Find Something You Love and Pursue it With Gusto
St Catherine’s Old Girl and Foundation Board Member Fiona Menzies (’87) is a highly regarded Arts professional. She is the CEO of Creative Partnerships Australia, a Trustee at the Gordon Darling Foundation, and a former Chief of Staff to two federal Arts Ministers. Fiona’s youngest daughter, Alice Menzies-King (Year 11), is a caring and compassionate individual who is well known for providing support and encouragement to all of her peers. With a strong sense of justice, Alice has participated in several Community Service initiatives, including Fareshare where she prepared meals for less fortunate members of the community.
Was there a teacher or subject at St Catherine’s that influenced your decision to pursue a career in the Arts?
In VCE, I studied Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics and French. I loved all of my subjects and have particularly fond memories of my Chemistry and French teachers. I chose the Arts because I come from a family of artists, so it was familiar to me. Science and the Arts are inextricably linked – scientific advances are always developed through creative thinking, and innovation in the Arts often comes about through Science and Engineering. I believe that STEAM (Science, Technology, Entertainment, Arts and Mathematics), not STEM, is the future.
What have been some of the biggest obstacles in your career and what advice would you give to Alice about overcoming similar challenges?
I have had my fair share of self-doubt and career challenges. I have found that the attitudes of others can be hard to shift and sometimes the only course of action is to move on and work with people who believe in you, want you to succeed and support your ambition. And support can come from unexpected places. When I had my first daughter, I was working as Chief of Staff to a federal government minister, which was quite a demanding role. The minister gave me unprecedented flexibility to return to work when I was ready, including arguing the case for it with the prime minister, because he valued my contribution. To this day, he is a strong supporter of my career and has encouraged me to step up and take on new challenges. So in terms of advice – work hard and do a good job and you will attract champions. Do not waste your time trying to win over detractors.
How do you believe your career has influenced Alice?
I have always had jobs that I have loved, so that leads Alice to see work in a positive light, rather than as a burden. Working in the Arts, I have been able to involve Alice in my work, so it is not some place that takes me away from her. She regularly visits my office and comes to events with me, so she knows my colleagues and has the benefit of meeting a wide range of people. I hope it makes her excited about the world of work and the possibilities ahead.
What advice have you given Alice about her education and future career choices?
Study subjects that interest you and that you enjoy. Once you find something you love, pursue it with gusto, but take one step at a time. If you have a goal while you are at school, that is great; but if you do not, it does not matter. After four years of studying Art History, I thought I would become an art curator, so I moved to London to complete a Master of Arts. Then an out of the blue opportunity led me to working in politics and I could never have predicted the direction that has led me in. Be open minded, opportunistic and take risks, and think about how you would like to spend your day. In all my roles, I have had a combination of working at a desk, but also getting out and meeting different people in different environments and experiencing new things. It is about knowing what suits you.
What has Alice achieved that you are most proud of?
Having her own opinion and not always going along with the crowd. Being able to think independently from the group is important for your self-esteem, but is also how you contribute to a better society. There have been instances where Alice has seen injustices and has spoken up, which takes courage.
Why did you choose St Catherine’s for Alice?
I like the attention that St Catherine’s provides to each individual girl and its ability to provide leeway where it is needed as girls and their families navigate the teenage years, in particular. That focus on the big picture and the long run helps everyone keep perspective about what really matters.
What advice has your mother given you about education and employment that has impacted you the most?
Do what you love. My mother has never pressured me about what subjects I should choose. She always tells me to do what I enjoy, not what will get me the highest ATAR, and that really inspired me during my VCE subject selection. I am lucky that I have that kind of support from my mother, and that she trusts me enough to let me make my own decisions when it comes to my future.
What has your mother achieved that you are most proud of?
Being a female CEO. Since birth, I have followed my mother’s example to be a feminist and a strong woman. Her job is important and she is great at it, but she enjoys what she does. It is empowering to grow up in a household where my mother is such an inspiration with her work.
What is the greatest lesson that you have learnt from your mother?
Stay true to myself and my values without worrying about what others think of me. Because of her, I am not particularly bothered with the opinions of others and I am much happier being myself rather than changing myself to fit in. My mother has taught me that the right kind of people will accept that.
What do you hope to do when you finish school?
I hope to follow in my mother’s footsteps and do a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne. After that, I am willing to let the tide take me down whatever career path seems fit.