The women’s empowerment coach-turned-TikToker with advice for students dealing with the stress of finding ‘success’
During a period that has cultivated only worry and doubt to generations of students entering or leaving university, Shadé Zahrai is introducing her almost 250,000 followers on TikTok to a new mind-set around developing their career.
The 31-year-old Australian’s TikTok is brimming with advice on how to battle self-doubt and achieve professional and personal success,as her positive attitude asks viewers to self-evaluate and peak at their strengths instead of embracing the on-trend culture of comparisons and toxicity.
“I just want to help people realise they have more control over their life than they realise, and that starts with their thoughts,” she tells me over the phone. “Because their thoughts are what shapes their beliefs and how they show up.”
Yet control seems more elusive than ever before during a year that shook the world with a pandemic and a global economic crisis. Young adults are now walking down a path saturated with suffocating uncertainty, with no sense of direction and no handy map to consult. For some, it may feel like success is a far-away dream exchanged for survival.
Yet Shadé’s list of accomplishments is long and hers is a success story that took a while to come to fruition; she is Harvard-trained Coach, a women’s career strategist and speaker, a member of Forbes magazine’s esteemed Coaches Council, an author and a businesswoman who consults many companies.
“There’s no way that I could have gone straight out of university and moved into the space I’m in now where I do career coaching and consulting for women,” she says. She instead chooses to look back at her journey as a necessity in not only developing the necessary skills to achieve her goal but in also shaping her as a person.
Like many, she was a university student following the mapped out path of a grade-A student; in her case, studying a dual degree in Psychology and Law. But when she proceeded to enter the industry of commercial law, anxiety and self-doubt slowly ate at her mental and physical health.
“I started feeling nauseous at the thought of going to work,” she admits. “It wasn’t until one weekend when I was in the city with friends and started getting that same sick feeling that I looked around and realized I was walking across my building.
“I thought, wow, my body is giving me signs that I should not be here.”
And so she left.
Following her father’s footsteps she went into banking and finance, the industry seemingly as alien as law had been unfit, until a meeting with a mentor altered her perspective on how she viewed herself in the workplace.
“She looked at me and said ‘Why are you focusing on everything you can’t do and not on the fact that you’re here and they recognize potential in you? Why don’t you leverage your strengths?’
“It was a game changer. Instead of comparing myself to others, I started framing up my mindset on what do I have and what do I want to improve.” Now solely working on her strengths, it wasn’t long until she started moving up the professional ranks and gaining recognition. Soon enough, she started being sought out by other female coworkers for advice.
It took ten years of trial and error for Shadé to realise that her calling was consulting and empowering others, but she affirms that this was the only way she could have gotten to the point she is now. And that’s her biggest tip of advice to students today; build a career around what they love and don’t be afraid of the inevitable deviations that might arise. Instead, learn what you can from them.
“The world is full of so much opportunity and possibility,” she tells me. “It’s about being resourceful, knowing that the future is uncertain and it may not pan out how we want it to and, if it doesn’t, how can we prepare for that?”
Students are indeed treading in murky waters as internships are cancelled left and right, with more and more companies that used to actively seek new talent now facing large redundancies. Job hunting or even planning ahead has become a daunting task even to those whose planners are usually filled to the minute, and the future has come to resemble an ocean too dark and deep to dive in and explore, instead of the land of possibilities it used to be.
While Shadé seems as though she’s the kind of person that always has fitting re-assurances and guidance handy for any occasion, she’s also not afraid to offer a reality check. “You may not get the job or your dream job. In fact, you probably won’t,” she tells me in a matter-of-fact way that startles me. It had been only optimistic statements up until now.
“I would say very few people get that dream job straight out of university. It takes time to get the developed skills in order for that dream job to want you so you might need to first work for someone else, change your strategy and be more flexible.
“But that’s not to say you’re not achieving your goals. You’re just taking a slight deviation.”
Yet students are wired to believe that if you work hard enough, get the right grades, that dream job will be at the end of our stint at university. It is what the world has taught us to believe and any other scenario feels like a blatant failure – not to mention a reality where, even after working hard for years, you still need to start again and build your way up.
“It’s very easy to feel scared about the possibility of failing because, at university, if you fail that’s it. We use that experience as our benchmark for what we think the world is going to be like.” There’s truth in that. Since entering the world of education, our success, worth and skills are measured in grades; failure means re-taking an exam or failing the year altogether and facing the stigma that comes with it.
In reality, Shadé tells me, you could have “someone who doesn’t get particularly good grades in university but thrives in the workplace simply because their learning style is not one that is supported by that educational system”. While university plays a major role in our journey as individuals, it does not define our career – in fact, a 2018 report by Universities UK showed that one in three UK graduates are ‘mismatched’ to the jobs they find after university because they failed to pinpoint their skills and commercial strengths while in university. Probably because they were also too busy chasing after grades.
This is where universities’ careers advice centers usually come in handy, but many times it’s also a journey graduates have to take on their own while venturing into the world of work. Shadé was one of these cases. It’s easy to wonder if she feels like she has now reached that success we all seek coming out of university.
Yet it appears her definition of success is different from the conventional one.
“What I’m always encouraging people to do is make happiness mean success,” she tells me. A very controversial statement in a consumerism-led world where usually it’s the other way around. Still, Shadé seems to live by this statement and is adamant that there is more to success than money and more to happiness than being happy and optimistic. She’s even written a book about it!
“It’s breaking down the understanding that we have in this society around what success means and redefining it for yourself. When happiness is your goal, it changes how you approach your life, your work, your relationships and even the legacy that you want to leave.”
It has been a relatively long journey for Shadé and yet she’s barely started. Like many graduates before her, she found herself in jobs that did not suit her and it was due to blindly following other people’s opinion of what she should do. It is her biggest lesson to date; listen to yourself.
“Every single person will have an opinion about what you should be doing, where you should be with your life, how you should be applying yourself.
“But they’re giving you guidance based on what they would do if they were you in your circumstances. They’re not in your circumstances, only you are you.”
As a soon-to-be graduate afraid of what awaits me at the end of my university career, her story inspires me. Here’s a woman whose journey was not all plain sailing, who is ready to tell us that the road ahead is not easy but it is attainable if only we make the most of each experience and job opportunity, take from it that which will propel us closer to our goal. It might take a while, but we’ll get there.
“My entire journey was full of deviations,” Shadé tells me. “But I learned so much and now I’ve finally reached the point where I can do what I know I was born to do.
“Took me 10 years. That’s okay.”