Coffee Pod #1: Lessons from 7x world champion - Layne Beachley

Episode #1: Layne Beachley  

Holly Ransom:   

Hi, I'm Holly Ransom and welcome to Coffee Pods, a podcast devoted to fueling your difference. Here at Coffee Pods, we have a simple hypothesis that in the mere amount of time it takes to share a cup of coffee with someone, we can tap in to a lifetime of experience. And that's exactly what we aim to do here at Coffee Pods. To give access to some incredible individuals who've marched to the beat of their own drum and who are willing to share their advice, their highs, their lows, their insights in order to help give [00:00:30] each and everyone of us the toolkit and the inspiration to fuel the difference that we're trying to make in our own lives, communities and organizations.  

Layne Beachley:  

The prerequisite to establishing a vision needs to be how you want to feel more so than what it is you were to achieve. I now have realized [00:01:00] upon reflection that by achieving that success, what I really wanted to feel was deserving of love.  

Holly Ransom:                 

I'm absolutely pumped for this Coffee Pods with Layne Beachley, the most successful female surfer in history and the only surfer male or female to claim six consecutive world titles. She won a total of seven over the course of her career. Now she has got every sporting accolade under the sun. She is a surfing hall of fame inductee, a Sports Australia hall of fame inductee, a world master's champion and in 2015 [00:01:30] in recognition of both her service to sport and her contribution to the community, she became an Order of Australia recipient. 

This is a really raw insightful, honest conversation that I think you'll find really inspiring. Here is Layne. Layne the legend Beachley, I'm stoked to be getting to do a Coffee Pod with you, thank you so much for joining us. 

Layne Beachley:               

You're so welcome Holly. 

Holly Ransom:               

 Listen, I've read ... I mean I had the privilege of knowing you for a couple of years but I've been reading all about you and I've loved the fact that I've got to learn lots of little tidbits that I didn't even know about your journey and [00:02:00] everything you've done thus far. And I was reading a bit about sort of your first surf done at age four at Manley and the first days of you dipping your toes into the water. 

Was it from that moment that you knew you were going to be a surfer or was there a significant moment later in childhood that set you on the path? What happened? 

Layne Beachley:              

There was no definitive moment in my life where I knew I was gonna be a surfer. I just fell in love with surfing. And you know, the classic cliché is your passions find you. [00:02:30] And definitely, surfing found me. Having the distinct advantage of growing up at Manley beach and having my dad as a surfer, my older brother as a surfer and any younger who grows up with an older brother that they do something, you wanna be able to do it better which I can confidently say I do. It was just part of my childhood that became part of my adulthood that now it becomes a very important, an integral part of my life. So I'm very grateful that my dad introduced me to surfing to [00:03:00] such a young age when I'm fearless. I mean, all kids are fearless at that age, we're more curious than fearful and I was very grateful that I grow up in such a supportive household that encouraged me to go and be a tomboy. 

Holly Ransom:                 

So what age did it become competitive for you? How early was it that you were actually starting to be on the circuit, so to speak? 

Layne Beachley:             

I started competing when I was 14 and that was actually ... I didn't actually graduate from my foamie onto a fiber glass surfboard until I was 13. 

Holly Ransom:                


Layne Beachley:

[00:03:30] Yeah. And even now when I reflect back on that time, I realize how many limitations and rules and stipulations I placed around what I was gonna do and when I was gonna do it by. And so I think I decided that you know, 16 was a mature age and that's when I was gonna progress onto a fiber glass surfboard but I was encouraged to do that a little sooner. 

So by the time I was 13, one of the ... 'cause I went to an all girls' high school, an all girls' public school high school. One of the girls that in the year above [00:04:00] me was a surfer and her and I became like-minded mates so we could talk about surfing and I actually bought one of her boards. 

So my first secondhand fiber glass surfboard was from a girl who ultimately became a mentor. She became my surfing buddy. 

Holly Ransom:                 

I'm interesting. 'Cause now female professional surfing is such a norm, it's hard to imagine that it ever wasn't at the competitive level and the equity that it now is. What was it like being a girl on tour, back when you were 14? 

Layne Beachley:              

So yes, as I was saying, I started competing when I was 14. I actually came dead last [00:04:30] in the first few events I competed in but most fortunately, they were either a charity event or a board runners club event. I actually didn't start competing int he big tour events until I was 15. And once again, I came dead last when I did that too. 

I remember just looking around going, "Where are the women?" Because I felt like we've lost the benefit of gender. They were so hungry and desperate to earn that recognition and respect from their male counterparts that they acted like men, dressed like men, tried to surf like men, we just lost the benefit of gender and I'm thinking, "I thought there was meant to be a women's' [00:05:00] tour," and beautiful women on tour but they just weren't embracing their femininity. So at first, I felt like the tour had an identity crisis, quite honestly, I didn't really know what it was standing for or what it was representing. 

And it wasn't until the early 90s when Lisa Anderson really broke that mould. You know, she embraced her femininity and her beauty and her grace and her flow and her style and she went out and surfed the waves like a girl. And I think it was the first time they started printing shirts with "Surf like a girl," or "I surf like a girl," because Lisa [00:05:30] clearly demonstrated what that can look like and feel like.  

I was walking through the airport today on my way, I was traveling interstate and a guy come up to me, an employee from the company I was flying with and basically said, "You know, everything you've done for women's' surfing, I'm just so grateful to you. You know, you've done such an amazing job and you've really changed the landscape, women in surfing."  

But then I also respect what my predecessors went through that enabled me to then go on and change the landscape of women surfing. And that's all came back down to my own vision of what I wanted women surfing to be, to emulate women's' tennis. 

Holly Ransom:

Nice. [00:06:00] Tell me how early did that goal kick in that I'm gonna be a world champion? Is there a definitive moment you can remember where that light bulb and that focus switched on with that degree of specificity? 

Layne Beachley:

Yes. And that was when I was eight years old. It all goes back to being told I was adopted. My dad sat me down and told me I was adopted and we all know, perception starts in the brain, it doesn't start with the ears or the eyes. And so the way that we see things or hear things can be completely manufactured and to appear different than in our brains. 

So when my dad said, "We love you [00:06:30] and we're so glad that we have you and that you're my little girl," all I've heard was, "You've been rejected, you've been abandoned and you're undeserving of love." That knowledge and that experience is what actually sparked that desire to become the best in the world because when I was sitting in the couch, I feel like I was being swallowed by the couch. I felt so worthless, I thought, "What am I gonna do about this? I can't stay in this state, it's just too uncomfortable. So what am I gonna do? I know, if I become a world champion, everyone will love me." And that's what drove me to become this [00:07:00] groundbreaking world champion because my expectation of life or how I had defined success was all based on a feeling, not so much a definition of achievement. 

I never chose to feel like I was enough until I had become what I deemed to be successful which wasn't a one time's world champion, it was a six times consecutive world champion which meant I was the best of the best.  

Now it wasn't until I was 15 that I became a world champion surfer and that's when I clearly put the stake in the sand. [00:07:30] I won my first regional scholastic event and went on to win the state titles, I had a horrible time at the national titles, joined the pro tour fresh out of high school and then it took me eight years to win my first world title. 

