SPOTLIGHT ON RACHEL CORBETT
A familiar face and voice, Rachel is Head of Podcasts for Nova Entertainment, a regular guest co-host on Network Ten’s The Project and a podcasting expert.
Photo credit: Nova Entertainment & Steven Chee
When did you go to PLC? What was your school experience like and what was your plan when you were at school for after school?
I went to PLC for 15 years, from Branxton all the way through to graduating in 1998. By the end of my time there, I was ready to leave because I was conscious of that world being very small. I wanted to experience different perspectives, so I was very excited about going to university.
In terms of what I wanted to do after school, just the other day while I was cleaning out my Dad’s garage, I found a letter I’d written to myself when I was 16. In that letter, I asked myself if I’d gotten into Commerce Law at Sydney University. Funnily enough, once I got into university and sat in my first Law class, I realised that I hadn’t chosen the right course [laughs]. Getting into Law was the goal for most of my senior school years. Part of me wonders whether I chose Law because that was what was drummed into us at school? We were to aim for a high mark and then do the course that high mark got you into, rather than choosing what you wanted to do.
I do remember that I wanted to study photography, but I ended up not doing it because I got a high UAI and I wanted to do something associated with that. The benefit of that approach was that it made me strive for the best thing that I could do. I’m glad that I went down the path that I did because I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now. I ended up finishing Commerce, and I finished all but one year of my Law degree.
Tell us briefly how you went from university to where you are today?
I worked in radio for over a decade. My time in radio was positive, in that I had ended up in a space where I had a skill for something. I wasn’t good at it in the beginning, and it took me a while to get good at it, but I had a natural skill for it. I hadn’t necessarily planned for a career in that space.
The problem, though, is that you start to rely on an industry which has no sense of commitment to you. I always felt that my life was in someone else’s hands. When my last contract wrapped up, it was sad because I loved working in radio, but at the same time, it was a relief. Even though I had to start from scratch again, I realised that I wanted to be in control of my life and have greater stability.
In the media industry, just because you’re the best person for the job doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get the job. Many times I’ve had bosses say to me “You are the best person for this job, but you don’t have a big enough profile”. That just didn’t make sense to me because throughout my schooling, I had been taught that you work hard, you get good at something, you improve, and you move up in the world. But that’s not how things work in the media.
The second sort of phase of my career took a long time to drum up. Now I’m running a podcast network for a major radio station, and I work professionally on television. When people ask how I got to this point, I tell them that I pushed myself for many tough years. I was out of full-time work for four years, and in that time, I was doing everything. Door knocking, copywriting for people, going back to university.
Once I’d started my own business - which took a long time to build up - and I’d established myself publicly as an expert in podcasting, then Mamamia came to me and asked me to run the network. Now I’ve left that, and I’m doing a similar thing for Nova.
It took a long time to get to this point, but I feel like now I’ve ended up working in a space where I feel safer and requires the perfect mix of all of my skills. I’m able to influence the people who are working for me to ensure that they have a better experience in terms of mentorship than I ever did in this industry. Interestingly, I’ve ended up back in radio, and I’ve gone full circle in that sense.
What has been a mistake that you’ve made and how did you learn from it?
I don’t think there have been any mistakes. There’s been stuff that hasn’t worked out or has been difficult, but I don't see them as mistakes.
That’s because I’m a ‘yes’ person. I think the only things that I’ve ever regretted was when I’ve said no to opportunities. So now I make a real point of saying yes to everything unless I know that it’s not right for me. If an opportunity is presented to me that I’m a bit scared about I just make myself say yes to it. I think it’s as important to cross things off and realise that they’re not what you want to do, as it is to try something and realise that it’s just right for you.
What would be the most significant piece of advice that you’ve ever received in your life and who gave it to you?
My mum used to say to me that I could be anything that I wanted to be and do anything that I wanted to do. For a long time, I used to dislike that advice because I just wanted her to tell me that I could only choose one career. I saw having too many options as a bad thing. Now that I’ve gotten through all that I’m grateful for her advice.
