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10 Women On Advice Which Changed Their Lives

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Advice is a big part of your relationships with people. And whether they’re on the money, out of the blue or off-key, other people’s advice shapes us. Suzie Coen asked ten familiar faces to reveal the soundest advice they’ve ever received.

MAÏA DUNPHY
Producer, broadcaster and writer

“There isn’t one specific, big piece of advice that I always fall back on. Rather, I have lots of smaller ones, most of which came courtesy of my parents over the years. Choice is a good thing, but too much isn’t necessarily. It’s easy to know what you don’t want to do, but far less to decide what you actually want. Ignore best before dates – just use your nose. Don’t stay around people who make you feel bad about yourself. Common sense trumps most other faculties. Look after your skin. There’s no such thing as “the one that got away”; there are scores of potential ones out there for each of us. Don’t trust people who hate animals. Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race; sometimes you need to make yourself heard. Never take credit for other people’s work and don’t let anyone take it for yours. Family is important, but so are friends – blood may be thicker than water, but sometimes you just need water. You can decide to be happy. Unfortunately, I still haven’t managed to take all of it on board, but I’m still trying! Of course, not all advice is welcome – an honorary mention must go to my Sixth Year biology teacher, who told us, “Girls are not built to wear trousers.” It haunted me, and might well be the reason that (jeans aside) I don’t own a single pair of trousers.”

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DOMINI KEMP

Chef, food writer and co-founder of the
 Itsa food company


““What’s the worst someone can say to you?” was a favourite expression of our late mother, Val. When I was younger, I thought it was a bit trite, and it didn’t really hold much weight for me until I got into business. When you’re starting out in your career, you often lack the confidence you get with a bit of experience and age. You worry about rejection, about failure and about what people will think. These worries often strangle your progress and decision making. To deal with this, I find it helps to fall back on the words of wisdom from people I respect. “What’s the worst someone can say to you?” along with “It could be worse” are two of my old reliables. Hearing such simple, sound advice forces perspective when I’m feeling less than positive. Remembering these words gives me the confidence and strength to propose something and not be afraid of what people will say or think about it. If it doesn’t work, I try to move on quickly and not agonise over it. I dust myself off and find a way to make it better (or say it differently) and then make it happen.”

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CAROLINE MORAHAN
Actress and television presenter

“I told my mum that I was contributing to a piece about good advice and she said, “Well, you’ve been given some great advice in your life, but 90 per cent of it you’ve ignored …” I got into a part-time huff, but then realised, as usual, she’s probably right! I can be very headstrong and I’m a great one for giving other people advice and failing to take it myself. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from her, but it took several years for me to put it into practice. She advised me to meditate every day. I resisted at first, but now I’ve noticed, since I’ve incorporated meditation into my life, that it gives me a great sense of calm. It allows me to put into practice the other most important bits of advice I’ve picked up – staying present; not comparing myself to others; and cultivating a sense of gratitude. I’m a natural worrier. Meditation gives me perspective. Taking a break from the mind chatter helps me feel more positive and productive, and I have better energy, which hopefully has a positive knock- on effect on those around me.”

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DANIELLE RYAN
Founder and CEO of ROADS Group

“I remember the moment clearly: I was sitting with my father at the kitchen table, discussing my ambitions and everything I wanted to achieve. I was a student at RADA in London and was home for a visit. I was talking about how after graduation, I would get an agent and begin auditioning. I explained to him, “It’s not like you can just phone up Spielberg and ask him for an audition.” Dad just replied, “Why not?” We laughed, but those words really resonated with me. Those simple words: Why not? When we questioned why Ireland, with its history steeped in literature and the arts, didn’t have its own world-class National Academy of Dramatic Art? Those words prevailed: Why not? and The Lir was born. Upon reflection, I think those words have been a family mantra. Since coming up with the concept for ROADS, as a cultural platform, I’m often asked “Why?”, but perhaps the question should be “Why not?””

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SONYA LENNON
Fashion designer, broadcaster, social entrepreneur 
and co-founder of frockadvisor.com

“When I began the process of launching Dress for Success in Ireland back in 2010, I was quaking in my boots. I had been a lone ranger, a freelance stylist for 20 years. Now I was facing into a completely new and different thing, building an organisation, and all that that entailed. It was New Year’s Eve 2011 and at a party we decided to share our hopes for the year ahead. When my turn came, I burst out crying with the fear and anticipation of what unknown pains were ahead of me. A brave and clever businesswoman present said to me, “The fear of what’s ahead is always inordinately greater than the difficulty of actually doing it.” It was like a revelation. The fear dissipated, and I just got on with things. Just like with everything in life, the first time is always the hardest.”

