ADVICE: Understand and embrace engineering’s human factor – Trang Pham

Trang Pham, Civil Engineer at Aurecon and Chair of Women in Engineering Queensland at Engineers Australia, has had a varied career across retail, business, public service, and engineering in the private sector. She is passionate about representing and driving further diversity across STEM industries, particularly engineering, and recognises the challenges vary from organisation to organisation.

Engineering connects people – it’s not all stats and facts

Pham believes the engineering industry needs to make a greater effort to explain the societal and human impact of its work to invite and keep a more diverse workforce.

She explains, “People don’t understand it and think it’s very conceptual but it’s not. The stories we’re telling aren’t inclusive. We’re very analytical in how we describe our work. We say we’re building buildings, or designing roads, or building robots. This makes people think it’s purely technical and that engineering doesn’t require gender or diversity to be effective.

“But that’s wrong because the end users are humans. We need to talk about how the roads we’re building are connecting communities and providing access to health care and much-needed services, or how the robots we’re building are improving the quality of life for our ageing population.”

Being a woman in engineering was never a problem, until it was

Going to an all girls school, Pham remembers feeling empowered to study whatever she wanted, without any hesitation or restrictions based on her gender. At home, as the daughter of refugees from the Vietnam War, Pham also says engineering was a career she was encouraged to pursue by her parents because of its perceived stability.

By the time Pham started studying engineering at university, she started to realise that being a minority in terms of gender was going to be a part of her engineering career. She was often one of very few women in seminars and tutorials.

However, despite being a minority, Pham never felt the impact of a gender divide during her university years and says her diverse group of friends at this time ensured she was always welcomed and supported.

Once she joined the workforce, Pham’s experiences drastically changed.

In some work environments, she was part of truly diverse teams where everyone was from a unique background, culturally, religiously, or otherwise. She recalls having wonderful experiences because “you were a minority, but the majority was the minority.”

In other work environments, she “became an actual minority” and she saw significant shifts in how she was treated, viewed, and valued in the workplace.

At one stage, she had colleagues directly tell her she had only gotten a job because she was a woman and woman of colour – she ticked two diversity boxes for the company.

“It was so demeaning to my skills. I was so scared because of how I looked, I was actually standing out for once, and I felt so much more pressure to perform at a higher level than before,” she says.

Embracing a support network made me fearless

As well as her current role as Chair of Women in Engineering Queensland, Pham has been a Past Chair for Young Engineers Australia, and volunteers as a CSIRO STEM Professional in School partner. She attributes her ability to persevere past experiences of discrimination, while continuing to thrive in her career and contribute to the engineering community, to these support networks.

“Engineers Australia (EA) helped me maintain my voice within the workplace. It’s through Engineers Australia that I have developed my leadership and the role I play in the industry,” Pham says.

“It made me quite sure of myself in terms of what I had to say, what I had to contribute and that what I had to say was important. At times when I may have been scared of being seen or valued less in the workplace, through my experience with EA, I was able to take a step back and realise that I need to leverage my position and my voice to make sure I’m changing the industry for the better and for the people around me.”

Being empowered by her support network and with a drive to action change, Pham has been able to build allies and support network everywhere she goes, building her own resilience and ability to manage discrimination as it arises.

She encourages anyone experiencing discrimination in their workplace to “speak out”, but also recognises that this may not be possible for everyone. She says it’s important to assess whether the current situation is “taking your energy. If so, then you need to put that energy elsewhere that benefits you. That could be finding a job that supports you. That could be finding a support group of other women. That could be finding a hobby where you are supported and celebrated.”

She explains, “A lot of the time, people – not just women – get pigeonholed in a role and then their whole life revolves around that. For example, a lot of mums have that in any industries – people define them as a mum, not a professional, hard-working employee. It’s hard to say, ‘Ignore them’. But educating people that you are not just that person is really important, and developing that outside of work “

Today, Pham plays a key role in promoting diversity and inclusion at her current workplace, Aurecon, as well as highlighting for clients the ability to view engineering and business challenges through a human lens.

Relationships are everything in business

There were several times in her career when Pham felt she was a “failure”. She graduated several years after some of her peers due to needing to repeat some classes, and spent six months in retail management before using the skills from her business and engineering degrees in the corporate world.

However, over the years, Pham has realised that her perceived failures have led to some of her greatest strengths, and in the long-run, have enabled her to take leaps and bounds in her career that she otherwise may not have been able to achieve.

Her varied education across business and technical fields, combined with her diverse experience across multiple industries, combined with her strong work ethic and interest in understanding people has given Pham a matrix of skill-sets that are rare in engineering. In her words, it boils down to an ability to build relationships and connect on a human level.

She says, “If you can’t connect with your clients, you’re not going to bring work in and deliver the right solution. When you are building a relationship, you are trying to understand people’s stories, experiences and perspectives. Sometimes their issues aren’t engineering issues.

“Understanding that as well as the technical and commercial aspects is important, but understanding the person is the most important part. If you don’t get that, you’ll have slow growth in your career because you’re only skilled technically. If you build a relationship, people are asking for you and want you.”

