You could say – on studying the wide range of roles I’ve had since starting my career in 1985 – that I’ve been opportunistic, impatient and get bored easily. And yes, all of this would be true.
Having a squiggly, non-linear career is a direct result of starting it with three global management consulting firms after completing an MBA in my Los Angeles hometown. First, as a marketing/branding consultant for PwC in LA, then at PA Consulting Group in London two years later, followed by the London office of Hay Management Consultants.
Collectively, they taught me many things. First, how important it is to have good leadership in a business. Seeing its power when it inspires people to greatness, and the costs to its people and the business when it is lacking was lesson one.
Having been raised in Munich and having studied French thereafter for many years, being told I’d have to wait 10 years to be at a certain job level before qualifying for an international assignment was not going to cut it for me.
This is where my two university degrees in marketing came in handy. I wrote 120 letters (before Windows or email existed, thanks to WordPerfect!) to top European-based consulting brands and other businesses. Then I took six weeks to interview – what I dubbed the ‘Grand Tour’ – and left with two offers: CBS Records in Paris and PA Consulting Group in London. How sweet it was to be able to get myself to London under my own steam. And 32 years on, I’m still here with a successful international marketing business, a best-selling book (Working with Americans) a wonderful British husband and smart 24-year-old daughter now by my side.
This Grand Tour was a critical turning point for me, as was the 14-month wait for the British work permit, which truly tested my resolve given I’d resigned from the PwC role assuming I’d shortly be UK bound, paying the bills in the meantime as an LA paralegal with all the conscious bias that came with it from the fee earners.
‘A SQUIGGLY CAREER MAY FEEL LIKE A LARGE RISK BUT THE PAYBACKS IN TERMS OF LEARNING ABOUT YOURSELF MEANS THEY ARE GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES TO BE TAKEN’
The first big “squiggle” came at another turning point – my 30th birthday. I decided I really had to master my own destiny outside the politics and protection of a large corporate given I had many years of a career life ahead of me. Other squiggles have been prompted by the chance to offer my expert views across a range of media other outlets (BBC, Bloomberg, DW, CNBC, CNN, Sky News amongst others), to speak at events/conferences, to write a best-selling book and be associated with the world’s leading brands as clients including London Business School, Said Business School Oxford University, the FT, Burberry, Lufthansa, Pandora and many others.
A squiggly career may feel at the time like a large risk but the paybacks in terms of learning about yourself in terms of what you do/don’t like in a role/project/employer, combined with what you learn about the world of business means they are golden opportunities to be taken.
If you’re thinking about a change of direction, or opportunistically leaping on a project that will stretch you, it’s a valuable chance for your learning and renewal. Given the majority of careers are squiggles and not linear, I can say from experience it’s a club well worth joining.