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Big Years

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Wouldn’t you agree that if ever there were a time of year for stories then December is it?

Conversations by crackling fires, long lunches catching up with friends, prosecco-fuelled indiscretions – you name it, there are a lot of tales told as the year draws to a close. There’s also the urge for self-reflection, for mulling over the highs, the lows and what we’ve learnt.

Ever on a mission to feed your ideas, share wisdom and build momentum among great Londoners, for each day of Advent 2017 The Hot Breakfast asked a different inspiring person from our community to tell us about their year, to share one piece of advice that they picked up along the way, and – critically - to give us their top breakfast advice.

Each person included had had a “big year”. It might be that some aspect of their work had taken off, that they'd changed direction, that something momentous had happened in their personal life, or perhaps some combination of all those things. They are a gutsy, inspiring, generous bunch, a team to get behind and to celebrate. We hope you enjoy reading about them and learning from their insights as much as we are proud to have them within our community.

Alicia Mellish

Imagine co-founding your own company and dedicating 7 years of your life towards making it a success. They are years that seem to go both very quickly and very slowly at the same time, as you plough all your thoughts, time, energy and emotion into the business. Eventually you see it emerge as a recognised leader in its field with a multi-million-pound turnover and clients that are household names. And then, seeing the shackles of that success for what they are, you elect to step away entirely and begin again, with something radically different.

This year, Alicia Mellish did just that. She started 2017 as the Managing Director of her own PR agency; she is ending it about to embark on a new career in architectural interior design, quite literally going back to the books as a student.

Accepting that PR was never going to be something that she was truly passionate about, Alicia says that she realised that choosing not to force herself to do something that she did not enjoy did not make her a failure. Moreover, that if she was going to do something different then she had to do it immediately, rather than wait for the perfect situation to arise.

So what has this year taught her? “To trust that my experience and instincts will serve me well and to have faith that no matter how overwhelming a complete career change may feel in the moment, it’s important to give it a go. This life ain’t no dress rehearsal!”

And her top breakfast tip? “Granola and lúcuma at Andina in Shoreditch, accompanied by multiple flat white coffees.”

Matt Barrett

The vision of Goal Click was all pretty “back of a fag packet” at the start of this year, according to its co-founder, Matt Barrett.

Others might demur.

Goal Click, which encourages people to take and share analogue photos portraying what football means to them (because “it always means something”), was already operating in over 70 countries, telling the stories of everyone from civil war amputees in Sierra Leone through to Mexican police officers. They had partnered with adidas, coverage in all the covetable press, and hosted an exhibition of their work in central London. Most of us would have been happy to let things tick along. Not Matt.

Determined to make the most of the extraordinary project that they had set up, he and his co-founder launched into an exhaustive – and exhausting – process as they tried to identify what they wanted Goal Click to be and to become. Ironically this meant that the organisation appeared to go into “public-facing hibernation”, just when the team were working harder than ever.

The net result? Goal Click now knows exactly what it does and exactly what it wants; it’s got new branding, a partnership with the FA, and is primed for next year’s World Cup. 2018 is undoubtedly going to be a big year. But 2017 was pivotal.

So what is it that Matt wishes he had known at the start of the year? “I wish I had known how much everyone else was bluffing it! I always thought I wasn’t ready to do this, because I hadn’t worked with multi-million pound budgets across continents with massive organsations and so on… But as soon as I started speaking to people, I realised that quite literally everyone was scrabbling beneath the surface. In fact, speaking to people who had “failed” really helped, because it made me realise that there was no absolute formula for success. You have to trust the idea and get on with it. Success is something you learn.”

And what about breakfast? “You know, I’m weirdly obsessed with the Full English at Smiths of Smithfield! Number 2 on the menu. It’s local to work, and I’ll have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner… any opportunity.”

Lucy Holmes

“I was like a crouching tiger! When I saw the opportunity, I pounced.”

Taking strategic control of our careers is quite a feat. Our diaries are so mired with the tactics of day-to-day living, our ways of being so channeled by routine and relationships, that it’s exhausting even to question whether the path that we’re on is still satisfying – let alone wrench ourselves out of it and into something new.

Lucy Holmes kicked off the year as the Senior Programme Manager in a small environmental NGO with big clout. She had been there for 7 years, her diary a race of dazzling locations and even more dazzling encounters, helping to shape decisions that will have ramifications for people around the world for years to come.

It would have been easy to stay where she was, but Lucy felt that, paradoxically, her seniority within the organisation was obscuring her influence: with so much time spent managing people, she had no opportunity for any of the intellectual heavy-lifting that actually drove decisions.

And so, after a year of intense consideration, when a position came up at the WWF Lucy made the leap. Ironically, working within an enormous household name means that she feels both more anonymous and more personally effective, re-connected with the subject matter that inspired her career choice in the first place.

