A speech by Neil Jurd OBE – Careers Conference

15 March 2024

Last week Windermere School hosted its Careers Conference, welcoming 30 organisations into school to offer advice and personal experience on career pathways and the skills our students will need for the future. The event began with a keynote speech by Neil Jurd OBE, and you can read a transcript below:

Good Morning, and thank you so much for having me today. I was an army officer – I served and led soldiers in various places, including Iraq, Sierra Leone, Yemen and Bosnia. I’ve done some interesting stuff, I’ve set up an armed camp on the beach in Yemen, l have survived a mortar landing right next to me in Iraq, and I spent a year in Sierra Leone during the civil war. And now I run a fairly large leadership training company and I’ve set up a streaming platform for leaders.

I’m not going to say a lot – because the more you say, the less chance there is that the audience will remember the bits that you want them to remember.

In life a lot of people will give you advice, usually advice you didn’t ask for. They’ll tell you what to wear, what to say, what decisions to make, and even what career you should pursue. Sometimes it’s the career they are in, and sometimes it’s the career they wish they were in. In my experience, most of the advice people give is pretty much useless because what people are doing is telling you the decision they would make in your situation. Other people aren’t you – they can’t think for you, and they can’t decide for you. What they would do isn’t often the same as what you should do. And before you do take any advice, really think about where that advice is coming from, is the person an expert, and are they happy? Giving advice is easy when you’re not responsible – that’s why you get chronically unfit people shouting advice from the touchline at premiership football matches. So please think about what I say this morning, then I’d be delighted if you decide to ignore everything I say.

So, my advice, – which is relevant to the career you choose, and everything else in life, is that you should aim to be happy. That doesn’t mean spending your life in pyjamas, eating ice-cream, playing on the XBOX or watching Friends or Parks and Recreation. You can do those things, sometimes, – I do, just not all the time.

If you research what being happy is, you’ll find it is about a combination of pleasure and purpose. For me that was the army, and now I get a similar buzz from running my own business. For each of you there will be different things that make you happy – and they will lead you to make different decisions.

The advice l have given my own children is to choose the subjects you most enjoy, because you’re likely to do well at them, and they will carry you in the right direction. Whatever you do in life, you will only do really well at it if you work extremely hard – and it is a lot easier to work hard at something you love.

For most people, the worst reason to choose a career route is money. There are a lot of people in the world who earn a lot of money and who are very unhappy, because what they do every day is boring. So year after year they do jobs that they don’t enjoy – and often these are very successful people, Directors or Partners in dull businesses where the only reward is money, money they don’t have time to spend or enjoy.

The philosopher Alan Watts talked about most work being so deplorably boring that you have to pay someone to do it. The aim I think is to find a way of spending your time that doesn’t feel like work.

When you leave this school you will no doubt leave with good set of qualifications and a load of textbooks that you should have given back – which your parents will get a massive bill for….! But probably the most useful and important thing you will get from your school year, and in due course your university years is a really-good friendship group. Almost all the work my company does is the result of long-term friendships – and most of the people that work with me are people I have known for at least 20 years. Focus on building really strong friendships – not by taking part in gossip and politics but by being really straight forward, and kind. Have the courage to be kind to everyone, and build the strongest possible network of friends. It takes real strength of character to be kind and inclusive.

And my final piece of advice is to be brave, and take some risks – sometimes break the rules, and make things happen. This means looking for opportunities and going for them – and learning not to care very much what other people think. Have courage and be kind. Good luck to all of you!

Thank you so much to Neil Jurd OBE, and every other organisation who attended the event. Our pupils and students were so inspired by your stories, and experiences, but we will echo Neil, and hope that they ultimately will always follow their own hearts, while building deep friendships along the way.



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