I wish I’d had more mentors that had given me good advice. Instead, I’ve watched what people do, I see what I like, and I try to inject that into me. I worked for one of my earliest bosses - Malcolm Fayers - at his business when I was out of school. I took on board how he treated the people who worked for him with respect; he looked out for them. I’ve never forgotten how important it is to treat the people that work for you like human beings, with respect and give them autonomy. If they feel seen and heard there’s nothing they won’t do for you; they’ll go into battle for you. You’re always going to get more out of people if it’s a two-way relationship. I think that experience has informed how I manage my team now.
What has been the proudest moment in your life so far?
The thing I’m most proud of myself for is looking after my folks as they got older and faced illness.
Looking after my mum was a game-changer for me; I changed fundamentally, as a person through the experience. There’s something extraordinary about the sense of comfort you get from helping somebody who is in an awful place. There was something different that shifted in our relationship at that time. Her seeing me as someone she could rely on and someone that she felt comfortable around, especially when she was in discomfort. I’ve never been happier than coming out of the other side of that experience.
Doing the same thing for my father, right now, while it’s difficult, there is something to be said for pushing through. Those have been my proudest moments because I’m really glad that I did that. Certainly, when my mum passed away, I had no regret. I miss her terribly, but I know I gave her everything I could, and I know that has helped me to move on in my life. Now I feel like she’s with me all the time.
If you could travel back in time, what would you say to your 20-year old self?
It’s going to be okay. I struggled for most of my 20s with not being able to sit still at the moment. I was always thinking I’m not there yet, what else can I do and I felt like things weren’t moving fast enough. A lot of that had to do with struggles with relationships at home, which made me feel unsettled. I am only now starting to shift from the mindset that I have to achieve all the time. It’s very exhausting. You can still have drive and not have to be on the hamster wheel all the time.
I would say to my younger self that you don’t have to stop having drive but try to be in the moment more and realise that what you have right now is enough. I never really recognised what I had right in front of me. So I would tell my younger self to chill out!
What role do you think the fact that you went to school at PLC played in your life?
I think PLC Sydney encourages you to be an overachiever because that’s the standard that is expected, and you want to rise to that. There’s real merit in that. You’re not going to achieve all the time but just giving things a red hot crack is an excellent quality in life.
I truly feel now that I’m really happy with my life. Over the last eight years, I’ve started to settle into where I’m supposed to be. That is because of the mindset that PLC instilled in me from the very beginning, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without that mindset. I think that was invaluable.
PLC Sydney sets you up to be open to trying new things. I was never terribly good at anything [laughs] but I was okay at everything. I never really excelled but I think there’s merit in that too - you don’t have to be excellent at everything, but if you can try new things, I think when you move on in life having that approach makes you a more well-rounded person.
What about some favourite memories of your time at school?
I’m most appreciative of the fact that you could have any number of activities up on a wall - all you had to was write your name down on that corresponding list - and you’d be able to do it. I’m sure that was much to my parent’s frustration because there was a payment associated with every one of them [laughs]. But for somebody like me, who likes to give things a crack and try new things, that environment was amazing.
I remember in my later years of school Mrs Bowie was a great source of comfort to me. She was someone that I would always go to for advice, and she had the most impact on me later on in my life. I respected her.
Of course, I had Mrs Smyth in Junior School. I think we all wanted Mrs Smyth to be our mum; it was just impossible not to love her. I had Mrs Hayes in Year 5; she was such a wonderful woman. I still remember little sayings and things that she taught us - “One thous-and met-res in a kilo-met-re”. She also always used to say “slow and steady wins the race”. There was one saying that I even used the other day in a promotional video - I even credited her!
And then there was choir: Chamber Choir and Madrigal. All of those years, all of those people, I’m tearing up even thinking about it. I just loved it! I loved the sense of discipline; I loved that we were there every single morning, there was something that we were working towards, we had a goal all the time, we were trying to win these eisteddfods. We’d find something to do well and be the best at it. I think that powerful sense of team and community; I found that in choir. All of my best memories in school revolve around being in choir.
Keen to start your own podcast but not sure where to start? Check out Rachel’s online course PODSCHOOL. You can see Rachel each Tuesday night on Network Ten’s The Project.
Class of 1998: School Captain