Catherine DeVrye, a best-selling author and motivational speaker, published a new book on inspiring resilience last October. I talked to her about her own life struggles and how from an abandoned child she became a world success.
Her latest book ‘The Gift of Nature – Inspiring Hope and Resilience’ is only one of the several best-sellers Catherine DeVrye had published over the years. As a motivational author and public speaker, she must know what she is talking about. At the age of 22, with only 200 dollars and the pain of unimaginable personal loss, she arrived in Australia. Since then, Catherine made of herself the Australian Executive Woman of the Year, the IBM’s Human Resource Manager for the Asia Pacific, Olympic Torch Bearer on the opening day of Sydney Olympic Games. But most of all, a person who found her life’s purpose in helping people build resilience.
When asked how she had the idea for her new book, she said, ‘For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that time in nature re-charged my batteries and I felt more ‘connected’ to life’. It took ten years from that moment in a chalet near Chamonix in France when she started doodling with the idea of the book. It went through many changes to evolve into what is published today. The book comprises of her favourite quotes from Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Charles Darwin and more, and some of her own thoughts that she collected for over forty years, printed beautifully on her photos of nature.
‘Never give up. Fall down seven times and stand up eight.’
Looking at Catherine’s life, we can see clearly the moments that built up her own resilience. ‘Never give up. Fall down seven times and stand up eight’, she says.
Every morning, the first thing Catherine does is to put on her running shoes and go out to Manly Beach. Running, paddling, surfing and swimming are only some of the sports she enjoys. What she eats is also part of her healthy routine. But it hasn’t been always like that.
After her much loved parents died, both from cancer within a year apart, she was ‘overeating and over-drinking to fill a gap and mask the pain’. After a year on a self-destructive path, she decided that she needs to make better choices. ‘I knew that I had no one to rely on – that I had to make it myself in the world. I felt that what happened wasn’t fair, wasn’t my fault but it was still my responsibility to get on with life as best I could.’
‘It seemed important to have a purpose bigger than myself…’
Her personal story started in an orphanage in Canada after her biological mother left her in a motel room. Soon adopted by Margaret and Henk DeVrye, she had a stable and happy childhood. Years later, when on a hospital bed in Japan and asked about her next of kin, she burst in tears. She had nobody of her family left. Once again, she picked up her courage and after an enormous number of letters written (she sent one to every person with her mother’s name living in Canada), she finally found her biological family. As a result, now she is a part of a family with almost one hundred children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
But personal struggles were not the only challenges Catherine had to endure. Promoted by IBM and sent to Japan as an HR Manager for the Asia Pacific, she had to work in an all-male environment in a traditionally male-dominated country. She worked so hard that she ended up in a hospital. ‘Some people when faced with tragedy become drug addicts or alcoholics and I guess in some ways I became a workaholic’, she confesses, ‘but it seemed important to have a purpose bigger than myself …’.
Catherine DeVrye on becoming a motivational speaker
She never thought of becoming a professional speaker but after one time when a speaker cancelled just before one of the IBM’s conferences and she had to fill the spot, it became apparent that she has a talent for it. Since then, she has spoken in the corporate environments of Microsoft, BBC, Coca Cola, KPMG, Mercedes Benz and many more organizations. However, even when the talks are about providing good service and teamwork, it always comes down to the personal challenges and how to achieve success. ‘Resilience is like a muscle which grows stronger the more you use it.’, is the message she sends to her audience.
Catherine’s advice to younger generations can’t be clearer. ‘Don’t play the blame game. Don’t expect that your parents, your employer or the world owes you a living. Take more risks, fail more often. Pick yourself up and try again. There is ‘learned helplessness and ‘learned hopefulness’. Chose the latter.
What she loves about where she lives
Catherine DeVrye lives in Manly, Australia. It is where one of the famous Sydney beaches adorns the coast of New South Wales like a stitch of an azure-bleu embroidery. She describes Manly concisely with its motto – ‘7 miles from Sydney, 1000 mils from care’.
‘It’s certainly a top tourist destination but to me it’s home; my community and I like it best in the early morning before the ferries start coming over. Our community is unique with wealthy people and struggling people – all together on the beach where everyone is equal in their bathing suits.’
It’s a privilege to live here and am spoiled in that can be at the opera house in 18 minutes by a ferry or walk into the national park for 20 minutes and not see anyone else.
These are her travel advice for you about visiting Manly:
Anytime is great to visit Manly, but autumn and spring are more temperate. Christmas time is a bit crowded because of the school holidays in Australia.
The slow ferry trip from Circular Quay to Manly is spectacular and the best value for money. She says ‘forget the expensive cruise; go over in the day and back at night to see the lights’.
Manly is full of coffee shops and restaurants. The ones locals favour are usually tucked away in the back streets and are too many to name.
Catherine loves hiking and recommends walking along the Manly to Spit Bridge coastal walk, up along North Head or along the beachfront.
While on the beach, make sure you swim between the red and yellow flags. Don’t feed the seagulls or they will swoop down and take the food right out of your mouth!
Catherine spends a lot of her time travelling and these are her tips in her own words to the aspiring solo female travellers:
Just do it. Go for it. Expand your horizons whether in a group or as an individual; there are advantages to both. Have a plan but be prepared to change that plan and be flexible and open to exploring.
Drink lots of water on flights and avoid excess alcohol on and off planes so your better judgment is not impaired. Always take absolute essentials in carry-on luggage.
Always split your cash and credit cards into different areas so not all your eggs are in one basket – and have a photocopy of your passport elsewhere to your actual one.
On solo female travel safety
In some countries, I often wear a wedding ring to avoid unnecessary harassment.
Be careful in taxis at night.
Always have a plan B.
Explore and don’t be frightened of strangers – most are friends you haven’t yet met. But there’s a fine line between being adventurous and being too trusting of others who may wish to take advantage of you. Be wary of people approaching you with offers of accommodation or a restaurant recommendation. Be careful but don’t be afraid.
Travel as lightly as possible (something I never master with always travelling with my books). I travel often so have a typed list on the back of my wardrobe so I never forget anything. Pack clothes that require no ironing and don’t show dirt easily and can ideally be hand washed and dry overnight – I favour black with coloured accessories.
There are many women that inspire with their lives lived with a purpose, courage and exercising emotional strength on a daily basis. Successful in career, motherhood or achieving great progress in humanitarian causes, they are moving the world into becoming a better place for future generations. Catherine DeVrye is one of those strong and resilient women who bear the torch lighting the road that the future young women will take, dreaming and working hard to achieve goals despite life’s obstacles.