I grew up as an only child in the UK in the 70s and 80s. My dad was in his mid-late 50s when he had me and my mum has had a prosthetic leg since the age of 4. I mention these things because it meant that I rarely played any form of sport or physical activity with my parents when I was growing up which became tricky when I joined a sport playing school at the age of 8. I recall my first game of football. I was given a position (centre half which is ironic given what I am about to say) but I didn’t realise that I could move from my position. I spent the whole game rooted to the spot.
My first game of cricket was more successful. My mum had taken me to a park before Summer term and we had practised catch with a tennis ball. In my first game of cricket I was positioned in the slips (which was good because I didn’t have a good throwing arm). My first touch of the ball was when the ball nicked the bat and I caught it. I was about to return the ball to the bowler when everyone started congratulating me. That was when I first realised that a catch got the batsman out.
I was a late starter
It’s funny to look back at these stories now, but what they show is that I was a late starter at sport which put me at a distinct disadvantage. But that just meant I had to work hard to catch up. I had very little natural talent and the successes which I have since had in sport, business, and life, have all been through hard work (which creates a mindset which is a problem in itself). I recall spending hours bowling a ball at stumps in the back garden on my own and celebrating every time it hit the wicket. I enjoyed that because I am an introvert. Those that know me sometimes question that statement because I have been on TV, radio, have held many leadership positions, and do public speaking. But the reality is that I enjoy my own company. I also love socialising, but I have my limits. The revelation that I was an introvert came late in life after much reflection and reading, but now I embrace it.
Rowing was a godsend
Rowing was a godsend for me. I started at the age of 13 with schoolmates who had also never rowed before. For once I was starting at the same place as everyone else. There are several other good things about rowing which appealed to me. First, I got to sit down. I was a slow runner so any sport involving running put me at a disadvantage. Second, rowing is a repetitive movement – whilst it takes years to perfect that movement, I had the tenacity to keep practicing. Third, there seems to be less room in rowing for natural talent – success comes through doing the hard yards. Finally, being tall helps and I’m 6’3”.
I wasn't naturally bright
Academically, I was probably considered by my teachers and peers as bright. But I wasn’t: I just worked hard. I came to realise this the hard way when I did my A Levels and came out with results which were less then expected. By then, I was spending too much time on the river in boats. That meant I missed going to University immediately after school and instead went to a Polytechnic which fortuitously became a University in my second year. That was a far drop from the Oxbridge examinations I had done two years earlier (unsuccessfully), but it worked for me at the time largely because it allowed me to keep rowing with my mates.
My dad died
My dad died when I was 18. Whilst this was hugely distressing, the year that followed gave me an opportunity to re-invent myself. I believe I became more courageous that year. I joined Kingston RC and started rowing with men much older than me. I remember growing up quickly that year. By the end of the season, I was stroking the crew (despite being on bowside for any rowers reading).
My legal career got off to a bumpy start
Starting my legal career wasn’t as straightforward as I thought it might be. My dad was Senior Partner in a London law firm when I was growing up, but I didn’t want to go to his firm because I had a misguided notion that it was a form of nepotism (despite him having died several years prior). I now understand it was simply me devaluing my own worth. However, after numerous rejections from other law firms (which further impacted my self-worth), and having previously turned down an informal offer from my dad’s old firm, I had to go back cap in hand. That was a lesson in humility. I had a unique legal training and am reminded of the old adage about throwing a baby in deep water because it will swim to survive (hopefully). Again, I had to figure things out for myself and at times suffered from overconfidence with negative results. I certainly wouldn’t advocate that method of training for any budding lawyer, but it worked for me.
In 2001, I packed my bags and headed to New Zealand. There were several situational reasons which pushed me in that direction, but underlying it all was a desire to work overseas and outside of my comfort zone. I was shit scared of course, but I told myself it was just for a year. I am still here.
Whilst starting from scratch may have suited my personality, it was by no means easy. I was an introvert who had to find new friends, and I started working for a law firm which was the complete opposite of where I had come from. Suddenly, I was at the bottom end of a hierarchy to which I had to conform. So whilst I had flown half way around the world, as far as my career was concerned it seemed that my wings had been clipped. One and a half years later I started my own legal practice because I couldn’t stand it any longer. But I used the time wisely to get re-qualified.
I prefer to think of my step in starting my own legal practice as courageous rather than naïve, but there were certainly naïve elements to it. The ultimate test, however, is that it is thriving today. Once again, I had pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and whilst it took time and perseverance to build, I have reaped the rewards. But it was not plain sailing. In my first year, I turned over what I would now consider to be an average month’s earnings. I had no money, so I had to be creative which included writing a book and becoming an author. That was a lesson in overcoming imposter syndrome especially when I had to go on TV and radio to talk about it.
I believe that human beings are not designed to do the same thing for all their lives. They need to re-invent themselves from time to time – just look at Madonna. That’s why I trained as a business coach. When you stop growing as a person, you start dying. I turned 50 last year and in a few weeks I am expecting my first child. Even on the relationship / family front I am a late starter and it took several disastrous relationships to get here! Having a child scares me somewhat, and there are lots of other things that still scare me, like being vulnerable, portraying myself as an expert, and appearing in Court (which is ironic). But I am more willing to embrace that fear because I understand that it is often desire in another guise.
Embrace the challenges
I have written this brief history of myself to illustrate that life isn’t always plain sailing (and because being vulnerable scares me). In fact, it is the negative experiences that can often enable us to grow the most. As a coach, I cannot take you deeper than I have gone myself in self-reflection. It is not about the medals and achievements; it’s about the adversity and the reflections. I have done (and continue to do) the work on myself, and that (combined with some great teachers) enables me to help you achieve your goals.