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Role Models


‘You need to see it to be it.’ Seeing others succeed in study and their careers can help you start to set goals and create your future.

As you’re heading towards becoming a young adult, it’s good to think about what you would like to achieve and then surround yourself with people who can support or positively influence you.

Role models enable you to see what others are doing, especially when you think you couldn’t do certain study or work. They also show that everyone defines success differently and encourage you to go for it!

As teenagers, Aussie Hands members Claire and Knox are already becoming role models.

Our Aussie Hands adult role models have shared how having their own role models helped them reach their goals. They also share why role models are important.

Jessica Smith OAM – Chief Operating Officer 

Look up to people who are where you want to be in the future and reach out to them to ask what goals they set. Often, we need to set ourselves a main goal and then work backward, achieving smaller goals along the way. If you can follow in the footsteps of someone else, you will learn what works and, even more importantly, what doesn’t work.

It’s also just as important to avoid following or getting caught up with toxic behaviours that might deter you from your goal. Follow people who make you feel good about yourself, and surround yourself with people who are excited for you and your dreams and aspirations. 


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As a teenager, I was focused on making it onto the Australian Paralympic Swimming Team. I looked up to other athletes, both with a disability and without. Sport was my main focus, so I was inspired by athletes who were pushing the boundaries and achieving great things. However, I also wanted a career in policy and management, so I was dedicated to my studies. Which meant really learning how to balance my time between training and studying.

My career goals now are focused around creating a positive social impact and a legacy for the future. I try to do this through my work as an advocate for people living with a disability. I work in the field of education for children and adults. I’ve written a series of children’s books about disability, but I also educate adults and corporates about the importance of diversity and inclusion. I am the Chief Operating Officer of an inclusive Talent Management and Consultancy agency in Dubai.  Our aim is to ensure that diversity and inclusion are a part of every organisation’s policy and procedures.

Growing up, I never saw myself represented in the media or any platform, and this had a profoundly negative impact on my own identity and self-esteem. My goal is to respectfully educate society that differences make this world a much more productive and interesting place. I want everyone to have the same opportunities.

A career highlight for me was in 2019 when I was awarded The Medal of the Order of Australia – for commitment to sport and the community. It was and will always be a tremendous honour.

The most challenging thing for me, during my career, has been societal misconceptions about what I can or cannot do, assumptions from others. This is why educating and sharing my story is so important, to role model and show people that my disability hasn’t stopped me from achieving my goals. It’s also about building mental and emotional resilience, which takes patience and tolerance.

No matter what you study or career path you take, it’s ok to change your mind. Often, we don’t realise whether or not we actually enjoy something until we have invested our time and energy into it, only to realise that it doesn’t excite us as much as we had thought or hoped. In situations like this, it’s completely ok to change our mind and take a different direction.

Just remember to surround yourself with people who understand your determination and are there to support you.

Read more about Jessica

Tom – Ecologist

Through sharing my experiences, I hope to inspire you to never hide your limb difference but instead, use it, love it and rock it! I also want parents to know that their child will be fine and that they just need support to be a kid.

The mission of my business Hooked On Nature is to get people back into nature and hooked on unlocking the stories of wildlife, plants and fungi. I truly believe that the more people connect to nature in the garden, at the roadside reserve or national park, the better understanding they will have and the more people will want and know how to conserve it.

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Obviously, I am playing on the fact that I have a ‘Hook’ for a prosthetic right hand, but from as early as I can remember I’ve always been interested in the natural world. I was the kid who came to school with many jars, to the distress of my teachers, containing characters like Huntsman Spiders, Wood Cockroaches, snails, ants, centipedes and frogs, not to mention the frequent blue-tongued lizard scampering in my backpack. My mum was always scared to go through my bag!

I guess I have never grown up because I am still climbing trees, rolling over old logs and exploring the bush on a quest of discovering nature.  I’ve followed my passion into my professional life and now work as an Ecologist, and I want to share my passion with the world!

I think it’s critical for you to have a role model as they give you an adult perspective outside of your family unit.  As a teenager, a key role model for me was Anthony Stimson who established Australian Wildlife Displays. He gave me so much confidence to talk in front of audiences about why habitat is so important for our unique wildlife. It got me hooked for the rest of my career.

Skye-Blue – Motivational Speaker

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to join the army but it was at a careers expo in high school that I had that dream taken away because of the way I was born.  I then decided to start focusing on the things I really enjoyed which was the outdoors and anything adventure based.  

My career aspiration is to be a motivational speaker and help as many people as I possibly can to truly believe in themselves. Being able to visit schools, community groups and organisations speaking about my own personal experiences, sharing a different outlook and lessons around resilience, life’s struggles and a positive mind-set is a passion. 

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Listening to someone talk about something you or someone you know has gone through is such a helpful tool. There are times people feel so alone and feel like no one understands. I want to be the link for someone to realise that they are not alone and don’t have to struggle silently.

A career highlight for me was being part of the Amazing Race Australia in 2021.  That experience truly opened up so many opportunities and connections. Proving that, no matter your difference, you are capable of absolutely anything really paid off. Many people who judged, based on people’s looks, had their mindset shifted. Having thousands of people reach out and say that I had helped them was such a beautiful feeling and what was my soul purpose of appearing on the show.

When I was 18, and running a volunteer young leaders development program, a young lady told me that I had saved her life that week. It was at that moment that I decided this calling and career path was for me. It’s when I understood that even if what I say only helps one person I have succeeded.

A career challenge in 2020 happened when I had been accepted to train as a paramedic but the minute the head teacher found out I had one hand, my enrolment was terminated. She refused to even speak to me.

