Look for opportunities — and if they don’t exist, create them! If there is a change that you want to see in the world, a project you want to run, a business you want to set-up, a path you want to follow, go out and pursue it, seek it out, visualize it, work hard for it. If the opportunity you are seeking does not already exist, create it! Look for innovative solutions, create a community, and try to look for the opportunity in any situation. Also, I would suggest taking perceived failures and deconstructing them, exploring the lessons that can be learned and opportunities that present themselves.
As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Matthews.
Katie Matthews is a 28-year-old, multi-award-winning entrepreneur, growth mindset educator, speaker, founder, mentor, trauma-informed practitioner and mental health and well-being trainer. Katie has 11 years lived experience with mental illness, and is passionate about supporting other’s mental health, entrepreneurship, leadership, community development, growth mindset development and supporting our next generation of children and young people. Katie is the founder of The Mind Tribe UK, a mental health and wellbeing training and consultancy business, and a tuition company, Excel In Education Tutoring School, supporting 7–16 year olds, with Maths and English. With a passion for youth development and leadership, combined with entrepreneurship and mental health, Katie established the Young Entrepreneur’s Network Northern Ireland, as a voluntary organisation and dedicated platform and hub for young entrepreneurs and business professionals across Northern Ireland, aged 18–30. Part of Katie’s ethos is to give back to the community, making a positive contribution to society and driving progressive change in the world around us. She does this within her roles as an Independent Member of the Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon Area Policing Community Safety Partnership, on the board of Trustees for the charity Home-Start North Belfast and as the Northern Ireland National Director for the Global Entrepreneurship Network. Katie was honoured to be recognised on the NI 40 Under 40 List in 2019, was awarded Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2018 FSB Awards, the Future Star Award at the NI Maternal Mental Health Awards 2019 and was a regional judge and panel chair for The Diana Award 2020.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?
Hi Sonia, thanks so much for this opportunity and yes of course I can tell you a little bit about me and the way I grew up! I was born in Epsom, Surrey and grew up in Worcester Park where I lived for seven years with my mum and dad, then moving to Bexhill-on-sea, East Sussex once my younger brother was born. I was a very happy, active and sociable child, playing in all the sports teams, taking a hugely active role in school life and would have always taken on leadership roles such as team captain, school council member and house captain. I loved reading (and still do!), music, learning new things and even enjoyed homework and exams! I know that probably sounds a bit strange for a child, but I enjoyed working hard, putting forth effort and reaping the rewards for the determination I had shown. It’s not to say that things were always easy. I endured instances of bullying, struggling to the point of tears with maths (until I received tuition) and always struggled with self-doubt, confidence and rumination. Fast forward a few years to secondary school, and I was a successful and outgoing student, excelling in academic work, captaining the school’s sports teams, singing in the choir, and taking a very active role in all aspects of school life. In my final year, I was elected as Head Girl of St Richards Catholic College and really nurtured my leadership skills and confidence. Life took a bit of a turn when I left secondary school and moved on to college to study my A levels. I was diagnosed with Depression aged 17, which was compounded further by my parent’s separation the following month after my diagnosis. I moved to Northern Ireland when I was 19 to start a degree in English with Linguistics at Queen’s University Belfast which I loved, but unfortunately experienced a traumatic event in my final year, leading to the development of Generalised Anxiety Disorder aged 22, experienced frequent panic attacks and was unable to leave the house for months at a time, and found it really difficult to talk to people. I am pleased to say I’ve been on the road to recovery for the last five years but definitely still have work to do, and am always learning, growing and healing. My mum is my biggest inspiration, and her strength and unwavering support has been crucial. I am so grateful to her for the faith she has in me, for giving me opportunities to develop and grow, and for supporting me throughout my life. She is my role-model, embodying how you can thrive, create opportunities and the life you want for yourself, even in the face of adversity.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Absolutely, I love reading and there have been many books that have had an impact on me. The two that spring to mind immediately are “Conquering Anxiety” by The Speakmans and “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. The Speakman’s book provided me with a clear insight into myself, my experiences, behaviours, schemas and strategies to support my healing. I am pleased to say my Anxiety is so much better since reading the book and I always recommend it to others. I think I should be on commission for it by now! I read Carol Dweck’s book back in 2017, which introduced me to Growth Mindset theory and again contributed hugely to my recovery journey by applying the theory. I am a huge advocate for growth mindset development and incorporate it into every aspect of my life, my work and my training. In terms of organisations, Queen’s University Belfast, had a significant impact on me. This was the time when I undertook leadership training through the William J. Clinton Leadership Institute, participated in entrepreneurship and business programmes, voluntary projects and also ran as an Independent Member for the Student’s Union President, making history as the only female to come runner-up running as an individual and not as part of a ticket. I was afforded wonderful opportunities and spent two years as a Residential Assistant, supporting hundreds of students with their university life, signposting to support services and ensuring their wellbeing.
