If I had to compare my career to date with a narrative from popular literature, it would have to be ‘One Day’. The story of two best friends who are clearly made for each other but neither of them recognise it until, after years of unmet expectations and heartbreak, they finally realise 'it was you all along’.
From a young age I dreamt of being a high-flying career woman. I owned apartments in cities across the world, worked in fashion like Rachel Green and dressed like a pink version of Cher Horowitz in a plaid two-piece wool suit. I had an annual date with the shiny new prospectus for the London College of Fashion and poured over its pages, imagining what it would feel like to be a young adult taking charge of my destiny. ‘Picture Editor’ for a magazine was my ideal job according to the career search website I’d found. But when it got nearer to crunch time, I started to panic about being too narrow in my selection and ended up choosing an art degree, thinking it was best to keep my options open.
I graduated with a degree in Visual Studies from Norwich School of Art and Design. However, with the Graphic Designers and Fine Artists dubbing it ‘Vague Studies’ the high-flying career dreams of my youth were long gone.
I spent my twenties in jobs that were enjoyable but without a destination. However, in all of these jobs, I’d be the one starting a department newsletter or planning the all-staff meetings, team days or becoming a trusted advisor to the senior leadership team. In my spare time I worked as a volunteer in the local church comms and events team. Then, when I moved cities and eventually left work to raise a family, I voluntarily initiated and led a comms team at my new church.
On one spring morning, babe in arm, I sat at my home computer, putting the finishing touches to my church’s first ever glossy magazine newsletter. The Rachel Green and pink-plaid fashion dream had been replaced by a breast-milk stained dressing gown and church magazine but, the memory of wanting to be a picture editor came flooding back.
This was my ‘One Day’ awakening. My comms love story. I finally realised that the work I’d always done for free was actually what I enjoyed most and naturally gravitated towards in every job that had preceded.
Like all good films, the life in colour, blue skies moment was fleeting and followed by turmoil and most probably, torrential rain.
I was now equipped with a focus for my post-child bearing future and knew that I wanted to be paid to do comms. But, when I applied for junior comms roles after having spent six years raising kids and leading the church comms team, I was told I didn’t have enough experience.
This repeated over and over again and we had bills to pay so I worked as an executive assistant where, in my spare time, I rebranded their business and built them a website only to be made redundant just before we were about to launch.
I applied for comms roles again, you can guess what I was told. So I got a job in events and operations which I really enjoyed but deep down it felt like a betrayal of my love for comms.
At the start of 2020, I wrote in my journal that this would be my year for clarity - I was in a stable job that I enjoyed but I was taking 20/20 literally and wanted 20/20 vision for my career. It certainly didn’t materialise in quite the way I had imagined but the pandemic really did shake me up. All the bits of my job that I enjoyed were cancelled, subsequently reinvigorating my determination to get a comms role.
I couldn’t face being told I didn’t have enough experience again so I got a qualification partly to prove to myself that my instinct for comms had a backbone and partly to ‘get it out of my system’ just in case my love affair with comms was actually just a fling.
By the start of 2021, I was loving my Internal Comms course and felt like I had finally found my people. I said to myself that I wanted to be in a comms focused job or have one lined up by Easter. Despite now feeling more equipped than ever to get a comms job and having the qualification to back me up, I received yet more rejections and replies of 'you don't have enough experience', I'd had enough..
At Easter 2021, on the day before the new term was about to start. All my disappointment at not having been successful in achieving my goal to have an ‘official’ and ‘proper’ comms job came out of my eyeballs and rolled down my cheeks in bucketloads.
I felt like a failure. But, I knew I was a highly skilled and capable woman so in that moment, with the support of my family, I decided to quit my job and ‘get experience’ on my own terms. I no longer wanted to rely on someone else defining and validating my experience.
This decisive moment felt like it might not just redeem my current circumstances but it could make up for the 15 years I’d wandered aimlessly.
The problem now was that what felt like the right thing in my gut, looked like a very wrong thing on paper when we did the sums. If we squeezed our belts we’d be short by £500 a month.
So we prayed for a sign.
A few days later £500 miraculously and unexpectedly appeared in our bank account, it was from HMRC, we called them to make sure it wasn't a mistake, it wasn’t and to this day, I still don't understand why we got this!
A few days after that a friend called up and asked if I'd be able to do some comms work for them on a freelance basis. No one had ever asked me to do this before.
One week later, without knowing anything, a friend came up to me and said she felt like I was meant to put something down and pick up something new.
We asked for A sign and ended up with three! This was now in leap of faith territory so, one week after my emotional outburst and a year ago this week, I handed in my notice.
I can’t explain why it felt so right but I haven’t looked back. In the ten months since I started, I have worked with a charity to advise and implement improved internal communication practices. I have developed a brand identity and all the visual components along with a website for a community interest company. I have supported thousands of people to engage in virtual events through my work with weareresource. I have researched and written thousands of words for client newsletters and online content. I have carried out focus groups, co-written diversity policies, learnt how to create GIFs, developed an employee journey framework, storyboarded videos and been the creative director for an event.
It feels fairly self indulgent to have written this so I want to leave you with some tips I wish I’d had along my journey:
Pay attention to your emotions. I used to think emotion just meant what makes me happy or sad but it’s so much more complex than that. Pay attention to what you have strong reactions to, positive or negative as this can help you define the areas of life you are passionate about. For me, I always had strong feelings about organisations living out their values on the inside with purpose and brands telling a clear and authentic story.
Find career role models, I didn’t have anyone growing up or in my teens/twenties who I saw loving work or pursuing a career so I had no idea how to make my career happen. Now, I think if I’d had someone who felt positively about work come alongside me when I was younger, I would have made some very different decisions about working.
The advice about ‘do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’ actually crippled me for years because I loved comms but I didn’t love it so much that it didn’t feel like work. For such a long time I felt like comms can’t be my thing. It totally was, it’s just that sometimes work feels like work and that’s ok!
If you feel in your gut that you need to take a leap of faith to start a new career, new business or anything that doesn’t make sense on paper - talk to the people who are closest to you to get some wisdom, reflect on your life and what has led you to this moment and consider if you have enough resources to make it happen or what you need to make it happen and pray for a sign!
Pay attention to what you loved or dreamt of as a child, I hear so many people tell stories about how what they're doing now has some connection to the hobby they had growing up or the thing they dreamt of. Our dreams as children are un’adult’erated - they haven’t had the weight of adult impossibility put upon them and often they are a clue to what you were put on this earth to do!
Finally, JUST DO IT! Easier said than done but really, what’s the worst that could happen. You might just discover your love has been by your side all along!