Chris Ward
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Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Author, activist, cyclist & coffee geek

Age: 56

Coffee at Coffelogy, 308 King St, Hammersmith, London W6 0RR 


Describe your career path in two or three sentences including any twist or turns ending with where you are now and where you see yourself in the future. 

My career is all over the place. I started in Boots the Chemist working as a shop assistant and I then managed to get a job at the BBC radio library in London. After a few years, I left to manage bands. I did that until I was 30, I was penniless and needed to do something that made money. Luckily, I spotted a gap in the market to market music to students and I started a company doing that. We grew and ten years later with a staff of 80 and a turnover of 4.5 million I sold the company. 


For the next 5 years, I did all sorts of different things and I got into cycling. I got to the point where I needed a job and I saw an advert in the paper to be a creative director at Comic Relief, I applied and got the job. So for the last 10 years, I have been working on big global campaigns, originally with Comic Relief and then with the legacy of the Olympics, World Cup, Children in Need and more recently with the United Nations again with Richard Curtis who started Comic Relief. In between, I have ridden my bike, been in the world championships a couple of times and written a few books including one that just came out.  


How much of your career was intentional?

None of it at all. I wanted to be a motor racer driver when I was a kid and a footballer and knew I didn’t want to be in an office. In fact, I hated the period when my company grew and I was stuck in an office. But I had no long term plan at all and because I have not gone for jobs that would mean being stuck in an office, I have ended up earning a lot less money but I am a lot happier. It’s a good trade-off.


Where or to whom did you look for inspiration when thinking about making a career change?

It depends on what I am interested in at that time. In terms of themes, I am interested in culture and sport and interesting people and changing the world and invariably amongst all of that something comes up, an opportunity I am really interested in doing and I just look into that idea in-depth and quite quickly. Then I decide whether it is something I can do or not, again quite quickly. This is a traditional perfectionist trait – that you don’t do anything until you’ve evaluated every single variable and decided that you can make it perfect or at least well enough before you commit to it. I don’t necessarily have to have any history in something, I still think you can go into something new at any age at any time. 


What decision / experience proved to be the most helpful to your career?

I was offered shareholding in a business I was working on and it would have made me a fortune but I said no and that was probably the best wrong decision I’ve ever made. Because if I said yes I would have been trapped me in a world of making more money and trapped in my agency, trying to make it bigger. And although I was paid well, I wasn’t happy and when I needed to make money I found the job at Comic Relief and those were probably the best 10 years of my working life. So the decision to say no to something that could have set me up for life actually freed me. 


What advice would you give your 20 year old self knowing what you do now?

Relax. You really don’t need to prove anything to anybody – you don’t need to be a perfectionist. I couldn’t see that then.


What do you think the biggest challenge people face making a career re-entry or re-invention in later life?

The biggest challenge is the average age of a boss in London is 37 and a 37 year old isn’t going to employ a 50-55-60-year old. Plus, there are fewer jobs and less money. I don’t know many 50-plus people who are working in an office now who are happy in their situation, they are either stagnant or worried about losing their job or being made redundant. I think it is a big mental health issue. We were brought up to believe that we will have a career until we are 65 or ready to retire and that’s not the case anymore so we have to look elsewhere. 


What do you think the opportunities are for people wanting to work in their 50s and 60s and beyond.  

We could look at our own market. I was doing youth marketing and now those students are in their 50s. Our own age group finds more enjoyment being offline then probably people younger so there is a big opportunity to provide breaks and retreats where people are offline and have a chance to meet new people.


What is your top tip for people thinking of re-inventing their careers?

Preparation as re-invention might be a prerequisite of entering the job market now. There is no career until 65 anymore so most people are going to have to reinvent themselves and learn to do new things. 


Recommendation: Favourite book to read, website to browse or podcast to listen to while drinking coffee?

Serendipity. We are losing our ability to find something that we are not looking for, something valuable. One way to create serendipitous opportunities is to read more widely, outside of your echo chamber. Be open to new ideas and new perspectives until something sparks an idea. 


More on Chris

Chris’s latest book is about the most misunderstood people – perfectionists and is entitled “Less Perfect, More Happy” . It is about his journey to understand the causes of perfectionism and how to overcome them. The answers were life-changing: perfectionists have completely misunderstood self-destructive mindsets and behaviours but when you know what perfectionism really is, you can address its causes and begin to build stronger relationships and a happier, more contented life. You can also follow Chris @chrisatcoffice

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