515: Setting Boundaries at Work with Rachael Robertson

Learn how to set healthy boundaries at work with insights from a world-renowned authority on leading in extreme environments.



Rachael Robertson, Authority on leading in extreme environments, Keynote Speaker & Author

Rachael successfully led a year-long expedition to Antarctica where her leadership and teamwork skills were refined and put to the toughest test.

on this episode

Whether it’s responding to emails as they come into our inbox, no matter the hour, or agreeing to meetings after our established working hours, setting boundaries at work has become increasingly challenging. Today’s technology makes it almost too easy to think we have to “always be on.” Learn how to set healthy boundaries at work with insights from Rachael Robertson, a world-renowned authority on leading in extreme environments!

What you’ll learn

  • How to influence your work culture for better boundaries
  • Practical strategies for holding boundaries
  • How to be successful in the most challenging of environments

Success Stories

I think what helped me the most was focusing on my strengths and the connections that this process, the whole happened here, the career change bootcamp, those connections that basically you're prompted to go reconnect with people right? So, that helped me the most because the roller coaster that I was on with the role that I was in that I was trying to exit from, again, it realizing that people had a positive view of me and that they saw things that maybe I didn't see in myself really helped me articulate who I already was and who I wanted to be in my next role, if that makes sense.

Elizabeth , Digital Marketing Analytics Strategist, United States/Canada

when I went through Career Change Bootcamp and starting to work through all of this – deep diving into what I wanted to do, my strengths and ideal career profile but then this opportunity presented itself! I went “wow, this checks almost all my boxes on the ideal career profile and seems to be a really great match.” You've heard this so many times from people you talk with – The journey is not what you think it's gonna be. You think it might be a straight line from A to B, but it's like a jagged curvy line that can go all over the place. Follow where things are leading and be open, because you just never know what's gonna be around that next corner. I'm so excited. I am the chief philanthropy officer at the Community Foundation of Western Nevada. And that's really kind of a dream job.

Karen Senger, Chief Philanthropy Officer, United States/Canada

Rachael Robertson 00:00

I thought that's what leadership is, you know, if you need me, I'm there. After about six weeks, I thought, "I can't do this. I can't be available to you guys around the clock the whole time because it will absolutely burn me out."

Introduction 00:18

This is the Happen To Your Career podcast, with Scott Anthony Barlow. We help you stop doing work that doesn't fit you, figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that's unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you feel like you were meant for more and ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:42

I think we can all agree that our society has a hard time setting boundaries when it comes to work. Whether it's responding to emails as they come into our inbox no matter what hour it is, or agreeing to meetings after our established working hours. Today's technology makes it almost too easy to think we have to always be on. In fact, the science now backs up what we already know to be true. A recent study from the University of Illinois proves that this lack of boundary control directly leads to more stress and quicker burnout. But even though we all know this is true, why is it that we still struggle so badly to hold our boundaries?

Rachael Robertson 01:21

The thing that blew me away was the scrutiny of the leadership role and the fact that you're being watched 24 hours a day, every day, for an entire year, like, you do not knock off ever. There's not one hour where you can say I'm not the boss today, and I had to learn how to manage that boundary. So I didn't have my staff knocking on my bedroom door at 10 o'clock at night.

Scott Anthony Barlow 01:41

That's Rachael Robertson. Rachael is a keynote speaker, author of "Leading on the Edge" and "Respect Trumps Harmony”, and is best known as an authority on leading in extreme environments. She was the leader of the 58th Australian National Antarctic and research expedition where she lived with her co-workers, 24 hours a day, and in complete darkness during the winter. For many, that sounds like a nice recipe for madness. But Rachael excelled in that environment. And she came away with amazing learnings that she now shares with leaders all over the world. In our conversation, Rachael gives specific examples of how you can influence your work culture to get better at holding boundaries, and how she implemented these practices in the most extreme environment. Here's Rachael going back to the beginnings of her career.