Throughout my life, I have heard ‘No’ more than I have ever heard ‘Yes’. More ‘You can’t’ than ‘You can’.  It’s up to you whether you listen to other people’s opinions or use their doubts as fuel to keep pushing and keep achieving.  Not to prove anything to the people who have doubted you but to prove to yourself that you are not what they pigeon hole you to be.

During high school my role model was Joan of Arc but as I got older and understood life more I looked at my mum as my role model.

She has broken her neck, had a stroke, beaten cancer 5 times, had a life changing car accident that put her in a wheel chair and is still pushing through. There are not many people out there that would have gone through all that and still choose to look at the glass half full and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

Having a role model is important because even if you don’t know them, they provide you with guidance and strength. Role models are someone who you aspire to be like and wish to learn from through their life experiences.

My advice to teenagers is – don’t feel like you need to figure it all out right now. Focus on the things you are good at and enjoy and really apply yourself. If you work hard at something you love and enjoy, then you will most likely end up in a career that brings you happiness and that you find rewarding for yourself and others. You’ve got this!

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Julian – Electrician

Although I avoided doing some things because of the difficulty involved, I wasn’t fazed about considering a career as an electrician. I knew I wanted to do a trade. I chose the electrical industry as it seemed the most interesting and has a high level of security.

Some people tried to put me off, but I was determined to prove them wrong, and I have successfully adapted with one hand on using the tools needed. A career highlight was working on the security system at Note Printing Australia, where Australia’s banknotes and passports are printed.

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There are many tasks that are more challenging due to my disability but I see these tasks as an opportunity and enjoy figuring out my own way of doing things.

When I was a teenager, my older brother was my role model. He was an accomplished athlete and student and my football coach. He taught me a lot about the importance of setting goals and the satisfaction of a disciplined approach to achieving those goals.

I’m not sure we necessarily choose who our role models are. You might not even realise someone was a role model until years later. The people around us influence who we are, and as a person, you become the sum of those people closest to you.

I really like engaging with the Aussie Hands community through social media and sharing practical tips including ways to strip cable or adaptive mountain biking.

It’s rewarding when I receive positive feedback to my videos, knowing that sharing my experiences will give you and your parents reassurance.  I want to tell teenagers the things I wish I had known at that age – don’t be afraid to get some help, realise when you need it and find a solution.

If you would like to have a chat with me about training for a trade, I am more than happy to be a Mentor so please book a time with me through the Peer Support Network.

Read more about Julian



Karen – Lawyer

My interests were more in problem solving and writing than maths and science, so I pursued a career in law and am now a lawyer with the Victorian Government.

I’ve always valued education for everyone, and a career highlight for me was being able to work on developing a new pathway for students to undertake degrees through TAFE institutes. This allowed students, who did not make it to university on their first try, to study at TAFE and use that towards a degree.

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I was involved in school council as a teenager and now I volunteer at an Op Shop and am also the Vice President at Aussie Hands.  I really enjoy the social aspect of volunteering and, as a mature person at Aussie Hands, I hope that it reassures parents about their child’s future.

I’ve never been conscious of my hand making a difference in my career.  I have worked with some people who only noticed my hand after we had been working together for a while.  My parents advised me to become well educated so that my hand didn’t matter. This seems to have worked.

As a teenager, I really admired Gough Whitlam as an ideas-person and many musicians because I love music.  I believe that role models are important to have as they can give you a sense of what’s possible and inspire you to achieve what you want for yourself.

If you would like to have a chat with me about study or becoming a lawyer, I am more than happy to be a Mentor so please book a time with me through the Peer Support Network.

Karen Maconald photo
Karen Maconald photo

Jay – Pilot

My high school had a specialist Aviation course that initially didn’t interest me, but I was hooked after taking my first flight. I couldn’t believe people actually flew aeroplanes for a living, and I naively thought, ‘This is what I want to do.’

After lots of hard work, I won a scholarship and with the help of a specially designed and built attachment for a prosthetic arm, I started flying lessons. I flew solo at the age of 17, and it was an incredible feeling being ‘alone’ in the sky.

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Since that first solo flight, I have flown to remote coral atolls taking passengers to snorkelling tours, returned patients back to country towns for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, conducted thrilling aerobatic joy flights, taught others the joy and skill of flying and also conducted flights tests for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

I honestly believe that I never faced any discrimination during my flying career until it was time to take the step from smaller aeroplanes to larger airliners. To gain employment with an airline was stressful, and the youthful naivety that had seen me tackle many seemingly impossible challenges was disappearing as I grew older.   Fortunately, I had some fantastic friends in the airline industry who supported and encouraged me to persevere.  In October 2017, Alliance Airlines offered me a job, and they have been fantastic ever since.

I did not have a ‘hand difference’ role model growing up despite my mum helping start a support group in Perth. All the children were much younger than me and I didn’t know anybody else living with a hand difference.  My parents were excellent role models but it was my brother who had one of the greatest influences on my life. He is only 17 months older, so we always played together. It didn’t matter whether we were playing computer games, wrestling, swimming or playing cricket in the backyard, he treated me as ‘normal’ and never took it easy on me.

I don’t think role models need to be exactly like us nor do they need to be ‘angels’. We can take inspiration from any number of people or experiences, good or bad, and use them to shape and motivate us.

I suggest you have as many role models as you like. Take inspiration from anywhere you can. If you have an interest in one area or another, try and associate yourself with people in that area. I can remember being in high school when I first developed an interest in aviation. I noticed that there were a group of students in my aeronautics class who had better grades, and I soon learned that they all had something in common; they were members of The Royal Air Force Cadets. I asked my parents if I could join, and before I knew it, my grades were improving too.

Aspire to achieve what others may have. Seek advice from those that you would consider a role model. But please don’t compare yourself to others. Just be you.

Read more about Jay