Reflecting on choice, empowerment and hope

Philippa Noilea-Tani
By Philippa Noilea-Tani | 11 April 2022
Philippa Noilea-Tani_Wavemaker

Being selected into the 2022 Marketing Academy cohort served as a timely reminder for Wavemaker Chief Investment Officer, Philippa Noilea-Tani, of the power of choosing how to respond to a situation, a lesson first gleaned in the wake of a personal tragedy.

We’re often told ‘we are in control of our own destiny’. I don’t believe that wholeheartedly, but I do believe we are in control of our own choices.

I’ve just spent a week at The Marketing Academy Australia boot camp, after being selected to be a 2022 scholar. Parts of what I learnt at this first boot camp acted as a very timely reminder that what happens in life is not always within our control, but how we choose to respond to a situation is. What we say, what we do, how we behave and how we treat others, is our choice and our responsibility.

Acknowledging I alone am responsible for my own choices is something I learned a long time ago, after an extremely tough time in my life.

I lost my Dad to depression and anxiety when I was 18 years old. Two years after he passed, I wrote a letter to myself, which is quite deeply personal and to this day, is not something I’ve shared beyond my closest friends and family.

It’s a letter about my grief, navigating a way forward after two very challenging years, and the hope I found along the way.

I wrote the letter to myself as a reminder I always have a choice. Please know, this letter was never about my Dad’s choice. My Dad’s mental illness deeply influenced the control he had over his own choices. Depression and anxiety are debilitating diseases and my heart will forever be broken at the thought of his anguish during this time. Mental illness has had a profound impact on my life and has very much shaped the woman I am today. I will never take my own mental health for granted, nor will I ever shy away from acknowledging how crippling mental illness can be for another.

What The Marketing Academy leadership programme reminded me, is this is not just about how I choose to navigate grief. It’s about how I choose to interact with others and how I choose to behave as a friend, a mum, an employee, colleague, and leader. What I choose to do when my four-year-old has a meltdown at the shops. What I choose to say to my mum when I don’t agree with her point of view. How I choose to respond to a difficult work email, how I choose to celebrate and appreciate my colleagues, how I choose to shape my career, how I choose to prioritise my time, what compromises I am willing or not willing to make, how I choose to show up as a leader. Those are my choices.

Too often I catch myself making excuses for what I say or don’t say and justifying inaction and indecision. I’ve heard the serenity prayer many times, but have not lived by it: “God, grant me Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

Choice is power, and I feel empowered by this reflection. I am extremely grateful to The Marketing Academy for what has been a very timely lesson and reminder for me.

As I look forward after a thought-provoking week at my first boot camp with The Marketing Academy, I choose:     

  1. To focus on personal accountability. Taking greater responsibility for my own decisions and behaviours.
  2. To continue wearing my heart on my sleeve. Taking comfort in knowing my vulnerability is a strength and not a weakness'
  3. To invest my energy in the things I can change, and give more consideration to possibilities and opportunities.

In shining a light on my own reflection, I hope to empower and inspire others. To encourage you to recognise that while you can’t control what life throws your way, you can control how you respond. What you say, what you do, how you show up and how you treat others, is your choice and your responsibility.

My letter to myself, 2006

Today I went to the beach and stood on the sidewalk. Many times over the past two years, I have made it as far as the sand and become lost in my thoughts, but to reach the water has always been too painful and hard. Today was different.

I made my way down to the sand and sat on a concrete slab. I watched children run around with their parents and surfers ride the waves. This time, instead of turning and walking away, I closed my eyes. I dug my feet in the sand and realised the sand was the last thing my Dad would have felt under his feet. The sound of the waves crashing was the last thing he heard. I smelt the fresh sea and the salty air and reminded myself this was his last scent. I opened my eyes and for the first time in two years, I saw the beauty of the beach, not a place where my Dad passed away.

Far away the waves looked huge, but gradually they settled until they no longer seemed to crash – instead they flowed toward me gently and washed away the impurities on the golden sand. I was able to focus on the tiny ripples the water made as it moved between each rock. I chose to let for the first time since he died, the ocean flow over my feet. I let it wash away the pain, the fear, the hurt, the guilt, the sadness, the anger, and the grief until all that was left was a feeling of love, of possibility, of meaning. A feeling of comfort and, most importantly, a feeling of hope.

I looked around and saw life. Life in the children playing, life in the dogs running, people smiling, couples kissing… If a person is no longer here in a physical sense, they exist within what we experience throughout our lives. They become the wind on our face, the sun that shines, the tears we cry, the stars and the moon that light up the night. They are there when we laugh, when we cry, when we are scared and when we are worried. They are there.

Standing on the beach, I realised I had two choices. I could shy away from my strongest emotions, or I could choose to love and to experience each day as it comes. Life is not always easy, and there are many lessons to learn. We can choose to look back, or we can choose to look forward. Life is choosing to spend time with friends, life is sharing special moments with family. Life is travelling the world and learning to forgive the people that sometimes drive us crazy. Life is dancing like no one is watching and smiling for no reason. Life is watching the sunset and even staying up all night long enough to see the sun rise. Life is spotting a shooting star and dreaming of possibilities. Life can also be a rainy day. Life is when you run out of petrol on the day you’re running late. Life is getting lost or getting stuck in a storm. Life is a busy day at work or a blackout at night, but no matter where life takes me, I will always have a choice.

I choose to take Dad with me and share with him what’s in my heart, my good days, my bad days, my experiences, and the emotions I feel. And from this day forward, I choose to RUN into the water every time I see the beach and remember that I’m worth experiencing everything life can offer.


Philippa Noilea-Tani is Chief Investment Officer of Wavemaker Australia & New Zealand.

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