How to rewrite your life

Jaz Ampaw-Farr talks to Beena Nadeem about her life and how she helps others to start again and change the narrative.

Annabelle Beckwith


Read about National Older Workers Week

After a horrific and abusive childhood, Jaz Ampaw-Farr, who is now 50, has become one of the world’s leading keynote speakers and has recently transferred her skills to the virtual world. Jaz draws on her own life experiences to help others make the changes that can achieve a better life and career.

As a child, she went care home to care home, was horrifically abused and later married a vicar a decade older than her. When that marriage ended, she was in the “gutter and homeless”. But she picked herself up and went on to become a teacher, have a loving family, launch an educational consultancy and is now a hugely successful international keynote speaker.

Oh, and she once appeared on the BBC’s Apprentice programme where she volunteered for the first task within nanoseconds, only to be voted out in the first round. She says that now enables her to talk about failure too and that and her life experience make her much in demand.

“I’m brown, female, grew up in foster care and I was abused and working class. I tick a lot of boxes,” she says.

From teaching to talking

For decades Jazz worked as a teacher, leaving when she was 30 to bring up her three children. She decided to become an educational consultant, working from home and went on to do a TEDx talk. “Things just blew up after that,” she says. She was invited to do inspirational talks. One of her first was in California to a bunch of entrepreneurs.

“I got crippling anxiety. I said I couldn’t do it. I had been smashing it. I was the Judi Dench of the education world. I was teaching until 30, and then had babies. I set up my own business as an educational consultant for 15 years, but I bottled it,” she says.

In the end, she promised herself she would do the talk. Just for 60 seconds. Breaking it down enabled her to add more seconds until she realised she could do a longer talk. “From that point, I didn’t go back,” she says. She stopped listening to her inner critic and instead based her view of herself on the comments of those who booked her/wanted to book her and people she trusted. She ended up doing talks all around the world. But when Covid bit, she lost all of her work. “No events meant no talks,” she says.

Rewriting the script

“I thought of doing talks about resilience and agility and about the need to reframe myself,” she says. In the last three months, by shifting her talks online, she has been able to make more money in one month than she would in a year.

“People say about Covid that when we go back to normal, they’ll do something about themselves or their situation, but they don’t realise. We are not going back to ‘normal’,” she says. “This is it. We’re not in a time machine. We have to rewrite things.” This attitude is based on her own life. “I was constantly told ‘you’re not going to finish school, get a degree, be a teacher and so I set those as my things to do,” she states.

The message of her talks is: “If want the truth about you, ask someone you trust. And believe them. Don’t be the person the world told you to be. It becomes a habit.”

For those who are finding making a change in their career or life difficult, Jaz recommends small, positive steps forward. “It’s not about faking it until you make it. It’s about small steps, being a bit brave, a bit kinder. It’s either that or lay down and don’t get up,” she says, adding: “Choose something different for yourself until it becomes habit. Get out of your own way.”

*Join us for the first National Older Workers Week. It runs from 22nd-26th November and will include a series of online events for employers and candidates with leading experts and employers. There will be a panel discussion on the results of our survey of older workers’ experience of Covid and their attitudes towards their working lives, a best practice event on everything from eliminating age bias in the recruitment process to returner programmes and lifelong learning, an event for line managers on managing multigenerational teams and a candidate-focused  event sharing older workers’ experiences with expert advice for those who wish to change their careers. Find out more and register for the free events here.

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