Holly Ransom:

Wow, it's an incredible journey. To have that level of conviction in yourself at such a young age, again, in the face of really traumatic news, though. There is a pretty incredible drive that sits beneath that, really, in you. Like a fire and a determination. 

Layne Beachley:

Absolutely. And yesterday I was asked, "Do you think you would have achieved what you achieved without that drive, especially your first world title?" And it's difficult [00:08:00] to answer because it's how I achieved it. There are different ways to make success. Success is binary, you can be successful and respectful. I felt like I actually cost myself a lot of happiness, a lot of respect, a lot of joy and a lot of great friendship because of my sheer determination and compassion of a tiger shot. 

Holly Ransom:

I read that quote that from you, I love that. Empathy and compassion at the tiger shot. 

Layne Beachley:

I was so hungry and so fierce and so determined and everybody in my way, well everybody along the way were in my way. You know, [00:08:30] I was on a mission and I basically, I just destroyed so many great things because I was so fiercely determined and driven that I now realize that you don't have to succeed through that mindset. And what I do is that I continuously seek evidence of that to prove that I'm wrong. 

Most of the time, we're looking to prove ourselves right but I actually wanna prove myself wrong. I wanna disprove that belief because I know that's a survival mode mechanism and because we're constantly seeking evidence of what we believe, sometimes our beliefs don't serve us and so I know [00:09:00] if I'm in struggle and back into survival mode, it can be easy and graceful and joyful. 

Holly Ransom:

I love that for a couple of reasons. How did you have the self awareness at that point to go, "Hold on, this formula doesn't work anymore. I delivered six world titles." A lot of people would be super superstitious and say, "Don't mess with the winning formula, this is working, hold on to it." What was the moment that kind of prompted you to go, "Actually, I need to go about this differently." 

Layne Beachley:

It was after I won my sixth world title. I started to listen to the symptoms of my body, I started to realize that I was breaking down, mentally, physically, emotionally [00:09:30] and spiritually. I was running on empty. I was fueled by adrenaline and there was nothing to fill the tank anymore and so I had to start honoring my body 'cause I was asking so much of it and yet it kept breaking down. Learning to do things differently. 

Yes, I chose to ignore that again and I went off and had to compete for my seventh world title and half way through the year, I tore my meniscus and my medial ligament in my right knee and then everything else started to get a little bit creaky and then halfway through 2005 [00:10:00] I was doing a photo shoot and went and put my board down at seven o'clock in the morning, so I had not warmed up and something went snap in my shoulder blades and I went an got an MRI and it showed that I had a very severe herniation, a disc herniation in my neck around the C5 C6 area that had gradually worn onto my spinal cord and was now severing 80% of it. 

Holly Ransom:


Layne Beachley:

Yeah, so I was given two options. Either retire or get surgery and both of them seemed pretty logical at the time but neither of them appealed to me. 

Holly Ransom:

[00:10:30] Imagine that. 

Layne Beachley:

And you know, I was this close to winning my seventh world title and I decided that I needed to get a third opinion and that doctor suggested that I'm young and fit and strong enough to allow my body to heal itself so you gotta give it time. And I said, "How much have I got?" And he said, "However much time it takes." So you gonna have to learn patience. And that's actually when I started learning the three Ps to success, patience, passion and perseverance and so ... 

Holly Ransom:

I imagine the first of those came harder than the other two for you. 

Layne Beachley:

[00:11:00] Yes, you know me well. It brought me the value of honing my attention and intention and retention into healing. I basically dedicated myself to healing my body and allowed myself to take as long as it was possibly gonna take. So ideally, I didn't want it to take more than six months but it actually took a little bit longer because my intention was to come back and compete again. There was no need to prove anything any longer. I had pretty much proven enough. [00:11:30] You know, to be the most successful surfer in history. 

Holly Ransom:

You have a seriously good pool room.  

Layne Beachley:

It is. And it doesn't have anyone else's memorabilia but ours. [inaudible 00:11:39] 

Holly Ransom:

Not yet. So if I'm right, you won your third world title with a broken back. You've battled chronic fatigue twice, you mentioned already that you've competed with a torn meniscus, that you [inaudible 00:11:52] to do a herniated disc and I also know and I don't wanna make light of this by any stretch that you've gone through [00:12:00] a really challenging period of depression and even suicidal thoughts. What did you do to get through that? What coping skills and habits and techniques did you rely on to be able to cope? 

Layne Beachley:

I have to say my model for success is what's enabled me to get through all those things. So first is having that clear vision of what it is that I want to achieve. Now, today, my vision is set in a very different way. Back then, as an athlete, my vision was to become [00:12:30] the best of the best. And now I realize, the prerequisite to establishing a vision needs to be how you want to feel more so than what it is you were to achieve. 

Holly Ransom:

I like that. 

Layne Beachley:

Because I now realize upon reflection that by achieving that success, what I really wanted to feel was deserving of love. And the limitation I had placed on it was that the only way I was gonna be deserving of love was when I became the most successful surfer in history. 

Holly Ransom:

Setting yourself a reasonably high bar. 

Layne Beachley:

[00:13:00] It's a big bar, yes. So having a really clearly articulated vision helped me overcome a lot of those challenges because my desire to succeed, my desire to grow, my desire to bounce back and learn is much more dominant in my life than my fear of failure and my willingness to stay stark. So my desire to grow and improve and learn is what propels me forward. 

So that's the main thing, it's like clarity and vision. The second piece to [00:13:30] the puzzle is having that dream team of mentors, guidance, experts. You know, people that you surround yourself with that elevate you, nudge you, develop you, challenge you, very honest with you. So if I didn't have those people that I had that respect and trust and regard for, then I would never would have been courageous enough to put my hand up and ask for help. 

When I had chronic fatigue the second time, you didn't think, well, I learned from the first time, but obviously [inaudible 00:13:56] again, that was probably one of the deepest darkest times in my life 'cause that's when I did have depression [00:14:00] and I was suicidal and it was very disconcerting to wake up thinking of different ways to kill myself [inaudible 00:14:06] lover of life and so sprightly. 

It was a really dark period and I couldn't navigate my own life through it. So I put my hand up and asked for help from a friend who I knew had been through a circumstance or a situation quite similar and her response was, "What took you so long?" 

Holly Ransom:

Oh wow. 

Layne Beachley:

So when the student's ready, the teacher will appear and- 

Holly Ransom:

I love that one. 

Layne Beachley:

I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to own my ship, I [00:14:30] wasn't ready to own my misery, I wasn't really ready to recognize that I was in a really bad state and I wasn't willing to do anything about it. So basically, I was just stuck in a life of hope. I was hoping things would change, I was hoping things would get better, I was hoping somebody might recognize that I need help and so as long as you stay stuck in a life of hope, you're deferring dissatisfaction and when you defer dissatisfaction, you're deferring action. 

So that's the final piece of the puzzle is the risk that you've gotta take. The action always seems like risk because you haven't taken it before [00:15:00] or it's gonna make you feel uncomfortable and you beautifully say, you gotta expand your comfort zone. 

Holly Ransom:

How did you cope with the pressure, the expectation, people expecting you to be the absolute world's best? 

