From Athlete to Advocate: Baroness Grey-Thompson’s Career Evolution

In the latest instalment of the Graduate Mentor webinar series, we meet with Baroness Grey-Thompson who explained her career from participating in sports to being a Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords.

Sporting Background

Tanni’s first Paralympics was in Seoul in 1988, where she won a bronze medal in the 400m. Her success continued as her total tally came to 11 gold, 4 silvers and 1 bronze and added to that 5 gold, 4 silver and 3 bronze medals at World Championships. However, success didn’t come straight away for Tanni. It wasn’t until she won her first Gold that she was recognised for her achievements. The world of sport had taught her a lesson that success is measured in medals rather than the effort and dedication it took to get to that level in the first place.

Athletes often plan their retirement from an early age. This is done since it can be taken away from you through sudden injury. Micheal Jordan explains how the best piece of advice he received was to “read wall-street journal”. For Tanni, the best piece of advice for her was from her dad who said, “Education gives you choices”.

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From Sport to Politics

Prior to Tanni’s success in Seoul, she studied Politics at the University of Loughborough. In addition, the world of sport had taught her what she didn’t want to do. This included TV and media appearances. Her passion had always lied in politics and after a strange interview process, she became Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords. She has spoken on a range of issues including Disability Rights, Welfare Reform, and of course, Sports.

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Differences & Similarities

Key differences from the world of sports to politics can be highlighted through the regimented life of an athlete to the flexible approach followed in the House of Lords. An athlete’s week follows a strict routine including training programmes, dietary planning, and sleep schedules, all designed to optimise performance. In contrast, a Lord will follow a much more flexible schedule. In some instances, they may not be told a debate is taking place until the last minute.

Another key difference between the world of sports and politics is illustrated through how success is measured. In the Paralympics, success is measured through the number of medals achieved. In contrast, in the House of Lords, there are some things that can be measured such as “how often we speak, winning or losing votes”. However, ultimately there is no management or KPIs to guide you. It really all comes down to your “own personal view of what you’re doing to change things”.

Transferable Skills

Later in the webinar, we looked at the transferrable skills Tanni had learnt from the world of sport and how she has applied this to her work in politics. A keyword that arose was “Resilience”. Particularly we discussed how she had bounced back from a poor race performance. She highlighted that no matter the result of the race the post-race analysis followed the exact same scrutiny. The key point is that even if you have done something well, still scrutinise and find places where you could have done even better.

The Baroness's Advice

As Tannis’s career switch was pretty drastic we asked for her advice for anyone looking to switch career paths, perhaps even changing what they want to do completely. She stressed how there never is a right or wrong time to make that decision. The important thing is to weigh up your options, perhaps taking job satisfaction over higher pay. It is also important to look at the challenges particularly paying attention to the phrase “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side”. Ultimately, it’s about being brave and realising that “life is too short to stay in a miserable job”.