One of the best pieces of career advice I was ever given was to take control of my own career planning. As a junior officer in the RAF, this seemed surprising to me. Surely my line manager and my desk officer were already doing this and they had my best interests at heart. (Yes, I was once that naïve and unprejudiced!) For a while, I didn’t really follow that advice. When I did start following it, I noticed two things.
There was a whole lot less support from others than I would have supposed. Setting out to do something different – in this case to get and accept a Chief of Air Staff Fellowship to study a Masters in Occupational Psychology – seemed to bring out a lot of deep seated resentment from others. From those who wrote that they would not support the application (yet never said that to me), to peers who started to bad mouth me behind my back, to people in my personal life that (in retrospect) felt threatened by my ambition, there were many more reactions than the one had expected (which was something like, yeah, that sounds cool, go for it). There were a lot of people who did react positively but the people who undermined me taught me a lot. Mainly it taught me that when you choose to take a different path, there will be plenty of people around you who think it means you are judging their own journey and respond badly. That people are threatened by the unfamiliar. That I can’t rely on everyone to be supportive. And that when it comes down to it, you know the people that really have your back.
That things started to change. Knowing where I wanted to be, what jobs I wanted to do and how I was going to get there focussed my energy on the things I needed, let the people who made decisions know exactly what I wanted and things started to happen. I got roles I wanted, I got more meaningful and better quality advice, guidance and mentoring. I got to my goals more quickly, with fewer obstacles.
So my advice now to anyone regarding their career is to take control. Acknowledge you may take some wrong turns along the way (mine involved nearly burning out in a toxic environment) but knowing you got yourself there and you can get yourself out again, brings a lot of strength.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?