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Nine Two Five

Working life is in itself an oxymoron. I have found it very difficult to distinguish between work and my life since I started my internship. The company itself, to its credit, prides itself on finding the right work/life balance and making sure that you have something outside of the job. Yet it is very difficult to find that when you are interning. The idea that you are 5 weeks away from a job that could secure you for the next chapter, makes it difficult to make time to play tennis three times a week.

It is this constant nagging concern that you aren’t doing enough. There is no benchmark for knowing what is going to happen, and so you are working, thinking, doing everything you can to impress. And it’s absolutely exhausting. Looking back after half my time in this job, I have never worked so hard in my life, and I usually work for myself. The ability to prioritise, work at a thousand miles an hour and make sure that I make the 17:36 train to London Waterloo makes it a challenge every day.

I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed every second of it. Everyone who says that is lying. At times, it is incredibly stressful, upsetting and downright frustrating. I am starting to make headway, but it has been a very steep learning curve.

Luckily, I do have a great manager who is incredibly perceptive to the journey that I am on. In a typical 9 to 5, it feels like I am doing 925 hours of work and he is appreciative of that. However, there are plenty I have seen that have killed the motivation of interns they have working for them because they simply don’t have time. It amazes me how managers forget that they started at the bottom rung of the ladder and someone gave them a step up.

I have no idea whether I am going to get this job or not. And now five weeks in, I realise that this is out of my control. What I can control is how I present myself in this environment. Winning means doing the best you can, and if it doesn’t work here, then it will work somewhere else. Effort has never let me down. It has always taught me to be hungry for more.

I am taking this weekend to reflect about how I am really doing. Personally, rather than professionally. I think that is why I am starting by writing down my thoughts here. My development is as important as the bottom line.

Undergraduate of the Year

The last few days have pushed me back on the 30 day challenge, which is a bit disappointing, but I’d rather take the time to do it properly than rush it through. The title of this post is not some thinly veiled attempt at self-indulgence (I mean, that is what this blog is for) but actually a real thing. I was nominated this year for the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year awards. Believe me, I was as surprised as you are.

The whole process was gruelling. Having to go through various assessments and questions, identifying this competency or that one, but this time it wasn’t just to be satisfy a graduate recruiter. I could actually talk about what I love doing: innovating. I love the process of creation. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was my favourite film as a boy, and Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka still makes me stare at the screen like a schoolkid. The sense of imagination and excitement from completely impossible things made me realise then that just because something doesn’t look normal, does not mean that it isn’t brilliant.

Although as you get older, fear creeps in. The drop to failure gets higher and higher, as does the height of responsibility. You start to overthink things. And I guess this last week has made me realise how much of my own stress is self-made. However, yesterday it was nice to put on a new suit and talk to people about the things I was interested in, the companies I have founded and what my ideas are for the future.

I wasn’t grovelling to employees at a firm I wanted to work for, but I was being asked about my thoughts on things – and this time it wasn’t being marked out of 10 on a clip board. There was a mutual respect. And the calibre of talent was staggering. One guy who won one of the awards was so good that he got invited to Obama’s second inauguration ceremony…I mean, my jaw literally hit the floor.

And no, I didn’t win. I was nominated for Future Business Leader by Mars Global and the girl next to me won. Initially I was disappointed, but when I looked at the sheer delight on her face, I was happy to see it go to someone who wanted it so much. For me, just being nominated was a token of how far I had come. After seeing things go my way (and not on some occasions) it felt calming to be given recognition for just being me.

I am forever grateful and humbled by the opportunities and achievements that have already come in abundance in my life so far. It is a culmination of my parent’s backbreaking efforts, my long suffering friends, colleagues that I have learnt so much from and strangers that challenge me every day. I never forget how lucky I am, and you can’t always win them all.

Although I did win, in my own little way

This Is The End

There is no point in being bitter about the last page of the closing chapter. You enjoyed reading every word, but you knew at some point that the words would finally run out. This book is over. Today officially marks the end of We Do Ideas, the business that I have been running for the past two years. It is…sorry, was the only youth-led innovation consultancy in the world. I would go into explaining exactly what that is, but I guess it would be futile to go into too much detail.

