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“It Takes Courage To Be Vulnerable” 5 Leadership Lessons With Author and Adventurepreneur Sue Hollis

“For years I saw vulnerability as a weakness. I didn’t need anyone’s help, and I refused to show my true self believing that being open to…


“For years I saw vulnerability as a weakness. I didn’t need anyone’s help, and I refused to show my true self believing that being open to people would put me under attack. Oh how wrong I was. It takes courage to be vulnerable. But as a CEO, and as a writer, it’s one of the greatest opportunities you can give people. Your ability to ask for help is a gift — people treasure the chance to come to your assistance. It helps them feel valued and needed. And in being vulnerable in your writing, you strip away your persona, and enable your authentic self to emerge-and it’s only then that your experiences can help people grow.”


I had the pleasure of interviewing Sue Hollis, who was a senior executive with global airlines, went on to create a $250m company, and was voted one of the Top 10 Australian Women entrepreneurs. After an 11,000 mile solo self-discovery motorbike journey through the US, she is now an adventurepreneur, author, coach, motivator and serial adrenaline junkie! Sue is the author of the new book, Riding Raw.

Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?

Thank you! I’m a coach and work by helping people realise their true potential, I’m an adventurepreneur — chasing adventures in life and business, I’m a motivator, and I’m a spiritual guide.

I’ve also been very lost.

Previously, I’d been a corporate high-flyer working for global airlines, I’d then braved the wild world of entrepreneurship building a multi-million dollar business — I had a beautiful family, incredible financial security, and lived an epic life — a life of adventure and adrenaline. Lots of adrenaline — racing motorbikes, undertaking wild adventures, running marathons, diving with sharks, heli skiing off glaciers…yep, on the outside I had it all.

….and then it all fell apart…..or more accurately — I fell apart.

Because on the inside, I was running scared. I never felt I was enough….and when I combined that with believing I was a fraud — that everything I’d achieved was an illusion that could get taken away in a heartbeat….well, that wasn’t going to end well.

When you’re pushing hard seeking external validation, desperate for the next success, never breathing and continually running from yourself…eventually disaster will strike.

And it did — big time. Not so slowly my perfect life began to unravel, until it finally all came crashing down. I was sick, broken and empty…and so I quit — I quit the life I knew.

I needed space to heal — and so I rode — I embarked on an 11,000 mile solo through North America on a 1000cc superbike called Voodoo. I rode to reconnect with myself — to find the soul and spirit behind the success and to discover what it really means to live a life of purpose. I had no plan, no back-up, no strategy — other than just to ride until I found the answers.

Through adventures on glaciers, surviving monsoons, encounters with ferocious wildlife and cowboys (was that the same thing?) I learnt about me. I learnt to let go, to change my story, to step out of fear and to finally connect with the person I was meant to be. It was a journey of self discovery, of transformation, and of healing. It was my journey from empty to full.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

When I worked for Qantas, I had the amazing honour of a private meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was incredibly intimidated at meeting this inspirational man — I held him in such awe.

But as I sat in nervously in front of him, he reached forward and held both my hands…and with a beautiful twinkle in his eye and the cheekiest of grins he whispered, “Let’s gossip”. Let’s gossip? With the Dalai Lama — are you serious?

He was and we did! Together we laughed as he told me stories about his life in India, and “escaping” from his minders at night to walk the streets and experience the real world. He said the trouble he got into when they found him was worth it!

Compassion, joy and pure love just radiated from him. As he gave me a farewell hug, he reminded me to “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Words I continue to try to live by to this day.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

After years in the corporate world, I finally believe I’ve found my purpose — to be a Communicator. The lessons that I’ve learnt in business and in life, and the growth I experienced on my solo motorbike journey of self-discovery and reclamation, have led me to understand that my purpose (and my most exciting current project), is to create a platform where I can share my lessons and my experience to help others be their most fulfilled selves.

To that point, I’m starting up a new online coaching practice, I’m setting up a mentoring programme for young women in Whistler British Columbia called MummaMentor — helping the many transient young woman working in a ski resort who lack the support and guidance of family, I’m working with local communities to offer free guidance and counselling services, and I’m stepping onto the Board of a company working with kids with learning disabilities.

Oh…and I’m planning the next big adventure…a solo round-the-world bike tour in 2020!


Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

One of the people in history that inspires me the most is Rosa Parks. She was an ordinary woman that had the courage to undertake an extraordinary action — and in her simple act of defiance and bravery, she changed America and the world.

I am in also in awe of Archbishop Desmond Tutu — for his incredibility ability to forgive the unforgivable.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

One of my core values is Growth and Learning — I’m passionate about being the best version of myself that I can be — and that makes a ferocious reader, inhaling everything I can to squeeze knowledge and insight into my consciousness!

