the value of advice with empathy

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Member Education Manager Sharon Johnston has a personal perspective on the challenges that face many HESTA members

 

Sharon Johnston was a stay-at-home mum with two small children when her marriage broke down. She was faced with re-entering the workforce in order to keep a roof over her head.

“I meet members, mainly women, who are now where I once was,” says Sharon. “I totally understand the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness that they feel because I have been there too. That utter despondency of feeling like they have no other options and that the climb out of disparity is too arduous and demanding to walk that walk alone.”

Post-divorce, keeping her head above water was Sharon’s short-term goal. Becoming financially independent was the dream. She got a job as a Financial Planning Assistant at a bank and gained her Advanced Diploma in Financial Planning. She then moved into superannuation at a telecommunications company where she saw the difference one person can make. “The only trouble was that I was servicing people on high incomes with high balances, and that wasn’t where I wanted my focus.

“I have been a Member Education Manager at HESTA for over seven years now. I love my job because HESTA gives me the opportunity to make a difference, to educate, to assist and to walk away knowing I have left someone in a much better position and mood than when I first encountered them,” says Sharon.

"I love my job because HESTA gives me the opportunity to make a difference"

When life experience matters

“I met with an older member recently who is going through a divorce. She wasn’t sure if she would have enough money to survive in retirement, and was really worried she would be struggling for the rest of her life. That’s when the tears started… she felt helpless, like she had limited choices and that all her efforts up to this point were fruitless,” says Sharon.

Sharon’s message to the member was to stop looking at the top of Mt Everest as the ultimate goal, and to only look as far as the next stage.

“She cried, I hugged and comforted her. I told her about my divorce, the struggles and the triumphs and how setting small achievable goals really does give you the confidence to rise from the ashes and move forward.

“I expressed that she needs to be kind to herself and also that help is around, once she is ready for it. I told her that from a super perspective, we’ve got her back - we can look at her financial situation after settlement and help with her current situation, where she wants to be and how we can do the best to get her there.

“By the end of the meeting there was laughter. She walked away with a smile and a gorgeous wave of gratitude,” says Sharon.

 

Having choice is the key

Sharon’s philosophy is that having choice is the key to taking your life in the direction you want it to go. “I have a daughter who is a single parent and I would like to think, as I have done with her, that I can give someone the power to choose the direction their life can take.

“Doing nothing has a consequence. Doing something also has a consequence. It’s a choice,” says Sharon.

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