Samuel L. Jackson didn’t make it big until his forties

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James McMillan (addicted to saying ‘yes’) is co-founder and CEO of join myNexus, a non- exec director for Counter Culture Store, board advisor to Reason Digital and Impact Reporting, and runs his own business advisory boutique Audeo Fortis. He considers himself a ‘professional homosexual’, and as a young gay boy, all he really wanted was to be on the stage and screen. Another attention seeking failed actor? Ground- breaking.

Biggest fuck up?

I believe that the only things you should regret in life are bad decisions you made knowingly, i.e., even though you totally know something will lead to a monumental fuck up, you just hit that self-destruct button and do it anyway.

So I honestly don’t give ‘mistakes’ too much thought when it comes to life in general, as I think most things are either fixable or not that big of a deal…or perhaps I’ve been over-cautious in my decision-making, so it never got that bad.

That said, personally speaking, my biggest fuck up was not saying ‘no’ to my parents when I was 17.

Having been drilled to be the consummate academic, when it came to deciding a career path, my parents really wanted me to go to university. I would be the first and only person in my family to do this, and my siblings were highly unlikely to go.

I, however, yearned to go to drama school. I wanted to flounce around a stage and be on the telly – I’d always loved it and had been in school productions, choirs, you name it, since what felt like the dawn of time. (How I got to 19 before I realised I was gay is beyond me).

They convinced me I could do drama school after my university education, and I reluctantly allowed my combusting desire to be dampened and agreed to the proposition.

Why is this a fuck up, you ask? I ultimately became a Chartered Accountant.

Despite the passion I had, despite how good I was (you’ll just have to believe me), I didn’t have the courage of my convictions to deny them. Who knows where I could have been today if I’d pursued that path?

It taught me some really valuable lessons, though:

  1. Saying ‘no’ is a gift. Do it often, be happy, and don’t regret a single decision.
  2. You don’t need the validation of others to prove your capability. It exists with or without their permission.
  3. “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”. Samuel L. Jackson didn’t make it big until his forties. I still have time.

Rant

I have spent my working life and career railing against corporate bullshit. You know what I mean. Those meetings where people are saying words, and no one is saying anything of any actual substance or meaning. Or where sycophants are blindly promoting the virtues of the emperor’s new clothes.

It’s no surprise then I ended up a self-employed entrepreneur, but I can’t believe how much this still impacts my day-to-day. I’ll give you a specific example.

At myNexus, our goal is to help reduce the bias in early-stage ventures obtaining cash investment and support to succeed. It’s a massive, massive fucking problem.

Black founder? You get 1p in the pound.

Female founder? 9p for you.

Straight-white male? Come on down!

However, talking to investors, it’s as if they don’t believe that’s accurate at all. ‘Things are getting better’, they say. We’re ‘moving the needle’ or ‘shifting the dial’ or whatever other bollocks phrase they want to use.

Truth is, they think they’ll lose money if they change what they do (read: black or female founders can’t be trusted to build a viable business, don’t have the commitment, etc., etc.).

They believe their process to be infallible even though diverse leaders in business outperform all-white-all-male teams and even though their investment returns average out the same as any other.

Most investors are, in essence, playing a numbers game without realising they’re the ones who keep those averages low.

Makes me itch.

Useful advice

There are so many things I could say.

For instance, become a Chartered Accountant it’s a bloody brilliant qualification and tooled me up to get some incredible life and career experience.

Or, don’t eat yellow snow.

However, my biggest piece of advice is this – Stop. Seeking. Validation.

You don’t need it. It drives super dysfunctional behaviour, whether that’s in your personal relationships, trying to climb the corporate ladder, or wanting approval for your actions. It can send you mad.

Instead, seek feedback. Seek to measure your own validation by observing how others
react to you. Gather data, not judgment.

And then do what you want with it! Not all feedback is good. Not everyone else’s opinion of you matters. Of course, in many areas of life, there are standards to be achieved (you can’t just become whatever you desire just because you want to), but the best piece of advice I ever received was when I was trying to be promoted into my first managerial role, it was “Be the manager’.

I was desperate to be promoted, mainly because I was already doing the job, but like a puppy trying to be petted, I wanted validation. I wanted someone to tell me I was good enough, that I’d passed the test, and that I could show off to friends and family for no reason other than that was what I had been trained to do.

In that moment, something truly clicked. My eyes wide open moment happened, and I saw through the veil of validation. It was mine to take in every aspect of my life. You don’t need the approval of others. If you just embody that role and act like a manager, then you are one.

You are in control of far more of your life than you comprehend.

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