Tom Marshall

Alumnus Tom Marshall is founder of Extraordinary Life, a personal development organisation that wants to radically alter our views of education and work while changing people’s lives by helping them to find and nurture their sense of purpose.

Story by Tim Skelton. Photos by Geert de Jong/

Aged just 18, Tom left his UK home to study economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). ‘I was questioning the traditional path people follow,’ he explains. ‘I wanted a more enriching international experience, and realised I could only get that from moving abroad.’

He describes his undergraduate years as a rite of passage. ‘Traditionally, a university gives people the skills to get a job, and to become independent. But education is more than that,’ he says. ‘A university should help people to find their authentic selves. EUR ignited my personal growth. I met people from all over the world, and they broadened my horizons.’

World-changing concepts

After graduation, Tom followed the MSc Management of Innovation at RSM, and says the school’s vision to make a positive change fitted perfectly with his own goals. ‘One lecturer – Dr Murat Tarakci – was more a facilitator of self-development than just a teacher. He only spoke for 30 per cent of the class, and spent the rest of the time sparking discussion. He thought the best way to learn was by debating and challenging each other’s opinions.’

It also helped that Tom’s classmates were as passionate as he was about changing the world. ‘As a result, rather than studying individually in the library, we sat together and helped each other, discussing concepts we had.’

Societal advances

Tom believes everyone has a unique combination of talents, and says seeing that potential go unfulfilled is what motivates him to help people. ‘There are people at all levels from all backgrounds who are very successful by every conventional measure, but they aren’t happy. That frustrates me,’ he says. ‘If everyone used their talents to do something they cared about, it would give them fulfilment and bring about societal advances. Moreover, the world would be a better place.

‘People suffer burnouts,’ he continues, ‘because they spend too long doing things they don’t care about. That wouldn’t happen if people were more engaged. Students often don’t know what they want from life. Unleashing their sense of purpose could have an incredible impact.’

Driving change through purpose

Tom’s master was about driving change within organisations, and he applies the same theory to personal development. ‘After all, an organisation is just a collection of people,’ he points out. ‘To drive change you have to change people and give them purpose. It’s cultural. It’s also what I’d like to teach my future children: to help them believe they can adapt and learn anything they set their minds to.’

In Tom’s definition, purpose is the energy and sense of belonging that comes from doing something you like, and fulfilment is the end result of this. ‘It’s that sense of satisfaction in reaching a balance in your life between career, family and friendships, and the sense that your desires are in line with your reality.’

And to find purpose and fulfilment, Tom says you first need belief. ‘You have to believe you are worthy of living a fulfilled life, and that work can be something that excites you. You also have to set your own definitions of success, and be aware of your talents and what you enjoy.’

Exposing ideas

You also have to reflect on what energises you and what impact you want to make. ‘We get people to visualise themselves living their passion. Subconsciously, they will then see opportunities for making that a reality. I once drew a picture of me speaking in front of a crowd, talking about a subject I was passionate about. Three years later I hosted an event at the Rotterdam Ahoy convention centre in front of 5,000 people.’

Nevertheless, to realise personal goals you also need the right tools, and Tom believes one vital skill is public speaking. ‘A lot of young people have great ideas, but if they can’t express them to convince an audience, their ideas might as well not exist,’ he says.

One billion

Tom has big ambitions for Extraordinary Life. ‘We set out to give people the tools and mindset to achieve success. But my real vision is to evolve the very purpose of work, to make it something that energises people and is something they believe in.’ He thinks the best way to achieve this is not to give sessions and talks, but to collaborate with others to create an international movement.

With that in mind, he would also love to hear from anyone who wants to start a dialogue about how to shape the movement together. ‘I feel fulfilled and excited by the impact we’re having and the path I’m on,’ Tom explains. ‘But I’m always focused on making an impact on more people.’

How many people exactly? ‘I think one billion is the new one million. I’d love to achieve that,’ he says. ‘It won’t be easy, but it’s not unreasonable in today’s world. If “Gangnam Style” can reach one billion views on YouTube, why can’t we achieve something similar?’

More information

This article was first published in the winter 2018 edition of RSM Outlook – RSM’s alumni and corporate relations magazine. You can download RSM Outlook here.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

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