Life lessons from Leigh Sales: How to be a remarkable woman

Life lessons from Leigh Sales: How to be a remarkable woman

As one of Australia’s most prominent journalists, it’s fair to assume that Leigh Sales has learnt some valuable lessons over the years. My expectations were confirmed when I heard her speak at this morning’s Remarkable Women breakfast event (organised and hosted by another very remarkable woman Shivani Gopal).

Leigh’s advice to all women was sage, completely unbarred and therefore refreshing. She acknowledged that much of our life is uncontrollable with luck heavily implicated, and the notion of fairness out of the equation. It isn’t fair for instance, that while we sat there eating a delicious breakfast and listening to inspiring stories, other women all over the world would be suffering inconceivable poverty and abuse this International Women’s Day.

However, outside of the sheer volatility and unpredictability of life, Leigh certainly believes there are certain actions women can take to accelerate themselves and their careers. Here’s the six key lessons I came away with:

  • Push through the discomfort:

Sales admits that she’s far from immune to nerves. In fact, she once threw up three days ahead of an interview with Hillary Clinton and says much of the time, ahead of big interviews or encounters she feels the sense that she’s “breathing through a straw”. Despite this, she says it’s critical for women to keep pushing through the imposter syndrome. Don’t deny yourself opportunities because fear takes over.

  • Don’t procrastinate

That shitty task is still going to be there tomorrow, the next day and the next. If it’s something you’re dreading the situation is even worse. For Leigh, this is often cold calling interviewees or people with leads. But she’s learnt over the years to get it done quickly and minimise the associated discomfort.

  • Don’t internalise criticism

“Criticism doesn’t define you” says Leigh, who’s undeniably copped her fair share of it over the years. On a daily basis, trolls will hit out calling her “fat, ugly, racist” and everything in-between. For criticism like this, Leigh’s learnt a valuable strategy. “If it’s meaningless and nasty, why care?” She says. “It’s so liberating not to care,” and women should embrace this. When faced with constructive criticism, Leigh’s learnt that if the “person has your best interest at heart” it’s best to listen in. Try to reflect on what they’re telling you and acknowledge any truth in their thoughts. It’s hard to do, but is ultimately worthwhile.

  • Stay educated

“Education is absolutely key” Leigh says. Stay engaged, interested and active in learning and gaining other perspectives. Broaden the way you see the world– this will help propel you forward.

  • Embrace failure

Not everything will work out exactly as you’d planned. One of Leigh’s greatest life lessons came when she applied for a television foreign correspondent role which she subsequently missed out on. She concedes that the situation rattled her; she felt disheartened and deflated. But when her friend suggested she apply for a similar position on radio, she inevitably went for it and was chosen. “I look back now and think if things had worked out how I’d wanted them to, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. That job in radio led Leigh to write her first book ‘Detainee 002’ centred around David Hicks. It also ultimately led to her first television role on Lateline. Failure embraced can lead to even more positive outcomes.

  • Be kind

For Leigh, kindness is the single most important human virtue and a character trait she instils in her young sons who she’s raising to be “kind, empathetic men”. She says she rarely remembers the celebrities she’s interviewed but is always left impacted by the men and women she meets who are selfless, warm and driven by a greater purpose. One such example is former tennis great, Carol Langsford who, after losing her daughter to MS, went on to fundraise over $4 million to further research of the disease through the ‘Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation’.

“Sometimes the kindness of others is the only thing that keeps you going,” she reminds us.

Certainly something to keep in mind this IWD.


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