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How I Turned My Life Around

Here's a story I keep out of the spotlight from most people. I think a couple of my peers know of it but I generally try to keep the full details hidden as it can come across quite arrogant under the wrong context. But it is the turning point of how I became the person I am today.


Basically all throughout my pre-teen and teen years until 2014, I was a pretty rude, selfish and pessimistic kid (arguably still am haha). This was especially evident in my years of intermediate school and first three years of secondary school.

Giant yellow arrow goes against the grain

As an introvert, I kept my head down and focussed all my attention towards doing well academically. And to be fair, this strategy mostly worked quite well. I didn't have to put much effort into getting good grades, and was even awarded one of the school's top 5 academic performers of our year in 2012.

But I was a right prick.

When it came down to others doing extracurricular activities, I couldn't give a toss. Sport and fitness in general just pained me so I avoided all participation, going so far as to pretend I went road cycling for over a year.

Road bike handles

I didn't care for things like the performing arts either, which some of my friends were into. Nor did I have the remotest interest in school council, environment club, going on the Spirit of Adventure, the junior 'socials', choir, being a student librarian...the list goes on...

Going to an all boys school, this also meant I had literally no interaction with girls for about 3 whole years. In hindsight, this seems bizarre to even think about now.

It was then at the end of 2013 when our school hosted the annual prize-giving, that I watched student after student go on stage to receive awards for various achievements as I sat there in total boredom wondering if I'd get anything. I looked at my feet in annoyance and jealousy, and swore something needed to change.

And so something did. Me.


A friend and I then decided that year, we would put our names forward for everything within the school. I signed up to the Formal (Ball/Prom) Organising Committee, Environmental Club, Combined Colleges Stage Production of High School Musical (yes, really), taking minutes at the Year 12 Leadership Group, judging primary school entries for Science Fair and more.

Alex performing in a theatre production of High School Musical

It was this that led me to try and apply to be a Prefect at the end of the year. After a tense group and individual interview, I was stoked (and lucky enough) to be successful! For some reason, I naïvely applied to be Head Boy - something I didn't even have a remote chance at due to a severe lack of doing literally anything in those first 3 years.

However to go for this, I also had to go for Head of House - a tier beneath Head Boy. By default, I got this role after the other candidate pulled out last minute. You could almost feel the tension and doubt that arose over this from other Prefects and teachers alike. Someone who'd done sweet f*** all and wasn't exactly renowned for being much of a 'people-person' was now leading a whole 25% of the school.

I made it my personal mission to prove them wrong.

Now, it's here I should note our House (called Wairau) was utterly useless. We'd come last in just about every school competition that I could remember since I started school in 2011. And we'd certainly never come first overall in my time there. We were so rubbish in fact, we had to have 2 Prefects from other Houses be 'imported' to represent our House to even out numbers.

When it was clear who I would be leading, I outlined to the other House Prefects that I wanted this history of losses to end in 2015. They agreed and we set out creating a strategy for the year. I wanted to do something that would set the year off with a bang...


We had to host fortnightly assemblies as House Prefects. On the first of these, I was pretty nervous. I knew we had to really make a positive impression to set the groundwork for the year. I performed a LIVE parody rendition of Vanilla Ice's 'Ice Ice Baby' with re-written lyrics to motivate the House and it went down an absolute storm with the students!

5 prefects for the Wairau House at Marlborough Boys' College
The team who helped Wairau come to life

To this day, 4 years later, I've been out on hikes where a student from the college has coincidentally also been out and said 'Hey, aren't you the dude who performed that Ice Ice Baby song?' It's hilarious!

I made sure we made a big push to be out and about and acting as role models to our House. I wanted each Prefect to speak at every fortnightly assembly about all events that were ongoing in the school. I ensured we were fully organised for these by having a meeting with the Dean a couple of days prior so that we were confident on stage.

Furthermore, I wanted to rope the Year 12 students (our inevitable successors) into proceedings more. I involved them with co-running assemblies with us as well as becoming more conversational with younger Year 9-11 students.

Our House subsequently came first or second in Athletics, Cross Country and Swimming Sports throughout the year, plus overall House attendance was higher than I could ever recall.

Finally in October, the Senior Prizegiving 2015 came around. The other four Prefects and I waited in the audience with baited breath as to where our House placed. I thought we'd be able to take it out but I couldn't be 100% certain.

The deputy principal stood up to the podium, unfolded the envelope and said 'And the winner of the M.W. Girling Cup for House with the most points is... Wairau'. YES! I couldn't believe it! This was followed by 'And to collect the award, I'd like to invite Head of Wairau House, Alex Nelson.'

Wairau-branded cap next to the trophy
The M.W. Girling Cup for Winning House with accompanying hat

As I got up from my chair, to my surprise more words started to follow: 'Alex also receives the Pattie Cup for Leadership and Public Service.' My jaw hit the ground. TWO awards?! It was only a couple of years ago when I'd sat in envy at other students who were receiving awards and here I was.

I beamed from ear to ear later that night and endlessly thanked my fellow Prefects who'd helped throughout the year making it all possible. We looked on the trophy, and saw that our House had literally never won the Cup in the school's 116-year history. I couldn't have been prouder by what we'd achieved.

Why Did This 'Change My Life'?

There's a clear reason I see this as the moment my life turned around. It was only when I got involved with activities that I saw a completely different side to myself. Someone who was willing to try new things. Someone who actually get along with people even though it didn't feel easy or natural.

Nowadays, I strongly believe encouraging other people outside of their comfort zone is part of my purpose. Since those high school days, I've continued to try everything and anything to the best of my ability and the number of opportunities that have continued to emerge is staggering.

I still feel that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who don't realise this yet. Some are afraid of change. Some are shy. Some are stuck in routine.

Which is why I consider my mission being to help direct others onto this path. It might not be easy for them nor I, but if the end result can help that person find their 'why', the final goal will be more than worth it.


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