What does she wish that she had known at the start of the year? “That change is easier than you think! And that what is difficult is mentally preparing yourself to get out of your cosy comfort zone; not actually doing it. The practical things have not proved to be big hurdles – we all adapt so quickly.”

And her breakfast of choice? “A sourdough crumpet with avocado and feta, and a cup of Brockley Breakfast tea at Good & Proper Tea.”

Imraan Lilani

Pick a complicated problem, identify the most challenging aspects of it, and be among the most unusual activists seeking to make a difference. So might run the job description of Imraan Lilani, whose work otherwise escapes easy labelling.

Essentially, everything that Imraan does is focused around empowering women and stripping away the stereotypes that may hold them back or limit their horizons.

As well as being behind an ambassadorial programme that sends role models to schools to offer positive, inspirational messages to young girls, Imraan helps to run an awards programme that recognises remarkable achievement among young women, and curates events that stimulate their ideas and ambitions.

This year has been hugely significant for Women of the Future, the organisation for whom Imraan works, not least because they expanded internationally. Imraan says that this step was “fraught with risk”, since it meant testing the model in countries which had no familiarity with the brand and where the culture was quite different and might have been unresponsive. It worked, however: the South East Asian awards were flooded with nominations, celebrating women working in everything from comedy through to physics. And, given that 89% of participants reported feeling like they had more confidence as a result of the support of Women of the Future and 96% felt more inspired to support the next generation, the positive ripples of the organisation look set to reach ever further.

So what advice has particularly resonated with Imraan? “I was told earlier in the year that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and to me that epitomises the success of any organisation. You can have the most detailed strategy and initiatives, but if your culture and values do not support your strategy, it will never be fully realised and come to fruition.”

And breakfast? “I am not a morning person. It takes me until about 11am to wake up. The first few hours of the day I’m like a tortoise in its shell… eventually I’ll have porridge and toast with cheese and a glass of milk. Oh, and turmeric droplets in water! They don’t taste the best but they’re really good for you.”

Mercedes Sieff

You’re established, you’re successful, you have two little girls, a life split between Devon and London and enough job titles to fill an entire careers board. Arguably expanding your business into a sector that is not only new to your brand but also new to the market is the kind of challenge you need not take on.

…Or exactly what you do, if you’ve got the irrepressible creative energy of Mercedes Sieff.

This year, the co-founder of the award-winning Yeotown retreat brought an entirely new dining concept to Chiltern Street. Yeotown Kitchen is a café where the food is seen as just one way that customers can feed their well-being; where the interior design is inspired by Mercedes’ own training in positive psychology; where diners can retreat downstairs to pods for free guided meditations.

As Mercedes says, London can be distinctly slow and cynical in adopting new approaches to health. Add that to the exposure that comes from having a base at the heart of Marylebone and you have quite the entrepreneurial rollercoaster.

Indeed, Mercedes says that she was taken aback by the return of the familiar-but-forgotten “birthing pains” of launching a new business. The difference this time round has been recalling that the retreat experienced similar teething problems initially – and that they had got through them.

Unsurprisingly, the café now looks set to thrive.

So what advice proved useful with this latest venture? When she described her initial disappointment with some of the staff that she had recruited, Mercedes says that a friend told her “Let them go and work for other people”. And that “gave me the permission that I needed to continue to hunt for people with the standards that I expected. A standard is only as good as the people who uphold it. That advice made me feel liberated to go and find the staff who share my vision”.

And what is she particularly proud of on the breakfast menu? “You know what, my new favourite thing is the ‘Yeoritto’ – our take on a burrito, it’s hot and savoury and feels especially good in winter! Plus a ‘Creativity’ smoothie, which is so warming.”

Marc Van Den Berg

People say it’s hard work to start a business. Those who have done it know that it is much, much harder is to change a business you’ve already started. And hardest of all is the process of acknowledging that things need to change.

At the end of 2016, Marc van den Berg set up a business, SkillsGym, offering a solution to a widely-lamented problem: the lack of relevant skills among graduates entering the work place. By the middle of 2017, however, he realised that his model of getting students to pay for further training immediately after they left university simply wasn’t working.

At what felt like the “worst time”, Marc agreed to go travelling with his partner – and it was then, released from the routine of work, that ideas percolated and the new design of SkillsGym became clear.

2018 will see “Round 2” of the business kick off. While the vision and goals may be the same, they are now rooted in the experiences, relationships and thinking that Marc has reaped this year, not to mention his refreshed confidence and enthusiasm.

What is Marc’s biggest learning from 2017? “That we should do more nice things for (and with) nice people, starting with our friends and family. It’s so easy to forget when you’re immersed in work that spending time with your loved ones is really important - for both sides. It’s not just about us as individuals; we don’t need to solve everything and be everything. That’s not all it’s about.”

