insights from ERICA AUSTIN. CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND
Imagine an architecture graduate, that uses her knowledge to bring communities together and curates amazing experiences for everyone, while volunteering for several projects and spending some of her free time as a photographer. Erica Austin does just that! She’s one amazing woman, who has shared some valuable insights with us about being a networking pro, her goal setting strategies, and the importance of communicating your priorities when wearing different hats. During her fourth year studying towards an Architecture degree at the University of Auckland, the Christchurch earthquakes happened and Erica started visiting Christchurch due to being involved in several projects. Her eyes were opened by working with communities and businesses for the first time at the Festival of Transition of Architecture. She described the pivotal moment of her career as a “realization that architecture was beyond just building and designing buildings. It is fundamentally for the people and without understanding the behaviours, how we can nurture the human connection of the people with its environment, we aren’t able to design the quality and the right infrastructure and architecture that is needed.”. This inspired her decision to take a year off after finishing her degree, and to move south to Christchurch.
Once Erica became a Christchurch local herself, she threw herself into local life, cycling everywhere and volunteering for several organisations. This gave her the opportunity to learn, grow, give, and find out what role she could play in the rebuild.
Volunteering also gave Erica the chance to connect with a diverse range of awesome people – it gave her a strong network of colleagues, friends and possible future collaborators.
Here’s the hot tips from this committed learner and super connector ...
If you are unsure on what kind of organisation or event you would like to be a part of, connect to or find out more about, use Erica’s easy 4-Step Process to develop your knowledge and build your engagement in areas you’re interested in.
If I am curious about a topic or an area, the first thing I do is to attend an event such as a conference, a meetup, a networking session, and be an engaged attendee. This is an important first step – get out from behind the phone or laptop, and connect. See if this area is one that lights a spark.
Next, if the spark is lit and I want to dive deeper into this conversation, I will look at ways I can get more involved – such as, volunteer for the next event, write/blog about it, and strive to talk directly with the speakers more and interact with the organizers.
The third step is to become the ambassador and champion the topic or cause. For example, if you are really into cycling and wanting to advocate for cycling lanes or another hot topic in this area, you speak up and talk about this topic in your own circles. You raise awareness in your own community these topics to get make other people aware. You use your voice and add weight to the topic.
And the fourth, is to really step up and lead. This is more on a governance level, be a driving force for the topic, such as the organizer of an event.
Erica, and us here at Careering, we know that young women have to come out of their bubbles – ladies, speak up! Cast the net wide, spend time at Step 1 until you find the things that inspire you to keep moving through steps 2 and 3, and 4. Passionate people are wonderful to be around! Get out there, talk to your colleagues, friends, family members and students from other disciplines, and get involved with your local communities. By stepping out into new circles, young women will benefit in many ways, says Erica. Doing so will allow them to grow, use the learned knowledge in their own fields and create new awareness, and allow them to be mindful of others.
This 4-Step Process is a great way to quickly learn more and dip your toes in, and then increase involvement as you wish. The other, very important upside, is that it also enables you to connect with others, and to make connections that might create further opportunities for both of you. At the very least you may have new conversations and hear different perspectives, which is always powerful.
Here’s a very interesting fact about Erica: she has never had a job interview! Like, ever.
She’s walked the talk and used the process above, and through doing so, most of her volunteering positions led to paid positions, and these then created referrals to other jobs.
Erica was awarded her current job at the Ministry of Awesome through a referral, and still volunteers at Te Putahi, the Centre for Architecture and City Making, as well as at TedX Christchurch, and holding a position on the board for ‘Watch This Space’, believing that “Collective impact is definitely bigger than individual impact”.
One of her top tips for working with others to achieve the results, especially while juggling so many things, is to “Always prioritise and communicate these priorities , no matter how intense the workload!”. Doing so will allow everyone to be on the same page and empower all to be aware of where to focus their efforts.
Another great habit Erica started once she arrived in Christchurch, was setting goals in an effective and special way. Instead of pushing the panic button and rapidly writing resolutions for New Year, which will most likely be forgotten after a few months, Erica has a cool new approach. She chooses a word capturing a theme for every year, starting on her birthday.
For her, this year’s word is leadership. This word is it – there’s no further detail, she doesn’t specify any outcomes, which then lets her stay open to new options, and make choices to integrate things like public speaking, and seeking opportunities to lead in every day environments.
She also invites and allows support from her crew. Here’s how: On, or close to, her birthday, Erica will write a public statement for all her friends so they all know how she would like to grow herself in the year ahead. She also asks them to let her know if they are aware of any opportunities that are aligned, and to help her stay on track by letting her know if they see her deviate off the path.
Additionally, instead of focussing on one theme year after year, new themes are chosen each year. Last year’s word was strengthening – Erica focused on strengthening herself in a physical and mental way, and strengthening relationships with her colleagues, friends and family. This approach is simple, inspiring, and effective, and it allows Erica to grow and develop herself over time, one year at a time. With the fundamental outcome – constant growth.
We hope that Erica Austin’s insights, ideas and tips will help and inspire you. And our goal is for you, is to take what’s useful, mash it up with what you know, and to define success on YOUR own terms.
Success IS different for everyone, and Erica has one beautiful last tip on that point:
“Don’t define yourself as a specific career or a specific industry. Define yourself as your value, passion and strengths.”
Interview completed by Kat - Summer 2017/2018
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