Jelena Dokic leads agents in vulnerability conversation

By May 30, 2024 June 5th, 2024 No Comments
Jelena Dokic speaking at Rise Leadership Advance on mental health

“I use my voice to call out injustice, to advocate for change, to normalise the conversation around really important issues like domestic violence and mental health, and to remove the shame, stigma and labels. But more importantly, to put the really hard conversations and topics on the map, especially publicly. This is a story of going from victim to survivor and more importantly, to thriver.”

The opening words of former World No. 4 tennis champion Jelena Dokic at the Rise Initiative Leadership Advance conference could not have been more appropriate for the more than 120 real estate leaders who had gathered in the room.

Settled in for two days of hard conversations around mental wellness in the real estate industry, delegates were moved by Jelena’s keynote address which set the scene for vulnerable sharing and reflections – the type that Rise has become known for. 

Because in its five years of championing the cause of mental wellness, the Rise Initiative has embraced the tough topics. At this third annual leadership conference, Jelena was among a number of high-profile speakers driving mental health and wellness into mainstream conversations. 

“I really discovered the power of resilience and courage through writing my books and through actually finding my voice and speaking up,” Jelena said.

“And I’ll tell you why… vulnerability, and shattering the myth of perfection! It is something that actually doesn’t just change lives, it saves lives. 

“Vulnerability was always looked at as a weakness; it was almost like it was in a dictionary. Vulnerability equals weakness. Whether it was in sport, whether it was in society, whether it was in different fields and different industries like the real estate industry, vulnerability was always looked at as something weak.

“If you spoke up about anything that resembled mental health, eating disorders, domestic violence – you straightaway felt like you were giving that edge to your opponent. 

“You also felt like you were weak, like you weren’t perfect anymore. You really felt like you were going to be judged and shamed as an athlete. You felt like you weren’t good enough anymore for the media, for the sponsors, for the fans. 

“And it was so dangerous because people were suffering in silence.

“Let’s be honest, if people talked about mental health, we would often use the word ‘crazy’. If people talked about domestic violence – and women talked about domestic violence – there would be victim blaming. 

“And I never understood why we didn’t turn that shame and stigma at the feet of abusers and perpetrators and at the people making fun of someone being vulnerable. 

“People were crying out for help… but we can change that. 

“And that’s the power of vulnerability.”

Jelena’s keynote was part of the Overcoming Limits conference session – one of seven key themes also including: Challenging Behaviour, Closed Doors, Better Leadership, Leadership Essentials, Smart Culture and Looking Ahead. 

Her powerful session was followed by an industry panel discussion and a peer-group sharing of reflections and actions to implement back at the office.

Real estate coach and panel host Tanja Lee thanked Jelena for her courage and help with creating a safe space for conference participants to be “real, raw and vulnerable”, noting that she had changed many lives that day.

Tanja said that in preparation for the panel session, she had asked speakers Katrina Tarrant, Kym Atherton and Charlie Barham if they were willing to be real, raw and vulnerable in their conversations.

“They all enthusiastically said yes,” Tanja said. “And it’s a very brave and bold thing to do. It takes something to stand up and be seen and speak out.”

Harcourts NSW CEO Katrina Tarrant shared her story of packing up her childhood bedroom into a plastic bag and leaving home at 17. She found a place to live, got a job and spent evenings studying a real estate course at TAFE. Survival included dinners made from leftover office sandwiches and a 45 cent supermarket cake mix that provided daily morning teas.

“What I’m most proud of is that I decided that my future was no longer going to be my past,” she said.

“I had not a friend in the world – my friends were at high school; they were finishing their HSC. I had to work. 

“I knew that I had fixed my immediate future, but how was I going to thrive? And I decided I wanted to help people get homes that I never had. So I enrolled in the real estate course – which then was three years, two nights a week – and I found my real estate family. 

“So for two nights a week I had mates because I’d go to TAFE till 9.30 at night, and I just devoured the legislation and the learning. It was really all I had. 

“Everything else that has been amazing in my life since then has come from this industry.”

Coastal Property Management Director Kym Atherton told the audience that her major “I can’t” moment happened 13 years ago, when she was mum to a three-year-old and a four-month-old. Husband Dane wanted to open a real estate office, with Kym to run the property management department.

Working through her personal anguish of returning to an industry sector that she had previously fled “in a veil of tears”, Kym found a way to thrive as the independent business grew to more than 100 staff and over $2 billion worth of annual sales. 

“The concept of ‘oh, you can do property management’ was just not such a great idea, in my opinion,” Kym said.

“The ‘can’ that I eventually found was… I could help the property managers be in an environment that they could succeed in, because I failed. 

“So I was always – be the boss that you needed when you were 20, be the boss that you needed when you were 25. Others in the industry have got wonderful stories of mentorship and the person that was there to guide them. I didn’t have that.

“My property managers loved that I didn’t know everything. But I just made everything else ok for them to want to come back and do it the next day, and want to come back and do it the next week, and the next month and next year.”

Nelson Alexander Real Estate Partner Charlie Barham described himself as an enormous overthinker and catastrophiser, explaining that he was capable of having an “I can’t” moment every half hour.

“Learning to be okay with that has been a really big step forward for me,” Charlie said. 

“We work in an industry with such high performers and, as a more junior sort of operator, feeling intimidation by that is natural. I’ve been able to shift into taking motivation from that; and also reflecting that everything that I feel I’ve achieved – personally or professionally – has always been doing something that is playing outside of my comfort zone. 

“And when you overcome whatever that limitation may be, your comfort zone gets bigger and it’s all of a sudden not a limitation.”

Charlie said that he had found it helpful to break down challenging or confronting situations into smaller tasks.

“I was amazing at writing goals,” he said. “Every year I’d open my notebook, I’d write my goals, I’d shut my notebook. Twelve months later I’d open it and I’d write the same thing,” he said. 

“Handling situations that might be challenging or confronting, for me I find really breaking them down and having a really clear plan in place or a process helps you with that.” 

Jelena said that it was important not to listen to “outside noise”.

“Self worth is your decision. It’s not a group decision!” she said.

“And self-belief is massive. I really believe that you have to really believe in yourself to be able to get through the hardest moments.

“Vulnerability has allowed me to find my voice, it has saved my life.”