Rachael Robertson 02:34

I desperately wanted to be a journalist growing up. I love, yeah, I love writing, love journalism. And it was only when I was starting to look at university courses that I found out, well, particularly in Australia back then, most journalists came through a cadetship, it wasn't a tertiary education, you did a three or four year cadetship. And so the closest thing I could find to was a public relations degree, which was in a university 500 kilometers from my home, but I had to move out of home and not know anyone and go down there. And then, so I spent all this time studying for this degree– a bachelor's degree in Public Relations and Journalism. And then I got my first job. And I hated it. And I'm like, "Oh, my goodness, this is not what I thought I was signing up for." And it was really interesting. I was working in an organization that managed national parks. And so I was doing all the PR for national parks and all the events, and the park rangers would come into the office. And now we're really happy people, though just delightfully happy. And here I am thinking when was the last day I called in sick because I hate this job. And I looked at the rangers and I thought, "I want that. I want to be like that. I want to be happy like them. I want to come to work doing a job that makes me feel good. And I feel like I'm making a difference. So I'm going to do that." So I went back then and studied to become a park ranger. So it's a complete different career change. But it was really just that reflection of, I'm not happy. And this is a big part of my life for many, many years. I better make some decisions here. So it was a bit of a winding road.

Scott Anthony Barlow 04:05

I'm curious, first of all, you went into that role with one type of perception of what it was going to be. And I heard you say that it was not whatever that was, but what were some of the biggest differences between "Hey, I thought it was gonna be this. And it most definitely was not"?

Rachael Robertson 04:20

Yeah, I knew there would be a lot of organizing events, and events were fine. But I didn't realize how restrictive journalism or writing professional business writing is when you're representing a company. So I wanted the freedom to write because that was the part I liked about journalism– was the writing side of it and the investigating. I didn't recognize that when you're the face of a company, when you're writing public relations literature for a company you're very restricted and there's no opinion. You can't have any opinion, you can't even offer an alternative way of thinking, like, there's a set words and even like it's almost a script that you need to stick to. And it's like "wow, this is not what I thought it was. I don't know." Yeah, it was a bit of my naivety. But also, I think, not having worked in the industry before, not understanding that public relations is not what I thought it was, I thought it was some lots of writing and doing events and talking to the public, but it's actually representing the company or the organization in putting on its best face. And sometimes that might mean hiding the truths from the shareholders or stakeholders, or massaging the truth. So the message is managed. And that part of it, I had no idea because they don't teach you that in the PR school.

Scott Anthony Barlow 05:35

They don't. Oh, my goodness. So then, what happened from there to transition? What are the events that were set up that allowed you to then much later travel to Antarctica for a year and then? Help fill in some of the gaps here.

Rachael Robertson 05:56

And that one, I would love to say, was a strategic career move that I had planned, but it wasn't. I was just flicking through a newspaper, one Saturday morning, as you do having a breakfast on a Saturday morning. And I was flicking through a newspaper and I saw a picture of a penguin in the careers section of the job.

Scott Anthony Barlow 06:13

Oh the penguins they'll get you every time.

