Attention all Australian undergraduates aged 18–28 currently studying at Australian Universities: Another year has rolled over and I’m sure many of you are starting to set your sights on illustrious academic goals for this year. Well, you’ve come to the right place, because the New Colombo Plan scholarship program is your one-stop shop for goal setting over the next year. Trust me, it will change your life forever and it will be the most rewarding intellectual challenge that you will face as an undergraduate student, so why not put your best foot forward and put your hat in the ring to be a 2019 New Colombo Plan scholar!
Recently, I was having a discussion with PwC Japan Scholar Julian Vidal and the top-ranked South Korea Scholar Myles Kreis. We talked about our journeys from internal university applications to receiving our scholarship certificates from Julie Bishop at Parliament house. We all took different paths to achieve our New Colombo Plan scholarship and we all have individual tips that we want to share based on our experiences. Collectively, we intend to share our nuggets of gold in support of you embarking on your own New Colombo Plan application journeys this year and beyond.
Understand your career vision and let your vision inform your New Colombo Plan scholarship application, rather than letting your New Colombo Plan scholarship application inform your career vision. It’s all about the vision.
From my personal experience, the earlier you start planning your New Colombo Plan application, the better your chances are to achieve an authentic, well thought-out, clearly demonstrated and executed New Colombo Plan application. I know this because I’ve done the application twice. That’s right, I’d previously applied for the New Colombo Plan scholarship to China in 2015 and I missed out in the final interview (I’ll talk more about this later). The key to achieving a gold standard application is self-awareness. I’m a deep thinker and in some respects, it can be my downfall, but it can also be my biggest strength. The downside is that it slows my decision-making process and the upside is that I have a strong self-awareness of the factors that are important to me when I make a decision.
For example, in January last year, as I’ve documented in my previous article, I was down in the dumps after my last-ditch effort at a career in sport. I was expected to graduate with my dual degree in Law and Business (Accounting) in December 2017 and I had received an offer to start a role in analytics strategy consulting at Deloitte Australia in Brisbane. At the time, I was planning to complete my degrees in December 2017 and commence my role at Deloitte in March 2018. Except, when making the decision, I knew that I had twelve months to work with and that I wouldn’t be content in going through the motions until I started at Deloitte in March. It’s just not in my DNA. I needed another challenge and I needed another chance to redeem myself in my own eyes. In January 2016, I was deciding between pursuing a rugby career for one last time or pursuing the New Colombo Plan scholarship for a consecutive year. I figured that there would be no way to do both and I knew that rugby was time stamped, so I put my all into it for the next year. In January 2017, I decided to let my rugby dream go and the New Colombo Plan scholarship was an equally challenging intellectual pursuit that I still had the time and the motivation to pursue before I graduated.
I talked with my girlfriend about how I was feeling and she gave me the confidence to go after the New Colombo Plan program one last time. Within a week, I was meeting with the partner of the Performance team at Deloitte and she agreed to initially push back my start date until July, so that I could pursue this goal. I’d also revoked advanced standing on my degrees and had three subjects remaining to complete a semester abroad in first semester 2018. I had a decision to make at the start of the year and my heightened self-awareness allowed me to consider all my personal factors that were at play. I knew that I needed to redeem myself by overcoming the 2015 New Colombo Plan and 2016 rugby failures. My self-awareness had allowed me to see the opportunity before me and I took it with both hands. It’s this same heightened self-awareness that I took into constructing my application and most importantly, my vision for my future.
The beauty of the New Colombo Plan program is that it forces you to think about your future two, five and 10 years down the line. It forces you to create a vision for yourself. However, the most valuable thing is that through the New Colombo Plan application process, your vision is constantly recreated and by the end of the process you’ve come leaps and bounds from where you began. The New Colombo Plan program in 2015 helped me to identify that I still had aspirations to play a sport. It helped me to narrow in on the visions that I had for my future and because it was early on in my program I had time to test them all before graduation. If done correctly, you too can create a vision that will inform your New Colombo Plan program application and you can start to take positive steps in the right direction to find your path in the world. In my opinion, the goal of the New Colombo Plan application should be to have a better understanding of your vision for the future, because without that you will not be in a position to test your vision in the Indo-Pacific on a New Colombo Plan scholarship.
My vision was to be a founding CEO of a startup, venture capitalist, and philanthropist within the next 10 years. I used this vision to inform my New Colombo Plan application and because of my self-awareness, I was able to source relevant opportunities. I knew what I wanted from my New Colombo Plan program. I wanted to have the opportunity to test this vision in Southeast Asia. It gave me the context to go out and have discussions with people within the startup ecosystem in Brisbane. It led me to find opportunities including working in operations management and corporate development on a New Colombo Plan scholarship in Bangkok, Thailand. My vision informed my New Colombo Plan application and allowed me to pursue work experience in areas that were relevant to the direction that I wanted to take in life. For me and for my interview panel, this signaled that I was ready to take on the New Colombo Plan program.
My vision took me the best part of three years to reach and my vision will continue to be an iterative working progress. In my view, the sooner you start working on your vision for life, then the sooner you’ll authentically have a clear vision that the New Colombo Plan scholarship program will logically fit into moving forward. Thus, my first tip for the New Colombo Plan application process is unrelated to the specific application criteria and is about self-discovery, self-awareness and a life vision that can be tested. To determine your vision requires you to be self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. It’s the process of looking at yourself, looking at what you’ve done, looking at what you’re about to do and looking forward to what you want to be doing in the future. What I’m getting at is that you need to have the self-awareness of where you want to go first to understand why the New Colombo Plan scholarship is the missing piece to your career puzzle. It doesn’t work when you do it the other way around. At least, not from my experiences. However, don’t let this be a deterrent from applying. If anything, you should apply sooner rather than later and see it as an opportunity to accelerate the development of your vision. You don’t need to know exactly where you want to go. You just need to have an idea that is genuine and test it through this application process. Trust me. It will take you on a journey of self-discovery.
