Key lessons from an unconventional career trajectory
I recalled the first part of this story at my Dad’s funeral 6 years ago… I was 17 years old, stuck in a tedious job (hole punching in a sheet metal factory), generally grumbling about how rubbish my life was and my Dad said to me, “Son, you have to get out there and do something about it, it won’t come knocking on your door, you know!”. My Dad was of course a wise man, and one of my most valued teachers. However, he got this one completely wrong… because the very next day, my next door neighbour genuinely knocked on my door to see if I wanted a job (working for his furniture fitting business)!! Well, I was 17 and this seemed a hell of a lot more interesting than punching holes in sheets of metal, so I took it! Mind you, I am pretty sure this wasn’t the lesson in ‘having to put effort in, to get reward out’ that my Dad was hoping for me to receive at this pivotal point of my life…
This introduced me to the first of 4 significant and successful chunks of work in 4 very different industries, and my entry into each industry was not always conventional. It needs to be noted that school really wasn’t right for me, the only subjects that I was interested in were graphics, art and sport (basically the ones that got me out of the classroom). I ended up leaving before I took my exams and left without qualifications. So, out in the real world, the only thing I had to sell myself was my attitude, effort and willingness to give things a go.
My first proper job (furniture fitting), let’s put that one down to luck and being in the right place at the right time. However, I learnt some of my most valuable life and practical skills in this job under the guidance of a great mentor and boss (cheers, Tony Skinner). I went from being a labourer to project foreman in a few years because he gave me the chance, I learnt quickly on the job and I took the opportunity when it came my way!
Luck plays its part, but you have to take the chances given; if you put the effort in and have the right guide, then it’s possible to learn new skills, progress in a role and take on new responsibilities.
My second industry was magazine publishing (random!). I needed a change, and I fancied this because of some notion of interest in graphics/creativity while I was at school. I knew I didn’t have the qualifications, or any relevant experience, so I completed a part time evening IT course at the local FE college and this was enough to get me an entry level job as a typesetter. Once in this job I realised that the design side of publishing wasn’t really for me, but an opportunity within the production side of things came up. This was at a time when printing was making a huge technological shift from reprographics to ‘straight to plate’ technology. My manager thought I could do it, but I had to learn some highly technical/IT related skills in a short space of time. I also needed to develop my cultural awareness, empathy and influencing skills (this was a culturally diverse team of people, some of whom had to significantly change their working practices while other roles simply wouldn’t exist anymore).
So I am now 26 years old, and doing OK in life for a guy who didn’t get any qualifications at school. But my biggest challenge was just around the corner – my partner is pregnant with our first child and we have decided that I would be a full-time dad for the first few years of his life… more on this journey in Part II