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Inspiring Life Lessons We Learnt From Dream Big Malta

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Last week EC hosted its first Dream Big Malta, a morning dedicated to visionaries in various fields sharing their past experiences, their present situations, and—perhaps most importantly—their advice to the crowd, that consisted of dreamers aged 16-30.

Among the speakers were the tenor Joseph Calleja, Ollie Mangion – a paralympic athlete, and Andrew Mangion, EC’s executive chairman. Each and every person who took the podium had an amazing story to tell, and while everyone admitted that there is no hard and fast secret formula to ‘making it’, they shared some of the most inspirational life lessons that they had to learn on their long way to the top:

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Thursday’s speakers (left to right): Andrew Mangion, Ollie Mangion, Joseph Busuttil, Vannessa Macdonald, Nathan Farrugia, Suzanne Sharp, Francis Sultana and Douglas Barbaro Sant.

1. Inspiration is closer than you think

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At certain points throughout the day the moderator Vannesa led a panel discussion where the audience could ask each speaker questions about their journey to success.

The first speaker to share his story was Douglas Barbaro Sant, who has (amongst many other things) scaled a handful of mountains around the world, including what he called “a little walk up a big hill” – better known as Everest. 

All throughout, he talked about his family being his biggest source of inspiration. Later on, when the other speakers were asked questions relating to who their mentors were, the answers all pointed to one simple fact: the simple but sometime overlooked step of recognising who your mentors are and allowing yourself to take their advice is crucial before embarking on any voyage.

2. There is no limit to adventure

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Douglas Barbaro Sant, managing partner of M.I Malta was the first speaker of the day. 

Never think that you’re too old, or past something you’ve wanted for a long time. We had people in speak to us who were over 40 years old when they climbed Mount Everest, who were nearly broke and took insane financial risks, even when it seemed like a ridiculous dream – and they’ve all come out of it better and stronger men and women. 

And speaking of adventure and goals – don’t be afraid when you realize that your goals today might not be as relevant tomorrow. Success is not the final goal itself, and it is something that is sure to evolve with you.

3. Having obstacles should only push you further

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Douglas told us about his journey up Mt. Everest. 

Alfred Pisani, whose brainchild is the Corinthia Group, started his story as a humble villa with a garden in Attard. One thing Mr. Pisani has learnt along the way, is that it’s the failures that help you to learn from your mistakes. In his own words, “it is almost impossible to have a big dream without experiencing a nightmare along the way.”

The biggest investment for Corinthia came during the economic crisis, which lead to the banks retracting their $100+ million loan in the last minute. Yes, you read that correct. 100. Plus. Million. Through perseverance right when it mattered the most, that hotel project is now Corinthia London, one of the group’s international flagships.

“Douglas Barbaro Sant, a man who climbed Mt. Everest, was afraid of heights!”

Douglas Barbaro Sant’s story also aligns with this philosophy. Douglas has climbed Mount Everest – but is actually afraid of heights! 

Nathan Farrugia, who was diagnosed as having asthma at age 4 and tore his knee cruciate twice, is now the person who sets records on an annual basis, from running 27 marathons in 27 countries in 27 days to completing a world-first triathlon in 2014 that had him running, swimming and cycling across 666km non-stop from Corsica to Sardinia – the equivalent to three Ironman challenges!

Suzanne Sharp was planning to move to America with her husband and kick off their business against all odds in the fall of 2001 – when the whole 9/11 tragedy happened. They persevered and found the courage to take the plunge, and it paid off big time. Suzanne is nowadays internationally celebrated as a mastermind and pioneer of rug design.

TL;DR: if you don’t push yourself—especially in the toughest of times—you’ll never know your limit. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take risks!.

4. A huge leap forward is really a process of small, manageable steps

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Andrew Mangion, executive chairman of EC, gave advice on remaining patient and taking calculated risks when it comes to achieving your goals. 

Despite all the encouragement to keep pushing through, don’t be afraid to take it step by step. Don’t rush forward – do your homework, and don’t let emotions get the better of you.

5. There is no strict formula to success, but it’s vital to unlock your fullest potential

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Nathan Farrugia, CEO and founder of Ultimate Performance, and Suzanne Sharp, Co-founder of The Rug Company, speaking on the panel. 

Everyone has potential, you just have to be yourself, focus on it, and realize that it’s not about building up potential, but about unlocking it.

