My Graduate Life: Conor Stone

My graduate story has been a series of unplanned adventures that have led me to a role that I really love.

Today, I work for Techstars in London, helping exciting start-ups to design and develop their business development strategies, while in my spare time I run my own wellbeing blog, podcast and business. The funny thing is, when I graduated in 2018, never mind when I got my CAO offer in 2014, I had never heard of Techstars and I had never done a meditation. Its funny where life takes you when you just follow the direction of your values at every turn.

Conor co-founded the UCD C&E Business Journal.

I studied Commerce in UCD. I chose that course for two reasons, 1. Business was general enough that I did not have to specialise too early, and 2. UCD had a great hurling pitch. No major method to the decision. Hurling was my one true love at that time and going to UCD and playing hurling there is what felt like the right decision for me. What I didn’t see happening was that injuries ruled me out of all bar one hurling match in my entire four years of college.

Losing the main reason for attending a certain university isn’t ideal but that also gave me an opportunity to apply to things that I wouldn’t have done had I been fit and able to play. Hurling would have made life a little easier to settle into university life and make friends but after a period of frustration, I decided that I would apply for everything that my course had to offer. That helped me to have a brilliant four years at UCD where I studied in Sydney for a semester, worked in PwC for a year, became a class rep, and created UCD’s first ever student run business journal with one of my best friends.

It wasn’t all brilliant though, I eventually had to retire from sport just before starting final year and soon after that, I began to experience mental health difficulties for the first time. Sport was a massive part of my life. It gave me my edge, a place to release my competitiveness, my aggression and my energy in a healthy way. To lose that before I hit my peak broke me. After finishing playing, I started to feel different almost immediately – less in control of my mood and my energy. I began to experience panic attacks, anxiety and bouts of depression. That was not the headspace I wanted to be in entering final year. I couldn’t plan for that.

Conor took part in UCD’s silent mental health protest.

My mental health issues encouraged me to go to therapy and there I learned who I was and what was truly important to me. I realised that I couldn’t go back to PwC or another large corporate, I realised that I needed to find a role where I could work with people face to face and showcase my personality and creativity. I ended up only applying for one graduate program, the Enterprise Ireland International Graduate Program. I got through the process and was offered a place on the 2018-2020 program in Enterprise Ireland’s Sydney office. I was delighted but I was scared. Given the issues I was working though, I felt Sydney would be too far from my support network so I turned down the offer. Even though I didn’t have a back up option, I decided being close to my family, friends and girlfriend was more important than any job. Two weeks later, Enterprise Ireland called and offered me a role in their London office. I accepted and I am so glad I did. Things worked out. I couldn’t have planned that.

Enterprise Ireland is a fantastic organisation. A government agency who has two goals – increase domestic employment and grow international exports. I applied because they helped my Dad’s company to stay afloat during the 2008 recession, because they are passionate about the future of Irish business and because they give graduates the freedom to make real impact. I moved to London in September 2018. Moving to a new city isn’t easy but working with Irish people makes it feel very like home.

Conor had the opportunity to meet with Government Ministers as part of his role with Enterprise Ireland.
Conor worked in Enterprise Ireland’s London office.

My role involved working with companies in retail, sustainable packaging and environmental technologies. It was a pretty broad scope that could mean I was working with a tanning brand on Monday, a mushroom punnet manufacturer on Wednesday and an offshore wind turbine manufacturer on Friday. For that reason, the first few months of my role was all about going to events, reading reports and studying my portfolio of clients. Then it was about meeting those clients, understanding their needs in the UK market and then helping them to increase their exports by conducting market research, prospecting leads, reaching out to buyers, and organising events that could help them showcase their capability.

Much like university, my graduate program was impacted by my mental health. Like many young professionals, I had prioritised my job and the busy-ness of life ahead of my wellbeing. Midway through my first year in Enterprise Ireland, I reached a breaking point. I was burnt out. I began to feel very depressed. I was chronically tired, I was lacking motivation and I just wasn’t enjoying anyone’s company, including my own. The crazy thing was, despite all the signs, I didn’t recognise that I was actually depressed. It wasn’t until my girlfriend was staying with me one weekend and commented that I seemed off. It took that for me to take a step back and notice what I was going through.

Conor graduated from UCD in 2018.

I was pretty bad and it took me a while to make the life changes that I needed to get better. I eventually decided to see my GP and do something about it. After that, I went back to Ireland for a week to rest and reflect before returning to London and starting my first antidepressant, going back to counselling and enrolling in a cognitive behavioural therapy course with the NHS. I decided to push loving myself to the top of my agenda. This was the turning point in my career and made me realign to my values. I was studying for my management accountancy exams at the time and decided to un-enrol and instead study to be a mindfulness teacher. I was also offered a large contract with a client company but decided that loyalty was more important than money to me at this stage of my career, so I turned them down. Again, I couldn’t plan for these situations but I did what felt was right for me. I have no regrets about those decisions.

Good things can come from bad times. In university, it helped me to find myself, in work, it helped me to share myself. It was during that tough time that I set up my blog and podcast – A Mental Health Journey. I wanted to share my experiences of anxiety and depression with people in a way that they might be able to connect with and take some lessons into their own lives.Sharing this was a huge weight off my shoulders and allowed me to be more open with my colleagues at work. I was able to tell my manager if I needed a day off, if I needed more time to complete a project or if I simply needed to have a chat. That is a powerful tool in the workplace and I was lucky to have that support in Enterprise Ireland.

My two years at Enterprise Ireland flew by and I loved them. There aren’t many graduate roles where you get to work alongside start-up founders, industry leading CEOs and Government Ministers. None of those would be my highlights however. My highlights came from the openness of management to ideas from junior staff and their willingness to support their professional and personal growth. They let me shape my role to be in line with my values. I got to work with businesses that had a social goal, I got to set up a volunteering program and I got to teach mindfulness to the whole organisation on a weekly basis during Covid-19. Those are the things I am most proud of and will remember fondly.

I finished the Enterprise Ireland graduate program in August 2020 and since then have set up my own wellbeing business, WorkMindful, and have begun to work as a Business Development Associate at Techstars London, Europe’s most prestigious start-up accelerator. There I work with ten start-up’s and am learning so much about how to set up and grow a business. I hope that I can use my experience at Techstars to grow my own business and share Mindfulness, CBT and Wellbeing to thousands of people around the world. I want to make a difference, to work with people and to showcase my personality and creativity. Those are my work life values and by following them, as I have done, I’m sure everything will work out OK.

Conor Stone

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