The changing face of ambition
Gone are the days when career paths were predictable and linear. Traditionally, carving out a career was a straight road, often with a single company or within one industry. It was the norm to start and finish your working life in the same job, climbing the ladder step by step – a testament to the value placed on loyalty and stability.
This 'job for life' culture wasn't just about earning a living; it was a badge of honour, a symbol of steadfastness in a world where sticking to the script was the done thing. This approach mirrored the slower pace of change back then, where professional shifts were more like gentle ripples than the rapid currents we see today. It was a world where the phrase 'career change' raised eyebrows rather than nods of understanding.
But more and more so, there’s less of a career ladder and more of a ‘career jungle gym’. CEO, writer, producer and journalist Pattie Sellers is credited with saying, “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” If you view your career as a ladder, you can be restricting yourself from new opportunities and unique experiences that could positively impact you and your career. The metaphor is a clever way of saying there’s no one way to the top. It can help people who are getting started in their careers with the freedom to move around and find what works for them. This can often mean hopping between roles and industries, and can often times lead to realising the right move for yourself is becoming an entrepreneur.
This article includes quotes from a panel session at Lean In, Lift Up, Nurture Network’s Inaugural Festival, entitled ‘The Changing Face of Ambition’.
One of the panellists, Dr Yvonne Thompson, Founder of WinTrade Global Women in Business Network discussed the varied path her career has taken to get her to where she is today. “My career is long and varied in many ways. I trained in communications, but I started off as a temporary contract with CBS Records, and that was about 42 years ago. Since I left there, I have been working for myself. The reason I left back then, there weren’t that many women in the music industry, and even less so further up. In the seven and a half years I was there, I was the only woman of colour in my workplace.” She then faced frustration when wanting a permanent role at the places she would be temping at, “I went into the promotions department and applied for jobs that I temped for, so I could do the jobs, but never got them. I applied for three jobs that I temped for but didn't get them. And I thought you know what, if I can do for them, I can do it for me. So this third time I was refused, I ran into the ladies, cried my eyes out, came back and handed in my notice and never looked back. When I left, I started the first black-owned PR company.”
Claire Fox, the Founder of Claire Fox Coaching, discussed her ever-changing career. “I studied Sports Science originally, and when I was younger, I used to compete for Great Britain as a white-water slalom canoeist. During the course of my degree, I became really interested business management, so the first half of my career was quite traditional. I joined Unilever as a HR graduate trainee, but did various different placements and then various different HR director roles.”
Fox continued discussing how she has also worked at Save The Children International and UNICEF UK in a Chief Operating Officer Role. Then she moved on once again: “Three years ago, I took the leap to set up my own business where I do coaching and consulting. So I focus on executive coaching, leadership coaching, but also consulting leadership impact, active diversity and inclusion consulting working in lots of different organisations.”
“I think my career can be summed up as following my curiosity,” stated Elizabeth Uviebinené, Founder and CEO of Storia, as well as author of Slay in Your Lane. “I went to Warwick University to study Politics, but I was never going to end up in Politics. I wanted to have a career tat balanced some sort of creativity but also within the safe haven of a corporate structure, so I ended up working at Deutsche Bank and HSBC for a few years in the marketing team. Then I ended up writing my book Slay in Your Lane with a friend. We interviewed some of the most visible black women in the country, and we asked them, how they've been able to navigate their life. So, I published my book and then a year later, I started my business, Storia. It’s a journalling app that brings people together, which is quite unusual, because journalling is a very solitary pursuit. But I do believe that personal analysis can help us belong, increase empathy and understanding amongst each other.”
Why would you 'jungle gym' your career?
What can we learn from their varied careers? And why can becoming an entrepreneur give you more control of your career and life?
As reflected in Thompson’s career journey, the frustration of not being appreciated in the workplace led to her founding her own company. This is a large reason why people follow the entrepreneurial path. Becoming an entrepreneur means everything is on your terms, and you call the shots. When in a job that you feel doesn’t listen to you or allow you to grow, that can be the driving factor to begin your own business, because you will know that the choices that are made are all on your watch.
Variety is the spice of life, and that is exactly what being a founder is. You wear many hats as a founder, especially at the start of your journey, and for many, this is the variety they’ve been wanting out of a career. A steady, corporate career can sometimes feel like you’re living the same day over and over again, but the life of a founder is never the same.
For entrepreneurs, achieving a work-life balance is akin to walking a tightrope. The entrepreneurial journey, fuelled by passion and ambition, often blurs the lines between work and personal life. However, more entrepreneurs are recognising the significance of striking a balance. They understand that long-term success isn't just measured by business achievements but also by maintaining personal wellbeing and relationships. While in a corporate career, some may feel like they need to put in the overtime, or be forced to do so to gain promotions, but when the business is their own, they are able to set their own boundaries and hours that they work.
the choice to pursue an entrepreneurial path over a traditional career is rooted in a desire for autonomy, personal fulfilment, and the opportunity to make a tangible impact. Entrepreneurs are drawn to the freedom to innovate, express creativity, and bring their visions to life without the limitations that can be found in conventional job roles.