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What do you do when life challenges you? Greater Good Collective Alumni, Alina Racu, has faced her fair share of life challenges. From having to prove her worth in a male-dominated industry to moving halfway across the world leaving her family and friends behind, she knows a thing or two about overcoming challenges, and not only surviving, but thriving!

According to Alina, the most important things you can do is create a community, believe in yourself, read books and learn from others, and create positive habits. For her, one of her positive habits is having three non-negotiables! These are: exercise, have daily conversations with friends and family, and fuel her creative side by taking photos. All of this helps her become more resilient and become a better person and leader.

Meet Alina in her own words….

Growing up in Romania

When I was 5, I saw a few photos from Australia that my father had received from his best mate, who had escaped from a communist country and emigrated to Melbourne. Even though I was very young then, the images stayed with me – modern cities, summer in December and free, smiling, relaxed people gathered on the beach. I grew up in a modest family surrounded by love and a sense of making the best of what we had, sharing, and caring for others even though we did not have much. My parents were engineers, and my mom was a pioneer in Consulting providing advisory for Metro rail and subway stations. She was and always will be my inspiration and the role model of true resilience. Being where I am now and experiencing what I saw in those images over 30 years ago is an incredible feeling.

Bucharest, the capital of Romania, a vivid city that combines an old culture with a new and modern lifestyle, is one of my home cities. During my school years and sometimes going through tough times due to a transition from communism to democracy, I learned how to sustain myself. I discovered the first signs of an aspiring entrepreneur in me. My father worked for a cosmetic company and I spent all my school allowance buying cosmetic products at a discount and reselling them with a small margin to have pocket money and join my friends on school trips or other youth activities.

Passionate about art and science, I decided to apply for an engineering degree and pursue my curiosity about how things were made. Being accepted to one of the best Engineering Universities in Romania, Polytechnic University in Bucharest, I was on my path to becoming an industrial mechanical engineer.

In the meantime, I built a strong team working with Avon Cosmetics as a young sales coordinator. This role allowed me to pay for my university fees and start travelling. I enrolled in a local MBA program while starting up a lounge bar with some of my friends and being full-time employed in the oil and gas industry. Pushing myself out of my limits, I managed to finish five years of uni and two years of Masters on time. We sold the club at a reasonable price one year after we started.

A few years later, I was walking in a small village along the Danube, working as the senior planner for a highway construction project. I remembered my dream to live in Australia. One night I made my big decision, and I applied for a job in Perth via LinkedIn. The timing was very intuitive, as the whole Romanian project ceased due to some delayed payments. The site team had been made redundant, and I encountered the effects of a mass termination. I was very fortunate to be accepted for the job in Perth in my dream country. After resigning on a Friday, I started my new journey the following Monday morning, working for a project services company in Perth.

My life packed in 23 kg and with an invisible baggage of hopes. The most challenging moment I had to overcome was leaving my family and friends behind and dealing with homesickness. My new purpose was to enjoy the ride, start fresh in a new world and contribute to lifting others as I was given the gift to take this leap.

Tell us about an organisation you’re involved with and what you’ve learnt about creating positive change?

My friends had told me that I have the power to change, inspire and make an impact in other people’s lives. I started a blog and a Facebook Page when I arrived in Australia to connect with my community from Romania, people that I knew or got to know later. I have established a new community of young professional Romanians in Australia. Some were inspired by the stories I shared, my experiences, and the pictures I published. I wanted to do the same thing that inspired me a while ago— having dreams and making them happen.

I learned that being good to myself allows me to be of service to others. I came across 100 Women in 2014, and I knew that little by little, togetherness could create ripple effects of empowering women and girls worldwide. Education is the crucial element that propels us safely and enables us to evolve as global citizens. I became a member and contributor for 100 Women, Future Bayswater, and The Platform and support a few other organisations related with a social impact focus, empowering people and communities.

What is an essential leadership lesson you’ve learnt along the way?

Believe in your gifts. We are all blessed with gifts that we can offer to the world. Maybe at times, we are unaware of these. However, with determination, we can listen to our calling. I thought this was just a saying, but with years and experience, I realised that we have had this calling since early childhood.

I did an exercise once, asking the participants to ask their family to remember a play activity they most liked doing between 7 and 13 years old. This simple exercise gave me many clues on my natural talents and calling.

I identified my style as transformational leadership, as I believe each of us has potential, and it only takes a little faith in ourselves to demonstrate our genuine authenticity. As women, we tend to doubt our abilities, to be at 100% even before we start or apply for a new role. My best lesson is to take that leap, act along the way, and improve as you go. The leader is within us.

Tell us about a mistake or a failure that’s helped you understand something about leadership or making an impact?

Overthinking!

Going down the rabbit hole and giving in to the sense of not being good enough or feeling that I am an impostor are potential feelings of “I failed” that I overcome.