About the expert

Trang Pham is a Civil Engineer at Aurecon within the Built Environment Unit, with previous experience in the IT and Infrastructure sectors. She is currently the Chair of Women in Engineering – Queensland and Immediate Past Chair for Young Engineers Australia – Queensland. Trang also volunteers as a CSIRO STEM Professional in School partner. Graduating from the University of Queensland (UQ) in 2014 with a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) and Bachelor of Business Management (Marketing). Trang is currently involved with UQ’s Young Alumni Advisory Board and UQ’s Women in Engineering Alumni Ambassador Council.

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Headshot of Alissa

VIEW: Artists need to decide whether this will be a year’s worth of excuses, or a year’s worth of progress

The arts and entertainment industries have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Allen Sanders, General Manager at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre, recently said in an interview, ““We were the first people to be shut down. We’ll be the last ones to start up.”

The cruise industry has also been on hold, with many cruise liners announcing further cancellations, adding to uncertainty around when they’ll be fully back up and running.

Alissa Musto has experienced first-hand the impacts of these changes across both industries. As a musician and entertainer on cruise ships, Alissa’s work has been directly affected. Like many in the sector, she’s had to pivot and adapt to the situation in front of her. In this interview, Alissa shares how she started her career in entertainment, and how she is managing the changes due to the current pandemic.

  • As a performer from a young age, at what stage did you decide to take your career onto luxury cruise ships and why?

I only started performing aboard luxury cruise ships a little over two years ago. Prior to that, I was a freelance artist based in Boston, performing in the New York City and New England markets. Career wise, I was doing well, but I was starting to get restless. I wasn’t fatigued from performing, but I was getting increasingly annoyed by the rat race and busyness of city life and needed a change of scenery.

I was walking into my voice lesson in Boston one afternoon and noticed a poster announcing auditions for a talent agency. I didn’t know too much about the types of venues or shows they casted, but in this industry, the more connections and opportunities you’re exposed to, the better.

I went in and performed a few songs and within a few weeks I was negotiating a contract for my first cruise gig. I believe the opportunity came at the right time, both personally and professionally. I don’t think I would’ve been ready for the fast-paced, high-pressure cruise life without having served my time in the local scene. 

  • How does a career on the water impact your lifestyle and sense of routine? 

In terms of lifestyle, the vicissitudes of land life are completely eliminated onboard; cooking, cleaning, traffic, bills, wondering where my next performance is.

However, ship life comes along with a different set of responsibilities and stress. As soon as you leave your stateroom, you’re working and need to look, speak and act like it, especially considering entertainers are amongst the most recognized onboard by both crew and guests.

When I am living and working at sea, I very much stick to a routine, although two days are never the same. I struggle to remember what day of the week it is, but it doesn’t really matter. Every morning is like a Monday morning and every evening is like a Saturday night. On port days, I’ll wake up early, go on an excursion or explore the port we’re visiting, head back to the ship and take a nap before getting ready for that night’s show. On sea days, I spend the daytime rehearsing, going to the gym, reading and hanging out with friends. 

Because ship/international wifi can be expensive and unreliable, WhatsApp and weekly calls with close friends and family are my only real connection to my world back home. 

The impact of a career on the water is most obvious when I disembark and return home. For the first few days, I am extremely busy cramming all the things I can’t do while on the road; appointments, organizing stuff around the house.

Then, everything just moves—slower. If I do pick up a few gigs, they’re usually reserved for weekends, as opposed to the cruise ships’ neverending entertainment schedule. My friends aren’t living in the next hallway; plans need to be made ahead of time. It feels weird having to actually drive to a grocery store, shop for food, cook and then clean up. Everything just takes more time and I find myself itching to get back to sea after a few weeks. 

  • How has your career, lifestyle and routine changed since the coronavirus pandemic? 

My career, lifestyle and routine have been put on hold “until further notice”. With the cruise and entertainment industries being hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for performers is nonexistent. Because I was planning on living onboard before everything escalated, I rented out my condo and have now been living at my parents’ house with my two siblings since being sent home mid-March. It’s the first time we’ve all lived together in seven years. 

I was supposed to be in Europe and would’ve been signing off from my contract in Rotterdam in a few days. My friends and I had planned to spend my birthday in Amsterdam. Instead, I’m on LinkedIn debating whether I should start applying for jobs. 

Of course, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m home. I’m healthy. My family is safe and healthy. But I miss my life. And my friends. And being on stage. It’s a scary thing when everything you’ve wanted and worked for is swept away in the blink of an eye.

  • How have you changed your plans for 2020/2021 due to the pandemic? What has the impact of these changes been? 

While businesses and industries across the world have begun to slowly re-open and operate under the new normal, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it will probably be several more months before I am able to return to stage. And it’s not just the cruise ships. It will be a while before concert halls and venues are in full swing again.