6. Do not worry about money. If you are passionate enough about what you do, people will take notice and want to fund it.

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Alfred Pisani, chairman and CEO of Corinthia Group, told the audience how he built his hotel chain into the success it is today. 

People kept asking them where they got the capital from, and the answers were always very simple – the idea itself can be strong enough to overcome these obstacles. As Andrew Mangion said in his concluding speech, there is more money floating around waiting to be invested in great ideas now than ever before. The key is to do things differently to everybody else and back it up with enough passion to achieve anything.

7. As long as you are not hurting other people it doesn’t matter if some people hate what you do – other people will love it 

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Alfred speaking to two of the EC internship applicants. 

Be yourself, and if that self is good and kind, then you’ve got nothing to worry about. Always try to be a better person, keep those around you positive and stay positive yourself. 

Remember that everything you do is important, so be self-aware and control your reactions to those around you. “Ask yourself: have I added positivity today…or have I done the opposite?” 

8. Work harder than everyone else – it will pay off in the long run

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Vanessa leading a panel discussion Joseph Busuttil, managing director of Foster Clark Products Limited.

Never stop. If you meet a wall, it’s time to jump that wall and continue working harder. 

Take pride in what you do, and remember that even the smallest things are important. This is something that Suzanne Sharp attributes as being instrumental in her success, and it was also later echoed by Alfred Pisani. Back in the 60s, Pisani used to be involved in the building process of his first hotel in the day and running a restaurant at night.

9. Ask and you shall receive – “We’re all just people”


A group of young entrepreneurs spoke about their new app kwaver and told us about their time spent in America working with Google. 

Don’t be intimidated by the big names in the business. Ask for help and introductions and you’ll get them. Maltese startup Kwaver was started by three young men who dared to ask Google for help – and eventually got the funding their project needed. 

Accept help when it’s offered – no one needs to walk this path alone, and at the end of the day we are all just people.

10. Stay humble. Have compassion and stick to your principles

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Andrew congratulating the successful applicant chosen for the EC internship programme. 

The H-word was mentioned quite a lot during the day, and everyone expressed how essential they think it is. “You have to fight, but fight fair.” If you respect others, respect will be echoed back. Remember that everyone is important, and if you put people first they will want to help and support you. 

11. Being from a small island is an advantage – use it!

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Francis Sultana, founder of Francis Sultana Design Studio spoke about Gozo and Malta as a unique part of his identity which helped shape him into the accomplished designer he is today. 

Each and every speaker has had a different adventure on their road to success, but funnily enough, they all used Malta as one of key weapons in their arsenal. A barrier is only one if you let it be. You can learn from other cultures. 

Internationals don’t really know much about Malta so they are always interested. We have no natural resources on the island so the people and our intelligence are our largest and best resource. As Francis Sultana (who’s from tiny Nadur, Gozo) said, don’t ever forget where you come from. 

12. Drive, ambition, and willpower are not attributes you are born with. You have to learn to train yourself

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Douglas speaking with one of the EC internship applicants. 

Douglas taught himself to push himself further. Nathan did not let others tell him he could not do stuff because of his asthma. Ollie has had so many different surgeries that have impeded him from practising the multitude of sports he had through the years taken up. And yet none of them gave up. Everything that’s worth having comes at a price.

13. Don’t give up, be ready to adapt 

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Ollie Mangion, Paralympic Athlete, told us how by remaining positive and with the support of his family and coach, he was able to overcome any obstacles. 

Ollie Mangion was set to begin his training in London ahead of the Paralympics when a series of necessary operations meant giving up on his dream. But instead of letting it beat him, he adapted and tried lots of different sports and put his all into all of them. Now, Ollie is part of the wheelchair rugby squad for Great Britain.

14. The biggest failure is not trying. 

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Joseph Calleja, Tenor, told of the hard work and self belief that he needed to achieve his dreams. 

There is no worse feeling than going to sleep and thinking “What if?”… so don’t be afraid to dream big.

Photos by Michael Calleja

Which is your favourite bit of advice? Let us know in the comments on Facebook! 

READ NEXT: In Need of Motivation? Here’s 5 Maltese #GirlsThatLift

Sarcastically ironic, Dave is a recovering hipster musician with a penchant for chicken, women's clothes and Kanye.

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