And the town’s best breakfast? “Dishoom (Kingly Street)! Go for a bacon naan roll with a fresh grapefruit juice and a Malabar Coffee or a Chai. I can't believe they didn't tell me about their breakfast loyalty card - I'd have earned several free breakfasts by now.”

Millie Baring

 

Ever get the feeling that some years compress a decade of learning into one? Every month is packed with a barrage of new experiences, daunting challenges, unexpected possibilities and landmarks that turn out to be turning points. Well, Millie Baring’s 2017 has been all of that.

The challenge that she set herself was by any standard an extraordinary one. Millie’s family own Lambay Island, a small and beautiful outpost off the northern coast of Ireland. This year, she has been intent on devising ways to make the potential of this asset really sing – and to do so in ways that are both commercially viable and authentic to the spirit and heritage of the island.

Over the course of 2017 Millie and her brother have managed the transformation of its buildings from semi-derelict relics of yesteryear into luxurious homes fit for paying guests. Off the back of this renovation, they have introduced a careful balance of corporate and private events, developed a small members’ club operating between Lambay and London, and built the island’s reputation as an entirely unique setting to both retreat and connect.

The achievement has not been without its fair share of tension and uncertainty. Coping with the responsibility is an intensely private experience – one that makes it simultaneously more rewarding and more draining. But the result? “The island has come alive again”.

What is the best advice that Millie has received this year? “So many of my mentors told me, if you want to get stuff done then ’don’t ask for permission beforehand, ask for forgiveness afterwards’. I’ve learnt that you need to prove your vision by making it real, rather than seeking permission from people who may otherwise be inclined to shoot you down.”

And when in London, what is the breakfast that best readies her for the entrepreneurial rollercoaster? “The smashed squash and poached egg on sourdough at Attendant (Great Eastern St) – it’s absolutely delicious! With a turmeric oat milk latte - I’m trying to avoid dairy for environmental reasons.”

Ian Bruce

Headlining a Glastonbury stage, building a new vision of art as both process and product, and cementing your personal life as a parent might be the highlights of a lifetime. Or those of a few months, if you’re Ian Bruce. Even by his own reckoning, 2017 has been quite a year.

In one of his many guises, Ian is the limbs and lungs of The Correspondents, a band that is energy personified. This year – their tenth – saw the release of their second album, an upbeat blend of electro-pop, funk, sixties, new dubstep - ‘“whatever that is” – and jazz. It included their first political protest song (“Boss“), whose video footage involved Ian being hung upside down and beaten (“a new thing”).

Then there is the small matter of his artwork.

Ian describes portraiture being “as intimate as a haircut, as intense as therapy”. Never does this ring more true than with respect to his recent project, ‘DOUBLE PORTRAIT’, a work that tells the stories of two lives: two friends who were intermittent lovers, one of whom has died. Besides being an extraordinary multidisciplinary piece in its own right – incorporating hundreds of paintings, 8,500 photographs, animation and a music composition that was eventually recorded at Abbey Road Studios – it was also a kind of bereavement counselling for the grieving friend.

And calibrating everything has been the arrival of Iro, Ian’s daughter, in August. Ian describes being a dad as “the most rewarding thing in the world”.

So what insights stand out from the year? “Well, I did therapy for the first time as a sort of ‘mental health MOT’ before having a child, and it made me appreciate how trauma can be passed down generations, simply by association. It was quite enlightening; I think it’s given me more understanding for other people, more empathy.

“I was also really affected by the post written by Munroe Bergdorf about racism, which got entirely misrepresented by the press. What I realised was how white people allow racism to become entrenched, how privilege perpetuates itself. It’s relevant to the patriarchy too. As a white middle-class man, I have to be actively opposed to the patriarchy, otherwise I’m a part of it, otherwise I’m implicit.”

And where to find his breakfast of choice? “Dirty Apron, next to Deptford Station – you get very tasty bubble’n’squeak with eggs, and good coffee.”

Alex Paske

As a schoolgirl, all that Alex Paske wanted to do was play hockey for England. But her trials for the Under-16 national squad in 2006 didn’t work out; Alex was left heart-broken by the rejection and hasn’t picked up a hockey stick since.

Her adoration with the sports world did not end there, however. Alex has set up Mintridge, an extraordinary mentoring programme that enlists elite level sportsmen and woment to act as role models in schools, clubs and societies. Buttressed by the support and guidance of people who have “got the scars themselves”, students are given the confidence and inspiration to test their sporting ability to its full capacity, to better understand their bodies and minds, and to foster their sense of self-worth.

It is only now that Alex realises that Mintridge offers the kind of support that her younger self so needed.

