The Big Shift

One thing has really surprised me since I left the BBC.

It's the number of friends and former colleagues who have been in touch, asking for tips on how to successfully make such a big life change. 

Another long standing friend posed that very question this weekend, making the total now seven. And that in only a year and a half.

They're an interesting mix. From doctors, to journalists, civil servants and lawyers. 

And all with that same thought - trying something new in life. 

Would I recommend giving it a go? You bet I would.

How else would I get to work with lovely people from around the world like this - just one brilliant memory from my last 18 months.

As people are kind enough to keep asking the question, I thought I'd share my experiences and insights of The Big Shift in this blog. 

It's going to be a little longer than usual, so I'll number my thoughts to keep it readable. 


   1. Probably more importantly, prepare well in advance 

You really don't want to be sitting there on Day One of your new life with nothing in your diary. That's a big, bad, scary feeling.

Make sure you know what you're trying to achieve, and get lots of meetings and events set up to help you on the way. 

I did a fair bit of networking when I moved to Cambridge. It helped me get an immediate sense of who was who, and where there might be opportunities. 

Work your new world and it'll pay dividends. You'll be amazed how kind and helpful people can be.

(It's also remarkable who you can meet - so make sure you explore your new world as well!)


   2. Be prepared to work for free

You've got to prove yourself, no matter what you might be trying to do. So offer something for nothing, in order to get yourself known. 

I held some free events on how to work with the media, and use of social media, and they were very effective.

I picked up paid bookings from them, and from there found more and more work. 

If you do your job well, it's remarkable how fast word spreads and can see you travelling around, doing your new thing. 

This was a lovely trip I had to Edinburgh, to do some communications training with the Scottish Government. 


   3. Use your free time well

It's going to take a while to get some work in, and get sorted in your new life. Accepting that helps.

Those days when you don't have anything on... don't let them get you down. See them as an opportunity. Go have an explore. 

Even if you haven't moved town, or city, there will be parts of your homestead you've never properly seen. 

I took a few trips to London, to museums and galleries, as well as exploring Cambridge. And I loved it. 

Ok, not everyone is lucky enough to have King's College on their doorstep, but there's always something to enjoy, wherever you are. 


   4. Be true to yourself

There are good causes you believe in. Support them, now you've got the time to do so.

I made sure to keep doing my work with schools, encouraging young people to come to top universities like Cambridge, and to think about prestigious careers, like the media.  

It's good for the spirit and the soul, not to mention those youngsters you work with, and simply - it's the right thing to do. 


   5. Be realistic

Not every lead you get will produce work. I find about half do, and, from what I've learnt, that's a good return. 

It doesn't mean you're doing anything wrong if you don't get a booking.

People prefer to be kind in person, then disappear when it comes to following up, if they weren't really that interested.

And you won't get on, or fit in with everyone you meet, anyway.

But some you will bond with, and it's so uplifting to meet so many new people from so many different backgrounds.


   6. Keep in Touch

It's tempting, on the difficult days, to think about what you've left behind. And it's only natural. 

We all miss what's not there in our lives any more.

I miss friends back in Devon, not least my beloved geese. 

So plan to go see those friends from the old life. It can help to lift your spirits. 

But make sure you take back lots of stories of how well you're doing in the new life - that's the deal. 

No breaks without deserving them! I find they feel much better that way.


   7. Persistence 

This is critical. You'll have bad days, when you doubt yourself and your choices. Everyone does. It's called being human. 

But... keep going. Never give up. Never.

If there's one thing I've learnt, it's that bad days fade away, and good ones come to replace them. 

But only if you don't give up.

When I moved to Cambridge, I had in mind that, ideally, I would pick up a consistent job for one or two days a week, and freelance for the rest. 

A year in I was doing fine, but wondering if that ideal would happen. 

And then I was taken on by Cambridge Judge Business School, one of the finest in the world, to help the next generation of entrepreneurs on their way.  

I got to meet and work with some incredible people in a place which is full to the brim of fantastic talent. 

It's an absolute, darned delight of a privilege to be a part of.

And all because I didn't give up. 


   8. New Adventures

Taking up something new is a great way to balance the pressures of your reinvention in life. 

I started cycling when I moved to Cambridge. On a practical level, it's the best way to get around. 

Believe it or not, I even get tax relief as my bike is my business transport!

But I also get to explore the area, which has been fascinating, and - sometimes - humbling. 

This is the American War Cemetery, such a moving monument to the sacrifices of the past, and the unimaginably brave men and women who allowed us to live in the freedom we enjoy today. 


   9. Exercise

This is linked to my point about new adventures. 

Exercise is a great way to help deal with the stresses and strains of your new world - not to mention getting to know it better. 

You don't have to go out on massive runs. Just a walk somewhere beautiful can be plenty enough. 

Above is the Mathematical Bridge, part of Queens' College (and yes, that apostrophe is in the correct place - look up why, it's an interesting story.)

Just walking past the bridge, something so ancient and imaginative, watching the River Cam wander its way through the city, is a tonic for the soul.


   10. Get the Basics Sorted

If you've done a bit of networking, or a free event, and someone is interested in working with you, what's the first thing they'll do if they want to know more about you?

Yep, you got it. Which means your website has to look the part and do the job. 

Invest some time and money into getting it right. And have a big run of business cards printed, while you're at it. 

That way you can hand them out whenever you do an event, and maximise your chances of more work.

  1. Make New Friends

You can feel lonely in a new life. Friends sure help to alleviate that. 