Rachael Robertson 06:15

How bizarre is it to see a penguin in the career section. And that's initially, I'm like, "what on earth is a penguin doing there?" So that's what caught my eye. And then I looked at the job description and the advertisement. And in the job, they were recruiting for qualities. So the Australian Antarctic Division, which is very similar to the United States Antarctic Program, they recruit for qualities and attributes. So they recruit for resilience, empathy, integrity, you actually don't need to know anything about Antarctica. And I just thought that was a fantastic way to recruit. And by this stage, I'd been promoted up to I was the chief ranger of the Great Ocean Road, Victoria. So the 12 apostles and all that beautiful coastline, and that was my patch, my office. And I was really struggling to recruit park rangers coming out of university with resilience and empathy. They had fantastic tertiary qualifications, they had high distinctions and great degrees. But when I put them in front of the park visitors, they were just hopeless, and I'd say, "Look, can you go and do a patrol?" So just go around and check the park, and they drive past the visitors. And I'm like, "No, I want you to stop, get out of the vehicle, introduce yourself to our visitors say, Hi, can I get you a map? Do you need anything? Would you like to know we're in a good walkies? And actually do that customer service stuff." So when I saw this job advertised, fantastic, and my finished plan was, I thought, "I'm going to apply for this job just so I can get to the job interview stage. So I can find out what the questions are they're using. And I'm going to copy those questions and bring them back to my job because I want to recruit for resilience. And I want to recruit for empathy and integrity." It was only after I posted the application, I found out they don't actually have a job interview. They have a week long boot camp. So I end up in this boot camp with 13 men competing for this job that I still didn't particularly want. And then lo and behold, they offered me the job. And I thought "You know what? I'd rather regret what I did than regret what I didn't do." And so the only reason I ended up down there was because it was an opportunity that came away. And I thought, what's the lesser evil like to go down there and go, "Oh, I hate this. What have I done" or not do it and then look back and spend the rest of my life looking back wondering going, "Ah, I wonder what would have happened if I'd done that Antarctic Expedition." That really was just a matter of regret what I did rather than regret what I didn't do. And so my role was station leader. And so all of the stations, I think there's 17 countries that have stations in Antarctica, my role was the station leader. So I was responsible for the welfare and safety. In summer, we have 120 people, and they're mostly scientists. So that's the only reason we're in Antarctica is to do climate change research. So in summer, I've got 120 people doing all their climate change, global warming stuff. I've got planes, I've got helicopters, I've got a big trades contingent because we can only do construction work in summer. So I've got all these various people, 24 hours of daylight. It's really exciting. It's really fun, different things happening every day.

Scott Anthony Barlow 09:15

And for a variety, for sure.

Rachael Robertson 09:17

It was huge. And we're working massive hours because we've only got such a short period of time to do the research. So we've only got about two months. So we work seven days a week, we work long hours. And it's fun, there's a buzz about the joint. Then they all go home in February and a little group of 18 of us stayed behind. And we are there just to maintain the station for asset management. We just keep the place warm, keep it running until the next summer. So my role as the leader in summer is operational. It's sending out resources and it's working out priorities and it's looking at the safety as well. But it's a very different job in winter. Because in winter it's a lot more around morale and mental well being and how do I keep this team motivated. When we're in lockdown, we're effectively in a nine month lockdown, complete isolation, we cannot come home even if we want to. So my job then flipped to very much this is how to lead, how to manage conflict, for example, how to stop people having an argument or a debate or whatever, killing each other, and keeping them safe for the next nine months of darkness. 24 hours of darkness. But yeah, having to lead through isolation is really difficult. But it's a different job, summer and winter.

Scott Anthony Barlow 10:32

So I'm curious, what do you think it was going to be? And what were the areas that were different or the same versus what actually was from your perception?

Rachael Robertson 10:42

The place itself blew me away, because I thought Antarctica was white, like every image in my brain or everything I've seen has been white. And it's not, it's actually really colorful, because it's so cold, it's crystals, floating around in the sky, and the sun hits the crystals and reflects all this light. So there's pinks, and greens and blues and purples and they form these, some of them are called "solar pillars", some are called "sun dogs", they've got those crazy names. And they're just these light shows. And it's just so colorful and beautiful. And I never knew that. I thought it was all white. So the place itself blew me away. I didn't realize... I'd heard people say when you go to Antarctica, it changes your life. And I sort of thought, yeah, whatever. Can't imagine that I've traveled a lot around the world, I've never met a single place that changed my life, and maybe an experience but not geography. But it really does change your life. And I've thought about it a lot since. And the reason is that you slow down, and you reflect, you've got a lot of time to reflect on your life and am I where I thought I would be with my life personally and professionally. And because there's no distractions, so you're not rushing off to meetings, you're not rushing off to take kids to sport, there's no traffic. So you spent a lot of time in your head reflecting on yourself and your life. And so the place itself blew me away. The job, I guess the overwhelming thing that I was totally unprepared for, and I should have been because I'd been in leadership roles for 16 years. But the thing that blew me away was the scrutiny of the leadership role. And the fact that you're being watched 24 hours a day, every day, for an entire year, like you do not knock off ever. There's not one hour where you can say I'm not the boss today. And I had to learn how to manage that boundary. So I didn't have my staff knocking on my bedroom door at 10 o'clock at night or interrupting my breakfast. And I had to get really strong on my boundaries, which I hadn't done before. And it blew me away that I had been told that like, I'd been told by former station leaders that you're watched the whole time. And, I thought yeah, if I'm not that interesting, no one's gonna watch me. And yet they did. So where I set for meals was noticed, what time I started work was noticed, if I spent more time with one person than another that was noticed. And so I had to have this dialogue in my brain about "Okay, well, I need to go and spend time down that end of the table as these guys because I sit with these people at lunch, so I better sit with them at dinner." And it's just extraordinary when you live with the same people you work with. So you never get away from your colleagues

