Magnifying Glass

I’ve been turning down quite a few speaking invitations recently.  Not because I’m too busy.  Not because the organisation or person inviting me didn’t seem interesting.  Just because I didn’t feel that I was the right person.

I left school fifteen years ago and have been incredibly lucky to have had some amazing adventures since then. 

But let’s get real. 

I’ve not banked lots of money.  I’ve not built large and successful companies.   I can show you dozens of people who have done both, and encourage you to invite them to share their stories.

If I’m honest, I’ve managed to a pick up a very small number of clues, and am still working the rest of it out. 

1.  Get some sleep.

2.  Get some exercise.

3.  Get some peace and quiet.

4.  Write to people out of the blue and ask them if you can come and see them.

5.  Write some goals down.

6.  Resend emails to busy people.

7.  Read some business books.

8.  Try to be nice to people

9.  Try to be helpful.

Most of all, I have been lucky to meet some phenomenal people.  Ask me to give a talk about building an effective network.  That’s something I feel confident sharing. 

This is the week that A-Level results come out.  To anyone who has managed to get what they wanted, a massive congratulations.  To anyone who hasn’t, it will be OK, even if it seems pretty grim at the time.  It really will be OK.

I’d have liked to have a quick look at my list of things when I finished my A-Levels.

What about you?

What would you like to have known on the day you picked your results up? 

What clues have you seen?  

Pass them on in the comments- – anonymously if you want.

You never know who might be reading.

50 Replies to “Clues”

  1. Oli,
    One thing I try to do, that ties into your networking point, is to spend time with more experienced entrepreneurs who are doing bigger and better things than me.

    Learning from them is the obvious benefit. But I find the real value comes from bringing out my competitve streak and raising the level of my personal ambition.

  2. I have also been very reflective this week. I don’t feel like I have achieved as much I wanted since getting my three arts based A levels 8 years ago. Wow. 8 years. My life has taken a completely different course, which isnt necessarily bad. But I dont feel very good.

    I wish someone had told me to not read Lit at Uni. I wish I had known how terrible the jobs market would be when I left Uni (pffff!). I wish I had known that being in your 20s and trying to ‘make it’ isn’t easy and not as exciting as you’d hoped (but maybe that’s just me). I wish I had known that I would feel insecure and not very confident in my 20s, same as I felt when I was 18 and crying into my acceptance letter.

    What I know now is I love my family and my boyfriend, and my small group of good friends. I know that I will ‘make it’ in my own way, just not how I thought it would turn out. I know that I have to believe in and LIKE myself. That is the key, otherwise what’s the point?

    To all the students, no matter how good or bad the results are, know that for the majority of you, life is going to be a challenge but please dont feel like you are failing, no matter where you go in the next 8 years. Don’t beat yourself up and support each other, you never know who can help you out…

  3. Oh, what a good post.
    When I got my results I wish someone had said “no one will ever ask you what you got so don’t worry about it”.

  4. Love the honesty in this Blog Oli, really refreshing in a world that intimidates people by the bull that exists everywhere

    I left school at 19, 3 years in 6th form, not 2 A levels and no idea of my future

    What I did know is that I liked people very much and loved learning from people more than books

    I have focused my life on building my social capital – in other words ‘networking’. This has given me access to amazing minds and hearts

    I feel for all the youths that are dissappointed today but I know that many of those people who are experiencing adversity will be the great people of the future, they will learn the power of people and of contribution and being ‘liked’

    Thank you for this blog Oli, you are one of those very special people I have the pleasure to know.

  5. Me thinks you are too modest squire!!

    For the record peeps, I have know Monsieur Le Barrett since the days before he had more hair on his eyebrows than on his head, and I can tell you that he has learnt one hell of a lot more that he lets on…

    And two clues to the my still massively incomplete puzzle-called-Life that he has inadvertently passed on to me are:

    1. Banish all fear; just get the hell on with it (seriously, what’s the worst that can happen)

    2. What ever you do, enjoy the sh*t out of it!

    Oh, and a sneaky third: you reap what you sow… so send that email, make that cold call, pitch up on that investors doorstep.

    But these – as important as they are – can all be picked up in any number of books (another thing Barrett opened my eyes to). O the day I got my A-level results, I wish I’d been told a few more of the basics:

    – you’re gonna have to start paying taxes soon, go and figure it the hell out coz we sure haven’t taught you squat about it

    – there’s this thing called a called a credit rating. It’s kinda important. But again we thought it best not to even mention it at school so you might wanna learn about that too, before it’s too late and you screw up big time

    – your A-levels in English lit, Art and Economics are great. Well done. But you’ll use little or nothing from them in your impending life. It’s too late now but you should’ve worked harder at maths.

    – there’s this thing called a mortage (see ‘credit rating’ above)…

    – it may not feel like it, but right now you are FREEEEEEEEEEEEE. Do something with it, it won’t last!

    Oh, finally: girls are a nightmare. You probably already know this, but it won’t change. Just sayin’…


  6. Oli,

    I wish I had known to have more faith in people. It still amazes me 15 years after getting my results that when I approach someone more often than not they are willing to give of themselves, their time, their experience and sometimes will open doors without being asked.

