This year has not been my normal lead up to Christmas. I’ve been running around sorting out all my pre-departure requirements to leave for Thailand; I’ve been helping out at Bluesky Alternative Investments; I’ve been travelling to and from Canberra; and I’ve been finishing my final ever law assignment at QUT. The lead up to Christmas is the culmination of what has been my best year yet and I decided to get in early by taking some time yesterday to reflect on how lucky I have been.
Bluesky has a quote in their office that sums up how I feel about my 24th year of life:
“Nothing in this word can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”
At the start of 2017, I was feeling as lost as I’d ever felt. It signalled the end of my failed sporting pursuits. I’d maxed out all the persistence and determination I had and I made the decision to finally let a childhood sporting dream go. A dream that I’d been holding onto overly optimistically for a long time. I’m talking years. I don’t know what was tougher: coming to grips with the idea that I had failed and significantly damaged my body; feeling completely stripped of my identity; or gaining the self-awareness that I’d missed the boat many years ago which, believe me, is one of the hardest things to say out loud, let alone write for public viewing. All in all, it was a pretty low start to the year and to be honest, it still gets to me now.
Nevertheless, this experience taught me a lot about myself. I’d learnt that the two things I had a lot of were persistence and determination. I knew that I could apply this to anything I do and that I’d be able to max out my potential in whatever I do. It was just a matter of finding a new direction and applying the same principles that I had learnt from my failed sporting pursuit. My goal for 2017 was to work towards reinventing myself by pursuing excellence in another area of my life that I thought would give me the same satisfaction as striving to be a professional sportsman.
I wasn’t going to let my sporting failure define me and I wanted to find a new area in my life where I could do something equally as great. Something that would allow me to make my own mark on the world and that would give me the influence needed to make a positive change. However most importantly, as I was reminded yesterday — something that I enjoy and absolutely love. I also wanted to pursue this new area with the new found self-awareness that I attained from my pursuit of sport over the past 10 years. In other words, the fact that you only get one opportunity and you need to be self-aware and realistic with yourself when that opportunity has passed.
Over this year, I quickly realised that it wasn’t going to be as easy as picking something one day and going for it. It’s going to take time to figure out my place in the world and it’s going to take a lot of self-awareness to then lay the foundation to achieve excellence. I’m going to need to build my ten thousand hour platform from scratch. However, there were a number of breakthrough moments that I’d like to reflect on now:
The Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur
In 2016, I attended the Queensland Futures Summit and saw the unveiling of the inaugural Chief Entrepreneur— Mark. This moment led me down the rabbit hole to where I am now. It’s somewhere I didn’t contemplate that I would be at over a year ago — that’s for sure. After the summit, I hustled to try to get involved with the office and to meet Mark. I had this feeling that the office was something that I had to be a part of and after many months of persistence, I became involved with the pop-up entrepreneur events. I also got the opportunity to shadow Mark, which was worth its weight in gold to figure out what I must do to find my new path.
The most important thing I learnt from this experience was persistence. I learnt that opportunities will only ever come to those with persistence and determination. I also learnt that the most valuable opportunities in life are the ones that you must fight tooth and nail to get. From this experience, I made many long-lasting friendships and I was fortunate to receive advice from many people with a lifetime of experience in the start-up industry. This experience gave me an idea of how start-ups could be an alternative to sport. An alternative that would allow me to do something great by making a difference in the world.
Mawson Demo Night
The Mawson Demo night turned out to be the most pivotal night of my year. After spending time with Mark, I’d been conducting research on the Bluesky venture capital team. I was interested in their recent investment in Thr1ve and I’d been reading an article on Elaine Stead during my bus ride to the event. I’d even put a picture of the Bluesky logo up on my vision board. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Anyway, lo and behold Elaine attended the event and one of my mates Jack had pointed her out in the crowd during his presentation. It was one of those moments in life that you can’t explain, but fortunately happens every now and then.
