TEDx Somerset College: Create your own opportunities

TEDx Somerset College: Presented to grade 10 & 11 students.

Good morning!

I hope you are all feeling dandy on this cloudy Monday. My name is Edda and I am a past Somerset student. I graduated 6 years ago now. And it feels like yesterday. It’s a weird feeling walking around the school and feeling like you know it better than your own home… but at the same time it feels foreign because I don’t recognize many faces! There are a few though that I can pick out.

And of course the teachers – two of which are speaking today. Mr. Enright taught me English. I think I was pretty well behaved in his class. Mr. Drinan would probably disagree though. And I know Mr. Wrigley very well and his dog, Shadow.

I was in Starkey, the house that lost every carnival, maybe they still do? And I was the female rowing captain in grade 12… and the only female rower in grade 12. Ah love rowing.

Anyway, enough of my Somerset nostalgia…. Why am I here?

1.    Why am I here?

I have not been a champion sportsperson.
I haven’t made any great scientific discoveries.
I’m not famous in any way.
I don’t even have a really awesome poem like Sarah Kay.

I am simply a girl who has created her own opportunities.

“If Opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door”.  I saw this quote in a shop window in Sydney and I think it sums up my story quite well.

I’m hugely humbled to be here today and I hope that my story will help and inspire you to create your own opportunities – and not be afraid to diverge from what’s expected of you.

2.    THE BACKSTORY

As I said I left Somerset 6 years ago. I was naïve. I had big dreams. I firmly believed that I would be a millionaire by the age of 21. I’m now 23 and have more debt than you can poke a stick at.

When I was in grade 12 I had a dream job in mind. I wanted to work in event management. Yep, myself and half of the Gold Coast were going to become ‘event managers’.

It was a hugely popular career choice … But there aren’t enough events for everyone to be event managers.

As a typical high-school dreamer, I also wanted a job where I got to do all the cool stuff. Apparently photocopying, data entry and filing was no way to start out in the industry (I now know it’s a fine way to enter the industry).

I wanted creative rights and a team of at least 20 working for me. I was impatient. I wanted quick results. I wanted to stumble into success and sink deep into its arms and never be let go. So the plan was:

  • Go to uni
  • Get a ‘dream job’
  • Get paid tonnes of money to do the ‘dream job’
  • Start my own dream job business
  • Make even more money
  • Sell the dream job business
  • Then make more money
  • Retire by 25
  • Have a baby, get married & look young forever

I’ve got 1.5 years and I should be on track!

Between then and now, I’ve readjusted my goals a bit. But one notion has always stuck with me. Don’t wait for opportunities to casually float into your life. They aren’t like bills that lie around waiting for you to open them. Opportunities are like packages – if you don’t quickly claim them they’ll be returned to sender.

My story is about following my intuition and creating an opportunity because the traditional way of doing things didn’t excite me. What I discovered were all the little tricks that help you skip some of the traditional career steps and make things happen for you faster.

1.    Don’t be a hermit

I was never particularly good at attending class, doing assignments or studying for exams. Kidding! Always studied. But I did start to invest more time into being entrepreneurial, just in case the piece of paper that says “University degree” wouldn’t do the job.

So I still wanted that dream job as an events manager. I started attending any events that I stumbled across. Any network night, fashion show, live gigs, art exhibitions – anything that could be called an ‘event’ … and was free – because being a broke student that severely fails at budgeting, spare money is always rare.

I went along to MBA student presentation classes, international student events, leadership and motivation conferences. One year I attended 3 different graduation balls – and I wasn’t even graduating. This one time I attended a Toast Masters meeting in Brisbane (I had Googled ‘public speaking clubs’ in Brisbane and this seemed to be the only decent option). I showed up alongside 7 gentlemen in their 60s. We sat around a table and discussed ‘words’. We had to go around the table and talk about our favourite word. They all had very intricate, fancy words like ‘nomenclature’ and ‘embellishments’ and I think I said that my favourite word was ‘happy’ – because who doesn’t like being happy? So that was a disaster.

But according to the famous quote, you must kiss a lot of toad before you find your prince.  So I persisted and continued being a compulsive attender of events.

2.    Just give everything a go

Once I had entrenched myself in the events scene, I took it a step further and started applying for every job ad that came my way. I ended up always having 4-5 jobs on the go – half of them being unpaid. Which didn’t make much sense to my parents at the time.

But there was no way they were going to stop me standing at the airport from 7am til 7pm everyday trying to sell credit cards. I worked as a face-to-face sales person at the Brisbane domestic airport. I stood out on the floor just before the security scanner point.

