Matching people and their passions
Coach and mentor Mena Antonio aims to ensure people have real meaning in their working lives.
MENA ANTONIO has found her purpose in life and she’s helping others to find theirs.
The Porirua-raised Samoan woman is an executive leadership coach and mentor offering selfleadership programmes and coaching services.
Drawing on her own experiences from the corporate and public sectors, Antonio set up her Wairarapa-based business, The Diaspora Way, a year ago to help people discover their core purpose and drive success in business, health, love and relationships.
‘‘In this demanding, constantly changing world, we all experience levels of overwhelm and alienation – the pressure to keep up can see us thrown off-course and disconnected from our authentic selves and our true passions,’’ she says.
Already the mother-of-two teenaged girls says she has been able to help a number of people make meaningful changes in their work and personal lives.
‘‘I’m working with a chief executive at the moment who talks about not getting support from her peers, yet she doesn’t have any evidence of that happening. She’s built up this story around the facts – we’ve since ‘unpacked’ that story and quickly realised that it’s all a smokescreen, an excuse for not going after what she really desires.
‘‘It came down to the fact that she didn’t want to be in that job anymore, she has outgrown it and needs to go on to that next step, abroad.’’
Another woman Antonio worked with is a successful senior public servant, a writer, who was unhappy with one aspect of her life.
‘‘Her passion is fashion, yet as a public servant, surrounded by grey, black, blue, navy, is something she found suffocating.
‘‘In her situation it was too much to say, or even suggest that she leave her job to go out and get into the fashion scene, it’s more about having some of that in her life and not putting it away in her pocket.’’
The woman now has her own fashion blog.
‘‘She has that passion in her daily life, she’s able to use her writing skills in a more playful and creative way, yet she can still continue to have a fulltime job and meet the demands of her job.’’
Antonio says smokescreens and hidden desires or dreams are common revelations in the work she does, particularly with women.
‘‘Often you get to a stage where you have children, suddenly there are family expectations and you live a life accordingly, so those career dreams or passions become subdued, we put them away and justify settling for less than what we really desire.’’
She speaks from her own experiences.
‘‘Perhaps I was using my children as a smokescreen, now I’ve gone off and pursued my own dream to start my own business that reflected my purpose to help other people – I’ve always done that, but I haven’t always known that.
‘‘I think that’s the first step with everybody I work with, whether it’s organisations, governance boards or individuals, it’s getting clear on what their purpose is, getting clear on what their values are and behaving accordingly.
‘‘People come alive when engrossed in their element.
‘‘My husband’s element, for instance, is cooking and every meal he prepares is done with minute attention and love.
‘‘Mine is to help each person to be their true self, because we are happiest when we are truly ourselves.’’
It’s been Antonio’s own challenges and setbacks that have given her the most valuable learning experiences.
She comes from a humble background in which her parents, who immigrated to New Zealand from Samoa in the 1960s, worked hard to make the most of very little.
Her mother would leave their Porirua home at midnight to clean offices in Wellington then return at dawn to get the kids ready for school. There were days she went without sleep.
She went on to open a Samoan language nest after graduating with a diploma in early childhood education.
Antonio’s father was a watersider who worked hard in the community, leading his church parish as a lay clergyman.
‘‘From their example, I believe anyone, with the right support, unyielding faith and applied action can achieve their dream.’’
Growing up, Antonio says she had a hankering for learning yet the school system never suited her.
‘‘My headmistress described me a as a spirited child – I was a bit of a wayward student but I always had a love of learning.’’
As a result, she signed herself out of school at 16, left home and worked in the Note Office at the Reserve Bank.
She joined the Army two years later and during her five-years there she worked within the Army’s communications centres in Waiouru and then Auckland, processing and distributing classified materials.
The day she finished with the Army she was on a plane to London on her OE, where she temped as a project secretary for the likes of Goldman Sachs and John Brown Engineering.
With a desire to return home and study law, she successfully applied to Otago University, switching halfway through to Victoria University where she graduated as a lawyer four years later.
She wound up working within the law faculty for a time, where as co-president of the Pacific Law Students’ Society, she successfully lobbied for a paid position to support Pacific students in terms of setting up mentoring and tutorial programmes.
She became the first Pacific law student to take on that role, and later, at the Ministry of Education, set up other mentoring programmes for the four colleges in Porirua.
‘‘It was all about bridging the gap, mentoring students and setting up partnerships with them and people in the industry they were wishing to get into, in order to help them to get into their chosen careers.’’
She then went on to help set up and oversee a national programme, working with clusters of senior principals and managers with the goal of raising Pacific student achievement.
‘‘Mentoring can be an effective bridge to build because there’s always people in the industry who want to help young people, and there’s always young people starting out who want help but don’t know how to go about it.’’
Antonio has since been active in the community in other ways – former regional arts co-ordinator for the Toi Wairarapa Arts Culture & Heritage Trust, trustee for the Aratoi Foundation, Destination Wairarapa, Trust House Foundation and 3DHB Pacific Health Advisory Group.
She was one of two women first elected to the Masterton Licensing Trust in 27 years, and is now the deputy chair on Masterton Licensing Charitable Trust and a mentor for Business Mentors New Zealand.
Her efforts and community spirit haven’t gone unnoticed with her recently being awarded a Tindall Foundation Pacific Scholarship enabling her to attend the 2016 Global Women Break Through Leadership Programme in Auckland next year.
With strong competition for the 40 leadership programme places offered each year, Antonio is one of just two women of Pacific heritage awarded a scholarship valued at more than $30,000.
‘‘It is very humbling, I am thrilled to have this opportunity, especially as the aims of Global Women – promoting diversity in leadership and an holistic outlook to the corporate and business worlds – fit closely with my own.
‘‘When I look at the profiles of women who have taken part in the last four years, my pathway is unconventional compared to theirs,’’ she laughs.
‘‘But that’s what draws me to the work I do – everybody’s pathways and stories are different, and everybody knows the answer within themselves as to what their purpose is, it’s just about supporting them to be okay with it.
‘‘I’ve applied for jobs in the past myself that I’ve known in my heart just don’t fit and I’ve still taken them – you lose yourself very, very quickly.
‘‘I know this is my true calling, I’m very passionate about it, it doesn’t feel like a job. It just sits right.’’
‘Everybody’s pathways and stories are different, and everybody knows the answer within themselves as to what their purpose is,’ Mena Antonio says. Photo: JOHN NICHOLSON/FAIRFAX NZ