Julia Quinton Oosterman is an award-winning communicator, Chief of Communications & Public Affairs at Bluewater Health, and Inspirational Speaker
If you could give your past self some advice, what would you tell you?
Breathe. My past self didn’t stop to relax a lot. It is only with time that I have realized the rejuvenating benefits of having things outside of work. I have always genuinely loved what I do – I mean it is literally my favourite thing and I spend a lot of time outside of work looking at my craft and trying how to figure out how to bring in better business results via communications. That singular focus has been, inadvertently, exhausting. When my last child was born, for example, I took 8 weeks off and worked nonstop at the hospital, on my laptop, for the first 5 hours after induction, and into early labour. In hindsight, for the group of young women on my team, this was likely terrifying and didn’t make me come across as the kind, compassionate caring boss I genuinely wanted to be. Instead, I am sure they saw me as imbalanced RE: work/life balance, and not trusting of them and their ability to manage without me. In my quest for perfection for my boss, my team, and my employers, I forgot to be human, be kind, and be people-focussed. My shift of focus from my work to my team’s work – and by extension their whole selves – has recentered me and helps me enjoy their successes through genuine human connections. In short, I would tell myself to relax and believe in myself more.
When you first started your career, how did you know you were ready, and what made you start?
I went to school for radio and television, and public relations wasn’t a far leap for me. After working for a few years in radio and marketing, I remember going to Toronto for a week and I set up a bunch of information interviews at PR firms. This was the heyday of PR and I left that week with more than one offer from several hardcore firms. Agency life was wonderfully intense. I worked more hours than I thought possible, and I loved every minute of it. As a competitive person, I loved the thrill of the chase in acquiring new clients, succeeding with media interviews, and producing large billable hours for my bosses. The flip side was that I had few friends, no cable, no boyfriend, and nothing in my fridge. It was a crazy part of my life that just “fit” for me at the time. While I wouldn’t want to do it again at 49, it was perfect for me then to baptize myself fully into the world of communications, branding, crisis management, and corporate reputation management.
That said, there hasn’t been a position, role, or moment that I fully felt prepared for, and imposter syndrome (like for many of us) has loomed large my entire life, from the boardroom to the playroom with my kids. After every promotion, after ‘achievement,’ I always waited for the other shoe to drop. Who would doubt me, laugh at me behind my back, or try to undercut my shakily-found sense of success? Years and years later I still fight the “devil on my shoulder” and it is actually only recently, through coaching my team or talking to my kids, I have come to realize that we all have that doubting devil in our psyche. Learning to train it, or better yet, see why its presence is my next-life superpower. I am working on it – but heck, it’s hard to shush that little fellow up sometimes! Right now I am trying to identify when my punch-in-the-stomach ache is based on facts and reality vs. my self-created self-doubt or negativity. I’m getting better, but learning to trust myself and love myself, including my bumps and bruises, takes time and patience. It’s worthy, painful work.
What or who has been your greatest influence in business?
Actually, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most iconic Canadian brands and I’ve had some phenomenal experiences with both large Canadian and multi-national firms. I’ve had the pleasure to work with several amazing CEOs and have had some fabulous experiences in the last 25 years. I think I have learned the most though, from the failures or missteps that have been made over the years. It’s been in the skinning of knees – my own or others’ – where the true ‘aha’ moments have come. I’ve had some truly inspirational leaders and I’ve had some great highs and great lows. Together, they create my journey and are invaluable. It’s through experiencing lows that true growth happens: the sleepless nights and the rising again to find new highs and new better outcomes. This is all just a big journey, and we are all trying to bring our best selves to work and be the best we can be. My inspirations are plentiful, and daily. l actively try and see what the gift is that everyone brings to the table. These little learnings every day inspire me and help me grow.
Having spent much of my career in large corporate Canada, Bay Street positions, I am humbled, awed, and amazed by the caring humans I work with today. I am at the perfect place for my life right now, as I am appreciated and valued. Perhaps I always have been, but somehow I am finally able to feel it or let myself soak it in. It doesn’t, as I’ve been afraid my whole life, create arrogance. Instead, it creates humility, and calmness, and appreciation for others. It’s funny how calm aspirational leaders cultivate calm aspirational leaders. This inner sense of knowing one’s value seeps into other parts of my life as well.
What is your number one business goal to accomplish this year?
As an executive leader, my business goal this year is to empower others and lift others up. My job is to remove barriers so others can shine. I hope to continue to bring value to the hospital and community where I work and live through honest, open, transparent communication. Healthcare is a fascinating industry with opportunities for unprecedented change. My goal is to harness this, and continue to help lead, shape, and influence the direction in a way that recognizes the strengths of others.
What do you have going on that you’d like to share?
For the women who are torn between work and family – you are not alone. But your own version of balance is possible. I love my work passionately and I love my family even more. I am lucky to be blessed with two stepchildren, two birth children, and soon a new foster child. My husband works 300 kilometers away and is only home on weekends, and is my biggest support, cheerleader, and dragon-slayer. It is possible to have your wildest dreams come true; you just have to be brave enough to trust yourself and know that you can do it.
– Julia Quinton Oosterman