The age-old saying states that ‘if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’. While this statement faces a lot of criticism – rightfully so – there is some truth to it. The working days do go by quicker if you spend them enjoying yourself. To remind us of this, from today, it’s International Week of Happiness at Work, an event that promotes the idea that employees and professionals should be satisfied, motivated and content at the workplace.
The first step in reaching a job you enjoy is choosing a career path that excites, fulfils and challenges you all at the same time. Perhaps nobody knows this better than veterinary surgeon-turned-Olympic silver medallist cyclist, Neah Evans.
“I was actually into horseriding.”, she tells us, “I really wanted to work with horses, so I decided that becoming a vet is the closest to being able to work with horses and animals. I never thought about a career as an athlete, I just didn’t think that would be an option.”
A familiar sentence that causes a lot of heartache, especially for young people, who don’t see sport as a viable career option. Neah strongly believes that exposure is the key to informing future generations about more diverse jobs around sport. “Youngsters, they don’t realise there are so many sports out there other than football and actually, you can excel at them and you can make a career of doing a sport.”
Neah herself didn’t come to this realisation until her final year at medical school. That is when she started cycling due to an injury that forced her to stop running.
After graduation, while working as a vet, she joined Scottish Cycling to pursue her newfound love of the sport. What she humbly describes and ‘luck’ was hard work, perseverance and courage which eventually led her to the 2018 Commonwealth Games where she earned an incredible bronze and silver.
“I loved being a vet but, like any jobs, there were days when I thought ‘why am I doing this?’. I was very fortunate that my boss was flexible and allowed me to take time off to race and compete. Any opportunities I got to cycle was a privilege.
Later, as I got better, it became apparent that I could go full-time (as a cyclist) and I thought: this is fantastic! Even my boss said: ‘You’d be an idiot not to take this opportunity!’.”
It was a life-changing decision and not one without backlash. People in her life had a hard time understanding why someone who managed to finish vet school and have a promising medical career in front of them would give it all up ‘just to ride a bike’. Neah says she understood why people were surprised at her career change but she knew she has a limited time to fulfil her potential as an athlete, as opposed to a veterinary career which would wait for her.
She was now in an interesting position whereas as a vet, people were shocked at her leaving the field and as an athlete, she was labelled a ‘latecomer’. Already 27, she was the odd one out of the other cyclists who started as teenagers or even children.
“There are a few things that people take for granted that they have learned over the years while I was at university and building a career. But, obviously, I have gone on to be very successful and I am still learning.”
With an Olympic silver, a World Championship silver, four European Championship golds and a Commonwealth Games silver and bronze under her belt, not only did Neah prove that there is more than one route into professional sport but she has also paved the way for anyone who feels like it’s too late.
“It’s fun because I bring something different.” she admits. “When we have meetings and discussions because everyone has approached sport the same way, they all see the same things. But because I have come from a different pathway, I see everything differently, which I think has benefitted me hugely.”
Her message is about following your heart, never giving up and putting the work in. When asked about any advice she has, Neah takes a deep breath: “Don’t let age be a barrier! Just because you haven’t tried it yet, doesn’t mean you can’t do it and be brilliant.
And the other thing is”, she continues, “it doesn’t matter if you’re not the best as long as you enjoy it! It’s you racing you, not you racing other people.”
This might have been the very advice Neah told herself ahead of her Olympic debut in Tokyo this year, where she won the silver medal as part of her team. One of her career highlights – along with her first Individual Pursuit victory last year – the Olympics was not only a personal achievement but a family tradition.
Neah’s mother, Ros was a competitor at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics in cross-country skiing. “This is something that is so special to me and there are very few people who will ever have this experience,” she smiles.
A hugely successful athlete and trained veterinary surgeon, Neah is still doing what she knows will be best for her and leaves no place for doubters who might have disagreed with her leap into sport four years ago. Next week, during the International Week of Happiness at Work, think about what drives you and what you want in life – and maybe, start cycling.