The most obvious side effect is financial; growing up in a family of professional entertainers, I learned early on that you always need to have savings for a rainy day. However, I’m definitely watching costs a little closer. I’m trying to use this time to take on projects that I wouldn’t have the time to do when I’m on the road; pre-production for a new album, collaborations with different artists, learning a new instrument and updating my website and promotional materials. 

  • What is your advice to other performers who have had to pivot their approaches during the pandemic?

There is not a doubt in my mind that this will someday be all behind us. But in the moment, it is really tough for performers to see the light at the end of this tunnel, especially when the rest of the world has started moving on.

My advice for other performers would be to channel this time and emotion effectively and creatively; working on your show, writing new material, growing your online presence, practicing more. We will perform for audiences again some day. And when that curtain reopens, we can either walk back on stage with a year’s worth of excuses or a year’s worth of progress. You decide.

About the expert

Growing up in a family of professional musicians, Alissa started playing the piano at four years old and debuted on the national television series, “America’s Most Talented Kid” at age nine. Since then, she has wowed audiences around the world, performing throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Mediterranean, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Her recent EP, “X Post Facto” has been described as “hauntingly beautiful”, “captivating”, poignant, authentic” and “the millennial ballad of the century”, while she has been critically praised as a “jazzy-folk songwriting genius”, a “female Elton John” and “your generation’s Billy Joel”. In addition to being featured in dozens of publications and music blogs, she has been interviewed for Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, Insider, Thrive, Moneyish, Refinery29, Conde Nast Traveler and Bustle. Representing her home state as Miss Massachusetts 2016, Alissa was also a top 15 finalist in the nationally-televised Miss America pageant and has been highly involved with several music education initiatives and organizations around the country. Alissa holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. 

Image description: Headshot of a Caucasian woman from that waist up. She has blonde, shoulder-length wavy hair and wears a blue dress and white earrings.

VIEW: Striking the balance between engagement and discomfort, to generate resilience

During COVID-19, communities are being reminded of the value of connection and engagement. In this interview, Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew, who has literally written the book on engagement, shares how engagement can lead to resilience, and her views on how societies around the world are now engaging due to the pandemic.

  • You’ve done a TED Talk, written a book and completed a PhD on engagement. At the surface level, it seems quite obvious that engagement and connecting to communities is important, and yet there are many deeper issues worth exploring on these topics. What drove you to study and explore these issues in such depth? 

Initially when I started my PhD program, I was interested in Asset Based Community Development. I was intrigued with the idea of viewing marginalized communities with a lens that was strength-based versus from a deficit point of view. I’ve always seen in even the most challenged areas that assets do exist. 

My advisor suggested that I examine social capital, a term I had never heard of before. She realized that I was really intrigued with relationships and how they are instrumental in the process of change.

Growing up, I witnessed my dad build relationships that launched his business. As an African American male in the deep south in the 80s, he had many hurdles he faced to develop a business that was supported by a diverse community. I also remember seeing my aunt and uncle in a bowling league. As a kid, I didn’t know they were exchanging social capital but they were helping one another with information about jobs, people to know, etc. 

All of my life, I saw relationships as not just transactional but transformative. I didn’t have the terminology for it but over and over again, I saw that relationships either opened doors or the lack of them prevented people from access and availability to opportunities.

  • You’ve spoken about the link between engagement and resilience. How has that link evolved over time and how does it shift according to the experiences we’re experiencing at an individual and society-wide level? 

I think resilience exists on an individual and a collective level. When we have support systems, it is easier to persevere because we have access to resources. We are seeing this play out in our current climate. 

In the US, individuals who have access to private medical care as a result of insurance have in many instances, an advocate who will see them and fight for them because there is a relationship. The doctor knows them. 

For those who do not have that resource and visit urgent care facilities or emergency rooms, they may not have the same outcomes. They could become just a number especially with the amount of cases our very strained medical workers are experiencing daily.   

We are also seeing communities step up and protect the most vulnerable like senior citizens. Despite the possible health risks presented, individuals are caring for others to ensure that they are safe.

Engagement has changed over time simply because of the introduction of technology. We have more opportunities to engage but we are now seeing Zoom burnout because people need face to face interactions. We are wired for connection. I can’t imagine this happening 30 years ago. The inability to connect like we can today through Facetime and social media would have been even more of a problem.  I think our current crisis will really demonstrate the need for relationships as we move forward. We need each other more than I think we realize. 

  • During COVID-19, what has surprised you most about the way communities are and aren’t coming together, and how does this relate to the research you’ve conducted or come across? 

I really haven’t been surprised. In moments of crisis, you see various ends of the spectrum as it relates to responses.

I have noticed that for some, it is the focus on self and how things benefit me/mine. For instance, individuals who are willing to go to beaches or parties because they are bored but are not thinking about the greater good. There are those who then focus on others. They are helping out in their communities and making themselves available. These are not exclusive, either. They can exist at the same time. 

I think I am elated because in my community work, I witness daily individuals who are collaborating, sharing resources and making a difference especially in areas that are plagued with poverty. These communities are already challenged and to see the sharing of resources to make sure that those impacted by COVID-19 have access to resources has been inspiring to me.  I’m inspired to know personally about churches feeding the homeless or schools offering meals to youth. There are so many amazing stories of individuals and organizations who are committed in this time to the greater good.

