August 12, 2022

In her own words: Laura Madrid on re-writing your story for success

When 460degrees’ ESG Expert, Laura Madrid, arrived in Australia 5 years ago, she had an Environmental Engineering background stowed in her suitcase. “My dream was to come to Australia and study English, then apply my knowledge in my career,” she shares. “Those first years brought a lot of personal challenges. The self-recognition and transformation I found on that path allowed me to re-write myself in terms of the person and the professional I wanted to become.”

Laura’s Australian dream started as a bit of a teen crush. “It started because I had this massive Australia calendar in my room,” she laughs. “So, I started preparing myself to come here in a professional capacity. But I was really open to the idea that the first two years were going to be about understanding the culture. It was going to be a huge transition, and I wanted to be ready for what was coming. So, knowing Melbourne was the town of coffee, I trained as a barista.”

Coffee gave Laura a link between her homeland and the home she was making for herself. “In Colombia, we have really good coffee,” she laughs. “And I started learning everything about the process, from the seed to the cup. It took me around four months to get my first role as a barista, but I threw myself into learning everything I could.”

It was also coffee that put her in the way of her first professional role. “Supply chain arrived in my life while I was serving coffee,” Laura says. “I’m someone who enjoys connecting with people, so I got chatting with this person while waiting on the order. Our conversation was professionally focused and from there I got that first opportunity; I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Already, we start to pick up the threads of what makes Laura so special. It’s that killer combination of curiosity, a natural ability to connect with people and the drive to throw herself into whatever she’s working on that comes up again and again as she tells her story.

And it’s in sharing that story that Laura feels her most important work is done. “I love being there for others,” she shares. “But not just in an emotional way. More helping them along that path I’ve already walked. I meet a lot of people who have just arrived from different countries and, like me are in that transition phase. And I’ve also mentored through different organisations like RMIT, SCLAA and some not-for-profit organisations. It just feels like everything that finds me, through all my work and networking, keeps telling me to share my story in order to guide others.”

Having that realisation was the catalyst for Laura to create a community of her own. “It’s called the Environmental Professional Community of Australia, E.P.C.A,” she says. “It started because, despite having all these existing groups and associations, people in the environmental space weren’t able to have those holistic conversations. They were always siloed into land, water or air. And there’s value in having a community where we could share knowledge and solve similar problems together.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Laura has, unfortunately, faced discrimination and cultural misunderstandings along the way. But even in those difficult experiences, she manages to find opportunities to learn.

“I was not always welcomed by different organisations,” she shares. “This is a male-dominated industry. And I tend to look a fair bit younger than I am. So, it has been hard to be taken seriously at times. I’d also have situations where there’d be a culture clash. But I would always do that internal review. To say ok, these are the things that I’m going to be confronted with, what work can I do on myself to deal with this?”

That process of ‘checking in’ with yourself is something Laura feels is very important for anyone in both their personal and professional life. “For me, I spent time thinking about who I truly wanted to be,” she shares. “For example, if I really want to be this expert in the environmental industry, what do I need to do to get there.”

Laura also feels part of that process is identifying and owning the things you may have to overcome. “I’m a woman. And a migrant. But I never felt different until I was in that professional setting,” she shares. “I had to take up the challenge of opening up and sharing my knowledge in ways that earned me respect in the room. I had to be open to sacrificing aspects of myself personally to transition into who I wanted to be as a professional.”

Not that she recommends discarding what makes you unique. Quite the opposite. “Along the way, I decided to join PMW, a mentoring program for professional migrant women,” she says. “So that was the moment where I literally started to describe myself that way. Yes, I am a migrant, and I need to accept things like my accent and really embrace it. In that space, I had the opportunity to share my professional experiences as a speaker twice, back in 2021 and 2022. That has really shown me how you can change the life of others, just by sharing your story. From my perspective, that’s pure magic.”

For Laura, starting over in a new country was like being handed a blank page on which to write that story. “I had the opportunity to really slow down,” she says. “That was a positive thing. Because sometimes we get really busy-brained and just want to achieve things and run along the path. I was able to be intentional about my journey. And I’ve had that time and space to re-write myself.”

Her most recent chapter, of course, includes joining the team of Experts at 460degrees. “I was introduced to 460Degrees, and I would find myself talking with the leadership team at after work drinks and I noticed the more I talked with them, the more I connected with the way they work – understanding what you really want to do and aligning yourself with your “why.” That was the bell that rang for me. It was perfect timing to find this organisation that does things differently.”

Laura says what she appreciates most about 460degrees is how their model holds space for her to write her own story. “It’s so different from other places – those body shops, as people call them,” she explains. “Rather than sending a ‘body’ to represent the organisation, 460 promotes the Expert, so you’re always representing yourself. But you also feel you’re supported by a team of professionals who can guide you in how best to do things.”

