My Best Mistake by Claire Haigh, Co-Founder Collaborate Out Loud

| Anna Eaton

We are very pleased to feature the next article in our “My Best Mistake” series which seeks to break the taboo around failure and help people to open up about the things they’ve learnt from making mistakes. This month Claire Haigh, the Co-Founder of Collaborate Out Loud shares with us her best mistake so far. Claire’s ‘Best Mistake’ reminds us to be human in the workplace and bring our experiences from all aspects of our lives as her experience as a University student still informs her work and approach to change today.

The mistake

In 2001 I was 18 years old and beginning my first gap year (yes there were more) volunteering at a school near Nottingham. I had managed to get away with not applying to university in my last year of sixth form, but I was still being hassled to apply and go. So, I randomly picked six universities that were ranked pretty well for psychology and not too far away from home. I received offers from most of them and literally picked the one that ranked the highest. That was Bangor in North Wales. Well, this is where my best mistake journey started.

I actually deferred the place for a year and eventually turned up for freshers week in September 2003. Bangor is a beautiful, remote and peaceful place apart from the students and their partying. Here is where the mistake started to unfold. I hadn’t actually ever visited Bangor apart from passing through as a child. I soon realised that it was a beautiful place with lots of outdoor stuff to do, but it wasn’t really ‘me’, and nor was the course. Not the subject, but the 300 strong students and mass chalk and talk lectures.

I stuck with it until May 2004, when I finally decided that I couldn’t spend the next two years on the course and therefore I decided to look at my other options. By this point I knew university was the right option, but that I needed to venture further afield and be somewhere there was lots going on. So, this time I decided to go down to London and ended up just outside the city at Royal Holloway.

What I learnt

Spending the best part of a year in Bangor taught me so much that still stays with me today and led to a career path that might not have happened if I hadn’t gone. Here are some of the lessons I learnt:

  • Things happen for a reason – I made some amazing friends during that year, including meeting Toby, who is now my husband. We didn’t get together during that year, but later on in 2007 when I was back in Manchester revising and he had graduated and was working there. Perhaps we may have met somewhere else, but for me, it felt like this was part of the reason I ended up in Bangor for that year.
  • Its ok to change your mind and say this isn’t for me – I wasn’t sure of the reaction I was going to get from my parents and others about leaving. But when I explained my reasons and thinking behind wanting to ‘quit’ (this is how I described it at the time) everyone was so supportive. As soon as they saw how happy and settled I was at Royal Holloway they all agreed it was the best decision. Quitting is not how I describe it today, which is also really interesting for me.
  • Never be afraid to follow a different path – I think in many ways I have always been someone that was happy to change track, but this decision (as well as the financial implications of another year’s student loan and fees) was a clear example of this and I haven’t been afraid to do this in the subsequent years.
  • Timing is everything –spending that year in Bangor then led to me graduating in 2007 rather than in 2006. In true ‘Claire-style’ I had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated. I knew I liked people and so I started to explore recruitment consultancy (looking back, I’m not sure why). At the same time whilst doing an internship at the Foreign Office I saw a graduate scheme at Rochdale Council, the town where my parents lived and I thought I’d apply and see what happened. It was the first year they had run a graduate scheme, so if I had graduated the year earlier, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to apply. I was offered a place at the same time as being offered a role with a public sector recruitment consultancy. So I had to choose between the opportunity to potentially earn lots in the consultant role or a role that would mean I could give back and learn loads at the same time. I took the role at Rochdale Council and spent three years working in local government. This time really shaped me and the work I do now helping people to collaborate, lead with generosity and embrace difference. It also helped me realise that the recruitment consultant world was a million miles away from what drove me and my passion for social change.

And now 

Now if I hadn’t made the ‘mistake’ of choosing Bangor then I probably wouldn’t have met my husband. I also wouldn’t have been graduating at the time when Rochdale where starting their graduate scheme and this then led to a chain reaction of me ending up where I am now as Co-Founder of Collaborate Out Loud. I look back on my time at Bangor University with lots of fond memories. I see how it shaped my approach and thinking today for the better. Being brave, making mistakes and learning from them at the stage I did, really helped me to be ok with that when I started in the world of work. We can’t get everything right first time and when things go wrong this really helps us move further faster.

I want to finish by saying that sometimes we find ourselves in a place that doesn’t feel right, that doesn’t feel like us, or  just isn’t the right thing at that moment. I would say never be afraid to explore how you can make a change to help you find the thing that is ‘you’. This might be through small tweaks or a big change. My best mistake (so far) helped me embrace this approach and gave me the confidence last year to leave my full-time role as a Director in a regional organisation to work at the edges. I have never ever looked back.

By Claire Haigh, Co-Founder Collaborate Out Loud

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