Cathy Thomson – Engineer of the world

Cathy Thomson is many things… fun, inspiring, wickedly smart and a bit of a nutter… just our kind of person! A true Barefooter. It’s funny because when you’re talking with Cathy (sometimes asking her to repeat herself because when she talks quickly her Scottish accent can get the better of you) you’ll be discussing something like the awesome new local cafe, how it’s so great to be able to catch up with friends there and how much you miss your mates when you’re in the jungle… wait what?! The jungle? Oh yeah that’s right, Cathy travels round the world for work, family and friends but still is 100% grounded in the day to day. The norm for her is not really the norm for most but she makes you feel like it is! We asked her some questions we wanted to know more about, and we thought you’d be interested in.

You have spent some time working in “the jungle” – can you tell us more about what this was like?


When I tell people I worked in the jungle they generally respond “the jungle?” with disbelief in their voice and I say, yes, the middle of the jungle, in Guyana in South America.

I worked there for 5 months from April to September last year in some of the most challenging conditions I’m likely to ever have the pleasure of experiencing.  To put some context around it before flying to Guyana I had just finished up on a project in rural NSW where I had a decent size room to myself in a camp off site, a nearby pub with tap beer and decent food, an IGA, an air conditioned modern gym and a 10 days on, 4 days off roster with a charter flight up and down from Brisbane.

Guyana could not have been more different. The typical journey was Brisbane to Los Angeles to New York to Georgetown, Guyana and the same to return. From Georgetown it was a 45 minute flight in a single engine 12 seater plane onto a dirt airstrip and then into the back of the troop trucks with suitcases!  I shared a room with another girl and there was one bathroom between two rooms. I spent 30 days at a time on site with 10 days off and once you were there that was it…there was no local pub (although there was a recreation room that sold beer and had pool tables) no IGA and a very basic gym!

When I first arrived the gym was basic, a small wooden shed with a dusty floor.  There were 2 benches, 2 barbells, some dumbbells…which was enough for me to do something! My gym sessions when I was there focused on bench press, deadlift and squat and I put together some training sessions round those lifts.  I chucked in a couple of circuit type body weight workouts too. The guys on site were pretty interested in the little Scottish woman who lifted weights…some offered tips, some helped me load the bar and others just nodded in approval!  I also took my trusty tennis balls with me and spent time doing my releases.


When I got back for my second roster there was a full on gym with treadmills and bikes and loads more weights…it was gym junkie heaven except there was still no air con and it was much busier than the first little gym.  I managed to keep up some sort of training most of the time I was there. From time to time things would slip, fatigue would set in after long days at work and also towards the end of a 30 day roster just about all I could manage was dinner and bed…I learned to train as much as I could early in the roster!

I was lucky to work with some good people there too…there was a diverse mixture from Australia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela and Guyana. There was lots of Spanish spoken and unfortunately not much of it understood by me!

I also took advantage of my time there to embrace some other aspects of the “Barefoot Lifestyle” by using one break to visit my family in Scotland, another to visit the Caribbean exploring islands and scuba diving and another to visit Brazil.  Time spent in beautiful places with family and good friends is perfect medicine for the soul!


My time in the jungle is a perfect demonstration of the idea that “Every situation is both good and bad at the same time, what changes is your perception of it”. Taking a moment every day to be grateful for the little things, like a pretty sunrise or chips with dinner or being able to lift weights, helped shift my attitude from grumpy to grateful and meant I embraced the adventure and have some fabulous memories! This is a photo montage of my Grateful 365 project.

Grateful Cathyl

I’d love to say that 5 months there didn’t take its toll on my body, unfortunately it did.  Lots of plane time, long work days and a pretty uncomfortable mattress means I’ve been in recovery mode since I got back. So that leads me to my “list”…

Your daily “list” of activities you do to take care of yourself is inspiring – would you mind sharing all or a few (& why you believe it’s beneficial)?

I started back with Monday to Friday life in October last year and I was struggling to get back into a good routine, it was like starting all over again. My first step was to think what works for me…well that’s actually a lie…my first step was to do nothing, or not much anyway. I was going to PT sessions and not doing anything else in between, going to Physio and “maybe” doing my releases in between, I was drinking beer on the balcony because it was Tuesday (if you’d seen my view you’d understand!) so then I started thinking “how can I set myself some small, achievable things to do that will help me live the “healthy” life I value.”  I’ve always got “to do” lists on the go for mundane things in life like car insurance, cleaning etc. so I decided to start one with my health goals in mind.

I kept it simple…small things that I was going to aim to do in the coming week, it looked a little something like this:

  1. Green smoothie every day
  2. Stick to bed time and wake up time (9.30PM and 5.30AM)
  3. 10 minute yoga practice every morning
  4. 2 PT sessions (with the fabulous Emma)
  5. 2 x 5km walks
  6. Pack lunch every day
  7. No alcohol until weekend
  8. Physio releases every day
  9. Sunday nature/outdoor time

My inner critic thinks that people will read that list and wonder why it was hard…then I tell her to be quiet.  I spent a long time (2 years on projects in total) living a very different life so even getting back into small things has been difficult. I’ve found that simplicity and routine are two things that are important to help me live my “barefoot life”. It has helped me to introduce a consistency that I was struggling to achieve without it, I’m excited to build on it and introduce a few new things!  I went to Scotland, Ireland and Vietnam for 3 weeks over the holidays so things were a bit different although I still wrote a list and packed my release balls and a gym band…I’m determined do my best to keep my body happy no matter where I am.


We hear that you have started a Leadership course – how exciting! What made you want to do this?

Now that I’m back into the routine I’ve been threatening to do a Masters for a while and never found the right time or the right Masters. Now I think I’ve found the right course I’ve started it off having realised that there’s never the right time, there’s only ever right now!

I found a Masters that combines Organisational Coaching and Leadership. Some of the most influential people in my life to date have been coaches I’ve worked with…it is very powerful when someone helps you realise you actually have potential and then goes on to help you realise it. So I did my first 3 days Organisational Coaching training this month and loved it!

In my industry (construction and engineering) we can become very focused on getting the job done and sometimes forget “who” does the job. I think by changing that we end up with a more engaged and motivated worker who gets the job done because they want to, not because they have to.  I came up with my definition of Organisational Coaching during the training, my sell point if you like, “Realise the potential of the people in your business and you will realise the potential of your business”. I believe this applies to any business and it’s a definite passion of mine to share this potential with individuals and organisations.

The whole thing takes around 3 years, first step is a Graduate Certificate in Coaching and Leadership, hopefully before the end of 2016…so watch this space!

Thanks Cathy, loved reading your answers! Much love Sal and Cherelle