    I wish I had known that although it feels as though nothing makes sense, as though we are staring at random coloured threads pointed in random directions that occasionally we catch a glimpse of the finished product and it is beautiful and inspiring.

    I wish I had known then and still work hard on internalising today that life really isn’t a dress rehearsal, that if you keep your eye open for opportunities you will see them and equally if one passes another will be along soon.

    Keep your chins up, your optimism in check, your smiles wide, your minds curious. The world is an amazing place and you are integral to its future!


  7. I wish someone had told me that no one looks at A Level results once you’ve achieved something else in life. I pretty much nearly failed my A Levels and can remember the day so clearly. I thought my life had ended there and then and spent hours on the phone to my school and university to work out what to do. In the end, I did my Gap Year as planned (working in an engineering company) and went to Brunel (to study design) as planned, worked extra hard and came away with a 1st Class degree. It shows that if you are determined you can do anything. I found at 18 the last thing I wanted to do was work hard for exams when there was so much else going on I wanted to experience and distractions all over the place.

    I was made to feel stupid, there was disappointment flying around and I was upset with myself. Looking back, I don’t regret what happened, I put it down to poor direction (and the fact no one spotted I was dyslexic until 10 years later) – there are so many amazing things you can go and do in life which don’t rely on A Levels – yes, they are a good thing to have, companies expect you to have them but think about what you want to do in life and aim for it! I wanted to be a car designer – now I work as a sustainable design consultant… life has taken me on that path, not my A Level results

  8. Hi Oli,

    Nice post. 14 years ago today I got my results too. Disappointed but got my Uni place all the same.

    If I’d have had a list of things to help point me in the right direction I’d hope it would have included the following:

    -Beware, for university lecturers are primarily research driven and have limited experience of the business / real world. (to impress them, if you want to, think how they think, better still do something real and impress yourself)

    -Get involved in great things, start something, maybe a club, an event, a gathering, generally instigate or join something where you can meet interesting like minded people early on. A strong network of trusted contacts is what will help you get on in the world and of course they’re great to enjoy life with too.

    -Be open minded, embrace the world, be curious, seek out new and exciting things, travel, don’t judge people too soon, be aware that there are valuable lessons to be learned at almost every corner in life.

    -Don’t rely on getting that great job and joining the corporate training programs, take risks, join a start-up or better still start something yourself. It’s learning from the people you meet and work with in life that will make all the difference, not a standardised work program to drive graduates through to corporate cogs, so don’t fret if you don’t get exactly what you hoped for, things rarely turn out how you imagined, but with the right attitude they typically turn out well all the same.

    Best of luck to all those who got their results today and for anyone else taking the trouble to read this.

  9. I am very moved by this. What a beautiful piece. Briefly, I would add another suggestion for a clue:

    “Do some things with your head, and some with your heart. Do some things for your head, and some for your heart. Know that each will serve you in different ways. But keep a balance, and always maintain a conscious awareness of what that balance is.”

  10. Great blog posting!

    As for clues, I’d say key ones for me have been:
    * set your own agenda
    * focus
    * do your work diligently and relentlessly
    * treat people with respect
    * take a break when you are tired


  11. Great article Oli. And that’s coming from someone who didn’t get any A-Levels at all. I copped out and did a GNVQ in Business because there were no exams to take. The only thing it’s ever come in handy for is laughing about later in life. As far as I know I’m the only person from my course who runs a business so it shows you how pointless it was. I learnt nothing about real business from the course. Business is something that you can’t learn from a book, you have to experience it, and that goes for so many things in life.

    All my best experience has come either from getting things wrong and making mistakes (and being humble enough to admit it to myself) or from other people I’ve met along the way.

    The only advice I can offer is this:

    Be nice to people, smile, give more than you get, never expect anything in return, never give up, go after the things you want with all every piece of energy you have and never underestimate how much other people are willing help you if you ask the right questions in the right way. Most of all, enjoy life. And if you aren’t enjoying it change something or try something new and keep changing and trying things until you know you’re where you want to be.

    And if you did fail your A-Levels don’t sweat it. You get to start real life three years before everyone who passed!

  12. Thanks, Oli. Fascinating idea. I love this stuff. I would add: be prepared to work hard but never at the expense of friendship or family – they need to be there long after you’ve moved jobs or lost one. You can do at least one thing better than anyone else. Find out what that thing is and differentiate yourself from the competition – be creative. Turn up on time – more talented people than you will let themselves down through unreliability.

  13. Running a website for job-hunting graduates, this is right up my street! My thoughts…

    School (and university) teaches you to be passive and you come to expect guaranteed outcomes (eg “If I study hard, I’ll pass”). But when you come out of education that mindset will only get you so far – and there are no guarantees, ever! You can see this as scary – or exciting, it’s up to you – but shifting your mindset and truly accepting responsibility is crucial. The good news is that once you’ve done it, you’ll never give up your ‘power’ again. Even when things are going badly, it’s up to you to change direction. For anyone not going to uni, you’ll just have to make that shift at 18 rather than 21. But perhaps its easier as you’ve had 3 fewer years of being a lemming…

    My other thought: Learn when to play the game – and when to re-write the rules. As a naturally confrontational person (!) who can’t keep quiet when I see something that’s rubbish, I spent much of my early career struggling against the way things are done, not realising that I wasn’t in a position to change them yet.