Disasters have a way of making people focus on the important things. As it relates to my research, I saw that when people are in close proximity to a situation, they experience perception transformation. I think as we see the challenges of healthcare and other essential workers, our views are changing drastically about the dangers they face. When we know someone personally with the virus, it has a way of changing the way we think.  I’ve had several friends that have recovered from the illness and I know others who have died from it. Having those close, intimate experiences have impacted my thinking significantly. 

  • How have your personal experiences impacted your approach to resilience today? 

Our stories and experiences play a significant role in who we are. They shape us and mold our perspectives. My journey hasn’t been easy but I have always been one who pushes through. I get tired and there are times I have wanted to throw the towel in and quit. 

I’ve learned there is nothing wrong with taking a break. There is nothing wrong with addressing how you feel. I think so many of us bottle up our feelings and it ultimately impacts us on so many levels.

Reflection has been a big part of my approach to resilience. I spend a lot of time thinking and processing my day. I remind myself of how I’ve dealt with challenges in the past and it allows me to remember that I can also get through what I’m going through at the time. Being grateful has played a huge role in my resilience.  

  • You’ve spoken about the importance of running to spaces of difference and places of discomfort. What’s your advice to others wanting to build their resilience in this way, but struggling with that level of discomfort or fear of the unknown? 

It is all about balance. If you are fighting all day long and you have no time for recovery, at some point, your wounds will overcome you and the infection and inflammation will be severe. The same thing applies for our day to day lives. If you are constantly in places of discomfort without opportunities to heal, process, reflect, and rejuvenate, it can be overwhelming. 

Relationships are important even in this space. Having individuals that can pour into you through the discomfort is important. I am all for being stretched but I also know it is critical to  be supported as well. I often remind those around me that we live in a society that always focuses on either/or. There are times it is both/and. You can feel discomfort, deal with the tension and still have spaces of refuge and peace in your life. Balance is key as much as possible.

About the expert 

Froswa’ Booker-Drew, Ph.D. is a Network Weaver who believes relationships are the key to our personal, professional and organizational growth. She has been quoted in Forbes, Ozy, Bustle, Huffington Post and other media outlets, due to an extensive background in leadership, nonprofit management, partnership development, training and education. She is currently Vice President of Community Affairs for the State Fair of Texas responsible for grantmaking, educational programming and community initiatives. Formerly the National Community Engagement Director for World Vision, she served as a catalyst, partnership broker, and builder of the capacity of local partners in multiple locations across the US to improve and sustain the well-being of children and their families.  She is also co-founder for HERitage Giving Circle and the owner of Soulstice Consultancy.

Dr. Booker-Drew was a part of the documentary, Friendly Captivity, a film that follows a cast of 7 women from Dallas to India. She is the recipient of several honors including 2019 Dallas Business Journal’s Women in Business honoree, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. Global Big Heart 2014, semi-finalist for the SMU TED Talks in 2012, 2012 Outstanding African American Alumni Award from the University of Texas at Arlington, 2009 Woman of the Year Award by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and was awarded Diversity Ambassador for the American Red Cross.

Froswa’ graduated with a PhD from Antioch University in Leadership and Change with a focus on social capital, diverse women and relational leadership. She attended the Jean Baker Miller Institute at Wellesley for training in Relational Cultural Theory and has completed facilitator training on Immunity to Change based on the work of Kegan and Lahey of Harvard. She has also completed training through UNICEF on Equity Based Evaluations. Booker-Drew is currently an adjunct professor at Tulane University and has been an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas, the University of Texas at Arlington, Capital Seminary and Graduate School as well as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Antioch University.  She is the author of 3 workbooks for women, Fly Away, Ready for a Revolution: 30 Days to Jolt Your Life and Rules of Engagement: Making Connections Last. Froswa’ was a workshop presenter at the United Nations in 2013 on the Access to Power. She is a contributor for several publications globally, including as an advice columnist for professional women in Business Woman Media, a global platform based in Australia.

ADVICE: How Dominic Soh endured 500+ job rejections and now looks for certainty internally, not externally

Dominic Soh once endured 500+ job rejections over 18 months, while working part-time to pay the bills. Today’s he’s a TedX speaker and trainer, ultra-marathon runner and resilience trainer to companies like Google, Intel and Tesla.

In this interview, Dominic shares what resilience means to him, how he overcame various challenges throughout his life and career, and guidance for how others can practice resilience during their own challenges.

  • When are the times in your life when you’ve felt most ‘rejected’? How have they shaped your approach to life and business today?

I guess it was when I was just fresh out of university, struggling with my self-image and self-confidence, not having much credentials to show and not really knowing what to do with my life.

During those times, rejection could come in the form of emails from employers saying that my job application was unsuccessful, people ignoring me or talking over my questions in a networking event or some interviewers showing disdain in their faces the moment I stepped into the interview room and revealing my racial identity.

