28 Feb Career Advice To My Younger Self
What I Wish I Had Known Earlier In My Career
Part of a course I am doing at the moment requires me to think about my early years at work. When I look back at them I have to admit they were a bit of a mess and I can’t help but cringe. Having spent years of my teens reading the US version of Cosmo, I had a vision of journalism that was a lot more glamorous than the reality. The reality sucked. From the very first day, when I turned up spick and span in my scratchy nylon suit (it was a while ago remember!), I hated it. Everyone just felt older, even if there were only a few years between us. They were driven totally by getting the work done so they could get out of there and back home. After three years of political discussions and debate, fooling around and dreaming about what life would be like on the other side of Uni, I wasn’t yet ready for the truth.
I quit and went travelling with my boyfriend. Hitting Australia right in a recession meant that there weren’t a lot of jobs to choose from, and I ended up taking the usual sort of hard working students jobs: bar work, waitressing etc. It was these that helped me to grow up and realise that work is work. You work at it and get paid. For most people it’s not a place where you change the world and, for the majority, definitely not glamorous.
When I came back, I did get my longed for glamour, however, by landing a PR job in the music industry and here I am now, what could be conceived as a logical conclusion. But for a long time I still retained some shame that my younger self didn’t buckle down and work at her first job. Looking back, I had landed something quite prestigious with a glowing career path should I have made the effort. Today, working on this MSc which looks at career theories, personality and job matching, I now understand why it didn’t work for me, and why where I eventually went was a much better path. Have I made mistakes since? Oh my. Many of them, but I can now look back at my younger self with compassion and see what I didn’t know I didn’t know at the time. Would I do it all again? Of course. It’s got me where I am now. That said, there are a few things I wish I could have told my younger self to make the whole journey that much easier: such as if something’s not working, bring it up from the very beginning rather than leave it until things get worse. Trust your instinct, especially if it is saying run a mile. Finally, don’t do any job or take on any client, just for the money. You need to like them and their values, or have an interest in their vision and what they do. It will make the whole working relationship so much easier.
I found the exercise so revealing that I asked a selection of friends and colleagues to reveal their own advice to a younger self, and I will be adding them over the coming week.
Knowing what I know now about careers. I would tell my:
10 year old self to stand up and speak out when you know the answer in class even when your teachers suggest that you may make yourself unpopular by “being too clever”. Stand up in your own power and learn that confidence and sharing what you know is a wonderful thing.
14-year-old self to study languages you love even if your school pushes you to study Latin because you’re clever, its elitist and you can. No matter how interesting Latin is, no one speaks it and communication is where its at- learn Spanish, Mandarin or Arabic and just get really good at that.
18-year-old self to apply for a degree that you will love to engage in and study rather than the degree that everyone thinks you should do. There are enough lawyers in the world. Study what you love. Get really competent at doing what you love. You will and its all about enabling people and organisations to be successful. Just focus on that.
22-year-old self that finding a great boss and wise mentor was one of the best career moves you ever made. Don Mobbs was a quiet legend who helped you consider your first career in HR as a journey to love.
30 year old self to relax! Career building doesn’t mean you have to work like a demonic chicken. If you’d learned to slow down your thinking in your 30s you would have arrived at the same place, just quicker.
37-year-old self- learning to mix play and work is so underrated. Taking a year out to study, meet new people and travel was one of the best career and life enhancing decisions you ever made.
47-year-old self that one of life’s challenges is to live an authentic life. Doing what you love and being what you teach is more important for your wellbeing than anything else.
52 year old self that when you were 15 and told your careers teacher that you wanted to be a writer and work with people not a lawyer or a teacher and she said. “You’re too clever for silly dreams like that” remember that sometimes you just have to trust your gut then run down that dark tunnel and turn the light on for yourself. When we’re managing our careers, Confidence Competence and Focus are where it’s at.
Marie Taylor www.marietaylorconsulting.com
Susan Heaton Wright
I have made every mistake in the book, from trusting people, undervaluing my input, failing to ask for help – or even ASKING for that opportunity, being intimidated by other people, or the fact they are the ‘son of xxx’ so they are more important and valuable than you, feeling that I’m not from “A Good Family” – (what’s a good family?). Not realizing that there are some BAD employers and bosses out there. Not realising that it is okay to quit an unacceptable work situation: that you aren’t a failure and that you aren’t going to change the situation or the attitude of those in charge. Not having the courage to say ‘This job isn’t for me; it’s not a good fit NOT that I am hopeless’!
