When I started in my current role a year ago, I was encouraged to jump at opportunities for professional development and networking. And that’s how I came across Kelly. Kelly’s monthly Women in Leadership breakfast series sees women from diverse industries and backgrounds coming together for a couple of hours a month to share experiences, challenges and advice. I was immediately struck by Kelly’s ability to not only bring women together, but to encourage and empower them to open up and speak with candour — often to a room full of strangers. I knew the scope of Kelly’s work was far greater than these breakfasts so over an after-work mulled wine, Kelly told me all about her life, her work and the personal trajectory that led to her passion for working with women.
“I grew up in a very strict, Greek family with firm beliefs about what makes a good woman, a good wife and a good mother. I believed that I needed to do everything for my household — provide a home cooked meal every night, run around after the kids — all while working 60 or 70 hours a week.
I spent 18 years working in higher education as a leader — managing teams, recruiting students and building educational programs. My strength and focus was always on the people. I went from job to job creating connected and high performing teams and developing staff. I was successful and very serious about my career trajectory.
But, one day I looked at my boss and realised, I didn’t strive to be in their position, I wanted something different.
I remember the moment I decided to quit. I’d been at the university for such a long time — different positions, teams and campuses — but within the same culture and environment. I was walking down the street reading a work email and it just hit me “I can’t do this anymore.” And that was it.
I had been suffering major depression for a long time. Because of the hours I worked I sensed that there were so many things I had missed in my young children’s lives. I couldn’t understand how that had happened when I was striving to be the best version of myself. But I soon realised that I was trying to be superwoman. Climb the corporate ladder. Maintain the perfect house. Raise the ideal kids.
I had burnt out. I felt as though things were falling apart in many areas and I knew I needed to step aside and look at how to do life differently. So, I took time out to heal, to look after my health, to focus on family and to determine what I really wanted.
That’s when I decided I wanted to support other women who are struggling and feeling stuck, stressed or overwhelmed.
For the past five years I’ve been consulting and over the past three, I’ve been coaching women. The coaching conversation usually starts with work. Maybe they are striving for a leadership position, dealing with conflict within their team or going through a restructure. Generally they are at a pivot point. They can’t see a way out and they don’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going.
I’m often in conversations where people share something they haven’t shared before or haven’t spoken about in a long time. I think we hold too much in. So, through my coaching and a series of Women in Leadership breakfasts, retreats and networking events, I provide a nurturing and safe environment where women can connect, share their stories and begin to see and move towards their potential.
I am passionate about women supporting women and enabling each other. Through my work I help create a different self talk. A dialogue of self belief that enables each woman to thrive in all contexts. I’m a firm believer that we lead others best when we learn to value, understand and honour ourselves first.
And as women we don’t value ourselves nearly enough. We discount our own qualities. My clients often can’t see what they have, let alone know how to use it. I see, hear and feel their potential.
I know that I never stopped to consider my own worth. Instead, I was always striving to achieve the next thing. Over time, I learnt not to expect perfection from myself. I learnt to speak out when I didn’t know the answers because self worth shouldn’t be measured by our achievements or failures.
I made a conscious choice to work with women. I know we all experience challenges, but my lived experience, my work and my conversations with others have proven that some of these challenges are amplified for women due to a whole string of things including societal expectations, our own negative self talk, culture, beliefs and a lack of support or time.
Through my work I have seen so many patterns. I’ve learnt that no matter what the veneer looks like, there’s always stuff going on underneath that. I’ve learnt never to take anyone on face value. Some people appear broken, but underneath that they have stealth. Other people seem to have everything in control but a conversation will quickly unravel and show something very different.
Change takes time, perseverance and an investment in personal development. When I first trained in coaching, I travelled interstate often. Leaving my family wasn’t something I had ever done previously and I questioned it a lot and questioned whether I was being a good mother.
But, over time, I learnt to trust myself. I gave myself permission to create a rich, full and meaningful life on my own terms. Family still comes first, but it’s now a matter of balance. I now have the self worth to ask for support when I need it.”
Photography: Prue Aja