One of my old clients SAB Miller (then owners of beer brands Peroni & Fosters) would openly inform interviewees that under no circumstances did they manage the careers of their employees. They were only interested in individuals who would take charge of their own career progression.
This candour scared off many individuals who had grown up in an era where career progression was offered by companies, not owned by individuals. The degree of career progression offered by a company would define its level of attraction in the market.
How antiquated does this appear today?
Historically, this outsourcing of career progression was totally acceptable if you were in the baby years of your career when you didn’t know your bottom from your elbow. Upon entry into your teen career years (early management), the responsibility would begin to shift slowly towards more of a 50:50 split between company and you. When you reached midlife and the heady heights of senior management, you were very firmly on your own.
I specifically remember not being able to keep up with the influx of phone calls around 2008 when big companies began to eject senior leaders by the hundreds. So many of these talented leaders had not spent any time in the preceding 5 years of their career doing the dreaded “networking” to ensure that competitors/suppliers/strategic alliances/head hunters knew them as 3D humans with personalities as opposed to business people.
Those who had participated in real networking (often through personality style rather than tactical design) were positioned firmly on short-lists for the ever-decreasing supply of senior leadership positions which actually made it to the market. Many positions never actually were announced to the open market as the perfect individual was offered the position after a couple of informal "meetings". The realisation that individuals who were being selected for new positions had been STEERING THEIR OWN CAREERS FOR YEARS (if not potentially since their career was a baby) came as a shock to many. Despite very successful careers, these individuals were left feeling behind the curve.
SAB Miller at the time were leagues ahead of the average “blue chip” company in demonstrating its total lack of interest in steering the careers of employees from the get-go. They didn’t appear to care a jot whether you were in the infancy or the midlife of your career.
Admit it, many of us whose careers matured in big companies, joined cultures where we expected the company to at least help our career, if not perhaps engineer our personal career plans.
Even as senior leaders in big businesses in the networking enlightened age of today, are we still in danger of "outsourcing" our career planning by not making it a major personal focus?
I am embarrassed to say that as a senior leader in my final few years in my last corporate job, it was made clear to me by my MD that if I wanted training of any sort all I had to do was to ask, tell him why and the cost would be covered. Nothing embarrassing about that I hear you say?
EXCEPT that I couldn’t think of ONE area of training that I wanted or needed. Looking back, I think that should have been the very obvious sign that I was in a career rut.
I failed to recognise that I had steered my own career into a mid-career rut.
You see, one of my superpowers in my home life is that I LOVE the process of trying to learn something new - it makes my brain feel awake. I feel energised when I am learning new stuff that I am, even on the surface, interested in. I am constantly planning what I might learn next. Here are the first 8 items on my current list:
- public speaking for natural introverts;
- unicycle riding;
- cartoon drawing;
- tumble turns in the pool;
- 20 second hand stands;
- clever iphone photography;
- how to work twitter – Claim to fame: I’ve never tweeted – my social media experts' (www.socialthyme.co.uk) eyebrows reached her hairline as I mentioned this to her. What can I say? I am “midlife stuck” on this one at the moment!
My “things-I’d-like-to-know-how-to-do” list usually contains about 20 weird and wonderful items. Depending on life, available funds and time I will pick one, research it and then crack on with it.
BUT during those last two years of my corporate life, I honestly didn't learn a thing. Not because my company were unsupportive or wouldn’t pay for training - they clearly wanted to. BECAUSE I HAD ZERO IDEA IN WHAT DIRECTION I WANTED TAKE MY CAREER. No surprise, then, that I didn’t know what skills or knowledge I needed to get there.
This was an odd period of my life, one that doesn't fill me with pride. That said, I feel sure I won’t be repeating it any time soon. But, even if a career rut rears its ugly head again, I now know how to recognise it (https://www.midlifeunstuck.com/new-blog-1/2017/4/25/career-rut-or-just-a-bad-month-your-reaction-to-these-numbers-will-tell-you-for-sure) and understand what I’d do to escape it.
I would re-trace the searching and transformation process which I led myself through a few years ago.
I spent two years interviewing people with successful AND happy careers, interviewing people with successful and unhappy careers, completing a masters in Psychology, researching work & life happiness across the globe, learning how to support individuals in grief, training in solutions-focussed coaching, listening to 100s of podcasts and ted talks from people with very “successful” parts of their lives and listening to a couple of ancient recordings of my secret guilty pleasure (Desert Island Discs) every week.
This intensive learning process culminated in the design the transformation projects (which can be found at www.midlifeunstuck.com) so that others might find changing careers an easier and speedier process.
If you’d like to hear about my short-cuts to designing fulfilling work feel free to drop me an email to lucia@midlifeunstuck to tee up a time to speak confidentially.
If you are not quite ready or feel up to leading yourself through the processes, sign up to my newsletter for free resources, articles and career transformation stories at www.midlifeunstuck.com.