My work often means having conversations with people about their careers.  It always fascinates me to discover the paths we all take to end up where we are.  When I started in business, in the 80s, it felt like the paths were well trodden and straightforward.  By starting at point A, it was quite easy to predict that retirement would come at point D, via B and C. 

As time has gone on I have met more and more people who have followed less traditional routes, including some who have trodden completely new ground, forging a unique, fresh path.  I am often curious to focus on those moments where we choose (whether consciously or not) to veer off a well-worn path and take a less obvious route.   In film/theatre these are liminal moments; a pause in the action where a range of possibilities are presented to the protagonist.   For the purpose of this blog I have decided to call them moments of strewth and I have three stories to tell…

I was catching up with an old client/friend in the pub the other night.   Alan (not his real name) was bringing me up to date with his career since we had last met three years ago.   A retailer through and through, he had found himself out of work for most of 2012.  His moment of strewth came in the depths of his search for work, during a chance conversation with a friend who worked in construction.   There was an opportunity for some fixed term contract work doing project management in his building firm.  Could Alan do it? “Strewth” he thought (not his actual word but you get the point!) Taking his courage in hand, and thinking creatively about how he might pitch himself he said ‘yes’ and has not looked back since.

Christian Bethelson was a soldier in Liberia who became the leader of rebel forces in 1990 and spent the next thirteen years fighting a brutal civil war.  By his own admission his only skill was killing.  Christian’s moment of strewth coming after the civil war ended.  Without a means to feed his family he had decided to join the fighting in Ivory Coast, where the pay was good and he would be able to continue with his career.  However he got stuck in the mud, along with some other cars, on his way to the border.  By chance he fell into conversation with a group of western charity workers who were committed to rebuilding war-torn communities, and who asked him to join them in their work.  Strewth!   Christian agreed to ‘give it a try’ and never turned back.  He is now a leading figure in the African movement to build homes in war-torn communities.  You can read more about Christian Bethelson here

The third story came to me as I watched the UK election coverage over the last few days.  I was struck by how brutal a business it was from a career perspective.  As an example, on Thursday afternoon Ed Balls probably felt he had a reasonable chance of being Chancellor of the Exchequer by the following morning.   As it turned out the next day he was unemployed, having been sacked by his employers (the voters of Morley and Outwood) in front of a live television audience of millions.  Strewth!  He was not alone.  Vince Cable had been an MP for Twickenham for eighteen years and Business Secretary in the Goverment for five.  He is now looking for another job after being publically fired with a camera in his face.   I could go on.   What will all these people do with their careers? 

What qualities from the first two stories would help this battalion of beleaguered ex-MPs?

  • Wake up to the fact that you are at a point where there are many paths available to you
  • Find your courage.  Recognise that whatever path you take my require you to step out of your comfort zone.
  • Develop curiosity about the possibilities that are uniquely available at this time.
  • Think creatively, what are the other available paths or even the un-trodden ground?
  • Move from contemplation into action
  • Respond with agility as possibilities start to become opportunities
  • Stay resilient and optimistic

How might these qualities help you as you face your own moments of strewth?

*Australian expression of surprise, actually derived in 19th century Britain as a shortening of ‘god’s truth’

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