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.
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.
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.
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.
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.