After attending the Phoenix Festival (have a look at the last post) it seemed like a fitting time to call it quits – it was almost like our last hurrah. And what a great way to end! As much as it has been tough and stressful, it has also been extremely rewarding and eye-opening. The last two years have indirectly opened up a lot of doors for me. Not only have they furthered my hunger to develop something successful on my own, but they have shown me that I have the capacity to do it.

It is a failure of sorts. A failure to establish a vision that we were extremely passionate about. A failure to convince others of how powerful the vision is, in order for them to invest their time and money into it. But failure is a damning word. As if there is nothing to resurrect from the fires of what once was. However, the world does not work like that – nothing is a complete failure, and nothing is a complete success. Or maybe those are the forlorn thoughts of a person who is trying to take the positives of a pretty difficult situation. But hey…you can’t blame a guy for trying!

It is no surprise to me that more small businesses fail than those that succeed. And out of those that supposedly “succeed”, many seem to limp along trying to make things meet. I guess that there are many others like me that are trying to hang onto the coattails of hope. Entrepreneurship, although it sounds it, is not at all glamourous. It is a lifestyle that will bit by bit seep into all areas of your life. You will see them, entrepreneurs, at events and behind the smiles and the fancy business cards is a person who is doing an 80 hour week minimum and getting paid basically nothing.

Nevertheless, it is the most exhilarating thing I have ever done. Because when something works well, which it does sometimes, it was down to you and your efforts. No babysitting. And it is not for the faint hearted…as if I have not given that vibe away already. A very small percentage of people will ever take the leap of going it alone or in a partnership (because putting it all on the line is not always attractive). An even smaller number will make a living out of it – but that is the gauntlet.

This book has finished, but I am no way close to putting down the pen. This is not a melancholy post about what has been, but a vow as to what will be. The next book has already begun to be written. Is this the end? No, this is just the beginning.

Phoenix

Yesterday was one of the proudest days I have ever experienced as an entrepreneur and as a human being. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when I boarded that train at Paddington with my business partner, but what happened next far exceeded my expectations. What happened made everything that has happened in the past year worthwhile. But let me start at the beginning…

The We Do Ideas team made its way to Cirencester, a small town in Gloucester, to work with some of their young people. It is a charming place, although it is thoroughly devoid of opportunity. We wanted to help this youth group to increase their aspirations for the future…but it was not going to be easy. Many of them as young as 12 were smoking cigarettes, had experience in youth offenders institutes or were drinking, because there was simply nothing for them to do where they lived. It was far away from my existence, with one girl living and working on a farm, getting up at 5 in the morning to help in the barn (I am not making this up). I guess for a second we all questioned whether we would be able to do anything to help.

The first day was a bit of washout. We just helped out while another organisation tried to get them to look into enterprise and give them an introduction. They did not seem that receptive, with many of them making more of the free tea and coffee rather than the workshop itself. We had to re-think. The whole night we spent re-developing our day, making our games bigger, better and more productive. And it worked. They seemed to take a lot more out of it and we developed good relationships with them – we got to know them and understood that this was getting through to them. We just didn’t realise how well.

Last week, they invited us to their festival as VIPs. We developed the idea with them, but they laughed it off thinking that it wouldn’t be possible. Then we got there and joined a crowd of 2,000 people…boy, were we in for a shock!? Less than a year ago, these teenagers bluntly declared that they had nothing and they didn’t care. And since then, we have been part of a journey seeing them scale the heights of their own potential. They had everything from a main stage to graffiti artists to free runners gracing a disused park that they had once abandoned because there was nothing to do. When my business partner and I looked around, we were truly lost for words. It made us feel immensely proud that we were a very small part of that journey.