You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?
So I founded Excel In Education Tutoring School which provides academic tuition to students aged 7–16 years and we provide a holistic approach to education, incorporating mindfulness, growth mindset development and experiential learning into sessions, so that my students receive rounded, engaging, meaningful learning experiences and encourages the development of other skills, as opposed to just teaching them to pass an exam. My second business, The Mind Tribe UK, provides mental health and wellbeing training and consultancy services across the globe, working with businesses, community and voluntary organisations, educational institutions, students, charities and the general public. I provide training in mental health, mindfulness, resilience, effective praise, growth mindset development, kindness and self-care. My mission is to make a positive impact on as many people’s lives as possible, contributing to creating a better world now and for future generations. I believe in giving a voice to people who may be marginalised, disengaged or disadvantaged. That’s why I am always so honest when discussing my own battles with mental illness and my journey to recovery, as I feel it is so important for people to see someone standing up and representing those who may not be in a position to do so themselves. I want other young people to look at me and see someone who has still been able to thrive, creating opportunities and the life I wanted for myself, despite challenges, trauma and adversity. I want to be part of creating and leading positive, transformational change in our world, through destigmatising mental illness, advocating for better mental health services, empowering others to achieve their dreams, encouraging kindness and empathy and supporting as many people as I can!
Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?
Absolutely! My tuition company came from my struggles with maths in primary school and the tuition I received from the age of 7 to 19. Being tutored completely changed my perspective on Maths and unlocked my potential within the subject. Within a year of receiving tuition I had gone from being the bottom of the class in maths, to being recognised on the UK’s register for Gifted and Talented Children. It showed me the power of education, and the transformational capacity tutors can have on their student’s lives. My tutor was able to teach me in a way that I understood and had not previously been shown, unlocking potential in the subject I didn’t even know I had! It definitely worked though as I absolutely love maths now, received an A grade at GCSE Level and A grade at A Level, and it is actually my preferred subject to teach, despite my degree being in English! As I have already mentioned, I have lived experience with mental illness and received a diagnosis of Depression aged 17 and GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) aged 22. Just to add to the melting pot, I was then diagnosed with a chronic auto-immune condition aged 26, just two months before launching my second business. The Mind Tribe UK stems from my lived experience with mental illness and a burning desire to smash the stigma surrounding mental illness, to support others and to train adults to effectively support our children and young people. I get to live my passions and purpose every day, and this keeps me driving forward.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
There are two things that I am most proud of and that I find extremely interesting (though they may not be as interesting for others!), that are both from this year actually. Being asked to join the regional judging panel for The Diana Award was a huge honour, as they are the only charity set up in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her belief that young people have the power to change the world. It was absolutely fascinating and totally inspiring to read the stories of amazing young people and changemakers across Northern Ireland and the rest of the globe, who are having such a positive impact in their communities and the wider world. The second interesting thing is that I have recently been appointed as the Northern Ireland National Director for the Global Entrepreneurship Network. Again, I feel totally honoured to have been appointed to this role at just 28 years old and am overwhelmingly excited to see where the journey will take me!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
There is one family that always sticks in my mind that availed of my training through The Mind Tribe UK. The father attended one of my training workshops on supporting children’s mental health and mindfulness techniques. By this stage, the family were at breaking point. Their seven-year-old daughter was struggling with anxiety, self-confidence, stress, low mood, rumination, negative thoughts, sleep issues, digestive problems and a host of other symptoms. This was impacting on her school life, her friendships, her relationships with her parents and the rest of the family and had spilled over into all aspects of her life. She had been on the waiting list for counselling for months and had been deteriorating further and further. Roughly three weeks after the training session, I received a message from the father. He said that he had used my tools, tips and techniques, and they were already starting to see huge changes and significant progress with their daughter. I will never forget his kind words and am still in touch with the family now. I am pleased to report she is thriving and is living her best life as a happy, healthy child.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
For me, it means leaving something in a better state or condition than before. I don’t think it is limited to certain times, events or people. Everyone can make a difference and has the power to contribute to change. Making a difference means making positive contributions, being mindful of the world around us, taking on responsibilities, demonstrating leadership behaviours, showing kindness and empathy, supporting causes you are passionate about or that resonate with you, accountability, and the drive and determination to bring forward effective, constructive change in our world. Even the smallest acts or changes can mean the world to people or communities and encourages us to look outside of ourselves and work in collaboration with others to stimulate change.
Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us a story or example for each.
Of course! So, I always had this drive within me to succeed at whatever career I decided to pursue, but I didn’t always know what I was going to apply it to! Once I had decided I was going to set up my first business I started exploring networking groups and membership hubs so I could build my network and receive some guidance. I mind-mapped business names, types, purposes, my skills, and a rough idea of what services I would offer. I set up the social media accounts, started marketing, and things just kind of grew from there to be honest. The only thing I didn’t do enough of and in hindsight I wish I had done, was asking for more help and support. I suppose it was a combination of pride, ignorance and a fear of looking like I didn’t know what I was doing that prevented me from seeking more support and professional advice, and ultimately ended in bankruptcy when I was 26. It was the most challenging, soul-destroying and emotional time for me, but looking back now, it was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It made me re-evaluate my vision, my purpose, my approach to business, my attitudes and has helped shape me into a more successful, happier, healthier, balance and more self-aware entrepreneur and leader. I think it is important for me to always be honest when discussing the triumphs but also the tribulations along the way, so that other young people can see that what we perceive as “failure” does not have to be the end of your story. It doesn’t have to be the end of your dreams and you can come back stronger, with a renewed sense of purpose, clarity, vision, passion and energy. One thing I will always be grateful for, is the support network I had (and currently have!) around me, both personally and within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The people that saw my potential and believed in me, believed that I would come back fighting and that I would not stop striving for excellence and gave me opportunities to learn and succeed.
My top five things to know to become a change-maker would be:
- Ask for help- consciously and actively build your network, nurturing authentic relationships with others and developing a trusted circle. These are people you can go to for advice or guidance. You could also get a mentor to drive your development. Once you have trusted support systems in place, it can become so much easier to reach out, to make yourself vulnerable and ask for help. Remember, you deserve success, you deserve to thrive, you deserve to become the best version of yourself and you deserve to be supported. We learn by making mistakes and asking questions. We are all human. So, go for it! Ask the question, seek the support, utilise the resources, and embrace your growth mindset!
- Look for opportunities — and if they don’t exist, create them! If there is a change that you want to see in the world, a project you want to run, a business you want to set-up, a path you want to follow, go out and pursue it, seek it out, visualize it, work hard for it. If the opportunity you are seeking does not already exist, create it! Look for innovative solutions, create a community, and try to look for the opportunity in any situation. Also, I would suggest taking perceived failures and deconstructing them, exploring the lessons that can be learned and opportunities that present themselves.
- Do not let others’ limiting beliefs of you, dictate or diminish the belief you have in yourself. Your life is your own, and you have the power to change and choose what you would like from your life. As difficult as it can be, do not let other people’s views chip away at your confidence and self-efficacy.
- Self-Awareness- it is absolutely vital to develop a level of self-awareness, combined with emotional intelligence and the ability to effectively self-regulate. This is where things like mindfulness practice can be extremely beneficial, and allows you strengthen your mind-body connection.
- Be Kind- to everyone you meet, in your words, thoughts and actions, and don’t forget to be kind to yourself! The only voice you can never escape is the one inside your head, so say nice things to yourself and treat yourself with the same compassion you show to others. I would suggest that we should all stop striving for perfection and started striving for progression. Perfection is simply a myth and we cannot work towards something that is so intangible and subjective. If we aim for progress, we can reach our goals in smaller, tangible, achievable steps.
What are the values that drive your work?
Passion, Positivity, Purpose, Integrity, Respect, Empathy, leading by example, Honesty, Loyalty, Kindness, lifting others as you rise and embodying growth mindset behaviours. They underpin everything I do and are central to who I am as a person.
Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centred in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?
