Ita Buttrose: Lessons on Courage from the Australian of the Year

Ita Buttrose: Lessons on Courage from the Australian of the Year

While writing my new book Stop Playing Safe, I approached numerous people who have been really courageous throughout their career  and working lives.  In between my fair share of “Thank you, but no thank you” responses (which were wonderful opportunities for building resilience), I managed to secure interviews with quite a few really amazing people to gain their insights on why courage is important for success.

Ita Buttrose was one of them.  Today she was named Australian of the Year and so it’s a perfect day to share with you some of her wisdom that has helped her become one of Australia’s most respected women.

Ita left school at fifteen to pursue her ambition to be a journalist.  By the time she was just twenty-three she had asked Sir Frank Packer, head of Australian Consolidated Press, to be appointed editor at the Sydney Telegraph. Her boldness paid off then as it has many times throughout her trailblazing career.

When it comes to asking for what you want, Ita’s believes it’s vital to put yourself ‘out there’. “You have to let people know you have ambition. You have to flag it with them. They can’t guess by looking at you.”

Her willingness to take risks led to her launching the groundbreaking Cleo magazine. Highly risqué at the time it’s first edition was released in 1972, Cleo was an immediate hit, selling out it’s first print run in two days. But as Ita said:

“You have to risk your reputation or you will never know what you can do. The world would be a very dull place if no-one rocked the boat.”

Ita went on to become editor of Australia’s leading magazine, the Australian Women’s Weekly then later launched her own Ita magazine. It was a bold move and many skeptics doubted it could succeed. It didn’t. However despite the fact that it eventually folded Ita told me has no regrets. She doesn’t believe in them.

“Life is full of challenges and setbacks. What’s important is that you are there participating. Mistakes aren’t to be avoided but to be accepted if you are going to achieve the success you want.  Every experience shapes you, gives depth, builds resilience and helps you decide which step you are going to take next.”

Many times over the years Ita has refused to play safe or conform to expectations. Working right through her second pregnancy, and never pausing in her career to raise her two children in the early 70’s when most women left the workforce to raise children, is just one example. But Ita has never let concerns of what people think hold her back and never succumbed to Australia’s Tall Poppy Syndrome.

“You can’t spend your life worrying about others opinions, disappointing people, getting approval and making others happy. If you do that you will make yourself miserable. Your life is your business. No one else’s. You have to forge a path that’s true for you.”

Of course forging your own path isn’t always the smoothest path, but Ita believes what matters most when the chips are down is to stay focused on the future, and never succumb to self-doubt. “You’ve just got to pick yourself up and never give up. Never. Some of the best opportunities can emerge out of failure.  What’s important is not to dwell on where you are now, but to focus on where you’d like to go from here.”

Whatever challenges you are facing right now, I hope you can apply some of Ita’s wisdom to face them with more courage and a greater faith in your own ability to emerge from them stronger, wiser and better off.

Happy Australia Day!