I put my start-up on hold at the start of the pandemic just because it was too complex to manage and adjust to a new situation and to deliver a complex new piece of work in my daily management consultancy role. I felt that I failed my co-founder, the community that expected me to deploy this awesome project, and that I had fallen for not pushing myself more.

It wasn’t a failure, just a detour! We could learn from these challenging times and make the same “impact” that I dreamt of on a bigger scale, in my circle, workplace, and with the organisations I work with. All the start-up lessons, accepting risk and challenges, and being adaptable helped me impact how I lead – with the intent that others in my team and network can grow and become changemakers.

Tell us about a moment when you were brave and why. What do you learn?

I’ve always needed to prove myself. Prove my worth. From my uni years to being a female engineer in a male-dominated field, from having an accent in an English-speaking country.

I recall a few key moments when I have stepped in and spoken up, and all those instances are related to authorities – management or teachers. I remembered being brave and speaking up for myself, standing up for the truth. I learnt not to let anyone take advantage, judging a book by its cover. My first memory was with my tribology professor at uni, who asked me to repeat the exam only after finishing the test, as he did not believe that I was the one writing the paper, based on my candid look, being a woman. He insinuated to become an actress and leave the mechanical trade. I proved him wrong with my knowledge. He never apologised. It left me with a precious takeaway: belief in myself.

What reflective practices help you stay resilient?

I learned the power of good habits and am applying the rule of three non-negotiable. For me, it’s the following. 1. Exercise, in any form, walks, running, gym, yoga, swimming, whatever is closer and available. The run, cycling, long walks or yoga and meditation help me to reflect and gain perspective. 2. Daily conversations with family or a close friend. 3. Taking photos, which fuels my creative side.

They are all related to creating a timeline, from writing emails – letters – a kind of journaling and photography associated with the snippet of our lives. Knowing where we started and how far we got, acknowledging the people we have in our lives, and the help they provide builds my resilience—the power of choice to create an extraordinary life and contribute to others.

What habits, mindsets or behaviours help you be the best person you can be?

Being present is the best present. That’s one of my core values. Mediation practices, short moments of pausing in the day, active listening and being non-reactive are helping me be the best person I can be.

The state of being lost in the process and yet self-aware is pure joy. I am applying my photographic principle: capture and seize the moment now, as there is no exact moment. For me living fully is accepting what is in front of us. Maybe that’s a legacy from my mom, to stop and notice the sky and the leaves and take in the beauty around us even when life throws some challenges.

What’s the best book you’ve read that’s helped you in your leadership journey?

One book that stands out for me, and was recommended in the Greater Good Collective by Alicia, is The Art of Possibility. I cannot recommend this book enough. The art of being a conductor is intertwined with the guidance of a therapist. The book invites us on a journey of possibilities and a positive outline of life while seeing the best in everyone.

What was your first step to building leadership or creating change?

Seven years ago, after I lost one of the most precious people in my life, I found myself feeling isolated and experiencing depression. I felt alone. I did not have a support group.
I relocated temporarily to London and was nourished by my best friends in Europe. I gained perspective and overcame the dark times.

I returned to Perth, and I got back into consultancy to work for a WA community-related client. Outside of my full-time professional career in project controls, I started to search to connect with others and build a support network in Perth. I attended different seminars, workshops and entrepreneurial networking events and connected with people with the same motivational drivers as mine: we can make a difference. We can change the world, one ripple at a time.

With relentless optimism, enthusiasm, and hard work, I started building my community and accepting the support and help from different encounters in my journey. I started getting closer to putting my plans in place to be a changemaker.

While developing a marketplace app called LocalTribe.io it has brought me closer to multiple communities with a common denominator: social impact! Throughout this journey, I learned the grit one needs to build a start-up, how much effort is required to develop a technology app, how to create communities, and how collective effort and volunteering are enablers for a sense of purpose and belonging. Leadership is a journey that I started a long time ago, and I continue learning and improving my skills.

How do you take care of yourself?

Yoga practice has taught me to be in tune with my senses and notice when I overstep my healthy boundaries. I love living a healthy lifestyle and staying hungry for knowledge, and I treasure warm heart connections. There is a secret formula I have thought of since I was a child: when you feel down, go outside and look after the ones needing more help. This approach mirrors my own needs and gives me perspective and a sense of moving forward no matter what.

What’s next for you?

I had my first photo exhibition #equanimity in Nov 2022 and I just restarted my travels. Planning my next photo exhibition and launching my first book for children. There is much to learn from other cultures while we travel, and bring home those insights to create an inclusive and diverse workplace and communities where we support each other as a collective.

I plan to resume my startup in a new format, with its timeless focus on the circular economy.

My aim is to continue to inspire and stay inspired by thought leaders, empower others, especially women, and continue the positive ripple effects. We all can leave our mark, it’s our choice to go for a positive impact.

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The world needs more purpose-driven people. But where do you start? This inspiring guide will give you powerful insights to find and refine your own purpose in life.

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