Scott Anthony Barlow 13:11

You said a couple things in there that I'm really interested in. One is the idea of being, you didn't call it always on, but that's the words that I'm going to use.

Rachael Robertson 13:24


Scott Anthony Barlow 13:25

So first of all, I'm curious what did that teach you, as it relates to, first of all your career, and then second of all about how you behave and act. And I think most importantly, those boundaries. You mentioned those boundaries. And I think that most people that I've met over the years when I asked them and I've had a lot of opportunities to ask people because I get into all kinds of weird conversations for variety of reasons, partially because of what we do as an organization partially because I am the type of person in Alaska, "Hey, how do you feel about your boundaries?" But most people feel like that's an area that they can do much better in. So what did you learn that might help other people as especially as it relates to being always on and boundaries?

Rachael Robertson 14:12

I always thought that all through my career, I thought my time management was bad. I blame my time management because I'd be the first in the office. I'd be the last one out. I was checking emails at night, I'd miss my lunch break. And I think "Oh, my time management is so bad." And I did every time management course, known to man, I did everything they tell you to do. So I turned off my email notifications, I prioritize my to-do list. I did all of that. And yet, I'm still working longer hours. And it wasn't because I was incompetent because I knew my job. And I'm like, "Well, my time management is bad." It was only living in Antarctica that taught me it was never my time management, it was actually my boundaries. And so what I had been doing professionally my whole career was every single time someone came up to me in the office and said, "Rachael, have you got a minute?" And it's never a minute that they'd say, "you've got a minute?", "have you got a minute?" My default position was always "Yeah, sure. Yeah, sure I do." And so when I went to Antarctica, I thought my job as the leader is to be there. These people need me, I'm there. That's my job as their leader. And they would, they'd knock on my bedroom door at 10 o'clock at night, and I'd yell out, "Yeah?" And because they'd see the light on shining under the door. So they knew I was awake. And then they'd open the door, and I'd be reading a book and they'd say, "Oh you're reading a book" and I go, "It's okay, I'll put a jacket on, I'll come out." Because I thought that's what leadership is– if you need me, I'm there. After about six weeks, I thought I can't do this. I can't be available to you guys around the clock the whole time, because it will absolutely burn me out. So the next time it happened, they interrupted my breakfast to sign a permission slip to go and photograph penguins. And I said, this penguins again.

Scott Anthony Barlow 15:51

They're always there. They're just waiting.