2017 has seen Alex’s enterprise evolve rapidly. Highlights include seeing one mentee be chosen to represent Great Britain internationally in athletics; and supporting two students who had been paralysed in a car accident to re-discover their self-esteem through wheelchair basketball.

Earlier this year, Alex was nominated as a “Woman of the Future”. Winning in the sports category felt like “the England cap I never got”.

What advice has inspired Alex? “’Find something more important than you and devote your life to it.’ This was said by Pinky Lilani CBE DL and resonated with me hugely; it’s exactly what I am trying to achieve with Mintridge.”

And where would Alex choose to fuel herself? “Eggs Royale at The Breakfast Club in Battersea every time! The best way to start the day.”

Peter Mandeno

You might recognise the phenomenon: you have a couple of interesting, slightly improbable projects on a low simmer; you add another to the mix; and immediately every single one turns to a roiling boil.

Peter Mandeno combines an insatiable curiosity with an apparently limitless flexibility in the face of any circumstance or opportunity. This makes for an interesting – and busy – life.

He agrees that while “most years are big, this one has been particularly large”. On the one hand, there is his animation business, Simply Does It, theoretically a side project, which makes turns compelling ideas into simple stories. Then there is Wok + Wine, “an experiment in social chemistry”, which – implausibly but brilliantly – gets people to connect using the medium of jumbo shrimps and (less implausibly) wine. In September at the same time that he kicked off a pioneering project investigating serendipity, Peter started a PhD at Imperial in design engineering with a focus on improving human connectivity.

So what has this year taught him? “The most stressful times this year were when I felt like I had lost control of things. I’m now thinking of my days in terms of blocks of time, with every aspect or project in my life having a different colour. Each week may have a dominant colour, but there should never be a colour missing. And that includes time for myself, by myself, time when I’m completely unplugged. No matter how much you may enjoy your work, it’s not truly that.”

And the best breakfast in town? “Ha! Ever since high school I’ve made pancakes at the weekend – big, thick, Canadian ones; they’ve become a ritual, and because I like everything to have a name and a concept, they’ve become known as “Stacks on Sundays”. Sometimes we get friends over; sometimes we’ll take all the kit with us to friends’ houses. So I’d say, if you can get an invitation then Stacks on Sunday at the Mandenos.”

Manjit K Gill

How do you go about campaigning on an issue that makes many people squirm, some people run, and others actively angry? Manjit Gill has placed herself squarely in the centre of a subject that is still uncomfortable, even distasteful, to many people: menstruation.

“Obsessively, compulsively” dedicated to changing the perception of periods, Manjit is the founder and CEO of Binti, a charity that is out to ensure that “every girl has menstrual dignity”. That means access to education, access to pads and freedom from stigmas and taboos surrounding menstruation. Binti’s work entails everything from laughingly encouraging passersby to stick sanitary pads on their outerwear, to producing affordable, sustainable towels in rural India, educating schoolgirls and raising awareness in Downing Street.

And this has been quite a year for Manjit and her team. For a start, their lengthy work in getting manufacturers to stop skirting around the realities of periods by, for instance, using blue liquid in advertisements is paying off: Bodyform is now using red “blood” in its media. Then there is the development of a new reusable product and app that will help the charity become self-sustaining (“I prefer to make money than ask for money”); the launch of Binti’s UK education programme; increased recognition in Parliament; the expansion of their team; and any number of high profile events.

So what advice would Manjit give? “People tend to focus a lot on problems. I’m more interested in solutions; don’t waste time on problems. And also I’ve learnt that it’s okay to have a day when it’s not going so great: it’s just a mindset. All the opportunities are still there, and the universe has a tremendous way of opening them up to you if you just let it, give it time.”

And what about breakfast? “Now, I’m a night owl. I’m in my element at 4am, and will quite happily tell people that I won’t talk to them before 10am. But because I work with India I’m always invited to breakfast meetings with mountains of food I can’t even look at – I spend them thinking, “oh my god, do I have to be here, I could have been in bed!” But you’ve just got to get up and do it! It’s worth it; it always pays off.”

Charlie Taylor

Startups run at a sprint. Successful startups run marathons as sprints. The story is exhilarating and exhausting. It’s a race for backers, users, talent; a rush to evolve against the pack and with the tech; a frantic relay between vision and strategy. And while it’s easy to lose sight of the people behind the platforms, in practice that story is highly personal. In small organisations the agility of individual minds determine whether the big idea is change-making or loss-making.

Charlie Taylor is the Head of Growth and Analytics at Curve, the app that simplifies finances by replacing all your accounts with a single card and platform. This year has seen him move from an operational role to part of the senior team. It’s a move that has prompted him to embark on a whole process of “adult retraining” so that he can direct his team of marketeers, data scientists, developers and analysts, not to mention think more broadly about Curve’s place in the market, its culture and vision.

