Career Heroes – the people who influence your career.


Welcome to the fourth in our series of 6 Signposts for new career ideas (careerdrive.ie)

This one is all about the ‘who’ in your career. Who has influenced you in your career to date, and why?


People influence in all sorts of ways. There are those who are close to us, who have supported us throughout our career. They have been the shoulder to cry on when things didn’t go according to plan, the sage offering words of wisdom at the right moment, and the celebrant, ready to party through the night as we get the new job, hit the new target or close the deal.


Then there are those who have influenced from afar. The author of a book, a role model who inspires, a coach who hit the spot and solved a problem.


What all these career influencers have in common is that they have influenced decisions that we have made in our career.


Why is it important to know this? We can glean great insight in understanding the role that these career heroes have played, to recognise what we learnt from them, and to create new career ideas from that insight.


So, I am going to share with you 10 people who have influenced my career. I list them alphabetically, as none played a bigger or better role, rather they all played a significant role at one time or another.

(note – in the interest of privacy, I have included the full name of all those in the public domain, and the first name for those close friends or colleagues).



Thoughts are Things

Jack Black is founder and CEO of Mindstore – a world renowned programme in the area of personal development and performance improvement.

I met him back in 1999 and he was my first exposure to positive psychology, the power of the brain and the glass half full. It was a time in my career when I was quite low and felt quite trapped.

Simple as the concept might seem now, he introduced me to the notion that we have choice over not only what we do, but how we think.


Lessons learned:

  • Belief systems are powerful things – choose one that work with you, not against you.

  • Thoughts are things – the quality of our thinking drives the quality of our lives.

  • The power of visualisation – you need to picture the change you want to achieve.


Think progress, not achievement

James Clear is a writer and speaker focused on habits. He is the author of the no 1 bestseller book Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear

He is also a keen photographer and bodybuilder. It’s the simplicity of his message, his ability to cut out the clutter and just focus on what needs to be done today that has so influenced me in the approach to my career goals.


Lessons learned:

  • Fall in love with the process, not the goals. Or if you can’t fall in love with it, at least be content with it. Find a system that works for you. You’ll never reach your goal if you don’t like being on the path that takes you there.

  • Turn up and put in the reps. You need to take action. Every day, every week do something however small towards your goals. If you can’t run your 25 mins , put on your runners and walk for 10. If you don’t have time to write the blog, take 20 mins to do an instagram post.

  • ‘Slow, slow , go’ beats ‘hard, hard, stop’ – don’t go so fast and so hard that you are likely to stop and give up. Go slow enough and easier enough that you can keep going.


Never too late to be great

One of the wonderful things about Social Media is that you never know where one of those algorithmic worms is going to take you. To this day I still don’t remember how I came across Tricia Cusden. Probably something to do with looking better on a zoom call.

Tricia Cusden is blazing the trail as one of the older generation of British beauty vloggers. A retired management training consultant from South West London, she launched her 'make-up for older women' YouTube tutorials out of frustration that her age group was being ignored by the beauty industry. She launched an online beauty brand, Look Fabulous Forever, in 2013 at the age of 68 and hasn't looked back.

In 2020 when the world was put on pause due to the Pandemic, and retail shut up shop, she created Tricia’s Super Troopers - an online community of over 6000 members offering support, talks and community.

Apart from the obvious admiration of someone who can, and is willing to start a new career at 68, what I find wonderful about Tricia’s adventure is that it took her back to a childhood interest. She loved beauty, fashion and make up ever since she was a young girl. In her seventh decade, she decided to put that interest to good use.


Lessons learned:

  • It’s never too late to be great. We all have many careers in us.

  • The important role of career interests. These often play second fiddle to career strengths. Lots more on this in one of my earlier blog Career Interests - and why they matter. (careerdrive.ie)

  • You don’t have to have a big vision to grow big. Sometimes it’s enough to say – What do I know? Who can it help? What should I do next? And the snowball grows from there.


Someone who gets ‘my gig’

Tracy is an amazing coach, confidante and friend. We worked for the same coach network for many years. I knew her only from afar until she moved house to live quite near me. In 1999 I left the traditional corporate world to set up my own business, to freelance and become what Charles Handy (see below) refers to as the portfolio worker.

It was, and still can be, a lonely place professionally. In exchange for the independence, freedom and flexibility of my own time, I had to lose the camaraderie, belonging and social engagement of being part of the corporate gang. Tracy helped fill that gap. Not just because of the support and camaraderie, but because she understood my professional life. Friends are great, but if they don’t get ‘your gig’, there is only so much they can do to support and guide you.


Lesson learned:

Find someone who understands not only you, but your work and your career aspirations. Someone who can understand what it’s like to be in your shoes and face your challenges. Nurture the relationship. Appreciate their support and tell them so.


