The Words Australia’s Most Inspiring Women Live By

What makes 10 of Australia’s women – leaders in business and politics, art and sport – motivated to change the world?

We asked them: what are the words that push you to be more?

Fitness guru and founder of the 12 Week Body Transformation program

“Pain is a part of Life”

My words to live by are something I’ve learnt over many years: ‘Pain is a part of life.’ It might sound dark, but what it means is, in order to build a meaningful life, you must go through some pain. It’s the part of life that doesn’t get enough kudos. But I truly believe that it’s during these arduous times that one grows and builds wisdom. “As kids, our parents taught us that we had to get our knees grazed to learn to climb properly, but we tend to forget that as adults. We only learn the lessons by falling down – and getting back up. “It’s far from easy to look hard at your life to date, and it can be a good kick in the pants – yet what comes from it is real growth.”

Social change innovator 

“Do what you can, when you can – that’s how you change the world”

“I began my [former] role as Sex Discrimination Commissioner with a healthy dose of self-doubt. Will I be able to do this? Am I good enough? Very fortuitously, I met a woman from one of the African nations at the UN. I’m in the habit of asking every woman I meet: how do you do it? And her answer was simple: ‘I do what I can, when I can.’ When you put it like that, it gives you confidence that anyone can change the world. You don’t have to be exceptional. Everyone cares about something. Find what you care about, and do what you can, when you can.”

Director and founder of I Quit Sugar

“Treat life as a great experiment”

“A few years ago, I became very unwell with an autoimmune disease. I had to re-evaluate the purpose of life. Being sick taught me that gripping tightly and forcing square pegs in round holes doesn’t work. The good stuff happens when you soften and let the flow of life pass through you. My journey over the past few years has been to slowly loosen my white-knuckled grip, and be far more gentle with myself. Living gently means I now have a lot more freedom, lightness and space in my life. I used to do hardcore exercise. I still exercise every day, but I keep it gentle – yoga, Pilates, walking. I used to fret about the future and what I needed to do to ‘make stuff happen’. But now I know that the best stuff in my life happens when I allow stuff to unfurl as it needs to.”

Actress and Play School presenter 

“Practice makes perfect”

“I wish I could be one of those people who rocks up on the day and just nails it, but I’m not. I like to be prepared – for work or life – it makes me feel much more confident. I’ve been so blessed to work with some very experienced actors and you have to know your stuff. It can be intimidating and scary, but if you come prepared you feel like you belong in the room. You know you have just as much right to be there as they do. That’s very liberating.”

Three-time Olympic gold medallist and author of memoir Body Lengths

“This is my office, I know what to do” 

“My words to live by were given to me by an old coach, Stephan Widmer. The words are about blocking out everything except your own actions. In the pool, it’s easy to get distracted by what other people are doing, but it takes you away from your own race. On race days, I must have said it 20,000 times. “My office was 50 metres long and 1.5 metres wide. My job was to swim the way I knew how. When you boil it down that simply, it becomes a lot clearer. Less than a year after working with Stephan, I won three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. I still think of the motto now, even though I’m retired. I call on it when I’m speaking in front of a large group of people, mainly, to remind myself I can do this. It’s my job. I know how to do it.”

Deputy leader of the Opposition 

“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinion of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth”

“This phrase, from a poem by Katherine Mansfield, has truly shaped my life. I first saw these words on a poster in my Year 9 English class. I read that poster every day for years, and it had a profound effect on me. The teenage years are a hard time, especially for girls, I think, so to hear: be brave, stand up for yourself, stand up for others, was so helpful. “Sometimes you have to do the scary thing. If you let the idea of other people not liking you stop you, you’re only limiting yourself. If you let fear stop you, you’ll never know what you could have achieved. I was the kid who stood up for the kids who were being bullied. Often that means you become a target. But people can only hurt you so much as you allow them.”

Author and celebrity chef 

“Nothing worth having comes easily”

“People love the idea of overnight success, but there’s no such thing. When I went onMasterChef [in 2009], people said: ‘You’re so lucky, now everything’s happening for you!’ But I’d actually been on a TV show called Beat The Chef back in 2005, and to get where I am today has taken 10 years and a lot of hard work. It applies to relationships, too. I hear people say relationships should never be difficult, but they always are. If you work hard, amazing things can happen.”

Actress starring in A Place To Call Home and Janet King 

“Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy”

Actress starring in A Place To Call Home and Janet King “Recently, I was in Machu Picchu [in Peru] for a family holiday. We were talking about the Incas – and their three rules for living were ‘don’t steal, don’t lie, and don’t be lazy’. I realised that’s how I’d been living my life, without really knowing. Not stealing isn’t just about not pinching stuff, it’s about not invading people’s space, not sucking energy. And it’s about the opposite: giving.”

Co-host of Sunrise 

“Don’t die wondering”

“When I was a kid, I asked for my dad’s advice a lot. His answer, over and over, was always, ‘Don’t die wondering.’ It’s about jumping in, having a go and not worrying about failing. We all fail sometimes – I do, very publicly, and often! But I’d rather take the chance and fail than let the opportunity pass me by. I try to be as brave as I can, and it’s served me well so far. Heeding Dad’s advice for so long has given me a strong sense of instinct. When I had to choose between a job in New York and a job at Sky News as a political reporter [in Canberra], I wrestled with the decision for a long time, but I felt like my path was to go to the [Parliamentary] Press Gallery. In the end, I knew what was right for me.”

TV presenter and author 

“Treat others the way you would like to be treated”

“When I was little, we went to Sunday school – my parents probably dropped us off there for a bit of free babysitting – and that’s where I first heard the saying. It really does inform all of my decisions. It’s about treating people with respect. I wish more people would think about the people around them. We’d all be much happier.”

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