But we can’t take any credit for Phoenix Festival. It was all down to them. Yet we saw the progression and the maturity of this small band of young people in a small town outside of our worlds come together and do something fantastic. And we felt nothing but pride. All of the problems and obstacles that we faced melted away when we realised this was just the tip of the iceberg. One of the young people won a National Volunteer of the Year Award and she continues to do brilliant things with a charity that she set up herself. There are plenty of other stories as well…

I am not going to bore you with my feelings or emotions. The facts and events speak for themselves. It was nothing short of magnificent and long may it continue. It is fitting that it should end like this.

http://www.phoenix-festival.co.uk/

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Potential is a Dirty Word

Someone said this to me when I was talking to them at an event recently. I was discussing an opportunity to work with them in the future and I described myself as having “plenty of potential” at which point them stopped me mid-sentence. They said to me that using the word “potential” immediately turned them off from working with me. I asked them why? They replied that having potential is not good enough anymore. Having the potential to achieve and actually achieving are on very different scales. Therefore potential is a dirty word.

It got me thinking about the way that we as people are manufactured to sell ourselves, conditioned to some extent through formal education. We are constantly told by our teachers, peers and parents that we have the potential to do something great, if we put our minds to it. But that gives the impression that we can only do something in the future, as by extension that means that doing anything now could harm that potential. I sometimes think that this is what fuels the amount of inactivity that we can see in this generation. They choose to live off this fake “potential” wave in the hope that they will be able to come through without putting in as much effort as they could be – and in this way, ironically, they could be killing any great qualities that they have in the present.

The only way in which this “potential” can be managed and taken forward is if we stop thinking that it is only good in the future. And it shouldn’t be the only thing that fuels our self-confidence enough to put ourselves out there. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves and realise that potential is no good to anyone else if they require our services, even if you are young. Sure, they are looking for you to grow on the job and show enthusiasm, but if you are just a lemon with the potential to be less lemony – don’t be surprised if they tell you that they will keep your CV on file in case something comes up (a polite form of “We are rejecting you”)

So do something about it now. Don’t be under the impression that “potential” is going to take you from where you are to where you want to end up. It is not a selling point. And on the flip side, if you aren’t told you have potential; don’t let it set you back. What will help you is taking the time out to do anything to better yourself and make you a better bet. Don’t rely or be stopped by something that hasn’t happened. Draw on what you have already done and are doing. Potential is a dirty word and a self fulfilling prophecy, because the more you hope to draw on later, the less work you will do now, and the more you will have lost in the process. Don’t get sucked in.

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The 1000 Day Plan

The best thing about having a 1000 day plan is that you don’t even know you are on one. 1000 days is a little under three years, and according to Bill Gates, it takes around about that time to take a skill and perfect it. You see something you like, try it, obsess, learn, absorb and then master. And then you look back on the previous 999 days, and realise that you were on the path to success and you didn’t even know it. That is the beauty of passion – it grows on you.

Someone important at one point in time said that the journey of a thousand steps starts with the first. But we make plenty of first steps in different directions, tentatively peering out on the balls of our feet to see if it possible for us to look into the future. To see whether it is worth taking that second step. But the truth is, life doesn’t work like that – there is an element of risk in everything you do. Spending time, the only real thing that you have to spend, doing something is less time spent on doing something else. So every decision is a bargain.

It means that plenty of time is wasted. It also means that many of the plans that you make never get to the golden 1000 mark – this can leave us to abandon taking any steps at all, or even trying to go back to where we have come from, to get to a place of comfort. But where is the fun in that? Where is the excitement in backing away from opportunities? There is an element of risk, but that is what gets the blood coursing faster through our veins, widens our eyes and pushes us to take the next step.

It was only on the 900th day that I realised, looking back at the steps that I have taken, that it was all worth it. Even then, taking step 901 was immensely difficult because it meant committing to the journey that I had nearly completed and starting a new one. Since then, I have stopped walking and started running to the peak, and the closer I get, the more enthralled I feel. I am sure that most of you will have no idea what I am talking about, but you will have your own journeys in mind, and your own plans to fulfil.

And we are nearly there. I can finally come down off of my tip-toes and take a lungful of air, seeing at the end is in sight. And with less that 30 days to go now, you will all be able to see the fruits of this journey very, very soon. Try, obsess, learn, absorb, master. Four out of five completed.

Stop Talking Bull.

