We are all FutureSurfers, surfing into the future with a backpack full of strengths and passions.

Developing Helpful Habits


Olympic athletes, multi-millionaires, musicians and ‘ordinary’ people have discovered that, although there’s no permanent cure, it is possible to get ourselves off the couch and into action, sometimes with extraordinary results.

It’s all about developing our brain ‘muscles’.

Our brain tends to be good at basic stuff like ‘fight or flight’. Some brains are really good at solving mathematical equations or spelling long words, but these brain abilities don’t really help us manage ‘Life’.

What our brain needs training in is best described as ‘making things happen’. Let’s start with what our brain runs as ‘automatic’ first (a bit like the ‘Startup’ on your computer). These are the things we do regularly and don’t have to think about any more, like tying shoe laces and brushing our teeth. But when we were small we had to learn to do these things, and practice them until they became a habit.

Some of our habits are really cool and help us get organised and stay healthy. Try noting down some of your helpful habits.

But of course there’s at least as many habits that we develop that are not helpful. They’re not necessarily ‘bad’ but they can hold us back from achieving our dreams, or even from getting up in the morning! Many of these habits are ‘thinking’ rather than ‘doing’ habits, for more on this, read about your saboteur in future instalments.

Now try noting down some of your less helpful habits.

The good news is that we can always develop new habits. Its much easier for our brain to develop new habits than it is to change old ones, so don’t waste your energy trying to fix that list you just made of unhelpful habits, just start writing some new ones.

Note down some ‘New habits I want to develop…’

Quick Tip: keep this list fairly short. It’s a bit like planting seeds. Each seedling will need lots of ‘TLC’ (water, fertilizer, sunshine, repeated every day) in order to grow into an adult plant. It’s the same with habits. Better to write just one or two right now. Once they’re fully grown you can start with some more seeds. Oh, and if one or two don’t thrive, that’s fine, you can just ditch them and plant some more!

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The FutureSurfing Journal: Choose your Surfboard

What’s now the FutureSurfing Journal started with a few pages of handouts and has grown and grown to over 60 pages over the last couple of years. It’s nearly ready for publication!

The Journal is for anyone aged 13 and over who wants to be a FutureSurfer – someone who takes control of their life and sees it as an adventure, riding the waves (challenges and opportunities) along the way. We’ve identified nine qualities that are helpful for FutureSurfers. They are:

  • I focus on what I’m in control of
  • I choose powerful attitudes
  • I think about my dreams for the future
  • I set goals and develop helpful habits
  • I know what’s in my backpack and keep adding to it
  • I know how to motivate myself
  • I take risks and handle obstacles
  • I experience work and get feedback
  • I build and connect with a support network


Here’s an excerpt. Let us know what you think!

Step One: Choose Your Surfboard

“I focus on what I’m in control of”

Choosing your surfboard simply means taking control of your life. Do you notice how one moment you feel in control, and the next moment you have lost it again?

That’s the tough part. We’re not saying that you can magically take control of everything, that just by thinking positively, all the rules and constraints in your life will disappear.

So, your teachers will still expect you to show up on time, your parents will still only give you a limited amount of pocket money, and there will only ever be 24 hours in a day. But what is different when you take control of your life?

Think of a time when you felt totally in control of your life, it doesn’t matter if it was last week or several years ago. Where were you? What were you wearing? Were you alone or with others? What did you make happen for yourself?

Think about that for a moment and write or draw some ideas of what you notice was different. Just writing stuff down helps your brain to get activated.

When I felt in control…




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How to create a vision for your future

This week I was at Dubai British School with the wonderful teenage coach Banan Hadidi running workshops for Year 10 students who had recently completed two weeks of Work Experience. We talked about how companies generally have a vision statement and how it should be something motivating and inspiring. Then Banan invited them on a journey, to travel along their timeline, into the past, back to the present, then into the future.

An exercise like this can be difficult, especially the first time around. Some students found it ‘weird’ or ‘didn’t see anything’, but others were ‘inspired’. Everyone wrote down some ideas about their ‘dream job’. Some students identified more than one dream job, others struggled to think of anything they would enjoy at work. Our challenge was to ask smart coaching questions to help the thinking process along! Here are some of the questions we tried:

  • If you could turn your hobby into a job, what would that be?
  • If you were a millionaire and didn’t need to work, what would you do every day?
  • What are you interested in?
  • What do you know you don’t want to do at work?
  • What’s important to you?

