A life less ordinary

Posted on February 8, 2014

IrtmSYesterday, I went to my old boarding school, Edinburgh’s Fettes College, to talk at Careers Day. I rarely say yes to public speaking opportunities… I’m far more comfortable behind my screen than in front of a crowd, but over the years, I’ve become so aware of how fortunate I am to have been educated at such an incredible school that I felt this was a chance to give back.

Today’s post then, has little to do with running, fitness nor wellness but a few of my golden nuggets, that I shared yesterday with the next generation, for anyone wishing to take an unconventional route to their career and live a life that is anything but ordinary!


Just working out what you want to do with your life, identifying your purpose, is far harder than actually doing it. We have so many options today, so many choices, that it becomes difficult to find clarity in all the chaos. It’s not just about working out what you’re good at either. Rather about what you totally lose yourself in… the stuff that you don’t notice when you’ve been at it for five hours… the stuff that brings you total joy. Ask yourself, what you would do if no one paid you? If you could spend a day doing anything you wanted, what would it be? What’s the one thing that never fails to put a smile on your face?


We all have fears and concerns and they’ll never go away but ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? Too often, people don’t strive for that dream job or position, because they’re worried about failing. Flip this on its head though, and tell yourself that if you’re not stumbling regularly, then you’re not trying hard enough. A problem is just an opportunity upside down.


You should appreciate that you are a unique individual… there’s only one of you on the entire planet, and no one knows you better than yourself. This means that what your teachers, parents, peers and other influencers tell you to do, is not necessarily what you should do. The people who have the most extraordinary lives are those who have consistently defied convention.


There’s so much truth in the old adage that those who put you down and don’t support you are just reflecting their own fears on you. There will always be people who tell you that things can’t be done, that you’re on a dead-end road, or that you’re wasting your time because there’s too much competition. They may even try to stop you, discourage you or laugh at your ideas. Why do they do this? Because having a goal, a dream, a grandiose plan, and taking steps to act on it makes you a doer and a risk-taker, and throws into a harsh light those who do not have the courage to make a leap. Ignore them!


Without wanting to sound airy-fairy you must believe that EVERYTHING always works out… often not how we expected or anticipated, but just how they’re meant to. When one door closes, others will open.


I hate this very word and suggest you redefine what it means to you. A failure is just an opportunity to learn. Think of a child when they’re learning to walk. They fall constantly but aren’t fazed. They just get up again and try, try and try again… eventually you will succeed!  Fast forward and as adults we forget this. We stumble and consider ourselves failures… we worry what people will think and lose faith and confidence in our ability. Winston Churchill said: “Never, ever, ever give up…” These are powerful words that you should keep close to your heart.

Many, many people we know and love today first failed many times before succeeding. Imagine if they’d just given up?

  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job for apparently being ‘unfit for TV’
  • Walt Disney was told in 1927 that a mouse on TV would never work because women would be scared. That mouse became the Mickey Mouse we know and love today!
  • Steven Spielberg, probably the most famous film director of our time, was rejected from film school three times
  • Closer to home, JK Rowling was a divorced, single mum on benefits and had many publishers turn down her Harry Potter manuscripts before finally getting a break


If you decide to create your own career, believe me, you will put more hours in that a conventional job would ever expect of you. At first anyway. You will eat, sleep, breathe whatever it is you choose to do, day in, day out. You will find yourself getting up in the night to write down ideas. You will bore everyone around you with constant chat about your plots and plans. You will turn down social occasions so you can brainstorm or research. You won’t only have one role, but you will be in charge of your admin, your HR, your accounts, your business development, your marketing and your sales. And it could take time to develop a fixed or stable salary so you can’t ever truly take your finger off the pulse BUT… it will never ever feel like work! You will learn over the years that having this much care and commitment for your so-called job is one of the most enviable positions you can be in.


Remember that your friends who are worth keeping, will never drop you if you spend periods getting totally caught up in your work. Quite the opposite in fact… they will encourage you and support you every step of the way.  True friends will stick around regardless of whether you prioritise your work over play and those who stop inviting you out or who don’t support what you’re doing, aren’t really worth your time anyway.


This concept of paying it forward has become a buzzword in recent years. What it means is to constantly help people…. to always look to add value in other people’s lives be it connecting them with other like-minded individuals, sharing ideas with them or giving up your time and skills to support them. You will find though that people never forget a good deed and they too will help you right back, at some point down the line.


