Ladies, we don't need permission.

The Allens Law Firm just held an amazing event - Womens@Allens for Queensland week and I thought it was worth sharing and discussing before the awesomeness faded from my memory (as things tend to do so quickly these days!). The pearls of wisdom that came out of this panel of inspiring Queensland women bear repeating.

Madonna King talked about one of her biggest successes being choosing her husband. An interesting point, but one I think that is quite pertinent - your choice of spouse and the subsequent spousal support (or lack thereof) can play a big part in your future options.

Peter Hackworth's story (second from the left) is also amazing, and she pointed out that it is a smart and lovely thing to do to always be nice, charming and smiling to everyone, regardless of how you may feel or what their standing is. A cliche you may say, but so underestimated and such wise advice! Because we're all humans at the end of the day, and life really is about those interpersonal skills. I used to think I shouldn't be 'nice' on the rigs because that's 'too feminine'... until I realised that a) there was nothing wrong with being feminine and b) there was nothing wrong with being nice! In fact, the guys usually appreciate it. Those who don't, well, you can't win 'em all!

(She also talked about the value of picking up the phone and talking to people as a pose to emailing and texting which honestly, is so true! Fastest way to get an answer usually, right?)

Chelsea de Luca also talked more broadly about taking risks (she left a stable job to start her own jewellery line) and doing things that ultimately, in the broader scope of things, make you happy - and to see happiness as the final outcome. Not every day is going to be joyful, but it's that final outcome that counts.

Some other tidbits from the night:

  • Don't take things personally (something especially women do, perhaps?);
  • Understand that failure and risk are part of the process;
  • Hindsight is 20/20 but you are who you are today because of the tapestry of your past (life's too short to wonder about what could have been!);
  • Balancing family and career is always going to be a huge juggling act...but don't be afraid to ask for help either;
  • Just ask! (for that promotion, for that leave...);
  • ...and if they say no, sometimes go ahead and do it anyway! (start your own business etc).

One last thing that came out of a conversation right at the end (and a previous conversation with a good friend) was about the 'should do's' and dealing with what society tells us we 'should be' doing - as a woman, as an academic, or an achiever etc.

"You should be getting a good job and climbing the ladder"

"You should be working harder than everyone else"

"You should be focusing your career"...and so on and so forth.

Sometimes though, the rules aren't the be all and end all. They are societal expectations and they are there because society likes people to conform.

They are not hard and fast rules. 'Should' is not the same as 'must'.

There are always exceptions to the rule, no?

The question is - are you brave enough to be that exception? We don't need permission from anyone - just ourselves.

At the end of the day, it is up to us to choose what we want to do. It is safer to get that legitimacy from an external source like a company position, but it is also just as viable to find it yourself, doing it your way.

It might not work, but at least you'll have tried. You will definitely come back from that experience a different person. After all, the best experience comes from the worst situations! What is the worst that can happen, really?

So stop waiting for someone to give you permission to break the rules and do what you feel like doing. Just...do it.

Who knows?

When have you ever felt the urge to do something different? What 'should be's have you experienced? How have you broken through...or what stopped you??

The Problem with ‘Following your Passion’?


I came across a curious article a little while ago that got me thinking about the tried and true adage of ‘following your passion’.

The early stages of a fantastic career might not feel fantastic at all, a reality that clashes with the fantasy world implied by the advice to "follow your passion" — an alternate universe where there's a perfect job waiting for you, one that you'll love right away once you discover it. It shouldn't be surprising that members of Generation Y demand a lot from their working life right away and are frequently disappointed about what they experience instead.

Written on the blog of the ever trusted Harvard Business Review by the author Cal Newport, the article points out that the concept of “following your passion” is essentially made synonymous with loving every second of your job and never settling for anything less.  Such a perception, it is argued, is inherently problematic due to a number of reasons, including the false promises it holds and perpetuates.

I am not going to deny that I am through and through Gen-Y and am proudly guilty of repeatedly telling people to follow their dreams, pursue their passion and find something they care about. 

I do see the point of Newport’s argument though, and he again highlights his point in this Forbes’ article.

Trying to determine your passion and follow it…can be dangerous and lead to chronic job-hopping. You’d be much better off…improving and stretching your “rare and valuable” skills to become a “craftsman.” That will make you a stronger job candidate and help you have a successful career.

It is an interesting perspective.  My father is incidentally a strong believer of the same concept: working on finding skills that are transferrable and get you employed rather than simply “for enjoyment”.  Doing your duty, fulfilling your responsibilities.  There are a couple of points I think this line of thinking poses. It should be noted that I am referring explicitly to career options and not general interests and hobbies.

I definitely think there is immeasurable value in enjoying what you do.  There is no point hating your job or role and being dissatisfied with your existence…after all, YOLO.  However I think it important that a distinction be made between blindly following a passion and forever having good and easy times. When framed like that, the important message of hard work is left out.

For example, no one can say to you engineering is an easy degree.  If they can, either they are a genius or they did it wrong. However, many engineers love engineering. 

How is that possible?

Through the realisation that perhaps loving something doesn’t instantly make it effortless (I understand that this is the same case in marriage, although I can’t speak with authority on that yet).

Whether or not everyone has a ‘calling’ is perhaps disputed, however there are definitely things people enjoy doing more than others.  Whether you find something you love first and try find the job to match it…or find something you don’t mind and learn to enjoy and appreciate it, both are equally valid ways of following a passion.  Sometimes the passion may come not from the industry itself but in mastering the challenge and becoming good at what you do.

Is the latter a “compromise”? If you had asked me a year ago, I may have said yes.  Now, having entered the working world, I am less adamant.

After all, Steve Jobs did the same thing.  The technology re-imaginer started as a barefoot liberal arts student and ended up the face of technological reinvention…through a series of serendipitous occurrences as well as becoming extremely passionate about what he was doing.

If a young Steve Jobs had taken his own advice and decided to only pursue work he loved, we would probably find him today as one of the Los Altos Zen Center's most popular teachers. But he didn't follow this simple advice. Apple Computer was decidedly not born out of passion, but instead was the result of a lucky break--a "small-time" scheme that unexpectedly took off.

Excerpted from So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport. © 2012 by Calvin C. Newport.

Not everyone is a Steve Jobs in the making, but his example is instructive.  The way in which we find a passion may vary.  Some are fortunate enough to know what they want to do their whole lives, others are less sure but that shouldn’t be derided.  I know I fell in love with motorsport and cars after watching a movie in grade 9…so sometimes inspiration strikes in the strangest of places.
At the end of the day, I am not going to stop telling people to follow their dreams and passions.  We are human beings, passion is a unique gift.  I personally think it is important to care; caring and passion often come hand in hand.  I am finding that over time, my focus of passion is shifting from particular ‘issues’ to more about values that the issues embody, such as empowerment and equality (and in the case of racing cars, pure speeeeeed)
However, in doing so, I will suffix the message with a disclaimer that simply because it is a passion, it won’t always be sunshine and rainbows.  Hard yards are required, although isn’t that what makes an outcome worthwhile?
…and those who haven’t found a passion yet, don’t despair.  It is not always a lightening bolt that strikes overnight; sometimes passion comes in the form of stalactites and stalagmites – they never really mean to grow, but grow they do; ever so slowly, drip by drip just doing their thing, until one day someone visits and the realisation dawns that something truly beautiful has been created.