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Life Advice from Old Boy

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Old Boy Simon Turner (Class of 1994) offered his life advice to pupils via Zoom. He studied Law at Magdalen College, Oxford, and completed pupillage at Lamb Chambers before taking a position at a firm of solicitors in London. After several years working in finance and corporate restructuring, he was offered the opportunity to change career and, for the past nine years, has been Managing Director of the Camellia Foundation.

Simon began by saying that he wanted to talk about decision making rather than his career. He went on to give the audience of students in Years 10 to 13 six pieces of advice, all tied back to anecdotes from his own career and life.

First, he recommended that everyone should be reflective, observe their own decision-making and make decisions consciously rather than passively. He said that this helps you to consider all the options equally, without prioritising those within your personal experience. He related this back to when he was asked to set up a charity instead of continuing to work in his legal career: a massive change.

This led him to his next point: be courageous in making decisions. He said that it can be all too easy to fall in line with others’ expectations, which can help us to achieve more, but equally can cause regret. He talked about having the courage to treat the familiar and the new equally and his own difficult decision not to become a barrister even though that was his long-term ambition. He also said that there sometimes is no right answer, but it’s necessary to have the courage to take your own path.

Determination and the will to see things through is also important. He discussed how unhappy he was during his first year at the bar, and the persistence needed to get past that, earn the qualifications needed, and progress. He said, ‘Do all you can to see things through, don’t give up out of boredom or difficulty. Keep your eyes on the prize.’ He also talked about how the ‘prize’ might not be something obvious at the time, but rather something you or others will find valuable later.

Simon next talked about how broadening your horizons can lead to new places and experiences, and help to combat the paralysing fear of the unknown. He advised everyone to read beyond their field. In his case, his interest in physics, including the philosophical aspects of physics, ultimately led to him meeting the Dalai Lama!

He advised the audience to always be trustworthy and compassionate. The importance of having integrity, sharing credit and taking responsibility were exemplified in a story he told about a senior colleague taking the blame for a mistake Simon made, which he was then able to pay forward later in his career. He also talked about the importance of forgiving others and yourself, and the need to put mistakes into context in order to move forward.

Finally, he closed with a quote from Socrates: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ He said that it is possible to spend years on ‘auto-pilot’, and it is important to both observe and participate in life. He said, ‘An examined life is most definitely worth living.’

During the talk, he recommended several books which he said had made a big impression on him: ‘Thinking Fast And Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman; ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’ by Carlo Rovelli; ‘Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success’ by Adam Grant; and ‘A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives’ by his colleague Thupten Jinpa, a copy of which is in the Boys’ Division library.

A question and answer session at the end of the Zoom call allowed pupils to ask Simon more about law, including the difference between being a barrister or a solicitor and working in corporate law. He advised that in order to succeed in any legal career it’s necessary to pull out all the stops and spend as much time as possible on doing a good job. He also talked about what corporate law is like morally speaking and described a situation he was involved in which ‘didn’t pass the ‘smell test’’ and which he advised his bosses not to touch. When asked about the most challenging legal situations, he talked about the difficulty of not knowing what is the ‘right’ answer and how those in the legal profession must learn to live with this uncertainty.

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