Departures and Arrivals. From a would-be lorry driver to magazine editor

I first met Suzy in early 2014 when I wandered along to a Psychologies evening talk after finding my first read of the magazine intriguing. She had taken over as UK editor (to her own surprise) a year earlier. Warm and engaging, she set the scene invitingly for why Psychologies runs a series of mind-shifting monthly seminars with Now Live Events. I quickly realised that her own journey from journalist to self-employed life coach and back to journalism for a major magazine publisher was one that even she hadn’t expected. We’ve been collaborating ever since. This is her story…

  1. What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was really little I wanted to be a nun or a lorry driver. A nun because I’d watched The Sound of Music and wanted to sing on a mountain. I wanted to drive a lorry mainly because I’d get to sleep in the cab. I liked the idea of being on the road and being able to sleep anywhere.

  1. Who gave the best advice and guidance towards that?

As I got older, all I wanted to do was to write stories. When I was given an old typewriter for my 8th birthday, I cried with delight. Everyone discouraged me. But at 12, I wrote my first Mills and Boon book (which was rejected!), at 15, I pitched my first ever story to Reader’s Digest and decided I was going to be Lois Lane. The Reader’s Digest also rejected me. No one in my family had been to university or thought it was possible to make a living from writing. I used to read self-help authors like Susan Jeffers and Antony Robbins and stick their quotes on my bedroom door – anything is possible if you have a dream, they said. You just have to keep going. Finally when I was 23, I was runner up in the Cosmopolitan new journalist competition and that gave me the encouragement to leave a full time job working in a translation agency to train as journalist.

  1. Did it work out?

I had £3000 saved and did a 3 months course and my money ran out on the 12th week. I handed my last assignment – an interview with the late Paula Yates –  actually published in the Yorkshire Evening Post. I had to make a living from journalism otherwise I’d have starved! I worked in Pizza Hut in the evenings while I pitched for freelance work and slowly built contacts and a portfolio of work from scratch. I was very polite but very persistent. Eventually She magazine gave me a story to write and then the Daily Mail bought it from them and it launched my career.

  1. Was there a turning point conversation?

It was actually a negative conversation and a kind action that spurred me on. I had hand-written my entry for the Cosmo competition and given it to my boyfriend to read and he told me they were rubbish. ‘Don’t embarrass yourself by sending them in,’ he told me. My best friend read them, told me they were great and typed them up and sent them off. Within a month, Cosmo wrote to me inviting me to their offices for their awards ceremony. It just gave me hope that I was on the right track. Sometimes, you just need someone to believe in you. My best friend did. Obviously, I dumped the boyfriend!

  1. Fast forward 1, 2 or 3 decade, is there a marked difference in the ‘plan’?

After 5 years in journalism, I left to train as a life coach and I built a business called The Big Leap, wrote two books. 15 years later, out of the blue, Psychologies offered me the position of editor. It was definitely not in my life plan. I’d worked for myself for 15 years but I loved the magazine so much, the offer was irresistible.

  1. Was there another (later) turning point conversation?

I have always had coaching all the way through my career. I’m a massive fan. Creating space to think and reassess is invaluable. I was working with a brilliant coach called Rachel Pryor, who would ask me questions like: what would you have to believe to create the career/life you want? It was the first time I’d been introduced to the idea of how my beliefs about life could determine my course in life. It was revolutionary and I never looked back.

  1. Would you have done anything VERY differently?

I very much followed my heart when I was younger. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. There is always a way – it may take a long time, you may have to work very hard and work two and sometimes three jobs but it is possible to find and create work that you love.

  1. What tips would you give to teens / 20-somethings starting out, in terms of approach to (working) life?

Focus on what you enjoy and what you are naturally good at. What gives you that ‘heart leap’ feeling (versus heart sink). Get a lowly paid job in the evenings and the weekend to pay the rent while you train or get work experience in the job you really want to do. If you’re not sure what you want to do, ask as many people as you know if you can do some work experience in the vague areas that you are interested in. Often you will get a visceral feeling in your body when you are on the right track. I took two weeks holiday from my day job to do work experience at the Yorkshire Evening Post to make sure being a journalist wasn’t just a pipe dream. I spent two weeks writing as well as being office dogsbody but I loved it. Don’t compromise on what you really want to do, just believe it’s possible and try and find a way in. People say you need money and contacts – but that’s not necessarily true. Yes, it helps but if you’re hardworking and willing to learn, you can make in-roads. I had neither money nor contacts and moved from Yorkshire to London – practically with a stick and handkerchief.

Focus on what you can give versus what you can get. Be polite, ask questions and build relationships by being kind and listening. Try to discover what your strengths are and do as much as you can to show off and build on those strengths. Above all, never give in, ask for help and make sure you surround yourself with positive, motivated people.

Zena James

2 thoughts on “Stories of starting out and moving on No. 4

  1. Great to read this. I am 56 and I am doing a writing course while I am taking some time out in Australia. It’s never too late to pursue those dreams. Do it sooner rather than later, but later is better than not doing it at all. Thanks for the blog Zena.


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