I've been surprised, and delighted, how welcoming and helpful people can be. And I'm glad to say I've found friends to help me along. 

Nothing will ever replace my beloved Exeter geese, but you have to admit, she's a cute one, with quite lovely eyes. 


  1. What Can You Offer?

You've been doing what you're doing for quite a few years, which probably means you don't realise the range of skills you have. 

Think carefully about what you can offer. You might just be surprised what's in demand. 

I knew I could teach media, writing and communication skills. But one day, I was asked whether I could give some tips about how to deal with pressure. 

It was out of my comfort zone, but why not? I did it most days with the BBC, and knew plenty about how to manage pressure.

So I gave it a try, and from that grew a course on Dealing With Pressure, which has become one of the most popular I offer. 


  1. Present Yourself Well

This might sound like hypocrisy, given the way I can often resemble a scarecrow on a bad day, but it's worth presenting yourself well. 

First impressions really do count, so it's a good idea to look reasonably smart at any kind of event you're attending. 

You never know who you might meet and want to impress. 

Hot fashion tip from me on this one - paisley and camouflage may not be the best combination.

Boy did I get some feedback on my fashion sense when I posted this online, and not the most complimentary. Which brings me to...


   14. Social Media

Social media is hugely divisive, and frankly, I'm not one to spend much time on it. 

There's almost always something better you can be doing. But! 

It is a great form of advertising. It keeps the world updated with what you're doing, like a rolling press release. 

And it can be handy for making contacts. 

Show the world the good things you're up to, like some of my work with schools...

And it can help raise your profile and bring in business. It certainly has with me. 

I've got quite a few bookings through people seeing what I've been doing (mainly on Twitter and LinkedIn, since you ask) and wanting to know if I can run similar sessions for them.  


   15. Face Down Your Fears

I don't like flying. In fact, I hate flying. That's really hate it. 

I don't care for the take off, I detest the landing, and I really don't like the bit in between, either. 

But, this new world of being a freelance and offering training brings opportunities to travel. 

So I faced down my fears, got on a plane, and I'm very glad I did. 

I wouldn't have had wonderful weeks like I did in Guernsey, doing media training work there, otherwise. 


   16. Keep Reflecting and Updating

For pure research purposes, I had to visit the best pubs in Cambridge when I landed here. It's what writers do, after all. 

And lo and behold, I came upon this beer, which made me chuckle.

It's an ideal ale for a cerebral city like Cambridge, but it's also an insight into something important when you change your way of life.

Take stock occasionally. Have a think. How are things going in your new world? 

If not as well as hoped, pivot a little. Adjust your offering. 

It can take time to find out what's in demand, and what's not. 


   17. Retain Your Sense of Humour

This is critical squared, and more. Humour is one of the symphonies of our lives. 

Feel free to laugh at yourself occasionally. It's a great tension release, and provider of context in the world. 

Ok, so I get more opportunities than most to laugh at myself - this was the view of yours truly from some people who came to a social media lecture of mine.

But partly because the session did include a few laughs (as well as the important information) I got several bookings for more work on the back of it. 


   18. Show, Don't Sell

It's tempting to try too hard when you're making your way in a new world. But try to resist it. 

The one thing that's pretty much guaranteed to put anyone off working with you is trying to sell to them. 

There's a much smarter way of selling. It's called listening. 

Who doesn't like being listened to? Work out what someone needs, and see if you can help. 

And don't just say you can. Show you can.

Talk about things you've done before in similar circumstances. How they've helped customers and clients.

Why are you looking at a beautiful Impressionist painting here? 

Because it's one of my treats in Cambridge - popping over the road from work and spending a few minutes in their company, at the incredible Fitzwilliam Museum.

What's that got to do with the best way to sell, you're asking?

Well... did the Impressionists need to go out and tell the world what great painters they were? Or did they just show what they could do?


   19. Prepare for All and Everything

When in a new world, it pays to prepare as well as you can for everything you do, and everyone you meet. 

Whenever I did an event, in my early days, before I had a sense of Cambridge, I researched the organisation and the people who would be there. 

And it paid off. I was able to tailor my offering to be exactly what they wanted, or needed. 

I was also able to talk to the people there, knowing something of their background and interests.

Part of the reason I was taken on at the Business School (and my first event was the rather splendid Pitch at Palace, in the presence of royalty, as above) is that I did plenty of research on the institution. 

I knew who I was talking to, their remarkable lists of achievements, and that was incredibly valuable in helping the conversation along. 


   20. Keep Believing

There will come difficult days in your new world. That's called life.

(Or, at least, the version I'm running, anyway.) 

But the thing about bad days is that good days come along to replace them. 

This is the final picture I want to share from my first 18 months in Cambridge. 

It was a little sign I saw on a common, whilst out for a run. And it summed up a sense of the city, but also what it means to make a big life change.

Sure the Big Shift is a scary thing to contemplate. But - 

You're not alone in edging in that direction. Far from it, given the number of people who have contacted me about making such a big life change. 

And finally, and most importantly of all - is it worth doing?

Oh yes. Very much. Very, very much. And very much more besides. 

It's rejuvenating, reinvigorating, a real renaissance of the self. 

You've got gifts in life, so why waste them, growing stale and jaded, like so many of your colleagues and contemporaries? 

Moaning their jaundiced way through days which should be a joy.

Take the courage, make the change. 

This wonderful world is an amazing playground. Seize the moment, live your life, fulfil your potential, and go explore it. 

Take it from me - I don't believe you'll regret it for a moment.