‘You can’t have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time’, Charles F. Kettering.
Like ol’ Charlie (an American inventor), I have always tended to live life forwards. Having said that, I do enjoy the odd retrospective and today is no exception. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d kick-off Birksy by explaining how the past led me to creating this blog.
THE EARLY YEARS – WATER ROCKETS AND JAM BUTTIES
I was born in 1982 (I know, I know), the same year that the song ‘eye of the tiger’ was released (tune!) and apparently the first time an emoticon was used in an email 🙂
I have to admit my early school memories are limited to things like sponge cake and custard (yum), rounders, and sitting cross legged on the floor in assembly singing ‘he’s got the whole world in his hands’.
Thankfully, memories of my home life are more plentiful – with special thanks to my first ever bestie….my big bro. Growing up, Sniff (known to others as Joe or Joseph) and I spent most of our time playing outdoors. You’d find us riding our bikes to make-believe planets; launching water rockets over the house; conducting experiments in the garden; and basically taking apart anything electrical (in the shed, in secret). If it was ‘proper’ raining and we were having a TV and jam butty day, he’d make me switch over from Narnia to the likes of Star Trek or Mork and Mindy. The latter I loved (#RIPRobinWilliams), the former not so much. On clear evenings we’d sneak out of the house, climb on top of our garage and look at the stars through the toy telescope. Basically, he was a massive distraction from my ‘Sylvanian family’ and ‘Barbie’ obsession but I wouldn’t have had it any other way (especially looking back now).
By the end of the ’80s, Sniff had somehow managed to convince our parents to buy a desktop computer. And, at aged 8 or 9, I distinctly remember him teaching me how to write a command to our dot-matrix printer. A story that I had imagined in my head (or more realistically acted out in our lounge) was now in ‘print’ and I was hooked. It wasn’t long before the dial-up tone of the internet modem became a regular household noise and Sniff convinced our parents to buy our second computer – the Amstrad NC100 (which was basically a laptop with the smallest screen ever).
In summary, I think it’s fair to say that my big bro was teaching me about the potential of technology long before I was even taught what a computer was at school!
SCHOOLTIME – BIG UP TO MRS PAXTON
Despite my early introduction to programming, I knew that coding wasn’t to be my calling. I’m far too much of a chatterbox and have the attention span of a nat. What I did know, however, was that I wanted to be ‘around’ technology and preferably work in an environment that required me to dress smart (symptom of being an ’80s child). At the time, I had no idea what that meant until a conversation with my GCSE Business Studies teacher changed everything.
Mrs Paxton (it’s funny how you call teachers by their surname) had been observing how I was loving my group project. So, after class one day she took me aside. I thought she was going to tell me off for talking too much again – but that wasn’t it at all. I was 16 years old and all she said was that I might want to look into a career in consulting. That’s literally all she said.
That evening I asked Sniff to dial-up the internet and 15 minutes later (it was VERY slow back then) I entered into a Yahoo search (yes, Yahoo!) the words ‘careers in consulting’. An advert for Anderson Consulting (now Accenture) popped up, which I clicked on, started reading and the rest is pretty much history.
I was so excited by the things that Accenture were involved with – like how they were developing a pen and notepad for the NHS to digitally capture data on-the-go (geek, I know). Reading further, I realised that I would have to knuckle down to meet their entry requirements – so that’s what I did. I selected A-levels and the degree that I thought would give me the best chance of being ‘accepted’. I had found a focus and that focus stayed with me until I joined Accenture in May 2006. That’s when the real fun began.
WORK, PLAY, WORK – MAKING A VOW
Upon joining Accenture I was assigned to their Financial Services practice, which basically meant that I spent my time working on projects at investment banks in London, New York and Hong Kong. It was both intense and immense! And yes, I did get the opportunity to wear some pretty smart clothes (and a lot of fancy dress).
When the markets were doing well, plenty of money was being thrown at consultancies to design faster trading systems. The faster the bank could trade, the more money they could make. During this time the energy and pace was electric (and crazy). I remember on one occasion having to hide underneath a table while massive baguettes were being thrown across the trading floor. It was like feeding time at the zoo.
Then, in 2007, the credit crisis hit. The majority of work began to revolve around ensuring banks complied with new regulations (yawn) and the pace slowed down….ALOT.
Thankfully, I had already learnt my fair share about the complex world of financial products and witnessed the value of computing power in action. I’d also become pretty nifty at living out of a suitcase and surviving on little sleep (doable in my 20s but not so much now). Anyway, I digress. Most relevant to this story is that I’d also begun to realise that I was in the minority. It all came to a head during a team dinner when I realised that:
A. I was the only female; and
B. I was the only one who had NOT attended a private school.
It was during that moment that I made a vow to myself. The vow was to somehow help more people from less privileged families aware of the opportunities available to them and to help them reach their potential. At the time I obviously hadn’t formed the vow so eloquently, I just knew I had to do something to help change the norm.[Pause] I’m going to stop there for a second and apologise for taking so long to do something about the above. So, sorry and please forgive me! Here’s what happened in between….
In 2010, an opportunity presented itself to join a consultancy called Capco. Their vision was (and still is, I believe) to ‘form the future of finance’. As you can imagine, I was just a little bit excited.