Over time, I came to realise that rejection is part and parcel of the journey to success. If you haven’t been ridiculed, criticised or rejected, you probably haven’t been doing enough and your goals might not be big enough.

Today I take rejection with a pinch of salt and let it slide like water off a duck’s back.

I had people criticise me for talking about wealth and finances…and then the pandemic and recession hit.

  • From working part-time jobs to make ends meet, to where you are today, in between those periods you exemplified entrepreneurialism and took some significant risks to bring your unique ideas to life. Can you please talk through that process, what you did, and how you mentally approached the challenge of taking risks when you didn’t have much money to work with?

The pivotal moment was when I made the decision and commitment to go all out for my career.

Before that, when I was down in the dumps experiencing hundred of job rejections, I was so desperate that I told my Mum and Dad (when they were in Melbourne for a holiday) that I will take any job – even doing admin work, filing and newspaper delivery.

Most of the time my mum will tell me to relax, slow down and enjoy life. But this time round she literally told me to get my act together by not just aiming to get a job, but to establish a respectable career, because I need to think about not just myself but my future family as well.

From there, I never wanted to disappoint her again.

So I came up with the careers magazine idea with a friend, since we know of many others who were struggling in their job hunt. We started with a blog, gathering insights from all over and interviewed industry professionals.

I remember walking into the office of the student union in The University of Melbourne to pitch our magazine so that the it could be included in their orientation showbags. I only had a digital draft of the magazine in my tablet at that time.

To my surprise, a rep gave me a few minutes of her time, listened to my pitch, scrolled through the draft pages and agreed for the magazine to be included in 500 showbags. I was overjoyed!

I then put together the money I had and borrowed some from my dad to get the print version going. There’s this day when I was doing casual marking for a national exam and I had to excuse myself, head to a cubicle in the bathroom, and send the print order via my phone while sitting on the toilet bowl – because the manager didn’t allow us to check our phones on the job.

Through that magazine we reached more students in other universities – about 3000-4000 in 6 Victorian universities. And I had the chance to conduct careers workshops in two of them.

The takeaway here is to approach life with a can-do attitude.

I was already jobless, so what else is there to lose?

Creating and working out the magazine opened so many doors for me and helped me develop skills which I couldn’t have done if I were to just sit at home all day staring at job websites.

  • How have you gone about defining your purpose? Have you ever had to re-assess and re-define that purpose?

I knew deep down since I was a kid that I wanted to change the world, empower people and fulfil my highest potential.

I knew that if I just went through the motions of life, I would end up on my deathbed having gone through a dull, hollow and mediocre existence – not truly living life to its fullest. And that would be my biggest nightmare and regret.

What helped me is to take “mini existential crises” at regular periods of time. I try to have it at least once a month or quarter.

What this means is that I will sit down, be still and ask myself some very honest and brutal questions.

  • If I were to die tomorrow, would I be happy with my life?
  • Would God be pleased with my life?
  • Am I living out my values, purpose and potential?
  • Am I operating out of love, grace, respect and abundance?
  • Am I really making a difference? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • Is this what I really want to do?
  • Do I get things done or do I just talk about things? Do I have substance or am I just fluff?
  • Am I entitled? Am I spoilt? Am I fickle? Do I take things and people for granted?

The whole point of these mini crises is to assess yourself intermittently, so that you can make early adjustments, instead of realising what you’ve missed at the tail-end of your life.

  • Many people are feeling directionless, with sudden changes happening in their life due to COVID-19. What is your advice to re-igniting your purpose or direction during times of challenging or negative mindsets?

I have been delivering resilience and adaptability training for the past 4 years and have been talking about the need to adapt to change and thrive under pressure even before COVID-19 came into the picture.

There are several ways to thrive in these turbulent times.

1. Look for certainty internally not externally.

Most people make the mistake of looking for certainty in their surroundings, in the news, in the government and from what’s going on out there. It’s no wonder why they feel so aimless and disoriented.

Instead, look for the certainty within. While many things in life are uncertain, there are some things in us which we can be certain of:

  • Our values, principles, purpose
  • Our commitment to live our lives to the fullest
  • Our drive to overcome obstacles, to thrive in adversity and to move civilisation forward
  • Our connection to a higher being, a higher intelligence, or to the divine
  • Our decision to choose to thrive, not just survive
  • Our innate resilience to be able to heal, recoup and recover from whatever life might throw at us

2. Take full ownership and responsibility over your situation.

With what’s happening, it’s easy to blame the government, politics, the media, the economy, the conglomerates, etc. But that doesn’t solve any problems.

Instead, make the commitment to take charge and take ownership over your individual situation.

3. Find a way to play your part.

Faith and hope are like a soothing balm for the soul, but they are not a strategy.

Come up with a specific and actionable plan on what you can do about the situation.

If you have lost your job, what kinds of unemployment support can you get? What jobs are available? What industries are hiring? What skills can you offer? How can you put yourself in front of those who are hiring?

If your business has been impacted by the lockdowns, how can you virtualise your products? How can you meet the needs of your customers through virtual means? Can you deliver goods to them? Can you service them via video conferencing? What other value offerings can you create to take advantage of the fact that more people are online now?