That responsibility has triggered a myriad of questions about values – his own as well as those that the business embodies. Reflecting on his contribution to society as he walked to work one morning, Charlie resolved to get more engaged. He wrote to the council and has now set up a programme teaching local kids about financial planning. He’s also flipped the roles by bringing those kids into the office, hired an apprentice, and encouraged a culture that is much more proactive in shaping the conditions in which the business operates.

So in all that Charlie has learnt this year, what has most impressed him? “To respect the skill of listening. We tend to put all the emphasis on ‘communicating’, on speaking. That gives the impression that listening is just being quiet. I’ve realised that listening is a skill that is every bit as rich and varied as speaking. I now question who I’m listening to (often I fall into the trap of just listening to myself, to the narrative in my own mind), how I’m listening (whether with humility and curiosity, or with blind arrogance), what I’m listening to and for… I’m trying to shut up a bit more, to not always be the one who is talking.”

And Charlie’s breakfast? “I don’t normally eat before midday. If I do, it’s a green smoothie at home… or a cup of homemade chicken stock.”

Pip Davies

Ever get the feeling that there is an enormous gulf between what you find joyful - and your job?

Four years ago, Pip Davies had one of the most relentless, stressful jobs in the city: she was a corporate lawyer in an American firm, an environment that made her so anxious that she was sick every time she went to work.

In 2013 she made an enormous leap – in sector, salary and skillset – to join the arts world. There ensued four intense years spent simultaneously rebuilding her CV and clarifying in her own mind what it was that she sought from her work.

As of June (and incidentally the same week that she got engaged), Pip now directs the arts and culture programme of one the country’s most influential corporate sponsors (EY), a covetable role that seems to be the culmination of an extraordinary metamorphosis.

Pip credits the transformation to a combination of luck and perseverance, although she does accept that it was the relationships that she had built up over the years and a willingness to take risks that both created opportunities and made them realities.

What advice has particularly helped Pip this year? “I was really struck by one panelist at a Women in Business conference who advised that “you don’t have to be good at everything, you just have to be not crap at anything”. I found that empowering because it made me realise that I didn’t have go into something knowing that I excelled at every aspect of it; it was fine to be simply competent at some things. That gave me the courage to accept the role at EY.”

And breakfast? “I don’t eat breakfast. I can’t stomach anything before midday. I am a Hot Breakfast failure. A cup of tea with a sugar in it, and that’s me.” 

Rob Robinson

Remember 7 years ago, when milk was not wrung from an almond, ‘latte art’ sounded like the title of some contender for the Turner prize, and ‘a coffee’ was just ‘a coffee’? That was when Rob Robinson and three co-founders set up a speciality coffee roastery, Notes; an extraordinarily prescient step given the subsequent explosion of the London bean scene.

Notes has not only ridden the wave but helped to shape it, and is something of a paragon among other independent cafes – a delightfully Arabic sheep in the flock of Prets and Costas. Its wares are, of course, delicious, but what sets Notes apart is the ambience that it creates: these are wood-panelled dens of conviviality and conversation, places without pretension, where you might find anyone from an arts student to a city suit.

2017 has been another big year for the business as it has grown from 6 to 9 branches, an expansion that Rob describes as more of a step change than he had anticipated. No longer able to visit all the cafes every day, as head of operations Rob has had to develop new strategies to keep the company’s culture cohesive.

This is especially challenging given that cafes are always “hyperlocal” and each site has a very different character and clientele. Motivating and incentivising his staff is Rob’s central focus, which he manages through any number of push and pull levers, ranging from using mystery diners through to leading by example from behind the bar.

What advice would he give after a year of such rapid roll out? “Know your strengths and play to them. You might want to build a new world, but your clients and customers hold on to whatever originally made you successful. You need to remember that core mission.”

And the best breakfast in town? “Well, obviously Notes! The sourdough toast with cashew nut butter is a winner! And a Notes roasted filter coffee. Available at any Notes near you…”

Charlotte Cawthorne

You have the skills, the experience, the vision and the clients. What brings it all together is that most elusive of qualities: confidence.

This was the year that Charlotte Cawthorne says she “found her groove”. Charlotte is the founder of The Action Lab, an organisation that is out to better equip change-makers to make change. Its programmes help purpose-driven organisations map out the right strategy for the right people in the right jobs, and coaches them in how to best influence those around them.

The business was founded last year, and Charlotte went through the classic entrepreneurial rites of experimenting, re-working and operating at all hours in order to pinpoint the market and build a client base.