A couple of students wanted to be professional footballers. Some might say they are ‘unrealistic’, but we don’t believe in judging somebody else’s dreams. After all, some peoples’ ideas that seemed pretty crazy at the time, were turned into reality – putting a man on the moon for example. What we do suggest is that it’s a good idea to think about a Plan B too. If you’re not convinced, go watch Amy Purdy talk about how her life was transformed as a teenager.


Dubai is the result of an amazing vision, and continues to evolve…

Then we had fun with a mingle, where everyone gets to try on dream careers like new clothes… walking around the room and introducing themselves as their dream job. This is one of the perks of my job – I get to play too! I highly recommend it. Dream a little and share your dream with someone. Just remember to start “I am…” and not “I would like to…” or “I wish I could…”. Try it and let me know how it goes. For two days I played “I am a motivational speaker visiting schools around the world.” Having shared it with several people, I can tell you that it already seems a lot more possible than it did before! I found that keeping it playful, knowing that next time around I could try another dream on for size, was very freeing.

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Why I never became a social worker

When I was 17 life was tough. OK so it’s nearly 30 years ago now, but I still remember it vividly. Life is tough for most teenagers. A combination of raging hormones, exams and huge uncertainties about the future… sound familiar? Back then I thought I was the only one with no clue what career path to follow, but it turns out I was pretty normal. Having studied Chemistry for a year without understanding anything, I went against my teachers’ advice (they really didn’t believe I hadn’t understood anything!) and dropped it, studying English Literature A level in a year instead. I should have dropped Maths too, because I failed that in the end, but I felt lucky because I got good enough grades in French and English to get into University.

So what was I going to do next? I had no clue, and neither it seemed did the Careers Guidance Officer who I was assigned by school. It wasn’t exactly her fault. With two socialist teachers for parents, I was passionate about social causes and wanted to change the world. So she suggested I study Sociology. I wasn’t so sure but I thought I might become a Social Worker.

Then in my first summer break from university, I applied for a temporary job with the local Children’s Home. For two months I helped care for a group of 10 to 16 year olds, and the experience was both scary and revealing. Caring for young people who have been abused and neglected was not a job I was well equipped to do. After playing tickling games with the only child I seemed to be able to connect with, a 10 year old boy, I was warned that this was not appropriate behaviour. I was really upset and embarrassed, and I also realised that I was never going to be a social worker.

It’s a pity though that nobody told me back then how important it is to consider your interests when choosing a career. Instead I focused on my skills, and my writing skills were a good fit for the marketing jobs I did over the next five years, it was just that ultimately, writing brochures and press releases for a banking software company didn’t really interest me much. Eventually, having moved countries twice (more of this in a future post OK?) I got really curious about finding work that was truly satisfying! I read a great book, got inspired, and retrained as a career and life coach.

Plenty of people I’ve met have similar stories to tell. It’s not that it’s necessarily a bad thing to have trouble finding work that we love, just that I have a hunch we can make it easier and smoother for the next generation. And that especially when you consider the projections for youth unemployment, we owe it to them to do our best to make it easier for their generation than it was for ours.


Young talent – let’s nurture it not waste it!

I am feeling so proud of my 15 year old daughter this week. It is week 2 of the work experience organised by her school for her and five others at a social media agency in Dubai and she is so motivated and serious about what she is doing it is truly inspiring. Despite being told by her boss that she doesn’t need to worry about being in by 9 o’clock, she is anxious to get in on time to get her work done. The other night she even said, “no need to hurry to pick me up Mum, I’ve got lots of work to do” and this is at 6pm, from a girl who hates staying after school for anything!


Her working wardrobe

I am sure every company needs and would appreciate young workers like her. Young people are particularly talented in ‘new media’ and many high tech areas, but I’m not sure they’re getting enough opportunities like this to try out, and contribute their valuable ideas along the way. Of course not every work experience placement works out like a match made in heaven, but that’s the point. We learn just as much from doing jobs we hate, and the earlier we learn what we hate the better!