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TERRY PRONE
Author, columnist and leading advisor on reputation management and crisis handling

“Picture this. An RTÉ radio producer says, “I really love working with you” to a chubby, pimpled 16-year- old presenter, who promptly turns fire brigade red and, as he explained why he’d said what he said, tried to wave him into silence. “No, this is important,” he says. “We’re lousy at telling people how good they are, even when we get how good they are. I’m going to give you a piece of advice. Any time you really like or admire or love someone, tell them and give them the evidence. Life’s short. You might not get another chance.” The producer was Howard Kinlay and while he died young, Kinlay House in Dame Street is named after him. The presenter was me, and from that day on, I obeyed his advice like a Holy Writ, discovering in the process that people are very willing to administer criticism, but are miserably ungenerous with praise.”

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PAULA CALLAN
Make-up artist and co-founder of Callanberry Makeup Academy

“Working in the beauty industry, it sometimes seems that what’s on the outside is the only thing that matters. That’s why I treasure lessons from my mother, who has always championed inner truth – love, honesty, integrity and respect. From a very early age, she advised me to “Treat everybody the way you would like to be treated.” It’s simple, but smart advice. It was readily understood by me as a five-year-old, and it continued to set my moral compass as an adult. It’s become my mantra. I keep it in my head and it’s helped me navigate all sorts of prickly situations and allowed me to remain dignified and true to myself. It’s a good philosophy for life, and one I plan to pass on to each of my four children.”

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ANGELA SCANLON
Presenter, broadcaster and journalist

““You get out of life what you put into it” was the saying most often heard in my house as I was growing up, and a sentiment that both my parents shared. As a kid, it was a slightly terrifying but mostly annoying notion that I was solely responsible for my own life; for what I did and how well I did it. As kids, we did lots of stuff – sports, dancing and music – but how seriously we took each of those was entirely up to us. Our likes, desires and dreams were completely personal – they were supported, but never pushed. It was the same with exams. I was never locked in a room and told to study for hours, but I was reminded that the results had no bearing on anyone but me. Of course, this was extreme reverse psychology and a somewhat risky approach with a somewhat reckless teenager, but it seemed to work. It made me take responsibility for what I did and realise early on that with a bit of stubborn grit and a few sleepless nights, I could do anything. I still have that approach with everything I do, and it’s given me a work ethic that I’m hugely thankful for. For me, it’s about progress, knowing where I want to go, and working towards that. There is no such thing as an overnight success, there is no shortcut, but if you’re prepared to get stuck in and keep going, you’ll get there. Working in an industry where many things are beyond my control, it helps my sanity to know that as long as you work hard and aren’t a dickhead, then it’ll all work out!”

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DEIRDRE O’KANE
Stand-up comedian and actress

“I remember being at the Cat Laughs Festival in Kilkenny about 15 years ago and taking part in a late night gig that involved about a dozen comedians performing for about ten minutes each. Sounds easy, right? Not so much … It was well after midnight, the audience had been drinking all evening and were pretty rowdy, and it was clearly a kill or be killed situation. I was still a rookie and I was fretting and in a panic. I was next in line and I turned to my fellow comic, Barry Murphy, and said, “I’m dreading this.” And he said very coolly in reply, “You’re a professional.” It was so simple and obvious, but it said so much. Yes, I said to myself, “you are a professional Deirdre, you can handle it, stop whinging and step up to the plate!” I took a deep breath, went on stage and survived. I’ve said it many times since as a way to empower myself, including while shooting a scene for Noble in Vietnam, when a rat ran over my foot mid-scene and continued to hang around for the evening. I’ve never been a fan. But I took a breath and said, “You’re a professional Dee, you can handle a rat.” Thanks Baz …”

MARISSA CARTER
Entrepreneur, owner and founder of Cocoa Brown

“I’ve always thought of myself as a supporter of other women, but being as competitive as I am, I would often fall victim to the harmful habit of comparing my own achievements with those of the women I found the most inspiring. Recently, one of my smartest, most generous friends, Joyce, said something to me that has changed my perspective – “Her success is not your failure.” Six simple words with meaning that seem so obvious, but they have changed the way I view other women, and I’ll remember that forever.”

This article was originally published in the September issue of IMAGE Magazine.

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