This has been bugging me for quite a while, but it came to a head this weekend. I was lucky enough to attend a conference and listen to some seminars and workshops given by ‘motivational speakers’ – you will see why I have said that ironically soon. I was listening to this one guy talking complete nonsense about networking and pitching yourself, but he was so expressive and passionate that everyone seemed to be mesmerised by him. What made it even worse was that some of the audience were young people and they were being taking in by what was essentially complete drivel. Then the talk ended (much to my delight) and the man announced that he was selling a book and a course if people wanted to learn more.

I was expecting people to get up and leave, hearing the ka-ching sound from the pound signs bouncing over this guy’s head, but they didn’t. They rushed from their seats and signed on the dotted line – that line was worth £100. I literally exclaimed ‘Are you serious?!’ seeing people clamouring to cash in on this supposedly priceless opportunity. Realising that at this point everyone seemed to be looking at me with disdain, I looked at them with disbelief and like Ross Kemp, I got the hell outta there! But that made me think…are motivational speakers just straight up conmen?

The simple answer to that is no, of course not. There are plenty of experienced individuals full of morsels of wisdom that they must share with society in order to empower them to be on the same level. But some of them get paid ridiculously to do it and therein lies the problem. Okay, sure there is always some reimbursement for a person’s time and cost, but surely paying someone thousands to essentially tell people what to do is a bit ridiculous? But people buy into it. They sign up for the courses. They make the notes. And without knowing it, they have in their own way been indoctrinated.

There is one solution to this problem, and again it is a very simple one. Do not take things at face value. Question them. Do not be afraid to tell someone they are wrong (in a polite way of course – screaming at people never solves anything). If you can stand up for what you believe in and have the confidence to fight for them, then the world will bow at your feet. It does not happen straight away and the fear often draws away the confidence that you have to say anything against the tide of popular opinion. But nothing worthy is ever achieved easily. Once you have harnessed the power to question as well as the power to answer, nothing, and I mean nothing is impossible (and that is not a cliché).

So when you are sitting in a talk or if you ever get the chance, listening to a motivational speaker, take what they say and really try to intellectually unravel it. If they are talking bull, then start waving your big red cape and shouting “Torro!” – and don’t let that bull get the better of you ever again.

 

A Blog About Blogging – Just Do It!

I know from the title that this entry must seem like a frightfully boring account of the ins and outs of blogging with all the technical jargon and nonsense that comes with it, but it is not going to be like that. It is getting towards Christmas time and New Years so we are all thinking about resolutions, so I thought that I would make one on here. I have to admit, that my blog instinct has been a bit dry recently and so I must make a more conscious effort to write more on here. But the resolution that I wanted to make, was to inspire one more person to start writing next year, through what I say on here. It doesn’t have to be a public blog like this; it could be a diary entry or even just a post it on your wall once in a while. I didn’t really think it was possible at first, but then I had a chance encounter today, which made me feel that I should try and fulfil that resolution.

On my way in the evening to a meeting today (which was pretty cool, but irrelevant for now), I was wrapping up in the cold and assuming my silent position like every other person on the underground. Then I saw a young lady who I sort of knew well, we saw each other often, but rarely had the chance to have a conversation. We broke the status quo silence, much to the dismay of the man in front of me, and started to have general conversation about our plans for the evening. I am not sure how, but we ended up talking about the blog and how much she liked it, and how she had forwarded it on to a few people, and how they liked it. Like any writer receiving praise, my cheeks started to warm a little against the cold and I asked whether she had thought about writing. She said that she was unsure whether it would be coherent, a constant babble of thoughts in no particular order, and so she replied in the negative. The conversation lasted maybe five minutes, but it really inspired me to try and change her mind. So this young lady is for you…

Everyone’s thoughts go at a hundred miles an hour and unfortunately our fingers do not keep up – it is a bane of life. And even though that these thoughts seem to be in order, I can assure you that I am only writing this sentence as it comes to my head. No plan. Of course, it takes a bit of practice, and if my earlier blogs are anything to go by, then for me a LO T of practice to get it right. And you will never run out of things to say, as you start to write, things will pop up to you wherever you are and you will be compelled to put pen to paper. I know that you are quite an interesting person, well travelled, lots of experiences; if anything you are the perfect person to fit the job! You just need to start and I promise you that you won’t be able to stop. You might think that it is hard to be this honest to people you don’t know, as you don’t know who is reading it, and it is. But the beauty of it is that you have a platform to speak, to say what you feel in the way that you want to say it – I couldn’t think of a better thing for anyone to have. Think about all of those people that don’t have free speech, wanting to say something, but stopped…we are so privileged to not have censorship, we should celebrate this fact by making our voice heard in any way we can. I realise that this is starting to get a little preachy, so I am going to tone down the reverend act. I also realise that you may be writing any way and so this may be quite patronising. Although, hopefully this will have been some use to you young lady, and even though we had such a short chat, I want you to know that you inspired me to write this.