Given the choice, she’d happily ditch school and start work tomorrow. We both realise that’s not an option, but she’s more motivated, excited, engaged and productive these past two weeks than I think she’s ever been in school. Shouldn’t school be more like work experience? I think it should be a place where young people learn about their talents, interests and express their potential, but what I see in the vast majority of schools is so much focus on preparing for exams that there’s little time left for thinking about questions like:

  • What is most important to me in life?
  • What is my dream job? (Do I have a dream?)
  • What do I need to know about myself to find work that’s satisfying?
  • What gets me out of bed in the morning?
  • How important is money to me?

I’m passionate about this and developing FutureSurfing programs for teens. We are all surfing into the future, not knowing what it really holds, but with a backpack of talents and passions to draw on. I’d like this to become part of every school’s curriculum – and I see signs of it happening…check out Studio Schools in the UK.

Are you a parent or influencer of a teenager? What do you think would most help them grow their talents and contribute to tomorrow’s workplace?

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When does the future start?

The last few weeks I have been working with a group of students in Grade 10 at an international school in Dubai. Banan Hadidi and I facilitated a ‘FutureSurfing taster’. Our vision is all about inspiring and igniting learning in young people, but one of the best things about my job is that I get to learn something every day too. It’s my (now not so) secret way of staying like a teenager, even if I’m now 46 and my firstborn has just become an adult!

In session 2 we were looking at how to connect our vision for ourselves 10 years from now with the present moment, and how to move forward with a first doable step. Innocently, naively, I asked the question: “When does the future start?” and was fascinated to hear the answers. The majority of the students answered “it starts when I leave school,” several were rather fuzzy about whether it started in the next few hours or days, and only one student  asserted that “it starts now”. I asked them if they were willing to play with a new perspective, could they imagine just for the next 30 minutes that the future started now? They were all willing to play, and so we began.

What I learned is how important it is to start with the foundation, start by looking at our assumptions and perspectives before we move on to explore ideas about the future. Many students are focused on ‘crystal ball questions’ which come from a perspective of ‘no control’ over the future. Questions such as ‘Will I get a good job?’ and ‘Will I marry?’. I love helping them play with a different perspective, noticing what they are in control of, and from that powerful place, consider their choices now and the impact those choices will have on their futures.

When does your future start? What perspective are you looking at the future from right now? What are you in control of?


Is it important to set goals?

Once upon a time I hadn’t even heard of the word ‘goal’ (except in relation to team sports of course). People talked about ‘New Year’s resolutions’. I tried writing them down as a teen and found that I forgot all about them within days, even hours sometimes! Then, many years and several careers later, I decided I wanted to help people be happier at work and became a career coach. I trained with David Rock and his team and learned about goal setting and having a vision, and lots of other cool stuff. I coached a few people using this approach and very quickly I learned a few things about goals:

Goals are a great starting point

If (like me as a teen) you have just been taking life as it comes, dreaming about doing some exciting things but never getting around to much, then setting goals is a great way to start approaching life in a different way. Thinking about where you are headed, and taking your wildest dreams a little further forward, to imagine what they would or could look like if they came true, and when that could happen… all these things are great steps towards taking control of your life rather than letting it drift by like a movie you’re watching.

Goals often morph as you learn about yourself

What I also found out was that for many people, the goals they started out with changed as they started to move towards them. One lady I worked with set a goal of becoming a bestselling novelist. The trouble was, week after week she was not actually sitting down and writing. She started to realise that she had a habit of setting herself very challenging goals, both at work and in her personal life, and that the goal needed to change, to be more focused on enjoying writing and making it a part of her life than about what the end product would look like. Once she took the pressure to perform away, she started to have fun writing!

It makes sense to do goals your way – one size does not fit all

As I carried on coaching and trained with some great coaches, I got a lot more relaxed about the process. Rather than follow the step-by-step method I had learned in coach training, I started to trust my intuition more and ask my clients about how goals generally worked for them. Some of them were highly driven individuals who liked to set ‘Everest’ style goals and as soon as one was achieved they’d set another one. Others had found they worked better with short term goals and liked to focus on small actions. Rather than tell them how to set goals, I found I could adapt and go with their preferred way of working most of the time.

