The three pillars on which I have built my career

It was a huge honour to be invited to speak at the graduation ceremony for the UWA Post-nominal MD class of 2019 last week. Here is both the video and a transcript of that speech.


I would like to acknowledge The Chancellor, The Honourable Robert French; Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor David Sadler; graduates and most importantly, their guests – the support network that has allowed them to get to this very important day.

It is almost 20 years since I graduated with my MBBS from UWA.

As I’m sure is common for the people who have stood up here addressing UWA graduating classes, preparing this speech had led me to reflect on my career. And, in doing that reflection, it has become apparent that my career has been built on three core pillars. It’s those three pillars that I would like to share with you today.

The first pillar is ‘listen more than you speak’

If you’re in this room, you’re a very smart person. And I don’t mind generalising here because I’m going to lump myself in with what I’m about to say. We smart people, we really like other people to know how smart we are. Which means a lot of what we call listening is actually ‘waiting for the other person to finish speaking so we can respond’.

What we need to remember is this:

When you listen to someone – proper listening – you are giving them the gift of feeling both seen and heard.

And you are giving yourself the gift of learning. Because every single person you meet in life has something to teach you. If only you’re willing to listen.

Better still, listening and showing interest in people sparks curiosity. Curiosity leads to questioning. Questioning leads to innovation and – importantly for the industry you’re about to enter – innovation leads to better patient outcomes.

The second pillar on which I’ve built my career is ‘be brave’

And I’m not talking about the ‘go swimming with sharks’ or ‘go climb Mt Everest’ kind of bravery here.

For high achievers, it’s easy to get caught up in the narratives and expectations of others. Choosing to be true to yourself and walk your own path might be the bravest but most rewarding thing you ever do.

Bravery also looks like vulnerability: admitting you’re wrong, admitting you don’t know something, admitting you’re struggling and need help. Vulnerability is one of the most powerful ways to create lasting connections with other human beings. So, while it’s scary, it’s also worth doing.

Being brave can also be something as simple as showing up for work and life even when you don’t want to; when your energy levels are low; when the challenges are coming thick and fast; when you’re wondering ‘what even is the point’?

I know from experience that countless small acts of bravery have gotten you to this point here today. I’m excited to see where future tiny acts of bravery take you in the future.

And now for the third and final pillar on which I’ve built my career: ‘When in doubt, let curiosity be your guide’

When I completed my MBBS, I had no idea what my career ambitions were. I knew I wanted to work in medicine but that was it.

It can be easy for highly driven people to feel huge anxiety when there is no clear path, no clear ‘next thing’. I definitely felt that anxiety. I definitely felt fear at making the wrong decision. At embarking on a path and investing time in something only to find it didn’t suit me.

In the end, I resolved to let curiosity be my guide. And I’m glad I did because there are three great things about coming at work, and life for that matter, with an attitude of curiosity:

One, it pretty much guarantees you are investing your time in something that is interesting to you.

Two, it ensures you never stop learning.

Three, an attitude of curiosity brings with it a flexible mindset. A growth mindset. You’re always open to the idea that things may not turn out the way you expected. And you know that that’s ok.

In 2014, I was rung by the CEO of St John of God Mt Lawley and offered the role of Director of Medical Services. I had served on the Medical Advisory Committee for 5 years and had been Chairman of Mead Medical for 18 months, but to that point in time, I had never thought of being an administrator.

But I did have an interest in system design and improvement in the quality of healthcare. So I thought, why not? Within three months, I was up to my neck in system change and I perceived that embarking on an MBA would help me become a better administrator. So off I went to do that.

While I was in the middle of doing that MBA, we were asked to write a marketing plan for an idea we wanted to implement in the next 12 months. I had an idea for changing the way we provided obstetric care so spent the rest of the module teasing out and developing that model.

Eventually, I couldn’t ignore the curiosity I had about whether this model could work in the real world – it became an itch I just had to scratch. So I left the well-paid, highly secure, some would say ‘cushy’, medical administration path I was on, and stepped out into the unknown. I founded One for Women, a maternity and obstetric startup. A business that would allow me to put my proposed model to the test.

And that is where you’ll find me today.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the term sunk costs. It refers to a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. It would have been easy to look at my years as an administrator as sunk costs. You too will experience moments in your career where you will be tempted to think, ‘well that was a waste of time’.

But here’s the beautiful thing about an attitude of curiosity. It pretty much eliminates any regrets or feelings about sunk costs from your life. Because when you’re:

  • following a path that is interesting to you,
  • learning everything you can while on that path,
  • while also being open to the idea that this path may not end up being quite what you hoped it would be,

you never have regrets. And a life with no regrets, only learning, is a really beautiful thing.

Throughout the course of your studies here you have been encouraged by your lecturers and tutors to write your future. There are a few things that allow you to write your own future more than allowing curiosity to guide you.

I don’t know what my future holds, but I know if I continue to listen, continue to be brave and continue to be led by my curiosity, then it’s a future I definitely want to be part.

I hope it’s the same for you too.

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