Layne Beachley:

Well, initially I coped with it very poorly. But I'd also realized that no one can place more expectation on your shoulders than you. Well, I look back at that period, I was always saying, you know, the world expects me to achieve this. But no one expects you to achieve. But everyone just wants to see you happy, everyone just wants to see you fulfill your potential. And [00:15:30] everyone wants to see you be satisfied in life and whatever definition that is for you, then go after it and I'm gonna support you to do it. I'm gonna challenge you a little bit but you don't have to be a world beater to be successful. 

The first few years, I cracked under my own pressure. I used to crumble under pressure. I trash talked my competitors and then go out and lose to them and then wonder why I was so disappointed. 

Holly Ransom:

Vicious cycle? I think I've seen you say somewhere that you spent eight years failing before you finally won. 

Layne Beachley:

I did, I spent eight years failing to learn how to win. And it wasn't until I won [00:16:00] my first world title that I realized, "Yes, I had a fear of success and yes, I'm placing immense amounts, an unrealistic amount of expectation on my own shoulders." I started dating a guy called Ken Bradshaw who also wanted me to win as much for me as it was for him. And so I was so addicted to his validation that whenever I lost, I would burst into tears because I felt I had let him down. 

So my competitors thought I was a sore loser but they didn't realize what was going on in my head, that I was deeply distressed because Ken [00:16:30] was so invested in me that I didn't want to let him down. So I actually started winning my world titles for him versus winning them for me. And you know, he was everything to me. You don't wanna disappoint. 

Holly Ransom:

So talk to me about life post surfing. As you mentioned, you're now a motivational speaker, one of the country's best. You run your own foundation, Layne Beachley Aim for the stars foundation. You're president and chair woman of Surfing Australia which very excitingly is gonna become an Olympic sport in Tokyo. How easy did you find the transition to life post surfing? Was it easy [00:17:00] to find your feet on land? 

Layne Beachley:

Well, the first thing I did is I found my feet barefoot in the kitchen because all I wanted to do was bake. 

Holly Ransom:

I should add actually, you're a really awesome baker. Particularly banana bread. 

Layne Beachley:

And found that that really didn't light my fire, you know. Didn't really replace the euphoric experience of standing on a podium, holding a world title trophy above my head, being sprayed with champagne. And still, like I said, it took me three or four months to navigate my way around it. I mean, I went to this event. John Singleton invited me to a blue ton brewery [00:17:30] launch and I thought my dad would love that so I'll take my dad and of course Kirk would love that, what rockstar doesn't drink beer? So I took my dad and Kirk off to this launch and afterwards, John was asking me, "What are you up to in life?" "Yeah, I don't know, I've kind of lost my mojo, I've lost my passion, I don't know what I'm passionate about." 

And he goes, "Well, I'm sorry, you have no passion in your life." 

Holly Ransom:Oh, that hurt. 

Layne Beachley:Oh, that hurts. 'Cause at the time when I retired, I had my own clothing brand, I was staging the richest surfing event in the world, I had my own charity and I was baking. I mean, there was [00:18:00] so much going on but none of it excited it. None of it was really what I was really into. And one by one, bit by bit, I had to sever the cord, you know, cut the umbilical cord and let it go. 

You know, the clothing brand was the first one, then the surf event after seven years, I decided to let that go, I had achieved everything that I wanted it to achieve. So I'd obviously held on to the foundation but the motivational speaking and the workshops I deliver is what lights me up. 

And that's been a 10 year evolution. You know, I think about the [00:18:30] first motivational speech I ever gave, I actually received a formal written complaint. 

Holly Ransom:No, I didn't know that. 

Layne Beachley:Yeah, that's how great I was when I started speaking. So you know, all those motivational quotes about "Don't wait till the moment's perfect, just get out there and do it," I'm really glad I've continued to just get out there and do it because continue the strive for perfection [inaudible 00:18:52] never do anything. And I think about the speech that I give now versus the speeches that I gave 10 years ago and they're totally different. They're two different worlds. But I have learned [00:19:00] from every single one of them. 'Cause I'm reading the audience and think, "Nah, this isn't working, I need to drop that content and bring in something new." 

So we're always evolving, we're always learning, we're always absorbing. I learn a lot from watching you and speaking with you and my other mentors as well. So I'm always tapping into the knowledge and experience of other people but never discrediting or discounting my own and how important and valuable my knowledge is. 

Holly Ransom:Yeah, absolutely. 

Layne Beachley:But the thing is, sometimes we don't value our knowledge and we just regurgitate other people's wisdom. 

Holly Ransom:                 I think you're right. [00:19:30] You know, we so often feel trapped by expectation and pressure and what people presume we should do. 

Layne Beachley:               

That's it. And the thing is that when I retired I knew that life was gonna be different and one of the best pieces of advice I received was from a former executive at Big Silver who said, "Schedule your wake around the surf forecast." 

Holly Ransom:               

Which you [remotely 00:19:48] do. 

Layne Beachley:             

Which is what I do, yes. So 'cause I've canceled this thing twice now to gosurfing. 

Holly Ransom:                

Hey, I'm aware of the lax structure and format, I was prepared for that. 

Layne Beachley:             

My happy place is the ocean [00:20:00] and for me to inspire and empower people in an authentic way, I have to inspire and empower myself and the one place that I can do that is nature. 

Holly Ransom:                 

So for those who are listening who are eager to connect with you, to get more involved in what you're doing or get more information, what's the best way for them to reach out and connect? 

Layne Beachley:               

So the best thing is to just go to my website, and subscribe to my newsletter and you can always contact me directly through that. And then if you wanna get involved with Aim for the Stars, they can jump on the 'cause we're all about empowering young [00:20:30] women to become the future leaders of this world. We're all about supporting girls on the way up, not waiting till they get there before we start to believe in them. Cultivate, encourage and fostering self belief in young girls and women to achieve their dreams. 

Holly Ransom:               

 I should make mention of the fact here that the foundation's whole reason for being has a very personal connection to your own story and experience. Tell us a little bit about why this foundation matters so much to you. 

Layne Beachley:               

The core premise behind Aim for the Stars was born out of reflection. I was number two in the world, working 60 hours a week in four different jobs, [00:21:00] earning $8,000 a year. It was all very hard. I was ready to quit. Actually, I almost did several times. 


And after one of the night shifts, I used to work at one of the most celebrious locations in Manley called the Old Manley Boatshed, oh my God, I'm still embarrassed to say I worked there. I needed employment that was either at night so I could surf during the day or that was flexible enough to maybe go off and do events and then come back. So fortunately, they had a really high rotation of staff and I was just able to slip right back in. They had three different tiers of bar and restaurant [00:21:30] and music so I was able to hover around in those three bars. 


But fortunately, one of my employers saw how hard I was working and he basically sat me down after work at three o'clock in the morning and said, "I see how hard you're working, I hear how much you want this and I believe in you. And here is $3,000, here is your next [inaudible 00:21:50] ticket." 

