Finding ways to find their way

Mr James Seaha, Director of Post Secondary Planning
Image of Mr James Seaha, Director of Post Secondary Planning, with a student
Mr James Seaha, Director of Post Secondary Planning

Building a career is a personal and quite individual process that rarely begins with the collective end in mind. While identifying the path is the first step, the wholeness of the concept called ‘career’ is only fully appreciated upon reflection. Finding one’s way can be loosely described as an exercise in recognising seemingly random life experiences; seizing new opportunities; navigating unforeseen circumstances; and embracing emergent technologies. An ever evolving reflective compass directs the trekker’s path.

As I began the first draft of this article, the world celebrated International Women’s Day — an appropriate time, I thought, to reflect upon the emerging careers of four of our recent graduates. While at School, they were proactive and involved learners. As well as embracing the fast-paced, demanding academic and co-curricular offerings of the School, these young women actively
engaged in planning for their life beyond Girls Grammar.

Embedded in their stories are the beginnings of their careers which now become lessons for girls still in the planning. While each story is as different as the young woman who navigated the path, the lesson for future trekkers is the same: plan a direction that reflects a personal preference; seek and grasp opportunities as you discover them; navigate unforeseen circumstances with positivity and resilience; embrace the technologies of the twenty-first century as they emerge; and take time to allow reflection to direct you.

Sally’s Way

While sharing a tree stump at Marrapatta, Sally (alumna 2003) confided that she thought she might like to study the law. Her reasoning was: ‘It’s the place where I think I can make the most difference.’ Upon graduation, Sally was not offered a place in law as she planned. Undeterred, she studied successfully in the Arts, adding law in the following year. Sally’s time at university was characterised by four things: academic success, working and saving, volunteering, and backpacking with newfound friends in the developing world. Although profoundly affected by her volunteer experience in a Ghana AIDS orphanage, Sally describes these characteristics as ‘each as important as the other in framing my career’.

At School, amongst other activities, Sally was a member of the United Nations Club. At university she joined The University of Queensland Human Trafficking Research Group. In her private life she volunteered as coordinator of Eddie’s Van for five years, providing food and friendship to Brisbane’s homeless. Now, with two years’ experience in commercial litigation under her belt, Sally felt it was time to apply her legal skills as well as her travel and volunteer experience to the planning of the next stage of her career.

Late in 2012 Sally applied for a position as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development in Bangkok. From her hotel room in Tokyo, she interviewed with an Australian Government official in Adelaide. Sally later described that, during the process, she came to a profound understanding. ‘Suddenly, I understood how the seemingly unrelated experiences I had created in my youth had, without my realising it, laid the groundwork for my career.’ And so it is with all of us that, with the benefit of reflection, the choices we make along the way eventually reveal themselves as the foundations of our future.

Image of compass with quote "An ever evolving reflective compass guides the trekker's way".
An ever evolving reflective compass guides the trekker’s way.

This month Sally begins her work as a Human Trafficking Legal Research Officer for AusAID, working within the FREELAND Foundation, an organisation that dedicates itself to fighting wildlife trafficking and human slavery — another opportunity for Sally, born of unforeseen circumstance and a global perspective, facilitated by technology and nurtured by reflection.

Meg’s Way

Contemplating a career in veterinary science and wanting to arrange a rural work experience, Meg (alumna 2012) first appeared at my door in Year 10. Her return later in the year to arrange another, this time in a rural medical practice, prompted some questioning on my part.

Raised in a country setting in her primary school years, Meg would accompany her father when he visited rural and remote medical facilities as part of his work. In Year 10 she began exploring her interests through work experience. In Year 12 she travelled again with her father to a hospital in Papua New Guinea where she witnessed clinics and arranged interviews with doctors and nurses. They modelled a commitment to their profession that caught Meg’s attention and influenced her decision to seek further experience in developing countries. Later that year, Meg became the first Brisbane Girls Grammar School student to undertake an international medical work experience (in Tanzania) with a private organisation called GapMed. So profound was her experience that she returned to finish School with a newfound enthusiasm and commitment to a career in rural medicine. Meg was a young woman with a mission and the drive that creates opportunities.

Meg applied herself to the application process to James Cook University Medicine with singular purpose and dedication. Though its extensive and labour-intensive demands were sometimes challenging to negotiate, Meg persevered with relentless focus.

Meg recognised opportunities early on and took them when she could. Again, with the benefit of reflection, she confirmed in her interview that these small, youthful and seemingly unrelated decisions, along with some carefully orchestrated secondary school experiences, helped to build the foundations of what is now her early career.