Beyond goals to developing habits and practice

Right now I am experimenting with a whole new approach in one specific area of my life. I’ll be posting about it as I go along. Inspired by the London 2012 Olympics I decided that rather than focus on a goal of losing weight or even fitting into a particular outfit, I would develop the practice of fitness. So I’ve defined (more or less) what that looks like, some measure of what I will do, how often I will do it (at the moment it’s exercising for about 30 minutes, four times a week and I’ve maintained that for 3 weeks now so it’s still early days) but unlike a goal there is no end point. I am looking to develop a practice that I will continue for the rest of my days.

What’s your experience of goal setting? Have you developed a ‘practice’ in one or more areas of your life? If so, what wisdom would you like to share with those of us who are new to the idea?



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Preparing for Future Careers

How can we best help young people to prepare themselves for success and satisfaction in their careers? In the majority of schools and colleges around the world, pretty much the same approach is being used that I remember from my school days nearly 30 years ago. So much has changed in the world in that time, can ‘career guidance’ still be what young people need? In fact, was it really what we needed even then?

Can we really guide the young?

We can help young people understand themselves better, through administering tools that illuminate their personality type like the MBTI, and inventories and other tools such as card sorts which help them to clarify their preferred skills, interests and values. We can encourage them to be aware of the variety of work options available to them, with some great free online resources available to us, like the O*net. We can even offer training to develop skills in networking, social media, interviewing, and resume writing. But is it valuable to ‘guide’ young people on their future careers? Isn’t that based on the assumption that a) future careers are predictable and broadly similar to those of the past, and b) that we know better than they do what they should be doing with their lives?

Wouldn’t it be better to inspire them instead?

Just imagine if instead of telling young people what we thought would be a good career match for them, we asked them what they thought. And if they said they didn’t have any ideas, we didn’t believe them but threw a few crazy ideas at them anyway and asked them to experiment with them? Then we asked them what they had learned from that experience. What had surprised them? What confused them? What would they like to try next? And that all along the way we built up their self belief and confidence through exercises in goal setting, visioning and other cool stuff…

Revolutionary or evolutionary?

From my experience so far, many Education practitioners are fearful of change in this area. And let’s face it, how much do schools and colleges have to gain by changing their Careers programmes? After all, they are measured by the academic results achieved, not by students’ long-term success in life and career. Luckily a few brave teachers, who like me, care about their students’ potential, are willing to experiment with me.

And the thinking is not all that new actually. It’s based on the principles of coaching, which have been developed over several decades. Some of the pioneers in this field include Sir John Whitmore, Mark McKergowPeter Szabo and Anthony Grant. The corporate world has already embraced coaching as a developmental tool, now it’s time for young people to benefit too.

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Everyone needs to be entrepreneurial

According to Paul Brown, writing for Forbes magazine in May, everyone will have to become an entrepreneur. Put it another way – even if you don’t ever start a business, even if you don’t have a clue about what P&L or ROI stand for and don’t ever want to find out – if you want to work in the future you need to start seeing yourself differently.

Why? Because for most of us (and the younger you are now, the more this is relevant) the future will involve a number of job and even career changes as a matter of survival. And just like Darwin’s theory, it’s survival of the fittest. In a world in which contract work and part-time work is prevalent; those who have an entrepreneurial attitude and skills will thrive. Those who are still working to the outdated set of rules that say, “if you have good qualifications you can get a good job,” will be likely to struggle.

So what does ‘being entrepreneurial’ really mean, if it’s not about understanding balance sheets or wanting to be a millionaire?

  • Developing a greater awareness of your skills and strengths – knowing what makes you unique and how you stand out.
  • Being willing to take risks – experimenting with career possibilities and capitalising on interests that could earn you money
  • Looking outside your everyday experience to identify opportunities that could be relevant to your future or to your friends, family or others in your network.

What does ‘being entrepreneurial’ mean to you? Is there a better word to describe the attitude that FutureSurfers need to have?

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What is a FutureSurfer?

Since I invented the term, I had better define it, hadn’t I? A FutureSurfer can be of any age, nationality, gender or religion. He or she is simply an individual who is ‘surfing’ into the future with a backpack on their back, fully aware of the skills, strengths and interests they are taking with them, open to taking risks and keen to experiment and explore. The FutureSurfing programme aims to develop attitudes and skills that will support young people between the ages of 13 and 24 in maximising opportunities and taking the lead in designing the future for themselves, their community and the rest of humanity. To put it more simply:

“A young person who sets exciting goals and takes actions in their life based on an awareness of their purpose, their talents and of opportunities in the world.”

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