And then hold yourself accountable to someone you trust.

4. Feed yourself with quality social and mental input.

Just like healthy foods are essential for a fit and healthy body, you need to watch the mental foods and social input you receive in your life.

Steer clear from depressing news and negative talk. You would also want to spend less time with people who do not inspire, encourage or empower you.

About the expert

Dominic is a TEDx and international speaker who has worked with organisations like Tesla, National Australia Bank, VW and Australia Post to help their staff develop resilience to thrive in periods of change, transitioning and restructuring. He has spoken on the TEDx stage twice, presented in over 12 countries, trained TEDx speakers and award-winning leaders, ran multiple 100km+ ultra-marathons and interviewed high performers like U.S. Navy SEALs, Olympians, fighter pilots, surgeons and Michelin-star chefs. He has also been featured on, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Herald Sun and Some of his other speaking clients include Google, Intel, New York University, University of Copenhagen, Chartered Accountants, Bank of Melbourne, EU Business School and Guinness Enterprise Centre.

VIEW: First Nations cultures around the world have some of the greatest solutions to current First World problems – Shantelle Thompson

Shantelle is a warrior, but not the way you might think. She believes being a warrior is about protecting and helping others, and should have nothing to do with fighting or taking someone’s life.

As well as being a healer, leader, storyteller, keynote speaker and health and wellbeing ambassador on the topic of ‘Warrior Within’, Shantelle is also a three-times Jiu-Jitsu world champion and is now preparing to qualify for a spot on the Australian wrestling team for the 2022 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.

  • You’re passionate about the concept of the ‘Warrior Within’ – what does this mean to you?

As a Barkindji woman, culture is a journey that needs to be walked in the 21st century. Trying to find a way to balance opportunities to learn my culture and gain back what I missed out on growing up; to be able to become a knowledge holder and teacher for my own children; balancing western life, my own values, dreams; raising my families and making a living is very challenging and at times feels almost impossible.

But one thing I have come to understand about life is that we make time for what is important to us, no matter how difficult. My Songlines (cultural heritage) and knowing their lyrics and passing them onto my kids means more to me than air at times.

Uncle Mark Rose a community Elder I met during a leadership course in 2019 speaks about living your “Ancestral Mandate”. In a western concept this might be finding your purpose or your ‘why’.

In Uncle Mark’s words, “As Blackfellas, we are connected to a lineage that is 60,000 years old and our ancestors are always with us. Through this connection we have an inherited responsibility to find our way, our purpose, our role in this life, to do our best and become our best in honour of our ancestors and culture. And in service of this life and for the generations to come. It is not just life as we want it to be, but also about ‘how’ life happens to us. The gift of the moment is the lesson we are meant to learn and through this learning we find ourselves and our path. Our experience and what we learn becomes the wisdom to navigate the path ahead… But it is only when we make space for stillness that we can begin to connect and hear the whispers of the ancestors if we have the courage to listen.”

As Steve Jobs said, “It is only upon looking back that we can connect the dots.” Over the last few years, I have been asking myself, “Why am I this person? How did I get here and become this person?”

Because I feel that what I have achieved so far is only scratching the surface of the potential I have as a person in this lifetime. Everything I have done up to this point has been on autopilot, responding to life in the moment and almost following on an unconscious level. I now want to know what a life by conscious heartfelt design looks like. And it is through asking these questions that guided me to Uncle Mark and his concept of the Ancestral Mandate and having the courage to ask the questions and sit still long enough for the ancestors to guide me to answer. What is my Ancestral Mandate?

It is through this process and of mindful reflection on my life journey to date, and what fires my heart and spirit now that the answer of who I am and how I can serve the world has come through. I have always had the Warrior Spirit and been guided from within on an unconscious level and now I bring that from the shadows into the light and live by conscious design and ancestral guidance. My purpose is to bring the ‘Warrior Within’ into this world and help others to find theirs in service of the world.

  • Why is ‘Warrior Within’ relevant today and how should people be approaching this?

For me the Warrior has always been activated by serving others, protecting the vulnerable, taking out the evil, breaking down the barriers that stops us from reaching our potential or the next level, helping those who are able and willing to find their potential and using the Warrior within to walk their journey of truth from the heart without apology.

In order to serve others to the best of our capacity we must also serve the self. This is how the Warrior Within was born, in order to be a warrior to serve others and the world. I need to lead by example and be that person for myself first in order to be that for others.

It is about doing the best you can, with what you have, from were you are and who you are. If each of us strives to do our best each day and be our best in the space and the world as it is, rather than how we want it to be, whilst also working towards the world/life we envision in our hearts, we create ripples effects of this for others and slowly the world changes.

Being a Warrior does not mean killing people or fighting in a war in the way people might imagine. The best definition of what it means to be a modern-day Warrior is the following:

“The Warrior is not someone who fights, for no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is the one who sacrifices themselves for the good of others. Their task is to take care of the elderly, the defenceless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity” – Sitting Bull, Chief of the Lakota Nation.

