I was recently reading Harvard Business Review’s management tip of the day entitled ‘Define what a meaningful job means to you’. The main message was to build a career you love by taking the time to reflect on what matters most to you (e.g. type of work, flexibility, environment, etc.). They also suggested exploring some of your ideas by joining industry groups, attending conferences and volunteering.
It made me think about my own career and how I managed to land my dream job. If you have followed me since the beginning, you know my journey wasn’t so straightforward. I don’t think too many people follow a linear career path anymore (like my dad who worked for the same employer in the same building for more than 40 years…), but where I might have been different is through my very bold approach to reflection, by staying true to myself and asking for what I want. Here’s my story:
My very bold approach to reflection
I have always been a reflective person, writing journals and poems from a young age. In 2010, I started questioning my profession as a public relations expert. Was I having the positive impact on this world I could feel my heart burning for? At the same time, I was discovering the field of coaching, which seemed like a much more altruistic profession and one that fulfilled my passion for helping others. In April of that year, I grabbed a blank book a friend had given me as a present (knowing my love for journals) and wrote on the first page: Soul unravelling – In search of one’s Identity… (identity with a capital I!). The winds were turning, and that ink on the page was the very beginning of that process. Every thought, question, exercise, mindmap, research I have done related to my career has since been recorded in this book. It helps me process and understand the professional I want to be.
But my really big bold move only came in July 2012 when I decided to quit my job with nothing else to go to. My heart was the leader and it led to an even bolder decision… a seven-month overseas sabbatical. For seven months, I was stripped off any title. As I travelled through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India, I reflected a lot on who I was, who I wanted to be, and I shared my thoughts and lessons with you on this blog.
Staying true to myself
I came back to Australia after my sabbatical with some clarity about who I wanted to be and, most of all, what I didn’t want to do. As I tried finding employment in a field slightly different to the one my CV showcased, I received a lot of positive comments from potential employers, but was always against someone with more experience than me. The next 10 months were a true test of confidence. It wavered at times, and I even wondered whether I should just go back to what I knew. But I didn’t. I freelanced, networked, talked to people about the career I was looking for… and kept looking.
Asking for what I want
Throughout my 10 months of job hunting, I was clear I wanted a career with a purpose and an opportunity to volunteer. I shared these thoughts with whoever wanted to hear them and even expressed them on my LinkedIn profile. As a result, I met with Andrew from The Helmsman Project who offered me a volunteering role as part of their marketing communications group. The offer: using my communications skills (tick) for a coaching program (tick) that makes a difference to the lives of young people (tick). I was sold. I volunteered for four months, before submitting a proposal to be hired on a part-time basis, which was approved by the board. After six months of part-time contracting, in July 2014, I joined the team on a full-time basis. From the beginning, I was very transparent with Andrew, sharing my desire to develop as a leader where I could use my skills and passion to make a positive difference in the lives of those around me and beyond. I have absolutely no doubt that it is this openness that led to my promotion last March as general manager.
At the back of my mind, I often wonder whether asking for what I want makes me come across as being arrogant. As I previously shared in a blog post, apparently women are particularly good at asking themselves whether they’re good enough. I want to back myself, believe that I can, while understanding that I have so much to learn and improve in the process and openly seek others’ thoughts and support. So far, my approach has paid off.
The morale of my story isn’t to quit your job and start travelling, nor is it to say ‘no’ to job opportunities because they don’t specifically fit your requirements (these can lead to something greater… plus, at times, concessions are necessary to help us boost our confidence and our bank account!). All of us have our own stories – each, as unique and precious. What I do hope for every single one of you is to find that place – in your heart and in the world – where you can be at your absolute best. And remember, you have everything you need within yourself. As my favourite quote says “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” (Diane Ackerman) So just go for it!