In January this year she was rewarded for her efforts with a place in medicine at James Cook University and, as I write, she puts her first footprints on that path.

Lucy’s Way

Finishing at Girls Grammar with an OP that would have gained her access to any university in Australia, Lucy (alumna 2009) chose the ‘University of Experience’ and enrolled ‘without a plan B’. Fully committed to her craft, Lucy is an actor with the passion and drive that makes a person step aside and let her pass. While her interest has been life-long, her journey into the profession was scaffolded by a number of contributors, one of whom was Francesca (alumna 1995). Lucy attended the 2009 Careers Mentoring Breakfast where she met Francesca, who had returned to Brisbane Girls Grammar School to mentor aspiring actors. She recognised Lucy’s passion and offered to help her, should she ever come to Sydney.

Lucy seized the opportunity, accepted the offer and moved there shortly after finishing Year 12. She soon learned that, as an actor, she had to be ‘ridiculously flexible and ready to go wherever it takes you’. ‘Sometimes a mermaid, an alien or a vampire, other times a waitress or a teacher and, a lot of the time an unemployed hippie’, Lucy is gathering those seemingly random life experiences that will form the foundations of her emerging career. After a ‘billion gazillion auditions (with a billion gazillion rejections, learning from each one)’, Lucy is already well-placed to recognise and share the value of positivity and resilience. Her talent, tempered with focus and resilience, has won her roles in two television series: the Queensland-made children’s drama H2O: Just Add Water in 2010 and Lightning Point in 2012.

This week, Lucy returned to the 2013 Careers Mentoring Breakfast — as the mentor. It was a time of reflection and sharing as she prepares to return to Los Angeles to begin filming her first feature-length film, Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters.

Aishlin’s Way

Having arisen at 3.00 am to attempt a summit of Mt Meru in Tanzania, our trekking group reached Rhino Point (3950 metres) at dawn, exhausted and very cold. Watching the sun rise over Mt Kilimanjaro was, quite literally, breathtaking and the group began to consider whether or not we would continue. From the back, a quiet voice protested, ‘We have to, at least, try!’ Aishlin’s (alumna 2008) plea sparked the creation of a smaller summit group who went on to do just that.

Her interjection that day turned out to be a mere precursor to a greater challenge that would present itself later in the year when Aishlin was encouraged to apply for a traineeship in financial assurance. To win it would mean that, instead of heading off to university as planned, she would commence full-time work and study part-time for the first two years of her degree. Uncertain, she decided to use the application process to gain experience and insight into the corporate world — a seemingly harmless decision to ‘give it a try’ that would change her life quite markedly as uni casuals were soon replaced by corporate suits.

The hours were long but the work was rewarding, especially when she could see the benefits of genuine corporate experience applied to academic theory, and Aishlin thrived. Two years of full-time work characterised by expectation and responsibility morphed into two years of full-time study, inclusive of an exchange semester at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. Though she did not plan it so and was, in fact, a reluctant starter, Aishlin created the university experience she planned, as well as the corporate experience she did not — an unforseen circumstance, a new opportunity transformed into a life experience.

Undaunted by timelines and distance, Aishlin completed her degree a semester early and passed her first exams for the Graduate Diploma of Chartered Accounting in December 2012 … in Singapore … on her way to a holiday in Europe … because it was the only venue that suited her timeline. Now a senior accountant, she is as proactive in her professional life as she was in her academic and co-curricular life here at School: setting goals, planning to succeed and managing when she does not, seizing opportunity, creating life experiences, and guiding her path with intelligent reflection.

During its lifetime, a career unfolds as a series of (hopefully) well-considered decisions influenced by opportunity, circumstance, technology and personal preference. Its wholeness is only visible with the reflective powers of hindsight.

As they did at School, these young professionals continue to engage in open-minded, well-informed planning and, as a result, have recognised new opportunities, managed unforeseen circumstances and, each as their career has demanded, embraced the technologies of the twenty-first century. For each, technology provided global opportunity. For each, seemingly unconnected youthful opportunities delivered life experiences that signposted a career.

Their paths are pointed in different directions, each leading to an unknown destination that will reflect the young woman who set herself upon it. One wonders what decisions lie ahead; what circumstances will influence them; what technologies will demand of them. If the immediate past is any indication of their future, I am convinced that they, and hundreds more like them, will build careers that will leave an indelible mark on their professions.

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