Elaine was making her way to the elevator and I politely interrupted her trip to the elevator by introducing myself. This was my most pivotal moment this year. Elaine in true approachable Bluesky fashion agreed to meet up with me and gave me an open-ended opportunity to learn from the incredibly experienced Bluesky team. It didn’t end there though. I discussed my interest in start-ups in Thailand and Elaine went above and beyond by introducing me to one of the best guys I’ve ever met— Ben Dunphy. Ben is an expert on start-ups in South-East Asia and was one of the first employees at Lazada in Thailand. He then connected me with the team at Pomelo, which is a fashion eCommerce start-up headquartered in Thailand. In the space of a couple of days, my whole life direction had changed. I mean this when I say that Elaine and Ben have single-handedly changed my life and career trajectory. I still can’t get over how lucky I have been to receive this opportunity. Upon reflection, June 6, 2017 will go down in my books as my most influential day of 2017.
New Colombo Plan
The New Colombo Plan was my post sporting outlet. I knew I wanted to do something great and I saw the New Colombo Plan as an opportunity to test what that could be in the long term. Over the past few years at University, I’ve become more and more interested in Asia. I know I’m not alone there. I read a statistic recently suggesting that 88% of the global middle-class economy will be based in Asia by 2025. I’d previously applied for the New Colombo Plan in 2015 to go to China and I missed out at the final interview stage. However, this time I applied my traits of persistence and determination to do everything I possibly could to receive the scholarship. I overloaded myself with extra-curricular activities outside of university to the detriment of my studies, health, and relationships at different points.
I also constantly evolved my plans for the program and was never complacent about what I could do to be the best possible candidate I could be. I even instilled this attitude down to the finer details of my interview prep. For example, I was the first person to ever bring a prop into a final interview. I’d brought my Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur T-shirt into the interview room in a plastic sandwich bag clearly displaying the logo. The interview panel firstly asked me why I wanted to go to Thailand? The beginning of my response was (whilst pointing to the logo):
“Entrepreneurship is at the heart of Queensland, it’s at the heart of Australia, it’s at the heart of South-East Asia, it’s at the heart of Thailand, and it’s at the heart of me.”
Special kudos had to go to the original designer of the logo and also Mark, because through osmosis I’d seen the value of this as an icebreaker. I’d just put my own South-East Asia and New Colombo Plan twist on it. I didn’t stop there though. I even offered the T-shirt as a gift to the panel at the end of the interview, which they politely refused. Thankfully that move wasn’t to my detriment. I’m certain the interview panel were caught off guard. I’m certain because Doug from my interview panel actually came up to me after the awards night and specifically said something along those lines followed by laughter. All jokes aside, what really differentiated me from every other candidate was that I had sourced my own start-up internship in Thailand.
The reason I had this differentiating factor is what I really want to drive home in this article. It was because of the generosity and thoughtfulness of Ben Dunphy to help an aspiring student. If it wasn’t for him paying it forward and giving me the foot in the door with Pomelo— I wouldn’t be in this position. Trust me. You’re now aware of my interview antics and it’s fair to say that in isolation it probably wasn’t going to get me over the line. In all seriousness though, Elaine and Ben epitomise everything that is great about the start-up community here in Queensland.
Now, I’m one of the lucky ones who have received the New Colombo Plan scholarship, which was a breakthrough moment for me. However, the best thing is that I can see a future for myself. I can see an alternative path to sport starting to form before me in the South-East Asia start-up space. A path that excites me and has resulted in me finishing the year on a high. I know that there is a long journey ahead and that whatever my vision ends up being after this year that it is going to take me at least ten years to realise it. However, I’m confident that I will have an even clearer picture of my path by the end of this program and through the opportunities that I’ve been fortunate to receive. I’m confident that I will find my new path to do something great and this time I will make sure that I can achieve it. I will be able to make a change and leave my mark on the world. It’s just going to take a lot of persistence, determination and self-awareness to get there in the end.
Thank you to all of you who have helped me on my journey in 2017 and made it such a great year. You all know who you are. Special mention must also go to Mark Sowerby, Rowena Barrett, Peter Dornan, Hayley McNeel, Brent Watts, Matt Campion, Doug Ferguson, Ben Southall and all the crew from my Venturer program cohort (including Stewart Glynn, Cathy May, Tiah, Michael Metcalfe). Merry Christmas to you all and here’s to an even better 2018 ahead. It’s beginning to look a lot like Thailand, but first I’m going to enjoy Christmas with friends and family.