apn_gailkellyWestpac chief executive Gail Kelly admits she’s certainly learnt a thing or two on her unpredictable journey from an unhappy Latin teacher in Johannesburg, South Africa to being listed as the 56th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In 2002, she became the first female CEO of a major Australian bank or top 15 company and, as of 2005, was the highest paid woman in an Australian corporation.  In 2014 she announced her retirement, and she had at that time some valuable reflections for those who want more out of life and love so I thought I’d share some of what she says, have been her greatest life lessons.


If you love what you do, you’ll do more of it; doing more of it, you’ll gather more confidence, more energy and get better at it. That builds more confidence and energy and you love it more. And you grow in your capability and skills. And the reverse is true. I was teaching at a school in Johannesburg and I didn’t feel confident in what I was doing, I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job. I was teaching boys who didn’t want to be there, I was teaching subjects I didn’t want to teach, it was a whole combination of things. I just lost confidence, I lost a sense of my self-esteem, I did it worse as a consequence and I all of a sudden ended up feeling deeply unhappy. I realised it was affecting my life and it was affecting the way I felt about myself and I recognised that I needed to make a change either in my attitude or in what I was doing. I felt I wasn’t coping in what I was doing. I decided to move on.


This does go back to living in a small family, a happy family, in Pretoria and the very positive influence of my mum and my dad, particularly my dad, who was inherently a very optimistic person. He had that wonderful flavour of, you can choose in your life how you respond to situations and you should actively choose to be positive, to see the world through a glass-half-full perspective. You should choose even in difficult times to look for the learning, the insights, the opportunities, the next steps. And it’s a life skill, not just a business skill. I sometimes have to remind myself as I am going home at night and have had a really tough day that I can choose how I walk into my home. I can choose to be warm and embracing and welcoming, or I can choose to walk in and reflect in my tone and style that I had a bad day and everyone else is going to suffer a little bit because of it.


My advice and my encouragement to you, over life journeys and career journeys is put your hand up and be bold and be courageous. Be prepared to back yourself; be prepared to have a go. It’s been trouble for me all my life, the sense of gosh, ‘I’m not good enough, I’m not adequate, I’m not going to do this well. I might fail, what happens if I fail?’ Every time I’ve met this career opportunity in a life sense, I’ve had to pause, stop, dig deep, take my courage in my hands, actively say I’m going to back myself, actively say there are others out there who are going to support me, there are others out there that want me to win.


I very often come across people who are at the pinnacle of their career, they are immensely successful, they’ve climbed the mountain, they are the best they can be in their job or their profession and yet they are deeply unhappy. If you get to an environment where that gets talked about these people cry: grown men my age and more, in tears. Because of what they have lost along the way: a relationship, a partnership, they may not be connected to their children, maybe they’ve lost their health, maybe they’ve got no friends. They have no interests; they’ve lost sight of who they are, their spirituality, their inner person. Do not let this happen to you. You need to make sure you live a whole life, which means be really clear on the priorities in your life and invest in them all the way.