If you always make decisions based on financial gain, you miss out on lots of wonderful opportunities. Follow your passions and money will come… even if you have a wonderful idea but haven’t quite worked out how to monetise it. That’s ok.


If you read an article or interview some hot-shot CEO and love their approach / mindset / business, write to them! Introduce yourself, share what you do and say that you’d love to take them out for a coffee or lunch, if they can spare me an hour or that you’d love to work for them or even shadow them for a day. You then get the benefit of their wisdom, inspiration and experience. Ask for the opportunity to demonstrate that they will soon want you to work for them! In my experience, 9/10 this delivers a reply and normally a very positive one. Finding people you admire is vital to keep you motivated, determined and driven and if you take this one step further and ask someone to be a mentor, they’re normally very flattered.


Think about your end goal then work out an action plan with lots of small, measurable steps, to get you there. Broken down like this, any goal suddenly becomes much more achievable.


Finishing higher or tertiary education just marks the beginning of your education, not the end! Read prolifically, listen to podcasts, invest in courses, go to workshops… ask people you admire if you can go and shadow them in their jobs for couple of days so you can learn about their sector or role. Consider this a free education! TED Talks are brilliant too, giving you access to the thoughts and ideas of the world’s most innovative and creative thinkers. There are also amazing courses out there now through the likes of Coursera, which deliver online training and learning, from leading universities around the world for free. Spending money on travel and on education, are the only two expenses that make you richer.


Billie Jean King, said ‘No-one changes the world, who isn’t obsessed.’ Be obsessed with your goals, to keep the drive and motivation going and to hold yourself accountable. Where many people falter however, is that they rest their entire happiness on meeting goals. You need to keep goals flexible and constantly revisit them. Always celebrate little milestones also.


Be obsessed with MASTERY. Ask yourself what you are best at. Doing what things fill you with happiness, a sense of creativity and a feeling of fulfilment? In life, we get the life we’ve settled for.

Be obsessed with PROGRESS… strive every day to make it better than yesterday. Strive to make every year better than the previous. We are built for growth rather than stagnation, for expansion rather than contraction. Good enough is not really good enough!

Be obsessed with EXCELLENCE. Leave everything you touch better than you find it. Surround yourself with excellent people, use excellent words, drink excellent coffee, read excellent books, create excellent projects and think excellent thoughts.

Be obsessed with HAPPINESS. It is up to us, to make ourselves happy. That doesn’t mean you wander around in a state of euphoria without grip on reality but it does mean that you live a life that matters, with the people who matter, doing the things that are important to you. When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. When you’re sailing in rough seas, remind yourself that calm will follow.

Be obsessed with CREATIVITY. We’re all designed to create … not just those who are artistic or who work with words or design. We’re all meant to innovate and to use our brains to nurture ideas so when dreams and schemes strike, write and record them, on paper napkins in restaurants, on coasters in bars, on sick bags on planes, on the back of your hand … just capture those ideas wherever they may find you.

Finally, be obsessed with CONTRIBUTION. The ultimate purpose of life is to serve, to be of use, to be helpful.  This is distilled in a million ways so whatever it is you do in life, think about how you serve.


Competition today is rife so you need to go that extra mile to really make yourself stand out.


Identify who you are and what you stand for then make every decision you ever make based on your personal brand. This is the only way you remain truly authentic. Ask yourself, when people hear your name, what qualities immediately spring to their minds? What would you like to be known for? What differentiates you from other people?

Your personal brand will change and evolve over time but that’s fine. Just at any given time, let your choices in life be driven by your values. If they’re not compatible then you’re probably not making the right decision.


This applies to both school and university. Alumni associations are excellent for connecting and networking.

If you remember just one thing:

Think of today’s career scene like an indoor rock climbing wall. What used to be a fairly straight ladder is now a wall with handholds and footholds, some easier and some more direct than others. You need to make your way up by going along, under, sideways and sometimes even down to get to where you want to go. You should see your future as a great big adventure, a chance to use your strengths, skills and passions, doing the things you love to do. There’s no better career path than that.

As Confucius said,“Find a job you love, and you will never work another day in your life.”

Over & out

The Content Queen






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