Life was so simple when I was growing up, one’s ‘life’ (aka career) chances were mostly determined by whether you passed your 11 Plus exam and whether you were fortunate enough to go to a grammar school. If you got ‘spat out’ you went to the local comprehensive where your career options were mostly deemed to be practical rather than managerial.
Careers advice was sparse for kids like me growing up in the care system, and having failed my 11 Plus I was deemed not to have a particularly bright future. Despite all this, I thrived intellectually having almost sole access to an extensive if eclectic library in the various children’s homes I’d inhabited all my young life. Losing myself in books and learning undoubtedly broadened my understand of the world’s possibilities, even if that included a lurid cartoon version of The Old Testament full of Hittites and Midianites smoting and slewing with wild abandon.
My first ‘careers advice’ session took place when I was 15 years old when our house-parent (an ex-Warrant Officer of the Scots Guards) summoned me into his office and demanded what I wanted to do when I grew up. Gob-smacked by the hugeness of the question, I mumbled “I don’t know” and he exasperatedly marched me back out the door.
Eventually via another route, careers advice in the late-60s for us relatively bright non-grammar school types could be summed up like this: “Join the Civil Service or Local Government ‘cos it’s a job for life with good advancement opportunities and a great pension at the end of what could be a temptingly early retirement.”
I was reminded about all this by a recent Harvard Business School article where author, Gianpiero Petriglieri stated that “Today’s careers are no longer ladders. They are more like works of art.” In other words for all of us to cope with an uncertain world where jobs for the Boys, and jobs for life are increasingly rare, we need to consider what inspires us and what about us, inspires others – in order to be able to sustain ourselves. I was never asked about where my natural skills may lie or what I was passionately interested in, the focus back then was job security in what seemed like a stable, predictable world.
As an executive and career coach and keynote speaker, I’m now lucky enough to be making a living loving what I do. I feel in the zone, am constantly challenging and adding to my own knowledge base, and am informed by deeply held beliefs and values that sustain me through the most complex of conversations.
Whether as a manager, leader or business owner it’s useful to reflect on whether your career achievements represent a steady plod of applying great technical skills to increasingly senior roles. Or… whether you’ve also found your centre, your passion and an ability to communicate in many and wonderful ways that is authentic, credible and inspiring to others. By doing so, you elicit great ‘follower-ship’ in others, and you are also better placed to deal what could be a rough ride of a career.
Recently I was lucky enough to enjoy a quick sofa-chat with Chris Sullivan, CEO of Corporate Banking Division, RBS at his Bishopsgate office. I asked him what he thought were the hallmarks of resilience for anyone in a leadership role and he offered up some great insights:
- be in a role where you’re excited when you wake up in the morning, something you’re passionate about
- have a vision about what you would like your role to accomplish, and have a story or narrative you can share with others about what it means for your organization and for them
- figure out a robust plan and communicate this effectively, and acquire the skills to see the plan through, and last but by no means least…
- find your authentic core and don’t try to be something or someone you aren’t… being your ‘essential self’ is critical (note from me: soft skills can be honed with guidance and with practice).
So where do you stand right now? Do you feel like your career is solid, steady but somewhat lacking a ‘magical ingredient’?
Or does it feel like you’re on a roller-coaster of uncertainty and worry?
Or do you think you’re really living your career and doing a job that feels like you were put on this earth to do?
Maybe it’s time for a rethink, if so, contact me.
In the meantime, if you fancy becoming the Picasso of your career, have a read of the HBR article: “Turn Your Career into a Work of Art” and get creating!