With that experience behind her, 2017 has been about identifying what worked, polishing the offering and working with a mass of new clients. Paradoxically, Charlotte says that accepting a part-time role as a consultant facilitator in another company has also been a major boost, not least because their endorsement of her skills quashed the imposter syndrome that had held her back. She still works every minute of the day, but she says that she doesn’t view it as hard work because “I really love it, and it’s for me - and it means something to me”.

What advice would she share? “I’m a real “ideas” person: I like big ideas, new ideas, they’re what excite me; but I’ve been in danger of spreading myself too thin. I’ve realised that it’s important to have good methodical systems in place, a structure that helps you to ensure that you’re putting your energy where it will be most impactful. That also helps you to identify the things that you should drop.”

And breakfast? “I get hungry very quickly, so somewhere close to home! Probably eggs royale at Canvas and Cream in Forest Hill.”

Jim Woods

Jim Woods set himself one question to answer in 2017: “How can we build a new mental health system?”

To do so, he has stepped away from his business, The Crowd, a “well-oiled” machine that he had built and led for five years, abandoned a salary (“my wife and children are ‘intrigued’ to know how this is going to work out”), joined an incubator and entirely immersed himself in the vast, varied and poorly charted world of mental health.

While he has spent the best part of his career examining society’s unmet needs and how to tackle them, Jim had not previously specialised on any particular field, let alone focused on how tech could be applied to find solutions.

Jim describes mental health as being where climate was fifteen years ago, when solutions were entirely embryonic. He has spent the past months building a comprehensive picture of the whole system, finding the delicate balance where he has the knowledge of an insider and the perspective of an outsider

What advice has resonated this year? “The most outstanding Chief Sustainability Officer I’ve ever worked with is Steve Howard at Ikea. He has this ruthless, but highly effective, response to every suggestion: “Jim, does that make my boat go faster?”. I’ve stolen that mantra! You’ve just got to learn to say no to stuff that definitely won’t help you.”

And if he wanted a really good breakfast? “Probably the Full English at the Wolseley! Amazing breakfast, amazing location.”

Clemency Nesbit

“In managing a gallery I thought I had already stretched my capacity for endurance and commitment. It’s turned out that none of that was true. This was the year when I discovered that I really do have limits.”

Driven by the happy combination of passion and success, ever since she left university Clemency Nesbit has forged a dazzling path in the world of art. But in May, she became a mother for the first time and her life has changed gear entirely. From filling all hours of her day with the intellectual demands of running a high profile photographic gallery, suddenly Clemency was faced with the relentless, “meditative monotony” of tending to the project that never sleeps.

Clemency says that the sudden ‘creative hiatus’ in her professional career has given her an opportunity to question herself and the path that she is on. The reflection has proved unexpectedly liberating. Knowing that she does not want to return to work in some pale, reduced capacity of her former self, Clemency has resolved to found her own, entirely new business – one that weaves motherhood and a career together to create something exciting, different and fulfilling.

What has 2017 taught her? “Up until now I basically always felt like I could have it all. It’s been shocking and frustrating, but also rewarding, to discover my limitations, to realise the arrogance of thinking that running a company would equip me to run a small person. I’ve recognised my own fallibility and that’s helped me to pare myself back, to hone what it is that I can do and what it is that I want to do.”

And breakfast? “I’m basically debarred from anything small and interesting because of pram access; but there is the Hagen Espresso Bar, an amazing new Danish coffee shop on the King’s Road. I get a coffee – they take about 10 minutes to make it - and one of their rye bread things, and eat it in Battersea Park.”

Katie Glass

“I spent all last week pinching myself… it’s just so crazy, really pretty cool!”

Katie Glass seems to be the living proof that with enough guts, determination and integrity you can find a job that you truly love.

At the beginning of the year, Katie’s CV was a rostrum of the world’s most enviable employers, including Google and Pinterest. But the status didn’t equate to job satisfaction, and Katie was gnawed by the sense that she could find something more personally rewarding.

In March, she handed in her resignation with nothing but a plan to think. She gave herself 6 months to meet as many people, seek as much advice and read as many books as possible. Katie realised that when it came to her career, she didn’t care nearly as much about external trappings as she did about working for something meaningful. Much as she wanted to work for a charity, she was convinced that ‘all she was good for’ was being a community manager in a tech company.

And in August, the break came. Katie is now the Program Manager at The Centre for Effective Altruism, a charity that uses data, evidence and reasoning to work out how people can best help others. She is delightfully dazzled by the joy of working somewhere that is stimulating and inspiring, yet has the kind of liberal working culture that doesn’t make her feel trapped.

So what insight would Katie share with 2017 all but behind her? “Taking time for myself between jobs was critical for me. It meant that I could disconnect from the identity of my old career and dream up something new. I’d encourage people who want to move between careers to focus on saving money so that they can take that time and really think about things without the distractions of daily work.”

