10 things I’ve learnt, 10 years after graduation

Every now and then Facebook’s ‘memories’ feature throws out some beauties. This week it was a picture from ten years ago of me and my wife in Liverpool graduating from university. The two pale youths are barely recognisable from who we are now (my lack of hair aside).

Like all these things, it only feels like yesterday yet so much has changed in a decade. We’re now married and have an amazing little girl, we live in Cornwall, and we’ve done things, both in our professional lives and personal lives, we’d never have even dreamed of ten years ago.

It got me thinking and asking the question: “So what have I learnt?” My journey has taken me from being a fresh-faced reporter on a local rag to working for myself with some amazing companies all around the world, via stints back in education, at a charity, in the private sector and at a marketing agency.

This is what I’ve learnt:

1. Take risks. I wouldn’t be anywhere without having the courage to take risks. Whether it was the decision to move to the south west, to not finish my masters for the sake of a job or leaving an awesome company to try and make it on my own with the imminent arrival of a baby looming on the horizon.

This time in 2007 I was all set on staying in Liverpool while Polly moved to Exeter to do her PGCE. Two weeks before she left I told her I was coming with her. I had no job to go to and Okehampton (a small town perched on the edge of Dartmoor where we were moving to) isn’t especially well known for its employment opportunities. But I gambled. I followed my heart and made a decision for the right reasons. It was a tough six weeks or so but the risk paid off. Before September was out, by sheer chance, opportunity and by being in the right place at the right time, I was working as a reporter for the Okehampton and Tavistock Times. The rest is history.

2. Put in the hard yards. This is probably the best bit of advice I could give to anyone who’s off to university or just about to graduate. Don’t be afraid of hard work. The hard graft of experience is worth its weight in gold. You’re not entitled to anything. You have to earn it. Work at your craft, practise it and master it. If you do this, the hard work for little reward will pay off. Whether it’s an apprenticeship, an internship or simply doing something for free, do it. The more experience you gain now, the bigger the pay off will be in the future.

3. Love what you do and do it well. We all have to work and we’ll all spend a good chunk of our lives doing it. So, please, do something you love. Watch this if you don’t believe me. Love what you do, relish it, take pleasure in it. There will always be pressure and stress in any job but they’re so much easier to deal with when you do something you love. And when you do a job, do it well. People remember a job well done. Go the extra mile and take pride in what you do.

4. Don’t take things for granted. Relationships, family and friendships, to name a few, all require work. Sure, some things will tick along nicely but check in on the once in awhile and give them some TLC. Take time out and find the things in your life you’re grateful for, tell your loved ones you love them, tell your friends how much you value them and don’t carry around grudges. Life is too short.

5. Accept you’ll make mistakes. We all do. You will make mistakes. Whether it’s personally or professionally you will upset your partner, your boss, a customer or anyone in between. Being flawed is part of our nature. Accept it and give up the quest for perfection. Mistakes are going to happen and sometimes it’ll be the hardest thing to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. But you must. Learn from the mistakes you make, try and help others not make the same ones, and don’t dwell on them or let them define you. Keep your chin up and keep going, you’ll do just fine.

6. Don’t take yourself (or others) too seriously. Because, really, there’s nothing worse than people who do. Time is precious, too precious to spend it being wound up tight. Keep smiling and keep laughter close to your heart.

7. Keep surprising yourself. Like taking things for granted, I’m wary of becoming too complacent and comfortable in my own skin. Whether it’s in trying new things or doing something outside of your comfort zone, keep hold of that capacity to surprise yourself because you never know where it’s going to take you.

8. Find balance. And by this I mean don’t work too hard but don’t play too hard either, eat healthy but don’t become obsessed by it, stay healthy but don’t preach your lifestyle to others. Have a release, whether it’s a sport or a hobby, especially if it’s something where you can let go and simply be ‘present.’ In the past decade there’s times I’ve worked too hard, there’s times I’ve played too hard and there’s times I think I might just about have got the balance right. I think it’s incredible difficult to lead a perfectly balanced life, but I think life is richer when we work to try and achieve it.

9. Raise the bar. One of my defining rugby memories is watching Living With Lions after the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa. In it, forwards coach, Jim Telfer, says: “There’s two kinds of rugby players, boys. There’s the honest ones, and there’s the rest. The honest player get up in the morning, looks himself in the mirror, and says ‘I’m going to get better, and better, and better.’”

This has stuck with me through the past 20 years and something I try to apply, not just to sport, but to life. To love learning more, doing more, experiencing more and constantly working to better myself. Keep raising the bar because the only ceiling is the one you put there yourself.

10. Be kind to others. And finally, the most important one of all. Be kind to others and be kind to yourself. Small acts of kindness go along way. We live in the world of Trump and Brexit, of social media vitriol and spite, of acts of hatred designed to sow the seeds of terror and make the world a darker place. It might not make any difference at all but I like to think being kind and doing things for others can help make my world a better place and hopefully the worlds of others brighter ones too.

I’m quite looking forward to reading this back in ten years, cringing, and dispensing another dose of my acquired wisdom. Thanks for reading, and if one thing sticks with just one of you, and inspires you in some way, then it makes it all worth it.