My favourite authors include Brené Brown, Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coelho, Simon Sinek — with one of my all-time most loved books being “The Book of Joy” — by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu — no surprise there!


How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

If there’s one core message in my writing, it’s that it’s great to celebrate head success, but to be truly happy, it’s critical to embrace heart success.

There’s nothing wrong with achieving head success — career goals, financial security, achievements, accolades, prestige — so long as it doesn’t define us. If achievement becomes our only measure of success, it will never be enough. We will never be enough.

It’s heart success that creates fulfilment — it’s about celebrating the simple, stepping into mindfulness, building a practice of gratitude and creating the space to discover who we’re really meant to be. It’s about living a life of purpose and potential.

That’s true success — and if, through my writing, people are able to embrace that message, then I know I’ve made an impact.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

They say it’s really easy to be an author…you just cut your wrists and bleed all over the page! And yep — that’s what it takes. There’s no point writing unless you are going to be truthful with yourself and with your audience. If you’re not in your integrity when you write, your readers will spot it a mile away. Being vulnerable and exposing yourself takes incredible courage, but it’s what makes you relatable — so be brave, be honest, and be scared!

When I start, I write what Brené Brown calls an SFD — a Shitty First Draft. Everything goes down without censorship or second guessing (much to the later frustration of my editors!!). I never review my work as I go — I just keep writing until it’s all out…and only then do I go back and edit.

And there will be times when you walk around in circles — with tears pouring down your face saying “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this”…but you can. Just show up every day, be consistent and above all — write!


You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One of the greatest lessons I learnt on my journey — was that we are all connected. We are all one. Despite our external differences, we all want the same thing — we want to connect, to be connected and to matter — we all want to feel like we make a difference.

After having spent years as a solo player — as a warrior defending myself from the outside world — the power of connection I experienced on my journey gave me more joy than I ever thought possible -whether it was a chance encounter at a gas station, the kindness of a stranger, or an unexpected helping hand. Putting the energy out there to connect with people gave me at least double the energy back in return.

If I could start a movement — it would be a movement of Connectivity — bringing people together to listen, share stories, and engage in conversation to relinquish judgement and remove barriers. We’re all one after all.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. No matter what your experience, ask not what’s happening to you but for you.

So many times we look at our experiences — particularly the negative ones, and wonder why things are happening to us? What have we done to deserve such bad luck?

When we change the “to” into a “for”, our experiences take on a whole new meaning. There are no coincidences — we’re given experiences for a reason, and in that reason there’s always a lesson to be learnt.

2. Start before you’re ready — you’re never ready.

We spend so much time procrastinating — trying to make sure everything is perfect before we step into a new adventure or take a risk. Be brave! It will never be perfect. You will never be ready. You will never have all the answers. There will always be unknown– but that’s where the magic happens!

3. There is no such thing as work/life balance.

For years I desperately struggled trying to balance my work with raising two young sons, and in trying to create this fictitious phenomena called “balance”, I realised I was being average at both roles. When you’re trying to create something exceptional — there will be times when you have to devote everything you’ve got to just one task.

And that’s OK. When the task is over — realign your priorities and devote time to the other areas of your life. I look for harmony now instead of balance, and I have a simple mantra that holds me accountable: “Be where your feet are”. Wherever my feet are has my complete focus and attention, and I am totally present in that place- no matter where that place is!

4. It’s OK to be vulnerable

For years I saw vulnerability as a weakness. I didn’t need anyone’s help, and I refused to show my true self believing that being open to people would put me under attack.

Oh how wrong I was. It takes courage to be vulnerable. But as a CEO, and as a writer, it’s one of the greatest opportunities you can give people. Your ability to ask for help is a gift — people treasure the chance to come to your assistance. It helps them feel valued and needed. And in being vulnerable in your writing, you strip away your persona, and enable your authentic self to emerge-and it’s only then that your experiences can help people grow.

5. You’re more than enough

I spent years never being satisfied — I never felt enough — never smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough, thin enough…the list just went on and on…aided by the voice in my head that become my harshest critic! And it never stopped. The energy it took trying to compete with myself and with others was breathtakingly destructive.

It took me years — and hours on the bike — to realise that I am perfect — just as I am — warts and all. I am enough — in fact I am more than enough!

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I would love the opportunity to meet Alex Honnold — the first climber to free-solo Yosemite’s 3,000 foot El Capitan wall For all his audacious achievements, he is humble and self-effacing, with a “no big deal” approach to one of the most unforgiving and death defying sports in the world.

I’d love to spend time with him to understand what it takes to have the confidence, focus and complete commitment to climb and put his life on the line as he appears to do so effortlessly.


If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.

Originally published at medium.com

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