Hello everyone, umm, my name’s Liz and I’m here to talk to you, well, about me. Which is kind of awkward because, well, I don’t really believe I deserve it. I mean, people call me a leader all the time, I really don’t know why, I mean, I’m just this young, naïve girl from Wongan Hills.
“An articulate, passionate, intelligent young woman and, quite frankly, a force to be reckoned with…” Really? They said that about me? I mean, I just do stuff that I love. I’m not looking for recognition. I don’t want to be in the spotlight. What I have to say isn’t important.
When I read those words in The West, I froze. I’m a fraud. That’s not me. I’m just, well…
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What I didn’t realise is that by giving way to this self-doubt, this paralysing fear, I was perpetuating exactly the opposite of what it is that I was striving to achieve. For me, it was never about me, it was about others. For those that don’t have a voice, that don’t have the opportunity, that haven’t quite yet mustered the courage to say what they’re really thinking. But by denying my own sparkle, I was denying the opportunity for others to shine. I was setting a precedent for other young people to not feel as though their thoughts matter, for women not to consider themselves as equal, for regional Australians not to have their voices heard.
I wasn’t doing what I was doing for recognition or for the sake of a title, I was doing what I saw needed to be done. And funnily enough, that is the definition of leadership. Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader, they set out to make a difference. It’s not about the role; it’s about the goal.
There are three little words that I want to imprint in your mind today:
The reason the Liebe Group Women’s Committee asked me to speak today was in part because of the WA Young Achiever of the Year Award I won recently and the other part was about what it is that I do exactly.
I’ll tell you what I do – I’m currently coordinating a $26 million agricultural research program in Papua New Guinea for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and I also manage the marketing for WA’s largest citrus producer Moora Citrus which just so happens to be our family business. In a voluntary capacity, I am the youngest President ever elected of Australian Women in Agriculture, I form advisory groups to the WA Musuem, the Murdoch Commission into food security and formerly to the UWA Centre for Regional Development. I have volunteered in many other roles from a radio DJ at Princess Margaret Hospital, to delivering Meals on Wheels, to crafting the newsletter for the Burma Thai Railway Memorial Association, to forming part of the Wongan Hills ANZAC Commemorative Committee that was awarded Community Event of the Year for the 2015 Centenary…
Awesome. Now you know what I do, what difference does that make? There are people in this room that have achieved far greater things than I have. Me standing up here listing off all the things I’m involved with might help you understand what I do but what has a much more profound impact is when I share why. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to see why we all need to own our sparkle to enable others to shine…
Why it is that I do what I do. As I mentioned before, it’s not about me, it’s about others, it’s about people. And starfish.
I fundamentally believe in the power of people. As that well recycled quote from Margaret Mead goes “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.
And for those that aren’t familiar with the starfish parable – it’s a about a man observing a young boy wandering along a beach full of starfish that have been washed ashore in high tide. Every so often the young boy bends down to toss a starfish back into the safety of the ocean. The man, curious about the young boy’s actions, questions what impact he thinks he possibly could make when there are thousands of stranded starfish. The young boy bends down, picks up yet another starfish and throws it as far as he can into the ocean. Then he turns, smiles and says, “It made a difference to that one!”
Why it is that I do what I do is because I believe that no matter your age, your gender, your postcode, your colour, your creed – we all have the capacity to make a difference.
It is this vision, this goal, this why that has enabled me to experience some of the most amazing things in my relatively short life. By sharing this why, I have used the laws of attraction, where your vibe attracts your tribe, to create the life my former childhood self would be envious of.
I fall in love with people’s passion – the way their eyes light up when they talk about the thing they love and the way they fill with light. And the reverse is just as true. When you share your why, your passion, people are drawn to you. People don’t really care what you do, they care why you do it.
Do you want to sit on a Board, read issues papers and meet via monthly teleconference? Or do you want to contribute to finding innovative solutions to global food security? I do! And that’s why I was elected as the youngest President of Australian Women in Agriculture and form part of the World Farmers’ Organisation Women’s Committee.
Do you want to live in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with no hot water, intermittent electricity, be a racial minority, contract malaria and maybe be accepted by your community? Or do you want to have a life changing experience living in Papua New Guinea making an impact in some of the most impoverished communities in the world? I do! And that’s why I lived and volunteered in PNG for two years.
Do you want to give up every Saturday for the majority of the year? Or do you want to empower women in PNG to come together in a safe and supportive environment where they learn about trust and team work. I do! And that’s why I founded a Netball Association in PNG for the first time since twin volcanic eruptions in 1994.
Do you want to live in communities that struggle to exist, struggle to access services, struggle to have feasible amenities? Or do you want to live in vibrant regional towns that hum with community spirit and pride. I do! And that’s why I give back to my community through volunteering.
People don’t really care what you do, they care why you do it. And when we communicate through our why, people are inspired. They believe in what you believe.
I never thought that by chasing after the shiny things in life, the things that made my heart sing, was anything short of normal. I just did stuff that I loved. Stuff that mattered to me. Stuff that I thought made a difference.
So as my career has progressed and I have been invited to contribute to various projects, initiatives, committees, Boards or advisory groups, it has been because each has resonated with my why. All the while, I was oblivious to the fact that because I was living that life I loved, that I was setting out to make a difference, I was being a leader.
So, why me? Why do I have to step up and lead. I mean, I just do stuff that I love. I’m not looking for recognition. I don’t want to be in the spotlight. What I have to say isn’t important.
I’m just a woman, I’m just a farmer’s wife, I’m just a student, I’m just a stay at home mum, I’m just a young naïve girl from Wongan Hills… Sound familiar?
We each have the capacity to make a difference. We are all leaders. We are contributing in our various ways, we all have special starfish in our lives we’re committed to making a difference to. We live in regional Australia, we all recognise that pointing the finger of blame instead of sticking your hand up to do something helps nobody. Every time we box ourselves in with the word ‘just’, not only do we deny ourselves the opportunity to sparkle, we deny others the opportunity to shine.
Just. One of the most dangerous and self-limiting words in the world.
I invite you to just stop using it.
Winning the 2016 WA Young Achiever of the Year has been a blur and it has been an immense learning curve. It has helped me see why it’s so important to recognise the otherwise unsung heroes in our communities. But we can’t celebrate those heroes if they aren’t prepared to step into the light and sparkle.
And if you’re still a little bit like me and don’t really love being in the spotlight and your why is about something bigger than yourself, don’t do it for you, do it for others. Because by accepting this gift you’re enabling a platform for others to shine brighter.
Start with why – people don’t care what you do, they care why you do it. And when we communicate through our why, people are inspired. They believe in what you believe. They believe in the power of young people, they believe in gender equality, they believe in the amazingness of regional Australia.
And just. What a crap word. So just stop it.
Behind every successful woman is herself – not your title, your family name, your husband, your upbringing or anything else – so own your space and sparkle!
Why just sparkle? Because if you don’t then others won’t have a guiding light to aspire to.