Laura Mai Gainor
Behavioural Design Consultant
How it all began - Being average, divorce and house fires
I've always wanted to be something, I think it's only child syndrome. My parents always told me I was meant to succeed, and I guess I've always felt like falling anything short of that would disappoint them and myself. Tell me, do you ever feel like that? As much as I try not to let other people affect my self-worth, I think my parents being disappointed in me will always be something I avoid. Mostly because they'd be sad, and being sad and American is a dangerous combination- they would probably sue me for emotional distress and I can't afford that!
Anyways, let's get to the story. I grew up in Amherst, New Hampshire which is a small town of ten thousand people on the East Coast of the United States. Whenever anyone in London asks me I just say I grew up in Boston, it's close enough. When I was younger and my parents were still together, life was good. I did dance, fencing and played the piano from the age of five. I also always loved learning. I went to day care and I remember reading books and wanting to get through the rainbow levels in math. I was too young to go into Kindergarden so I repeated it for a year. I think that was a good decision on my parent's part, I got smarter and by the time I got to first grade I was reading chapter books and throughout school I was always in the advanced classes. Being at the top part of my class gave me confidence growing up. Now that I'm older I wonder if it's the best idea to separate kids like that, it did a lot of good for my confidence, but I wonder if it did just as much damage to someone else's. There's a chapter in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers that shows top athletes are generally born right after cut-off times, I bet you the same is said for top students. Oh god- now I'm sat here wondering if everything I've done in my life is purely because I was born in November. What do you think? Guess we'll never know for sure.
Like I said, going through school I was always in the higher level classes, but I coasted a lot. I half-assed my homework and when something scared me I would self-sabotage it so I can say I failed because I didn't do that much. When I was younger I was afraid of true failure, which to me is trying your hardest for something you want and not getting it. It embarrassed me and it held me back. To be honest, in school even though I was smart I never achieved much. I was average. I got average ACT and SAT scores because I barely studied, I didn't get into St. Paul's (a private high school in New Hampshire) because I didn't do my application well, I didn't make the varsity field hockey until senior year (everyone makes the varsity field hockey team senior year) and overall I just didn't work hard enough towards things I really wanted at that age. I didn't have long-term goals or any goals at all really.
I was an emotional wreck in high school. Why? In summary, I had a house fire when I was sixteen, a problem with disordered eating and I also wasn't speaking to a close family member at the time (to protect their privacy I've left out who). I slept on an air mattress for a few months at my mom's boyfriend's house about an hour away from school. Everyday I felt it sink closer and closer to the ground. I still can't sleep on air mattresses to this day. These things weren't fun for me, but I lost the receipt and couldn't return them. I did things I'm not proud of during this time, and it took a long time for me to forgive myself for them, but I learned perspective for how people behave in difficult circumstances and from that I became a much less judgemental person. I may not have been able to return my circumstances, but I exchanged them for wisdom and resilience - and for that I am so grateful.
There were some things I did succeed at. I made some of the best friends I could ask for, I did well enough to get into the University of Surrey, and I took four AP classes and an honours course my senior year. I got B's in most of them but it was hard and I think it's the first time in school I actually challenged myself. I think I even got my first C in AP Bio, but I was going through a lot at the time and I'm proud of how I did. Part of that was because I had a great support system in my school, especially in my tennis coach, Rick Katzenberg, and my teachers (Sue, Anne, Ane, Terry, Gavin- I'm looking at you!!!). At the time I didn't realise how much I needed them, sure I was thankful, but it wasn't until much later that I became eternally grateful for having people outside my family and friends who cared about me during that time because they were able to balance a firm hand with a helping one.
I learned a lot about hard work and time management during the second half of high school, and a lot about myself, when I did the work to sort through the trauma. Like I said before, I am so grateful for that time because it prepared me for what was to come and I ended up where I was meant to be- at Surrey.
My second year at Surrey - the kick in the ass I needed
"How did you end up at the University of Surrey" is probably one of the questions I'm asked the most. The answer is that my mom's long-term boyfriend at the time went there and senior year he showed me around. I liked it enough and it was half the tuition per year and I got to do a three year degree instead of a four year degree. I still remember my first day coming to the UK. I fell in front of a bus full of people getting to my dorm and I had a conversation with someone where they said "Wow! Your english is so good!" I'm glad my english was good enough for them, because unfortunately I don't have another language (besides horrible French) that I could've spoken to them in.
While I was at Surrey, I studied business management. I kind of coasted again for the first year and a half, but I had a friend in second year who showed me what hard work looked like. I think it got to a point a few weeks before my finals in second year where I realised I wasn't going to get a first unless I studied crazy hard for two-weeks straight. I wasn't prepared. At all. I also wasn't paying my own tuition and the guilt I would feel if I did poorly ate at me, so I studied incredibly hard and finished the semester with a 69.5 which barely rounded up to a first. I hated the fact that I'd let that happen and I vowed to not let it happen again, so from then I got my shit together.
I became a regular at the library. I changed my identity here. I stopped clubbing and started being more consistent at the gym. Second semester I got a first and I felt like I truly earned it. The next year I went on placement as a Marketing/ Accounting assistant at a small firm in East London. It was a 9-5:30 job through and through and I learned a lot about accounting, but I didn't know enough about marketing yet to make a real impact. It was a good experience though because afterwards I came out with a lot of knowledge on how businesses work from a numbers and admin point of view, and my boss Pantelis showed me how to manage demons (my Outlook inbox), which still serves me today.
The pandemic - where I found my passion
It was during my placement year the pandemic hit. I loved the pandemic in a weird way. I needed it to find myself. I started writing poetry, which has become one of my greatest passions in life, doing crafts and then I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell during the Black Lives Matter movement and it changed my life.