And breakfast? “My favourite place right now is “I Will Kill Again”, also known as Dark Arts Coffee, in Hackney. It’s awesome because their menu is half vegan and half not, so you can take your non-vegan friends and everyone’s happy! I go for their breakfast muffin with avocado, tempeh and rosti and a cappuccino with oat milk… plus a vegan sausage roll for the road.”

Simon Allatt

Simon Allatt was just 15 years-old when he first sensed that the church might be more important to him than simply being the place where his choir sang. But being young, and having realised that he was gay, and it then being a time when the church’s views on homosexuality seemed ambivalent, Simon did nothing about it.

Some 15 years later, with a classical music career in Paris in full swing, the calling came again. Simon describes the experience as being so strong, so overwhelming, that it felt almost like he as an individual had no say.

Of course, the path to priesthood is long and far from smooth. The saying goes that “God calls; the Church discerns”: there is an exacting process of examination and training before Simon can hope to be ordained, and it was only this year that he was formally accepted to the church’s selection process. He is now juggling a full-time job at the gym Blok in parallel with his training and a complete immersion in the life and community of Southwark Cathedral.

Despite a natural hunger to progress, Simon says that he’s appreciated that it’s not just the church who is scrutinising his intentions. Having the time to explore something as “abstract and wacky” as the calling of God has been profoundly helpful; he describes it as “the only time that you talk from your mind and your heart at exactly the same time”.

What is the overriding lesson of this year? “To be patient! I’ve learnt not to rush into things and to be more discerning. I would also encourage everyone to have faith – even if it’s not in God. The world is not a bad place! It is beautiful, and it will provide for us.”

And where does a priest-in-waiting like to go for breakfast?I Will Kill Again! Because the food is fantastic, it’s local and it just so happens that a friend runs it. I was given one of their t-shirts, printed with their logo of a devil holding a cup of coffee in its hands and wore it to Southwark Cathedral. Someone questioned whether it was appropriate; without thinking about it I replied, “It’s not what’s on your t-shirt, it’s what’s in your heart”. Hahaha! So cheesy!”

Joe Ryrie

Make it different. That’s one thing to do when you’re small, supple and setting up your stall; it’s quite another when you’re established and the expectations of establishment are bearing down.

Some four years ago, Joe Ryrie and a friend, Graeme, came up with a scheme for a design agency, Article, that made branding more personal, more collaborative and more effective than what they saw on the market. There was no grand business plan; just a strong sense of how they wanted to do things.

It took off. Article has grown steadily - and this year rapidly. From being “a very small thing, with a few people operating on a small-scale, doing good work”, 2017 has seen the team double in size, a rush of enviable clients (Brentford FC; Wattbike; Silicon Milkroundabout; Virgin Unite…) and the even more enviable surge of energy and confidence that marks a company that is going places.

Joe says that with such a rapid change in dynamic, the challenge has been working out how to remain true to the business’s founding spirit while yet doing all the “serious stuff associated with serious things”. Not only has that been about the work itself (keeping it varied; ensuring that it always inspires and excites the team), but it’s also been about culture. This summer the office decamped to Lisbon for a week to explore whether a whole team could operate as digital nomads. It worked. It was different.

What advice has been particularly relevant this year? “We spend a lot of time telling startups to “do less better” – to do what they do well and not get distracted by the things they’re not so good at. We’ve had to take heed of that advice ourselves this year. Now that we’ve grown we can’t say yes to everything anymore. Plus my second daughter was born in August. So it’s been a year of focusing on work that makes us proud, and that we really enjoy, but that maintains a balanced lifestyle.”

And breakfast? “I very rarely eat breakfast out of the house. Most of my breakfasts consist of Margo’s [Joe’s first daughter’s] rejected grape nuts, that she has insisted I warm up in the microwave.”

Bob Jones

“It was like going to my own wake! I arrived feeling rubbish and flat, and then I got to say my thanks to everyone, which felt really good, and suddenly the jokes started flowing and things became curiously light-hearted.”

Bob Jones retired – theoretically – in September, and his were quite the retirement parties. Bob has spent his career mastering – to an almost uncanny degree – the art of making connections between interesting people; of knowing who will have the answer to any given problem. In fact, when 15 years ago he left the law firm at which he was managing partner, so adept was he at this skill that other city players sought him out to create, nurture and strengthen their networks – or “collect people”, as he describes it.

He has now stepped away from the world of employment but as with so many people whose careers have been built around what they love, Bob’s retirement seems more of a semi-colon than a full stop. He is now focused on building a “network of connectors”, and another group for female mentoring, as well as writing a book on the art of connecting people.

