Career Woman

Choosing your own values

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Social enterprise charity WorkVentures CEO Linda Graham-McCann outlines why it’s important to be clear about choosing your own values – and not live by the values of others.

I’ve made money in 39 different jobs doing everything from housecleaning to Managing Director of a major software company. It makes a bit of a joke of my LinkedIn profile – all sanitised and only telling a fraction of the wisdom. Everything is cut and polished to fit into the latest perceptions of what smart and savvy looks like. But a real life and ‘career’ is generally not a straight trajectory – or if it is, sisters, we are seriously suppressing ourselves.

I have this photo of myself that I send out for various articles and often get the response that it’s not ‘corporate enough’. Now admittedly it wasn’t taken in a studio – I was in Cuba behind the wheel of a 1955 Oldsmobile – but I have all my clothes on and am beaming a big smile that gives context to all the wrinkles. Who wrote the rule that one is not allowed to look delighted and happy in a ‘corporate’ profile photo?

So many (unspoken) rules! Where’s the space to experiment and really be authentically you – informed and expanded over time as you make choices and experience consequences? Everything from career to childbirth has accepted pathways but do we question them much? By the time you get to be my age, if you haven’t clarified your own values and tested what you are really capable of, it’s a bit late. Not knocking being a senior but our mental habits are so set after 60 years, you are kidding yourself if you think you can just flip the switch and change.

When I was running a Buddhist Centre, I decided to take up being a funeral director to get some genuine experience of impermanence, the basic tenet of Buddhism. 4 years of standing in the fire of emotional shock with the bereaved gave me the most exquisite sense of being useful and alive. I’d walk home at night after a long day and the world was so precious and vivid – it wasn’t my time just yet in that box! This was a turning point for me on understanding the necessity of choosing vocations from the ground of my own values.

One last example: I was at a 10th anniversary party recently for an international telco. The venue was packed to the rafters with (mostly) guys in suits. People didn’t stop talking even when the CEO and Directors made their speeches – pretty rude in my book since they were paying for the drinks and canapés. I was trying to figure out how to gracefully escape when the live music started up – an amazing duo of hot drumming and didgeridoo. OMG – my body wanted to dance. I literally pushed my way through the crowd to the top of the steps and burst into a small space just in front of the didge player. It was so loud, my mind switched off and I started to sway with my own internal rhythm. My hair fell out of it’s bun, my shoes disappeared and I danced like a tantric diva for the whole set. When it was over, I retrieved my shoes and bag (forget the bobby pins) and started out the door. The drummer ran after me and handed me their CD saying “Wow, great dancer. We want to give you this.”

Amazing things happen when you follow the path your own values point to.

Linda Graham-McCann is a serial entrepreneur, evangelist and student of Tibetan Buddhism. She currently resides in Sydney and is CEO of one of Australia’s oldest social enterprises – WorkVentures Ltd – after lending a hand to help get it off the ground back in the 80s when she was Managing Director of Microsoft Australia. Having survived San Francisco in the 60s, the personal computer revolution in the 80s, the green movement in the 90s and the dotcom boom in the noughties – there isn’t much she takes seriously anymore, including her LinkedIn profile.

About Linda Graham-McCann

WorkVentures CEO Linda Graham-McCann

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