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Martin Knights

From HM Royal Marines To Teaching

This is the story of Martin Knights who went from a career in the Marines to senior leadership in teaching . He shares with us how he knew that this was the right move for him, how he overcame stressful and challenging times and the best piece of advice he received when he decided to switch careers!

What's your career change story?

Sadly, my first career change was an enforced one because of a career ending injury. I really enjoyed my career in the Marines and will forever be in debt for the amazing foundation and life skills they taught and instilled within me: resilience, positivity in the face of challenge and adversity, a determination to never give-up and the importance of your team mates to name a few. I remain a very, very proud ex-Marine. That said, post Marines, I never thought I would end up where I am now.

Initially, I set myself the challenge of working within Advertising and Marketing. My wife worked within this business and I was able to get some great advice on how I might proceed. I wanted to make the very best of my inter-personal skills and this seemed like a great industry where I hoped I could play to my strengths. I established a job-seeking factory within my lounge and contacted numerous companies sharing my experiences and CV with them. I received some lovely feedback but was never offered a job because of my lack of experience. I needed to be bold.


One rejection letter really jumped out as the chairman really took the time to try to be as positive as he could in his rejection of me. I immediately replied and offered my services to him free of charge for 6 months asking that he only give me the experience I was lacking. He called me the moment he received my letter and later that afternoon I was sat in front of him. I landed the job and was paid from day one – sometimes you just need to back-yourself and be bold. I was with him for four years and really enjoyed my time within the company. However, I felt there was more out there for me and I was never really at home sitting at a desk for long hours.

Whilst working within advertising I was concurrently pursing another great love of mine – Rugby. I coached at a very successful club and really enjoyed staying within the game that I could no longer play due to my injury. One night a fellow coach approached me and asked me if I was interested in coaching at the school he worked at. I was immediately interested and a few days later I met the then Headmaster Dr Tony Dachs. Sadly, all he could offer me was part-time work.


This was a tough decision for me, it felt like it was my dream job yet, I could not accept the offer as I had a young family to support. I needed to be bold once again. I took the offer and within 4 months they converted my contract into a full-time role, within 2 years I was the new Head of Rugby, 2 years after that I was appointed the Director of Sport. I enjoyed 14 very successful years at this school and during my time there we became the no.1 rugby playing school in the UK.


I have not looked back since and I am now the Deputy Headmaster of a British International school in Kuala Lumpur.

How did you know that this was the career choice for you?   

Each time I go on a gut feeling – something within tells me it’s the right move for me. I have this feeling again now for coaching. My gut feelings are strong and have never let me down. However, being bold here and there has helped me immensely.

Changing careers can be long and daunting. How did you prepare yourself for this change?

I would be lying if I said that each transition didn’t come with its own unique set of challenges. They were stressful times. I am ok-ish at self-talk and I tried my very best to always keep my focus on the up-side, the outcome and what I wanted or needed to achieve. The resilience and ‘can-do’ attitude instilled within me in the Marines was a key factor here and without a question, kept me moving forwards. When one door shuts another always opens and I truly believe this. Plus, if you want something, truly want something, then who is anybody to deny you this. Be Bold.

What did you struggle with the most while switching?

The big change for me was from the military to civvy-street. Things were done differently, there wasn’t the same level of accountability or team support and in some cases I felt very detached and a million miles away from what I believed to be true. I believe I have strong values, honesty, loyalty, dependability, a work-ethic and I struggled to fit in at first. However, I knew that it was me that needed to climb-down and be more adaptable and flexible and slightly removed from my military instincts. I could still be true to my values, I just needed to be a little less intense.

The second part is education and qualifications. I joined the Marines at 16. I left school as soon as I could, I had a calling from within and that calling to join the Marines was too strong to ignore. I did feel disadvantaged by not having studied A levels or at university. However, I quickly adapted my approach informing people that my degree was in life and that I possessed a very unique set of skills and experiences that they did not.


I am true to this approach today.

Could you name some transferable skills that helped in your career transition? 

Can-do attitude, positivity in the face of every challenge, the ability to move forward no matter what obstacles lie in wait. Most importantly the ability to smile when all is falling apart around you and to be able to step-back and laugh at myself. 


Perspective is a wonderfully empowering tool to use.

One night, when in the Marines, we were marooned on top of a mountain in Scotland, the weather was very bleak indeed, it was freezing and the snow was falling. We had not planned to be out all night however, the very bad weather had dictated that we could not descend the mountain safely so we were forced to take shelter for the night. We were only carrying a survival pack between 2 men and had to share sleeping bags. At one point a good friend of mine (to this day) Tony Green called out – “For we love this, the mind-numbing servility, the complete subjugation of one's personality” we all laughed at Tony and at ourselves - we survived the night.

Could you break down your career transition journey into a few steps that others could maybe follow?                                               

Marines to Marketing Exec. to Teaching to Senior Leadership in Teaching

Know what you want, know what you don’t want, be laser-focused, don’t listen to the nay-sayers and keep moving forward no matter how tough the obstacles are.

I now relate daily to the Pareto Principle and I love how this amazing tool enhances my focus on what I need to do, the critical 20%

What help did you get while transitioning to your current job?     

My wife and family have always given me complete and unconditional love and support and their belief in me has never wavered. I’m also very lucky that I have some amazing friends who have stood by me no matter what and it had been brilliant to pay this devotion back many occasions.

However, the best help is self-help - you make it happen. A good walk and time to talk to myself is key. 

What’s the best piece of advice you received when you decided to switch careers? 

Don’t burn bridges – always keep the door open. And steer clear of energy vampires.

Did you make any lifestyle changes that helped you?

I have recently changed my lifestyle completely, I am now vegan, I train every day. I read more and therefore I discover more.

What are your top tips for anyone who’d like to pursue a career in teaching?

Really drill down and know who you are, what you believe in and what you can offer.

To work within education is a true vocational calling. Bill Gates says it best, "Technology is just a tool". In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.

Thank You Martin!

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your career journey so far! We hope that this career transition story helps people who are feeling stuck and looking for inspiration to make a change. 

Have you made a successful shift into a career you love? Let us know, we'd love to hear from you!


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