Holly Ransom:                 


Layne Beachley:               

Right, so it was such a [inaudible 00:21:53] moment to make me realize, you know, I was ready to quit last week and now you've reinvigorated my confidence just [00:22:00] by saying that I see you, I hear you, I believe in you, here's some cash. It was more the words than the cash but of course the cash went a long way at that point because now I could actually afford to sleep in accommodation in Hawaii in the next last year of events as opposed to sleeping in my board bag in contest areas which is what I used to do. 

Holly Ransom:                 

I had no idea of that. 

Layne Beachley:              

Yeah, you'd be surprised at how we made ends meet but we did everything that we possibly could. 'Cause we were earning ... I would have to pay for an entry fee to go to an event so the [00:22:30] Old Manley Boatshed started paying for my entry fees and then, there was no guarantee I'd earn prize money until I'd made it through the main rounds. And then I'd get through those rounds and I'd come up against the number one seat in the world, the world champion, and have to beat her to then earn $1,000. 

Holly Ransom:                 


Layne Beachley:              

And then if I won the event, I think I may have walked away with about $6,000 if I was lucky. So there wasn't enormous amount of money in it and I know my event has actually changed how the world tour pays. 

Holly Ransom:                 

Which is an incredible credit to you. 

Layne Beachley:              

Thank you. And I'm [00:23:00] really proud of that legacy. 'Cause I wanted to leave the sport in a better place than I found it which wasn't ... it wasn't in a great place when I found it, quite honestly. But the reason that Aim for the Stars started was that I realized that if I granted a girl $3,000 and told her I believed in her, it'd prevent her from quitting. I've always had a strong work ethics, I always knew that if surfing didn't work out for me, I'd go back to working in a bar or a restaurant or I don't know, I'd go back to school. I don't know, there was other opportunities but I didn't hang my hook on them and have a plan B, I just knew that in the event that after [00:23:30] I committed myself wholly to this, if it didn't work out, I was willing to accept that and then go on and do something different. 

 But I wasn't willing to allow circumstances such as lack of financial support to prevent me from achieving my dreams. And there was a couple of times when I almost did but that's when someone saw it in me and said, "Here you go, kid, here's three grand, here's your next [inaudible 00:23:53] ticket, take it." Or, "Here you go, I believe in you, you've got what it takes." 

Holly Ransom:                 

I love that. 

Layne Beachley:              So, get out of your own way and get on with it. 

Holly Ransom:                 

And [00:24:00] I should just say, it's incredible to see the way that you've paid that forward. The ripple effect this foundation has created year in, year out, have won gold medals because of the foundation's support, the mentoring's changed their life, the ability to get an idea off the ground. It's an absolute credit to you what you've built with aim for the stars, it's remarkable. 

Layne Beachley:               You just don't know how long your words are gonna sit with somebody. So now I wanna change that and make sure that the words that I'm sharing with the world are positive and reinforcing and uplifting. 

Holly Ransom:                 

Hey, I'm so appreciative of your time today. Thank you so [00:24:30] much for joining us. For those who are seeking to be the absolute best in whatever their field of chosen endeavor is, what's the best bit of advice that you give them for how to do that? 

Layne Beachley:              Be clear on how you wanna feel. 

Holly Ransom:                 Okay. I like that. 

Layne Beachley:              

You know, our lives are so guided, we're almost dictated by society about what we're meant to do and there's very little positive reinforcement in society, be more, do more. I don't know, you're never enough [00:25:00] no matter what you do. The best piece of advice I can anybody is choose to be enough in who you are and then start to wrestle with that and challenge yourself. And ask yourself, how do you wanna feel? Like my vision, for myself today and every day is to wake up excited about the day ahead. 

Holly Ransom:                


Layne Beachley:              

Now I know that there's gonna be costs associated with that, I'm not always gonna wake up excited, especially tomorrow when I wake up in Canberra. But I'm excited by the opportunity and the fact that I get to share my knowledge and experiences and wisdom [00:25:30] with audiences. 

Holly Ransom:                 

Final question. What's your call to arms, call to action for the people that are listening to this podcast? 

Layne Beachley:              

Once you've decided how you wanna feel and that can start with even asking yourself ... 'cause a lot of people go ask me, "How do I find my passion, how do I find my purpose?" And you can answer that simply by asking yourself what excites me? Then the call to action is to share that with somebody because we all need accountability partners to achieve in life. 

Holly Ransom:                  

You're an absolute legend, Layne Beachley, I can't thank you enough for joining [00:26:00] us on Coffee Pods and making the time. I feel really grateful to be able to call you a friend and mentor and an honesty [inaudible 00:26:06] and I know that you're an inspiration, not just to me but to so many people out there.                   

And I've got such admiration for the depths, the breadths, the heights of the accolade and the accomplishments you've achieved. But maybe more than anything, it's the fact that you're absolutely authenticity personified. So honest and real, I can't thank you enough for sharing so generously today. 

[00:26:30] Thanks for listening. I hope you feel inspired and have some practical ideas for how you can go and fuel the difference you wanna see in your life, organization, or community. If that's a yes, please take a moment to send us feedback, shoot me a tweet at Holly Ransom, leave a review for this Coffee Pod or head to www. [00:27:00] and sending your questions and suggestions for future Coffee Pods. But for now until our next coffee break, I've been Holly Ransom, thanks for fueling your difference with me. 


5 simple tricks to improve your public speaking game

If your reading this; it’s more than likely you have a fear of public speaking and you’re certainly not alone.

Public speaking is ranked as the most common fear shared by people (even above death).

As a lover of public speaking myself, I’m forever asked “how do you do it?” The honest answer is, a lot of hard work, practice and harnessing any nervous energy in a positive manner.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight, but once you’ve mastered it; I can promise you that your professional and personal life will flourish with this newfound skill.

To help you on your journey, I’ve listed my top five simple tricks toward improving your public speaking game. You’ve got this!

Start small

Start small and gain confidence in public speaking by identifying small steps toward your personal goal. This might be anything from asking a question in front of strangers to delivering a presentation to five friendly colleagues.

It’s better to be kind to yourself initially and increase your audience slowly as your confidence grows with success. “Ripping off the band-aid” in a crowd of 300 plus can be detrimental if your performance doesn’t play as well as you’d intended. Slow and steady wins the race in this instance.


Practice, practice and then practice again. Go beyond the words on paper and actually visualize your successful performance (this strategy is commonly used by top athletes & their coaches). After practicing word for word a few times, write down a couple of images that might trigger memories and stories.

Always remember that when speaking in public, you’re the only person who truly knows exactly what you’re intending to say. Work on developing techniques that allow you to “sweat” less on being word perfect and focus more on conveying you’re your overall theme or subject to the audience. 

Become a regular

 Put yourself in situations where you’re going to have to public speak regularly in order to accelerate your practice. If you’re unable to do so at work, think of alternative ways to gain practice. You might try acting classes, presenting at meetings or by signing up with a volunteer organisation & leading a team.


Think of your audience. Their needs come first

Improve your public speaking game by considering what your audience might like to hear & learn. Empathy with & focus on your target audience when speech writing will facilitate an engaging presentation.

Public Speaking Coaching

Needing more support? Reach out to Emergent for public speaking coaching and mentoring today. We’ll be offering courses throughout the year to help anyone wanting to develop confidence in public speaking.

