Happily Consumed by Wanderlust: How a Life of Travel Shaped My HR Career
Growing up, I traveled a lot. This was by design. My mum thought it was important for her children to experience the world outside of our home town in England. She believed strongly in this based on her time in the military, where she travelled the world.
The first country I can recall visiting was a Spanish Island, Grand Canaria. I was about five years old, just old enough to realize we were doing something fun and exciting (the airplane alone was an experience) but too young to understand how travel would ultimately impact my growth and evolution as a person. I would eventually come to experience exactly what Marcel Proust meant when he wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Travel has been and continues to be one of my greatest inspirations. It’s opened my mind to new cultures; helped me create more meaningful relationships; forced me to develop skills I didn’t know I had; and given me a stronger sense of humility, purpose, perspective and gratitude for my own life and opportunities. Perhaps most important, I’ve learned to not fear the unknown, but to relish in it. These discoveries have also guided my professional journey.
A Helicopter View of the Workplace
I hadn’t planned on having a career in HR. All I really knew was that I wanted to create, strategize and grow. More than that, I wanted to really understand how business worked from the inside out.
My first role in HR, based in the UK, was for a global company that distributed electric, electronic and mechanical components. Learning the global nature of this business was a great platform for me to leverage as I progressed my career. Before I knew it, I was working for a global hospitality company, relocating to Australia, having demonstrated my aptitude for change. Moving to Australia was somewhat easy (thanks mum) but I did step into the role during a period of significant change for the company and their employees.
To this end, my immediate priority was to build organizational capability within all the geo areas to help reposition the company for growth and success. Oh, and they wanted it done “yesterday.” (Not a problem. I love a good challenge!) So, in the shortest of timeframes, I rolled up my sleeves and began learning as much as I could about the business strategy and the existing capabilities of the organization. It was during this process I became more aware of the broad view the HR function of the company offered of the business. More than that, I realized I loved having the opportunity to influence strategy and make people’s working lives better in both small and big ways. My “aha” moment was immediate: HR was the place that I could make a difference.
The years that followed have been rewarding with many opportunities and too many lessons learned to count, but I think the learnings that have most shaped and developed my career have come from travel—both personally and professionally–and I know I’m not alone in this thinking. Countless articles have been written validating the impact travel has on effective leadership. In fact, there are even campaigns today aimed at increasing the number of study abroad opportunities offered through American colleges. The positive effects of venturing out and beyond our comfort zones cannot be overstated.
Leading any area of an organization in today’s digital age is challenging because technology demands that companies reimagine and reinvent themselves literally overnight. This means leaders also need to reorient themselves. Experiencing new countries surrounded by people who speak different languages, eat different food, have different customs and experiences is all part of the charm and lesson. You must learn to adapt quickly, approach situations with tenacity, spirit and an open mind. These characteristics serve any employee well, but especially those in leadership positions who are relied upon to pull together and inspire diverse teams from all over the world.
From Child Explorer to Hi-Tech HR Leader
In my role today as head of Global HR for Avaya, I’m in a unique position to help build a people-first company—which is essentially fostering a culture of compassion, inclusiveness and continuous learning. In the simplest terms, we want every Avayan to feel valued at a human level. All my changing environments and years spent in the hospitality industry have prepared me for this moment. With a global team that brings the right skills, experiences and diversity of thought, I’m excited for the work ahead and to reinvent the HR function in ways that deliver superior talent leadership programs, meaningful development opportunities and the best technology integration strategies to create a smarter, more collaborative and engaging workplace.
And each day I remind myself that I’ve been able to tap into my greatest potential because I was given the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone. First by chance, and then by choice. I took risks over and over again, and more often than not, they paid off. When they didn’t, I learned and moved on—better for the experience.
My advice to those starting their careers and to those who have been in their careers a while is this: life is short so do what you love. Always be in the moment. And when you get the chance to travel, I hope you go. Traveling will teach you more than any classroom or job ever will. Take it from this happy wanderluster.