I have a sister who is 17, and of course she’s busy tapping away on her laptop drafting out her personal statement, and we’ve been on 3 open days this summer. This has all made me think about where I was when I was 17, and how the work I did before I was 17 has given me all the opportunities I have today. Many students rush in their last year of University or Sixth Form to fill their CVs/personal statements ready for submission, but you cannot cram years of genuine commitment into a year.
If I could give one tip to my sister, and all students one year, or 5 years below me, it would be to say ‘yes’. A career workshop after school or in you lunch break – it may be boring, an hour may seem like a long time, but you may meet an important contact, or hear someone talk about your future employer – so say YES. A part-time waitressing job may be tiring and poorly paid, but it could give you the skills and one line of experience on a CV that your peers don’t have, and it can fund once in a lifetime trips that give you something to talk about in those awkward silences in interviews. Work experience in an industry you know nothing about may be the most boring week or your life, or it could be the discovery of a future career path… just say yes!
I said ‘yes’ an awful lot between the age of 16-18, and I couldn’t be more thankful of my younger self. If I wasn’t at the University of Exeter, I would have been at the University of York, whose offer came with a personalised letter and lowered grades because they were so interested in my 3 week volunteering expedition to Vietnam (as pictured) that I had undertaken just before I had applied for the place. If I hadn’t filled in a form at age 16 on the Prezzo website, having to justify what pizza topping I would be and why, I wouldn’t have been able to fund that trip (and at under £5 an hour, it definitely was a lot of hard work). If I hadn’t gone on a taster day at age 18 with Goldman Sachs, waking up at the crack of dawn and having to catch up on a ton of History A Level coursework, I may not have been able to show Lloyds Banking Group that I have a wider knowledge base than maps and Ecology, and may not have completed the 10-week internship this summer. Each yes is a stepping stone to something that you may not see coming.
I thought it would be appropriate to end with some quotes from one of my favourite books about hard work, perseverance and reward – Rafa: My Story. It just so happens that last night Nadal won his 16th Grand Slam, further cementing his status as one of the best tennis players, athletes, and role models of all time. The first is one of my favourite quotes, and I’m sure many of you can relate to the feeling of greater satisfaction when you achieve in a tough subject or module, than one you have always been a natural at.
- “The thrill of winning is in direct proportion to the effort I put in before”
- “The effort I invest is great, but I don’t consider it a sacrifice. It’s true that I’ve trained every day practically since the age of six and that I make big demands of myself. And meanwhile my friends are out partying or sleeping late. But I haven’t felt this to be a sacrifice or a loss because I’ve always enjoyed it. That is not to say that there haven’t been times when I’d have liked to do something else—such as stay in bed after a late night out instead of training. As I say, though, I do have late nights. Very late nights, as is the way in Mallorca, especially in summer. I barely touch alcohol, but I do go out dancing with my friends and sometimes stay up till six in the morning. I might have missed out on some things other young men have, but I felt, on balance, that I’ve made a good trade-off.”