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Here’s some of the best life advice I’ve ever received

Opportunities can come from realising that no one knows what they’re doing a lot of the time

Conversations in Dublin bars and restaurants can lead to life-altering utterances. Photograph: iStock

Self-improvement airport books and Ted Talks promise us answers to a lot of questions.

How did this person make so much money? Was getting up at 5am the secret to maximising productivity? How did this entrepreneur run a marathon while managing three businesses and raising children?

Often the answer isn’t in the book at all because “they had a wife, social capital and enough family wealth to enable risk-taking” isn’t long enough to fill one page. So that’s why we’ve ended up with mad excuses for success such as “timeboxing”, “ice baths” and gratitude journals. People panicked and blurted out any old shite when asked how they did it.

For me the best pieces of life advice, the lines I use everyday, come from the unlikeliest of places. Here are some of my favourite bits of accidental wisdom.

“For €30 an hour anyone can teach aqua aerobics”

I was outdoor dining at a Dublin restaurant that served bland pasta. The kind a certain generation of mams who pronounce Italian as “EYE-talian” would make. But the tables and chairs were in an area of full sun between the hours of 3-7pm during summer, which is all that mattered. A waitress overhead my friend and I discussing the merits of taking up a professional opportunity that frankly scared the sh*t out of me. Would I be out of my depth? Could I pull it off?

“Of course you can,” she said, uncorking our wine with a gammy bottle opener that took several attempts to get the job done. Then she told us a story about being offered a job teaching aqua aerobics to seniors at a local fitness centre over the summer. Had she any training or experience teaching water-based fitness? “No, but for €30 an hour anyone can teach aqua aerobics,” she said, like the apron-wearing sage she was.

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There are dozens of people, less qualified than you, working your dream job because you were too afraid to go for it. I’m not advocating faking water-safety credentials to earn a quick pay cheque and obviously these tips do not apply in certain fields. Confidence can get your foot in a lot of doors but if it’s blind confidence over credentials that has someone in, say, a surgery room, then the door should be slammed shut on their toes.

But if working since the age of 14 has taught me anything, it’s that no one knows what they’re doing a lot of the time. They’re figuring it out in real time. No one is born a journalist or a manager or an aerobics instructor. They might do some training but theory can only get you so far: most of it is a messy process of feeling your way as you go.

I have worked for TV executives who didn’t know how to read a script or press play on the video player. I have toiled under retail managers who locked themselves into storerooms with a six-pack of alcopops because they “couldn’t deal” with the shop getting unexpectedly busy. At Christmas. The traditional time when shops get busy.

There are people less talented than you out there living your dream because they lacked enough awareness of their limitations to talk themselves out of going for it. So learn a quick aqua-aerobic routine from YouTube and get into the damn pool already.

“I run into burning buildings for a living.”

My dad was driving me to a meeting where a university official with lots of impressive acronyms before and after his name would decide whether my scholarship would continue. If the scholarship ceased to exist, so would my higher education. Feeling intimidated because I was 21 and the only formal qualification I held was a forklift licence, I asked my dad, a fireman who left school at 15, if he was nervous about trying to argue our case.

“Bri, I run into burning f**king buildings for a living, I’m not scared of a meeting with some bloke behind a desk,” he said, without taking his eyes off the road.

Before that point, I hadn’t realised that being working class could be an asset. I had been subject to constant messaging that if I was to succeed I would have to scrub myself of all traces of who I was. However, differences, even ones we think are disadvantages, can be competitive strengths. It’s possible to achieve goals because of where we come from and who we are instead of in spite of those factors.

I used to hide that I’d grown up in an area considered “rough” and worked in ‘unskilled’ jobs, but now it’s a confidence boost in my career. If I could stop a fight involving a criminal gang leader and scold him so badly he apologised, on a workday when I was 19, then I’m not going to be afraid of someone in a suit being passive aggressive in a temperature-controlled office, now am I?

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“Do you know who I am?”

At the end of a heated discussion, a senior staff member at a regional newspaper once asked an irate caller, “Do you even know WHO I AM?”

The other person said “No!”.

“Good, then F*CK OFF!,” he said, before hanging up abruptly.

This is not life advice per se but just a trick to keep up your sleeves before desk phones disappear entirely. It’s much more satisfying than a gratitude journal.