My first New Colombo Plan application involved me trying to walk before I could crawl. I hadn’t laid the foundation by testing my vision and understanding the future I wanted for myself. I’d naively skipped that step and I got found out very quickly in my final interview. Even if you don’t get found out, in my opinion, you won’t be ready to get the best out of the program to propel yourself into your future dream role. Once again, don’t see this as a deterrent from applying for the scholarship. See this as a word of advice to create a vision, test your vision and then put forward your vision to inform your New Colombo Plan program. Be authentic in your approach to your vision (For example, don’t tell the interview panel what you think they want to hear and instead be the real you no matter what) and be resilient in your pursuit of your vision and the program, regardless of the outcome.
I’m so thankful that I did get found out when I first applied because my interview panel provided me with great advice to help further narrow my career vision. The panel basically advised me that I hadn’t tested out and validated what I wanted to do with my life and thus, was not able to focus on how the New Colombo Plan program fitted into my bigger career picture. I stepped away for two years and I laid the foundations by testing every idea of what I thought I wanted to do for a career in my life. I had six different ideas for visions, I would prioritise the one I thought I wanted the most or that was time stamped and I would test it to see if I had the ability to execute on the vision. I would test it by throwing myself into the deep end and giving it everything I had to maximise my potential. I would also test my vision by finding people who were doing what my end vision was and talking to them about their genuine experiences in that position.
By the start of 2017, I had tested my vision as a professional rugby sevens player and I had maximised my potential. I didn’t have the injury-proof body for it and more importantly, I wasn’t prepared to play through my injuries, which unfortunately is what it takes to play professional sport sometimes. I had also tested my vision as a professional actor. I’d provided myself with an opportunity to test my ability by applying for a National Institute of Dramatic Art position in their prestigious Bachelor of Fine Arts program. I’d received coaching and I practiced into the early mornings for months during the university semester, to give myself the best possible chance for success. I thought that, if I was selected, then that would mean that I’d passed the hurdle that I needed to pass to properly test the vision. It turned out that I didn’t have the dramatical nuances to make the final selection, but I was the only person to receive feedback from my audition cohort and was asked to apply again in future years. For me, this was a win and I enjoyed the thrill of applying so much that I may just pursue this vision in some way shape or form in the future, but I realised through testing it that I had maximised my potential at this point in time. This left me with my vision of being a startup founder, venture capitalist, and philanthropist.
I knew that I wanted to be part of the creation of a great business and I wanted to understand every aspect of that process. I wanted to understand how to build businesses from the start when you’re creating something completely new until the end when you’re exiting as an acquisition target or maintaining sustainable business growth. I wanted to know how to invest in businesses at every stage of their lifecycle and help grow them in an advisory role. I also wanted to know how to leverage a successful business and profile to make a large-scale sustainable philanthropic difference in the world. I knew this because I’d tested all my other visions out and this was the one that made the most sense. Your vision doesn’t need to be specific yet and it does not need to be justified. It just needs to be testable, both internally through self-awareness, through genuine external advisers, and through the New Colombo Plan program. Dream as big as you can possibly dream. Listen to those subconscious thoughts that you keep pushing deep down inside you because you’re too afraid of taking the risk (I’ve been there). Who cares what anyone else thinks. Find your vision and your news article explaining what you’ve done ten years from now (thank you, Mark Sowerby, for that one). Workbackwards from that vision and utilise genuine people as your testing mechanism to iterate your vision as you go and to help you realise your vision.
Also, utilise your self-awareness to be realistic with yourself and understand whether you can execute your vision. This doesn’t mean giving up when things get tough; it means being smart about where you place your precious energy going forward to make sure your strengths align with the vision you are trying to execute. Thus, enabling you to maximise your career potential. I didn’t start the year saying I want to work in operations management and corporate development in a start-up in Bangkok, Thailand. I had a vision that I wanted to be a start-up founder, venture capitalist, and philanthropist over the course of my entire career life, which could span 80 years if all goes to plan (touch wood).
I listened to my inner ambitious self that I’d been ignoring since I’d failed at sport. I came back to my understanding of myself and realised that the truth is that you won’t get anywhere without dreaming big and having an ambitious vision about where you want to be in the future. Find your inner ambitious self in January, listen to it leading up to the next steps of your application and continue to test it at every possible chance that you get this year and beyond. Don’t get caught up in what other people would think about you and how people would view you if you chose that vision. A perfect career vision is not going to fall in your lap one day and miraculously be a perfect fit for you. You’re going to have to work for it and it will be worth it to maximise your potential.
See the New Colombo Plan scholarship application as an opportunity to test your vision. No matter what happens you will grow from the experience. You will not regret applying — even if you do miss out at the final interview stage. Trust me, you’re going to be better for it because you’ll be on a path to inner happiness and a career that you will absolutely love. Take the plunge. Don’t look back. Put a picture of the New Colombo Plan scholarship recipients at this year’s awards night on your vision board and picture yourself in that photo at the end of this year. Don’t let another moment waste and start testing your vision for your life now. Take some time to really work hard on this step and if you have questions or ideas that you want to run by me, then find me on social media and send me a message. I’m more than happy to help. Julian Vidal will be sending out his first tip soon, so keep your eyes out and congratulations for taking the time to even think about taking a step that will change your life forever. Understand yourself, listen to yourself, understand your potential visions and test your visions. Your vision will inform your New Colombo Plan scholarship application — not the other way around. It’s all about the vision.
Read Liam’s follow-up blog: Hit the pavement!