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Career Confidence Part 1: My Story

I don’t know about you, but for years, I never gave too much thought to my career. In school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. We had a careers class in school, but all I remember from it was a bald statement that speech therapy and occupational therapy were good occupations to go into as there was a demand for them.

I had always wanted to be a nurse. I don’t know why. But as a child I had the dress-up outfit, the toys etc. When we were visiting my uncle in hospital once, someone must have told the nurses my ambition and they gave me a little white cardboard hat with a navy stripe. You had to pin it to your head with bobby pins. I was delighted. So that was that, I was going to be a nurse.

I did well at school. I was quiet, kept my head down, did the work. It came easily to me. I got good results. My parents went to a parent teacher meeting (I can’t remember when exactly in secondary school). When they said my wish was to become a nurse, they were told I “could do better”. Not the usual type of “could do better” that is bandied around at PT meetings I’ll admit. My secondary was very academically focused and, it has to be said, a bit snobbish. Looking back, maybe I should have challenged this, or maybe someone should have had a conversation with me about it, but I let this influence seep in.

When it came to third level applications, I then considered Social Work. I applied for Sociology courses, not knowing the first thing about sociology. I did an interview for a third level course. What I must have looked like at 18! And what I must have sounded like with no experience in helping anyone, except collecting for charity on a flag day and joining an afterschool group where we visited a retirement home and did Irish dancing! I needed 3 Cs in my A levels for those courses. I got 2 As and a B. So, the teachers were right… I could do better.

By a fluke, my A level economics teacher had been to a conference and came back with information on a new degree course that hadn’t made it to centralised application system, so was accepting direct applications. It was a BA (Hons) in Government and Law. It had higher entry requirements, so I applied. I got in. On the basis only that I had got the higher grades, I took it.

Through this the opportunity came up to get into the professional course to become a solicitor. I did the entrance exam. I quite enjoyed it. I got in. I searched for someone to take me on as an apprentice solicitor. I had no contacts. The Law Society stepped in to help and I got a few interviews (actually, my first experience of having what I thought was a “good interview” and a sure thing, which then wasn’t offered to me) and I got an apprenticeship. I took it. It could have been any office, anywhere, doing any kind of law. I just needed a place.

I didn’t know if I would be offered a job there after my training finished, but I knew I didn’t want to stay. I thought I might have to stay to get post-qualification experience. This was the only thought I gave to my future at the time. I decided I needed to move to Dublin. I applied for 2 jobs in Dublin as my then boyfriend (now husband!) lived there. I got an immediate interview and was offered one of the jobs. I took it.

I moved to a town I had only visited once. I worked there for 15 years, most of them happy. I had joined at the very conception of the Celtic Tiger, so as the boom boomed around me there was plenty of work and my job was secure. I never once thought of moving, or of a career progression, or of the future, or in any way long term. I married and had my children, whilst in that job.

I had my second child in October 2007 and returned to work in May 2008. It seemed that someone had turned the light off when I went on maternity leave and hadn’t turned it on again. It was darkness. It was eerily quiet. Where was all my work, all my clients, all my cases? The landscape had changed entirely. Bleakness set in. It was “The Recession”. Financial pressures hit the legal profession badly. Outlays were high and fees were hard to earn. We struggled on, at times on short time and with reduced salaries, until in 2012 I was offered a redundancy. I took it.

I’d been feeling a weariness. I wondered if I was a “fair weather employee”, happy to be there when things were good (and they had been good) but weary and unmotivated when times were hard. I thought of my children a lot (they were 7 and 4 then), and how they were in childcare, and the lifestyle we had, both parents working full time and racing to drop-of and pick-up and make dinner and pack lunches and visit parents etc. I felt my work-life balance was out of whack. I needed a breather. I’d gone straight from school, to college, to post-grad, to work and here I was 15 years later in the same place. I knew something had to change. I finished that job at the end of April 2012. I felt relief.

I took time out, I enjoyed it, doing the school run, running the house. In January 2013 I began to get a bit itchy, needing something to do and I was concerned about finances too. I started to look for work. At this stage, and with the employment market the way it was, it was “any job” rather than considering what I wanted. Again, I didn’t take the time to consider anything other than getting a job. I certainly wasn’t looking into the years ahead. I got a job very similar to my previous role. It was fine. It was convenient, secure, comfortable and with a nice employer. I probably could have worked there until my boss retired and maybe beyond.

But the old weariness came back, the old concerns about children and family (my parents living 3 hours from me). I knew something wasn’t right. I wondered what I was doing this for. I couldn’t imagine doing it for another 20 years.

Around this time, I came to coaching. I had considered it before, after my redundancy, but was busy doing a mediation course then. I got my own professional coach. She asked me about my work values. I didn’t understand. I said I was reliable, responsible, hardworking etc. She said “No” this wasn’t it, but “What is important to you in a job? What does a job have to give you?” Answering this and having the support and insight of a coach helped me realise that I needed to have flexibility and to be able to work around my family, even to be location-independent so I could work while say, visiting my parents 3 hours away. My job didn’t and couldn’t give me this. No job could give me this. I had to become my own boss.

I was finally looking in to the future and deciding what was going to work for me and what I wanted over the next few years and beyond. I handed in my notice and left work. I felt relief. I also felt resistance, but deep down I knew this was right for me and I was confident in that decision.

Having discovered coaching and having gone to an information evening, I felt coaching clicked with me. I was nodding enthusiastically. Sign me up! I loved the training and went on to further training in Career Coaching. I now run my own business, manage my own time and arrange things around my needs and that of my family. I had finally considered my own needs and gave thought to the future… I had a plan at last… I felt confidence.

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