came to my entry in their address book.

So, I went. 

I found the courage to follow my own path even when, again, it seemed scary, unfamiliar and risky to those around me.

As Dr Susan Jeffers states in her magnificent book Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway: “all my life I have never heard a mother call out to her child as he or she goes off to school, “Take a lot of risks today, darling.” She is more likely to convey to her child, “Be careful, darling.” This “Be careful” carries with it a double message: “The world is really dangerous out there” … and … “you won’t be able to handle it.” What Mom is really saying, of course, is, “If something happens to you, I won’t be able to handle it.”

Hearing and truly understanding this concept became a pivotal moment in my life. Feeling the fear (my own and that of the people closest to me) and doing it anyway, has been a guiding mantra in my life and career. You see, each time you take the opportunity to stretch your capacity to handle the world, you become more self-confident, more self-reliant and more courageous.

My gap year turned into five years of living and working in London.

The London skyline at dusk, July 2019

Twenty-five years on, I am planning another gap year in 2022, with my husband, based out of London. It has taken five years of planning and strategising and moving the chess pieces for this to be feasible. What some call lucky, we call hard work, planning and having the courage to follow our own path.

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