My Greatest Achievement

I felt like the worst mother on the planet. It seemed like my world had become this tornado of crazy town where I was juggling all these balls in the air whilst spinning around trying not to drop one of them. I was in the mist of starting a business from a blog whilst being a full-time solo mum and having faith I was doing the right thing. I had this great passion and fire in my belly but at what cost?

Here I was living close to a support network, sticking a 5-year-old child into before and after school care at 7am with a 6pm pick up which most times I was there right on the dot at 6pm. I felt like my heart had been ripped out after a one-hour drive home from the city to collect her. The guilt. The tears.

I didn’t expect this life. How many of us have a life or journey that goes to plan? Well mine certainty didn’t. It is a life of courage.

What did I expect? I remember being maybe around 13 or even 14 years old and I had this scrapbook. It was my wedding scrapbook. All I wanted to do was be a teacher (my teachers at the time said not to take this career path – unsure why?), get married and have children. I love children and I was great with them. I had a whole book of pictures of wedding dresses, happiness, families, wedding ceremonies which I spent hours on. Remember those Dolly Magazines? Maybe not…? Yes I am showing my age now.

My best friend who was called Ben who I has a massive crush on at the time and everyone knew about it, except him, would laugh at my scrapbook as he might have felt it was sweet but maybe slightly silly. That boy ended up being one of the loves of my life and that’s another blog! Looking back, it was great to have this scrapbook and maybe I should have kept it however it made me realise that it is great to dream and I was a great visionary. Maybe the scrapbook should have been about business ideas?

So, I didn’t end up choosing teaching at university and chose business. Funnily enough today I am a teacher and coach of all things leadership, kindness, courage and culture which I love! Teaching adults at times isn’t much different than kids however today I get to do it at a much greater scale and to leaders of our future leaders as well – leaders in corporate and community as well as leaders as parents and guardians.

Life can swing in roundabouts.

I worked so hard at university and realised I had a passion for leadership and organisational development. I was president of the student chapter of AHRI and I felt I was going places. I knew I had an entrepreneurial streak (it didn’t truly strike me until a decade later) when I raised the most money one year for the Salvation Army and won a trip to London. I was only 25 years old. I was off. The courage it took to move overseas and work was incredible and today I realise it was a turning point and one great achievement in my life.

However, it wasn’t until my dreams did come true and I got married and had a baby girl that things changed. I had put my career on hold for my husband and his career and we moved to Shanghai, China. It was more challenging than I thought, much more challenging.

I ended up getting a part time role in Shanghai to keep my foot on the pedal. All I can say is thank goodness I did. My advice to my younger self would be that I am proud of her for doing it. Don’t take your foot off the pedal! Then my world feel apart and it was unexpected and devastating. I had become a full-time solo mum of a darling little 4-year-old girl and left with very little money.

I don’t have many memories of that time other than an old manager of mine and a brilliant one of that gave me feedback years later and told me how courageous and stoic I was. I had only taken 3 days off work and came back like nothing had happened. I had to stay strong.

I remember crying uncontrollably and crawling into a ball one day in the corner of my bedroom and my little girl begged me to get up. I had to do it for her.

Upon advice I left Shanghai to start my life all over again back in Australia. I never worked so hard to build a life for us.

I was able to find a role working as a part time management consultant working in the leadership development space. I couldn’t believe how tough it was to find a job as single mum. The juggle was incredibly tough. I felt guilt 24/7…trying to be a great mum as well as provide for us.

For some reason I knew I could start and grow a business of my own. It was the second toughest and most challenging thing I have done. That was fifteen years ago and today we are going strong.

Today we are building and creating a world of great leaders and leadership. We have had the most incredible highs and lows (especially during COVID). I have published books, spoken around the world, delivered 100’s of programs, coached 1000’s of leaders and great humans, launched an amazing awards platform and there is more to come.

However as many of you know or might not know, what was the toughest, most challenging and courageous time of my life – it was my daughter’s mental health challenges.

Her story is below…

“Abby was severely bullied at 13 years old at school and online due to being kind, super smart, generous, different and loving. At the time the school and police didn’t want to get involved. It was dreadful. At 14 she tried to take her own life and we were in and out of hospital for 3 years. Her anxiety and depression were debilitating.