Rachael Robertson 15:55

And I said, "Guys, I need to have my breakfast. And this isn't urgent. So can I meet you in my office? Or let's say in 15 minutes? How does that sound?" And once I put that boundary there, they respected it. But prior to that I had no boundaries. And so I realized that what I've been doing the whole time through my career was not saying, "not now." And it's okay to say "not now", if you don't have the time. So what I should have said was, all through my career, if I didn't have the time, I should have said, "Look, I've got to get this report to the CEOs office by 3 o'clock, can you come back at 3:15?" And manage that boundary and why it's so important, I now know, for two reasons. One, it's a great coaching time, it's a great opportunity to coach people around what your job is and what your priorities are. So when your staff interrupt, it's a great time to say, "Look, we've got a board meeting in a week, and I've got to get the board report done," or "I've got to get the sales report up to the CEO." Whatever it is, and let them know your priorities. You're coaching them. The second one and more importantly, you know, when you're talking to someone, if they've mentally checked out, you can see it in their eyes, if you're talking to someone and they're vague doubt. And I think of how many times over the years, my staff came to me and said, "Have you got a minute?" And I went, "Yeah, sure I do." And they're talking to me and my brains going, "Oh, my goodness, I've got that meeting coming up at four I haven't prepared for. I've got to write that. I've got to do this." And they saw that. They saw it in my eyes that I wasn't listening or wasn't present. So it actually damaged the relationship. It was worse than if I had said, "Not now. Can you come back?" I thought I was doing the right thing. But I wasn't. I actually damaged the relationship because I wasn't listening. And I would have picked that up. So I think I say to people now when they complain, or you know, the boss rings me at eight o'clock at night, or customers ring me at six o'clock in the morning. And I say "Well, do you answer the call?" And they say "Yeah" and I'll go, "Well, there you go." They don't think there's anything wrong with it. Because you answer the phone or you answer the email. If you stop doing that and you train them you say, "Look, unless it's urgent, then after seven o'clock, I'm with my family. That's family time. So unless it's urgent, I'll get to it in the morning." And it's up to you to manage that boundary because other people won't do that intuitively. If you've had a pattern of responding all the time, they won't pick that up until you actually say "Yep, right. Here's the line in the sand. Here's my boundary." So it's up to you, yeah.

Scott Anthony Barlow 18:13

I've thought a lot about boundaries over the years, partially for selfish reasons. And partially because it shows up in a lot of the work that we do. And I think a lot of the HTYCers that are listening to this right now would identify with what it is, even if it's something that you've done many times over, it can still be difficult. Even if you're practiced at it, it can still be difficult in new situations or new people or different relationship dynamics, or I don't know, name another situation that is a variable that gets thrown in there, but can still be difficult. So I appreciate that. When you were spending that time in Antarctica, you mentioned this idea of building a case that Respect Trumps Harmony, what was behind the scenes that really came and said, "Hey, look, this is a big deal."

Rachael Robertson 19:05

Yeah, I can tell you the second. I can tell you the absolute minute when I latched on to that one. It was our get-to-know-you-barbecue. So I don't recruit my expedition team, which a lot of people are surprised about that, but the way it is. So I just given 17 random people and I'm told to turn them into a team. By the way your life depends on your teamwork, off you go. And so I'd met them all over a period of weeks one on one that we decided to have a barbecue and have a get-to-know-you-barbecue. So this is the first time the entire 18 of us would get together and meet each other. These are the people we're going to be living with around the clock for the next 12 months. And we're at this barbecue and my plumber was telling a story about being in Alaska and he said it was so cold. The water freezes under your feet at minus 21 degrees Celsius and that's how cold it was. The water freezes into ice. My electrical engineer was standing there. He's from Germany, and he said, "Well, water freezes at zero degrees Celsius, not minus 21 degrees. So it must have been at least zero degrees, not at least minus 21 degrees." And I'm like, "Oh dear, okay, these two are going to come to blows. They're just gonna end up in a fight." And I'm like, "What do I do here? What do I do?" And so I intervened. And I took them aside privately. And I said to the trades minister, "Look, he's an electrical engineer, and he's from Germany. So culturally and professionally, he's from a very exact, precise place. So his brain needs accurate data." So when he heard you say that, he corrected because he was correct, like, that's a fact. And I said that he's not trying to take the mickey out of you. He's not trying to humiliate you. It's just the way his brain operates. But I then had to go to the engineer and say, "Look, when you do that, when someone's just telling a story or a joke, and they get a little bit of the information wrong, and you correct them, it's actually a bit humiliating, so just let it go. It doesn't matter. It's a story, let it go." And they ended up being really good, good friends, these two. But at the time, I'm thinking, "How, I had not given a second thought to the cognitive diversity in my team." So I looked at them. And we were different across generations and gender and age, culture. But what I'd hadn't recognized was the other diversities, and not as visible. And it just blew me away. Once I got to know these people how different we were, and I'm like, "Wow, I can't expect that we're all going to love each other." Because we're just so different. And we had polar opposite views on some things. And I'm like, "Wow, what am I going to do here?" And so to expect that they love each other, or even like each other, I thought it was a bit unrealistic. So I took that off the table. And I said, "I don't expect you to love each other or even like each other, I do expect you to treat each other with respect." And so respect became the bedrock of everything we did, it was like, "I don't have to agree with you, I don't have to love you. But I will always treat you with respect." And that was the moment, I remember it vividly, that was the moment where I realized I have to do something here as a leader to set up a culture where we can respect each other, but equally talk about issues as grownups in a professional way and deal with things because I was really worried that someone would spiral with depression, or someone would explode with anger. Because I had no ability to deal with either scenario. So I thought, how do I create this environment where we do speak up, and we do stand up for ourselves and how we're feeling? And we deal with it, we saw it and we move on. But yeah, it was before we even left for Antarctica that I recognized that I needed to do something to create the culture for this team, because otherwise, holy dooley, we're gonna be in for some fun times.

