How to live an authentic work life


Veteran ABC newsreader Virginia Trioli spoke powerfully on how she crafted an authentic work life for herself at the recent Women in Media Conference. 

Viriginia Trioli, Women in Media Conference 2018
Viriginia Trioli, Women in Media Conference 2018

Trioli advises “not to mute our voices, quiet our requests or dial down our demands”, particularly in a world that is reductive of us women and our capabilities. While the full transcript is worth reading here,  I’ve distilled into the key principles that resonated for me:

Kill ‘nice’

Don’t confine yourself to someone’s expectations of you. Listen to that voice inside that knows exactly what it is that you really want to do, but is being drowned out by the white noise of what you think you ought to be doing. Set the boundaries for yourself. This is my favourite part:

Get in touch with the difficult woman inside you — the one who insists on her voice being heard; the one who refuses to bend to ‘the way we’ve always done it’ before; who can identify what she was put here to do and asks for the help she might need to get it done…”.

Don’t be the ‘nice’ girl and please everyone. Please yourself.

Do your own performance evaluation

Don’t wait for someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart to point out your shortcomings. Get there first and do something about them. Periodically sit down and take inventory of:

  • what I’m doing well
  • what I need to improve
  • where the gaps are in my skillset and knowledge base, and
  • how I need to fill them

Have a ‘save your arse’ file

Now that you’ve done the self scrutiny, she advises having a ‘save your arse’ file to draw upon when asking for pay rises. Show the facts of what you’ve contributed, and make it hard for people to say no to your requests.

“It’s basically a file of rock solid evidence that allows me to argue that I have added value, increased readership and have been useful to other staff,” Trioli said.

I’ve already started my file which will  be useful at performance evaluation time.

And then ask for what you want

When it comes to asking for what we want, more often than not women take a backward step by consistently underrating their abilities. Identify the next challenge in your career – and ask to be considered, even if you don’t have all of the listed criteria. Have that meeting with the senior director, and pitch your idea or solution. Don’t wait to be noticed or asked.

Ultimately we need to appreciate that our individual authentic working life will be different to someone else’s. For example, Trioli relates her joy in being considered for 60 Minutes, the most prestigious current affairs show in Australia, only to turn it down when she found out the travel commitments would have conflicted with the family life she wanted.

Being a difficult woman in a difficult world

Trioli talks about not only bringing our best self to work, but all of our capabilities and strengths. Most women underplay their achievements, demonstrating incredible organisational, planning, strategy and execution capacity in running a household, combined with work, and school and volunteer commitments. As for me, I’m dedicating myself to  becoming a  ‘difficult woman’ – the perfect antidote to being ‘nice’.



Ideal vs. real life

I had a lovely picture in my mind of my idea life writing witty insightful and inspiring blogs to a regular schedule. That was my ideal life.

Then… there is real life, messy, unpredictable and a bit overwhelming. I’ve been dealing with the exhausting end to a big project. The start of another large and challenging program of work. Taking on additional extra-curricular commitments to which I should have said NO (to at least one or all of them).

And I’ve separated from my husband of 21 years. That was a very big NO. Finally after much soul-searching, heartache and lots and lots of tears. Then setting up house in a new place. So I’ve been working on rebuilding my life. Working out on what else to say NO to, to give myself some space and rest, and gather my thoughts.

“Normal’ transmission will start soon.

An essential life skill – learning the Power of a Positive No

Positive NoFor most working women/mothers I know, myself included- overworked, overcommitted and really really tired – saying NO is our biggest challenge.

To learn this essential life skill, I’m working through The Power of a Positive No. How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by William Ury (2007). Ury is a respected author and co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, and is one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation and mediation, so this is a good place to start.

I wish I’d read this book years ago (but I probably wouldn’t have done anything about it back then). Ury perfectly describes the difficulty of saying NO to our nearest and dearest, and people on whom we rely, like work colleagues, managers and community leaders. In my case, saying no to my daughter’s constant requests to buy clothes/takeaway/icecream/makeup/shoes/concert tickets/staying out late/have friends stay over, makes me feel like a bad parent even though it’s in her best interests (and mine) to restrict them.

At the other end of the scale, Ury retells an example from the business world where an inability to say NO and challenge the group-think led to a $150 million loss.

NO is the word we use to protect ourselves and to stand up for everything and everyone that matter to us. You have to say NO to a demand or request that is unwelcome, a behaviour that is inappropriate or abusive, or a situation or system that is not working or is not fair.

Often we have a black and white view of saying NO – that it’s a power struggle. We feel like we have to choose between exercising our power to defeat the other by saying NO or losing our power and protecting the relationship. The way most people handle this conflict is by either:

  1. Accommodating: saving the relationship while sacrificing our own interests
  2. Attacking: which is the opposite of being accommodating, i.e. getting angry, finger pointing/blaming the other or destructive conflict
  3. Avoiding: saying nothing at all

These approaches usually lead to resentment and guilt, and what Ury calls the three A trap.

What I’ve found fascinating so far is his assertion that it’s not a zero sum game – that either you protect the relationship OR exercise your power. He suggests using both at the same time, “engaging the other in a constructive and respectful confrontation.”

How to say NO without feeling bad

The key to a Positive No is respecting yourself and the other person, which Ury describes in the Yes! No. Yes? sequence:

  1. Yes. The first Yes expresses your interests and is internally focused.
  2. No. Asserts your power.
  3. Yes? Furthers your relationship and is externally focused.

To illustrate using a real life situation, he mentions a family confronting their son destroying his and his family’s life through gambling.  Using the 3 step Positive No process, the intervention went like this:

  1. Yes. How much the son meant to them.
  2. No. He needed to stop gambling or lose their support.
  3. Yes? Inviting him to seek help at a residential treatment program.

He then got the therapeutic help he needed and recovered from his gambling addiction.

The gift of a Positive No

Ury says that learning to say NO skillfully and wisely, helps you create what you want, protect what you value, and change what doesn’t work. How we say NO determines the quality of our lives.

Because I’m in the mindset to change and transform my life (hence the blog!), this really resonated: Every creative change begins with an intentional No to the status quo.

That was the first couple of chapters in a nutshell.  I’ll report back on how I go with the Yes! No. Yes? sequence this week.




Stop being nice – Teaching our girls to say ‘F*** Off’

Actress Helen Mirren in an interview last year said that she regrets not telling more people to “f*** off” in her life. Continue reading “Stop being nice – Teaching our girls to say ‘F*** Off’”