A “Coffee with Colm” Blog – What do you want to BE when you grow up? (or what I’m learning of the perennial dilemma: Lifestyle vs Career)

During this last week of the school summer holidays I happened to meet two individuals, who, along with myself are each advocates and students of the lifestyle vs career movement that is gathering a head of steam as our species evolves in the early part of the 21st century.

David O’Neill and Mark Kelly come at it from different perspectives and with different ends in mind, however, both have clearly stepped towards creating a lifestyle that they are passionate about and then working backwards to figure out the career/business they need to build to help create and more importantly sustain that lifestyle. And both lifestyle aspirations are worlds apart from each other and not only does that not matter, it is very very exciting!

Also, earlier in the week I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Martin and his fifteen year old son Ben who has just entered his Junior Cert year and we had a very interesting conversation alluding to the same concept. I told Ben what I tell all the kids I speak with as a privilege of my day job (MD of Carambola – a nationwide school lunch business) and that is…wait for it…

“You are in school to learn two things and two things only, Ben.”

“What are they, Colm?”

“One. You are in school to learn… HOW TO LEARN! The system teaches you the skills necessary for you to master the art of learning ‘how to learn’ by using subjects such as Maths, Irish, English, Geography, History, etc. Very few people that go through the school system are required to spit out a theorem or recite a poem or know the exact date of some random battle that changed the borders of Eurasia millennia ago as part of their daily career path so the skills being taught, are in fact learning how to learn, not the detail. (regrettably the exam system requires that detail is regurgitated)

“OK. And the second thing?”

“The second reason you are in school Ben, is to learn…HOW TO WORK WITH OTHER PEOPLE. Why? Because that is what the world of commerce is made up of; people.

“OK. Is that it?”

“Almost. You see, if you learn how to learn, you can learn anything! and if you learn how to work with other people, you can go anywhere and do anything. They say, Ben, that your ability to succeed in life is attributed to these two skills but in very different and perhaps counter-intuitive measures. Your future success is based on:

  • Technical ability (the detail of the job – the stuff you learned how to learn) – 15%
  • Ability to work with others – 85% – more than 5 TIMES more important!


“Wow is right Ben and as if that wasn’t enough, there’s a further problem.”

“Oh no. Do I want to hear this?”

“Maybe not, but you need to. The complicating issue here is the world is changing at a rate of knots, UBER, the largest taxi company in the world owns no vehicles and Airbnb, the largest hotel company in the world owns no properties. That means that the world you are preparing to enter needs (and embraces) revolutionary thinking. It means it needs more entrepreneurs, people who are crazy enough to bet on themselves.

“I don’t see the problem, Colm.”

“The problem, young Ben is that you are being taught in the school system by teachers who may be wonderful people but are by their very nature risk averse. As one former school principal friend of mine said when he retired last year – we, teachers, go to school at five years of age and don’t leave until we are sixty! So the problem is you are being taught to ‘get a good education, get good grades, go to college so you can get a good job.’ Why? Because that’s what your teacher did! The question is, is that preparing you for the world ahead? No way! But it can do if you accept my thinking on it – learn how to learn and learn how to work with others.”

My friend, back in the day, you and I were likely asked what we wanted to BE when we grew up. Am I right? And once an answer was agreed upon we found ourselves on a conveyor marked with the destination chosen; doctor, engineer, teacher, accountant, lawyer…whatever.

Unfortunately this was the wrong question. and worse still, our kids and grand kids are still being asked it today.

The right question should be, “How do you want your life to look when you are older? What lifestyle do you aspire to?”

Watch the short (6:00) video or read the snippet from my book below for my thoughts on what to do now that you know…

“Choose Wisely, Grasshopper.”

“Kung Fu” was a TV series in the 1970’s. As a pupil at a Monastery learning the art of Kung Fu, a very young David Carradine playing the lead character was known to his Master by a pet name and was told to ‘Choose wisely, Grasshopper’, sage advice indeed.

In school we are taught to think in terms of what we want to be when we grow up and in retrospect I feel that is a flawed world view or paradigm. It’s flawed because it doesn’t allow young people to consider the long-term ramifications of choosing at such a young age.

For example, let’s take the A student who chooses medicine, a very worthy, noble calling. She studies hard for the ‘Leavin’ to get enough points; seven ‘A’s will probably do it, then she gets to go to college for up to six years before she starts to earn a living in her chosen career. And as an intern she may work up to 100 hours per week to learn on the job. If she survives that yes, she can earn six figures but it is in a high stress environment and she must turn up every day for the next forty years to generate said six figure income.