Make your passion a full-time gig

What most business owners don’t tell you is that they too were once scared. Actually, that’s a lie. If they were anything like me, then they were absolutely terrified!

Starting a business can be daunting. I remember being at a cross-road in my career when I was leaving a corporate role and exploring other opportunities.

I had a lot of conversations with different people, some of whom thought I should take another role in a different organisation. Others asked me, ‘Well, what is it you want to be doing?’

One of those people happened to be someone who I truly idolised (and still do), Jeanine Ellis, the CEO of Boost Juice. I was connected through a mentor and couldn’t believe my luck when our half hour meeting went an hour overtime. As I hurled questions to Jeanine about how she started Boost and the challenges she faced, I was stumped!

Jeanine simply said, ‘can you give me one good reason why you’re not doing your own thing?’

I thought, this is Jeanine Ellis, someone I admire so much! I can’t tell her that I’m afraid or some weak answer like that! I was stunned. After 30 seconds of silence, the words ‘I can’t give you an answer’ fell out of my mouth. And that was it. I thought, ‘yeah, why aren’t I doing this?’ Thus Emergent was born and I had successfully made my passion a full-time gig.

If you’re looking to start a new business, here are my top tips before making the plunge.

Become a pro

Whatever your passion, become a pro.

Workout how your passion is constructed. If you’re passionate about animals or the environment, then what’s your value-adding skill in that area? How will you be an expert in your chosen field? This first step is crucial in ensuring your new business is useful and needed within the subject area you’re passionate about.

Gain experience

Expose yourself to your passion. Get out into the environment, research and gain experience. Ask yourself, ‘who's doing what already? Is there potentially a missed opportunity in the market? Could I fulfil this opportunity?’

I encourage you to volunteer, intern and find people that are in your passions sphere and spend time with them to identify these opportunities.

Build an army

Build an army of great mentors to help you develop your new business. Listening and learning from others may shield you from potential challenges ahead.

These mentors don’t necessarily have to be in your passions area. It’s great to have a mix of mentors from different areas that can help you develop your business idea.

Be realistic  

Setting realistic goals for yourself can be challenging. In fact, it was what I struggled with the most launching Emergent.

Learn from my lessons and don’t create an unreasonable set of expectations for yourself. Instead be kind to yourself and remember you need to learn to crawl before you can walk.


Lastly, get out there and pitch! Find the people that need what you do and have a conversation with them. It can be as simple as, ‘Hey, I'm really looking to.... The skills I offer are x, y, z. Would that be a value to you? Could I come in and help you?’


Learning from a Lifetime of Experience












If you've heard me speak, odds are you might have heard me mention a pearl of wisdom that my mentor Virgil shared with me when I was 19 years old: 'How long does it take to learn from someone's lifetime of experience? Coffee!' It was a simple idea but it had profound ramifications on me... the idea that people and learning were that accessible if I was just prepared to reach out and ask someone I wanted to learn from if they had time for a coffee.

Given the world consumes approximately 2250,000,000 cups of coffee a day, it seemed reasonable in my teenage head that at least one of those coffee fans might be prepared to share a cup with me. So, I decided to test Virgil's theory and make a commitment to routinely reaching out to people I admired and wanted to learn from and asking them if I could buy them a cup of coffee- but with one qualifier: I wanted to continually challenge myself to seek those coffee conversations diversely. Studies say that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time around, so I figured to ensure my 'average' opinion was as inclusive, well-considered and robust as possible, I had to make sure the inputs I was exposing myself, and my thinking to, were as diverse as possible. I intentionally chose to pursue diversity, seeking out people of different gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, background, profession and belief- just to name a few!

In eight years of taking on this challenge, I've had the privilege of learning from some truly remarkable individuals: from paramedics and performers to explorers, teachers and leaders of industry. I've had coffee with 10-year-olds and coffee with 94-year-olds... and almost every age in-between; and have enjoyed those coffees conversations in locations as diverse as Antartica, Kenya, Moscow, and the middle of Hutt River Province (NB: that last one is worth a google!). Over the course of the journey I've been challenged, encouraged, moved, inspired, surprised... and I've learnt more than I ever could have fathomed.

I've also come to realise, in the conversations I've had with so many of you as I travel throughout the world, speaking to audience across schools, businesses, government departments and communities, that I'm not alone in my hunger for understanding, learning and inspiration- we all want (and need) a little bit of that, on a regular basis, to keep going and growing.

It's this common urge (like that early morning yearning for coffee!) that's inspired me to launch my latest that I'm incredibly excited to share with all of you.

Today, I'm kicking off 'Coffee Pods: Fuel Your Difference', a podcast built on Virgil's simple hypothesis that in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee with someone we can learn from a lifetime of experience. Only this time, I want to go on that lifetime learning journey with you and open these coffee-length conversations up to the world through the power of podcasting. My goal with Coffee Pods is to provide every one of our listeners with the inspirational fuel and practical toolkit to be the change they want to see in their life, organisation or community by opening up access to the insights, stories and experiences of remarkable people, who've marched to the beat of their own drum and created a positive butterfly effect in their wake. 

In preparation for launch, I've already recorded a few coffee pods and our guests range from a world champion athlete to a record-breaking entrepreneur, a brave-as-anything hostage negotiator, a couple of inspiring social change agents, and no-BS futurist... and we're only just getting started! Importantly, as amazing as their accomplishments are, each of our incredible guests are as authentic, open, and pragmatic as they are inspirational, in the way they talk about success, failure, life and everything in between. These are all people still in the trenches with us, trying every day to leave the world a little bit better for the fact they were there.

Today, our first podcast, featuring the incredible seven-time world champion surfer Layne Beachley launched (click here to have a listen on iTunes). It's a raw, insightful and motivating chat that I hope you really enjoy, and you can expect a new episode every Wednesday- ready and raring to help you get through hump day. Next week, we'll be launching our newsletter too, so if you want to join our community, subscribe to sign up- we'll be reaching out to you to help us shape the questions and future content too.

I've always been so grateful for the feedback, support and suggestions of my LinkedIn community and I welcome your input both on this first Coffee Pods release and on an ongoing basis as this project evolves. I'd also love to feature the people you want to hear the insights of, so feel free to drop me a line with suggestions of people that'd make great Coffee Pods subjects. And if you enjoy it, I'd appreciate you sharing it or tagging people in this post who you think would benefit from or enjoy this content.

Ultimately, at a time where many of us feel frustrated, and all too often disillusioned, by the status quo I hope Coffee Pods can fuel and empower those who believe in (and are working towards) being the difference they want to see in their own lives, organisations and communities.

Disrupt or be Disrupted: Key takeaways from Virgin Disruptors 2016.


What happens when you get world leading disruptive thinkers in a room and ask them to share their cutting edge insights? You get an action-packed, ideas-filled and high-octane energy experience also known as Virgin Disruptors. Check out the highlight reel here:

I was fortunate to be asked to MC and moderate the event- acting as chief navigator and forensic questioner as our 600-strong crowd sought to reach a conclusion on the event's overarching question: Are disruptors born or made? With the day's proceedings examining this from four perspectives: purpose, planet, people and performance.

