In this regular Sunday feature, we ask people about 10 things that changed their life. This week, Debbie Shields, president of Scottish Women in Business

1. Teaching English in South Korea

The National:

I LEFT school when I was 16 to start work but eight years later I went to Glasgow Caledonian University as a mature student to study for a social sciences degree with a focus on gender. I started when I was 24 and after graduating I went on to do a post-graduate degree in marketing.

Afterwards I wanted to take a year out and live somewhere completely different. I thought it would be good to be paid at the same time so I took a TEFL course with the idea of going to Brazil.

However, on the course I met a girl who was going to South Korea. She asked me if I wanted to go too so I ended up in Ansan, about 45 minutes outside Seoul. The way it happened was all pretty quick but it was great and I now have friends all over the world that I’m still in contact with.

I loved exploring a completely different culture and way of working and living. Sometimes when you go abroad it’s just like being here, except warmer, but South Korea was completely different, and I enjoyed learning about their customs, even if I messed up sometimes.

There was a good group of foreign teachers there too, people from all over the world, and we really bonded. They become your family when you’re living abroad.

2. Going to a gig in London

The National:

WHEN I was 16 and still at school in Glasgow I was allowed to go to London to see Pink Floyd with a friend and her big sister and big brother.

It was quite a big deal to be able to go to London at 16 and it took a lot to convince my mum and dad, especially my mum. It didn’t help that just before the concert, which was at Earl’s Court, one of the seating areas collapsed and around 90 people were injured.

My parents took even more convincing after that, but they let me go and it was one of these proper adult life-changing things that you never forget. It was the first time I’d been away from home. London seemed miles away and it was such a big gig, but we all had a great time and it was totally worth the journey.

3. Joining a board

AT the moment I am on the board of a charity called SAY Women, which has been set up for survivors of childhood sexual abuse at risk of becoming homeless or who are already homeless. The reason I joined was that in my day job as a recruiter I was talking to the chief executive about what they needed on the board and became so impressed with what they do that I decided to join it.

I’ve been on the board for three years now, taking over as chair last year, and we’re all very focused on growing the organisation, making sure it’s future proofed and that the staff and young women are all looked after.

The charity has had to become a little bit more business focused as there is now so much competition for funding. We need to become more self-sufficient.

4. Working in the third sector

BEFORE I went to university I worked in the third sector and the reason I did a post grad in marketing was because I realised the third sector did not have enough people with a business focus.

A lot of small charities are struggling because they don’t have that strategic business overview that any organisation needs to work. That shaped what I’ve done in terms of joining boards and who I work with.

I now work for Aspen People, an executive search firm, so we’re profit-driven, but we’re very value-driven as well, which is why I wanted to work here. Although I’ve now crossed over to the dark side of the private sector, I recruit a lot of the time into the third sector, and my personal experiences can help me understand the issues and challenges.

5. Being an auntie

MY brother has five children aged between three and 16 and it’s super cool being part of their lives.

We’re a very close-knit family and always have been, and it’s been great watching them grow up, especially as they’re such a range of ages. I can play with the wee ones and talk to the older ones and it really changes your perspective. I’m very work focused and it’s nice to be able to switch off from it.

My dad died 13 years ago quite suddenly of a heart attack which was awful, but it’s brought us all even closer together. His death also made me realise you have to grasp every opportunity that life offers because you never know what’s round the corner. That’s maybe why I go at 100 miles an hour most of the time, but I don’t think we should let life pass us by.

6. Travelling

The National:

I’VE been lucky enough to travel a lot, and I don’t mean just going on holiday. I went round Africa for a year and did things like climb Kilimanjaro and sleep out in the Serengeti, and went to all these crazy places that I’d never heard of before, like Pirate Island which is just off Mozambique.

I’ve travelled a lot in East Asia and I started travelling when I was a student. Since then I’ve given up good jobs to go travelling because I think it’s good to get out of everything you know for a while and go somewhere very different. Work is very important to me, but I’ve never worried about moving on to something else.

I think everyone needs to take a bit of time to travel, but while a lot of people talk about it, they don’t always do it and then they regret it later on. It’s good to experience all the world has to offer and experiences away from home change you and open your mind up to other ideas. It’s really good fun as well, and there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of fun in your life.

7. Having strong female leaders

BEING exposed to strong female leaders very early in my career has shaped my mindset.

I’m very lucky to have had these influences from when I started out. I worked with some women who were ambitious, driven and focussed on their careers, and watching how they worked and progressed was really inspirational as an early 20-something.

I still think back to those times to help me and how I work now ... hopefully I can pass on some of what I learned to the next generation of women I work with.

This has undoubtedly led to my involvement in Scottish Women in Business, and I’m honoured to be president. Equality and diversity are really important to me. I’m not convinced in the 50/50 by 2020 agenda. Yes, it somewhat addresses the gender split of a board, but I think also changes the focus of true diversity on a board. Diversity means making sure people are coming from different backgrounds and is about diversity of thought, not just about men and women.

In any case, we’re almost at 2020 and we’re nowhere near having the equality that I thought we would have by now, so it’s important that it doesn’t fall off the agenda and we strive for equality across all areas.

8. The West Highland Way

The National:

A FRIEND and I walked it a couple of years ago and raised some money for charity.

It was something we had always wanted to do but hadn’t got around to it, so one day I just went out and booked all the accommodation for it.

It was great. You forget how nice Scotland is and being out in the hills gives you time away from your home and your job as well as exercise and fresh air.

Unfortunately, we followed someone else’s plan ... which would have been fine, except they walked it in June when there was more daylight and we went in October, so a couple of times we were stumbling about on the hills in the dark as we tried to get to the next place.

It wasn’t fun, but we can laugh about it now.

Altogether it was a great experience and I’ve continued to go hillwalking.

9. Wimbledon

The National:

I LIVED in London for a couple of years and was able to go to Wimbledon which was always a big dream of mine.

I’m a bit obsessed by it and when I was younger my dad and I used to watch the whole Wimbledon fortnight.

I was off school on the summer holidays and he used to take the time off work and we’d sit and watch everything. I was obsessed by Boris Becker and my dad would talk about McEnroe and all the old tennis players.

When I actually got there I was very excited, and I saw Serena Williams, although she got beaten at that match. I wasn’t at Wimbledon when Andy Murray won but I was still in London and watched it in the pub, which was quite funny as there was quite a bit of debate about whether he was Scottish or British.

They decided he was British when he won, but it was all good fun.

10. Mentoring

I USED to work for the Scottish Mentoring Network and Glasgow Mentoring, and I think mentoring is really important for everyone at every stage of their career. No-one ever knows everything.

Working with these organisations I became aware of the impact of mentoring and how it can really change people’s careers and lives. There are different ways it can be done and the Scottish Mentoring Network and Glasgow Mentoring are very good at it.

People are not always good at asking for help and sometimes it’s not easy to ask why you’re not progressing to where you want to be. The kind of formal/informal approach of mentoring can help with this and I’ve benefited from it a lot.

I have someone mentoring me just now and it’s been really useful in terms of my personal development as well as my business life. A mentor isn’t there to do it for you, but is there as a guide. The mentor also gets a good experience and learning from it, I think.