Friday, 5 August 2016

How did I get here?


If that hasn't got the Talking Heads song going through your head, nothing will. This is a bit of a reflective post prompted by three separate things happening this past week. 

One is that I have had some conversations with People Management magazine recently, one around giving career advice to other HR professionals (which appeared in print, happily) and another around Personal Learning Networks and how my own has evolved over time. Both of these conversations made me stop and think about the shape of my career and the journey I've been on, and made me reflect on the key turning points in it. 

Two is that the beginning of August 2016 was at one point going to be one of those turning points, long since discarded on my career journey but now that it's here it's prompted a bit of reflection. 

And three is catching a bit of the film Sliding Doors, which made me wonder what would have happened if I'd made different choices along the way at each of those turning points. 

I do wonder whether it's healthy to dwell on past decisions, and it probably isn't when done to excess and when it prompts too much regret or unhappiness. 

But my philosophy is that it's better to regret things you've done, than regret things you've not done. And so that's how I approached this period of reflection - every decision I've made in my career, going right back to my school days, has led me to where I am now, and whilst I do have a moan about things from time to time, I'm happy with my career to date and recognise that even the worst of bad days contains some learning that helps me grow as a professional and a human being. 

I have made some decisions that have led to some unhappiness, that's true, but in the long term they always tend to work out for the best no matter what the short term pain. It's like the value of property, it can dip from time to time but over a long period, it always gains in value. And I think the same is true of career decisions. 

Except sometimes I still wish I'd followed my boyhood dreams and played for Manchester United or become a WWE professional wrestler. 

I can look back on every decision and see the positives that flowed from it, even if they weren't apparent for some months or years at the time.

Here's some things I've reflected on:

- if I hadn't chosen history instead of geography at GCSE I might never have studied history for A level and my degree, which developed my writing style, questioning technique, healthy cynicism and instinctive approach to question, challenge and debate
- if I hadn't been fat as a child and been bullied for this and other physical differences I may never have developed my strong sense of justice and equality, and understood different power bases individuals have and how that plays out in organisations
- if I hadn't flunked my A levels I wouldn't have learnt that you can never rest on your laurels and assume things will be given to you on a plate
- if I hadn't taken a temporary job in a finance team and flirted seriously with becoming an accountant, I wouldn't have developed the financial knowledge that has helped me enormously in later jobs
- if I hadn't stuck at my PGCE despite hating teaching teenagers, I wouldn't have got the in depth understanding of learning and coaching, and developed that in future years, or honed my speaking and training skills
- if I hadn't said yes to being on a process improvement temporary job despite feeling forced to, I'd never have met the people who persuaded me to look at a career in HR and who helped me so much in my early HR career and learnt new skills that have also helped me in all later jobs
- if I hadn't listened to an improved offer from GGHT after turning the job down first time round I'd never have worked for that great company or its great Chief Executive and learnt so much that has helped me
- if I hadn't gone through a painful divorce I wouldn't have had the motivation to get myself fit / recover my health and set myself new personal goals and challenges, nor got into the world of online dating which led to my first experiments in blogging and social media, all of which help me today in my work 
- if I hadn't had the experiences I did at the end of my tenure at my previous employer, I wouldn't have had the motivation to build up my PLN, take a serious look at my professional image and the way it is shaped by relationships, or start this blog, or really research organisational culture and apply that to my work

And there are other decisions that have given me cause to regret or wonder if I did the right thing, but one thing is true of all of these and the ones above - that they shaped me, helped me become who I am, and each left its mark on my PLN in that there are individuals who mattered at each juncture who have remained part of my PLN for specific reasons. 

When I look back, it's possible to see patterns and trends in how my PLN and the associated career I've had has evolved, and if I ever come to write the story of all of this it may come across like a grand plan - but it's not, it is just evolving organically. 

Most of my decisions are questionable, in the sense that they're never 100% guaranteed to work out and it's always possible to question the motive behind them. Many have their downsides and give me cause to regret. 

But what I also find is the longer term picture is always far better as a result of them. 

That if I have a Sliding Doors moment, then I'm definitely on the better path, despite any upsets along the way (of which there are many). 

And regret is fine when it's about things you've done and paths you took. Just don't get regretting things you didn't do or paths you didn't take. 

Therein lies the road to madness. Instead, JFDI. 

Till next time. 

Gary

Ps in other news, my Stag Do is tomorrow! A day at Edgbaston for the test match then out round Birmingham afterwards. It may get messy.