For me, being a Warrior means to be in service of others, to be and lead from the heart, live courageously and dare greatly. The ‘Warrior Within’ concept means understanding who you are in your heart of hearts, in your truest self and having the courage to know intimately your shadows and hurt and walk with your light boldly and unapologetically. How we lead ourselves, is how we also lead others. Who we are as individuals has ripple effects to those we are connected with, and the energy we walk with radiates out into the world.

In our current climate, this is more important than ever because so many things are happening that are beyond our control. The only thing we have control of is how we respond and the next steps we can choose to take. I believe people need to take the time that we have been gifted (forced upon us) to reflect on our life before this season.

What opportunities face us now? Are we being in our lives who we want to be and doing our best? What lies in our heart of hearts? What dreams whisper there?

By taking the time to understand yourself, build your self-awareness and we can better connect, nurture and manage the self to manage the shit in our lives and show up in progress in the areas that matter or are a priority right now.

How you can begin this journey:

  • Taking space to ask yourself the questions and making space to answer them, either through journaling or talking to someone you trust
  • Reflecting on your life journey to date
  • Making space to dream
  • We’re at a time in history where so much feels out of our control, and it can be disorienting. What’s your advice to others feeling this way right now?

We are in a time that 80% of Western population of the world has never lived through. Other parts of the world have been through this and humanity has experienced this before. Remember humans created the economy and the current way of life. We will recover and create a new way of being after this season.

For me, it is about accepting things as they are, rather then how we want to them to be. Whilst also still holding a vision for how we want things to be and working towards this vision and accepting the reality for what it is.

It is about stages – the first stage is acknowledgement, second stage is acceptance and looking at what needs to be done third is breathing space and beginning to look at what we want to set up now and what opportunities are available to us, so that once we come through this we are ready for the next chapter.

We are often told to pursue our passions, find what you love and do that etc. There is also what lies in the ego/heart of what people want in life. And then sometimes life smacks you in the face and all of that goes out the window.

The current situation is beyond our control, but we can control the choices we make in the moment about how we respond by asking ourselves, “What is within my control in this moment?”, making space to sit down and identify the ‘non-negotiables’ for you in this moment. What are the things you HAVE to get done to survive this period? Your bottom line.

For me those things include how am I going to manage my wellbeing and health during this time – emotional, spiritual, physical and mental, so I can show up for myself and those I am responsible for and care for. What I need to do to manage financially to keep a roof over my head and food on the table during this season. This is a part of real, deep self care. Deep self-care is more than meditating and doing what feels good, though this is important. It is also about doing what we know we need to do in order to create a space to live our lives from thriving not fear.

Once I have spent time identifying these things and putting them into place, I can then take a deep breath, take some time to identify and feel my emotions. But don’t let me take over, if we repress our emotions eventually they will take over. They need acknowledgment and validation but not control of us. Once we feel them, we can then work out a way to manage our emotions and begin to take steps to manage the shit in our lives whilst still showing up on our terms and making progress. Once our foundation is solid and we once again have some sense of security and safety. We can take a breath and begin to allow ourselves to dream a little about what we would like in our lives alongside the necessary and foundational. Then comes the acceptance of this as the processs whilst we wait for the knowledge of when the next chapter may become available to us.  

  • What tools or advice do you have for people wanting to build resilience for potentially difficult times ahead?

To be resilient alone is not enough. We need more than the ability to be able to bounce back.The difficult times ahead are calling for courage, grit and resilience.

Courage being the ability to accept our fears and take action anyway. Brene Brown defines courage as having the ability to speak the truth in our hearts. And in these unprecedented times, we need to live, love and lead from the heart. Not from fear or ego.

Grit means you have the courage and strength of character to follow through. A person with true grit shows passion and perseverance. Goals are set and followed through – a person who works really hard to follow through on commitments and is able to navigate challenges and has the ability and capacity to be agile and adaptable during moments of change.

I believe these are skills that can be learnt. We can build these skills by;

  • Seeking help from a mentor/coach during these times
  • Reading books about Resilience, Grit, Courage –
    • Brene Brown is an amazing place to start
    • Author Jim Kwik has some amazing resources     
  • Finding online courses in personal development
  • Finding someone to learn from that you connect with and believe has these qualities. For me some of these people are
    • My kids
    • My culture
    • People like Nelson Mandela, Dwayne Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou
    • Learn and develop a Growth Mindset
  • In your view, what can we learn from First Nations culture about addressing and further preventing some of the first world challenges we are facing today?

I am no expert and can only speak from the heart and the lived experience of my 36 years. I have a lot to learn. Yet these words I write feel like the truth in my heart and experience of the world at the moment. A world polarised and fragmented.

First Nations cultures around the world have some of the greatest solutions to current First World problems. Aboriginal Australian culture is the oldest living culture in the world, yet we are still fighting to protect sacred sites, to have our voices heard, our history and truth told and accepted, and our culture valued, respected and celebrated.  Despite 230+ years of Colonisation – a continuing process – we are still here, our culture is alive and being practiced today.

