Finding Ways to Find Their Way

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Mr James Seaha, Director of Post Secondary Planning

Building a career is a personal and individual process that rarely begins with the collective end in mind. While identifying a path is the first step, the wholeness of the concept called ‘career’ is often only fully appreciated upon reflection. Finding one’s way (building a career) can be loosely described as an exercise in stringing together seemingly random life experiences; seizing new opportunities as they present themselves; navigating unforeseen circumstances; and embracing emergent technologies. Looking to the past and evaluating the present are equal partners in guiding the way to the future. Therefore, an ever-evolving reflective compass must also direct the traveller’s route.

The stories in this article are written with a singular purpose in mind: to reflect upon the emerging careers of recent Brisbane Girls Grammar School graduates in the hope of teaching, guiding and inspiring those who will follow. While at school, Sarah, Kate and Beth were proactive and involved students. These young women learned the value of engagement by embracing the academic and co-curricular offerings of the School. They were enthusiastic participants in a variety of those ‘seemingly random activities’ that would one day influence their paths. They learned to recognise an opportunity when it presented itself, and sometimes when it didn’t. They are young women who plan, act on opportunity, spend time in reflection, and embrace new ideas.


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 girls who follow is the same: plan a direction that reflects a personal preference; seek and grasp opportunities as you discover them; navigate unforseen circumstances with positivity and resilience; embrace the technologies of the 21st Century as they emerge; and make time to allow reflection to guide your decision making.

Sarah’s Way

I reconnected with Sarah (BGGS ’02) this past December in a CBD restaurant called Spring. It came as no surprise to me to find that she was Managing Director. Eleven years after leaving Grammar she was still the same powerhouse of positivity, enthusiasm and resilience, albeit with a lot more experience. She had learned a great deal about herself and the world and was keen to share it with the School she said ‘prepared her so well for life’. She did not say that Brisbane Girls Grammar School had prepared her well for university, and she did not say that the School had prepared her well for work. She said we prepared her well for ‘life’.

Finishing Grammar with an OP that would have gained her entry to any program in any university in Australia, Sarah began a double degree in Commerce and Law at The University of Queensland. Two and a half weeks later she recalled embarking on a ‘period of discovery that lasted until I was 25 — and that’s not where the discovery ended — it’s where it began’.

Unbeknown to Sarah, her ‘period of discovery’ would last for eight years and take her around the world many times. She continued her commerce degree part time and, in 2005, commenced her career quest by completing a semester at a Liberal Arts College in Switzerland. The following year Sarah continued her commerce and economics studies at The University of Oxford as part of the visiting students program. It was there that she began to recognise the many personal growth opportunities that existed for secondary students; it was there that the Brisbane Girls Grammar School Oxbridge Program was discovered.


The Harvard Summer Program in Business Management followed in 2007, and in 2008 Sarah completed her Commerce degree at The University of Queensland, following it with a Cambridge Masters in Land Economy in 2009. In need of a self-described ‘adult gap year’ and while she was ‘in the neighbourhood’, Sarah turned her attention to courses at Le Cordon Bleu in London and Paris, where her interests turned to the food industry. A summer internship at the Ritz Hotel in Paris followed, and, in 2011 Sarah returned to Brisbane.

Clearly, Sarah’s journey of discovery has been global, long and varied. She freely admits that she ‘didn’t have a clue’ when she started, but adds that the habits and attitudes, the discipline and routines that were embedded in her youthful psyche, set the firm foundation for her journey of discovery. ‘They gave me the freedom to explore.’

Sarah stepped out; she took risks and sought to study many things. She disciplined herself to keep searching. She further developed those early habits of positivity and resilience and, in the end (or is it the beginning?) founded Spring.

Kate’s Way

Bus duty can be a fruitful, educational experience for staff as well as students. While Kate (BGGS ’07) waited for her bus and I fulfilled the School’s duty of care, we chatted. Sometimes we chatted about university courses and careers, but mostly we talked about life and how to get along in it.

Now, at the age of 23, Kate is ‘getting along’ in a big way. After an exemplary employment record in the first years of the Origin Energy Graduate Engineer Program, Kate was deemed ‘a risk’. Her immediate supervisor reported that he believed that, ‘to mitigate the risk posed to the business if she were to accept an offer elsewhere’, a promotion was necessary. Yes, Kate was promoted to Pipeline Engineer after completing only half of the three-year Graduate Program because her supervisor believed that she had ‘outgrown it’ and her success had become a risk to the business.

