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Shelby AUSTIN'99 (left) told students she overcame her fear of failure, persisted in her enthusiasm for her ideas, trusted her intuition and ignored critics and naysayers.
October 20, 2015
On Being Resilient
Shelby AUSTIN'99 grew up knowing exactly what she was going to be when she grew up.

"I was going to be lawyer," she told the attentive audience at Installation on October 9.

Shelby was invited—as an inspirational alumna—to address the school's incoming leaders, including Prefects, Clan Chieftains and Club Heads. At Installation, these leaders are acknowledged and celebrated for the roles they will play in creating a positive Branksome experience for their peers throughout the coming year.

A successful lawyer and entrepreneur, Shelby spoke of her resilience, persistence and flexibility in pursuing her professional goals.

She described the focus and determination that initially led her to achieving her aim of becoming a partner at one of the big Bay Street firms.

While she loved almost everything about her work—the complex legal problems, the time in court, and working with some of the largest and most exciting business in the country—she had a gut feeling that the way the legal profession operated was ripe for "a major disruption," and she was looking for an opportunity to play a small part in the change.

This kernel of an idea led Shelby to leave her comfort zone, quit her job and start a new company—ATD Legal Services—a trendsetting Toronto law firm with a mandate to help clients lower their legal bills.

In Shelby's engaging address to students and families, she spoke openly about having learnt from her own, numerous failures, seeing them as an essential part of the journey of every successful entrepreneur. Although many people tried to discourage her from stepping out of her comfort zone, her own vision and determination led her to persist, taking on the many challenges of running a business.

"Pausing to lick my wounds never felt like an option," said Shelby. "I simply had to find another angle, another way."

Within a few years, her business became so successful that she sold it to Deloitte at the end of January 2014. "This was," Shelby recounted, "about four years to the day after I quit my established job to become an entrepreneur."

Shelby pointed out that, despite the "happy ending to this story," she did not want simply to convey the joy of success. Her aim was to talk about the ways that she overcame her fear of failure, persisted in her enthusiasm for her ideas, trusted her intuition and ignored critics and naysayers.

Considering that she was speaking to "girls and young women who will be the leaders of tomorrow," Shelby closed with a quote from Nelson Mandela:
"Our worst fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world."

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