“When I do something I can’t half do it”, says Michelle McFadyen. Despite the name McFadyen being so representative of the ‘old Bellingen’, this McFadyen could only be described as forward thinking, high energy and inspiring. “Our lives are there to be lived, to create memories, to experience the moments and to get out of our comfort zones,” says Michelle.
Possibly not the mantra one might expect from the Deputy General Manager Corporate and Community at Bellingen Shire Council. This role encompasses Financial Services, Environment and Waste, Community Wellbeing, Economic & Business Development, Customer and Business Services and Governance. An enormous task that Michelle tackles in the same ‘never say die’ manner that she applies to every aspect of her life. And this is definitely a life less ordinary.
Michelle has recently returned from trekking the Kokoda Track for the 6th time.
Michelle first hiked Kokoda in 2011. At the time she was the CEO of the newly created Longreach Regional Council, the result of an amalgamation of three previous local government areas that had existed for more than a century. No one was happy.
“I suppose Kokoda was an escape. However, I didn’t want to just walk it. I wanted more immersion into the culture and a way to give back to the people of Papua New Guinea, so I became involved in a training program with 40 local government managers in Port Moresby. I worked with the locals and shared ideas. It gave so much more meaning to the experience,” says Michelle.
Since this first trek, Michelle has guided on the Kokoda Track almost every year. “Each trek is different and extraordinary. I don’t make it through any of the treks without crying,” says Michelle.
Pitting herself against the elements is a constant in Michelle’s life. “We have to decide- do we want to sit in the grandstand or be in the arena. I always try to choose the arena,” says Michelle. She has summited Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mt Kinabalu in Borneo and trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. In fact the Nepal trek became a true life-changing experience. Michelle was involved in the 2015 earthquake that devastated the region.
“I witnessed so much death and destruction. 9000 people died, including one of my friends. Villages we had passed on our ascent were completely flattened,” says Michelle. “After my return I suffered a breakdown. On reflection and after counselling, I prefer to look at it now as a breakthrough. It changed my perspective. I realised the importance of life and I really started to question what I was doing here, in this life, who I was and who I wanted to be,” says Michelle.
Michelle has meditated daily since this crisis and steers the ‘Health and Wellbeing Subcommittee’ at work. “Bellingen Shire Council will be one of the first Councils to have developed a Health and Wellbeing Strategy with a focus on mental health” says Michelle. These events also inspired Michelle to further study with her attaining a Diploma in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing in 2015 and a Diploma of Counselling in 2016. “I wanted to know more about the human condition- why we do what we do and how we can be better than we were yesterday. What does that look like?” She is now a qualified Mediator and Conflict Management Coach, skills that have proven useful in her day job.
Michelle refers to the words of Mahatma Ghandi to encapsulate her life philosophy- “Let your life be your message.” This is certainly the dogma by which Michelle leads her life. “It’s through our successes and achievements, our failures and rock-bottoms, our everyday moments and our extraordinary moments that we can leave our legacy,” says Michelle.
Michelle brings these motivations to her role at Bellingen Shire Council through her accreditation as a ‘Strengths Profiler’. “A single person can affect their environment- a focus on strengths can elevate individuals and increase organisational and individual productivity. If I can create vehicles and pathways and moments that support people to embrace and realise their potential then I feel like I’m doing what I’m here for in this life,” says Michelle.
Michelle truly understands the significance of being a positive cog in the wheel, a part of a team. However, she will often escape to reflect. Last year’s 920km pilgrimage across Spain afforded her the space she needed. “I had always promised myself I would walk the Camino alone before I was 50. It was a journey of mind, body and spirit and it gave me time to think. What do I want the rest of my life to look like? Who do I want to be?”
For now, this adventurer, corporate leader and writer is content in the knowledge that inspiring others to achieve their goals and be their best selves is her primary driver. A fortunate fact for our Shire.
You can read more about Michelle’s adventures and ponderings at her website www.lifesupportaustralia.com