Reading through this list horrifies me, and possibly makes me look very weak and ineffective. But they are extreme situations I have experienced in my very varied career path, and no doubt others will have faced similar challenges. We are taught to be good, to work hard and be rewarded for what we do. But the reality is that we have to value ourselves and if we don’t like a situation we are in, to assess it, challenge and if necessary leave. I would also say that advice I was given as a young woman was very limiting: related to the “You can’t do that”, “Women can’t do that” and even derogatory remarks about my education.
I realize now that these remarks weren’t about me, but about THE PERSON SPEAKING THEM. Perhaps they were envious of me at the start of my career, my potential; perhaps they were embarrassed or felt a fraud by their lack of qualifications. My mistake wasn’t to stand up for myself and question those remarks.
I would also say to the younger me, that sometimes colleagues have their own agendas. It might be they are protecting themselves because they too are experiencing difficult situations, or they might be rivals. Of course you are part of a team, but be wary who you confide in; be careful who you trust and possibly seek someone from outside your department to have as a mentor.
Learn to value yourself; your achievements; what you bring to any job and business. Make sure others knowwhat you have done and take the credit for good work. Stand up for yourself and question ridiculous comments that you will inevitably have made about you (yes, I should have challenged the remarks about my lack of education!) Get good advice early on in your career and have supporters who encourage your courage. Don’t be afraid, and if you are afraid, recognize that being outside your comfort zone will result in you growing as a person. And whilst I say, speak up, remember to listen too.
I would tell my younger self, when it comes to business don’t assume people who are older than you or look richer than you actually know any more than you! Judge by the results not by the talk!
I would take more time to build relationships with other businesses and not let myself get totally absorbed into family life after work – networks are so important, and I’d take time off even though as the owner I don’t get paid – since time with my loved ones is irreplaceable. The work is always there.
My career as an astrologer and timing consultant has taken many twists and turns over 37 years. Would I have done things differently? In the main, probably not.
I wanted to be self employed initially, and , after an acting background and office work, and having studied astrology for several years, tearing my hair out with the mathematics (pre computer days!) I found my chosen career grew organically as I have always had great natural curiosity and an understanding of how people tick. I would say to my younger self, however, “Write that book! ” Although I have had thousands of clients and been a speaker and writer, I am not a household name and writing a book would have given me more kudos and opportunities to give more well paid talks etc and been in media which I know I have a natural bent for. Also more financial security.
Jess Baker CPsychol AFBPsS
Since age 14 I’ve wanted to be a psychologist: I’ve always been curious about what makes us tick and fascinated by the power of shifting your mindset. At 19 I took a ‘gap year’ that turned into a two-year travelling-working extravaganza. I was hard to come home, but at 21 yrs old, I was ready to focus on a BSc in Psychology. I had always wanted to work with children but fell into a job with older adults with dementia. I loved what I did but after three years I became frustrated that I could see ways to improve the service but couldn’t implement them. I realised that I needed to work in an environment where I could still help people, but where I could potentially influence decisions at department and organisational level. I decided to pivot and go for my back-up career option of Business Psychology.
Within three weeks of deciding to pursue a funded MSc in Business Psychology (I couldn’t afford £9K on my meagre NHS wage) I was, completely unexpectedly, offered a funded MSc and a job in the University Business Psychology research department (ironically working alongside the NHS to make service improvements!).
11 years on and I’m now a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. I work with some of the world’s largest organisations, coach senior executives, and make time to volunteer with SmartWorks, helping unemployed women successfully pass job interviews. Two years ago I set up a skincare business (based on the idea to be the first 100% natural make-your-own skincare range on the market) that promotes self-care, self-compassion and wellbeing.
Advice to my younger self? To keep challenging the status quo, seeking new opportunities, and not being afraid to try new things. If you can’t change the situation, change how you respond to it. I would also tell her to tune into and always trust her instinct – if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. In addition, I’d encourage her to be true to herself – if you know what you want, have the courage to go after it.
After all, it’s what you make of it…
I’m a photographic stylist and love my job. ‘Back in the days’ no one knew what a stylist was and it was my dear Granny, working in the wacky world of media, who suggested I shadow a young friend of hers. I did, loved it and decided to carve out a career for myself. I knocked on a few magazine doors and my break came when a wonderful editor at Woman magazine let me join her on an interior shoot in a studio and let me loose on the set. She saw potential and gave me my first job working on a feature with a new photographer. Paul, the photographer, and I got on like a house on fire. He introduced me to his other newbie photographer friends and they used me as their stylist. I ended up working on advertising shoots with them and built up my contacts in the magazine world.
