An entrepreneur living in London can very often suffer from what I’m coining “Big Pond, Small Fish” syndrome.
BPSF – as it shall hereafter be known – can make you feel like the entire city (never mind the entire WORLD) is just too damn big for your one little voice to be heard. You might start punishing yourself for not working long enough, hard enough, striving for “impossible” goals, making too-small goals. You might generally feel like you have nothing to offer, because everyone good is already doing well and living their fabulous lives and you’re just trailing in their shadow all the time.
Been there. Done that.
That’s kinda how I was feeling in the days before I was due to head to the infamous Madingley Hall, Cambridge University UK to teach and mentor the current Queen’s Young Leaders cohort.
By the time I left Cambridge, I no longer felt that way.
What is the Queen’s Young Leaders programme?
The Queen’s Young Leaders programme discovers, celebrates and supports exceptional young people from across the Commonwealth, leaving a lasting legacy for Her Majesty The Queen.
Yeah. I know right? Incredible. And I was to take four sessions over two days to teach these awesome people how to market their cause on social media.
As you can imagine, I had no idea what I was going to teach these people. I was very sure they should be teaching me. And as it happens, they did.
Learning from the Queen’s Young Leaders
Let me tell you something guys; rocking up to Madingley Hall in Primark shoes was not a thing that gave me a huge confidence boost. But the exceptional youths of the Commonwealth did.
Over every meal and in every session I got to learn about some of the businesses these young people were running. My nerves were not steadied, to be honest. The first person I spoke to was a girl who had gone into her youth club business as a nine-year-old. An age where I, most notably, was very preoccupied by Barbie, what my next birthday cake would look like, and learning the dance to Saturday Night by Whigfield off by heart.
I’ll go into more detail about the awe-inspiring businesses the QYLs are running in a follow-up blog post. But first I want to list what I learnt from this super friendly group of seriously clever people, because they are lessons I will take with me for the rest of my life:
Lesson 1: The UK has it really ruddy easy
This is not applicable to all Commonwealth countries, but some are referred to as “developing” countries rather than “developed”, meaning resources – most pertinently to me, digital ones – are not as readily available as they are here.
Computer access might be shared among a community, or internet connectivity limited. That kind of thing. And it did make me think that for all our complaining about screen time and iPhone addiction, we are so lucky to have access to these devices 24/7, and ultimately we do have a choice about whether we use them to our advantage or to our detriment.
I decided that I want to make wiser choices around my technology and social media. If a young person in Sierra Leone, who has to travel miles to access one community computer, can run a business that changes the world, I can definitely control the impact of my own communications on my followers, and make good choices about what I share online at the touch of a button whenever I want.
Lesson 2: No goal is too small
If you see an opportunity to start a business or charity and there’s good reason to do it, go for it. It’s not about goals being too big, it’s about your unique approach to them.
Plenty of things have been done before, but if you have an idea that makes that bigger or different or for a specific group of people, you really can make the impact you want. Just be ready to gather up all your courage and learn everything you can.
Lesson 3: No voice goes unheard
We’re so used to seeing – let’s face it – older, white, suited-and-booted men dominating vitally important roles in politics and lovely, but definitely cash loaded people succeed and ascend to power in the world, that’s it’s easy to think you don’t stand a chance if you don’t have a certain background or possess a certain talent.
Their voice may fill the press, the advertising billboards and the airwaves, but eventually everyone gets bored and looks for the next message to cling to.
Keep trying. Keep shouting loud and keep finding your tribe. Keep preaching what you preach. Keep learning and talk to everyone you can. Keep being creative and keep innovating. Because one day your voice will break through at just the right time, what you do will be recognised on a greater level and your voice gets louder each time that happens.
Lesson 4: It’s fine not to know everything
As mentioned above, when I was packing my cheap shoes and getting ready to leave for Cambridge, I couldn’t possibly fathom what I’d be able to teach the Queen’s Young Leaders. But of course there was stuff I could teach, otherwise there would’ve been no point in me being there. But it all runs deeper than that.
In a world that changes constantly, it’s nye-on impossible to know everything, all of the time. There’s always something new to learn – a different perspective, a different point of view, a factor that you hadn’t considered.
Just sharing a room with these young people, who could all teach me something different from the point of view of their community, was incredibly eye-opening, and I vowed afterwards I’d try harder to take a different perspective on everything. Nothing is clean cut, nothing black-and-white, and knowing this makes me better at what I do. Thinking you know it all and being afraid to say you don’t know it all is nothing other than limiting.
Lesson 5: Young people are, without doubt, changing the world for the better
Ok, I already knew this one – I’ve never believed anything to the contrary, which is why I love working on youth projects. But working in the social media industry means that time and time again I’m subjected to this bullshit “privileged millennial” and “lazy Gen-Z” terminology. It makes me extra angry to think that brilliant young people like the Queen’s Young Leaders are completely overlooked in favour of catchy journo slang. It’s simply not true.
Off the top of my head, here’s just a tiny handful of businesses run by the QYLs:
- Myna Mahila Foundation, a network of young women entrepreneurs living in Indian slum communities who produce low-cost high quality hygiene products, such as sanitary and maternity pads.
- Enterprise Youth Development Group, which will soon launch an initiative to identify depression from social media content. The founder has created an algorithm which processes natural language to detect ‘depressive statements’ in social media posts. She hopes this system will be applied to help to prevent people in Guyana from taking their own lives.
- Change, a youth-led development agency in Bangladesh which has been pioneering renewable energy initiatives.
So yeah. Young people are awesome. All over the world. And that’s a fact.
I feel like I have so much to thank the Queen’s Young Leaders for. They’ve empowered so many to make big, scary goals, tackle issues that others ignore or misunderstand, and set an example to the rest of us that anything and everything is within reach if you work for it. I won’t forget that. Not ever.