My job was to

  1. Stop people who were usually late to catch a plane …impossible
  2. Explain that they actually needed a new credit card
  3. Hopefully get them to sign on the dotted line

If no one signed the dotted line all day… I didn’t get paid.

One technique I came up with was to locate someone from a distance… and then “Oh my goodness, hiiiii. How ARE you?” they would then think that we actually knew each other “How are you GOING?” and it wasn’t until they were half way through considering getting a credit card that they realized I was a complete stranger.

After 3 years of working several jobs at a time and attending events that were completely irrelevant to me, I met a lot of people.

3.    People are just people.

Don’t be intimidated by people. Don’t be intimidated by people that run a big business or people with a lot of power or celebrities or CEOs or politicians.  These people are just like you and just like me. They make mistakes, they can say the wrong things just like you might do in a job interview, they make spelling mistakes, sometimes they don’t know their their from their there or their your from their you’re. They can run late, they might be financially struggling so badly that they’re eating noodles every night of the week. They even cry. Yep, even your teachers have feelings and have the ability to cry.

Don’t be intimidated by peoples’ status and don’t let it get in the way of making things happen for you.

Remember that they can learn something from you. You won’t necessarily know what it is – they won’t even know what it is. But chances are that there’s a skill or talent that you have that can help them.

I started a social media consulting company in 2009. I assisted business owners in managing their Facebook page. I would meet up with a client, explain how Facebook worked and how it would best compliment their business. I knew little of how their business operated – but I had a skill they didn’t have.

Always remember that you probably have something to contribute. But also remember to be humble and first learn something from them.

4.    If you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out.

I watched a Youtube clip by Tim Minchin – who is a to-die-for-hilarious comedian. He quoted someone in one of his songs and said:

“If you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out”.

This next part doesn’t have much relevance to this quote, but I thought it was funny.

Something I always try to remember to do is learn from people around me. Not just the professors and the bosses and the people that really rock at life – but also the people that maybe don’t have an education, the people that don’t have a flashy job, the people that appear to not have much going on.

Because firstly, if someone doesn’t look good on paper it doesn’t mean they can’t teach you something. And second, often the people you think aren’t going anywhere in life … are the people you end up seeing in the news because they just kicked ass and invented the next big thing.

Don’t let people’s first impressions mislead you. Yes, first impressions are the most important – but the next Einstein may have terrible social skills and is probably not going to leave a great first impression.

I have a sister who is 8. She doesn’t look that great on paper. She taught something valuable. She taught me that if you yell and scream and put your foot down and punch your brother really hard and let tears flow down your face until you turn blue in the face… you get what you want.

So if you apply that in a business sense, if you contact that lady you really want work experience with and you put your foot down on her office doorstep and you punch out a few eloquent words and you let your enthusiasm flow out until you’re blue in the face… you’ll probably get a chance with her. Because she’s late for a meeting and can’t stand how uncomfortable you look.

5.    My thing

So I still haven’t told you what I’ve actually done. What is this opportunity that I’ve created for myself.

I started a fashion show.

I didn’t have any formal fashion training. I didn’t have any formal event training. And when I first decided to put on a fashion show, I hadn’t even been to a fashion show.

The first show I organized was in 2010. It took 3 months to organize and over 400 people attended.

After the first fashion show went well, I took a step back. That was fun. But it didn’t really have much meaning. It lacked substance. It was fun but it wasn’t making a positive difference to society or the environment. The fashion industry is famous for fueling materialism and I disliked that.

Then I stumbled across sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion wasn’t getting nearly as much airtime as it deserved so I took it under my wing and another fashion show was born.

This new show took 4 months to organize and also attracted over 400 guests.

We continued with it this year and over 500 people came to the show.

So what is sustainable fashion?

You know how people put solar panels on their roofs? And how there’s a recycling bin for your rubbish? And how your dad tells you to turn the lights off when you leave the room?

It’s all for the sake of sustaining our resources – making sure we do our bit to be kind to our environment.

Do you ever consider how your clothes are made? Who the people are that made them? How many kilometers they have travelled to get to you? And where will they go when you’ve decided they aren’t cool anymore?

If you wear hand-me-downs. You are so trendy. You’re basically a trendy hipster that has given new life to clothes that probably would have otherwise ended here.

[LANDFILL image]

It’s a tough life for clothes these days. Especially if they are fast fashion (that means that they are cool for about 2-3 months and then they aren’t cool anymore).

Fast fashion is not fashionable.

