This article was written by Steph and accepted for publication to Merise Magazine,  in late 2014. It was, to the best of our knowledge never published, online or in print.

Here it is – with some slight modifications for the time between 2014 and 2018.

We hope you enjoy Steph’s story of Opportunity and Growth.

I’m sitting on the train at 5:30 pm, mid September 2014, coming home from the Google Analytics User conference in Melbourne, and thinking about how I am going to write this article. That should teach me for jumping in head first to the opportunity.

An opportunity is a time or set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.  Don’t take my word for it, that’s the official definition.

So, by its very definition, an opportunity is neither negative nor positive. It simply is.

It is chance to do something. A turn. Your go at taking the shot.

Opportunity does not discriminate, it does not take sides.

Getting the chance to write this article, is the result of an opportunity. One that I grabbed hold of without hesitation when I met the Merise Team at the Ladies Tea in Melbourne in early 2014.

I ponder thoughtfully that the definition of an opportunity is not about the end result, but rather about the circumstances. Getting more money into your business is not an opportunity, but helping someone in your network, that’s an opportunity. It’s a chance to do something.

It’s also not a guarantee, to the disappointment of a great many humans I think.

It’s an option, a happy coincidence of circumstances that enables you to

  • be something more,
  • try something different,
  • learn something new about yourself or
  • test your limits and boundaries.

And for Migrants and Saffers ?

What does this mean for migrants that land on our adopted fair shores ?

I think it’s about understanding what it means to have a fair-go. A fair-go is really the chance to take a hold of your Great Australian Opportunity.

Everyone in Australia has their “Fair-go” it would seem. Does that mean we all do well and prosper?

Not at all, because having a fair-go is not the same thing as working hard.  Australia,  in my experience does extraordinarily well at providing opportunities to more people than any other country, but you still have to work, and network, and be extraordinarily better than the rest to make a success of your career, your life,  or your business. In whatever way you choose to define that success.

So I’ve been pondering my journey since settling in Melbourne and the opportunities that have come my way.

In my whole working life, the longest I have ever worked for a company is 8 years. The longest I have ever had the same job is 5 (at that same company).

In South Africa I’ve cleaned houses, worked as a receptionist, a bookkeeper, a supervisor of dance instructors (couldn’t dance a step myself when I started) , a call centre agent, a debtors clerk, and a business analyst. All with a BSc Biochemistry under my belt.

In Australia, my CV looks a lot more stable, but that calm surface belies a far more complicated, and challenging personal and career growth curve.

I run a software company owned by 2 co-founders, and I’m not one of them. Technically, and legally not  mine, but it’s my baby nonetheless, as many other General Managers, Managing Directors and employed CEO’s can relate I am sure. We invest ourselves, and our working identities heavily into these “children” of ours. Staying awake consecutive nights when we take big risks, and wondering what will happen to our team members and staff if it all goes belly up. Feeling the weight of that responsibility very heavily when our staff have families, and thinking about how much your decisions affect the lives of these newly minted little Aussie tykes.

I’ve learned to say Yes. 

I’ve learned to say No.

And more importantly, I’ve learned how I can tell in advance when each is appropriate.

I’ve learned to be discerning in my trust, and to go with my gut when there is no other data to work from.

Snakes are very pretty, and can be exceptionally hypnotic and charming before they bite, or strangle the life out of you without mercy or empathy. Life-giving wells of breathing space, and genuine appreciation are often hidden under plain unassuming facades. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, sales is an art in Australia, and it’s full of charlatans.

If you try to embrace Australian “mateship” without understanding it first, you’ll fall flat very quickly.

I wish that I’d been told this all of this when I arrived in 2010.

Eagerness is not always appreciated by your average small business Australian, they are a very reticent people, and if they don’t know you, you just look pushy.

Sometimes the opportunity is to be found in sitting back, and waiting.

And when the universe sends you a cryptic email wondering if you’d like to explore doing business in USA, you whip out that eagerness and energy and throw everything you have at it, in the face of enormous fear, because those are the times when the opportunity is in the YES, and you have to learn to stretch yourself.

An that is how I find myself all alone stranded overnight in Sydney en route to the USA in May 2013, fighting with an airline, and negotiating my way into 24 hours of plane hopping across the globe so I could get to my 2 week immersion in San Francisco on time.

I had a surreal moment in the middle of that night in 2013 in the Sydney Hotel, waiting for a call back from an airline. I made a wry mental note-to-self that I was having a chance to do some personal growth. This was rapidly followed by an angry admonishment to the Universe in general

“Personal Growth be damned, I just want things to work!”

It’s so much easier to look back and see how far you’ve come, and apply an overlay of logic to the circumstances that challenge us. Much easier than seeing and grappling with the discomfort of that growth when it’s happening in real time.

So I became the CEO of said company, because American Investors in Silicon Valley will not take a Business & General  Manager seriously. They want to talk to the CEO. It’s a bit like having a split personality really. CEO on one side of the globe and a Manager on the other.

What a moment that was, I think I celebrated by making myself another cup of coffee.

Celebrations do happen often in any business that I have a significant interest in, I believe it’s important to mark the small wins and big. We had an apoplexy of happiness when we made it into the Apple App Store – and we got a couple of rounds of applause when we told our friends and business colleagues. It was a small win for us, but apparently far more impressive to our friends and clients than we realised.

The irony of that did not escape me,  that we had built this amazing software company over many years, with an incredible online platform, and no-one applauded until we had simple contact manager app in the App Store. When did the measure of business value become an App I wondered?

We cannot all be Steve Jobs

Moments like those bring my attention sharply into focus; snapping me back to the reality that we cannot all be Steve Jobs. Most times, us normal people need to see, pick and exploit opportunities by listening to what people want.

They may not have the words, but their needs and desires are there in their behaviour. And if you are not solving a problem, then you’re not doing anything useful, marketable and by extension, sellable.

Everything that happens to you every day when you live in Australia is an opportunity to grow.

It’s so damn hard to remember that,  when it’s 3 am and you can’t sleep because you miss your family with a pain so deep it knocks the breath out of you. It is true nonetheless.

One last lesson I have learned, is that you will be happy only when you decide that you’re going to be.

Unfortunately, it is the one lesson I cannot pass on as if it were a transferrable skill. Us migrants, we the brave that leave everything we know behind – we each have to come to our own peace and settlement of why we now live in Australia, and what it means to be an Australian from another birthplace. And we do it in our own time.

I notice the train has stopped here in 2014 – we’re at my station, so this is the end of the line for today. Only today mind you, because tomorrow morning will bring with it another set of opportunities.

What will you do with your opportunities, here in our adopted homeland?