Find customers, not employers

Charles Handy is a renowned author of Irish decent. The son of a Vicar, he started his career in the corporate world of Shell and rose through the ranks before jumping the corporate ship and entering a second career in education and writing. He has written many best- selling books on the subject of organisations and management.

I have never met Charles Handy. I have never even heard him speak in real life. But his books inspire me. He has an uncanny understanding of the corporate world and a very creative and insightful mind into what the future holds for the new world of work. In particular, his book ‘The Age of Unreason’ influenced me greatly. Published in 1989, he introduced us to the concept of the Shamrock Organisation and the role of the temporary, freelance and contract workers in the future of work. He was a proponent of the ‘portfolio worker’ as offering a career with rich and diverse opportunities. He was one of the first of the management gurus to pronounce that the ‘career for life’ was dead.


Lessons learned:

  • Have the mindset of ‘look for customers, not employers’. Build your career on what you have to offer and find people who are willing to pay for it. Even if you follow a career in an organisation, this mindset will set you apart from others.

  • The portfolio life can be a rich and rewarding one. With the job for life dead ,the portfolio worker can build a number of different income streams from different clients and different types of work.

  • There are many types of work – paid work, self work, home work, community work. We have a long life span, we don’t have to do it all now. Pace yourself.


Make your work a place of joy

I find it strange putting Jo Malone on the list. From reading her book, I can’t imagine anyone that I am less like. Generally, I don’t even like reading biographies, but I had to read this one for a book club and found that I couldn’t put it down.

For those of you who know and love the brand Jo Malone, you will know that she has had huge global success in building her perfume business from a very humble background and a tough start in life. But from reading the book, I got the sense that she just loved the basic art of creating the scents and producing the product. It appeared that she was never happier than when she was back in her kitchen perfecting her perfumes. So for all her success, it was the love of her art that brought her true fulfilment in her career.

In her own words ‘It grew out of love and passion for the process’


Lesson learned:

You HAVE to fundamentally like what you do. You don’t have to like it all the time, but you have to like it 80% of the time – otherwise the rest is just the packaging without the present. Style over substance.


Small steps to big dreams

Avril is a friend, neighbour and part of a local women’s network that I below to. Like myself she has had a few twists and turns in her career journey. Starting out in HR and ending up with the establishment of Ireland’s first School of Cheese. She loves everything cheese! Her influence lies in the quiet persistent pursuit of her passion. No big banners, no loud announcements, no re-invention of career, just a simple plan that saw her steadily learn, connect and adapt to create a career doing which she loves. Like many working mums, she juggles many balls. I am sure she would say that, like everyone else, she has dropped a few. But she juggles well, and she juggles with a smile on her face.


Lesson learned:

Career goals, like good cheese – need to be nurtured, and maturity takes time.


Yes we can!

Quite simply – Deirdre is a radiator.


You may well have come across the concept of ‘radiators and drains’. There are people in your life that are radiators. They generate positive emotions for you – joy, fun, hope, wisdom etc. An encounter with them leaves us energised and recharged.

Others can be described as drains. They drain you – they suck the energy out of you and every encounter leaves you flat or exhausted.

Deirdre is a coach. She is a supercoach. Energy and empathy in equal measure. An ability to get you to do what you really don’t want to – and have you believe that it’s a really good idea!

A coach for over 20 years, Deirdre has huge professional and intellectual credibility backing what she does. But it’s her ability to bring this expertise to life in a practical and personal way that makes her great.

She has a tremendously positive attitude and would give Barack Obama and Bob the Builder a run for their money when it comes to ‘yes we can’.


Lessons learned:

  • Actions speak louder than words. No amount of career reflection and planning will change things, unless you take the next best step forward. Doing builds confidence.

  • Everything is better with a smile on your face.


Someone in your corner, always

Lesley is my sister, one of seven siblings. We shared a flat together in London for many years and she has seen me through the highs and lows of a meandering career.

She is an amazing listener. She doesn’t give advice, but she listens in such a way that she allows the other person to talk themselves into some really good ideas.

She is the only person on the page that has known me as long as I have known myself. She has been the passenger on my career journey longer than anyone else and has stayed in the car!

She has generously granted me full bragging rights to celebrate my wins.

She will be hate that I have written all this in a blog!


Lesson learned:

Find someone who will genuinely celebrate your wins, as well as listen to your woes.


The boss that gave me wings.

It would be unusual, or at least very sad, if after a career of 20 + years, I didn’t have at least one boss on the list!

Adrian was my boss for 3 years mid- career when I worked for Thomas Cook, the international travel company. His background was HR before moving into the operational side of the business. I got more chances to grow and develop in those three years than ANY other time in my corporate career.

I had a boss that believed in me, encouraged me, treated me like an individual – gave me tough assignments but supported me.


Lesson learned:

If you are in an organisation, and you are not learning and growing – get out!