It sounds ignorant now to say I'd never thought about diversity and opportunity before, but I think the whole point of the Black Lives Matter movement was to raise awareness to the fact most people didn't. When I realised I felt the need to act, I didn't do everything perfectly, some patience and listening on my part would have been nice, but that came with time.
What's important is that I acted. I wrote articles and read more books and reached out to everyone I could. I really started to care. I'd always cared about people I love, and myself but before this I didn't give time to a world that has given so much to me. I'm privileged, more than some, less than others, but I am. This time in my life made me want to use it for something more than serving myself.
If I could boil what I think my purpose into a sentence, I think it would be- wait give me a second. I think it would be:
To work and learn for myself and others with respect, trust and courage.
Nothing revolutionary, but it fits. I'll let you know when I think of something better. I stole the last part from my high school slogan. What can I say? It stuck with me.
My final semester at Surrey - starting an app that turned into a sexual harassment campaign
I did well my first semester back, but I remember the first paper I sat at midterms in International Business Management I got a super low grade. I didn't understand and I cried. I was like, how did this happen? I'd prepared what I thought was what they wanted, but I immediately emailed my lecturer to figure out where I went wrong, and by the end of the term aced the final. This was the semester I also took my first Human Resources class, I did okay on the final paper. I didn't focus enough and probably could've done better but I enjoyed reading about the subject so much that I learned too much and ended up word vomiting for 2700 words straight, but by second semester I had it down and I found myself starting to take risks. I also spent all of this semester upskilling myself in Canva, Powerpoint and web site design. When I came back to Surrey mid-pandemic in my third year of study I spent the first semester relearning how to learn academically.
I was taking an entrepreneurship class at the time, and I had an app idea called The Guard which was a response to the murder of Sarah Everard and movement towards safety for women that came with it. The original idea for the app was to have a fast SOS alarm and bracelets to alert bar staff to when someone felt in danger on a night out. There were a lot of logistical issues, and the app didn't work out, but I started an Instagram page and built a website before we had an app to crate a community to launch to, and what it turned into still amazes me to this day. I created a blog, podcast and posted every day on that Instagram three times a day. It was a labour of love. The community was supportive and loving and the Instagram page, which was full of content surrounding news on sexual harassment, mental health and feel good content, was making an impact, averaging 30k views a month when I was able to keep up with it. I learned so much in this time working with people from all walks of life, national charities behind the scenes and it felt good to be doing something good. I wish I still had time to do more of this today, I got into a PhD programme at Surrey around how we can use major events to empower people to act against sexual harassment, but I didn't get the salaried funding I was up for and couldn't afford to do it. That was tough for me, one day I hope to come back to making an impact in this space, it's always in my mind.
My time at Blackbridge - How I started doing work with Amazon, Clifford Chance and Vodafone and became a trustee of Voice ESEA
There are so many people I met around this time who changed my life. In my third year of University was meeting my lovely mentor Richella Homer. In the middle of third year, I was having trouble getting a job and went on Surrey Connects to find out where I was going wrong.
We were originally supposed to meet for three coffees, but now she's like my UK mom. She's given me so much support and love since we've met and she helped me get my first job at Blackbridge Communications, by putting out a post on Linkedin. I moved on from Blackbridge, but I've gotten to do some amazing work for clients like Amazon, Rolls-Royce and Lloyds Banking Group, and all before I turned 23.
I started as an intern, but after I made up my mind about not going for the PhD, was made a Business Analyst. I love the people I work with. They're kind, funny and challenged me.
They also put me on working with The Sustainable Recruitment Alliance, which was founded by Blackbridge and Laura Yaetes. This sparked my interest in sustainability. I felt valued there, they gave me real work, they treated me like I was worth being in the room.
The other woman I met was Yinsey Wang. She's another person who does so much for me, and for everyone around her. I'm going to add another few sentences because as amazing as she is, she's too humble. She even put herself at the bottom of the Voice ESEA, which is an organisation focused on reducing East and South East asian violence, website (She is the founder of the entire organisation...)! I've learned so much from Yinsey about being an advocate for the East and South East Asian communities. She's detail oriented, and always thinking about every perspective possible in a way that's not condescending- but encouraging. I reached out to Yinsey on Linkedin to get involved in Voice ESEA, since joining our team has created impactful Instagram posts, worked with the police on a ESEA violence heat map and recently we've worked with The University of Surrey with events courses with the outcome of two groups of students putting on amazing events full of learning and culture.
DesireCode - Where I am now
How I got my job at yoga
My friend Leila and I at one of the student events
I met Denise a year ago tomorrow (I'm writing this 2nd October). We met in a yoga class where the instructor David told everyone to talk before the class.
After we got a coffee. Something between us clicked, we're very similar people in what we love and who we are. We kept on going to yoga and meeting up, when one day Denise told me she wanted to hire me for DesireCode.
It took a while as I finished things up at Blackbridge, but it made the day when the project we were waiting on was green-lit, that much better.
We got dinner at Sticks n' Sushi, I put in my notice and now I've started a new chapter in my life as a behavioural psychology consultant.
I can't wait to see where it takes me.
Where I want to be - On a beach?
Honestly? Not really for more than a few weeks a year. I think I was meant for a life around communities and people I love.
I think that's why my work is so good. I love it. I don't always like it, but I love it.
I'm really happy with my life and I have a lot of things I want to do, and every time I complete a goal I find another thing I want to improve on.
You can read more about my long-term goals here. I have big goals, and I live every day like I could make them happen because I can.