While it's near impossible to summarise the incredible breadth and depth of content covered by all of our speakers over the course of the day, I did want to share the three big themes of the day that I came away thinking about:

1) The magic happens outside of your comfort zone-

Sir Richard Branson is 66 this year and (extraordinarily) has had a brush with death for every year of his life. While most would say that's 66 too many, Richard believes it’s key to his success. Richard spoke at length in our opening session about the importance of continually putting yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to challenge yourself to achieve your true potential.

Building on this, Andy Walshe (Head of High Performance at Red Bull) spoke about the work his team does to develop athletes’ capacity to thrive in the face of adversity. His team work continually put their world champion athletes in situations of high perceived threat (low actual threat) in order to build the threshold and tolerance of the athletes when faced with real pressure/threat. For example, he put a whole raft of their squad in a dark room with an enormous number of giant pythons and required them to make it from one side of the room to the other- the perceived threat might be high but the actual threat was low. In building resilience in the face of perceived threat, the athletes dramatically enhanced their ability to do it in the face of actual threat. Andy spoke at length about neuroplasticity and the encouraging results of their research- while people can start with a variety of risk/threat tolerances and resilience levels, all their studies show this competency can be built in anyone who’s prepared to do the work.

Food for thought: when was the last time you stepped outside your comfort zone?

2) Find the 80%, then put it live and let the wisdom of the crowd tell you if it works or not-

This was the comment from Dom Price, Atlassian's Head of R&D, who stressed the importance of disrupting from within in order to avoid being disrupted. Dom was one of number of speakers that talked about the importance of inviting external feedback and engagement from relative stakeholders (staff, customers etc) as early in the process as possible. To quote Pete Smith, the CEO of Blokchain “if your code doesn’t embarrass you when you first release it, you’ve waited too long”. Over the course of the event, it was mentioned several times that a failure to “live-test” ideas and to open concepts up to constructive feedback early was at the root of peoples' biggest missteps and failings.

It takes leaders with growth mindset to be open to operating with such an open and rapid feedback loop but all the best disruptors credit this approach with their success. They’re also of the belief that learning, insight and value can come from anywhere and anyone- not just people who have deep subject matter experience in their relevant area or discipline.

Food for thought: how often do you seek feedback and input (particularly for an idea or project that's not wholly complete)? And how widely do you seek it?

3) You might want it, but do you deeply understand what's stopping you from getting it?

Matt Walleart, the head of Microsoft’s growth ventures spoke about the fact that we can often fail to understand that our inability to produce a result stems from an inability to understand and overcome inhibiting behavioural pressures. He sighted the example of gender pay inequity, saying it’s not a case of whether women want to get paid more (who doesn't?!), but 'asking' (and several stages of the process of asking) serve as inhibiting pressures. He believes if we want to truly drive change, we need to have a deep understanding of understanding inhibiting and encouraging behavioural pressures. So Matt's team developed a start-up (called GetRaised) to address this inhibiting behaviour, that allowed women to input some basic information that would then output for them not only the amount they should be asking for but also generated the letter they could provide to their boss. 70% of the people that used GetRaised’s services got a raise and the company has helped women earn $2.3 billion more!

Matt made the point that so often we want to do the right thing or we want to do something different to our present reality but inhibiting pressures prevent us from making it happen.

Food for thought: is there a result in your personal or professional life that you haven't been able to attain? What inhibiting pressures might be in the way and how could you address them?

** Thanks to Sir Richard Branson and the team at Virgin for having me to host this remarkable day, and to all our phenomenal speakers for making Virgin Disruptors 2016 one of the most content-rich and engaging programs I've ever been involved with.


Lessons from the 'Start Up Nation.'


How can Israel: a country of only 8.4 million people, located in one of the most politically unstable regions of the world, and boasting few natural resources be at the epicenter of a thriving startup culture and a global hub of research and development? I was fortunate to visit Israel this May, with a view to examining exactly that, on an Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce Trade Mission co-led by Carol Schwartz and Elizabeth Proust. While Israel’s innovation reputation has experienced a similar meteoric rise to that of Silicon Valley in recent years, let me give some context for those less familiar with the country often referred to as the ‘Startup Nation,' as to why Israel is of such a global interest:

  • Israel has the highest concentration of startups in the world;
  • It is a major destination for venture capital, receiving twice as many investment dollars per person as even the United States – and 30 times as much as Europe or China;
  • Over 60 Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ, which is more than all European companies combined; and
  • They have done it at a pretty quick pace- Israel has accelerated from oranges being their largest export 20 years ago, to technology now being a $US50 billion GDP contributor.

There's so many contributing factors to this extraordinary growth story that this could become a War and Peace length long read if I'm not careful! So, I'm going to steer clear of discussing policy settings (like the role of Israel's immigration policy) and Israeli institutions like YOZMA, the IDF- for those interested in these aspects of Israel's journey, Startup Nation by Dan Senor and Paul Singer comprehensively covers them. However, I did want to distil some more informal observations from our trade mission that provide interesting food for thought for those of us wondering how Australia might be able to grab a slightly bigger slice of the innovation pie.

Here are my four big takeaways from our trade mission:

1) They start ‘em young- One of our speakers was a mother of a seven-year-old boy, who commented that parents in Israel a decade ago hoped that their children would grow up to be a lawyer or a doctor; now those same hopes are for their children to be entrepreneurs. Parents (through both school and extracurricular activities) are focused on finding ways to connect their children with programs that give them early entrepreneurial exposure: opportunities to take risks, and to learn about the machinations of solving commercially valuable problems and the day-to-day work involved in running a business. As this parent commented, “The new measure of success is: has your child had an exit by 21”.

This hits on the head of a conversation I continually find myself in with principals and educators across Australia: how important it is we create the conditions to allow children to “fail safe” within the schooling environment. Irrespective of whether they are destined to be an entrepreneur, in an increasingly non-linear and fluid career landscape, the skills of adaptiveness, inventiveness, and problem solving will be critical for all young people. This demands not only a shift in our pedagogy but, as several of the parents on our delegation commented, a shift in parenting. We need to ensure we are encouraging our young people to take on risk, despite the statistical reality that this’ll sometimes mean they don’t succeed, to help them build the capabilities that position them for a greater likelihood of success in their post-schooling life.

2) There's power in a coordinated national narrative- Everyone we met was singing from the same hymn sheet when it came to the ‘Startup Nation’ and the incredible success and international competitiveness of the Israeli tech scene… it was as though every Israeli we met was an unofficial ambassador. There’s a lot to be said for focusing your nation (not to mention foreign eyes, interests, and investors) on such a positive and compelling narrative… it has no doubt played a significant role in the materialisation of the nation’s innovation ambitions. While we may not have the same rampant global success story when it comes to technology and R&D, it did make you reflect on our tendency in Australia to downplay the individual and collective successes our country has had, and continues to produce. We should be proud of the phenomenal startup stories of companies like Atlassian, Canva, and Airtasker, and the R&D success stories of Caterpillar, Sirtex, and the cotton industry- just to name a few. The more visible these stories become, the more role models we will have to inspire others to cast out in pursuit of their own unique contribution.

