Don’t feel intimidated by so-called experts — you are the expert and you know more than they do! — When I first met a committee of politicians, I thought I would learn something from them. As it turns out, politicians don’t know a great deal (except perhaps on their specific subject), and they tend to want to pick your brains, not the other way around!
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sue Wilson.
A long-held love affair with the country sparked Sue’s dream of retirement on a Spanish Costa. Little did she know that the move would come sooner than expected, or that retirement would look so different from her vision, thanks to Brexit. Formerly disinterested in current affairs, the Brexit referendum turned an aversion to politics into an obsession, bringing with it, new challenges and new skills. Sue now spends all of her retirement campaigning for the rights of British citizens living across Europe.
Originally from Oxford, Sue Wilson lived in London and Cambridge, working in sales, management and training. She moved to Spain in 2007 and worked as an English language teacher. Sue became Chair of Bremain in Spain — a group campaigning against Brexit — shortly after the 2016 referendum. As a pro-EU activist, she has been involved in many rallies and events and has worked closely with politicians and campaigners in Westminster and Brussels. Sue was lead plaintiff in the ‘Wilson versus The Prime Minister’ (Theresa May) legal challenge, over the validity of the Brexit referendum. Sue lives in the Valencian Community with her husband and four cats, and although officially retired, campaigns full-time for the protection of British citizens’ rights across Spain and the EU.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My younger brother and I grew up in Oxford. My father worked at the car factory, and my mum worked part-time for the NHS. My brother and I left home the same summer — me at aged 18 to move to London, and he at aged 16 to join the Navy. I lived in London for the next 15 years, and met my husband there.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad always had a few of those — the one that resonates the most is “if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well”. It’s a mantra that has followed me throughout my career, and in my personal life.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
A positive outlook has been incredibly important, not just for my own sanity, but also as a basis for dispensing hope and motivation to others. As a team manager, and as a campaigner leading a group of 6000 members, an optimistic outlook has been vital.
I have always been well organised and making plans and breaking tasks down into bite-sized chunks helps me make sense of work, and life. I could go into more detail, but I’d need to make a list first!
I’ve been fairly successful at building strong links with people — both professionally and personally. I like to think that is down to my being honest and open, and willing to share. Some enjoy confrontation whereas I prefer to avoid it.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
For many years I has a successful career in sales, initially as a sales rep, then moving up the ladder to manage sales reps — first regionally, then nationally. I branched out into management training and took a professional qualification in Learning and Development (equivalent to a degree) in my late forties. It was a demanding career that involved lots of travel, but it was immensely satisfying and stimulating.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I would have to say that it was more by accident than by design. I never really chose to throw myself into campaigning in my sixties. Rather, it chose me. It started as a coping mechanism for dealing with the shock & upheaval of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. It quickly turned into an obsession, & from there on, I learnt as I went along.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
Brexit was a severe shock to the system. It knocked me for six. After three weeks of going through emotions similar to those experienced following a bereavement, I realized I had to act. Initially that action comprised of devouring the news, educating myself on British and European politics, and getting active on social media. Within three months, I was not just part of the Bremain in Spain campaign — I was running it.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
When I was first invited to present evidence to a parliamentary committee, I was incredibly nervous. I was worried that my lack of knowledge and experience would be exposed, and that I wouldn’t have the answers to the committee’s questions. It soon became clear that I knew considerably more about the issues facing British citizens thanks to Brexit than the politicians did.
Though I had spoken in public at work conferences, that did not prepare me fully for making a speech at my first anti-Brexit rally in London, in front of 120,000 people. However, once on stage, and in front of an appreciative crowd, all the tension disappeared, and I started to enjoy myself. I have repeated the experience many times since and welcome any opportunity to make a speech now.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
Although the main aim of our campaign — to stop Brexit from happening — has failed, there is still much work to be done to limit the damage and to keep people informed. Part of that damage limitation is to maintain strong links with the European parliament. We’re going to need those if we are to achieve our longer-term goal of rejoining the EU in the future.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without a doubt, my husband Steve. For almost five years I have worked close to 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, on a voluntary basis. Throughout that time, I have had Steve’s full support through the highs and the lows. Despite us both now being retired, and this not being the retirement we envisaged, he never complains about be a Brexit widower. He enjoys seeing me involved in something that I am passionate about and he’s incredibly proud of what I have achieved.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Representing British citizens that have made their home in Spain, I visited the European Parliament in Brussels on numerous occasions. Some visits were to make speeches, some to meet European politicians. One visit was to promote a documentary film about anti-Brexit campaigners, “Postcards from the 48%”, in which I was interviewed on various occasions. Visiting the European Parliament was always a joy — an international village full of languages and diversity — all with a common goal.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
At times I questioned my abilities, especially when confronted with a new challenge for which I felt ill-qualified. Thankfully I have always been a quick learner, and I know how to play to my strengths too. If I did struggle, it was more likely to be with the sheer weight of work and the hours required to do a good job. Full-time campaigning can be exhausting!
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
More by luck than judgement. Those around me were as new to campaigning as I was, so we were learning the ropes together. The support that mattered the most — to all of us — was in knowing we weren’t alone, and there was always someone to share the trials and tribulations with. Some members of that support team are now my closest friends, and always will be.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
Of the many new skills I acquired, the one that was most outside my comfort zone was writing. It took me a while to grasp how to phrase things for the press. Initially, that was a few quotes, but later I started writing regular articles. Somewhere along the way, I found my own voice, rather that the voice I thought the media wanted to hear. Now I’m much more relaxed about what I write, and if the press don’t like my musings, I don’t take it personally.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t feel intimidated by so-called experts — you are the expert and you know more than they do! — When I first met a committee of politicians, I thought I would learn something from them. As it turns out, politicians don’t know a great deal (except perhaps on their specific subject), and they tend to want to pick your brains, not the other way around!
- You’ll need a bigger support team than you thought! — Our group has 6000 members, but most are there to be informed, to chat with like-minded members, and for support. The number that are willing to be active, especially on a regular basis, are very limited. Those that put themselves forward are worth their weight in gold!
- Take a break! — I am my own worst enemy when it comes to switching off. For the first 3 years, I didn’t even take a break while on holiday. Social media doesn’t take the weekend off. Find a way to make sure you do, from time to time!
- Expect the unexpected — Brexit has been unpredictable at best, toxic at worst, and even now that Brexit is supposedly “done”, there’s still plenty of irresponsible behaviour and misrepresentation of the realities and consequences. The truth has been a casualty of Brexit.
- Don’t underestimate the public’s willingness to believe in rainbows and fairytales — Brexit appealed to many that wanted a better life. I don’t blame anyone that voted in the hope of changing their circumstances, but they were conned.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could change anything, it would be to replace the British voting system with a fairer one — one that would see the wishes of the majority of the British public carried out. With only 43% of the popular vote, the Conservatives secured a majority of 80 seats in parliament. That’s not democracy and makes it all the more difficult for any other party to ever gain power.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
As I have been living/breathing politics for the last five years, my political choices would be Michelle Obama or Kamala Harris. From the sports world, it would have to be Ken Griffey Jnr. or Edgar Martinez, as I’m a huge fan of the Seattle Mariners (my brother lives in Tacoma).
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me on Twitter: @suewilson91 or my group is @Bremaininspain
Our website is: www.bremaininspain.com
For our free newsletter, join here: www.bremaininspain.eu/join
They can also read my story alongside 9 other expat women in the new book #LivingtheDream Expat Life Stripped Bare: https://www.amazon.es/dp/B08SFZCVYQ
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!