    A few years later, I’ve tapped back into that passion for challenging the status quo – and made it work for me, now that I have earned some respect (from writing a book on my subject) and created a platform to shout from (my own website). Now I relish being an outsider – that’s where I’m most comfortable.

    Tanya de Grunwald
    Founder, Graduate

  14. Great thoughts as always Oli
    One clue I would have loved is to capitalise on that feeling of invincibility as much as possible now; it certainly won’t be there in 10 years time! Just go out and make as many mistakes as you possibly can now: the only important thing is that you learn something from making them…

  15. Ooooh Ols. Where do I start!

    * Make every interaction with another human being as passionate, forthright and giving as you can afford
    * Be authentic. You can’t always tell ‘the truth’ but you can always be real
    * Don’t reach. The answer is always closer to home than you think
    * Trust your gut. It rarely lies
    * When pondering life, monitor the following silos and score out of 5; love life, friends/family, work, health, money. Work on those scoring below 2. Immediately ask for help from loving/trusted sources if more than 3 are below 2
    * Don’t chase cash but make sure you have enough to have options
    * Give everything context. Understand the difference between Content and Context
    * Live in the moment. The future hasn’t happened yet and the past is over
    * You will NOT be happier when you get that thing you’ve always wanted (Well maybe for 10 mins ;))
    * Take every opportunity that comes your way. Get on the road, any road. It will happen
    * Love (In the Hollywood sense) is an illusion to get you to procreate. Enjoy and accept that! Real love comes from years of investment (Apparently ;))
    * Smile! Always. No such thing as a bad experience

  16. 36 years ago I got rubbish A. Level grades on the second time of trying. I wish someone had told me then that my life would turn out fine anyway, and that bad results would not ruin my
    prospects,, nor did they prove I was stupid. Not sure I would have believed them but they would have been right.

  17. Lovely post, Oli. Most has been said above. Just three quick thoughts:

    1. Soak up as much advice – from people, books etc – as possible. Then every now and again make sure you ignore everyone else’s advice, however venerable or formidable, and do stuff that only you think is a good idea.

    2. Write down your values and ambitions for how you want to live your life – friends, family, impact on the world, stuff you believe in, things you want to be able to say – from your deathbed – you did (or didn’t do). Lock up the list and check it once a year. Ask yourself honestly if you’re drifting. (This advice I owe to an amazing lecturer. It is some of the best I ever received, but at the time I had no idea how valuable it would prove.)

  18. This is what I posted back to Oli on twitter and now as I read the other articles above I find myself needing the same advice!

    “For goodness sake believe in yourself & get out there & kick some ass ! (got straight A’s & still thought I was a bit rubbish!)”

  19. This is what I posted to back to Oli on twitter and now as I read the other articles above I find myself needing the same advice!

    “For goodness sake believe in yourself & get out there & kick some ass ! (got straight A’s & still thought I was a bit rubbish!)”

  20. You are too modest Oli, you have acquired a lot more than a few clues. One thing you’ve been able to do is attract every ridiculously high achiever in London as a personal friend who admires you greatly. The down side of being friends with the types you keep is that it can make you feel a bit like a low achiever. I certainly feel like a very small fish when I attend your events and mix in your circles … And you do it every day!

    Here’s some of what I’ve learned…
    – A great network is worth 10 times more than money in the bank (my best holidays/experiences in life were made possible by who I knew and not what I could afford).
    – A great reputation is something to be prized and invested in. As Warren Buffet said “It takes a lifetime to build and minutes to destroy”.
    – Keeping lots of money requires shed loads of luck to be on your side. I’ve turned over millions every year for 10 years… holding onto millions is something I’ve seen very few people do… And even when they do, they then have anxiety that they will lose it.
    – Life is a game. It’s the most beautiful game. Forget following sports teams, reading news and watching TV… there’s plenty going on in the real world not to be missed.
    – We never know how long we have, how long others have and we can’t take anything with us… treasure each day.

    … Oh that all sounded a bit cliche but it felt good to write down. Thanks Oli.

  21. Oli
    Great & moving post. I was never particularly good academically, but was lucky to be ‘good at exams’. I found school lessons boring and uninspiring. I had a place at Durham to read law, which in my ‘gap yah’ I decided, to the horror of my parents, to ditch to read Spanish and Economics which I got through clearing at Newcastle Uni. I thought they’d never forgive me. I didn’t enjoy lectures at uni either and surprised my parents, lecturer and most of all myself when I landed my first job. And this was where I was lucky – I loved my job, I loved what I did & have been reasonably successful ever since. This is because I followed my heart which nearly always meant doing what convention told me not to.

    Parents, who are wonderful and sacrifice so much, are not always right. For me, going against what they thought was the right thing to do caused me more sleepless nights than any other stress or heartbreak has done since. Parents are wise and have life experience, but they relate back to a world when they were 18 and not to the world as it is now.