3) If they bottle ‘Chutzpah,' we need to import it! Watching presentation after presentation from Israeli entrepreneurs (particularly the young women) you couldn’t help but being impressed by both how young they were and the incredible confidence they conducted themselves with. You walked away with the sense that it didn’t matter how many naysayers tried to talk them down, or how many setbacks they faced, they were going to find a way to make their vision a reality. The Yiddish words Israeli’s use for this attitude is ‘chutzpah’; the meaning of which is loosely akin to ‘audacity’. While Australian culture is known for cutting down our ‘tall poppies’, in Israel chutzpah is celebrated.

I couldn’t help but juxtapose these confident young Israelis, with focus group I’d had a week earlier with a group of Aussie teenagers; unanimously the topic they wanted the most time and focus to be devoted to was: ‘how do we build confidence?’ While anecdotal, their suggested focus is consistent with the litany of youth surveys and mental health studies we have seen come out over the past few years that suggest uncertainty, anxiety, and stress amongst our nation’s young people are dramatically rising. I probed a few of our speakers to try and get to the bottom of the apparent confidence chasm between the youth of our two nations, and one of the things they kept coming back to was the period of service young people did in the Israeli Defence Force. Their comment about the three compulsory years of military service was not intended to advocate for conscription but to draw attention to their country’s preparedness to put faith in their young people by giving them significant responsibility at an early age. Those in the elite squads of the Israeli Defence Force (the ranks of which have a high correlation with teams of successful Israeli start ups) are running enormous budgets and strategic military operations before they are out of their teens. It’s a crucible for confidence and resiliency development- not to mention a rapid-fire learning curve. While I'm not remotely advocating for conscription, it did make me think about how important it is that we create more vehicles through which to give young people responsibility: greater project based/entrepreneurial learning challenges through school and universities; an equivalent to the AYAD program to second young people into non-profits and start-up roles; and accelerated industry leadership structures or co-leadership models.

4) Industry and academia have to get into bed with one another- While Scientific American magazine ranked Australia as 12th in the world’s best 40 countries for science, our record for translating publicly funded research into commercial outcomes is poor. Australia ranks 33/33 in the OECD for businesses collaborating with universities and publicly funded research organisations. In Israel there wasn’t a meeting we had where the importance of the close, interdependent relationship between academia, government and industry wasn't talked about. According to the Bloomberg Innovation Index, Israel leads the world in the number of researchers per capita and is second in research and development.

One thing that was very apparent with Israeli universities is that they’re not particularly interested in the number of journal articles their faculty have published, they benchmark themselves on the number of patents filed and the commercialization of student and researcher IP. At Yissum, the technology transfer arm of Hebrew University, representatives proudly talked us through the investment and specialist capability the University had devoted towards commercialising its IP and the returns they’ve secured. Yissum has registered over 9,300 patents covering 2,600 inventions, has licensed out 800 technologies and has spun-off 110 companies. Successfully commercialised Hebrew University technologies currently generate over $2 Billion in annual sales.

Additionally, there seems to be less focus on graduates getting placed into jobs, and more interest in students creating their own. Technion, a science and technology research university north of Tel Aviv, has a strong mechanism to engage entrepreneurs: every student undertakes a mandatory Minor in Entrepreneurship. Technion transfers into the economy 100 student-led businesses a year, with revenues that exceed $US32 million. It left me thinking about the criticality of ensuring that as part of Australia’s higher ed reform conversations we’re thinking about changes to incentives, benchmarking and funding structures to support greater coordination between academia and industry.


Before I finish, it’d be remiss of me not to slightly recalibrate the glowing portrait I’ve painted of the Israeli economy... there is another side to the story. Only an estimated 15% of the population is either directly or indirectly engaged in the ‘start up nation’ ecosystem. While Australians are eager to tap into more of the incredible Israeli innovation, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we’re fortunate to have strong existing industries (like education, mining and agriculture) that (despite their challenges) are strong contributors and solid employers. One social entrepreneur's observation was that the same amount of coordinated effort that catalysed Israeli innovation now needs to be put into ensuring Israel spreads the benefits of across more of its populace. 

The Israel Trade Mission was an incredibly interesting and valuable learning experience- due in large part to the diversity of our 30-strong Australian delegation, and the incredible efforts of the Chamber and our two leaders, Carol and Elizabeth. My sincere thanks to everyone involved! 

Qantas Travel Insider Magazine - Collective Genius: Holly Ransom and Sam Walsh

Three things that leadership and my Ironman training had in common

3.8km swim. 180km cycle. 42.2km run. Aka the 'Ironman' – the endurance triathlon series that is the fitness 'Everest' for athletes the world over.

Six months ago entertaining the idea of even being able to complete a single component of those distances seemed a stretch. The prospect of having to combine the three of them was utterly overwhelming. I'd never done a triathlon. I hadn't been swimming in five years and had never done more than 30km on a bike.

But I decided to jump off of the deep end, aiming to complete the Busselton Ironman. With 100 days to train, could I get myself to the starting line in the form that would allow me to cross the finish line?

On December 6, I answered that with a resounding 'yes'; I became an 'Ironwoman' having conquering not only the distances but the additional weather challenges of intermittent storms and 35 km/h winds in 13 hours and 53 minutes. The sheer elation of crossing that finishing line was even better than I had imagined and the impact of this achievement has rippled positively throughout all aspects of my life.

These are the 3 top insights from my journey to become an ironwoman that I believe have great application to business and personal life.

1. What You Focus On Expands

It's hard for me to explain just how terrified I was by this goal, which was only exacerbated by the fact that I'd made my attempt very public. I spent the first two weeks panicking. Then it dawned on me that I needed to stop giving (read: losing) energy to fear and start focusing my thinking in a way that was going to help me reach my goal.

I stopped permitting myself to think about the race, failure or the goliath distances and focused instead on the low hanging fruit I could convince my brain was 'doable' to build my confidence and momentum. Initially, it was just about showing up - making the commitment to carve out the time and to never miss a training session, even if I had to stop six times on the run because I was out of breath. Once that became 'doable' I started focusing on the quality of these sessions, and from there I moved to longer distances.

In the Ironman itself, ruthless focus underpinned my race plan. I was continually asking myself "What's important now?"to draw my focus back to what I could control in the moment: this pedal stroke, getting to that next 'km' marker or making sure my body was feeling hydrated and fuelled … anything else would be a waste of energy that I couldn't afford to expend. If I started the day thinking about the race as one giant "elephant" I probably wouldn't have completed it. I had to break it down and, as though I were playing a game of dominoes, not let my focus move to the next domino until the current one had tipped.

When taking on an audacious goal, build a plan that works backward from the ultimate outcome but keep your focus on what you need to do in the here-and-now.

2. Training Integrity

In peak ironman training, you're doing eighteen hours worth of cardio a week… practically a full day a week of exercise! One of the things I learnt early was there's a marked difference between "training" for 18 hours (envisage comfortable jogs, leisurely swims etc) and training (envisage someone who's pushed their heart race and pace so much they're puffing like a biggest loser contestant post a Michelle Bridges workout).