At 14 she left school…and her education and dreams.

During that time the support for teenagers with mental health and well-being challenges was awful. Our system couldn’t assist. It was an incredibly challenging time but one that taught us so much. I am a full-time solo parent with a small business so it took every bit of courage, love and resilience inside of me.

At 16 she calls me from TAFE as she caught the bus there and she asked for money for a course.

She said do you want to know the course and how much. Yes, I replied what’s the course and the cost doesn’t matter as I will pay anything to support your education. It was crimes and justice.

At 16 she spoke at schools about her journey and to help other teenagers. It was inspiring.

She had the courage to work so hard on her mental health and education. She was also so scared.

At 18 she got into her dream university and degree in Melbourne and then COVID hit. She felt her dreams were shattered as she knew she had to leave. She spiralled. It took every ounce of courage to move forward and today at 20 she is now at another university studying social work.

She focuses on her mental well-being every day and knows her journey and grit are what makes her who she is as well as her absolute resolve to help others in need – this keeps giving her the courage to keep moving forward. Purpose. Impact.

My daughter gave me permission to share this as I share her story on stage and in my books. I even wrote one for her.

Wherever you are in life there is always a way. If it takes you down an unexpected path – embrace it, ask for help and keep moving forward.

You are courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear – it’s the mastery of it.

She is why I do what I do and my mission is to inspire everyone I can to see their inner greatness and be their inner greatness, leader and courage.”

This is why I love what I do so much and I love teaching and coaching leadership, greatness, kindness and courage to others. This also prepared myself for the adversity and challenges that I faced and I knew I had the tools to embrace my inner leadership and courage. I used to think my and our greatest achievements was seeing the successes, leadership and courage I bring to and out in others. It is absolutely great and amazing achievements.

However, my greatest achievement by far is her. She is my legacy.

The juggling, adversity, blood, sweat, tears and failures, successes, and the heartbreak was due to being the best human for her. The tornado of guilt was worth it (and most of time a wasted emotion). All I wanted was to be her role model and to show her that was she capable of anything. 

Yesterday we saw my mother who is very ill. After we left, she sent me a message saying she thinks Abby could be Prime Minister one day. She is not the first person to share this with us. I said I agree.

This weekend we are in Canberra as Abby wants to stand up for women’s rights and I will be along her to support HER.  She is the most courageous leader I know who is out there rocking it. She is so open today about her mental well-being because she is human, vulnerable and brave. She is stoic, has great conviction, wisdom, character, compassion and she is committed to serving others.

She is kind to herself too. This is her also greatest achievement. She is courage.

P.S. this is for all those parents, guardians and single parents out there. I know there are so many times you might feel like you are not making a difference however you are. I know and feel the guilt and struggles. We can only do our best and by being the best human and role model we can, we are making an impact for our children. It starts with us and leading the way. Please be kind to yourself as if they see us being kind to ourselves then this is a ripple effect. We need kind and courageous children and future leaders.

Reach out if I/we can help.

By Sonia McDonald – CEO of LeadershipHQ and McDonald Inc. Leadership coach, keynote speaker, entrepreneur, CEO and author. 

Sonia McDonald is changing the face of leadership across the globe. She believes we should lead with kindness and courage, from the heart, and is known for her mantra ‘Just Lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her transformational coaching, leadership training programs and cultural transformation for organisations and encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped thousands of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others.

Sonia is a founder and CEO of McDonald Inc., LeadershipHQ and Global Outstanding Leadership Awards and 2022 Courage Conference. For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of leadership and she is beyond committed to her mission around building a world of great leaders.

She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realise what it takes to be a truly great leader. She has been recognised by Richtopia as One of the Top 250 Influential Women across the Globe and Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs.

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Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is a leading coach, an award-winning published author of newly released First Comes Courage, Leadership Attitude and Just Rock It! and has become an in-demand keynote speaker on leadership, kindness and courage.

Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, kindness, empathy and courage as well as building outstanding leadership across the Globe.