Now please don’t take this out of context, I am not knocking any particular career path or calling, I am just highlighting a fact I believe to be true: that people, particularly school leavers, choose careers without all of the available information, namely the different ways to earn a living, Employees, Self Employed, Business Owner, Investor and all that goes with each of them. Why is this? Because by their very nature, school teachers have jobs, are employees and can only logically advise on that line. I had fallen into the same trap. I had well-meaning people, most of whom loved me, i.e. family and friends, who were offering the best advice they could, based on their own paradigm – how they saw the world. The best I could hope for was to get a good job, work hard and hopefully retire within 45-50 years. So that’s what I set out to do at age seventeen until at age thirty I realized for me that, for me, this was a mug’s game and unless I took control, life would control me for ever.

My dilemma was I didn’t want to be self-employed either. I didn’t want a job and I didn’t want to be self-employed so what was left? Business Owner and Investor. So I chose Business Owner and I had to start somewhere. But where?

And then a series of events happened to show me the path for me. A good friend of mine, Frank Down had had an illustrious career. He was MD of Bewley’s Cafés when I first met him and it was he who gave me my first job there. Frank had subsequently been promoted to Business Development Director with the Campbell Bewley Group.

Then I heard through the grapevine that he had taken a Bewley’s Café Franchise and I was confused. Why would a man with such a good ‘job’ go back to running a café? It was only when I saw him sell the Franchise to another Bewley’s man, the former financial controller, Ian Conlon, and saw Frank take on the food Franchise at Bewley’s Hotel in Newlands Cross that I realised any move I would make TOWARDS my goal of becoming a business owner would not have to be permanent, it could be seen as a stepping stone. So I was willing to become self employed for a time. I was willing to run my own café.”

My journey began age 35 when I realized I could change if I was willing to and, my friend, yours can too.

Allow me make two suggestions before we finish?

  1. Figure out the lifestyle you really, really wish to enjoy. May I suggest you take one day – your birthday in 2020, we’ll call it your 2020 Vision – and describe that day fully – Get a clear picture in your mind and write it down. How young will you be? How do you want that day to start, who are you with, where are you in the world, are you happy with your relationships, your finances, your physical and mental health, your faith how do you want that day to finish?
  2. Ask yourself, ‘doing what I’m doing, is that picture a possibility?’ Be honest with yourself. If the answer is no, commit to taking one step next week, just one step, in the direction of your 2020 Vision for your life. In other words, knowing how you want your life to look on that date, work backwards to where you are now and begin to make changes if desired.

You can do it.

How can I help?

My very best.


MORE? I alluded to a number of concepts above including the difference between the employee and the entrepreneur. If you’d like to read/watch more on that topic, click here

STAY CONNECTED: If this is your thing, consider joining in the conversation here

FREE BOOK: If would like a complimentary copy of the book in audio, narrated by yours truly so you get all the nuances, feel free to grab one here

Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly,


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2 Responses to “A “Coffee with Colm” Blog – What do you want to BE when you grow up? (or what I’m learning of the perennial dilemma: Lifestyle vs Career)”
  1. Will Hogan

    Great article Colm , in total agreement and in line with my experience … interestingly enough you have not mentioned the word entrepreneurship throughout this article ( apologise if you have this is an early morning read) .
    I have the same issue with both teachers and career guidance teachers and in some cases lecturers , many have gone straight from school to college ( degree, masters , plus ) to end up in the career they want ( or think they want ) and perpetuate the paradigm. Entrepreneurship while it can be taught requires a teacher who buys into the subject and is quite passionate about it , choosing teaching today as a career choice is anything but entrepreneurial so hence lies another dilemma. I accept that there will be some exceptions and indeed many teachers come from family businesses and have friends and family who will be entrepreneurial , these people will be better equipped.
    Business ownership which is part of the entrepreneurial journey needs to be taught as part of the curriculum and the best way to each it is by doing it , I note that the most progressive schools , colleges bring in outside help to achieve this , understanding themselves the flaw in their own school model .
    Saying all this there are many initiatives presently under consideration to develop an entrepreneurial mindset with the new crop of teachers both at primary and secondary level and this continues to evolve … next step is having career guidance teachers qualified and skilled to advise accordingly that entrepreneurship and being a business owner is a worthly option.
    But parents as well need to ask a different question , many having been taught by a crop of teachers who have and have had safe careers.
    Love your articles , always something thought provoking .

    • Colm

      Hi Will,
      Thanks for taking the time to engage and for your considered comments.
      It’s a dilemma alright and, as I hope you grasped, I wasn’t taking a potshot, just observing what I believe to be a truism. I agree, there are always exceptions to the rule.
      Glad you are enjoying my ‘thinking out loud’.
      Stay in touch.
      Stay well.

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