On careers advice

BBC Woman’s Hour podcast this morning was discussing vocational advice for those teenagers who will receive their GCSE results this week (other High School examinations are available). I can remember my Careers Advisor interview very clearly. Held in the library office at my Senior School, the library was primarily good fun to visit because if you sat on your chair and whizzed your feet back and forth on the nylon carpet, you could build up such a charge of static, it would spark between you and your neighbour.

I got asked what I was interested in and what I wanted to do with my life at about 14/15 years old. I am 39 years old and am still trying to work it out. I loved reading, still do. Am interested in people, still am. Love helping people, still do. I am logical, methodical and see through obstacles and around corners, which is why my little business I guess is something I’ve fallen into: http://getorganisedoutonalimb.com/

But at 14/15 years old, I handed over my list of things-I-like-to-do and the subjects I was studying in my final two years at school and had a 15 minute conversation with someone who’d never met me before, didn’t know me or my faults, foibles and strengths from Adam, or indeed Eve. At the time I was competing at swimming. I’m not 100% sure, but like many swimmers, I guess the aroma of chlorine gave it away.

She suggested that as I liked swimming I joined the Navy.

Let me pause there for a bit for that to sink in.

As I liked swimming = join the Navy. Being a good girl, I nodded meekly, took my piece of paper home, fluffed my GCSEs, mainly because my grandmothers died less than a year apart and I was a mess. Went to college to retake some more GCSEs and start A-Levels working towards the Navy and dropped out because I was fed up of school.

At no point was a vocational option suggested or offered, I don’t even know if any other than hairdressing would have been open to me, being a girl and all. While I went on to study at a different college with some external placements throughout the course, this wasn’t the same as an apprenticeship, which probably would have been right up my alley. I would have been learning on the job and earning money, giving me independence, which looking back is all I wanted anyway.

Would I have learnt independence being in the Navy? I don’t know. I know I can’t go back and change anything, or have regrets about what could have been.

What I do know that since then, I’ve educated myself by voraciously reading books, letting each one lead me to the next one or two or more, my reading list expands every time I read a book, so I’m constantly discovering new ideas. I wouldn’t say that my education level is diminished, I know I don’t have a degree, but hey, I also don’t have a student debt around my neck either.

Like my life, my book list is a work in progress. I don’t have as much time to read as I used to, with a small person running about the house, but that doesn’t stop me from squeezing time out my day as best I can to disappear between the covers of a book.

So if I can offer career advice to any of you? Read. Inhale. Savour. Re-read. Underline paragraphs that speak to you. As my beloved Alan Bennett says it so wonderfully through Hector from the History Boys:

The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.


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