Scott Anthony Barlow 22:45

You have a chapter in your second book, I think it's called something like "harmony is the road to mediocrity" or something along those lines. So I'm really interested in having you here for just a moment, define what harmony and what respect actually means from your perspective. Because I think that many of us, as human beings, have a misperception or mis-desire to think that really what we want is harmony in many different areas. And that's not exclusively true. However, that's definitely something that I've seen. And you make a compelling case that maybe that's not always a great thing. In fact, in a lot of areas, that's not. So first of all, what do you mean when you say harmony? What do you mean when you say respect?

Rachael Robertson 23:33

So to me, respect is understanding a person's rights and responsibilities and understanding that they're entitled to their opinions, and they're entitled to their values. And I have no right to try and convince you to change your... if it's something you hold deeply, a belief you hold deeply, I don't have the right to try and convince you. I just respect that you're different. So rather than try and get everyone around to my way of thinking or behaving or living, just saying, "Okay, I respect that we're different." How many is that piece of or getting along? And why I think Respect Trumps Harmony... and I chose the word "Trump" very carefully, particularly given the book is in the United States. And we did have a big discussion about whether there was another word I should use. And I just felt there was no other word that captured the notion that Respect Trumps Harmony. So the publisher said, "What about beats?" And I said, "But it doesn't beat harmony." They're both equally important. I'm just saying that when you have to choose, one or the other, it's like a deck of cards when you have to choose, then this one has sovereignty over this one. So respect should always be more important. And why I'll worry about it is when I've worked in teams where harmony was the focus, so we keep the peace and we all get along and everything's smooth, a few things happen. Bullying and harassment still goes on. People still bully each other and there's still a lot of that bad behavior, but it goes underground. So people won't raise it as an issue because they don't want to be the person who shatters this mirage of harmony. The second one, more importantly, is innovation. You can't have innovation if you have a culture of always having harmony if that's your focus. Because there are meetings that people will sit in a meeting and they'll nod their heads and they'll say, "Yeah, yeah." And then they walk out of the meeting and go, "That's not going to work." And you think, "Why didn't you say that at the time?" And it's because they don't want to offer a difference of opinion or a conflicting view. And I think that the most important one, though, is around safety. And I think if you're focusing on harmony, and isn't it great here, we're all good friends, and we all get along and everything's sweet. No one puts a hand out and says, "Actually, I'm not so good right now, you know, I'm struggling right now." So I'll worry about mental safety, but also physical, if someone's doing something unsafe, not following the correct procedure, if the culture of that team is harmony, is to keep the peace, that's when people turn a blind eye. And that's when they walk past and go, "Oh I don't want to get involved in that." And I think that's dangerous. And so I really worry about teams where, at the front, the number one goal for the team is this almost complicit behavior of not being different, if not being the outlier of we're all in this together, we're all the same, we all love each other. Because I think it's okay to say we are different. In fact, it's great that we have differences. It's how we handle conflict. That's the bigger issue. But having respect for differences, I think is fantastic. And understanding that we're different, and that's wonderful. That's a fantastic thing that we're all really different people.

