Match­ing peo­ple and their pas­sions

Coach and men­tor Mena An­to­nio aims to en­sure peo­ple have real mean­ing in their work­ing lives.

The Dominion Post - - Career Market -

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

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