They call it the majestic and mysterious Kimberley – and I was off to visit vast stretches of its pristine coastline with magical sights only accessible by boat: Horizontal Falls, remote waterholes, fascinating Bradshaw Aboriginal art and the massive Montgomery Reef, to name a few famous sights.

This stretch of north-west Australian coastline had long featured on my Bucket List and here I am just back from the trip of a lifetime. With time to reflect along the way, I have put together four career lessons to help you enjoy your own career ‘travels’.


 1. Just HOW small is that boat?

I booked the trip forgetting that I often get sick at sea and in small planes. Yet, at first light on day one, we were due to board a tiny plane to travel 500km, then fly on a small helicopter to join our 12-berth catamaran.


In the months before the trip, I almost had kittens every time I thought about it. And guess what? It was fine. The helicopter trip across the weathered sandstone and basalt escarpment, in particular, was spectacular.

The lesson

I spoke with a client about fear last month. She said that she was able to see the open door to her next job, but she just couldn’t force herself to go through it.

This is very understandable. The first three months in a new job with a new employer are quite stressful: you don’t know how the photocopier works, you don’t know why that particular colleague seems to look sideways at you and you certainly have no grasp of office politics.

I used to dread the thought of a new job but came up with some very successful self talk to help me take the leap. ‘Okay, Catherine, you’re not going to stay here for the rest of your life, are you? Sooner or later you’re going to have to experience a new place, aren’t you? So, if you can’t avoid it, just get on with it!’

It worked for me.

If you’re going to stay in your current role with your current employer, make sure it’s for the right reasons. If it’s truly time to move on, talk to the right people – those who will support you to embrace or even just endure the change.

 2. I don’t like fishing

Before I stumbled into the career space, I was a generalist consultant, running training sessions on a range of soft skills topics. I was quite good at it but I just didn’t enjoy the work. I used to lie in bed the night before a gig, knowing I didn’t want to keep earning my living as a trainer but not knowing what else to do. I wasn’t happy.

Now, I spend my days mostly doing what I love to do and what I am good at. And yet I still struggle at times to embrace new experiences…

‘Just go to the meeting and listen to what they have to say.

When I first met my husband, he often repeated these words to me. They helped me to switch from automatically rejecting a new idea to a more strategic consideration.

So, I tried fishing. I baited the rod and then quickly washed my hands over the side of the dinghy so that I didn’t lose them to the salt water crocodile lurking nearby. I did my best to cast the lure cleanly. And I waited for the fish to come to me. Not too long, as it happened. This is the Kimberley, after all. And, I loved every minute of it!

The lesson

It’s important to have a clear understanding of what you enjoy and are skilled at. It’s equally important to open your mind to new experiences and ways of thinking. Even if you still end up deciding that it’s not for you, life is so fluid these days that you are never stuck too long anywhere doing anything unless you choose to be.

Tuna sashimi for pre-dinner nibbles was a treat for us all and imagine my pride to have hooked that fish myself!

 3. Bonfires on the beach

The crew needn’t have done it. We would have never known that a short excursion to the beach to watch the sun set against the towering cliffs and the ever-so-still ocean was possible.

Yet, off they went in a fully loaded dinghy to set up. Cal (the boss), along with the typically Aussie-nicknamed Fossil, Fridge and Riss.

As with the multitude of tasks they completed each long day, we guests watched in awe. No demarcation issues here! Danny, a former Head Chef at one of Australia’s most famous wineries, took time off from his food preparation duties and carted chairs and tied off ropes with his mates.

It was almost like a ballet. No wasted movement, no discussion about who should do what. They just got on with it. Along the way, there was banter, real camaraderie and the occasional beer consumed.

The lesson

Recruit well for two essential qualities – competency and teamwork.

I am constantly amazed at how few employers actually test the technical capacity of job applicants. It’s quite easy. In my little micro business, if I am hiring front desk staff, I test the following skills every time: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, grammar and punctuation. So, just identify the technical skills that are needed for the role and then put each applicant through an assessment.

When it comes to ascertaining applicants’ approach to teamwork, you need to be quite skilful. Everyone knows to expect this interview question, so make sure that they can’t possibly have prepared a manufactured, glossy answer. Use behavioural interviewing but keep probing until you have a detailed picture.

Don’t be obvious when you talk to referees. Frame the ‘teamwork’ question in an unusual way that they don’t see coming. That way, you’re more likely to be told the truth.

Once your new hire is on board, make sure that you measure teamwork and that you hold people accountable for their team contribution. If you have an employee who does not pull his or her weight, you need to decide:

  • Whether the situation is able to be retrieved.
  • How much money and effort you are prepared to spend to rectify it.
  • Whether you can move the person to a role where their attitude is less damaging. (Question: Are there any such roles left in this day and age of lean and mean operations?)

Don’t keep them if they can’t/won’t change. Apart from the damage they do to the business, there is a moral component. Having to interact with a selfish team member day in day out drains energy and enthusiasm. As the team manager, you have a responsibility to do whatever is within your power to make work as pleasant and fulfilling as possible for your direct reports.

Using a boating analogy, your non-team player needs to shape up or ship out! And it’s your job to manage this.

 4. Would you like a waterfall with that?

We were out of internet range for the entire nine days of the trip and there was no TV or movies.

Life became instantly simpler. Did I need reef shoes or walking shoes for this excursion? Would I watch the sunset from the front or back deck? Would my book last till I got back to shore?

The lesson

I will always remember a senior Manager at the Black & Decker factory in Malaysia. It was shutting down and I was working with the staff to help them find new roles. Kim Yu went for an interview with a local mob one day and they harangued her at the interview. ‘You won’t be able to work on the weekends because you have young children…We need someone committed who will be there for us…’ You get the picture.

She replied quietly and firmly, ‘I work smart NOT long.’ They ended up offering her the job but luckily she held her nerve and took a great role with a more enlightened company.

Back in Australia, my Executive clients often work extreme hours. Not just long hours each day, but long hours with no break at all. They are well aware of the significant negative health and productivity effects yet still they continue.

If this is how you behave, it’s time to analyse your use of time at work. Are you really effective for those 50-60 hours?

Examine what you can control and what you can change. At a minimum, take a 20 minute break away from your office each day, whether it’s for coffee or lunch. Even if you end up taking work with you, the change of environment, the short walk, the chat with the coffee shop staff will refresh and reinvigorate you.

Our bodies are the vessels that hold our spirit, our essence. To me, therefore, it has always made sense to look after mine. I have internalised doing physical exercise since starting Irish Dancing at the age of six; I am anxious if too much time goes past without the possibility of working up an (admittedly gentle) sweat. And, I am well known within my circle of friends and acquaintances for eating and drinking healthily.

We all know what it is that we should do – we are bombarded by health messages every day. The secret is to find the trigger that works that will set off a change in behaviour.

(Mind you, the four kilos I put on during the cruise show that I too lack discipline at times.)


How cold is it in Adelaide today?

Back now in winter’s grip and ‘civilisation’, the memory of this trip will well and truly last a lifetime. The serenity phrase from that famous Irish prayer comes to mind.

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

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By the way, if you’re interested in booking your own Kimberley cruise with Cal and his team above, contact Callum@diversitycharters.com.au. But be quick, next year is almost all booked out.


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