NEWS / Blog / Riding the wave to success – early career advice


30 JUN 2018


Athena Livesey of the Progress Network on the value of mentoring


he sea was quite rough on the day of the Bondi to Bronte charity swim, but nothing I hadn’t experienced before. As our category was called, over 100 swimmers and I walked towards Bondi’s shoreline. I could sense the mix of confidence and anxiety as we found our positions on the beach. This was it; time to put the last 12 months of relentless training into practice.

‘Bang!’ and with trepidation I ran into the sea to embark on the race of my life! Ahead of me was 2.2km of ocean swimming, which went beyond the headland and finished at Bronte Beach. I dove under waves and emerged in-between the crush of swimmers. I had trained in the crush and I felt comfortable. After all, this phase was short-lived and I knew where I was heading.  

We swam beyond the wave break and left the bay. The group was starting to thin out but the water was still thick with arms and legs.  I pulled through the water making small waves as I followed the course.  As I approached halfway, with every breath, I could see the sky was turning darker.  As we reached the headland I saw the swell was grey, huge and coming in from a different direction. Over the last 12 months I had never encountered this type of swell...

With every stroke, the water was turning cool as the cold undercurrents were driving out any warm water from around me. I felt my muscles starting to cramp, shortening my stroke and making it harder to cover the distance.  Pulling hard through the choppy water I felt my energy start to wane as I fought to counter the strong currents.

As I looked towards the finish I knew I was off course and had miscalculated the wave sets. I was too early! The wave picked me up and tumbled me around its great jaws for several long minutes and spat me out face down on the beach without my cap or goggles!  

The race wasn’t over.

I managed to push myself up off the sand and through my stinging eyes I saw lifeguards running towards me, I asked them, ‘Where’s the finish?’ In astonishment, they pointed me towards an uphill stretch. As I refocused and ran through the finish line, I knew that despite all my training I had just had a lucky escape; the ocean is unruly and to navigate through changing conditions, to find the best route requires guidance and experience.

Reflecting on my year long experience, I can draw parallels between this experience and my career. To put your health first and choose to partake in a significant physical challenge can help to improve your work-life balance, which is essential to empower you to be the best version of you.

Training is essential and you have to manage and prioritise your time to make it a success. I planned, tested and monitored the effectiveness of my training regime and strengthened my self-motivation. All of these are transferable skills and take the form of project management, data analytics and forecasting, leading and motivating teams, identifying training needs and of course the process and execution of delivery.

Mentoring done properly can enlighten, steer and build your confidence to overcome any issues. Athena Livesey

Since I was new to this swim team, I was shy and apprehensive about the challenge ahead. With hindsight, I wish I had the courage to reach out and build a relationship with more experienced members of my team. These relationships could have led to conversations about infrequent weather conditions, rate of change and we could have discussed different race day strategies which I could have practiced. An experienced person’s hindsight could have been my foresight and I could have had a more rewarding experience.  The same is true at work.

Mentoring done properly can enlighten, steer and build your confidence to overcome any issues. Having regular meetings, talking about success as well as challenges can also help identify gaps in your knowledge. For example, perhaps my mentor would have suggested training at Bronte Beach rather than just training from Bondi Beach, which would have given me a different perspective and helped me understand how best to position myself to ride the wave to shore.  

Having a trusted mentor can help stop you from making potentially costly mistakes, they can help you navigate towards more successful and enjoyable routes rather than learning the hard way, and once on that route they can help you focus your energy and strengthen your skills so you can ride that wave all the way in!

ACE's Progress Network is now known as ACE Emerging Professionals. The group is sponsored by Mott MacDonald.

Athena Livesey

Athena Livesey

Design Manager

Athena is design manager at WSP and former chair of the ACE Progress Network.