What I’d tell my younger self: Walter May
It’s that time of year again, exam results season. With many young people having spent months in anticipation of how these few grades may somehow dictate their future. And whilst they are important for many reasons, there are a million other things that are much more important. I wanted to take the opportunity to tell you what…
In my opinion the best way to learn about life is from other people's mistakes and experience. Openly sharing life’s lessons is a way of giving back and helping others learn without getting the scars, that holds true for your personal and your professional lives.
I wanted to share the things I’ve learnt that are universal, personal and relevant now and will continue to be into the future, whoever you are.
"The turning point for me was studying thermodynamics and sitting in a classroom for months not understanding a single thing and assuming other students did."
As someone born into a working class family from the south Wales valleys, who failed his eleven-plus, went to secondary modern school and didn’t do A-Levels, I didn’t expect to end up where I am today or to have done the things I ended up doing in my career.
I was a classic late developer with some serious mental barriers to reaching my potential. The first related to my attitude to intelligence, thinking that smart people didn’t have to work hard and they were somehow superior and bound to succeed. My education limited my knowledge of the possibilities to better myself, I'm embarrassed to say I was in my 20’s before I knew what a university was. The second was, as a rebellious teenager I didn’t listen to advice from anyone, least of all my parents, which was a big mistake.
After school, I drifted into doing an engineering apprenticeship and loved every minute of it, but I knew it wouldn’t be a lifelong career. I discovered my interest in academic learning in my early twenties and knew that was the route to the future I wanted. I decided to go to college to do a HND. The turning point for me was studying thermodynamics and sitting in a classroom for months not understanding a single thing and assuming other students did. As an act of desperation I bought a book on the subject and studied hard. I came top of the class. I also discovered all the other students felt as I did but wouldn’t admit it.
That inspired me to start thinking about University as a next step so I ended up applying to Cranfield University on their MSc programme. To my surprise I managed to get a scholarship to study mechanical engineering. I was in a very privileged position and knew I had to work very hard, so for the next two years that’s what I did.
A world of opportunities
My first professional job after uni was with a US engineering consultancy firm designing leading edge computer-based engineering software for global manufacturers. I believed that I was never going to be amongst the best engineers and that my career would therefore be limited. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was asked to take up a position in another division of the company, not really sure if it would work out, I agreed. I quickly realised that they valued my communication and soft skills more than my engineering knowledge. After three years I was again asked to take up a sales role which I did, having got bored with my previous role. Again, someone else saw my competitive nature and thought I might fit well into a sales role. They were right, curiosity, drive and empathy along with being intensely competitive are great assets in sales and life. Alongside this role I self-funded an MBA through the Open University because by this point I knew I wanted to take my career all the way.
This initiative was recognised by my boss and within five years I had attained my first Managing Director role and was asked to integrate the engineering consulting division (with all those incredibly smart engineers), which I had previously worked for, into my organisation.
"Starting and growing GlobalWelsh is my way of giving back to Wales and sharing my life lessons and learning."
Finding my passion
Once my corporate career ended and I finally let go and accepted I needed to somehow reinvent myself. I knew that to do that I needed to speak and listen to as many people as possible to help figure what the next phase of life would be. I became an avid networker, something I had not done enough of. I rediscovered my passion for Wales and sense of purpose. I also recognised that I was someone with an inclusive mindset that wanted to help people, like my young self, reach their full potential.
Starting and growing GlobalWelsh is my way of giving back to Wales and sharing my life lessons and learning.
To summarise, here are my words of wisdom:
- Academic achievements are far less important to your life chances than soft skills, compassion and a strong work ethic
- Don’t judge yourself too harshly when you are young, you are not yet the finished article
- Finding your passion and falling in love are the most important things that can ever happen to you, everything good springs from these foundations
- Stepping outside your comfort zone builds confidence
- Be proud of your roots and upbringing, it’s what makes you the person you are
- Stay curious and maintain an element of rebel from when you were a teenager
- Question everything and follow your instincts when presented with complexity
- Other people are more likely to see your full potential than you are so listen to them and grasp opportunities they present, however daunting or uncertain they may seem
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