    Good things happen to good people. Which is trite, and it’s not always immediate, but I have found that by doing the right thing by people for most of my career has resulted in people doing the right thing by and for me. Compassion is hugely under-rated. I despise the Apprentice for communicating to today’s young people that it’s ok to tread on people to get what you want. It’s not, it never was, and it never will be.

    So, I wish I’d been told not to be so heartbroken for dis-obeying my parents.

    The best way to be successful is to do what you love. Because that’s the thing you’ll do best. The personal reward that will bring is worth more than any dollar. And I know a lot of people who have made scary amounts of money, and I absolutely promise you that they are no happier than those who haven’t, but who love what they do.

    Oh, and find a good mentor, I’ve had a few who gave me better career advice than my parents ever could. And I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.

  22. I sailed through school and university, but when I left didn’t have a clue about what I wanted to do. I got into merchant banking and then into publishing. But the real turning point in my life was when my dad asked if I was planning to volunteer. He said that as a young man, he had been a volunteer youth leader, so why didn’t I. It was easier to say yes than no, so I ended up working with teenagers in Clapton on Monday nights.

    Highlights were the world’s most unsuccessful fundraising gig with a band which later became incredibly famous, an election meeting with all the local candidates speaking to an audience none of whom had a vote, and organising young people visiting old people in their homes. One evening three 14 year old girls came to me smiling from ear to ear. They wanted to tell me that they had taken an old lady out for a walk. Why was this special? Well she hadn’t been out of her flat for 3 years. They had borrowed a wheelbarrow, put cushions in it and wheeled her out to the shops. Sucks to all the social workers and health visitors!

    This started me thinking that I could organise my own project. I wanted to address the issue of race relations which was problematic in the mid-1960s. Someone told me that you can’t just “do good”, you need to build on your skills in some way. Well I could speak English. I ended up creating the first language teaching programme in the UK for immigrant children and families, with 200 volunteers visiting people’s homes and another 70 running what is now known as a supplementary school for Bangladeshi kids in Tower Hamlets. We didn’t have a name, we didn’t need money, we weren’t an organisation. Just a bunch of people doing something they enjoyed which addressed an issue.

    What have I learned:
    • Education gives you confidence, but not necessarily the skills for life.
    • You can do anything you want, if you have passion and energy.
    • You become the expert. Despite the fact that I knew nothing about education, immigration or teaching English, Directors of Education and School heads started coming to me for advice.
    • Life is a journey, one thing leads to another, and then to another. You do not need to have a destination when you set out. And as Lao Tzu said, a journey of 100 miles begins with a single step. It did for me.

  23. Oli, this is an incredible post and all the responses are equally inspiring.

    I am fortunate in that I have always been fairly academic – more so as I was able to specialise in the areas that really interested me. I also worked for the majority of my time in further education – in a thriving recruitment agency and was lucky enough to learn an awful lot about business from our MD – we are still very close.

    I know that I have heaps more learning to do but so far my key learnings are…

    – Have the confidence to be true to yourself at all times
    – The more painful your ‘fail’ is, the more you are likely to learn.
    – Keep a postcard with your key areas of weakness on them, it makes you aware and more likely to manage them on a day to day basis.
    – Education, business books, courses and conferences will teach you what you know, friends and experiences will make you who you are.
    – The most important thing in life are you friends and family, don’t ever be too focused to forget them.

    A big thanks to everyone that has given me my ‘clues’.

  24. Oli,
    Thank you for a lovely post.
    I know some of the students I work with are feeling upset right now. So this is perfect.

    I wish I were in the halcyon place many of you seem to be. I never even made it to the end of my A – Levels. It’s not that I didn’t want to; it’s just that I couldn’t.
    Let me explain
    At the time, I was so utterly confused, lost and upset, I could barely keep mind and body together, and I just didn’t the capacity to deal with the 6th form (college) and deal with life. At that moment in time, it was all too much for that young man that I was then.
    It wasn’t that I wasn’t capable. I was. I was very capable. It’s just that I wasn’t able to cope. What I presented to the world was that none of ‘it’ bothered me, I didn’t care. But underneath, I cared terribly.
    Neither of my parents were particularly academic – they were artists! My father was a potter at the time and my mother a weaver and neither had gone to university and I suspect neither had enjoyed their time at school. That ‘reality’ was passed on to me. The truth is they were terrified of education and school and had undermined my expressions and feelings about it. I just didn’t listen to my teachers. They left me alone as my parents had a pretty successful arts and crafts business just outside the Lake District and I was in the rugby team.
    To make matters worse, they had broken up when I was 15, in what turned out to be a very poorly handled divorce, it was quite brutal actually. There was a great deal of strained emotions but little constructive talking and I certainly wasn’t involved in of the conversations. They were very hurt and childishly taking it out on each other – we children – a secondary thought.
    I stored all my hurt feelings in my heart and never let anyone in and let none of my emotions out. I felt I’d of exploded if I’d of tried. Not even Morrissey helped!
    My mother would cry herself to sleep, I tossed and turned in bed until I could take no more; I felt I was to blame. I thought that I was supposed to rescue her. So 6 months into my A levels, I ran away, and I never really went back and my childhood came to an end in 1989. I went to work. Sadly, University was never really an option.
    I left school with some scratchy GCSE’s. I felt and was on my own and I was a rather naive 17 year old, and I decided that life was tough and only the tough make it. Hilariously one of my first jobs was in a circus.
    All very strange looking back, but I suppose I made the best decisions I could with the information I had.

