When Tania Carr drove from the bottom of the North Island to start a new life in Auckland at 21, she never knew it'd lead to a blossoming six-figure corporate career.
As a solo mum with no qualifications, but searing passion, Tania went on to manage multi-million-dollar companies. The mum of three, now a business entrepreneur, is a Kiwi success story.
But things weren't always so glistening for the Titahi Bay local. "All my life, I've worked damn hard and built a really good reputation in executive roles," Tania says. "But I used to want to hide my background in case it affected how people saw me. Now, I know it's all part of my story, and I want other women to hear it."
Tania, 43, was raised in Cannon's Creek, Porirua, in a state house with five younger sisters. Gang members came and went, and there were regularly parties and violence, and it wasn't abnormal for her father to serve prison time.
"I lived in that whole low socio-economic environment with drugs and alcohol," she recalls. "I saw things no child ever should, like women dragged by their hair over gravel roads and bottles smashed over heads."
Part of the trauma Tania now speaks openly about on her podcast, The Coach Carr Channel, is childhood sexual abuse. She explains, "It's taken me a while to accept that some of the uglier sides of my story needed be told too because every experience has shaped who I am today. I could've been another statistic, and I want women to see they don't have to be."
From an early age, Tania dreamed of escaping her hometown for bigger things. "I used to sit on the back porch and pray my heart out for some kind of miracle," she shares. "I'd try and telepathically communicate with the neighbours, hoping somebody would ask if everything was ok."
She left home for the first time at 15, escaping her bedroom window one night. "My boyfriend's aunty knew some of what was going on at home and said I could go there. That was my olive branch."
But gang associates soon started door knocking to find her and so Tania moved on, accepting an offer to stay with a local woman trying to make it as a singer. "She needed a live-in babysitter, so I took care of her kids. We ate potato skins I'd peeled because that's all we had. We were as poor as anything, but at least I was safe."
A year later, at sixteen, Tania found out she was pregnant.
"I had my beautiful daughter Shaianne, now 25, but things with her dad eventually ended," Tania tells. "I got into some abusive relationships and thought, 'I can either go down the same track and be like the environment I grew up in, or I can choose to provide my daughter with a better life'." She enrolled in a business computer diploma at 18.
"Over summer, people on my course asked what part-time job I'd get, and I hadn't ever thought about it," she laughs. "My parents didn't work, and I was like, 'Ok, is this what you do?'"
She landed her first job at a women's fashion retailer chain, as a casual. "I just fell in love with retail, and when they offered me a permanent assistant manager's position, I left to study," she enthuses. "I learnt so much, and the environment shaped me as a person. It taught me right from wrong, and I thrived."
At 21, a colleague asked Tania if she wanted to move to Auckland with her. "My work transferred me to a huge beast of a store, and our house was on the other side of Auckland," she remembers. "Shaianne and I got up at five in the morning to commute, and a taxi picked her up for school, which enabled me to work. I cranked up the credit card with the rides and all my gas."
Then the company made Tania store manager, followed by regional training manager and later, regional manager for Wellington. By mid-20 Tania, "the little girl from Cannon's Creek", was national manager for all of New Zealand, paying off her credit cards and saving thousands of dollars for her first home.
She left after 10 years, before being snapped up as regional manager for three high-end jewellery brands. "I had a lot of control and worked there for nine years. Then I decided it was time to have a baby."
Throughout her pregnancy, Tania relished the idea of being a stay-home mum, who'd take her baby to pilates and enjoy coffee dates. "Man was I wrong!" says Tania, who developed postnatal depression after the birth of her daughter Ryleigh, four. "I had a really challenging baby, put on a tonne of weight and just didn't cope. I'd shut the curtains and pretend I wasn't home when people came over and spent days crying."
When she welcomed her son Kayden, two, Tania was still in a dark hole and admits, "I'd completely lost myself."
It was a visit from her sister-in-law, leading social media influencer Makaia Carr, which helped Tania get back on her feet.
"Makaia was worried and said, 'Come on, we need to get you back!' and over a wine I told her about my dream to run a recruitment business. She said, 'Well, let's do it!' and after she left, I stayed up brainstorming and planning. I felt my business mind coming back and was so excited!"
Over two years later, Tania is now the owner of The Recruitment Hub NZ and her newest venture, The Coaching Hub, having qualified as a transformative coach.
"I've absolutely found myself again, and my work aligns with my passion, which is helping people. I use to question why I was working so hard, but now I understand I did that groundwork so I could be here."
This Saturday, Tania will share her story at Real Talk, an event she co-founded with friend Siobhan Samuel. Taking place in Wellington and streaming live online, it includes stories from a panel of other inspiring women including Greer Perenara, wife of All Black TJ Perenara, and Makaia Carr.
"The whole kaupapa is if we can change one life in the audience, we've done our job," Tania smiles. "I started healing when I began telling my story, and that's the message I want to send out. I'm proof that regardless of where you come from, it's where you choose to go."
DO YOU NEED HELP?
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours or friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.
Where to go for help or more information:
• Ngā Wai a Te Tūī Māori and Indigenous Research Centre and the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse are partnering to provide information on preventing and responding to family, whānau and sexual violence during COVID-19.
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website