Search for courses or information

Events and conferences

Living the dream is tough but worth the work, says celebrity panellists

Image of Students sitting at computers at USS Campus

Be...Unplugged audience hears that having it all doesn't come cheap

The air was full of talk of grit and determination, dreams and aspirations as the University of East London’s Be…Unplugged event brought together those entrepreneurs who had been-there-done-that and those hopefuls who were planning to follow in their footsteps.

The hashtag of the packed event at University Square Stratford on Wednesday was #MakeItHappen and the panellists drilled into the audience the tough price of commitment - including loneliness, sacrifice and hard work - as they shared stories of their own trials as well as their triumphs.

The goal, they said, was becoming the best version of themselves which made the journey worthwhile… mostly.

The audience comprised students, alumni and members of the wider East London community who came to understand what it took to be a disruptor, a trail-blazer, a game-changer, often against the odds.

The panel

The panel was comprised of: 

  • Evans Mensah, University of East London graduate and founder of Laagha’s, a waffle sandwich shop based in Croydon which turned over a quarter of a million pounds before the end of its first year.
  • Lorraine Wright, an award winning business woman with UBS, who also runs a talent booking agency and a luxury boutique salon in Accra.
  • Farrah Storr, the editor-in-chief of Elle UK, former editor of Cosmopolitan UK, author of The Discomfort Zone and founder of Women’s Health. 
  • Tim Campbell, the first winner of The Apprentice, the founder of Bright Ideas Trust enterprise charity, mentor and head of client services at an international talent acquisition outsourcing company.

Life lessons

Each crystallised their own thoughts on how to go about making a dream career a reality – and sacrifice and resilience was a continual theme.

Evans Mensah: Don’t be afraid of hard work

“Was it easy? Definitely not but you’ve always got to think of the reason why you wanted to achieve in the first place. For me, I wanted to turn my life around. I’m Ghanaian where I come from life wasn’t easy. You have always to keep pushing to be the best you can in life. 

“One of my biggest attributes was that I wasn’t afraid of hard work. Don’t take short cuts. Always do things the right way and be prepared to take the long route.” 

Lorraine Wright: Work the side-hustles, sweat the hours

“It’s not easy. When you get to a certain point it becomes lonely. You have to use a lot of yourself to get things done. For me, it’s all about how you maximise your time. You have the 9-5 so how do you maximise the 6-9. I don’t go out after work, socialising with colleagues. Instead I come back home and do work on my businesses or I go to the gym and re-energise myself for the things I need to do later on.”

Farrah Storr: Learn from failures but don’t be deterred

“If you don’t have a clear idea of where you want to be as soon as obstacles come your way, you sidestep them and then you end up just going horizontally. I always wanted to be an editor but I’ve also been a disaster. I was almost sacked from about three different jobs. But because I was also focussed on where I needed to be that didn’t matter in a way. 

“Instead, when I fail at something I look back and I ask where it went wrong so I don’t make the same mistake again. You’ve got to have a beacon of light because that’s what gets you through the hard stuff.”

Tim Campbell: Build something no-one can away from you

“My mum used to say to me, ‘I can tell you who you are by what you spend your time doing’. And it’s so true. If you spend all your time on your smart devices and you’re not going to be a social media commentator then you are wasting your time. 

“I worked for a public sector organisation for over seven years and I turned up, I worked late, I smiled I did all the things that you’re supposed to do and I just saw people accelerate past me because I didn’t understand how to work smart.

“If you are waiting for someone to save you that won’t happen. Your employer could make you redundant in a heartbeat - so it is your responsibility to chase your dream and make sure you’re building something that no-one else can take away from you.”

Top tips

In answer to questions from the audience, the panel also offered information on a range of topics. Here are the top five tips.

  1. If you’re on an internship, work late. Executives generally can’t talk during the day but they often stay late and that’s when you can network. 
  2. If you’re planning a start-up, keep your business to yourself until you can employ people who genuinely add value. They must have a skill you don’t have or they can do something you haven’t the time to do.
  3. Show a potential mentor that you have made efforts yourself. Don’t expect them to come up with the solutions for you. They are the driving instructor, you are the driver.
  4. Send a hand-written letter. Out of 10,000 emails a year, a neat hand-written letter will be remembered and it shows you’ll go the extra mile.
  5. Cultivate the ability to think differently. Fresh thinkers and designers are valuable in any career because employers are looking to disrupt their markets with innovative and unique products and routes-to-market.