I’ve loved Linkedin’s “If I was 22” series and have been inspired to write my own. There isn’t really any sage advice in here but I hope you enjoy my story anyway
When I was 22 I had already been working in a “proper job” for four years. I’d been to college and done my A-levels. I was expecting good grades and had applied to do a foundation degree in my passion. I loved art and design and had the personality and the dress sense to match. Only I hadn’t told my parents, as I knew they wouldn’t be best pleased. My older sister had followed the same path and they viewed her as somewhat of a “failure”. I’d got glowing results in my GCSE’s and I used to joke they had me pegged as a brain surgeon, although I’m sure optician or lawyer would have sufficed.
When they found out that I hadn’t applied for the degree in architecture they thought I had because my tutor said “you don’t want to design doors and windows for the rest of your life”, my fears were confirmed. My mum worked in training and got me to apply for an apprenticeship. I told myself it was just for the summer.
I vividly remember my interview for the role, because it was so horrific. The only previous interview I’d had was for a job as a waitress, where they just asked you to practice silver service by picking up some boiled sweets with a spoon and fork. This time I was ushered into a room where 10 people sat behind desks arranged in a horseshoe shape. In the middle of the horseshoe was an office chair, where I was asked to sit. Uncomfortable is not the word. Only one person (the HR Officer) asked the questions. I can’t remember what I said exactly, but luckily I was appointed. There were five apprentices and five posts – four in accountancy and one in community work. They tried to match your wishes with who the service wanted to employ. I thought accountancy would be boring and I hated Maths. I think they were disappointed when I was the only one who picked the community work because I was one of the best qualified apprentices they’d ever had.
Four years later and I was awarded my first big promotion. I’d worked hard (just like my parents taught me) and experienced many of the peculiarities of corporate life at the bottom – making endless cups of tea and sitting in a darkened room filing for hours on end. I’d worked in satellite offices for the same company up to this point, and now here I was with an opportunity to move to the centre of the business. My colleagues at the time called it “up there” and “the golden people”. Did I look back? Of course not! That was the stepping stone that got me where I am today.
Although there’s no regrets, there are things I would do differently. I do think I suffered from a sense of entitlement, and this, coupled with a strictly hierarchical organisation meant many people were viewed as peripheral to me as I strived to reach my goal. I wasn’t rude, but I was focused. I think this was interpreted as standoffish. In fact at one point I was given a separate desk on my own because “that’s how I liked to work” (something I’d never voiced).
Fortunately, the self assuredness (and blinkers) of youth didn’t last. I am still a quiet and focused person. I like to achieve great things, but I’m not one to shout about it. I now recognise that recognises that the best results are achieved by collaboration. People are the single most important thing about an organisation, and if I didn’t believe that as a HR professional and a manager then I don’t deserve to be where I am. Working closely with others, encouraging their ideas and celebrating their achievements is what makes my job worthwhile. I also have a much better dress sense.
Some might think I’ve given up my dream, forcing myself into a corporate box. But I don’t feel like I’ve lost me. I’ve become me. I’ve met some amazing people and had so many opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have had. I once said to my manager that I was “lucky” to be where I am today. She just looked at me and said “it’s not luck. It’s your hard work”. So maybe I did something right. I think my parents would be proud of me, and it’s now easy to say with hindsight, that they were right.