Scott Anthony Barlow 26:25

There was, well, here's a quick story, I used to be an HR leader in manufacturing. And one of the things that would happen is, within the company that I was working with, occasionally people would get injured. And sometimes there were actually some pretty serious injuries, unfortunately, and every single time, one of my roles was to go in, help figure out how we could eliminate this from happening again. And I would go in as an HR leader, so I'm very focused on the people, and that's my predisposition and everything else. And where that culture had, what you're referring to as harmony present, it almost always showed up in those types of situations, somebody always knew about something in advance, or somebody could have prevented it in almost every single situation. And because the harmony was one of the sometimes accidental priorities, or the most valuable thing in that culture, I didn't necessarily want it to be, but sometimes it was, and then it would still be allowed to happen. And it was sad to see that on one side. But I also think it really makes the case that, if that is the most important thing accidentally or intentionally, then it's going to lead to situations like that again, and again and again. So I'm curious, from your perspective, you mentioned cognitive diversity. And this is, some of the contexts that you put it in are some of the first times that I've heard people place a lot of emphasis on this. And with cognitive diversity, what did you find the benefits to be to highlight that diversity or highlight those differences? Because you gave a lot of examples of how you did that.

Rachael Robertson 28:14

Yeah, well we did. I spent a lot of time highlighting differences, because I wanted people to respect it. And even simple things like people's motivation for working in Antarctica was an issue. And I've seen this in other workplaces where some people work in Antarctica for the money, it's a very well paid job it has to be, we wouldn't do it if it was low pay. And so it's a very well paid position. And so there are a certain cohort of people who work there for the money, they would like to save a deposit for a house in 12 months. So they work there just for the money. Now that really irritated some of the others who were there for the experience like myself. I was there to experience Antarctica and to see the penguins and to see the southern lights, to see the wildlife and the icebergs. And it really drove these other people crazy. And they're saying, "Well, how come these people have given up everything they love, and they haven't even left the station." They've been on the station for six months, I haven't even bothered to experience Antarctica. And I had to say, "Well, Respect Trumps Harmony. That's the reason for being here. Just respect that." And I think by highlighting the differences, particularly in cognitive, so that the biggest, the most obvious one, was the introverts and extroverts. Now if I'd had a full team of all extroverts, and I was an introvert that would have been really, really difficult if you're the only introvert. But the opposite is the same as well, because we need the extroverts because they are the social element. They pulled together the St. Patrick's Day quiz, or they pulled together the Christmas events and they really gave a sense of community. So without them, it would have been terrible. But equally without the introverts, the introverts were the ones who when you were struggling, you go and have a quiet chat with them. You could walk around the station and have a quiet chat. And so they had an important role as well. And I think, I shudder to think what it would have been like to have spent 12 months with only one type of person, we needed that mix of people, we really did. And that's where it started to get me thinking about this cognitive difference. And I know certainly here in Australia, whenever we talk diversity, it's usually either gender. So we're saying we need more women in senior roles in companies, or we talk about our indigenous community. And we talk about indigenous culture. And so it's one or the other. And so just to be able to say, we could name 15 other metrics to measure diversity from generation, sexuality, religion, culture, age, professional background, like there's so many. And once I started to recognize that in myself, I saw it in other people, and I thought, "Wow, we really are, really different to each other. And that's a good thing. That's okay." So it was yeah, for me, it was a real eye opener, because I'd only ever dealt with diversity on one or two measures and to see that there were all these others, and how completely different people can be. And that's a good thing.

Scott Anthony Barlow 30:59

I think that there's a lot of power in that. One of the things that I wanted to ask you is how can people leverage focusing on that cognitive diversity and respecting that cognitive diversity, and just focusing on differences, and using that to be able to impact their career in their life in a very positive way.

