Turning Passion into a Career
One of the biggest challenges for us all, is trying to understand how we fit in to society, in a world that really isn’t designed for disability. For sure, things are changing, but my path (when it comes to work) was carved many years ago when there just wasn’t the same emphasis on diversity and inclusion that there is today.
This year marks 20 years for me being a company director. Don’t think ‘ oh company director’ – ‘high paid business executive’ – no. It’s been nothing like that at all, although it’s pretty nuts to think of some of the stuff I’ve done during that time – certainly not all sunshine and strawberries! My business ventures have been a roller coaster ride with highs and lows, however the one thing that I can safely say throughout (for the most part), is that I’ve truly followed my passions and tried to turn them into a career.
To take this back a little, I need to give context to my childhood – Type IV OI, started using a wheelchair full-time from around 3 years old, a modest 100+ breaks (in comparison to some of my esteemed OI friends) with the well-known cycle of hospital stays from fractures / major surgeries, physio (and repeat). I got in to one of the top grammar schools in Belfast, however given my childhood or lack of, I had freedom and independence at the forefront of my thoughts as I (pretended to) study for my GCSE’s. Being bullied at school didn’t help either. I wanted out of there and was absolutely determined to break free of those chains that had been holding me back and so the start of the demise of my education began…
I was wholly distracted by the fact that only round the corner at 16, I could get a licence to drive and what’s more, I could get myself a car on the Motability scheme – woohoo! So, got through my GCSE’s and went back to school to study my A-Levels in an attempt to follow the path of convention and head to uni, but alas no, my grief in school continued and those demons still haunted me throughout, so on the first day of Upper Sixth, I went to the headmaster and announced my departure.
From following my love for music after leaving school, I ended up in Ibiza where I DJ’d during the summer months for 4 consecutive years, playing at some of the most famous nightclubs and beach bars and having an absolute ball of a time whilst doing it, all the while, teaching myself graphic and web design.
In 2003 I founded my first marketing company. The company did really well, pulling in some big names and hosting events in Northern Ireland which staged up to 3000 people. I loved the business and everything that was with it. In 2008 I brought on a business partner who worked in the advertising industry. However after a while I started to feel the burden that came with strategic marketing. It’s a very analytical and monotonous affair and far less creative than ‘Mad Men’ would have you believe, especially in the digital arena and so, I later sold my share of the business to him and followed my burning desire to get back in to hospitality.
In 2017, I setup my own street food restaurant, which although we had a great product and were producing everything from scratch, we were positioned in the wrong location and admittedly lost a fortune.
Finding my Path
I found myself at a cross roads. I was burnt in hospitality and I really had fallen out of love for digital marketing as I wasn’t able to unleash the creative inside of me and so I immersed myself into the world of film and TV, something that I had been doing bits and pieces with throughout my career including TV commercials, short-form social media content. I loved it, and, after just a couple of years, it led to me presenting and co-producing the BBC’s ‘The Disability Paradox’ in 2020. Finally, I started to feel I had found something I truly loved and could see myself as pursuing this as my long term career. It was creative – it was fast paced and I was getting to tell stories about people who had fascinating things to say, promoting brands with great products and having so much variety on a day to day basis. The reality of this however – it wasn’t earning me money. Broadcast work was few and far between and corporate video work was so competitive that was often prohibitive for me to take on as I regularly would need to hire someone to help me with the physical tasks I couldn’t do from my wheelchair.
My work across media has involved me in the International Harkin Summit, being a key note speaker, presenting programmes on radio and regular appearances on TV. Today I’m a brand ambassador for several international brands and charities and I’ve just accepted a role with an international advertising agency in London, and, as I write this, literally packing up my life in Belfast to relocate. My work has opened up opportunities for me and I’ve learnt valuable skills and built amazing relationships with people on both a personal and professional level. I’ve acquired my commercial drone license and from my work as a brand ambassador, have been given a scholarship to get my private pilots license and will be starting my training as a pilot.
We’re all on our own journey and we make it what we want. I think if anything, it’s follow your passion and if you really want to do something in life, work hard on finding out how to make it happen and go for it.