Curiosity, impatience and weird premonitions or why I should never be invited to give career talks
The first couple of times I was invited to give career talks I was utterly bemused. Why me? I was not successful enough, old enough or settled enough to dispense advice. I hardly knew what I was doing myself.
If that was imposter syndrome, I was soon cured of it.
Not because I grew confident in my awesomeness (you can believe you are awesome and not think you are that special, at the same time). But because at each and every one of those events I found myself speaking alongside folks who were desperately trying to turn their life into a roadmap. A sequential, purposeful unravelling rather than a montage, a story, a confluence of success and heartache, hard work and fluke, reversal and breakthrough, inspiration and luck.
I have no time for stories of linear ascent.
Life doesn’t work that way and, if yours did, then I am more likely to believe you lack self-awareness than that you were that focused and lucky in equal degree.
So I do go to career events to share my story. Not because I think it has cinematic value. But to dilute the literally incredible (as in: profoundly non-credible) burden of crystal-clear ambition and to give people actual advice as opposed to idiosyncratic tips.
I have never had a job someone else held before me
We talk about disruption like it’s the northern lights. Something to observe from a scientifically-prescribed safe distance. But the reality of a disrupted economy is new needs, new mechanisms, new tools, new opportunities and new jobs.
In this context, what is needed keeps changing and how we deliver it keeps changing.
Every job I have had to-date in my life didn’t exist before I had it.
Some didn’t exist after I had them either. Because the job to be done was accomplished and the need and the organisation moved. We moved together to a function that evolved to fit the need, and the job title moved with it.
That’s terrible narrative for a careers fair.
It is impossible to emulate. It is impossible to copy.
What on Earth are you meant to take away from that?
If you want a career in finance, or technology and probably most other fields also, the take-away is that the career planning your parents believe in is a false god. Familiar pyramid organisational hierarchies and T-bar knowledge distribution are changing. Career progression by numbers and longevity is losing its prevalence. Measurements of usefulness are changing.
So you need to keep changing with them.
You need to be curious about your industry. You need to keep asking “what is this for” and “what does that team over there do” and “why”. You need to stay teachable and keep looking over the fence and away from your desk, out into the world that can exist without you and your firm, to make sure that it doesn’t. Exist without you and your firm.
Stay curious and teachable: it is how you retain your relevance.
Also. Be impatient.
And by that I don’t mean indulge your short attention span and instant gratification demons. I have dedicated four years of my life to getting a PhD. I have read “War and Peace” twice (don’t ask), I love working on new ideas and don’t mind the false starts, late nights and acceptance that some things take time. Time to do. Time to work out. Time to learn.
That’s not what you need to be impatient with.
‘Wait and see’ is what you have to be impatient with. “Grin and bear it” is what you have to be impatient with. “We have time” is what you need to be impatient with. Organisations forever fire-fighting and losing the important to the urgent, is what you need to be impatient with.
If they are willing to waste their time, don’t let them waste yours.
Oh and trust your gut.
If you are a hard worker and a decent sort, trust the alarm bells in your head.
This is not right, I don’t need this, that’s not for me. Even if you can’t explain the weird premonitions that said “thank you, boss, for putting me forward for this accountancy course but this is not right for me, there are other things I need to be learning in this time” or “let’s do this differently as I won’t be here next time and I want you to be able to do it without me” not yet knowing what the alternative is.
Trust your gut.
Treat your CV as your honesty bar
There is more. Curiosity and impatience is sadly not enough.
You have to work. Hard and constantly. You need to challenge yourself to get better, be better but also to focus.
What do you want.
It doesn’t have to be a job title or a destination. It can be a feeling about the work you do, the space you work in, the type of things you get to touch.
And it may change.
It will change.
So you need to keep challenging yourself to refine your focus, and use that to make choices about what you learn, where you invest time, where you exercise patience.
Tell yourself your own story.
Don’t white-wash. Don’t retro-fit.
Find the connecting threads: I took my first job because it was the first offer that came through after graduation. I hated it, but I learned this and that and loved this one thing that came in handy at the next job where I learned this thing that is now my career. That’s the story. Not the cadence of promotions and getting the right ticks on a checklist.
Forget the niceties and the platitudes. Forget the admonition from parents and teachers that you should have consistency on your CV, no gaps, clear progressions and no sudden moves. Don’t totally ignore them but focus on progression and delivery. What did you learn, what did you do? And if you didn’t learn and didn’t do, why did you stay?
Contrary to established wisdom, I am as likely to ask job applicants why they stayed in an organisation for a long time as I am to ask why they left after a short time. Everyone has an answer for the latter. Very few can answer the former with any conviction.
Reflect on your own story. Not just for the telling. But to make sure you are living it in a way that does yourself justice.
Oh and one last thing…
Be a good colleague
If you want to invest in your career, if you want to hear how people made it, if you want to know what the single biggest asset for professional success is, then stop looking at the guys managing up and throwing people under busses to impress the boss. They look like they may be winning today but in a few years time you will come across them again and will find they didn’t make it all that far, most of the time.
Your network are not the people you try to grab for five minutes at industry drinks or nod at during conferences. Your network are not your boss and the senior management you stand in front of every few weeks for ten minutes of anxiety-filled opportunity. These guys control your next promotion, not your future.
Your network are your peers who sit by you every day, watch you deal with trouble and unexpected reversals. Watch you snap, or not. Own up, or not. Stand up, or not. Offer help, ask for help, keep your head and keep the peace. Learn, teach and deliver. Fall and pick yourself up.
Your peers who know your work but more importantly how you work. Your peers, who move on and up and pick up the phone to say hey come join me. I know what you are like. I know how you work. I know you. And I trust you.
That’s all I have, by way of career advice.
Be curious. Be teachable. Keep striving and moving and questioning. Trust your gut. And be the person people will call to join on their journey.
That’s all you are getting when you invite me to that careers talk. You want to make it? Be a good colleague.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
Leda is a lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem, inhabiting both start-ups and banks over the years. She is a roaming banker and all-weather geek.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!