Whether you’ve just finished university or are further along in your career, figuring out what you want out of life is no easy task. At some point in your life, the chances are you’ll feel the urge to make a change or seek a new challenge.
We spoke to Shelby Higgs about leaning into this desire – not shying away from it.
Shelby is a Key Account Manager, Home Affairs & Intelligence, at Thales. In her role, she’s responsible for engaging new clients, sourcing relevant existing technologies in Thales, and identifying areas the business can contribute to a safer Australia.
When you talk to Shelby, you’ll see an accomplished, adventurous professional with an eclectic personality. But she didn’t get there overnight. There have been several challenges she’s faced along the way that have shaped who she is, and her personal approach to work.
Here are her best lessons for finding a greater direction in life and work.
1. Don’t be afraid to make a change
Shelby’s career began in academia after she gained her Ph.D. in demography, a.k.a. population statistics.
“I did my fieldwork in the Philippines,” said Shelby, “proposing a new method for estimating street children’s populations. This helped us better understand the level of resources required to support them.”
But even though she was making strides in her early career, Shelby felt as if she wasn’t having an impact. So, she decided to make a change.
“I leveraged my experience to move into international aid and development. From there, I got into more operational security-related work until I found myself managing more than 3,000 security personnel in Papua New Guinea.”
What helped Shelby get selected for these roles? Her ability to navigate complex relationships, build rapport, and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes – are skills she uses every day in her role at Thales!
2. Use travel to discover your passions
Shelby has lived and worked in many places around the world. In doing so, she’s picked up a variety of different interests, habits, and friends that influence her daily. (A few that come to mind: live theatre, aerial acrobatics, gymnastics, and her book-a-week reading goal. She’s also getting her recreational pilot’s license. Amazing!)
She attributes her adventurous, risk-taking side to her early years in South America.
“Things were very relaxed. I don’t remember if they had a driving age – and there was definitely no drinking age! When I went skiing, the trails weren’t marked, so you never knew if you were going down a green or black diamond run.”
Shelby also pursued her passion for running too, running a marathon in the Andes.
“I had to double back two kilometres because I missed a man sitting in a lawn chair,” she laughed. “I ran a marathon in Brazil with a kidney infection. I had to stop every fifteen minutes to hydrate. It took me six hours, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a caipirinha at the finish line in Copacabana.”
But she’s still in touch with her roots.
“I feel so privileged to live in Australia. We’re fun-loving but get down to business. Most of us enjoy a quality of life and work life balance unprecedented in much of the world. We get to enjoy our sport, our beaches, and don’t have a lot of time for pretence. We have it all here.”
It’s easy to see how Shelby has gained so much from travelling and trying new activities. Personal pursuits can be hugely influential and arm you with critical skills that translate from life to work!
3. Pursue new challenges
When it comes to career development, Shelby opts for roles that push her outside her comfort zone. In the most challenging role of her career, she was program managing a highly sensitive government program.
“It came at an enormous personal, social, and professional cost. It was also very physically demanding, constantly being on call. My decisions were always being questioned and I was working in a region known to be one of the most dangerous places for women in the world.”
But despite never feeling so challenged, she never felt so strong.
“I built up my strength each day, worked out every morning and ate well. I surrounded myself with great mentors. And most importantly, I learned how to be an authentic leader. I spent less time on emails, and more time with my team. I learned what made them tick and how to bring out their best. It was incredibly fulfilling.”
These skills have extended to her current role, at Thales. The company has played a big role in enabling her to tackle meaningful challenges at work.
“My colleagues are incredibly supportive and patient. As I continue to learn the more technical aspects of Thales offerings, I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such intelligent people who are so generous with their time.
“I love that Thales Flex doesn’t make me adhere to a rigid, impractical schedule that forces me to choose between things I love.”
Thales is open to discussing flexible work options, including job sharing, rostered days off, part-time work, and remote work!
Find out more about this and their other employee benefits.
4. Find the right mentors and support
No doubt, the people you surround yourself with have a big impact on your life. At least, that’s been the case for Shelby. She’s grateful for the great mentors and leaders she’s received throughout her career. Her goal now is to pass opportunities on to others.
She does this by working extensively with women in mentorship and leadership programs to help them achieve their full potential.
“When I was working in physical security positions, I took specific measures to ensure women could travel more safely to and from work. I coordinated International Women’s Day forums for women to openly share their experiences. Most recently I participated in the podcast FemInsights in Security. I look forward to seeing more women in leadership positions.”
All in all, she’s proud of the work she is doing to promote other women and is inspired to make a positive impact, wherever that may be.
“I’m proud of my work at Thales, contributing to a more secure and prosperous Australia, the place I have come to love and call home.”
So, if you’re seeking a new direction, take it from Shelby. Allow your life interests to influence your work, and vice versa. Don’t shy away from a challenge. And remember, turning your limitations into strengths can be the key to your success.