#1 Stuart Shilson LVO DL (LH 91-93)

In the very first of our 90 Alumni stories for the College's Commemorative Biennium, we interviewed Stuart Shilson about his personal Goodenough College experience. Stuart is a Goodenough College Alumnus, Fellow and Chairman elect; Director and Strategist at a leading management consultancy company and has recently been appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London.

Early years and Goodenough College. 

Stuart decided to study for The Bar in London following the completion of several degrees at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He came to live at Goodenough College in 1991/92 on the recommendation of the head of his college at Oxford.

His mother was born in St Kitts and Nevis. He has always been grateful for this connection, and Goodenough gave him the opportunity to continue to learn about and enjoy different cultures and people. He recalls the extraordinary international postgraduates also training to be barristers and living with him at the College. It was with this small group of friends from exotic parts of the world with whom he would breakfast, wander down to the Inns of Court School of Law (just down the road in Gray’s Inn) and study. “I was by far the least glamorous of them. They were from fascinating (largely Commonwealth) countries and had a much richer experience of the world than I had.”

On what drives and motivates him.

Like many Alumni, the energy of the people at Goodenough inspired and captivated him. He also credits the College for helping give him the confidence later in life to follow his heart and choose to do the things that he found interesting, purposeful and enjoyable. “I’ve walked away from a number of stable and rewarding jobs in my lifetime in order to do other things that I really wanted to do – Goodenough showed me the value in taking those kinds of risks; so many of my friends here had travelled across the world to pursue what they most cared about.”

He describes his personal interest on what makes human beings do what they do and cites Tal Ben-Shahar, who famously created and taught a hugely popular course on Positive Psychology at Harvard University. “Much of the science of happiness that Ben-Shahar articulates revolves around the importance of having a sense of purpose and enjoying the moment”. This has been a personal yardstick at important moments of decision-making in his life: “We all find different things fun and purposeful; I believe it is important to understand enough about yourself to know what is fun for you and what for you feels like a worthwhile use of your time.”

On why he gives his time freely to support the College.

Stuart recognises that people are often at a particularly important stage in their lives when they are at the College, not least because of the ‘Reminiscence Bump’ visible from studies of autobiographic memories: we tend to recall particularly strongly events of early adulthood. And he hopes he can be useful because of his passion for interdisciplinary thinking. He tells us, “I do it because I get great joy from being a part of it and hope I can be of service.”

On what he’d say to people coming to the College today

Stuart’s advice to young people on the threshold of major life and career decisions is to take time to learn about yourself and think about what you want to do. He says, “Two generations ago what you decided to do could easily determine the rest of your life. The world isn’t like that anymore; careers and life paths are much more fluid. I’d like to see young people have the confidence to pursue those things that they think would suit them best, and the courage to change course as they learn about themselves if they discover a better path.”

He also recalls how easy it is at a young age to take for granted being surrounded by an extraordinary pool of talented people. He says, “I hope our current resident Members savour every opportunity to engage with these extraordinary people with whom they are lucky to spend this phase of their lives, and that where they see an opportunity for great long-term friendships they seize it. I’ve kept up with a number of people from my College days who are now close to me and my family; that alone make me hugely grateful.”