Pressure Builds a Leader in Siena

20 January 2021

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said “a diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure.” Billions of years before we unearth a diamond, a piece of coal is subjected to 725,000 pounds of pressure per square inch and temperatures of over 1,000 degrees Celsius, beginning the brutal and extensive process of change. Pressure creates the diamond, and to Siena Zamin, pressure is a key part of what makes her who she is today.

The 23-year-old biomedical science graduate has a wide, friendly smile and thinks carefully about how she answers questions. When asked if she enjoyed her time at High School she casts her eyes over her pot of tea and seems to bring up memories of sitting in classrooms and relaxing with friends.

“I think I did,” she says, “I really loved it actually, but I found it hard.”

Siena explains that the pressure she felt at school, and throughout her life, has gone hand in hand with the expectations she set for herself. Whether it be in academic endeavours or in personal pursuits, Siena has always strived for the very best, even if that is to her detriment. She holds out her hands and points out a series of faint scars across her knuckles, permanent reminders of her days in competitive rowing.

“You have to push yourself physically and mentally,” she says, “I definitely love the idea of working hard and changing up techniques to see a result.

“Through rowing, I learned patience, endurance, and teamwork. Continuing through bloodied hands, burning lungs, and legs that stung with lactic acid, and doing this for the sake of my teammates, who are going through the same things as me.”

Each and every one of these painful sounding experiences instilled a lesson in Siena that stood her well as she took up a role as a youth leader within her church, St Matthew's in Shenton Park.

“I guess it was just an opportunity to encourage the kids and look at what's important. I believe that's Jesus, particularly in a world that is so broken, where we’re all in pain in some way. The kids are also going through things like that, relative to them, it's really hard.”

Mental health across the world this year has taken a hit, with the pandemic and the ongoing restrictions to suppress the spread of COVID-19, and it’s been no different for children. In Australia, nearly one in five children showed signs of anxiety or depression in a recent study. Children are looking to parents, teachers, authority figures, anyone in a leadership position they feel comfortable to turn to. For the children in Siena’s church, this quickly became a role she was happy to fulfil.

“I think it’s so important as a leader to be aware that you're not everything,” Siena says as she talks of acknowledging her own flaws and faults and being open about them. “I think I see myself—as a leader—as someone who is the same as the kids, I'm no more important or on a different tier to them, I’m learning alongside them and need to listen to them to understand the challenges they are facing.”

In her hunt for perfectionism, Siena gradually came to the realisation that it is near enough impossible to attain, and simply acknowledging and accepting this was one way to release some pressure she felt.

The pressure that remains for Siena lies in her meticulously logical and curious mind, alongside her desire to find a specific answer to any question she poses herself. She loved the sciences at school, for example, but disliked the humanities and English for the indeterminate nature of their answers.

For some people, this self-imposed pressure to find answers to what many believe are unanswerable questions would have broken them down like a structurally flawed piece of coal disintegrating into the earth as the pressure rose, but for Siena it served only to strengthen her, build her curiosity, and motivate her to find a calling in life. A calling she came to through her involvement with the church and her faith.

“I think what gives me confidence as a leader to the kids is that my faith has nothing to do with me or my subjective experience of life,” she says, “I feel like I'm confident in teaching them because I'm not pushing them towards something that just I think is true, I’m guiding them towards a universal truth.”

Importantly, Siena found that the path to purpose in life is a long one, and one that is not demanding of perfection at every stride. Few diamonds are perfect, most have flaws that come from the natural variances in pressure and heat, but they remain diamonds.

“I can own up to my failures,” she says, far more at peace than when discussing her struggles with pressure, “knowing that God loves me as I am. For example, at youth group, when we were discussing a pretty peculiar chapter in the Bible, the girls asked me a question and I didn’t know how to answer. I was able to admit that there’s a lot about the Bible that I don’t know, I didn’t have to make excuses or feel embarrassed. Then we sat down and worked it out together. Now I can thank God for the strengths and skills He's given me, rather than diminishing them by saying I'm flawed and they could be better.”

This vision of leadership is one that Siena attributes to many factors, her response to the pressure she has felt, her ongoing willingness to learn how to adapt, and also to her education at Notre Dame, a place in which she found inspirational leaders to model herself on.

Notre Dame has supported me in an amazing way. From the personal classes, which help you learn and talk to teachers who actually care about what you're doing, from the way Notre Dame values truth.

“Truth is reality and an experience. You experience reality, so to see teachers actually live it out is pretty cool.

“But they also value the person behind the student seeking the truth. It's not just the arbitrary stuff they care about. I think that speaks to what I talked about before with empathy and listening to people. These things matter.”

Pressure creates a diamond, and pressure is forming Siena, making her the person she is today and affording those who see her as a leader the chance to learn from her experiences and shine alongside her.

To find out more about our biomedical science programs, check our Health Sciences page.


Media Contact: Breyon Gibbs : +61 8 9433 0569 | breyon.gibbs@nd.edu.au