While Laura brings her skills and experience in the environmental space to her role as Expert, she finally feels she’s bringing her whole self the projects she works on.  “We definitely see future potential in the increasing interest in the Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) space, but I’ve found myself working on projects beyond that focus,” she shares. “That means I’m bringing all the skills I’ve learned at every point on my journey to here.”

There’s certainly quite the collection of skills in Laura’s kit bag. “I initially studied to be an engineer, so that teaches you to go back to the basics of the things to solve problems,” she says. “Then there is, of course, the environmental side. But the biggest one is stakeholder management. That goes back as much to the work I’ve been doing in the community as in my business. I love building relationships and working towards that win-win situation. Lastly, there’s the lessons I’ve learned through my own transformation, I’ve come to see myself as a leader of change. I’ve empowered myself through having a positive impact on society. And it’s that idea of working together towards a better future that really motivates me.”

So, what attributes would Laura say make a great Expert at 460degrees? “Compassion is a big one,” she shares. “I try to walk in other people’s shoes, and I consider myself a really good, active listener. In all areas of my life, I always try to avoid the judgement of others, in any meeting I have, I go into every room with a clean sheet of paper. No preconceptions.”

The ability to connect at that human level is, as Laura says, also key. “I’ve always enjoyed sitting down with people I don’t know and understanding what life is like for them,” she shares. “Not to guide them, but just to listen. That goes for work as well. Before starting a project, the first step is always making that connection and finding ways to communicate. To understand their needs and then find ways to communicate mine. That’s fundamental for any successful relationship. We tend to refer to those as ‘soft skills.’ But it takes a lot of strength to be soft and not break. Flexibility is always the key to success.”

Being a lifelong learner is also a must. “I love learning and am always open to building new skills,” she says. “And I try to make sure I’m staying up to date on things like new technologies and software as that’s moving all of us towards the future. But it’s also that ability to go really deep on a new topic in a really short time. To do that you need to be fully connected with what you’re doing.”

One of the most important lessons Laura has learned through her journey has been building and maintaining healthy boundaries. “We aren’t really taught how to do that,” she says. “You see so many people in senior roles working until late hours and then keep getting emails vary late or very early. I respect that’s some people’s way of working. But I have a really clear idea of what I don’t want in my life.”

As anyone trying to achieve work/life balance can appreciate, it takes a lot of discipline. “I have to practice really good time management,” Laura says. “And I focus on being effective, rather than perfect. For me, that all starts with recognising all the roles I play in life and setting individual goals for them.”

This concept of ‘roles and goals’ is one of those mind-blowing ideas that once you hear it makes so much sense.

“So, the first step was identifying all the roles I have to fill in any one week,” Laura explains. “For me, I am a daughter, a sister, and an auntie. There are all those roles you might have in your family. Then, outside that, I’m a girlfriend, a friend, an employee, a business owner, and a volunteer.”

So that’s the roles sorted. What about the goals?

“Then I write down what I want to achieve in those roles for that week,” Laura says. “For example, I want to sit down with my partner and have dinner together. Or I have X number of emails/reports that I have to send before Friday. Writing it all down makes my brain aware of the shape of the week. Is it going to be heavy or light?”

Then you add in the timing element. “That’s about getting really specific and intentional,” Laura says. “If I want to achieve my weekly call with my mum, I’ll have to do it in the morning, because of the 16-hour time difference. So, I plan to do that in the car on my way to work. Then, from nine to five, I don’t do anything outside of my role as an employee. Even at lunch, I use that time to reduce stress, maybe with calming music. But I don’t use that time to think about anything else. Then my second life starts after 5:00pm.”

Interestingly, it’s being a speaker of multiple languages that helped Laura build that skill of switching between roles. “It’s similar to the way I speak Spanish to my mum but English at work,” she says. “Flicking the switch off and on takes a lot of practice. But it means I’m giving whatever role I’m playing right now one hundred percent. And each day has specific tasks I must complete to achieve my goals. That helps me a lot.”

When you list all the roles Laura is giving that one hundred percent effort to, you can understand why she’s so good at time management. Her volunteer work alone could easily have become a fulltime job. But Laura is quick to point out the work she does is related to her passion – environmental work – and she has built skills through that experience she might otherwise never have developed.

“The EPCA community has grown really big,” she says. “And I’ve learned so many skills from running these events and generating this space for all professionals to develop themselves in different areas. Having a great team has been critical as I consider that E.P.C.A cannot run without our people’s passion. E.P.C.A has contributed to my own growth and confidence as a professional and as a multilingual professional. Firstly, because it furthers my knowledge as an environmental professional but also in other ways; software, design skills, team and relationship building and how to identify potential speakers. Running online events is also a whole other world.”

Looking towards the future, Laura plans to lean in on projects where she can make use of the rich experiences she gained on her personal journey. “I want to be that bridge of connection,” she shares. “To take wisdom I’ve gained from my own life and use it to create a better future for everyone. Having that impact through empowering others to be the best version of themselves – I think that’s where the real magic happens. That is when we all deliver.”

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