LIFE is full of big moments. Moments that stay ingrained in our minds — reminders, for better or for worse, that serve a significant purpose as we grow as humans.
As children, you learn boundaries — what you can and can’t away with as you quickly find out you’re not invincible.
You climb a tree and, embarrassingly, get stuck, you don’t do it again. You ride your bike down a stony hill, lose your balance, and fall off, cutting your leg and left looking silly, you don’t do it again. You steal your favourite chocolate bar — all to save a few pennies — from your local shop but forget about the camera pointing at your face and get caught. You guessed it, you don’t do it again.
All three of those examples relate to my life and, I’m sure, they do for most of you, too.
Those life lessons don’t stop at childhood, however. As young adults, there are life lessons that we all experience — moments that stay with us, shape us, and often steer us in a certain path.
I’m no different.
‘Are you sure you want to go into journalism’
Those words, uttered to me by my old media studies teacher during my first year as a sixth former with many aspirations, have stuck with me throughout my life, not just in my career.
My capability to write and convey a story had been doubted… by my own teacher. As a 16-year-old, it had been hard to hear those words, but I’d be damned if I was going to let them put the brakes on my dreams, my ambitions, and my life goals.
Sure enough, I thought about those words as I graduated with a First-Class BA Hons Degree in Sports Journalism, as I secured my dream job straight out of university (doing the very thing I had been doubted of) and as I have grown as a public relations professional in a number of different sectors.
You will remember me saying that those words had stuck with me throughout my career, as well as my life. Since that day, I have NEVER let anyone tell me I can’t do something — no matter what it is in relation to.
Recently, though, it got me thinking. Life is full of those little moments. Moments that last a matter of seconds, but remain with us forever and I was keen to hear other stories from people, like me, that had taken words, or a moment, as a young adult and benefited immensely from it ever since.
And so, at the beginning of September, I used social tools to invite others to send me their stories and tell me about their own experiences. The response was overwhelming but brilliant, and today is the start of a mini-series I am going to be publishing to share those stories with you.
Why? Because I believe they are lessons we can all benefit from, learn from, and embrace in our own lives — whether it be in direct relation to how you view your career, passions, or even just life in general.
Here, we are focusing on the latter of those points, starting with Ali McDowall, co-founder of The Positive Planner and, ironically, there is a teacher involved in this story, too…
‘Always go where you’re called and never fight it’
“Being an overthinker, I questioned my role in life from a young age. I always enjoyed art and It was the only thing I was ever really good at. I remember chatting to my art teacher, Mrs Osbourne, who was one of those adults you meet (we all have one) that had a hugely positive effect on my confidence and I felt she really had my back.
“She said to me to always go where I was called and not to fight it (or overthink it too much!). I knew I wanted to go to art college but worried about job security, but she said ‘do something you love and you will never do a day’s work in your life’.
“I now know this is a quote quite widely used, but at that point, it sat with me at the forefront of my mind. I had a choice, follow my heart, or follow my head.
“I have kept this outlook with me, and it has served me pretty well in fact! I think as teens sometimes the choices can feel huge, but learning to trust our gut, know our worth and have hope for the future is immensely important at these traditional points in our lives.”
‘You are different and that’s your advantage’
This story sent to me by Dal Bamford, a chief customer officer at Revolent Group, touched me a great deal and while her story may not be one that we have all experienced, her words and her dad’s message is one we can all resonate with…
“I faced many challenges as a teen, primarily surrounding my ethnicity. I was one of just four ethnic minorities at my school and sadly, that resulted in a lot of race-based bullying from my peers.
“At that time, schools didn’t have the procedures in place to deal with recurrent bullying. After yet another week of bullying, I came home in tears and went to my late father for advice.
“He was a man of few words, so when he did speak, he was exceptionally blunt and to the point. His advice was this: ‘You are different and that’s your advantage, not something to be ashamed of. Remember who you are and where you’ve come from, always stand proud, and let no one else tell you who you are. You show them who you are.’
“His words gave me an inner courage that I carry in me to this day. They are the same words I repeat to my own children and younger mentees — especially those who are discriminated against simply for being different.
“I use my father’s advice to teach them that there is power in being different, and their struggles will build a mental resilience and fortitude that will take them far in life. And in case you were wondering, I didn’t once return home in tears after that conversation.”
‘I know you’re very busy, but it doesn’t hurt to smile’
Life has got a nasty habit of being overwhelming sometimes.
It can get on top of us and consume us. We’re doing our best to balance jobs, families, social lives (digitally nowadays, which can be even more demanding), and hobbies — often all within a budget and now a worldwide pandemic.
Some are doing that while also managing passion projects. Some are trying to get that qualification to progress their career. Some are planning for weddings. Some are moving house. Some are dealing with illness
One of the first things we lose when the going gets tough is our smile and as Joanna Swash, CEO of Moneypenny, explains, we should do our best to protect that.
This is her story…
“My first job was aged 14 and was in a fish and chip shop — washing dirty pots from the café and the greasy paraphernalia from the shop. I got paid just £1.50 per hour.
“After only two weeks in the job, Mel, who ran the café, went on holiday and I found myself parachuted into a pinny.
“This particular day was extremely busy and as I rushed to plonk a couple of plates of fish and chips on a table, an elderly woman touched my arm and said: “I know you are very busy love, but it doesn’t hurt to smile.”
“This comment has stayed with me for life and I firmly believe it has really helped me both in business and personally, too — a smile on your face is contagious and allows us to empathise and even experience other people’s feelings.”
Joanna is right. We’re all naturally drawn to people who smile. Beyond that, however, it is a proven stress reliever. It helps elevate our mood. Done consistently, it increases our positivity. It’s a natural painkiller. It even uses fewer facial muscles than frowning.
A smile is often the thing we lose when the going gets tough. Let’s instead keep that smile — even if we don’t feel like it.
We have to remember that life is full of similar stories like these told by Ali, Dal, and Joanna.
As children, we learn almost every day, but as young adults — with many hopes and dreams for the future — there is often a moment, an act, or a conversation, that may only last a few seconds but can impact the rest of our lives and form the path that leads us into adulthood.
As Ali, quite rightly, says: “As teens, sometimes the choices can feel huge, but learning to trust our gut, know our worth and have hope for the future is immensely important at these traditional points in our lives.”
Embrace those moments and lessons. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t. Follow your calling, no matter what it is, and what the noise around you is saying. Don’t be afraid to be different. And, finally, don’t forget to do it all with a smile.