Kate left Grammar as she arrived: full of hope, in search of opportunity and committed to a remarkably busy life. When I asked her where she acquired her unbreakable spirit and thirst for experience, she credited the culture of her family and the influence of Brisbane Girls Grammar School, which gave her a sense that ‘women can be anything’.

‘Don’t wait for it to happen; go out and make it happen’ became the mantra of her young years as she powered her way through her engineering degree seeking and taking every work experience opportunity she could find. Part-time work came from a cold call to a software engineering firm she passed on her way to university. A thirteen-week work experience in an open cut coal mine resulted from a casual conversation. Fourth year research gave rise to a stint with an energy company where she worked in exchange for assistance in gathering data for her thesis. These experiences did not come about by chance; Kate recognised opportunities and acted on them:


Everyone is willing to help someone who is willing to learn. I sought good mentors in business and engineering and my reliance on their help instilled in me a strong sense of empowerment. When I thrived, they thrived. This was an unexpected gift from colleagues who cared enough to mentor. I hope to pass along this empowerment by doing the same.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School provided Kate with her first community service opportunity. What began with Year 10 Service in childcare, continued throughout her education and into her profession. Now, as well as volunteering as a mentor in the Young Pipeliners Forum, Kate has become a recent SES recruit where she hopes to put her engineering skills and experience to good use.

Tirelessly applying herself on many levels, Kate achieves academically and enhances her success with experience and service. She maintains a strong commitment to her work and a positive attitude to life. What does this young woman hope to gain from it all? Kate says, ‘I want to know. The more I know, the closer I am to a solution, so I search’.

In her recent experience, the knowing was about her work; the solution lies in the green shoots of her career and the searching is imbedded in her character. I think Kate’s supervisor is a wise man.

Bethany’s Way

The extreme challenge of hard core trekking at altitude forms bonds that last well beyond the experience. Bethany (BGGS ’09) and I shared that bond when we attempted to summit Mt Meru in Tanzania as part of the 2008 Antipodeans Abroad Expedition. While Bethany succeeded, I made the more age-appropriate decision to rest at 3,950 m and watch the sunrise over Kilimanjaro.

Not long after graduating Brisbane Girls Grammar School, we stood on the walkway outside my office reminiscing and planning when Bethany declared:

Mr Seaha, I have worked very hard at school and achieved the OP and UMAT scores I needed to gain provisional entry to medicine at The University of Queensland. But I am also passionate about history and political science and I want to learn about international relations. I’m going to follow those interests for a while and study my degree in Arts first.

With that decision, Bethany set her foot on a path that would see her pursue learning for learning’s sake. She majored in International Relations and minored in Economics … all with a view to following a passion. Highly successful in her academic endeavours, Bethany sought practical application of her studies. She joined The University of Queensland Human Trafficking Working Group and became so enamoured with her passion that she considered abandoning her goal to study medicine in favour of a diplomatic career.

Now a second year med student, Bethany describes her transition to the study of medicine as ‘just another of those random decisions fuelled mostly by curiosity’. This writer however, sees another dimension of her decision — one rooted in a sharp and enquiring intellect coupled with a passionate search for real life.


Last year, in yet another quest to enhance her study with practical experience, Bethany joined ‘Towards International Medical Equality’ (Time), a student organisation that champions engagement in medical volunteering and education, as well as raising funds to purchase medical supplies for developing countries. This year she serves as its President.

Again in 2013, Bethany pursued her quest for the practical, winning a Medical Insurance Group Australia (MIGA) grant to complete her first year medical elective placement in rural Peru. ‘Just like the Antipodeans expedition in Tanzania opened my eyes to the developing world, a first year medical elective in Peru has cemented my passion for it.’

Inspired by youthful volunteering experiences, the writings of American Doctor Paul Farmer (co-founder of Partners in Health) and an Arts major in international relations, Bethany has successfully navigated her way through those ‘seemingly unrelated life experiences’ to discover the foundations of her career. ‘Ultimately I see myself working as a physician and human rights advocate in the field of public health and development policy.’

I do not know the shelf life of bonds forged in extreme travel, but I hope it will be long enough for me to see Bethany’s life work emerge. Perhaps I will even visit her in some far off developing country to lend a hand … just not at altitude!

Finding their way

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 with their worlds with open-minded, well-informed planning. As a result, they recognise new opportunities, manage unforeseen circumstances and embrace the technologies of the 21st Century to fulfil a destiny they will determine.

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 be reflective of 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 confident that they and hundreds more like them, will build careers that will leave an indelible mark on their professions.

Published 4 April 2014