Kim Edwards’ career plans were derailed by the pandemic but she’s never stopped moving forward, writes SHIRLEY SINCLAIR

She’s the first to admit her career has been quarantined by COVID-19. 

But after a tough 18 months, Kim Edwards is breaking out and unmasking her 21st century self. She is forging wider connections and gaining new skillsets as her next work phase evolves.

And since the pandemic hit, she’s learnt much more about resilience (and strawberries!) than she probably ever imagined.

Many long-time Sunshine Coast residents will remember Kim as the pioneer and co-CEO of Sea English Academy International from 2002 to 2012.

The award-winning company was based in Maroochydore and conducted training in 27 locations in 16 countries, providing employment for hundreds of staff around the world.

The company was sold in 2012, when Kim’s own world opened up to new possibilities.

She packed up her essentials and moved her life to Saudi Arabia, where she spent the next seven years as the dean of one of the first women’s vocational colleges and director of an international school.

In January 2020, I was about to start my new role as the Middle East regional director for an American international school in Saudi Arabia. It was my dream job,” Kim says. 

Unfortunately, as the pandemic swept across the world, the school opening could not proceed and I found myself caught up in a complete career crisis and stuck in Australia. 

Initially, it was a great relief to be home safe on the Sunshine Coast while the pandemic raged around the world. I had my first Christmas at home in eight years and the time with my family and friends was a gift.”

At first, her new job simply appeared to be delayed a few months.

But as the travel bans and closures began, the lockdowns and restrictions followed, and Kim’s life was turned topsy-turvy.

After six months, it became clear that I needed to refocus and readjust,” she says. Then after 12 months, I knew I had to completely change myself and my expectations.

After 20 years of an intense international career, I now had to became focused about keeping connected, staying positive and being open to new opportunities.

The past 18 months have been tough, but I’ve learnt that I’m tougher.”

Kim now realises her current equation is the sum of all her life experiences that have been added together to make her strong and resilient.

She is able to find solutions to situations and dilemmas. She is willing to take on new roles and duties to be active, keep a positive outlook, contribute to her community and stay employed in some way.

It’s been a wild ride but one she can still be grateful for experiencing.

From being a school director to working as a cleaner in a retirement home reminded me of the importance of caring for our most vulnerable,” she says.

Leading our local triathlon club has taught me that being mentally tough is just as important as being physically fit. Working at polling booths during elections enabled me to keep voters safe by handing out masks and hand sanitiser, and ensured their voices were heard in government.

Project managing the relocation of 25 vulnerable mental health patients and settling them into their new home taught me the value of belonging and that everyone has the right to feel safe. Assisting a friend set up her e-training program – that helps businesses become more environmentally responsible – reignited my love of research and sustainability.

Becoming a board member for a not-for-profit disability service has introduced me to a whole new network of talented and remarkably resilient people. Picking strawberries on cold winter mornings has given me a fresh appreciation for our farmers.

Serving at a local cafe in the hinterland has shown me how important a cup of tea and scones is when shared with old friends. Volunteering at a Visitor Information Centre has enabled me introduce travellers to the beauty of the Glass House Mountains.

Holding my first photography exhibition gave me the opportunity to donate towards a children’s charity. Joining and training with local State Emergency Services means I will now be ready for the next floods and bushfires.”

Now, Kim has returned to the classroom to gain new qualifications and prove to herself that education truly is a life-long journey.

But she knows only too well that finding gainful employment – even with further education and training – is never easy.

I’ve applied for over 1000 jobs. I’ve been shortlisted dozens of times,” Kim says of her pandemic job search. 

I’ve been told I’m overqualified, too old, too female, too experienced. I’ve been let down. Promises have been broken. I’ve been offered jobs overseas that I can’t travel to. 

“At times, I’ve felt isolated and alone. But I’m still hopeful. I know I’m not the only one who’s life has been unexpectedly turned upside down.

Resilience does not come naturally.  You have to work on it, and you have to be intentional about implementing positive strategies into your everyday life.”

Kim certainly has learnt some harsh lessons, but she hopes that her example might help others struggling to maintain a positive outlook day-to-day.

Some of my strategies include being mindful about gratitude, and thankful that I live in a beautiful part of the world; networking with like-minded positive people, and having a solid network of people that I trust, who are my safe place on the hard days; keeping fit and focusing on maintaining a healthy lifestyle; enjoying the luxury of time and learning new skills, writing and exploring.

It’s not always easy but I am thankful for the opportunity to grow, to change, to learn and, above all, keep moving forward.”

That next dream job may be just a hand shake or Zoom interview away, after all.