Every day I do some sort of mindfulness practice or breathing exercise and take some dedicated time for self-care. This keeps me from burn-out and helps me to stay sane! I try to do the Wim Hof breathing techniques a few times a week when I actually remember! It’s one of the goals on my 2021 list. I also make a vision board at the start of every year and update it throughout the year, which keeps me focused and reminds me what I am working towards when I need some motivation. I try to read as much as I can too, so that I am always learning and growing my mind, knowledge and skills. I believe in seizing and creating opportunities, embracing challenges, remaining dedicated, humble, working hard and giving back.
In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!
Okay so this is basically going to be a huge list of all the things and I will probably forget to include something, but I would just love to see a world where childhood poverty and hunger were eradicated, where everyone has a home, there is no unemployment, where everyone has equal opportunities, support and education is accessible for everyone. I want to live and contribute to a world that has a stable and flourishing economy, where the environment is prioritised and appreciated, where domestic, child, animal, or any form of abuse does not exist, where children are safeguarded and protected to live happy, healthy and fulfilled lives. I would like to see a world that has financial security for everyone, where people are not crippled by debt and forced to make impossible decisions, where there is exceptional support for disabled people and access to free medical care for everyone. I would like there to be more cooperation and representational diversity within governments and across organisations, and for people in positions of power to act with due diligence, care, empathy, honesty and accountability, upholding the integrity of these positions leadership, power and influence. I would also love to see a world where there are outstanding mental health support services for anyone who needs it, where stigma surrounding mental illness no longer exists, where there is sufficient funding for the arts, where parents and pregnant people are fully supported, where violence and war cease and where entrepreneurship skills are embedded into education and across all sectors. So just a few things! When I close my eyes, that’s the type of world I envision.
We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?
Firstly, I would provide funding to every project, community group, business, voluntary organisation, charity and service, to ensure that they could all function at maximum capacity, contributing to the economy and reaching as many people as quickly as possible. I would ensure that every person had a home, food and clean water, internet connection and a laptop, access to free medical care, quality education and would ensure that everything possible could be done to resolve the environmental issues we are facing. I would also ensure that the steps needed to protect our planet were legislated for across the globe, to ensure maximum results and positive impacts. In schools, I would reduce class sizes and empower educators to be creative, embracing experiential learning, entrepreneurship skills, real-life lessons and growth mindset development. I would invest in regenerating communities and provide free, wrap-around care in every school, providing all meals of the day. I would provide support for parents, including specialised mother and baby units for mothers requiring support for perinatal mental illness, increased paternity leave with higher maternity and paternity pay, and a holistic, whole-person approach taken to medication, treatment and healing. I would increase minimum wage so that all workers could afford to live fulfilled, happy, healthy lives, and would pay off every citizen’s personal debt. And just for good measure, I would also appoint a Minister for Happiness, whose role would be dedicated to promoting, encouraging, supporting, facilitating and providing opportunities for interventions, projects, treatments, therapies, community activities and leading a nationwide campaign towards happiness and enabling recovery, kindness and improved mental health and wellbeing for the country. All of those actions would be a good start I think and would certainly help to create a significant, positive difference to our local, national and international communities.
I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?
I would like to see some significant changes in our educational system. I believe mental health education and support should be provided to all students and staff including weekly talking therapies, and would love to see growth mindset, mindfulness and resilience skills embedded within the curriculum. I would also like to see entrepreneurship skills and experiential learning underpinning every subject, quality provision for students with neurodiverse needs, more discussions around diversity and inclusion, empathy, resilience, bullying, consent, healthy relationships, sex education, real-life practical skills and knowledge and financial education.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would ask them “Why could it not be you?” We all have the capacity to effect change on some level, enabling us to simultaneously help and bring benefit to others, whilst feeling a sense of pride, happiness and satisfaction from knowing we have made a positive contribution to someone else’s life.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oh, my goodness, Sonia! How could I possible name just one person? Sorry, but it’s going to have to be my top two! Oprah Winfrey and Gary Veynerchuk. Both incredible, intelligent, resilient, inspiring trailblazers and it would be an absolute dream come true to meet them!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can connect with me on Linkedin, just search for Katie Matthews Excel, or across social media you can search for The Mind Tribe UK, Excel In Education Tutoring School and Young Entrepreneur’s Network NI.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!