The Printers Apprentice – A Zig Zag Career.

images (36)So is you career linear – a very straight line or like mine and many others a zig zag affair? I have been at work now for more years I care to remember and in that time I have had 16 different jobs. Adding fuel to the average time of 2 – 3 years people spend in a role. Most of my jobs were loosely connected with transferable skills applied from one industry to another and to an opportunity that I was either flattered to asked to interview, or needed the money for one reason or another. So how does a career work, is it planned or does it just happen to people……..that is the question.

This navel gazing came about as a result of an interesting article by Peter Honey and on LinkedIn recently; on the sometimes zig-zag approach a lot of us take to our careers or working life.

So where did I start off? With my headmasters parting words “and don’t come back”ringing in my ears I left school at the tender age of 16. Having to leave school for being a little bit of a rascal and a tearaway was a badge of honour at the time – though it didn’t last long. Dole money in the 1970’s was £7.70p, enough to give my mother £5 and to fill up the petrol tank of my motor bike for a week or so. Then things changed. After a few months of unemployment I managed to secure a 4 year apprenticeship as a lithographic printer in a Kent based print works, Whitstable Litho.

With the indentures signed by my father and the company to ensure I was not to be seen with loose women (some chance) or drunk in the street, I felt 7 feet tall and finally had a purpose. All this for £18.50 per 40 hour week. How innocent I was for the fun and exposure to an adult working life to come.

The apprentice lithographer title was one I would feel justifiable proud of until returning from the London School of Printing, Clarkenwell one evening. During the train journey and sitting opposite a chap who was a little 3 sheets to the wind (drunk to the uninitiated) asked me what I did for a living. I proudly announced and loud enough for the carriage to hear that I am a apprentice lithographer. The chap thought for a few seconds, eyes wandering desperately trying to make sense of the answer. Eventually through his sozzled haze he slurred with some difficulty – “and I am a photographer to”! I left it there and stared through the condensation of the train window deflating slowly like a old party balloon.

I didn’t plan to become a printer, work in the paper industry research & development, customer technical sales/services, manage international technical development teams, develop training/L&D for sales and management, quality systems, environmental science, run large coaching programmes for sales performance & design Welfare to Work health & wellbeing programmes etc etc. Or even have the faintest idea I would end up as a psychologist & coach with a couple of degrees, helping countless people manage a number of different work & personal issues. So how do careers work and how do people navigate their way through any number of sometimes loosely connected jobs to end up where they are today?

Few people emerging from university or school have any idea what they want to do, if they do perhaps they have had great career advice, coaching & guidance. Perhaps its all about personality as some psychometric developers will tell you. I very much doubt it.

The career or working life that fits the bill at your life stage and is unplanned is some ways quite reassuring. We are all told to plan and try to control every aspect of our lives to win the prize of a glittering career, money or other desired goals. The problem is that our ability to control really stops at the end of our fingertips. We can only control ourselves and in my case that can be a bit slippery. So over to you to have a cogitate about your career or work and how it zig zagged across the years. Or perhaps you are a linear careerist that are travelling from A to B to C to D with no hindrance. In any case I will leave you with this quote from Peter Drucker that will hopefully start your conversation.

“Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values.” – Peter F. Drucker

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