    Time past

    Strangely, it turned out that I’m rather good at quite a few things; things that I wasn’t taught at school, things that weren’t valued. I came into my own later in life in the world of work; for instance, my first proper job I was on £62,000! Not bad for a kid to never EVEN took his A’Levels.

    No one has ever asked me what grades I got or even which University I went to. They just assumed I did.
    The thing is ‘success and being bright’ aren’t tied to which university you go to or what grades you get, what counts is when you step into the arena of life and they don’t really teach you that at school or university. Can you really do it or not. That’s to do with confidence and genuine belief and a willingness to learn and be open to others.

    Oh yea, enjoy your body, it fades.

  25. Despite the fading body, don’t be scared of getting older. I enjoy each decade more. Exams still fill me with horror, even though I did reasonably well. They mean next to nothing, except as a test of character. As many others have said. Nobody ever asks except those people offering you jobs you don’t really want. Most of the best, wisest people I know have no qualifications at all.

    What matters as I get older? Kindness, certainly. And humour. And, as Oli wisely says, sleep.

    Seek out peace,but don’t put with things. If your life is dull to you; if you sense you could be doing something more fulfilling, change it. If you’re not enjoying your life there is something wrong with it, and ignoring what’s wrong – like a crack in your windscreen – will only make it worse. Walk towards the sound of gunfire. If it feels wrong; it almost always is.

    At the same time, don’t obsess over happiness. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s beautiful phrase: ‘Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.’

    Changing your life is easier than you imagine (another lesson age teaches). I can’t really improve on the philosopher William James’s advice:

    1. Start immediately.
    2. Do it flamboyantly.
    3. No exceptions.

  26. Great post Oli B.

    I like John’s post above very much. I’m considering setting it to music to make my first million!

    13 years after receiving my dismal A level results followed by a 2:1 i didn’t need I wish I would have known that charm and bullish&t would only get me so far! I know that I’m not the only one who blindly assumed everything would fall in to place just because it had with those around me growing up. As I see friends from humble beginnings go on to make a fortune in the city and other friends born with a silver spoon go on to teach (and be very happy doing so) I realise that it is a level playing field.

    At the age of 31 I have just had my ‘get real’ moment and, thankfully, feel I have the time to make it work the way I want with hard work and sacrifice. On the subject of sacrifice, the best advice I’ve been given was that if you take (in no order) 1) having a healthy body/working out, 2) having a healthy social life/ partying and 3) having a healthy/successful career the chances are you’ll only be able to do two well. My two have changed over time but it has served as a good rule of thumb.

    I’ve been looking at people I admire recently – be that at work, in family life or in the sporting world. The one ‘clue’ I have noticed is that they have usually had to sacrifice something in order to get what they wanted, whatever that may be.

  27. If I could live my 20s again, I think I’d follow some new rules: Get more sleep; learn GTD about 10 years before I did; don’t get into debt unless it’s to truly invest in my future; don’t buy so much pointless shit.

    But then I think that perhaps the process of coming to the conclusion is part of the point of the conclusion, and so I relax and forgive myself. So I guess the real lesson is: there’s more time, so now do it right.

  28. Great thread!

    I’m 30 years beyond the A-levels and this would be my advice:

    a) Realize that who you think you are is a mix of the “real” you and your family/environment. This is a challenge in that you may actually fulfill the dreams of others when you are pursuing a career. How to figure this out? Not so simple as you will not see this in clear until 20-30 years later, if ever. However, by being open to the fact that your perspective may change it will become easier for you to accept a career change or a shift in focus in life.

    b) Finding out what you want to do is mostly an exercise of finding out what you don’t want to do and this can only be done by doing… So, don’t assume that you can take an academic stance at figuring life out. Rather, you just need to do stuff and course-correct over time. Do and learn. Repeat.

    c) 10% of life is what happens to you the rest is attitude. So, focus on the good stuff and build on it. Stop whining and try to avoid the whiners as much as you can.

    d) All the really good stuff in life is (almost) free; a cold beer, a good nights sleep, good friends and an intense workout. Savour them and understand that there will be no difference once you’re a millionaire.

    e) Spend some time working/studying abroad and while doing so make an effort to “go local”. I’ve spent 10+ years of my life abroad and it’s a great way to get a perspective on life as well as your own culture.

    Overall though, try to savor the moments and enjoy life.

    Good luck!

  29. Oli, I love your tips. Lots of people think business is super complicated and you have to be a serious brain box – not the case – lots of your clues are the key to success.

    I wish I’d known….
    That the choices you make at 18 are not final. You can change your career path whenever you wish, for example I did a year of medicine at university, hated my degree, changed to Equine Science and upon graduated decided to enter the world of business.

