It’s a tough world for young people today: so much pressure to succeed, against narrow definitions of success that quite frankly just aren’t all that relevant to the world they’re growing up into.
That’s why I’m really delighted to have been invited to go to our local High School tomorrow to talk to 200 14 and 15-year-olds about life, careers and everything, and share some of what I’ve learned about what matters – and what really doesn’t – when it comes to finding your way in life. Here are seven things that have helped me, that I’d like to share with them. If you’ve got any other thoughts you think should go in there too, I’d love to hear them:
1) You can always be more than one thing.
There’s no obligation to define yourself against one set of criteria or one definition of success. Today, I’m a marketing strategist; a personal branding consultant, and the co-founder of a trail running community. Also a mum and a runner. Occasionally a writer. Definitely an introvert. The point is, you don’t have to choose one path and follow it to the bitter end. Go exploring.
2) Don’t give up on what you love, just because it doesn’t seem like a ‘career option’ … yet.
Today my work-life balance is exactly that: a balance. Made up of the things I need, a) to be happy and b) to get by. Time and money; thinking and doing; navigating tricky business problems and using bloody-minded determination to get myself from point A to point B. Family, work and play. It’s a dream come true – and it’s proof of concept; you CAN live on what you love doing.
3) Be unstoppable.
I’ve always remembered my senior school PE teacher telling me I couldn’t run – and for years I believed him. But then I decided to believe in myself instead. Now, I might not be the most elegant runner on the planet, but my legs have carried me 44 miles in one go so far and this month at Maxi Race, I fully intend to take that up to 50. Don’t let other people tell you what you can’t do.
4) Be generous in your dealings with others.
The smartest and most successful people I know, are those who give credit where it’s due; listen at least as much as they speak, help others when they can, and treat other people as they would wish to be treated themselves. And that goes for all people.
5) Be patient with yourself.
If you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, don’t force it. Go with it – and in the meantime, keep doing what you love. I never knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. Sometimes, I think I still don’t know. But I know that pretty much everything is a transferrable skill: the thinking skills I learned through two degrees in English Literature, I use now to deconstruct business situations and extract marketing insight. Focus on what you know feels right for you, and its time will come.
6) Opening doors is never a bad thing.
Passing exams isn’t the be-all and end-all in this life, but on the other hand, there’s no good reason not to take the chances that come your way. If you’re going to have to be in the exam hall anyway, and you’ve got the chance to gain a qualification that might just get your foot through a door somewhere way down the line, then there’s no reason not to give it your best shot. But don’t lose your sense of proportion. Exams aren’t the whole picture. They’re just one piece of the jigsaw.
7) Don’t value tomorrow more highly than today.
Life is about the journey – not the destination, and that’s particularly true when you’re at school and all the talk is about where you’re going next and what you’re going to do. Yes, it matters: but today matters too. Never fall into the trap of valuing where you think you’re going, over where you know you are.
Have you got some tips or lessons you think I should add in there? I’d love to hear them …