Whilst at Capco, I worked on some fantastic projects, my favourite being the design of a new ‘digital only’ bank for the UK. The best thing about this project was the exposure it gave me to all sorts of innovations arising in the financial sector – from new forms of currency to the use of artificial intelligence (still a geek, I know!). This project was a game changer for me. Not only did it remind me about why I wanted to work in technology, it also reminded me of the vow that I had made to myself whilst in Accenture and why I made it (see A and B above). Plus, I got to make a film (once a drama queen, always a drama queen).
Then, right in the middle of delivering the project, I found out that I was going to become a mummy (with my long suffering partner in crime, Gezzy). I was shocked (as we’d been told that we might not be able to have children), excited and nervous – all at the same time. I won’t bore you with how I managed to drag my elephant feet and massive belly to work each day or the wonders of childbirth – phew! Instead, I’ll fill you in on how the whole experience changed me and led me to refocus.
TIME TO REFLECT – BROKEN PROMISES AND LIFE DECISIONS
People think I’m crazy when I say this but once the little ray of sunshine that is Emelia was born, I managed to get more sleep than when I was working. For the first time in 10 years, I finally got chance to reflect. My first epiphany was that I was no longer the teenager who so desperately wanted to work in Consulting. In between nappy changes and night-time feeds I realised that I had become subservient to the industry and lost a little part me. That spark that Mrs Paxton had ignited had fizzled out and I had somehow lost my focus. So, before returning to work I put pen to paper. After several mind-maps here were my top 5 takeaways (in no particular order):
- I had done nothing to deliver on the vow that I had made to myself whilst at Accenture.
- In the 8 years since making the vow, I had witnessed nothing to make me believe things had changed.
- I had become somewhat jaded with financial services – the work was becoming very ‘samey’.
- If I was to return to work and be away from Emelia, it had to be for something worthwhile.
- My favourite ‘work’ achievement was setting up the Associate Talent Programme in Capco – I loved the coaching aspect.
I hadn’t quite worked out what my new focus would be, however, my objective was to continue the thought process once back at work. The first thing that I did upon returning to work was to leave my comfort zone of Capco and join a digital agency called SapientNitro (with lots of smiley new faces).
As you can imagine, my first project at SapientNitro was in financial services …and….so was my second and third (you get the picture!). So, to keep me engaged, I took up an online MIT course in Future Commerce and (in between commuting, toddler bedtime, and project deadlines) I tried to work on some longer-term goals.
Six months went by and one thing became apparent, I was getting nowhere. The culprit? It was the old favourite ‘lack of time!’. Coming from the same background (and town!), Gezzy completely understood what I was trying to do so one evening we started to work through the options. Could I give up work? Could I work part-time? We started to imagine what life would be like if we moved back home to North Wales. Could we really up sticks our London life and return to the hills of North Wales?!
The answer to this question materialised after pee-ing on a different kind of stick one Sunday last September. The infamous blue line appeared and confirmed that we were indeed expecting another ray of sunshine (one of the baby variety, of course). With the news that team Laidlaw-Wilson was to expand, the spreadsheet was out and by the end of the day we had our answer. Yes, Team Laidlaw-Wilson were to move back to Wales!
A NEW FOCUS AND NEW PROMISES
Four weeks later I was back in North Wales with Emelia and the bump. We had squashed ourselves into my old bedroom at my parents and were waiting for Gezzy to finish his notice period. Several fry-ups later (the butchers up here is AMAZING!) we were reunited, just in time for Christmas.
By February, we had finished renovating and moved into our new family home (on the avenue behind my parent’s house – very convenient :)). The final piece of the puzzle arrived on April 10th (7 weeks earlier than ‘planned’). Our second bundle of joy – Miss Freya Rose – just couldn’t wait to see what we had planned.
It’s now July, team Laidlaw-Wilson are settled and I’m finally ready to do something about that promise I made 10 years ago! First, let’s recap…
The vow was to help more people from less privileged families aware of the opportunities available to them and to help them reach their potential. Since moving back to North Wales I am even more passionate about this cause. This is my new focus (aside from team Laidlaw-Wilson of course).
So, to begin, I have created this blog as a means of sharing my thoughts on future opportunities and to help you understand the choices that you may need to make now. I’m new to blogging, so all feedback and requests are welcome. Lesson number 1 is probably to write shorter posts! Sorry … but I have covered 35 years in this one 😃 Ahhh, now I feel old.
Anyway…..once I’m on a bloggin’ roll, I’ll look to craft some useful talks and workshops to deliver to schools / local groups. My end goal / dream is to set-up an immersive centre which thrusts you into the future and helps you find your focus now. As I work out what this centre may look like, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts here. I’m also toying with the idea of vlogging my personal journey. So, if this is something you would like to watch then let me know by subscribing to my channel! It may be somewhat chaotic, given I now have a 3-month old and a toddler, but I’ll give it a go.
Righto – I’d better get cracking as I already have a backlog of posts to write. Let’s see where this goes. As Peter Drucker once said ‘the best way to predict the future is to create it’.
Thanks for reading to the end of this ridiculously long post. I hope I can do you proud with the rest and please do get in touch with any ideas or requests.
P.S. I’ve obviously excluded all love stories and travel from the above – I wouldn’t want you to think life has been all work and no play.