Many professionals fall into the trap of progressing down a career path that starts to dictate its own trajectory – where they become a passive participant rather than an active shaper of their own professional destiny.
This is exactly how Jane Lewin felt as a young lawyer – until she claimed back ownership of her path by taking a more mindful approach to focus on what she wanted to achieve. Ultimately it led to a highly-rewarding career deviation underpinned by a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at The University of Queensland.
“I often think of myself as an accidental lawyer,” said Jane. “For my undergrad years I studied law and psychology, and even had a spot at the Conservatory of Music in Adelaide. But as time went on, I knew I had to let go of something – I felt like I was being pulled in a few different directions.”
“I managed to secure a prestigious associateship at the Supreme Court in South Australia, so one thing led to another and all of a sudden my career in law was cemented. I kept thinking about doing postgrad study – it was always in the back of my mind to broaden my horizon beyond mainstream law firms.”
“But I started to just follow the traditional law path for a while, losing sight of what really motivated me. It was through mindfulness – and stopping to take a moment to reassess my life and career – that I knew I needed to take control of my path.”
Jane is a firm believer in practicing mindfulness in both her personal and professional life, from going for a walk to gather her thoughts and be ‘in the moment’, to taking time to question her career trajectory.
It was this ability to take a step back and review what she wanted from her career and the steps that she would need to take to make it happen that led her to an MBA.
“I sought out people who had done the MBA, people I was comfortable with and inspired by, to look at what would be right for me. UQ’s MBA stood out for reputation, the quality of students and the opportunity to build strong networks.”
“At UQ, I knew immediately that the MBA was right, that this was going to challenge and inspire me. I thought I’d have to quit my job to study my MBA.
“It is very demanding being a lawyer in corporate firms – you work crazy hours – but my boss was very good about my desire to incorporate a broader business approach in my professional development and supported the decision.
“The flexible format of the UQ MBA allowed me to maintain mindfulness in my personal life too. The way I did it has really worked for me. I’ve been able to study at my own pace, without having to put too much pressure on myself.
“There’s a multitude of study options including night courses and weekend intensive classes. I’ve managed to study through my pregnancy with two children without feeling like I was compromising my health.”
Now as a senior legal manager at Suncorp, Jane gets to manage a team and work on a wide range of customer-centric projects across many areas of the business as opposed to when she worked in the traditional law firm, where she was pulled in multiple directions by different clients and the focus was on growing billable hours.
She says the UQ MBA was invaluable to broadening her leadership capabilities.
“I was probably naive going into the UQ MBA, because I thought since I had completed a psychology undergraduate degree that I was a people person,” Jane reflects.
“As soon as I started the MBA, I was promoted to manage a team of lawyers nationally – very smart people – and I didn’t have the tools in my toolkit to deal with all the people management issues managers have to face.”
“During the MBA program, I’ve gained a lot of insight into leadership lenses, theories and strategies that I could rely on.”
As a mother of two young daughters, MBA student and not-for-profit director at Jack’s Butterflies, which supports families of children with rare diseases, the opportunity to spend time ‘in the moment’ wouldn’t be realised without understanding the value of mindfulness.
“Life is a constant juggle of competing priorities,” Jane said. “For me, those competing priorities are work, study and my family. Often, those who find themselves in such busy environments put themselves last and feel guilty when they take time for themselves. I think this is particularly true for women and mothers.”
The concept of mindfulness has been gaining traction in management and business education over recent years as organisations demand more rounded and capable employees. UQ has led the way in integrating the concept into its teaching and student services.
UQ MBA Director Dr Nicole Hartley says one of the key benefits of studying an MBA is the ability to develop a ‘mindset’ that reflects your life and career goals.
Mindsets are leaders’ mental lenses that dictate what information they take in and use to make sense of and navigate the situations they encounter. In essence, mindsets drive what leaders do and why.
“You can develop an entrepreneurial mindset, a managerial mindset, a growth mindset or a learning mindset,” Dr Hartley said. “Being mindful is ultimately about letting your body and mind absorb the things around you and integrating them into a mindset that allows you to achieve your goals.”
“Anyone with serious leadership aspirations should take the time to understand and practice mindfulness.”
Mindfulness now plays an important role in Jane’s decision-making practice and ability to process information.
“I think it gives you a flexible mindset, which is important to decision making and not being wedded to past choices.
“The decision to leave the legal practice, leave my firm, was very difficult. Giving up that opportunity wasn’t really the done thing, but I realised what was important to me and what I needed to take the next step.”