28 November 2018

Bonita Norris with Lawrence Jones MBE, CEO UKFast

Recording the podcast with Bonita.

At just 22 years old, Bonita Norris became the youngest woman to reach the summit of Everest. Now, she’s trying to help young people to climb an even tougher mountain – coping with mental health pressures.

Speaking at schools across the country, Bonita was first invited to speak to inspire young people and encourage them to set goals. Now, the calls are very different. She is instead invited in to help teens cope with anxiety.

Having experienced bulimia as a teenager, Bonita spent years working out why and what she needed to do to beat the illness. In a podcast I recorded with her, released this week, she talks of her fascination with our evolution and how that paints a picture for why so many people are struggling with anxiety and stress these days.

So many people that I speak to these days talk of how stress and anxiety are on the increase, especially in young people. Bonita’s theory is that when we look back at where we evolved from, we’re missing a trick. We’re cutting out the time to play. That free time that lets our minds wander and enables us to be creative.

Whether it’s music or drama or sports time being cut down in the curriculum at school, or time spent absorbed in the screen of a phone, that time to be bored and make our own fun is dwindling.

Results robots

She believes, as do I, that the education system is too results driven. I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps that is because businesses are looking for employability based on qualifications rather than the overall character of a person.

That’s something we’ve strived to never do at UKFast. We only use CVs here as conversation starters. Instead of qualifications, we look for the first job. Did the candidate have a rubbish job as a teen? We call it the Paper-Round Gene. It’s that drive to be self-sufficient, to make your way in the world. It’s ambition. That’s something that grades can never show.

As business leaders, we have a collective responsibility to drive change here. We need to ensure we’re looking beyond academic success to find the people to join our teams.

In a world where social media is applying huge amounts of pressure to look a certain way and have a certain lifestyle, when you combine this with the pressure of getting good grades at school, there’s no wonder young people are more stressed and anxious than ever.

So, what’s the answer? Bonita believes we must allow everyone time to be bored. To take time away from screens and study; to be creative. Giving young people an outlet for their energy is essential – whether that’s sport, art, music or something else.

No one has the answers to solve everything but I think Bonita is right when she says that anxiety and stress are your body’s way of warning you that something isn’t quite right and that you need to make a change somewhere.

Listen to Bonita’s story in my latest podcast episode. It covers everything from the trek to the top of Everest, to tackling bulimia and supporting children through mental health challenges. It’s quite the listen.

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