Sustainable fashion is not just about wearing your big brother or sisters old rags. It’s about buying from vintage and op shops instead of big fashion chains. It’s about swapping clothes with friends and borrowing out of your parents’ wardrobe. It’s about looking at the label and seeing where it was made and what fabrics they have used. Was it made in Australia? Or was it made in a sweatshop in Bangladesh by a child?

We hear so much about sustainability in all the other parts of our lives but not many people don’t realize that getting dressed every morning could be a sustainable choice.

Sustainable fashion is in important issue. What I had were the skills to put sustainable fashion in the spotlight. After 4 years of learning from bizarre characters, chatting to anyone who crossed my path and working ridiculous jobs, I was ready to be an event manager.

I hadn’t taken any traditional steps. I just went out and did it.

Sometimes you just have to do it.

Don’t wait for your idea to be perfect. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity to launch. Don’t wait for that ideal situation… because conditions will never be perfect.

Just start. Fix things as you go.

I had a lot of fixing to do along the way. A lot of learning to do. I stepped on a lot of toes. I did a lot of apologizing. I screwed up a lot. I wasted time. I took bad advice and I didn’t listen to good advice.

A failure. What I thought was, at the time, a failure, but turned out to be a valuable lesson, was a flood relief appeal that I organised after the Brisbane floods last year. I was sitting on the couch watching the live footage of the floods and thought, boy I could pull something together and raise money to help out all these people that are losing their homes. I decided to do a live music and fashion night – so it was a mixture of live bands and fashion shows. From sitting on the couch and having the idea, I gave myself 2 weeks to pull it all together. I wanted to achieve what I had done previously in 3 months… in 2 weeks. I have a tendency to be dangerously optimistic. While the event was seamless I didn’t get the turn out I expected and I didn’t raise as much money as I had hoped. I took on too much. I set my goals high but I didn’t get enough people to pull it all together. I learned that you don’t need to roll solo and to not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. If you take on more than you can pull off, you’ll only let yourself down. I think I cried for about a week after the event. But I’m glad I did it.

I encourage you to take the plunge. If I hadn’t announced that I was launching a sustainable fashion show last year. Told people about what my goals were. Explained what sustainable fashion was about 1 trillion times over. Sat through the looks people gave me and still give me when I try and explain that I run a sustainable fashion show. It looks a bit like this … and then they go ‘okay…’ and you can hear them thinking ‘this kid is delirious’, as if I’d just told them I’m about to build a spaceship.

But if I hadn’t just done it, I’d probably still be waiting for the right opportunity today.

If you want to be an entrepreneur – I always remember being really embarrassed about wanting to be an entrepreneur… ‘you know, I just want to be an entrepreneur’. But embrace it. Just say to people I’m working towards being an entrepreneur.

If that’s something that interests you, get busy creating your own opportunities.

Being a leader.

Start with a strong vision. If you are passionate and driven, people will be drawn to you. People want to be a part of new and exciting projects.

The events team I’ve assembled are simply my friends. There’s an architect, an interior designer, a school teacher, a labourer, a photographer, a videographer and of course my uni friends – none of them are directly linked to fashion. But we all share a common drive and it’s my job to fuel the team and keep it exciting.

Aim (really) high.

When I first decided I wanted to run a fashion show I was working with a friend of mine. It took him to say ‘let’s get 400 people to attend the show’. I thought he was nuts. Crazy, why would you set the bar so high, there’s no way we’ll even come close. But the idea excited me so we stuck to it, worked our butts off and in the end we had exactly 422 guests come to our show.

It’s hard work. Getting up at 6 in the morning to start sending emails isn’t always fun and finishing everyday at midnight is draining. Doing it everyday for weeks and months – you tap into this inner survival mode.

Don’t say the C word.

Don’t say can’t. You can do it. It’s as simple as that.

What I achieved in the end.

From a small conversation on a street corner, I went on to create my dream job. Although it makes little money, actually it doesn’t make any money. But I love it. I honestly wouldn’t trade the experience for any job in the world.

So these are all the little skills that I have picked up in the last few years. They worked for me.

Don’t be a hermit

Just give everything a go

People are just people

Don’t be fooled by first impressions

Just do it.

Have a vision

Aim high

Don’t say the C word.

If you start making these shifts in the way you live your life, you will develop a natural tendency to create your own opportunities.

If I could do it, you can DEFINIETLY do it.

Think of all skills you rock at – then build a job around them. Develop your skills. Read books, ask questions and never stop learning. Go and create your own dream job … and I know you’ll totally kick ass at it.

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