“Do you want some diarrhoea medication? It will help.”
“No, thank you. I'm ok,” I replied.
I had been dreaming about the conversations I would have with one of my all-time role models: Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the driving force behind the 2014 Paris Agreement – and here she was in the flesh offering me diarrhoea medication.
All I could think was my daydream conversations with her were definitely not going to plan.
How did this happen?
Homeward Bound is an Australian-based initiative, bringing together a 1000-strong network of women in STEMM from around the globe across 10 years to give those women the tools they need to make their voices heard in the face of climate change.
The program has been made real by Fabian Dattner (a leadership expert and partner at Melbourne company Dattner Grant) in collaboration with Jess Melbourne-Thomas (Marine Research Scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division), and subsequently Justine Shaw and Mary-Anne Lea, both Antarctic scientists.
Homeward Bound is now in its third year of its projected 10 and, as a scientist, I had been selected as part of the 80-strong 2018 voyage.
We were on the land based section of the program in Ushuaia, Argentina, about to board a ship headed for three weeks in Antarctica. A case of gastro was going around and I was one of the “lucky” ones who contracted the infection the night before departure. I hadn’t slept since 2am and spent the morning lying on the floor in the conference room, conserving the little energy I had, listening (and trying to take in) the leadership content of our voyage being presented by Fabian Dattner, Homeward Bound founder.
Christiana Figueres was there and would be playing a significant role on board the ship with us.
In embarrassment and shock I declined her graceful, calm offer of help and my first lesson was learned - it is ok to ask for help.
My second lesson learned from her was to be comfortable with uncertainty and change, and flexible with plans, and my the third lesson: horrific as my first impression on her might have been, this was my story, and I should own it, because while not the most pleasant and perfect story, it was definitely memorable…
Christiana ended up helping me in other ways throughout the trip - challenging and changing my thoughts and practice on self-care, self-appreciation and inner peace which is something I promised her to take forward into my life and not leave aboard the Homeward Bound journey.
Another notable lesson we all learnt from her was to intentionally choose optimism. As a self-confessed ‘stubborn optimist’, she encouraged and inspired all 80 of us to be stubbornly optimistic in the face of climate change, because it is the key to success. Her reasoning was that when it comes down to it, we all win or we all lose. There are no profits on a dead planet and it is up to each and every one of us to collaborate, grow and find opportunity. She challenged each of us to go back into the world with an “equal heart and open ear”, and I feel like that sums up Christiana perfectly.
It was so refreshing to hear from a World Leader who is humble, compassionate, cares deeply, and treats people with kindness, fairness and respect.
One of my all-time favourite quotes is ‘A rising tide lifts all boats’. Following our Homeward Bound journey and absorbing as much wisdom and advice from Christiana, this quote holds even more weight for me now.
We are all strong individuals who can and do have an impact. We can drive change. And together, we are stronger.