Success isn't about Perfection

Caiitlin Baard AUT Edge Award Leadership winner

Struggles, as well as the successes, need to be seen and celebrated, says Caitlin Baard who recently won the AUT Edge Leadership Prize for semester one.

“It is easy to see a person who’s ‘succeeded’ in something and feel alienated, believing they are always exceptional. But that is truly impossible,” says Caitlin, an AUT Public Health and Environmental Sciences graduate.

Her journey into tertiary study, and then at AUT, has been fraught at times. Caitlin failed her high school exams because of mental health struggles, especially anxiety. This meant she didn’t get University Entrance, but, with support from her teachers who knew she was capable and bright, she was accepted into AUT under special admission.

Caitlin says she developed a lot of resilience studying at AUT because she knew she could seek support.

“AUT accepted me, then continued to support me as my mental health slowly improved. My grades weren't great in 1st year either because progress takes time. I needed counselling, extensions, encouragement and understanding from AUT - and I got it.”

Caitlin is keen to share her story because she wants people to see that it is possible to get through struggles and do well.

“Mental health is at its worst these days and many people think they have to do things alone and be this perfect machine to succeed. But I could only achieve by being honest with myself and others.”

"... Many people think they have to do things alone and be this perfect machine to succeed."

The AUT Edge Award was part of the catalyst to becoming resilient, particularly in leadership. Caitlin worked well beyond the award’s required 18 leadership hours for a start-up called Canopy, a group that is pushing for authentic body inclusivity in Australasian fashion and media businesses.

She realised, as a leader, she could set the culture of the team and encouraged people to share their emotional state to better support each other.Caitlin Baard receiving AUT Edge Award leadership prize

“You become resilient by being vulnerable. When you are alone your problems become magnified, but people can bear a lot more stress when they work together.”

As a neurodivergent woman, Caitlin found it empowering to develop her employability and leadership skills.

“Most people on the spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. Now I feel competent and ready to defy anyone who would see me only for what they think autism is. I have power because I feel employable and I’m becoming okay with being different.”

4 tips from Caitlin

  1. Never discount your own perspective. A lot of students habitually preface their comments or questions with 'I have no experience in this' or 'this is a stupid question, BUT....’. I made a point to never do that.
  2. Always trust that you have a unique, useful and fresh perspective to offer. This confidence will eventually become natural.
  3. Normalising mental health struggles starts with you being honest about yours. Openly communicate with your lecturers and classmates. I was always surprised by how much people could help, and how much they cared.
  4. The essence of job searching is about being able to sell your story to a targeted audience. Learn what the people you want to work for value - and make it your own.


To access AUT counselling and mental health services, you can: Email  phone  921 9292 or text 1737 (this text number is free and answered 24/7)

To find out know more about the AUT Edge Award, email

Written by Angela McCarthy, AUT Employability & Careers writer