    You are never too young to promote yourself, ask for opportunities – if you don’t ask you don’t get!

    My Top 10 Clues
    1. Have a sense of integrity – if you commit to something stick to it and don’t flake out
    2. Have self belief and confidence – people buy from people – if you believe in it others will follow your passion
    3. Treat others how you like to be treated
    4. Buy a notepad and write things down – otherwise you will forget things – no one is superman!
    5. Nuture relationships – they take time
    6. Always look at opportunities ‘what are you putting in versus taking out’ to avoid leaking energy
    7. It’s a small world so always remain polite and professional – don’t gossip
    8. Be open to learning
    9. Be proactive, the harder you work the luckier you become
    10. Avoid CBA Can’t Be Arsed

  30. 1. Read biographies of people whose world you know nothing about. If you’re a writer, read biographies of physicists and explorers. If you’re a physicist, read biographies of statesmen. Don’t read business books, except for those written by people who have actually invented something, or built a billion dollar company. Everything else is just bullshit.

    2 Manners are what separates us from the chimps. Punctuate.

    3. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something you can one day proudly tell your grandchildren about.

    4. Invest in a good pen and a good watch. Use them.

    5. The more you want to have sex with someone, the less you should make them your business partner.

    6. Tell the truth. It’s worth it in the long term.

    7. Play the long game.

    8. Build a network of friends, not contacts. Meet interesting people, stay in touch with the ones whose company you enjoy, cut loose the ones you can’t stand. Don’t nurture a relationship with someone you don’t like personally — it’s not worth it.

    9. Always leave them wanting more.

  31. Thank you, all, for inspiring me with your wisdom. It’s gratifying to see it expressed so clearly and sincerely. May all those who can take this wisdom and run with it find this blog….

    So, I’ve been having a think about what I might add and it goes something link this:

    1. Accept what is
    Life has a profound intelligence. It gives you what you need, which sometimes doubles up as what you want. Either way, I’ve learned it’s win: win.

    My first job was deputy editing a national woman’s magazine. Second was with GMTV. “I’ll easily get a great role on a big mag next”, thought I. “Nope” said Life. “Go freelance instead. With no money, a little clue and a big source of faith from me.”

    So I jumped, and the net appeared – through friends, family, contacts… It’s so clear that the tough challenges, freedom, dignity and flexibility brought by being my own boss are essential to my happiness.

    2. Look for patterns
    Good at getting leads and making contacts? Good. Be interested in how you seem to achieve those things and fine tune them. Have a habit of attracting people who let you down, for example? They’re a mirror. The message is: somewhere you’re letting others – or most likely yourself – down. Be ruthless in turning over stones until you get to the truth of the matter and be kind towards what you find there. There is so much wisdom in each of us, waiting to flow.

    3. Take care of the small things
    Acts of kindness, a favour here, a referral there…Small and simple is the stuff of (a good) life. You’ll impress the right people more with consistent and authentic small acts than big ego driven spectacle with a hidden agenda.

    4. All that glitters is not gold
    Something seem too good to be true? Then it probably is. Look closer. The most gorgeous diamonds are often covered in mud, I’ve found. Only those willing to get their hands dirty and see the work through to the end that get to enjoy the rare gift at ‘the end’.

    5. Dare. And be open to the outcome – drop all fixed ideas and expectations
    Thinking if ‘I do A + B, I will get C’ limits so many possibilities. Focus on A & B with integrity and let C surprise the happy f*** out of you!
    Life has a magic to it, given the chance. For example: Toptable Chairman Karen Hanton kindly agreed to be interviewed by me for a local magazine even though I didn’t have a firm commission. Celts, we got on brilliantly. I never pitched the feature or secured the modest fee it would have offered. What I got, though, was a place in Toptable’s team of copywriters and six years of steady, easy, enjoyable income. Wow (thank you, Karen).

    6. Be grateful
    Feel it. Say it. Show it. It’s humbling. Where there’s humility there’s heart, there’s you.

    7. Know that you are OK. Always
    There is a ‘place’ in you – not so far beneath the surface if you know where to look – that remains untouched by the vicissitudes of human suffering (failed A-Levels included). Eternally at peace, it’s called your being. Get interested in it, nurture it (sleep, rest and meditation are excellent places to start), and it will nourish you every step of the magnificent, don’t-take-yourself-seriously way.

  32. Great post Oli! I’m glad you said yes to me!

    I think I ran through my teens and early twenties trying to achieve as much as I could but I forgot about actually enjoying life and rewarding myself. So I’d tell myself on A-Level day “don’t worry, you’ll get everything you deserve and your family/friends will be fine”.

    My clues…

    1. Be honest, not everyone will like it but they will respect you for it and they will trust that you’ll do as you say.

    2. Friends, no matter how loosely connected are the best thing in the world. Like Dan said, the right people can provide experiences money can’t buy.

    3. Do things for people and stop them from doing anything for you, if they offer tell them to pay it forward.

    4. Throw yourself off a cliff every now and then, you might get hurt but you’ll know what you’re made of and how resilient you can be when the chips are down.