What has this year taught him? “That the idea that ‘retiring’ means that you are no longer a certain person is nonsense! Complete garbage! I’ve stopped receiving a salary, but I’d say that I’m at the peak of my career because I’m now using everything that I’ve learnt to date in the most profitable and authentic way. I’ll carry on peaking so long as I carry on meeting interesting people, having interesting conversations, and making connections.”

And his tip for the best breakfast in London?Roast (London Bridge)! Where else can you get the “Full Borough” and the “Full Scottish”?! But really it’s because it’s a top rate experience, and that’s down to the staff, which in turn is down to the culture that comes from the top. It’s stunning; truly exceptional service.” 

Freddie Blackett

Have you bought a plant this year? Perhaps a Monstera (Swiss cheese plant)? Specifically a Monstera from Patch? If so, you’ll have contributed to the dramatic surge of sales in the home gardening market. Monstera is the top Google search term in the sector; and Patch is the second (ahead of cannabis, which is ranked fourth, FYI).

Freddie Blackett is the co-founder and CEO of Patch, the online source of London’s “urban jungles”. Even he has been taken aback by the level of demand, which he compares to the sudden renaissance of cooking ten years ago. His company has grown 25% month on month this year, sales are fifteen times what they were in January, his team has grown fourfold, and they’ve rounded off the year by delivering some 3,000 Christmas trees across the capital.

To top it all, Freddie’s first child was born in July.

In such a dramatic year, what advice has proved particularly useful? “It’s always tempting to look for new and original ideas, but I actually think that there’s a lot of value in many of the century-old truths, the clichés. And among those, the one that stands out for me is that you should trust your instinct on things. It’s not a popular idea these days, because we associate instinct with bias, and assume that it therefore needs to be fact-checked. There is some truth in that. But more often than not, I’ve found that my instinct has been right, and I’ve regretted the times that I’ve neglected it. I actually think it’s a leader’s job to follow their instinct. You simply don’t have time to fact-check every single decision.”

And breakfast? “There’s only one option! The Pear Tree Café (@pear.tree.cafe) by the lake in Battersea Park! I am completely mad for their bacon sandwiches with maple and paprika; they are amazing! I spend hundreds of pounds in there every month – gladly.”

Alice Broderick

Alice Broderick has got her dream job. Having always adored reading, she is now the PR Director for Penguin Random House Children where her role is simply – yet enormously – to inspire a love of reading in every child.

2017 has been a particularly remarkable year for Alice because she’s worked with so many of the authors who first fostered her own love for literature: everyone from Quentin Blake through to Philip Pullman, whose latest release (“The Book of Dust”) was widely considered the biggest publication of the year.

Rewarding, demanding and potentially all-consuming, Alice describes her work as having been an important constant in a what has proved a heightened year from a personal perspective. Alice’s younger sister, Theodora, has spent 2017 undergoing a series of treatments for a recurrence of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As Alice points out, Theo’s experience has helped to put everything into context – including Alice’s own recent pregnancy, which she is keen to view simply as one of many exciting new chapters.

Her reflection on 2017? “What I’ve accepted this year is that life is incredibly unpredictable, but you have to be able to cope with change, personally and professionally. It's a given if you're working in my industry and a given in life. You can't avoid it, you have to face it head on. Change used to freak me out; I hated it - but this year I’ve learnt to acknowledge that the goal posts will always shift. More importantly, that I should enjoy it when they do.”

And breakfast? “It’s got to be The Wolseley, because they make breakfast into a huge occasion – which it is! The start of a new day is always to be celebrated; it’s a new start, a clean slate. It’s also the place where Andrew [Alice’s husband] took me the day we got engaged – but it’s not about that. They just do a really good breakfast. I’d probably have the Eggs Benedict and a Lapsang tea.”

Day 24

It’s always problematic when you come up with a concept, rush into it with the enthusiasm of a caffeinated elf, and then discover it’s daft.

This Alternative Advent Calendar has been about the “big years” of some of the inspiring people within The Hot Breakfast community. What I quickly realised in speaking to the dazzling, generous people who were prepared to trust their stories with me was the basic lousiness of this concept.

How on earth do you do justice to a “big year” in four, short, social-media-friendly paragraphs? What is it appropriate to share, when our one person’s story is often just the knocking together of so many others? Where is the line between personal triumph and public celebration? What even is a “big year”?

Frequently, big years are made up of small days – tiny inchings of habit or progress, minute shuffles in thought or conversation, none seeming all that newsworthy. Some are only recognised with decades of hindsight. For all too many a big year is just the basic victory of survival. It is, of course, all in the mind.

This is a post to pay tribute to all the back stories that couldn’t be included for fear of seeming prurient or disloyal; to the people for whom big has not been better or for whom the mundane is momentous; to the drama of the humdrum and getting through and having another breakfast.

Thank you all hugely for all your support this year. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas; and here’s to 2018 – I suspect it’s going to be big.

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