It’s my 50th birthday today!
I count myself very lucky for lots of reasons but one is that I’ve never really been anxious about getting older.
When I look back I was definitely very happy and fulfilled in my twenties but the truth is that I’ve been happier, healthier and more fulfilled in every decade of my life so far and for that I feel incredibly blessed.
There have been some very dramatic “downs” and challenges in my life but thankfully I’ve also grown more resilient.
I know there are a few youngsters out there who follow my Facebook page who’ll just be starting out on their adult life. For them I have a little advice based on my own experiences, and as with all advice you can take or leave it as you wish!
But at times like these, when you reach a milestone in life, I think it’s good to reflect and share a little.
If you’d said to me at 18 that I would go to university and end up with a doctorate in the years ahead, I’d never have believed you. I genuinely would not have thought I had it in me.
And that’s the point. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re tested and tried and stretched.
The trick is to get yourself close to people you trust and admire so when they suggest something you’d not thought you’re able to do or intimidated or scared by, you go with it. That’s where the learning is.
I met Anita Roddick when I was a teenager. A few days after we met, a memo arrived asking me to go to a community group and do a speech on her behalf. I did it despite being petrified.
Imagine Anita doing that – the highest paid person in the company sending out the lowest paid person to do a speech in her place.
A few weeks later she walked past my desk and asked how I was doing. “Terrified,” I told her – because of all the public speaking she was making me do.
She told me that in time I’d get over the nerves of being in front of people and just focus on what I wanted to say. “You’ll thank me for it one day,” she said as she walked off.
Anita fell ill on this day 13 years ago and tragically died. I never got to thank her for that particular bit of personal development but of course she was right and I could never have known all those years ago just what a gift I was being given.
So if you come across someone who inspires you or does things that you dream of being able to do one day, don’t be shy. Find a way to be close enough to watch, learn and hopefully start to do yourself with someone there to advise and guide you.
And when you get the chance to do something that is new at work or you don’t feel prepared or it even scares the pants off you, remember something really important – if someone asks you to do something it means they think you can do it. That person might see something in you that you don’t even see yourself.
I’ve never planned my career and I’ve never thought about the next job while I’m still in one. But I have found that if you give 100 per cent to everything you’re asked to do and are considerate to the challenges of others around you, it’s amazing how many new, unexpected and exciting opportunities open up.
But the most important tip, looking back on my life, is to learn who you are, what makes you happy and sad, what really motivates you, what your strengths and areas for improvement are – and also all those things you want to understand or change about yourself … and work on it.
Learn to be comfortable with who you are. It doesn’t happen by accident for most of us. Most of us spend as much time with work colleagues as we do with family and loved ones so it’s really important to find a way to be comfortably yourself in every situation.
After all, it’s exhausting trying to be something you’re not and there’s a real, true strength that comes with being at ease with yourself and your uniqueness.
And two final tips. The first is always to try to look at the world through other people’s eyes and understand what leads them to act in ways you might find challenging.
We live in a world where we increasingly confront each other with our views and behaviours but too rarely try to understand the motivations that drives other people and leads them to a different place than ourselves. A little empathy goes a very long way.
And then, to end my sermon, the motto of my life … persist!
We’re told “no” a lot in life but for too many it’s the last word, especially young people. If more people refused to give up, sought another way to achieve the same or kept going back with new skills, then there would be more brilliant businesses, first-rate teachers, judges and, yes, even MPs from backgrounds like mine. So please, everyone, whatever your age – persist. PERSIST!
I’m at work in Parliament today. That might sound a drag for a big birthday but look at it this way – if you’d told me on my 30th or 40th birthdays that I would spend my 50th voting in the House of Commons against the government’s handling of education during a pandemic … well, I’d have thought you’d have lost your marbles.
Voting and speaking on behalf of our community at a moment like this is the honour of a lifetime and makes it the birthday of a lifetime too. So thank you all so much for this most amazing of gifts that you have given me.
Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove.
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