After years of being told by recruiters that I have to sit in a box, that my experience could not lend itself to other disciplines or they didn’t know how to place me, I decided to take matters into my hands.
People are often curious to learn more about my career and how I got to where I got to saying phrases like ‘you are so lucky’. Let me tell you now, luck has nothing to do with it. It’s about resilience, courage, plenty of self-awareness and knowing that there is a solution to everything (even if you are not sure what it is at the time).
So I have decided to tell you a little story about my career history in the hope that it may encourage you to be brave and give it a go. Now remember, I have had and still have my fair share of knockbacks. But for every ten knockbacks, one terrific opportunity arises. It’s how you leverage that opportunity and create an amazing value exchange for both parties that will open the next door for you.
Having grown up on a farm, we all had to help in some way, whether it be picking or packing, making the boxes the vegetables were packed in, stamping the boxes, writing the freight forms or doing the weekly wages. This then translated to home where we all pitched in with the chores and from the age of eight, I was cooking like a demon (I could make a mean sponge cake at eight years old including safely using the oven). Point being, without realising it, by helping my parents with a diverse range of tasks with little instruction, I learnt how to think laterally and problem solve.
When I turned 14 and was able to get a part –time job, I asked Dad to drive me into the local grocery store so that I could ask for a job. I really wanted to work on the checkout but got a job in the deli (and there lies my love of cheese and small goods). I worked every weekend whilst maintaining my study and saved my money whilst keeping a little over to give me the freedom to buy things (I still remember my first CD – Boyz II Men). At 16, I went to work in a bakery and then transferred to a Brisbane store when I moved to Brisbane to university.
In my third year of university, I worked for a market research firm and again, whilst I wanted an analyst role, and was disappointed at the time; I took the telephone researcher role (you know those annoying people who ring you at 8pm at night asking you to do a survey – yep I was one of them). In my final year of university, I passed a notice board with an advertisement for a marketing consultancy looking for an assistant. I didn’t hesitate as to whether I was qualified enough, after all what would be the worst that could happen? I wouldn't get the job, but you have to be in it to win it. I grabbed the number and called straight away and…got the job. It was a guy who had gone out on his own (a lot like me now), looking for someone to help him with the marketing and administration side of the business.
I then worked following graduation full time for this consultancy for three years and in that time, I gave everything a go – from the administrative jobs that noone typically wants to do because "it's not in my job description" (here I learnt a lot about the realities of setting up a business) through to running some pretty amazing projects for the likes of Australian Rugby Union.
The lure of love brought me to Sydney (we ended up getting married and celebrated our 13 year wedding anniversary this week) and I worked for a PR consultancy. Just shy of three months there and after many situations that compromised my values, I walked out. That was such a scary thing to do at 23 and to call the owners out for being unethical. I was jobless.
Did I freak out? Yes, of course, I had just moved to Sydney, left an amazing job working for a supportive boss and I had no money to survive past the following week. Five minutes later of feeling sorry for myself, I reminded myself just how industrious I am, took a deep breath and put the power of connections at work.
You see it dawned on me, since a young age, I had built relationships at all different levels from my wonderful range of work experience. All I had to do was reach out, not be a mushroom and put myself out there (no one is going to do it for you).
The next day, I was working for Australian Rugby Union and was happy to take a role assisting the marketing team despite knowing that I had more to give. My job, was to make myself indisposable. That I did and I was offered a role in the media team with Rugby World Cup and then back in the marketing team where I stayed for a couple of years. I loved this job but I knew it was time to move on, to pave the way for someone else to learn and grow and for me to stretch myself again.
An accidental find led to me leaving Australian Rugby Union for a role as Major Events Manager at Tourism Australia. Some could argue the role was a complete stretch for me, but if you don’t stretch yourself, how will you ever learn. Right?
Day one I was literally given a blank piece of paper (the role was completely new) and off I went. One thing led to another and I worked at Tourism Australia, twice in fact and held various roles in between moonlighting with a baking business (remember my sponge cake when I was 8 – I realised I could use my business and baking skills and create a side business).
In 2014 it was time to leave the comfort of Tourism Australia (as much as I loved that place and the people) and do something completely different and open a hotel! No hotel experience and I withstood the jibes from various senior hotel people in that time about me being non-hotel marketer. I didn’t care, for those that would jibe, I had plenty of supporters in my corner and I had a seat at the table which means, my experience and opinion did matter. In my spare time, I learnt everything I needed to know about hotels to change any perceptions and alongside an amazing team, successfully opened the hotel despite many challenges along the way. This role stretched me professionally and personally teaching me more about myself and my ability than ever.
It also cemented to me everything I believed in but hadn’t articulated. Nobody is going to back you if you don’t back yourself.
I now work for myself as the Founder of two companies, Sparrowly Group - often described as a McKinsey-style consultancy for business across industries (with the smarts to not only be a strategist but the know-how to implement practical and tangible programs) and E4, a professional mentoring practice focused on the high school students and people early in their career journey to create a better workforce for the future.
So why am I sharing all of this? Because I want you to understand that ‘nobody puts baby in the corner – except yourself’.
No shouldn’t be a word that scares you off but makes you stop, reflect and refocus.
If I listened to those recruiters, I’d be working in a role where I was placed in a box, hating it, not learning and earning a quarter of my earning capacity. You need to back yourself, make real connections along the way, keep those connections close and nurture them and of course, do amazing work. Keep yourself and others accountable (finance teams I have worked with know they can’t pull the wool over this marketers eyes). Know your stuff and if you don’t, make it your business to learn it. Don’t wait for someone to teach you. If people can see that you are proactively learning, they will step in and guide you and teach you then.
Fast forward to today, when people ask me how I got to where I am, I simply say, “If the opportunity you want doesn’t exist or no one is sitting up and noticing, CREATE IT YOURSELF.’