In 2001, I headlined the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank with Tim Rose. It was a packed house and we played two encores. That night backstage, someone from the BBC asked Tim to play the Later with Jools Holland show later that week. Tim asked me to play the show with him and I told him I had just booked a holiday in the Far East. I was confident at the time there would be plenty of other chances to play Jools, so I wasn’t that bothered about missing that bit of telly work. Shortly after that I completed a successful Irish tour with Tim and that was the last time I ever played with him. On his return from Ireland, Tim Rose died in hospital after a routine procedure. RiP Tim.
I believe that everything happens for a reason and learning from life’s experiences is extremely valuable but I would have two pieces of advice for my younger self. Firstly, feedback can be helpful but you don’t have to take note of everything that you receive! My confidence was knocked early on by really unhelpful advice, e.g. promoted to HR manager at 19 and then told for two years – by the person who had nominated me for it – that I was too young for the job!
Marcella Di Mare
I was a tenacious young female art director surrounded by men. It was rare to have females in the creative department and this was in the 1980’s. I had to nag my creative director for the juicy account briefs, which eventually worked. I finally got my break when one of the men folk called in sick! The brief was to work on British Airways for the South America market. I cracked the brief and was given more BA work, which led to me being transferred to London. In the end I worked on BA for seven years. I didn’t want to be type casted as a creative who only knows how to do airline creative. I followed my client to their new agency, which was a massive mistake. Sometimes loyalty can bite you in the bum. I should have listened to my instincts rather than simply pleasing a client.
I eventually went freelance and secured some very good partnerships with London ad agencies. Ironically, I ended up working on the Lufthansa account for several years. Sometimes you can never escape!
There were some very uncertain times but that is the nature of advertising. I believe all paths would have led me to leave advertising in the end, as it is a young persons game. Regardless of the mistakes I have made along the way. I don’t feel any less creative in my new path bookbinding; I simply use my hands to make everything.
Karen de Villiers
Hindsight can be an expensive lesson in life. Now, at fifty odd years, I should have built a financially rewarding career. Growing up in a home where the father was the breadwinner and mum took care of the family, I ended up doing same thing. For which I have no regrets, but in hindsight, being both amum and an important part of the business community, I would not be starting all over again.
Life meant a series of ‘jobs’ – littered between supporting my husband’s business and picking up the children. And I was good at it. Plenty of rewarding jobs, huge accumulation of experience, but no career per say.Back then, any form of my extra income was to spend on holidays, on decorating and the garden. Lack of advice, or needs must, meant a charmed life: Someone else taking care of me, and being financially reliant on someone else.
Today is different. Women can have both; a career and a family. Educators and parents should encourage this, partners and children should accept and embrace this and yes, it’s difficult but balance will bring rewards. Can I call it a mistake, not to have built a career? Mistakes are knowing the options and making the wrong choices, so no, I made no mistakes. But I will begin now, to build a viable career, which is still possible, and advise all young women of the following:
Get a degree, not just to broaden your knowledge, but prepare you for a challenging and rewarding financial future. Always follow the rule – from future to present – creating wealth for your retirement. Think backwards about what you may have to do to procure this. No matter what your dream, built enough wealth to indulge in this at a later stage. Rather than work in another’s kitchen, garden, office or practice, give yourself a timeline to make enough money to buy or build your own, to be your own boss. Dreams are dulled when others dictate your business life. It impacts on your personal life.
Prepare yourself for hard work and turn the work into success – success will be your reward, both financially and spiritually. Given time, I would re-do my degree to compete in a business sphere, work hard and built my own empire (no matter how small) and finally, bask in the financial security which affords me time to dream when the day is done. Then I could say, in hindsight, the lesson was not expensive at all.
Things I have learned:
- Take risks: breathe deeply and jump – it’s always worth it
- If you fail at something, look at what it has taught you and what you have learned
- When you make a new business phone call, imagine the recipient is on the loo
- Develop both a sense of humour and a hard shell for the occasional knock
- You don’t need a pair of balls to work successfully with men
- Always smile when you are on the phone
- You can run a business successfully from home
- Walking the dog in the middle of the day is a great stress reliever
- You will always know more than other people
- Be proud of what you know and what experience has taught you
- Stand up to bullies in the workplace – it’s their shit, not yours
- Recruitment is a game of skill and judgement that requires intelligence and detailed
- Recruitment is about people, not numbers and fees
I started my career(s) as a hairdresser then fitness instructor so had no uni time. Landed in tax by chance by temping between world travel. My advice would be not to worry about getting it right in those very early years and uni doesn’t matter but learn to be more open spirited and emotionally intelligent, and work your arse off, and you’ll go much further than any degree will take you!