Our culture is a collective culture not individualistic. I believe this is the greatest lesson and strength our culture has to give to the world. Current issues of sustainability, consumerism, greed, climate change, mental health and more are symptoms of Western Culture driven by rampant greed, rising individualism, short-term focus, fear, ego, consumerism and capitalism.

In our culture we are taught that we are custodians of the land, not owners. Only take what you need and leave the rest. Look after the land and it will look after you. It is the strong and able persons’ responsibility to care for the vulnerable and less able. We each have our role to play.

We value our Elders and seek to learn from their lived experience and wisdom. Not lock them up and throw away the key like they have an expiry date. We did not have mental health illness because we had cultural practices that allowed us to sit with emotions, allowing time for scars to be healed. To learn from the experience, not be defined by it. And we never had wars because we operated from a place of shared respect, a place of enoughness and knowing our place in the world and this life.

I believe there is an untapped potential and richness to First Nations culture, knowledge and ways of being that can deeply serve the world now and into the future. If only people are willing to learn and come together with open hearts and minds for the benefit of the current world and the world our future generations will inherit from us and the choices we make and the actions we take today.

About the expert

Shantelle Thompson is a strong and proud Barkindji/European woman, who is also known as the Barkindji Warrior (or to those close to her Wonder Woman). She is the proud mother of 3 children including twins. Shantelle grew up in Dareton, NSW and is still strongly connected to her country and the community of Sunraysia.

Shantelle’s vision is to inspire and empower people to understand their power to overcome adversity and hardship, to move from surviving in life to being the creator of their own life. Her fight is to challenge the boundaries, smash the stereotypes and change the narrative that surrounds what it means to be Aboriginal, a woman from a diverse and marginalised background and a mother in Australia and the world today.

PEOPLE: Shuey’s journey from couch-surfing to running an international agency

At just 35 years of age, Shuey Shujab is the CEO and Founder of award-winning digital marketing and SEO agency, Whitehat Agency. His road to success has not been an easy one however, starting with a childhood spent in abject poverty in India, where his parents regularly went without food so he and his siblings could eat.

His entrepreneurial skills were already apparent at this young age, with a 6-year-old Shuey known to go out collecting scrap metal from abandoned building sites in order to earn some extra cash to help the family.

After moving to Australia to attend university at 18, Shuey soon assimilated into the Australian way of life, enjoying the freedom that was suddenly at his fingertips. His drive and passion to achieve business success continued to grow. Disillusioned by an employer who was ripping off clients by engaging in underhanded business practices, known as ‘black hat’ tactics, and who left Shuey technically homeless and in financial ruin, he decided to launch his own digital marketing and web design agency with the goal to provide services that were above board and transparent, and to work with clients in a collaborative and mutually beneficial way.

Subsequently, Whitehat Agency was launched while Shuey was couch-surfing at a friend’s place, with not much more than a laptop and a mobile phone to his name. In the six years since launch, Shuey has grown Whitehat from a one-man-show to a hugely successful agency employing 16 staff in Australia, and Whitehat offices in Nepal, Singapore, L.A. and Amsterdam.

  • How have your own personal experiences throughout your life impacted your approach to work today?

Growing up in poverty in India had an enormous impact on me, and when I first came to Australia I couldn’t help but be amazed by all the opportunities here that I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed in India. So I approach everything from a place of gratitude. I appreciate how lucky I am to be here and I try to make the most of every single day, squeezing in as much as I can.

  • At one stage before founding Whitehat, you were technically homeless. To what do you credit the incredible journey you accomplished by turning from couch-surfing to CEO of your own company?

One word – resilience. I never gave up. I stayed positive even in those extremely dark times, because I knew one day it would change. I anchored myself in the certainty that my situation would change, and I kept working hard. And eventually it did.

  • Today, when do you find you need to be most resilient in the workplace and how do you tackle that?

I have to do that almost on a daily basis. I manage a global company, so every day I face some challenge or other. Of course right now we are all going through a hugely unsettling time due to the pandemic. However, because I have trained myself to deal with extreme pressure, dealing with the current COVID-19 situation isn’t too bad.

  • What’s your advice to other business leaders and entrepreneurs struggling with resilience at work?

I would say work on building your resilience when things are great and everything is going well. Like a muscle, work it and create behaviours and habits that help you become more resilient. So when things get bad, you can go into autopilot mode and can deal with things with a more level mindset, rather than frantically trying to solve things in a state of panic.

  • In your view, what are common misconceptions about resilience? How can the professional community overcome these?

Most people believe it’s something that comes naturally for everyone. But that is simply not true. Resilience is a skill that has to be developed and practiced. Everyone can build resilience if they work on it. One way to become more resilient it is to do something uncomfortable every day, like having a cold shower – this stresses your body and mind, which subsequently starts increasing your capacity to manage stressful situations.

About the expert

Shuey Shujab is the CEO and Founder of Whitehat Agency, an award-winning digital marketing and SEO agency based in Surry Hills, NSW.