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

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?


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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