    4. Buy a Moleskine in a bright colour (people randomly talk to you, it’s like having a cute baby or puppy).

    5. Don’t work with people you don’t like the energy of, you’re probably right that they will be an arse-ache to work with and take all your good energy in the process.

    6. Say thank-you and be nice, it costs nothing but makes a difference.

    7. Help people out, not just when they ask but try and offer it up if you have the time and you can tell they might be in need.

    8. Get some quality sleep, have a few holidays and exercise (still personally working on this one…).

    9. This one has been said but being grateful is an amazing thing.

    10. Fall in love…(a note to self, falling in love with your business doesn’t count!)

    11. Connect people you like to other people you like…

    Thanks Oli, this has really made my day!

  33. The sooner you manage to align the person that you really are with the person that you project the happier you will be. This is true in a social setting, business setting and in finding ‘the one’. You will never be able to keep up being the person you pretend to be if you are not. Create that integrity asap!

  34. Enjoyed reading your post Oli, thank you.

    May I add these?

    Never take anything for granted.
    Live now. Not in the future. Not in the past.
    Don’t judge a book by its cover. But know that others will.

    My best wishes

  35. Here’s my clues (aka. things I wish I’d known earlier):

    – “Do great stuff” trumps “own great stuff”
    – Nothing prevents astronomical achievement quite like marginal success.
    – Let go sooner
    – The only thing you lose the better you get is perspective – find some somewhere
    – Innovation doesn’t happen when you start doing something new, but when you stop doing something old.

    And of course, there’s very little that can’t be solved over a Gourmet Burger lunch with smart mates that see each other only a few times a year…!

  36. I don’t think there’s anything in the 34 comments above (and in your great post Oli) that I don’t agree with.

    My contribution:

    – What happens in school (and indeed university if you make it that far – I didn’t) is but a very small part of your education. I can’t even remember my GCSE grades.

    – There are 650,000 hours in the average lifetime. Money is infinitely replaceable but time -the most precious commodity we have- is not.

    – Talent counts for very little in this world, but self-belief and determination count for a great deal

    – Self-belief is like a muscle. The more you stretch it and challenge it, the stronger it gets. And the reverse is true: if you only do what’s comfortable and never take risks, your self-belief atrophies and withers.

    – And yes, good sleep and plenty of holidays. I’m working on this bit.

  37. Thanks for a great post Oli and for the wisdom that it’s attracted from everyone on this thread. The world needs more of this.

    For me – the main clue is simple: life is a journey, a journey to be experienced, so do what you love doing and be with people you live being with, and do it mindfully enjoying every moment you can.

    (That means having the courage, for example, to: continually be very honest with yourself about what you really, truthfully want from your life; consequently not being afraid to do things that others (e.g. parents) don’t want or expect you to do; not trying to build “great CV”; and taking risks and not being afraid to make mistakes.)

    For me this is like a compass, not rule book. I have to keep checking it. I don’t always get it right. But when I do, it feels right, and life flows more easily and more effortlessly.

    Thank you for the opportunity to share this and to be able hear the same from your friends Oli.


  38. Great blog Oli. It’s taken me some time to write out the lists of things I wish I’d known, then scrap each one and realise that it all comes down to being more mindful, because in that awarenessing comes the wisdom to create more value with every moment.

  39. With A-Level results about to hit the doormaps this year it is a good time to revisit this wise piece and think again on what really matters. I did the wrong A-Levels and the wrong degree but you know what, it does not matter. What matters is what you do today to make tomorrow a bit better for you and the world. Step by step, bit by bit. Never lose hope, learn from the experience and be someone people are pleased to know. 🙂

    Oh, and eat a responsible amount of caek!

  40. Very inspiring post Oli – such a pivotal time in life with so many, seemingly, crucial choices to make. I had to retake my “A” levels (because I chose sciences which it should have been arts) went on to a vocational degree (Psychology) for a vocation I never took up, larked around for the first couple of years after graduating without any definable direction at all. Things didn’t really get started until my mid-20s. I just happened (luck not design) to get involved in the Internet in it’s earliest days. Since then I’ve worked for some of the most inspiring companies and startups, into my 3rd decade (yes, I’m that old) of a totally unplanned but very rewarding life. If I had any advice it would be always have a plan, but no expectation of the results, or put much better:

    “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight Eisenhower

  41. The most dramatic and positive refocusing of my life was a direct result of the most gut-wrenching disappointment.

    Pretty much nothing has ever turned out in any of the ways I thought it might. But so far things have ended up working out pretty well.

    The ‘Desiderata’ and Kiplng’s ‘If’ are two of the corniest texts ever to grace a poster. They’re also both absolutely right. Go and re-read them now. Go on.

    If in doubt, go where the life is.

    “It’s no use trying to be clever — we are all clever here; just try to be kind — a little kind.” (Dr. FJ. Foakes Jackson, to a new colleague trying to show off.)

    “Never be the smartest person in the room.” (James Watson)

    Smile. (Though not in a weird way.)