Rachael Robertson 31:20

I think there's a stack of psychometric tests you can do and I think most of us have gone through a Myers Briggs or a brain dominance or something. So there's a lot of professional tools. But I think one of the best tools is to build your self awareness. Like I truly believe self awareness is the most important quality for any leader, I think, if you've got self awareness, you will learn the rest. So it starts there. If you've got self awareness, and you understand yourself, it's a lot easier then to try and understand other people. And I think you can get that through coaching, through mentoring, through frank and fearless conversations with someone you trust. For me and Antarctica, I did a lot of reflecting, I kept a journal and the journal was really just to keep me sane, I had no one to talk to. So it enabled me to get my thoughts out, and so I could sleep better, because I've got my thoughts out. But it helped me as a leader, too, because I could see what I got wrong. A lot of the times, I made the wrong decision. And I could have just said it was the station behaving that way. So I could have just written it off as a cabin fever. They've gone mad, it's cabin fever, when in fact, it was my flawed decision making that caused it. So by standing on a balcony everyday looking down watching myself that built my own self awareness, and I think from that I could then understand other people better. And from there, it was just a matter of talking about it, actually using the words and saying, "Well, they're different because they're like this and showcasing differences." So I talked about in the book that just to break up the boredom, I decided to have what is called Super Tuesday, which was just…

Scott Anthony Barlow 32:50

I love Super Tuesday by the way.

Rachael Robertson 32:51

Yeah, and that was just, I'll be really honest, that was to stop people sitting in the bar drinking beer, and drinking alcohol every night. I thought, "well, I just, I need something to break that up, without being their mum and telling them no, you can't do that", because it's their home, you know, your boss wouldn't come to your home on a weeknight and say, "Hang on a minute." So I put the sheet up on the wall, and I said, "Anyone who's got got a passion on or is knowledgeable about a subject and you'd like to talk to the rest of the community about it, 7:30 to 8:30, every Tuesday, put your name down, let us know what the topic is." And I was hoping that maybe five or six people would do it. Within a couple of days, it was fully subscribed, within a couple of days all 17 people had put something out and it ranged from living in Prague, someone lives in Prague. We had a pagan woman who talked to us about pagan rituals, which was interesting. We had someone taught digital photography, astronomy, and someone taught Italian lessons. And what it did was all of these skills and abilities that every one of us have, but you don't necessarily see at work, it meant "Wow, I still might not be your best friend, or he's still not my cup of tea. But gee, I respect the fact you speak three languages" or "Gee, I respect your knowledge around astronomy." And so again, that builds respect in the team because it's not saying I have to like you. But I respect that you've got all of these skills and abilities that you don't come to work and talk about. And so we have no knowledge of all our colleagues that we work with have got these amazing abilities and skills that we've never heard of. So I'd love to say that was a brilliant career move by me or brilliant leadership, but it wasn't. I did it initially, just to break up the boredom. And then it turned into something really powerful, which I had to reflect on, took me a few days to cotton on that, wow, that's what that was. How cool.

Scott Anthony Barlow 34:41

Hey, if you've been thinking about making a change for a while now, and you don't really know how to best take the first step or get started, here's what I would suggest: Just open your email app on your phone right now. And I'm gonna give you my personal email address scott@happentoyourcareer.com just email me and put "Conversation" in the subject line. Tell me a little bit about your situation and I'll connect you with the right person on our team where we can figure out the very best way that we can help you. Scott@happentoyourcareer.com, drop me an email.

Scott Anthony Barlow 35:12

Here's a sneak peek into what we have coming up in store for you next week.

Speaker 3 35:17

When I finally hit that moment of realization, everything just clicked. So I think what surprised me was how fast it could happen when you finally get everything together.

Scott Anthony Barlow 35:30

What if you could know for a fact that you would find more meaningful work by attempting a career change? What do you take that leap? Career change isn't easy. And the journey is never a straight line, never. It can take quite a while to get more meaningful work– a lot longer than many people expect. And so often people quit working on a career change when they hit the unavoidable roadblocks and those low points. It's so much harder than almost everyone expects, at least if your goal is meaningful, well paid work. But here's the thing, I have yet to meet anyone who has made it to the other side and doesn't absolutely think that it was all worth it.

Scott Anthony Barlow 36:11

All that and plenty more next week right here on Happen To Your Career. Make sure that you don't miss it. And if you haven't already, click Subscribe on your podcast player so that you can download this podcast in your sleep, and you get it automatically, even the bonus episodes every single week, sometimes multiple times a week. Until next week. Adios. I'm out.

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