Lisa Wilkinson, a fixture of the Australian media landscape for more than three decades, has not written a memoir…yet.
But when she does, it will no doubt take up a proud place on many women’s bookshelves, alongside those of other Australian women like Ita Buttrose and Tracey Spicer, both of whom also have colourful stories to tell and significant runs on the board challenging the barriers that hold women back.
Yesterday at a Melbourne breakfast hosted by Business Chicks, Wilkinson gave a sold-out audience of more than 1500 devoted fans a sneak peak of what that memoir might include.
Spoiler alert: there’s an absolutely hilarious anecdote about the time she was summoned to Kerry Packer’s summer residence via his private helicopter to discuss taking over as editor of Cleo.
Finding your passion
Wilkinson is fond of saying, “Find a job you love and you will never work another day in your life.” Following her dream and finding her passion are, for Wilkinson, guiding forces in a career that lacked any formal media training.
Wilkinson recounted sitting in her geography class as a teenager, when she probably should have been paying attention to something else, covertly thumbing through the pages of Dolly magazine under her desk. A self-described magazine junkee, she dreamed of a career as a journalist, which, upon graduation, prompted her to answer a tiny three-line advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald for a secretary/ girl Friday at her beloved Dolly magazine.
“To this day, it’s the only job I have ever applied for,” she said.
Wilkinson was 19. Two years later, at the age of 21, her hard work and savvy insights into the minds of young women paid off and she was named editor-in-chief — the youngest to helm a magazine in Australia.
This accomplishment is now a widely known aspect of the golden girl mystique that surrounds Wilkinson, and she credits her hard work and love for the job: “Sure I didn’t have a uni degree, but I had something much more powerful. I had my passion.”
Backing yourself – and letting your success be the best revenge
What is perhaps less widely known is that following her appointment as editor-in-chief of Dolly, Wilkinson suffered from what can only be described as imposter syndrome. “To say that I was paralysed with fear would be an understatement,” she said.
“Who is this trumped up little typist think she is,” Wilkinson was sure the other senior editors in the building and in the industry were thinking.
“But those non-believers could not have done me a bigger favour,” she said. “I knew my strengths and weaknesses better than anyone and I wasn’t going to give any of those naysayers the satisfaction of seeing me fail.”
Success, it would seem, is the best revenge for Wilkinson, a philosophy she is clearly once again pursuing in the wake of her controversial, and somewhat bruising, departure from Today.
How does she succeed, despite the critics? She includes staff, she networks, she listens and, most importantly, she surrounds herself with the best and most talented people.
“Competition does not exist in my vernacular. I want to work with people from whom I can learn,” she said.
BREAKING — AND REWRITING — THE RULES
For Wilkinson, change is in the air. “Women have fully had enough,” she said. “There has never been a more exciting time to be a woman.
And perhaps that means, at long last, we can also redefine leadership on our own terms, rather than conform to a notion of leadership long defined by attributes associated with men.
On this topic, Wilkinson has learned a very important lesson from a long career that started when she was very young and lacked formal training: “Being so young, no one had gotten around to teaching me the rules,” she said.
“So I wrote a few of my own, and I certainly broke a few.”
Check back for more from Lisa’s upcoming keynotes on Women’s Agenda.