How to build a career without a plan: A talk for Escape the City

Escape the city talk

A little over a week ago, in response to the article I wrote about “Putting Your Head Above The Parapet & Why There Is No “Right” Path,” the guys over at Escape the City invited me down to London to do a talk about how to build a career without a plan.

I’d love to pretend I was totally comfortable with the proposition and didn’t hesitate to say yes to the invite, but that would be dishonest. And, as I intimated in my last post, that’s something I’m not comfortable doing anymore. It may have taken me a while to get there, but it’s brutal honesty all the way in from here.

That email

After emailing my blog post over to Adele at Escape the City, she asked if I’d like to come to London to talk to some of the Escape the City members.

Now, writing that post was all about sharing my experiences with others, building my own brand and getting the word out about FlashSticks. And I’m 100% confident with sharing my thoughts in front of a keyboard. That’s my comfort zone.

But I’m going to tell you a little secret here, receiving that email actually made me feel a little sick. All of a sudden, I was being asked to do something that was so far removed from my day to day life that I panicked.

I knew I should do it and that it would be an experience I’d never forget, so I said yes and hit reply as quickly as I could, as I knew given time to think about it that I may back out.

Time to panic

The next few weeks were a little strange. Initially, I had a huge panic attack and genuinely considered backing out of the talk. I knew, however, that doing so would make me look pretty stupid and I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it out of pride.

After a few days, I forgot about the talk and carried on with all the other things that I had on my plate.

But as the days passed by, so quickly, it was, all of a sudden, the week of the talk. And I hadn’t even begun to think about it. In fact, given my workload, I didn’t give the talk any headspace until the Tuesday evening and the talk itself was on the Thursday.

Go time

It was Wednesday afternoon and I was heading down to London to meet up with friends, the night before the talk. I planned the rough outline of the talk on the train.

Even though the talk was essentially about my life, I knew that this was the kind of thing that still required some deep thought.

Again, I’d love to pretend that I planned it out on the train, went along the next day and smashed it out of the park. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, I spent ALL of Thursday planning and re-planning the talk over and over. I wasn’t allowed slides, so I really had to be on top of the structure and just take in a few scrawled notes on a folded sheet of A4 paper.

As the hours rolled on, my bullet points got shorter and I managed to boil the whole thing down to a few words on each page.

I’m a bit of perfectionist, so I still wasn’t done. On the advice of a friend, I went for a walk around central London by myself; just me and my notes. And, to my own genuine amazement, I managed to rattle on for about 40 minutes in all. I was going to be ok.

Lights, camera, action

When it comes to doing things like this, I’m so careful to make sure that I turn up on time, as I always like to make sure I’m relaxed and chilled before I get into it.

Delays on the tube ruined that for me. Instead of turning up early, I ended up running around central London in the blaring heat, turning up 5 minutes before the talk, sweating buckets and in somewhat of a panicked state. Absolutely ideal.

I guess the thing I’ll always remember about the talk is turning up and seeing that the whole thing was a lot more legit than I had anticipated. Even though I knew a bit about Escape the City, I’d somehow managed to convince myself that the event would consist of me having a chat to a handful of people.

What I wasn’t prepared for was a room packed with around 50 plus people, all waiting to hear ME talk. I tried to hide it, but there was definitely a gulp moment, which I’ll never forget. Any who, I guess there was no backing out at that point.

What a buzz

The first few minutes of my talk, entitled how to build a career without a plan, were somewhat underwhelming, as I bumbled through introducing myself and saying what I did. But I guess that was just the nerves talking.

Something amazing happened after the first minute or too, however. I relaxed. It’s a strange feeling that I’ve never really had before and I’ll always remember, but my nerves gave way to an overwhelming buzz of excitement. My speech slowed, my thinking became clearer and my stories became more elaborate and pertinent.

I actually enjoyed talking. The audience was great; they laughed at my jokes (well, some of them) and they seemed to genuinely appreciate my honesty, which is a great reaction to get when you’re laying your heart bare to a room full of people you don’t know.

If you want to know exactly what I said, the guys over at Escape the City put a pretty great summary together.

But that’s not what this post was about. This post was about sharing with you all the emotions and feelings that I went through in the lead up to what was, for me, a very big deal. For some, giving talks like this may be a common occurrence, but this is the first time I’d ever been asked to share my story, so I was understandably absolutely petrified.

What I learned from this experience is simple: when an opportunity presents itself and it scares you, lean in, because those are the times when amazing things happen. It’s called living. And I want to spend more of my time doing that.


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