Where do I start when looking back at my early career? As you get older that early career is further and further away and perhaps there are a number of ‘early’ stages. I choose to study Speech Pathology and therapeutics at University in the days when one had a career but this was not to be mine. I failed one exam once too early and that was it. I was disappointed in me but I am so grateful for what happened as I wouldn’t be the person I am or where I am now if that hadn’t happened. I got on with moving on and looking back I would reassure myself that sometimes there is a different path and not to get bogged down in not achieving what you planned. I found myself a job and then over the next 21 years I was employed mainly in jobs in the not for profit sector which I loved. I grabbed all opportunities, realised that I rose to the occasion when thrown in at the deep end and took great joy in learning and developing. I’m really proud of how I handled this period of my life and I wouldn’t give any different advice. In fact the advice I give to my 19 year old is very much along the lines of grab opportunities and make the most of them.
At the age of 42 I set up my own business for a number of reasons. I was now a mum and wanted more flexibility, I had been bullied in the workplace and for my sanity needed to get out and I discovered coaching. Looking back to this stage, there is advice that I would give my younger self which would indeed have made a difference and probably got me to where I am faster. Firstly, realise that no-one else does what you do in the way that you do it. Your style may not be liked by everyone but doing it your way and being authentic is so important. People buy from people and want to work from people they know, like and trust so be brave and be who you are. Secondly, have confidence in your intuition and if there is a market for it, do what you love. I am passionate about walking and all the benefits it brings but for so long I stopped myself doing that as my main business. Now, later than I would have liked I have the faith in this and how I can help so many people through my work. Finally, leap. Yes, it’s scary and this probably links into the first two but you have to trust and jump. I would look at others who had been at the same level as me and who had moved on and were very successful and I would wonder why I hadn’t achieved the same as I knew I could do what they were doing. Then I realised that I was stalling. Now I no longer try to be perfect and have it all done before I put things out there and I guess that’s a related piece of advice. Be brave and take the leap. The reality is never as scary as what you imagine in your head.
It’s been a roller coaster and I am still learning. In fact the journey never stops and I’m still loving it and how things have evolved to make me who I am.
Although I’m not exactly old, I look back at my teens and twenties with a wry smile – they are everything they should have been and more. There was only one cloud during this time and that was that I was suffering with an eating disorder.
Everyone has a different definition of Success City. Once upon a time I thought mine was to wear a wig and gown to work. It took me a long time to realise I was on the wrong path. Then I ended up in a corporate wilderness where I felt displaced. I was never one to conform to process and politics. Eventually I jumped ship and set sail for Success City in a beautiful pea green boat and decided to be the Mistress of my own destiny. Only thing is I didn’t really have a plan. I started off with A.N. Other and we were a Jack-Of-All-Trades twosome. The advice I would give my younger self is if you are going into business with someone choose wisely. It’s like a marriage. And there’s nothing more painful than a divorce.
That said – the journey to Success City is an amazing adventure. And I made sure I found the right travelling companions at each step of the way. And took them with me. Many are still around today.
They’ve been there to share my ups and downs. My highs and lows. I chose carefully and found people with a similar make-up and mind-set. I’ve helped them along the way and they’ve do the same for me.
But I was also taken in by people who made golden promises – to discover these were promises of fools gold and I’d been the fool. I would have told my younger self to trust my intuition more and not be quite so wide eyed by those who talked a great talk but we’re actually no smarter than me. Only I didn’t have the confidence or wisdom to believe in myself and trust my own judgement.
I never found a guide or two. People who had reached the destination I was heading for. Elders who could provide wise words and wisdom based on their personal experience and take me under their wing so I could listen to their stories and learn from their experiences. That may have saved me ending up down a couple of dark alleys.
That said – it’s never too late and perhaps it’s time to take the advice I offer my younger self and find a pioneering woman who fancies coming out of retirement.
I would tell myself to not worry about what others think about you, their fears and their fears and not yours. I would also tell myself to find what your passion is, regardless of how out there it might and work your arse off to achieve what you want. No goal is too big. That is what I would tell myself.
- Stay calm because getting stressed rarely makes any positive difference to the end result
- Be more impetuous
- Say ‘yes’ more often
- Remember: two ears one mouth
Having said that, I wouldn’t change one single thing in my life, the good or the bad. I need the bad to feel worthy of/recognise the good.