Many of the other people may be thinking who you are, but it doesn’t matter – in theory everyone is in your shoes. Unsure about whether they should take that leap of or not. I was in the same place not long ago, but I took that leap and I have never looked back. Like I said before, it could be a private diary entry or a broadcast, just as long as you pick up your pen and make your mark. I know that that young lady will be reading this; I hope that she likes it! 🙂

Get Up, Stand Up : A Day In The Life (28th October 2011)

To round off the week, Friday was another early morning, but I didn’t really mind it, as I had sort of got use to the fact that I wasn’t going to get any lie ins at all! This was the day when I was taking a workshop on campaigning with the Youth Media Agency (which is incidentally my second job) at the Get Up, Stand Up conference in Tottenham which was a creative response to the London riots that happened in August 2011. It seemed like it was important as the general consensus is that we cannot reach the rioters through the traditional route of youth clubs and education because they have just become disillusioned with the whole system and maybe a more innovative approach is needed. Although I personally don’t think their approach was so sophisticated as rage against the system and more like “how many pairs of shoes can I stuff into my jogging bottoms…well I don’t know until I try!”

But my cynical views aside, I was interested to learn the different approaches that there were to tackling the problem. There was everything from inspiring people through African native music and rap to an alternative theatre drama project. To be honest, it was not what I was expecting. I thought that it was going to be a celebration of what young people in the area are doing in order to rejuvenate the already tarnished image of them, but it was just a list of speakers and PowerPoint presentations going on about best practice – not really living up to the title is it? And I know the reason why….the admission price was £20! How can you expect organisations to pay that amount of money for each person to come to an event to promote them, most projects can’t afford that amount of money! Which meant that what should have been a packed out auditorium was actually just a sparsely attended gathering which sort of ruined the atmosphere a bit. Lunch was good though, I guess…

Well after a dismal morning, we got onto the workshop and for the first time I felt sort of nervous. I mean I have done presentations before, but this was the first time that I was leading something that I was supposedly an expert in (that is what my boss said anyway!) and so it added just a little more pressure. We were just going through the basics of campaigning; so the basic questions you ask before you start a campaign, the research you do to find who you are targeting and then finally how you are going to carry out and what is your main message. Then we had a quick look at a campaign that I had put together for the Children’s Commissioner about changing the negative perception of young people in the media and so quite relevant to the conference. All the participants enjoyed the crash course and then we created a campaign in 30 minutes (usually the process takes about 3 months) which was pretty awesome. Unfortunately, I can’t share any of the ideas on here because they are not ready for release and we don’t want anyone stealing them (I am not joking, people do!) but safe to say that the afternoon was a great success.

So after a week of gallivanting what did I learn? That no lie-ins make man very tired indeed. That is a given though. I guess the other thing I learnt is that you have to make the most of the holidays that you get especially when you are young, otherwise stuff gets in the way and then you make excuses and then you live with regrets. If a thought pops into your head, write it down and that is the first step to achieving it. People ask me all the time, what is your secret? How can you do so much stuff? Well, sorry to disappoint those of you who thought that there was a magical elixir you take to do it all (you have all been reading too much Harry Potter!) but the fact is that there is no secret. Your mind is a powerful force to stop you doing what you want to do, but use it to your advantage and force yourself to take that extra hour out of your day for you. Someone once told me that unless we stretch ourselves, we can’t see how far we can go, like a rubber band. Absorb that quote. Just make sure you don’t snap! (I take no responsibility for snapping of any kind…)

This is the last of my A Day In The Life blogs for now, I hope you enjoyed them! (WOOP!)