Career Life Lessons - Petrol Station to Rolls-Royce to Education
What I learned from a range of careers over a decade
I got my first ever paid job at a supermarket as a retail assistant late in my teenage. It didn't work out. I then went on to work as a kiosk assistant at football clubs and a bartender at Royal Albert Hall and Sadler's Wells Theater. I also shortly worked as a retail assistant at a local petrol station. I trained as a professional street-dancer while I was studying at university. After graduation, I worked as a mechanical stress engineer for four and half years at Rolls-Royce (RR). I subsequently left my job at RR and worked in children's entertainment and supply teaching. Today I run a start-up education Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Arts (STEAM) service for schools, work as a professional speaker, dancer and provide private tutoring. In this blog, I hope to give you some motivation and share what I learned through a remarkably unexpected life journey. I will take you through some of my stories and then summarise the lessons I learned at the end.
I grew up in the UK after my parents relocated in my early childhood. We didn't have much growing up, and I also had to deal with mental health issues as well as a lot of other problems. For me, grafting was never an option it became part of life. It's either I made it, or I would end up with nothing because there wasn't anything to fall back on. Despite the mental health issues I studied hard at school because education was eventually going to be my way out. I did well at GCSEs, scrapped through A levels with the minimum grades to required to study Aerospace Engineering at university, but then failed every examination in my first year of university. I failed miserably due to difficult mental health issues, and I was eventually given time off by the university.
At around the same time I took a gap year from university, I had picked up an interest in street-dance. The spare time gave me time to attend dance classes but to fund my new hobby I worked in part-time bar jobs. Two of these were at two separate football clubs in London. I enjoyed working at the bars because of the people I met. It was diverse, and I met some of the most down to earth people. A lot of the fellow bartenders were young students, however for some, it was a full-time job. I often wondered how difficult it must be to have a good quality life in London on a catering wage hopping between temporary jobs. It gave me the motivation to work harder once I could return to university. The dancing helped me cope with my mental health struggles, and I returned to university the following year.
Upon returning to university, I needed extra money, and since you could only work at football clubs on home match days, I took up bar jobs at other venues in London. One of these was at the Royal Albert Hall, and I enjoyed my time there. Again, it was mainly down to everyone I met. I met a former trader while working at the bars, and I asked him "why are you working in a bar when you could earn so much more?". He told me he left the job because of stress, and he needed a break. I didn't understand what he meant until later in life.
The bar job at the Royal Albert Hall came to an end when a new catering company came in. I looked for another job, and I eventually got one at a local petrol station. I went for a few trials, and it seemed ok. However, I was going to be working on night shifts. On my first or second shift (during day time) one of the colleagues said to me "why are you working here? I will give you two weeks". I found the question very bizarre. Only when I did a night shift that I understood that question. It was a different job at night. You had to restock, clean and ready the whole store for the following morning. But that wasn't too bad. The worst part was dealing with night time customers (I'll just say they weren't very friendly) and working in complete isolation. It also messed up my body clock. But still, I was never a person to give up easily. I decided to stick at it. After one night shift, I went straight to university, and one of my university colleagues asked me "why are your eyes so red?". I told him I just returned from a night shift. He laughed at me and said, "mate, you will have to quit this job if you want to pass university". I also went dancing that evening, and I was exhausted beyond words when I returned home. I carried on with the job, but then it started impacting my studies so, I decided to weigh the situation. I was now in my third year of university. It was a critical year, and I was still making up for my past failures. The job was not worth sacrificing my education. After much thinking, I reluctantly gave it up after a few months. I did get another day time job at Sadler's Wells theatre until I went on to work as an engineer for RR following graduation.
During the first two years at RR, I stopped dancing, and I started to miss it. So, I got back to dancing but balancing a life of full-time work, and my passion was difficult. It burnt me out, but I went onto meet some of the best professional dancers in the world and perform solo around the UK. I even received a scout invite from Britain's Got Talent. I left my job at RR after 4.5 years as I wanted to focus on my mental health. I wanted an active life rather than an office job but giving up what I had earned from nothing was not easy.
I started rebuilding my life from scratch for the second time in my life. I was determined to find something that I could love doing for the remainder of my career. I picked up my GCSE books and revised to become a part-time Maths teacher and a tutor. I got involved in public speaking to promote social change. I also did birthday parties for children working for an entertainment agency. I loved that job! I had some amazing times at parties, and I loved meeting ordinary people in their daily lives. However, I did not enjoy the logistics of the job (driving around for hours, dealing with parents, walking into unknown locations, etc.). I once did triple 2-hour parties on the same day with more than 6 hours of driving in-between. I do have a lot of respect for entertainers. It's a physically demanding job. It's through these jobs that I discovered what I truly loved doing. Education, dancing and working with the next generation. I now run a STEAM workshop and speaker service for schools and universities. Where I am today is the culmination of all the work I have done over the last 15 years.
Here are my top life lessons from my career:
- To any students in school put your education first. Life can be difficult, but qualifications will provide you with a safety net.
- Your happiness, health, and your family and friends are more important than any job.
- Failure is part of life but remember to keep going and try again.
- Believe in yourself.
- Success comes in many different forms. The first time I performed in front of a big audience and getting my degree were two of my biggest achievements.
- Keep hobbies in your life (even if you don't want to make a career out of them) they can help you relieve stress.
- Go out and explore life if you want to find something that you would love doing.
- Create memories because life is too short.
- Don't wish your life away (I got this from an old lady who I served while working at one of the bars)
- Don't underestimate the importance of hard work.
- Life doesn't always give what you deserve but keep looking for what you deserve.
- Finally, if you goto a petrol station at night order everything you want in one go at the counter. Don't be that jerk that makes the retail assistant run around so you can "have a look" at ten different things.
I deliver motivational speeches and dance performances at schools and events. You can read more about them here.