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Once a secretary, always a secretary?

Making the jump from one job area to another…

By Jenny Daisley from the Springboard Consultancy, a personal development consultancy.

There was a time when people took a job and that was their life’s work – so once a barmaid always a barmaid, once a computer programmer always a computer programmer, once a secretary always a secretary.

However studies now show that people may change their careers (as opposed to jobs) up to five times in their working life. Today the pace of change is so fast that opportunities to learn new skills are immense. So if you don’t get enjoyment or fulfilment from the work that you do, perhaps it’s time to think again.

The reality is that it’s difficult in later life to decide to become a brain surgeon, an Olympic athlete, a high-fashion model, or jet fighter pilot. So what do you do if you feel boxed in and labelled?

Try these tactics:

1. Consider what’s important
Jot down first what you believe is important in your life, your values, things you care about. What makes you angry on television or in the newspapers? What excites you? What’s fun? What’s interesting? What leaves you feeling good?

Masses of people work in jobs where they really care about the outcome in terms of the way it changes the world and how they can make a difference. Other people have a job where they enjoy it – such as the hot air balloonist who took me up in a hot air balloon did it because he just loved being up in the air. He’d found a way to run a business by doing what he enjoyed most. So tap into the things that are important to you, whether it’s to change the world or to just have fun.

Case history – think laterally!

Melanie injured her back early in her nursing course and never fulfilled her dream of becoming a nurse. When I met her 25 years later she deeply regretted never having followed a nursing career and now was working in the NHS as an administrator. So how at the age you’re now do you fulfil the ambition that you once harboured? The way Melanie did it was to get trained in complementary therapies – first in reflexology and then in massage. When I last met her she was still working full time in the NHS, but in the evenings and weekends she had her therapies practice. Her long term ambition? To run her business part-time, while still working part-time in the NHS.

2. Make a contribution.

If you’ve got a very clear definition of what you wanted to do and can’t see how to do it, look at everything around it and see how you could contribute to something in that. I wanted to be a PE teacher when I was at school but my family didn’t have the money and decided that I wasn’t well enough to be able to complete the necessary training. So in my thirties I trained as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, which is about physical re-education. Get your creativity going; find ways to connect with what’s important so you do something in the same vein that gives you the buzz you might have achieved from an earlier, unfulfilled value.

“Masses of people work in jobs where they really care about the outcome in terms of the way it changes the world and how they can make a difference.”

3. Amass information.

Flood yourself with information on opportunities that exist now. Start with the Internet.

4. Write down 100 things that you don’t want to do.

By the time you’ve written that, you may have a clearer idea of what it is that you DO want to do.

5. Find support.

Connect with people already doing what you want to do and get their support. The world is big enough to have lots of people doing the same things.

6. Be realistic.

It’s easier to change some jobs than others – that is, those where there’s less specialist knowledge needed, and where qualifications can be acquired at any age. However also bear in mind that administrative experience in an area can also lead to gaining relevant professional skills too.

7. Visualise the big picture.

Take the small steps towards it, based on the information and contacts that you have.

8. Just do it now.

Don’t wait.

Life is too short not to.

Case history – jumping within the same company

Take the woman working as a secretary at the BBC, who hankered after a job in production. She got her career onto a different path by approaching a production department and volunteering to do Saturday work doing anything that was needed – typing scripts, tidying up etc. So when a vacancy came up they knew her, she had shown willing and she’d gained some experience. She landed a job as a production assistant and her TV career took off from there.


* For women’s and men’s personal development programmes in the UK, contact The Springboard Consultancy The Springboard Consultancy is a leading personal development consultancy which specialises in helping people acquire skills to progress in their careers. It does training and individual mentoring (eg: confidence building, assertiveness, stress management), and has a sliding fees scale).