My life has never been balanced and it keeps getting better

Maria connects people, ideas and opportunities. She was awarded Best Community MVP at the Australasian Startup Awards with the support of the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Maria has been a senior executive, a founder and an adviser, having worked with some of Australia’s leading law firms and public sector agencies like the Digital Transformation Agency. She has helped with the establishment and growth of the successful Fintech Hub, Stone and Chalk and she has also launched three startups.

Maria is a board director with the International Women’s Forum, the Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce and the Spark Entrepreneur Festival. She also works tirelessly to try to achieve social impact across the innovation system.

Welcome to the Ribit International Women's Day series of inspiring stories designed to encourage students to ‘Shine & Rise’. In the lead up to March 8 and supporting this year’s theme ‘Balance for Better’ we invited leaders and influencers we admire to share their experiences entering the workforce, building their careers, and the lessons they learnt along the way.

It’s tricky to achieve balance when you are new to the workforce and you’re trying to work out what needs to be done and how to do it. Your learning curve is steep and that answer is a few keystrokes away. Lesson learned: Don’t obsess. No one expects you to know it all. They expect you to want to learn it all. So be curious and ask good questions. Trade your expertise for their experience and above all else, show respect. You never know a person’s life story, their contribution or their capability.  

 

It’s impossible to achieve balance when you have children to raise. They need what they need when they need it, particularly as infants. The same applies to older parents. Learning how to prioritise and remove complexity, requires a maturity few of us demonstrate while in the eye of the storm. Lesson learned: Doing less doesn’t mean the children’s lives will be diminished. It means that they (and you) have the time to grow without being rushed.  Lower your expectations, do less and savour the precious moments. They pass all too quickly.

Balance flies out the window when a crisis hits. It needs attention then and there. Balance evaporates when you start a new project because you’re coming up to speed and people are waiting for you to deliver. Launching a startup is all consuming, because there’s too much to do, you’re racing against the clock and there’s a always too much at risk and doubt. Lesson learned: Narrow your focus and deal with what’s important. Recognise that with focus (there’s that word again), you can pay attention to what matters, what delivers the best impact and the greatest returns.

My life has been, as a friend likes to say, “a rich tapestry”. That’s code for a multitude of competing features jostling for time and attention that, stitched together, give me great joy. Lesson learned: Embrace the life you’ve chosen, recognise that after a run of good news (usually three bits), there’s going to be some bad news. It’s inevitable. You don’t have to justify your decisions to anyone but yourself.

Balance is not only better, it’s critical when you’re developing ideas, solving problems and meeting challenges. Balance is a non-negotiable when you’re running an organisation that includes or serves people of different age groups, ethnicities, faiths and beliefs, genders, sexual orientation, physical and mental capability. Without balance, you end up with an over-representation of one or other group, which brings with it the potential of bias, influence and dominance that changes the quality and impact of outcomes.

I was raised as the youngest daughter of parents who had a family of boys. I have three sons and a husband. I know how men think. I’ve had to learn how women think.

I was raised Catholic and remain a practising Catholic (although attending a Mass said by Jesuits challenges the assumptions of many Catholics), I’ve had to learn to walk in the shoes of my Jewish, Presbyterian, Anglican, Hindu, Muslim and Atheist friends. I’ve learned that Chiara Lubich and the Beatles are right - all we need is love.

I was raised straight. I’ve come to understand what it takes for a girl to become a boy because she never felt like a girl, what it’s like to want to marry a partner from the same sex and create a family with them. I learned the importance of tolerance and acceptance. I’m not here to judge.

I’ve worked in politics, in government, in law firms, consulting firms (we used to call them accounting firms), startups, hubs and not-for-profits. I’ve served in fruit shops, department stores and shoe stores for women and children. I’ve faced philanderers, racists, misogynists, narcissists, liars, kleptomaniacs, drunks and bullies. I’ve also experienced the power of leadership, selflessness and charity. It’s true that what you walk past you condone. You can’t remain silent and let those with power hurt others, even if your job is at risk. It’s also true that leadership matters a lot.

I was born in Sudan of Syrian heritage. I’ve seen the world through the eyes of others from every continent on the planet, which has been a remarkable experience. I’ve seen what it’s like to be scarred by the refugee experience and to accept that not everyone can wait in the queue. Nor should they. I’ve come to respect the deep and rich history of our indigenous peoples. To be horrified by the truth we weren’t taught as children. To appreciate the importance of recognising and respecting their place as the first Australians. I’m reminded time and again, that there is no difference and that a united world is one that lives in peace.

I am surrounded by those with an intellect that astounds. Learning to release their potential has been one of the most remarkable experiences of my career. Celebrating the capability of the gifted is challenging, especially when those intimidated by it choose to undermine. I’ve learned that it’s critical to ensure those who are capable are given the space to be heard, encouraged and celebrated.

Balancing for better to me means actively encouraging the diversity of opinions, experiences, ideas and contributions. Without these we are weakened. I encourage you to stand up and be heard, speak up when you don’t agree. When we are silent, we remain doomed by the curse of Donald Horne’s observation that “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people's ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.

And who needs more of that?

Click here to read other inspiring stories in our series celebrating International Women’s Day 2019.

Ribit.net is a free to use online marketplace that connects student talent to jobs with growth startups and innovative organisations. With a focus on STEM and entrepreneurship, Ribit is committed to helping students present their ‘best selves’ and gain a successful and rewarding experience to further their careers, while also assisting Australian businesses seeking to transform or innovate find the talent they need to grow.

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