Updated: May 16, 2021
I left school at 16 and started my first job as an Administration Assistant at an Insurance company in Cheltenham, almost 28 years ago. When I was 23, I got my first agency job at a recruitment marketing agency in Bristol, and I spent the next 18 years working in different agencies. Now, almost three years after moving to an in-house role, I know that I should have made the move out of agency life long before I did.
Don’t get me wrong, I had some amazing times, I learnt a lot and worked on some great clients. I went to some amazing parties and restaurants where the food and booze were free and I made some wonderful friends who I know will be part of my life for a long time; I even moved to New York for three years with my job! By any standards, I did well and had a great career for a long time.
Like most people, I fell into working at an agency, rather than it being a planned career move but I loved it! The people were great, I enjoyed the work and relished the challenge it presented. Looking back now though, I can see that what I most enjoyed – and was most surprised by – was how good I was at it.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I stopped loving it so much and when being good at my job stopped being enough for me. Like with most relationships, it wasn’t just one thing that happened or one moment in time when I realised that the job I was doing and where I was doing it was wrong for me.
At the end of my time in agencies, I felt lost and trapped, and my physical and mental health suffered. I am so much happier and healthier now (lockdown weight gain notwithstanding!) and have really got my Mojo back! While writing this blog post and preparing for the inaugural meeting of the Women in Business Bookclub, I’ve realised that there are a few things that may have helped me get to a better place sooner.
Understanding my purpose
I know this is a bit of a cliché but if I’d have had a better understanding of what drives me a bit earlier in my career I may have found it easier to understand what was happening when things started changing for me.
I worked on one global recruitment client for a very long time and I actually sat on their Marketing Leadership Team, which meant that I got to be involved in many more strategic projects than I might have had the opportunity to be involved in on other clients (it was also through this client that I got to move to New York). It wasn’t until I was writing this that I fully appreciated how much more I enjoyed being involved in strategic projects than responding to a brief.
As I worked as a recruitment specialist in a consumer media agency, moving to work on consumer clients felt like the natural next step for me. However, when I stopped working with recruitment clients I missed it, the budgets may have been bigger but, for me, the subject matter wasn’t as interesting. It took me leaving recruitment to see that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
I feel like something of a hypocrite for saying this because I’ve been terrible at this for most of my career! Despite, or maybe because of, my own lack of career planning I firmly believe that we should put as much, if not more, effort into planning our career as we do our holidays and social life.
This doesn’t mean you need to plan your career in every detail over the next few years, it just means taking the time and space to understand what you really want and working out a rough plan to get there. I am convinced that if I’d done this, I would have been able to more easily identify the things that were making me unhappy – and unwell – sooner, mostly just because I’d have been taking the time to really think about where I was and where I wanted to be.
When I thought about making changes I could only think of them within the context of the career I was already in – media agencies. I knew I desperately needed to change something and decided that I would try a different type of role, a planning role that wasn’t client-facing. The problem was that what I love is solving problems, and I did that best when I was working as an extension of a client’s marketing team.
With hindsight I can clearly see that this was the time when I should have been looking to make a bigger change than I did, I needed a different role in a different environment instead I sought out a slightly different role in a similar environment.
I loved working at an agency early in my career, because it was a work hard, play hard culture and I was work hard, play hard kind of gal! Sadly I, as we all do, got older and my priorities – and definition of success – changed. Quality of life and time spent with family and friends became much more important to me. What excited and motivated me in my 20s was very different to what excited and motivated me in my 30s.
I’m happy to report that almost three years after making the move to an in-house role I’ve got my passion, drive and motivation back! I think about how lucky I am to not only have kept my job during the pandemic but to be doing something I love at a company I believe in with people I like, every day.
But as my friend and colleague Katrin says, Hope is not a strategy, and I will be much more proactive about making sure I’m in the right place doing the right thing for me going forward.
A few helpful resources;
Career planning, I’ll be doing this more proactively and more regularly. There are lots of resources online, I’ve found these Open University articles a useful place to start
Coaching also helps with career planning and can help you to see things that may be difficult to recognise by yourself, I highly recommend it.
You can also do self-guided coaching with companies like CoachPro that can be more cost-effective than working directly with a coach https://www.coachpro.online/self-coaching-solutions/coachpro-career/