Despite liking to think I'd sit in the second category, for the first two weeks I was definitely just "showing up". Changing habits is hard, particularly if there's some underlying disbelief in our ability to pull it off. The key is making sure you find comfort and security in the right form. In my case the game changer (and single smartest move I made during this process) was enlisting the help of a coach. She helped me set my plan to achieve my goal, tracked all my activity (heart rate, pace, VO2- there was no hiding) and outcomes and held me accountable for my results.

Improve your likelihood of success by building a team around you who can help you achieve the results you're after.

3. Train to hit walls – because you know they're coming

One of the fascinating components of Ironman training is that you intentionally train to reach breaking point. This sounded a ludicrous idea to me originally. However, the more you unpack the "why" for operating this way the more it makes sense. In an ironman race, you don't know when or how frequently you'll hit a wall but you do know it'll happen. If you haven't trained for it, how do you know how to work through it?

Whether we're talking exercise, business or life, whenever we're facing something that is already going to test and stretch us, the more "unknowns" we can take off the table, the greater the degree of confidence you give yourself. In this instance, by continually proving to myself that my body was capable of adapting and pushing through, I gave myself confidence that I could do that across any distance and in whatever conditions were thrown at me. I had to prove to myself that the Navy's "40 per cent more" mantra (the notion that you have 40 per cent more to give when your body first tells you to give up) was true and not just a phrase that belonged on a bumper sticker. 

In life and in leadership, stress test your plans. Prepare for the conditions you're going to have to achieve your results in, not an ideal set of circumstances.

Three Big Lessons from Four Pioneering Leaders

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”   ― Philip Pullman

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
― Philip Pullman

In an age obsessed with business cases, statistics and data-points we can sometimes forget that storytelling remains the most powerful way to put ideas into the world. Stories delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, and challenge. They communicate ideas and unpack issues, not just intellectually but as a personal, emotional experience.

Stories have enormous power; the stories we tell ourselves, those shared with us, and particularly the ones that captivate us in such a way that they become norms, folklore, great works of fiction, or form the rich tapestry of our history.

Stories are also core to driving change- you can’t shift an outcome without shifting the story- be that internally or externally, individually or collectively.

Last Friday, I was privileged to MC and moderate the Layne Beachley Aim For The Stars Foundation ‘Women in Leadership Forum’ as we celebrated the stories of four incredible female leaders: former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Opera House CEO Louise Heron, Deloitte CEO Cindy Hook and CSIRO Deputy-Director Dr Cathy Foley. Importantly, the fundraising event was in aid of catalysing and empowering the creation of the next generation of women in leadership stories through supporting the Foundation’s scholarship program.

Our four speakers, each a trailblazer within her respective field, provided fascinating insights in to the challenges of getting to the top, being the “first” and navigating major leadership positions. We covered off handling criticism, overcoming doubt, how to have your voice heard and the deep importance of self-knowing and pursuing your passion. There was also a lot of discussion around what needs to be done to change the game when it comes to gender equality at large. It was an uplifting and energising event- and if, as the old adage goes, ‘you can only be what you can see’ the significance of having four pioneering women share their stories shouldn’t be underestimated at a time where we so desperately need a new collective story about women in leadership in Australia.

So for those who couldn’t be in the room, here’s my attempt to synthesise the smorgasbord of wisdom in to three key lessons:

1. Resilience: strong foundations + disciplined practice
In the flood of social media question suggestions I received in advance of the event the number one thing people wanted to know was ‘how do you handle criticism/failure/attack/sabotage?’ In Julia Gillard’s autobiography ‘My Story’ she reflects on resiliency having typified her three years as Prime Minister. On Friday she talked a lot about what she believed enabled her to weather the challenging times of her political career: carving out the time and space to get crystal clear on her purpose and what she stood for; being able to distinguish between fair critique and vitriolic attack (her hint: if it’s after midnight on twitter it’s probably alcohol not acumen talking!); and the critical importance of having a solid support crew around you.

As we start to lose the word resiliency to the grips of buzzword-land, we can begin to misguidedly look for the magic ‘silver bullet’. The key all of our speakers came back to was embedding strong foundations of self-knowing and, as Deloitte’s Cindy Hook put it in drawing parallels between CEO preparation and marathon preparation, putting in the consistent, hard work to build up your resiliency muscle. Do your best to foresee the rocks and prepare specifically for the sorts of situations you can foresee will call on you to exercise your resilience.

Adding to this, Opera House CEO Louise Heron spoke about the idea of ‘detachment’- the importance of having a healthy distance between your work and your identity, which she said had proven key to being able to remain resilient during periods where work had been particularly challenging. She described her own role as having stewardship over the cultural icon for a period of time, with the continual awareness that just as she had been preceded she would be succeeded. Again, it was emphasised that the ability to do this isn't magical nor immediately bestowed on you at first crack- it's honed through the disciplined practise of ensuring you invested in non-work related activities and relationships.

2. Risk: punt on yourself, regularly
You’ve got to risk big to win big, and as our line-up spoke to on Friday, leadership studies still show a demonstrable difference between the preparedness of woman take a risk on their own capabilities. As the Harvard study we’re probably all too familiar with says, women will wait to meet 4 of 5 criteria before they apply for a job, whereas men will apply when they meet 2… that’s not good math (side note: it’s also not great that only 6% of girls in year 12 are studying advanced math… but that’s a soap box item for another day). Having the confidence to put yourself forward and parking the fallacy of ‘waiting til you’re ready’ (here’s a bubble burster: readiness is a mirage, so don’t delay decisions for something that’ll never materialise) is vital; your career will rise in proportion to your preparedness to put yourself out there for opportunities.

Cindy Hook (the first female CEO of a big four accounting firm) punted on a move from the US to Australia, while Dr Cathy Foley up and ran a childcare centre alongside her scientific work at CSIRO to build her exposure to business management and governance challenges to broaden her experience base and help advance her career. Both spoke to having an awareness of the skills needed to advance to the heights of your career aspiration and ensuring that while you continued to play to your strengths you sought to continually put yourself in environments outside your comfort zone that would stretch the reach of your capabilities. As Cindy said, in articulating why the out-of-my-comfort-zone-hustle was key to her growth, “when I knew the very least I performed at my very best”.

3. No one is an island: cultivate, build and invest in relationships
All the speakers talked to the importance of those they surrounded themselves with: the significance of a strong support network, the power of mentorship and sponsorship and the criticality of bringing people with you and surrounding yourself with a brilliant team. The comment was made that perhaps they had swung too far towards mentorship at either the expense of (or in the absence of) sponsorship- an interesting point worth a quick elaboration; a mentor is someone who’s a trusted sounding board or advisor, while a sponsor is someone who goes in to bat for you and helps open the door to opportunities. While all speakers had been the beneficiary of both mentors and sponsors when it came to securing opportunities, it was sponsors who’d made the difference. Working with people who back you and/or ensuring that people who back you are aware of your aspirations so they can support you in achieving them were stressed as keys to ensuring you can leverage the power of sponsorship.

Emphasis was also placed on learning from the right people- taking roles alongside leaders you admire, investing in coaching and development and taking breadth roles (say in community organisations or on boards) that would give you exposure to a different cohort of leaders and a different context in which to learn from how they work.