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Schools Out And Life Lessons


In addition to my Vana role, I’ve been approached to moonlight as a speaker…

But my clients aren’t seasoned corporate audiences sitting in hotel function suites. They are 11-year-old children about to embark on the next stage of their educational journey, and for whom the world is truly their oyster.

So what do you say to a group who make the millennial generation look positively middle-aged?

As schools around the country close their doors for the Summer, this was the challenge in front of me when I was recently invited to speak at my children’s end-of-year presentation.

Talking with people about their life and career aspirations is core to what we do, and both Jo White (my Vana co-Director) and I have done it for many years. But to have this conversation with a group of 11-year-olds is a different proposition altogether. Of course you have to consider factors like language and words, but these are bright digitally-savvy young people who have been exposed to more information than any generation that has gone before. So how leave them with something they’ll remember?

Even for a 5-minute speech, I felt the immense weight of responsibility on my shoulders.

Fortunately however this is a road well-travelled, and there’s no shortage of inspirational material out there. Two particular sources resonated with me the most.

The first – ‘wear sunscreen’ – will be familiar to many. It has become the archetypal leavers speech although its origins are hypothetical, first appearing as an essay in the Chicago Tribune in 1997. It went viral, even more so when Baz Luhrmann set the words to music two years later as ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’.

Maybe slightly less well-known but no less powerful is comedian Tim Minchin’s address to University of Western Australia graduates at a ceremony in 2013. In contrast to ‘Sunscreen’s’ eclectic collection of musings, Tim’s irreverent speech was structured around 9 ‘life lessons’.

I tried to take the best elements of each and transfer these to my school, the words still relevant despite having been originally intended for older audiences. For the record, the 8 life lessons I shared with them were;

  • You Don’t Have To Have A Dream – put your head down and work with pride on whatever’s in front of you… because you never know where you might end up.
  • Don’t Seek Happiness – it’ll find you – think of happiness like a feather; the more you chase it, the more it escapes you so just be yourself.
  • Help others – and don’t be afraid to ask for it – look out for people who are less fortunate than you. In return, you’ll be amazed at how much help is out there – but only if you ask for it.
  • Stay Healthy – use your body and mind every way you can, and don’t be afraid of what other people think because it’s the greatest thing you’ll ever own.
  • Be a teacher – rejoice in what you learn, and remember – however old you become, you never forget a good teacher.
  • Define Yourself By What You Love – celebrate what you love, be it art, music, maths or sport. And be for things – not just against what you don’t like.
  • Don’t exist. Live – there is only one sensible thing to do with life, and that is fill it.
  • And above all, friendship – Friendship is a value intrinsic value to my children’s school so I wanted to emphasise this in particular. Friends will be alongside you when life is at its happiest – and saddest. They’ll celebrate your victories, and pick you up when you’re down. So you need to care and look out for them as you would a prized possession.

Standing before this group, I felt honoured but scared. Parents, teachers and children are not my regular (corporate) audience nor was this my usual subject matter. But what carried me was a sense of immense pride in my children and their friends, as I’m sure any parent reading this would appreciate. There has been much learning and experience for us all throughout the six year journey that has just concluded.

With England’s recent World Cup journey there’s been no shortage of heroes and role models for our children, but I hope my words also found a place with our future sportsmen and women (plus those budding marine biologists, chefs and neuro-surgeons also looking back at me). Not that I’m considering a career change any time soon, but it was a great experience – I just hope it was for those young people aswell!

It also made me realise that whatever stage you’re at in your career or life you’re never too old to benefit from this kind of wisdom. When I made this presentation I considered the parents in the room also – myself included. The focus of the assembly was about the children, but all of us in that hall had been on this same voyage of discovery – and we all go on to the next chapter. I genuinely believe the 8 points shared with my audience are relevant to all ages, and there’s no harm in stopping and thinking about these for a moment – even if school has long been out.


And with that, happy holidays. Both Jo and myself will be taking a break at some point in the coming weeks, but Vana Resourcing remains extremely busy so no doubt we’ll talk soon.