This week I’ve been thinking a lot about careers; what does a good career look like? What are my next steps? How do organisations retain their staff and over them career growth? Are career’s even a big thing anymore?
Growing up it was always drummed into me how important it was to have a career. Conversations at home and at school all focused on “what did I want in terms of my career?” Picking a university course was all about picking the best one to help my career aspirations. The problem in when we’re young, for most of us at least; our career aspirations change almost as much as our favourite TV show.
Given my family have a strong public sector background; when I was younger those were the career options I automatically gravitated towards. When I was younger I wanted to be an anthropologist, but once I realised there were very limited career options for anthropologists I decided I wanted to be a teacher; I stumbled into the Civil Service as a summer job while I was considering my PGCE options; and then realised the Civil Service could give me a good career and why not stay?
My focus was then on having the best career I could within the Civil Service, I joined the Fast Stream, I got my promotions, I did the Crossing Thresholds programme and reaching the Senior Civil Service by the time I was 35; everyone kept congratulating me on how well I was doing within my career given my age. But then I struggled to know what to do next; keep progressing within the Civil Service, try and become a Director by the time I’m 40? My mentor recommended taking time outside of the Civil Service, to work supplier side for a year or two; before going for a Director role within the Civil Service, just to balance my career. This seemed like a good idea, and so I did it (and enjoying it!) But it was all with a view with progressing my career.
Last year as I sat considering my next career steps, and whether I should move back into the Public Sector; I became aware that there was all these other areas I’ve never really explored fully as I’d been focussing on my upwards trajectory. There have always been roles and opportunities I’ve been interested in that I’ve never explored because, while they wouldn’t have hampered my career, they’ve come at the same time as opportunities to progress, and surely the best thing for my career is to keep progressing right? But that constant feeling that you should be progressing upwards brings with it a constant feeling of pressure. It’s no wonder so many career folks burn out, as they try to keep meeting that societal expectation of success. As such I made the decision to take a role that wasn’t ‘a promotion’, in fact it could be seen as a downwards move in terms of my responsibilities; but what it was, was a role that I’d enjoy in a company where I could explore my options and take the time to decide what it was I wanted to do next without that constant weight of expectations and demand.
One of the things I’m enjoying most about working in Kainos is all the conversations I’m having about what do I ‘want to do?’ Yes of course there are the conversations about progression etc; but there’s much more consideration of the fact that you might want to move sideways, or that you could want to get involved in something new. What you bring to the table is more than the narrow ‘career pathway’ you might have travelled on so far; and much more about your skills and what you’re passionate about. There’s the view that what excites you and drives you, could be things that could help the company grow; and as such there’s the time and opportunity for you to explore those opportunities, as long as they benefit the wider business.
This opportunity to focus on the bits of my career I enjoy most, whilst also growing my skills in other areas has reminded me why I do what I do in the first place; and why I’m good at what I do. But it’s also made me recognise how close to burn out I was getting; and made me realise that sometimes we need to take a step back and reconfirm what we is that we enjoy doing, find our passion for our careers and what drove us towards that career in the first place, before we can continue on.
For some people, because of societal pressure and how we were taught as children to ‘get a career’ (any career) they never have had that sense of joy in their career. For others, whom sadly burn out, they realise they don’t know what other skills they have; or what other careers or roles they could pursue; as we were never taught as children to consider those options. We need to change our approach and teach students to identify their strengths and their skills, give them a wider foundation to build their careers off of.
All of this has made me reflect on how we view our careers; and the constant focus on promotions and progression. Now that I’m involved more in educational outreach activities and mentoring; I try to focus less on specific career aspirations; and more on what matters to people, what skills they have, what are they passionate about; I recommend courses and job moves that play into their strengths and can help them grow; helping them have a fulfilling career, rather than necessarily being the next stepping stone on their set career path.