Finding refuge within Neuroscience

By the time I was 26-years old, I had changed careers twice, switching fields from hospitality and business management to marketing management.

I was doing really well in my career. 

In fact, I was helping my employer (a large multinational company) earn double-digit growth year on year. 

To do this I managed and led people from across the Asia Pacific region. 

I was on planes every two to three weeks, working an average of 80 hours a week and living on a diet of stress and immediacy. 

It’s 2002 and at age 26, work had become my focus. 

But, I hit a speed bump on my ‘road to greatness’.

I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. 

Thankfully I was still in the early stages of the disease. 

Thinking I was way too young and healthy to be ill, as I see health only in terms of fitness and eating well. My attitude was, ‘It will be okay. I’ll have the operation and be back at work pronto.’ I do not want to miss a beat at work because there are key performance indicators (KPIs) to achieve, bonuses to earn and shares to acquire. 

I was still striving to be on the top of the performance bell curve!

But my cervical cancer surgery ends up being more complicated than expected. 

It leaves me questioning whether I’ll be able to have children in the future! 

After the operation, every joint in my entire body swells up. I can’t even walk to the bathroom unassisted, so my boyfriend carries me around for almost a month. 

I visit various doctors and have numerous tests to find the source of my pain. 

When the medical world can’t provide answers, I turn to natural therapies. 

I see a top naturopath and change my diet, which I only stick to until my body bounces back to normal. Amidst all this, I lie in bed and work like crazy on my laptop to ensure work projects progress. 

My mindset does not change. 

I’m a junkie, addicted to stress and achieving business goals. I’m a crazy perfectionist who thinks working harder and longer will always produce the desired results. Little do I know what lies ahead of me. 

New Orleans: A turning point 

Fast forward one year.

It’s 2003 and I’m now a Marketing Manager for Microsoft. 

Along with 13,000 team members from across the world, I travel to the company’s annual sales kick-off events in New Orleans. This event takes place two years before Cyclone Katrina erupts and destroys much of the city’s interesting history. I am lucky to experience this spiritual place before the destruction. 

I‘m also thrilled to be there with my mentor and colleague from our New Zealand office, Mansur Zwart, who has been with Microsoft for years and has visited New Orleans many times. 

It’s an amazing time. 

Mansur and I spend our limited free time travelling around on Harley Davidson bikes on the opposite side of the road, through scenery like something out of the movies, eat yummy creole seafood on the side streets of the Mississippi River and visit the French Quarter. It is an unforgettable time as I experience the city’s freedom. Yet I also feel sadness for New Orleans’ cruel history of slavery. 

Two months after this amazing trip, I marry. 

My mentor Mansur announces he has a rare type of cancer. 

Once I recover from the shock of his announcement, I decide if anyone can beat this, it’s Mansur. He has one of the most remarkable mindsets for overcoming obstacles I have ever seen. 

While Mansur battles cancer, I go through my own struggles, suffering multiple miscarriages. 

Eventually I’m blessed with a beautiful, amazing son, Caleb. 

When I return from maternity leave, I learn Mansur has passed away.

It hadn’t occurred to anyone to let me know while I’m on maternity leave.

I cannot describe how devasted I was in this moment of grief. 

Mansur was only 45 years of age and had such a zest for life. 

He left behind a loving partner and daughters he adored. 

A stressed-out working mother with a sick child 

Come 2005, I’m the primary income earner when I return to work after my maternity leave, and it is a challenge to have a child who develops severe asthma at three months of age. 

I have lost my mate and mentor, Mansur, and I’m trying to find a new rhythm allowing me to get work done when I’m only getting a few hours’ sleep per night. I am stressed out of my brain. I have no family support nearby and sleep deprivation leaves my marriage on tenterhooks. 

In 2006, Caleb’s lung collapses when he is 18 months old, and he starts to turn blue. 

My local doctor tells me to rush him to emergency as an ambulance won’t make it in time. That car ride is still one of the most stressful events of my life – my baby gasping for air in the baby seat as I weave through traffic. 

Caleb’s vital signs are not great, and emergency medical staff have difficulty getting him connected to the machines. I feel totally helpless at this moment. My husband and I spend Easter in hospital, sharing shifts and juggling work commitments. 

Thankfully Caleb is now a healthy teenager and avid rock climber with aspirations to climb as many mountain ranges as he can. He has a trip planned to climb base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal which will undoubtedly test his fitness and lung capacity. 

But asthma isn’t the only obstacle Caleb has faced in his life. He has experienced the learning challenges that come with dyslexia. Learning about the brain has helped me work with Caleb’s doctor and teachers. I began to learn about neuroscience so I could help Caleb to understand he has a greater capacity for creative thinking and problem solving because his brain operates differently to other people’s. 

From crisis point to the power of neuroscience

Mansur’s death and Caleb’s health challenges led me to a crisis point in my life. 

Everything was a struggle and my whole body felt heavy. 

I was still expected to continue to reach double-digit growth targets each year, and launch new products with less budget and resources. 

Building a successful career as a perfectionist was no longer sustainable. 

Now I was also caring for a sick toddler. 

I felt like a failure at my job, as a wife, as a friend and as a mother. 

I was living on a diet of adrenaline, lack of sleep and tons of pressure to perform, with little fuel left in the tank. I was operating on autopilot and in a constant state of threat. I felt that I couldn’t sustain my lifestyle without it having an impact on my social, mental and physical health. 

Something had to give

My ‘aha’ moment of insight was reflecting on Mansur’s death and realising life is short! We need to make the most of it. 

I became curious and started searching for work/life balance career options. 

The answer wasn’t immediate. 

I worked for another two IT companies for a further six years, helping them to grow their revenue by 30 per cent. Finally, I realised that if I could contribute to these results for my employers, I could do this for myself, so I launched my own consulting business, Link Success, in 2013. 

During the three years I ran my own business, a client recommended I read some books on the neuroscience of leadership. Once I started reading, I could not put the books down. 

I had been fascinated by how to achieve a sustainable work/life balance since losing Mansur and having a family. I was curious about how people could sustain crazy growth targets year on year without facing ill health and well-being. 

Understanding neuroscience gave me insight into how the brain operates and reacts in various situations. This changed my thinking, changed how I made decisions and allowed me to solve problems more effectively. I was hungry to learn as much as I could. 

I studied an Advanced Diploma in the Neuroscience of Leadership at NeuroCapability, NeuroTREAD™ accreditation with EnHansen Performance and PRISM Brain Mapping (behavioural profiling) accreditation. 

Completing these studies and programmes, changed my world and then it changed the world of my clients and friends in my community. 

It has enabled me to truly understand how different brains work. 

Today I coach clients with all types of different learning requirements including visual impairment, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

All of these life experiences and studies have led me to share my knowledge, passion and insights with you in the book ‘REWIRE for SUCCESS’, an easy guide for using neuroscience to improve choices for work, life and well-being. 

Everyone knows about conserving the environment, but I am in the business of human conservation, promoting the balance between work, life and well-being. 

I want to help you discover what I have learned; life is an obstacle course, but one with many rich learnings, possibilities, and opportunities to grow.