It’s not what you’ve got, but what you do with it…
During my ‘traditionally employed’ life, I have worked for two amazing ladies. One had an astute intuition of Steve Jobs-esque proportions, a gut feeling for business that many would never have associated with her strong West Country twang. And the other spoke five languages fluently (all self-taught) and was as savvy as any Dragon you’d find in The Den. Neither had set foot in a university. Neither had a degree.
They were a breath of fresh air, a complete inspiration.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not what you’ve got, but the chances you take in life that matter.
And many of the former students in my university classes are living proof of that. They have done incredibly well by academic standards, but they never quite went on to become the translators in Brussels or the interpreters for the U.N that they once spoke of being. Many still reside in their home towns (nothing wrong with that either) but they never quite made it to that much coveted dream life in Paris, Berlin or Madrid, or anywhere else in France, Germany or Spain, despite having spent their compulsory 3rd university years working or teaching there.
It really is quite a strange phenomenon.
And then there’s me: The Desmund Tutu of the class.
Unlike many in my year group, I came out of uni frustrated with a 2:2 (the somewhat average Desmund). I’d studied a lot over the four years, of course. But I certainly hadn’t gone above and beyond anybody’s requirements. I’d been lazy with the extended reading lists, had to keep a weekend job going to supplement the funds of my course (despite having wonderful parents who’d sacrificed everything to get me to uni and pay for my rent… and quite often my car costs besides). And if anybody thought I’d be revelling in additional revision in the holidays… well, they’d be more likely to find me exploring The Gambia, chilling on a beach in The Canaries and brushing up on my Spanish via food, drink and chitchat with the locals – definitely not the pages of a dictionary, or going large in Toronto.
That, to me, was – and still is – life. Living. Seeing new places. Broadening my horizons in a way learning the history of Algeria from a white board and projector at a rather bleary-eyed 8.30am could never do!
It’s no wonder I skipped so many of those lectures. With, it has to be said, my very small but like-minded posse (all of whom ended up doing really exciting things – by my standards, anyway! – either by working their way up through their various industries, quitting uni early and doing exceedingly well, or shunning the road less traveled for life in a brand new country.)
And of course, we can hardly forget the clubbing.
For all the German declension tables I memorised, all the dates in France’s political history I committed to the prefrontal cortex, and for all the economic theories I painstakingly regurgitated to the Jumped Up Little Shit in the polo neck jumper and outdated – at the time – Tom Cruise shades (our teacher for the latter had only just graduated and took great pride in pulling us all down several pegs), I learnt more about life and the kind of skills I would need to get by in the great big world of careers by getting ‘Out There’ and being a part of it. Meeting people, learning about what drove them, their passions, dreams and beliefs.
And most of all, how to communicate with them.
And it is that very thing, not the number of ‘A’ stars in your GCSEs (impressive though they are), and not your first class degree, nor your 5 amazing ‘A’ grade A levels either (which get your smiley face in the paper… and probably make those who scraped a C feel, well, pretty rotten to the core), which will get you the foot in the door at your dream workplace.
It’s simplistic but it is true: Emotional Intelligence is EVERYTHING.
And it’s not something to be garnered by spending years in the library, slumped over a pile of books, missing out on the midweek (not to mention the all important weekend) fun!
Those who are the most successful in life think outside the box…
Straight A students (and even their almost there B counterparts), particularly when we are talking universities, are so groomed (mainly by virtue of their own high standards) to tow the line of perfection that they rarely dare to walk outside the ‘guidelines’ to take a risk. Not only are they not as able to make spontaneous decisions by following their inner voices, but they are often extremely rigid in their beliefs, thwarting their creativity, adhering to society’s rules.
Naturally, this makes for students who are not as employable.
Unless they are seeking a post in the upper echelons of academia, or professorship…
There are exceptions, of course. Equally, there are always going to be naturally gifted geniuses who buck this trend and can tap into the advantages of being both studious and sociable.
