Images: Chlöe Swarbrick / Helen Clark / Heather du Plessis-Allan / Dame Susan Devoy
Women are creatures of wisdom. Call it intuition, experience, insight, a hunch, whatever… the world would be a better place if women were listened to more frequently. To mark International Women’s Day, we’ve gathered together a collection of wisdom from Kiwi women from different walks of life. Today, we continue the series with former Prime Minister and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick and journalist Heather du Plessis-Allan
What’s the one piece of wisdom that has been the most valuable to you throughout your life?
Helen Clark: Believe in yourself – if you don’t, you can’t expect others to believe in you.
Dame Susan Devoy: My dad said, “Never forget where you came from and never forget the people who have helped you along the way”.
Heather du Plessis-Allan: Be kind to other people. It’s something my husband told me ten years ago, and it’s something he shows me every day. He’s possibly the kindest person I know (even though he still has his moments). He gives me a right telling off from time to time. It’s a work in progress. Now that it’s been pointed out to me, I see how often we could all be kinder to each other.
Chlöe Swarbrick: When I was a kid, I was practising my first-ever speech for primary school – on some classic precocious subject like ‘the double standards between kids and adults’ – with my dad as my sounding board. He offered me the enduring and simple advice that “different people see things differently,” that the world basically is experienced subjectively, and it’s important to remember that when you’re speaking to them, let alone trying to convince them of something.
What has been your greatest challenge, and how have you overcome it?
Heather du Plessis-Allan: Putting life before work.
I made a decision 14 months ago to treat myself to a year off work. The right call for me personally. A blimmin risky call professionally. There were times when I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision.
I filled that year with university, exercise, friends and alcohol. It showed me life is more than work and we should define ourselves by more than that. I got through the self-doubt by spending time with the people I love. Lame stuff like that actually works.
Helen Clark: Undoubtedly surviving as Leader of the Opposition for six years in order to become Prime Minister was the greatest challenge I ever faced. No woman had held [the role of Leader of the Opposition] before, and in the early years I was in that position, there was little understanding of how a woman would perform as Prime Minister.
Dame Susan Devoy: There have been numerous challenges along the way and in that moment every one seems like the hardest or the greatest.
Undoubtedly raising four sons has been challenging and rewarding. It’s a lifelong mission to ensure I have done my best to ensure they become good men and realise their potential. It’s been a real juggling act at times and none more so than when I took up this role as Race Relations Commissioner. There was no doubt this impacted on my own life but we have all grown through the experience.
Chlöe Swarbrick: I’ve been really lucky to have grown up with supportive family members, to have got a great education, and ended up where I have. It’s difficult to pinpoint one single ‘greatest challenge’, as with life I think it’s often an accumulation of a whole lot of the ‘smaller’ things that result in something seeming insurmountable.
To choose one thing that’s hopefully relevant and somewhat relatable, it’d be the assumptions made about who I was, my background, and the prejudice towards my “youth” when I entered politics. Given all the confirmation biases and the rest at play, I don’t know if I’ll ever overcome the perspectives some have about me, but I’m just focused on doing my homework and getting the job done.
If there were one piece of advice you could give your younger self, what would it be and why?
Helen Clark: Ignore all naysayers – which I generally did.
Chlöe Swarbrick: There’s always another way to do things.
Heather du Plessis-Allan: Who cares what other people think of you? Who actually cares? Haters gonna hate. Even the Pope has haters and what the hell has he done to them? So, forget about them. Maybe even try having a bit of fun with them.
Plus, no one has a monopoly on the truth. Own your own truth.
Dame Susan Devoy: Despite what you think, you won’t always be right… but always remember to do the right thing.
What would you like your legacy to be?
Dame Susan Devoy: I will be or am content in knowing that whatever I did, I gave it my all. My sporting legacy speaks for itself but hopefully people will remember me for being courageous and giving others the courage to speak up too.
Heather du Plessis-Allan: Getting a firearms license.
Really, it’s the hope of being remembered as kind and promoting kindness.
What a hippy.
Chlöe Swarbrick: I don’t really mind being ‘remembered’ or not. I’d just like to do the best that I can while I’m here.
Helen Clark: To have encouraged New Zealand women and girls to believe that they can follow their dreams and be whatever they want to be.Support Villainesse