  42. I’m thinking about this allot as next year my daughter turns 11 and enters the whole exam machine cycle. My advice to others? Have your kids spend half as much time studying and devote it to pursuing their passions, then starting and leading something all their own. A business, a network, a project, whatever. Let’s see if I’m brave enough to take my own advice.

  43. – Establish boundaries. They help both parties.

    – Know where the race begins and ends, only then can you go an “extra” mile

    – Read the question. Answer that question.

    – Measure twice, cut once.

    – NEVER be afraid to say no.

    – Motion without direction is just flailing.

  44. I’d definitely echo points 2, 3 and 9.


    – Slow down! I know it feels like life is racing by and you need to get started IMMEDIATELY, but there is plenty of time to learn your craft, to serve your apprenticeship, to start at the bottom building solid foundations and working your way up.

    – Running up a hill or swimming in a river or lake helps solve most of life’s problems. It also is a great way of sparking creative ideas.

    – Begin! Whatever your grand dream is, start now. You may not have the skills, the contacts or the cash yet. But if you don’t start you never will. Take the first tiny step towards where you want to be.

    – Relax! Being successful does not equal being happy. They are very different and the latter is far more important. Succeeding at your ambition is unlikely to lead to bliss, only to new ambitions!

    – Read more books, watch less TV.

  45. Don’t stress
    Make some unexpected connections
    Build a portfolio of experiences
    Aim high
    Get the right cast list of characters around you
    Do Something Real

    (ok that last one is Year Here’s strapline)

  46. I wish I’d been less resistant to my late father, who used to extol the virtues of an active, influential and diverse network of individuals that you could connect to others for mutual benefit.

    Meet people often. Help them to meet others.

    My dad also always used to say “don’t hurry, don’t worry and smell the flowers along the way” – that seems most apt on days like A-level Results day.

  47. 4 years ago today, I didn’t quite get the A-Level results I wanted. Today, my little sister is equally disappointed with her AS-Level results.

    To anyone who finds themselves in the same boat, I’ll tell you what I’ve just told her.

    These things have a tendency to work out for the better, whether or not it feels that way at the time. When I failed my driving test twice before eventually passing, it felt like the worst thing that had happened to anyone, ever. Illustrating my point perfectly, my sister replied “so what? That was just a driving test.” At some point, you’ll look back on today with that very same attitude.

    Yes, they’re your exams and you didn’t do as well as you may have hoped. And yes, right now, this is as big a deal for you as it once was for me. Now though, I’m a graduate with a good degree from a good university. I had three fantastic years at uni, and I’ve had two great professional jobs too. If I can do it, anyone can. Just keep trying.

  48. Oli this is very timely and I guess most of us could write war and peace. Things have moved on dramatically since I left school and aspirations have risen dramatically in our world of excess fueled by the ‘internet of want’ as well as ‘internet of things’ My A Levels were BCC not great but good enough then. I had no idea what I wanted to do went to Uni, did Economics and strolled recklessly to a 2:2. I went to a tough school and I guess I got lucky but I only thought of work as a job not a career until I was 30. I have run Regions of various IT Companies and recently built WYGU ( When You Grow Up ) to help people with career choices. Social mobility is in decline for the first time since the Industrial revolution and the over supply of graduates for the RELEVANT market demand has created insane levels of competition for young people. So these are some of my snippets I have learned that I wish I knew at 18.

    * If you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there so don’t be surprised or disappointed where you end up.

    * Learn how to network, you are never too young to start

    * Older people do actually know stuff, they are the window to a career or profession you may be interested in

    * Treat others as you would want them to treat you – respect people regardless of their role.

    * You don’t know everything, be a sponge, learn every day, watch, listen and analyse more than you talk

    * Be brave, believe in your self and try something new, aim for the stars, you can reach further than you imagine with the right attitude

    *Learn from Americans,there is a reason why they are the global engine room for successful entrepreneurs – ‘it is not what you know it is what you show’ – Qualifications get you so far, the rest is how you execute and communicate. Join debating societies, step outside your comfort zones, learn to present and do speeches.

    * Be trustworthy, do what you say you are going to do when you say you will do it !

    * Start a business before the demands of modern living and associated costs become a barrier to success

    * To try and fail is much better than never having tried. Americans are great at this, failure is a lesson you take to your next attempt.

    * You cannot be responsible for someone else’s happiness and vice versa. Find something you love doing if you can and find enjoyment in every moment you can

    * Don’t take health for granted, try to look after yourself.

    * Friends and family are incredibly important but can be hard work – make the effort, reach out!!

    * People often say ‘I will be happy when’- Life is not a destination it is a journey, so take time to enjoy the ride!

  49. People often ask … which University did you go to ? Something that in my teenage years was never mentioned in my home, for University substitute the word “Factory”. Hence O Levels gained at Grammar school and a job at 17 in the Rothmans Tobacco plant and no aspiration/thought for A Levels. The point is life is not about where you start but where you finish, working young in that industrial setting I learned about real life, people and business fast and if we change the word Factory to Company I am sure that formative experience was a bedrock for when I eventually built my own companies. What is hard to see at 18/19 are the twists and turns to come over an increasingly long game it is certainly something we entrepreneurs understand intimately.

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