Here’s what Nat wrote for this post:
In the early days of my secondary schooling, it was obvious I wasn’t academically gifted. I had started at an all girls, private school and it was safe to say I was more comfortable on the sports field than in the classroom.
Navigating the next 5 years up to my GCSEs were mainly filled with confusion and me attempting to pull away from the academic norm. I was lucky that my school institution was there to keep me focused on achieving my exams and I finally finished with 9 A-Cs. With this, along came my first opportunity to break away from the private institution and head to a college of my choice and focus on what I believed I would be good at. The next 2 years were mainly spent in further confusion as the pressure mounted to choose my University course and ultimately at the ‘grand age’ of 18 I left acquiring A Levels and I had chosen to study Marketing at University.
This choice was solely based on me achieving an A in the marketing module of my Business Studies A Level. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but then as a 20-year-old, I had found myself making the first mistake and slipping backward off the career ladder before I had even begun.
The reality was, I had no interest in Marketing or University. I was 20 years old and found myself living with 18 other 20-year-olds in a house and commencing University. Within the first months of my course, I realized I had hopped on the education travelator and spent the next 2 years trying desperately to get off.
I was then offered the opportunity to move to London. My academically gifted sister was already well up her career ladder, working for an investment bank in Luxembourg. Her life seemed glamorous, full of work social events, affording luxury items and at 21 this was way more important to me than achieving a degree in marketing.
Within a heartbeat, I had packed up my belongings and moved to London. To read more about this experience please head to my blog www.natfunctional.com/ balling with the Stockbrokers. But in short, I was a disaster. I already knew I had a very turbulent relationship with maths, so now working in a Stockbrokers wasn’t one of the highlights of my career ladder. I found myself at the bottom of the ladder looking up, wondering when I would take my first meaningful steps.
Twelve months later I was back up the motorway to Manchester and based on my ‘finance experience’ I found myself working in another financial institution. Again, further misery working with numbers. I hadn’t realized that now I had started to gain professional work experience, this was ultimately forming a new unwanted career path.
One thing I do have is the absolute determination to do my best at whatever I do. Whilst certain things I am not naturally gifted in, I will work day and night to make myself succeed.
It was in this job I was promoted to Team Manager ( surely a flawed recruitment process !) but before I knew it I was taking huge steps up the career ladder. This was due to me now managing people. I am incredibly social and whilst I believed in my school and university days this meant I was great at going out, I realized that strength in managing people and being able to engage with them actually was a skill. Something I never could have considered would ultimately would be the making of my career.
Fortunately, as a manager, I no longer had to work with numbers and I was focussed on getting the best from my team, helping them to succeed. And then a role became available in HR.
This was a huge decision for me. I had successfully made it to a manager and the role in HR was an administrator. I looked up at my towering career ladder and realized if I was to continue as a manager in finance, it would quickly stall my journey and ultimately finance wasn’t something I enjoyed and my passion wasn’t there.
So at 24, I jumped down off my management ladder and started right at the bottom of the HR ladder. I made the conscious decision to roll back years, but I knew my ambition wouldn’t allow me to falter.
In another stroke of luck they also offered to fund my Post Graduate HR Management degree and I was able to study full-time and work full-time, and two years later I was fully qualified and promoted. Those two years, I would often, lovingly glance over at my management ladder, wanting to be back there. Where my life felt simpler and I was ‘important’, and I also wished I had been able to gain more ‘life’ experience whilst back at school to assist making important career decisions. Hindsight again is a wonderful thing, but so is career happiness. I knew remaining in finance would be about as dry as living in the desert.
So after an excruciating two years, I was climbing my new career ladder at pace, I was doing a job I loved and I was quickly promoted. I was told the speed of my promotions was due to my prior experience as a manager, so in the end all wasn’t lost!
Whilst I didn’t leave University with a degree, I now have one, plus a post graduate diploma. Now I have hindsight, I wish I had given more time and thought to the impact of the decision of my university course. Maybe a year out would have supported me in making a decision with more clarity but I was on the educational travelator and no way off, others around me were pushing on, and like a social sheep, so did I.
Because of my experience, I have worked with A Level students back in the UK, sharing with them my experience. Sharing what’s important and more so, providing a glimpse in to the working life they have ahead.
If I was to advise my 18-year-old self, I would simply say, remember the choice you make right now could be the foundations of the next 50 years of your working life, so making an uninformed decision could lead to delays as you head out in to the working world. It’s important that when faced with the decision, students use the resources around them. The world has been made smaller now with technology, choices are greater and alternatives exist. If you aren’t academically gifted, it’s absolutely Ok to take a different path but ultimately remember the importance of the strong education that sits behind you. I have now found myself as an expat whereby without having a degree I simply couldn’t have secured employment at a management level.
It’s a crazy world as a teen, you have only just been allowed to learn to drive, yet you are expected to make a decision that ultimately paves the way for the remainder of your working life. Take your time, consider what life looks like beyond education and use every resource you have. More importantly enjoy the ride, whatever it looks like, a positive attitude will always help you climb just like I did.