But for all concerned parents and teachers – and of course, students out there amid exam fever right now…
I write this for YOU. I am proof that the qualifications you receive in this, your latest round of what must seem like a life sentence of examinations to test your ability, is not the be all and end all. It’s all about following your hunches. Always. It’s all about following your bliss.
For me, some 15 plus years ago, that meant being maverick enough to apply for a job I was completely under-qualified for… but adored the sound of: European Sales Manager for a Children’s Publisher.
So I did.
I may have needed 18 months publishing experience and only had 4 and a half (which I rounded up to 6 for CV presentation purposes!), from my year abroad spent working for a Stuttgart-based textbook publisher, but that was not going to stop me.
Had I been one of the tipped-to-get-a-first students from my uni course, I’d have roared my head off with laughter at the utter preposterousness of somebody like me daring to have the audacity to think they were good enough!
And that is where the majority of Straight A students differ from the rest of us.
We know we’re not academically ‘Up There’, but that doesn’t matter, for we have learnt to develop a far more important aspect of our being. Some of us have spent up to four years having our confidence knocked by not only the Straight A students and their (mostly!) sneering grins when our exam papers have been handed back to us in front of the class, after all. We may have been knocked down several times in our quest to make it to 60% in a paper… while the Straight As sailed through with 70% plus every single time, but what we DO now have experience of is getting the hell back up and going for it.
No matter what IT may be. We truly have nothing to lose. Certainly not our pride if we get rejected!
We are the JK Rowlings of the literary world, the Meryl Streeps of the big screen. Our tenacity knows no limits.
We not only dream, but we have the conviction to follow through.
None of this is to belittle or shun the dedication and commitment of those who work their backsides off in this world. Far from it. I have been there!
But the trade-off is rarely worth it. Not just for the eventual outcome in the world of work, but also our mental and physical health.
The truest route to career happiness is, quite frankly, via happiness.
Following the path that lights us up! For me, that was the idyllic sounding job that would have me jetting all over Europe to visit clients and present them with books to ignite children’s imaginations. Actually, never mind children’s imaginations, they ignited mine! I was a kid in a toy shop.
I learnt on the job because I was genuinely enthralled by what I was doing. Test me on the paper mechanism or specifications of a pop up book any day, or ask me to pick out the Japanese/South Korean/Finnish or Danish edition of a book in the archives, and I’d ace all of my Straight A cronies!
Some may call it luck, but the day I saw my dream job advertised, I visualised myself already sat there at the desk, in the surroundings and traveling to book fairs in Bologna, Frankfurt, Warsaw and Prague. That was the reality and so it became my reality. I truly loved what I did and so my career went from strength to strength and eventually at the tender age of just 25 I was running a multi-million pound department for a bigger children’s publisher… and flying off to Hong Kong, Russia, Milan – and just about everywhere in between.
There was no greater feeling than turning up at my graduation…
Knowing that the result, that scroll in my hand, was as good a ‘currency’ as any first class degree, because I, unlike practically anybody else in the prestigious cathedral that day, had already made something of my life after uni. Whilst my lecturers and teachers were always lovely and full of enthusiasm for all of us, clearly they had their favourites (predictably those Straight As!) and I couldn’t hide my smile when they asked me what I ‘was up to’ and I told them I’d just been to Germany to meet my international clients at the biggest book fair in the world… and was soon off to Paris for my very first solo sales trip. Their faces were priceless. As were those of the gaggle of Straight As who were (equally predictably) hanging on their coat tails. I mean gown tails. Quite literally!
I love that I can use this example for my own children.
I regularly see the fear and the stress etched on my 9 year old daughter’s face as she prepares for a test at school. And I simply tell her, ‘Do your best, but remember, none of this really matters. You probably won’t need to divide a nine figure number in the future (unless you’re a Trump), neither will you need to spell that ridiculously long word that even I have had to go and look up, nor will you need to draw diagrams of the cycle of water, or paint a still life of a bowl of fruit… What you WILL need though is just two things: 1) the ability to daydream and 2) the courage to answer the door when that daydream comes a knocking.’