We’re still buzzing following our panel session on navigating career breaks, held in partnership with AGSM at the University of NSW on Thursday.
All our panellists shared their remarkable and very different career stories along with the many career transitions they’ve made, including former NSW Liberal party leader Kerry Chikarovski, Clipsal Solar CEO Preeti Bajaj and business leader Jacki Johnson.
One thing evident from the anecdotes, humour and experiences discussed was that all three panellists shared a strong sense of authentic confidence — the kind that’s infectious and that you want to bottle up and keep.
And there is no better time to have such confidence than when navigating your next move following a career break, or when making a career transition.
While confidence is not something you can just ‘turn on’ or ‘fake’, there were a few things on confidence and courage we took away from this discussion that could help anyone in making a career shift or big return back to work.
Confidence and courage
Leadership takes courage. When asked to share more on their career transitions and changes, all three women said that courage and bravery has been an essential aspect of their success. They had put their hands up for opportunities, said yes to things when they weren’t 100 percent ready and had been willing to be the first woman in different roles along the way. The momentum can build from saying yes to that first opportunity.
Purpose-led leadership will lift your confidence. If you stick to your values and know your purpose, your confidence will be supported from knowing that you’re doing the right thing. Jacki found an opportunity to do just that when she accepted a seat as a non executive director at NSW Workcover Authority (becoming the first female on a NSW statutory board), after initially starting out her career as an occupation therapist. She’d been treating people with horrendous injuries following workplace accidents and knew she could do more to prevent such accidents occurring in the first place, through leadership.
Confidence is about admittance. It’s not about how much knowledge you have or about being the smartest person in the room. Preeti shared how she works mainly with engineers, and will never be able to compete with them when it comes to their expertise. “Confidence is about admitting your willingness to learn. I think it is about defining that for yourself.”
Feel the fear? Don’t stand still, get active. After Preeti made the bold move to buy a one way ticket to Australia from India in order pursue new career and education opportunities, she had to start again with no network and just $700 to her name. She says that for a moment, she thought about calling home and declaring she’d make a big mistake. Instead, she ‘got active’. She started pounding the pavement down Melbourne’s Chapel Street, taking he CV to any restaurant and cafe she came across.
“Fear is paralysing, but in the moment recognise it and just do something. Don’t stand still. Move. Then all these things will happen. Suddenly the mind starts to shift. It goes from fear to activity, and then to creating possibilities. I’ve seen it repeat throughout my career every time.
Told you can’t do one thing? Do something even bolder. The crowd loved hearing Preeti’s story about opening a nightclub in Delhi after being initially told she couldn’t do that because women couldn’t serve alcohol. “That’s ok,” she told the naysayers. “Because I’m going to be selling the alcohol.”
Know when to ignore the ‘advice’. When you have a big idea for a business or for a career change or transition, you will come across well meaning colleagues — even in your own sector — who will tell you it’s a stupid idea, that you’ll be risking too much and that it could even end your career. Jacki recalled experiencing this a number times, especially at one time shifting to launching a startup for IAG — and going from having a team of thousands to one of just twenty or so. “If you listen to other people you can limit your career, you do need those people you really trust … You need those strong people who support you and help you test those possibilities.”
Have the confidence to not be confident. Finally, Kerry offered this essential reminder that she learnt the hard way during her political career: know when to ask for help. Always confident on the outside, she said she was often a nervous wreck during her time in politics. One day she was in complete despair, crying alone at home. “What I lacked at that time was the confidence to pick up the phone to someone I could talk to. I had no role models because there were no women there. I couldn’t trust my own party particularly the blokes who were after my job…I needed the confidence to acknowledge that I was not coping and that I actually needed to talk to someone.”
Kerry advised that while it’s important to have mentors, it’s also essential to ensure you have someone you can “download” to, someone who has your back.
Check out Kerry Chikarovski’s recent piece on Women’s Agenda on how to rise above the bullies.
We’ll be sharing more from the panel over the coming week, including more on confidence and courage