Breaking the self-imposed barriers to work progression

Taking a step (or over 500 miles – namely in rural France) back, switching off, and giving myself time to reflect, I began to think about the commonalities amongst questions my peers ask me most, and one recurring theme was how I came to be MD at Social Chain, and what I’ve learned along the way.

Imposters’ syndrome has incredibly negative connotations, ones which have indeed caused negative internal impacts on me in the past. Today, content and no longer scared, I can fully reflect and acknowledge that without my inner imposter, I would likely not be where I am now. Now, a faint scream in the back of my head, the inner imposter mirrors this oxymoron and allows me to maintain my drive and keep learning. The fear of being ‘found out’ steered me onto indirect paths, filled with various opportunities, which led me to where I am now – a tumultuous and excitable journey.

This journey, this career and most importantly this imposter syndrome are almost always accompanied by self-doubt, most often worsened by the pressure society places on the importance of the career ladder. A simple look back in the rear view mirror and I can view my career trajectory, one that has been driven with turns that are diagonal, horizontal and at times in reverse. Simply put; it has been far from a straight journey up the ladder. Every time I accepted new opportunities, I worried that I would slip off of my current step and fall back down to the bottom of the ladder again, having to learn an entirely new skill set to sanction climbing back up and get promoted. I have come to realise that each step is accompanied by transferable skills which have been gained, and persistence has been learnt.

Reflecting on the definition of the term ‘career ladder’ led me to this definition by Cambridge Dictionary: “A series of jobs from the lower paid with less responsibility to the highest paid with the most responsibility within a company or particular profession. If someone has a good work ethic, he or she should move up the career ladder.”

The reaction to this definition relates particularly to that of googling ‘managing director’: which is completely disheartening and outdated. The definition induces a feeling that your progression is intrinsically tied to promotions in your role, within the same industry and that you only get those opportunities if you demonstrate ‘good work ethic’. This is undoubtedly an archaic concept for today’s working economy. What if you’re not happy in your industry or profession? Will you never achieve a top place on the career ladder? So, will you not have a fulfilled career?

The most concerning facet of the career ladder is the reality that it holds a deep-rooted place within the education system. As children, we’re told that the route to success is defined by attendance at university and consequent upward moves in a career. As such, this often involves filling out questionnaires from the careers advisor in your school, only for them to reveal the formulaic result of what industry you are most suited to (more often than not, industries in which you could never see yourself in). In one motion, you are pigeon-holed based on an external opinion. I think I was told I should be a teacher – definitely not. Recently, it was reported by the BBC that a third of future jobs don’t currently exist. Not only does this highlight that it is improbable that our eventual careers will be in the same industry as those at the onset, but also highlights how the times have changed and will continue to do so repeatedly.

It is apparent my education has had very little direct relevance with my current career. At school, I had no options for learning about media on any courses, so unaware of what the industry had to offer, I didn’t look into applying for media related University courses. It was only when I had to go through clearing to get into University that I ended up discovering this whole new industry that I didn't know existed. I desired to continue to learn and stay out of my comfort zone that has permitted my career progression. In the industry we currently reside in, adaptability is of paramount importance, and it is attributes like this allow us to move with the constant changes to people’s media consumption habits. I found myself feeling the need to develop my skills a couple of times in my career.

At a point in my career where I was buying a magazine advertising space, I coined the reference; ‘comfy slippers’. Even though I loved my role (I’m at my happiest with a magazine in hand!), I had a gut instinct (never to be ignored) that I wanted to learn more, and needed to keep up with the changes that were about to tsunami the industry. At this point, magazine sales were dwindling, and people were beginning to consume more content and spend more time online than reading print. My desire to progress was efficacious; I took it upon myself to proactively approach a new client with a magazine development, ultimately piquing my interest in the new business for the agency. It was this interest in pursuing areas of potential business growth that steered me to become a Business Development Controller. With no prior experience in what the role would entail, I quickly got into the habit of finding leads, approaching prospects and co-ordinating pitches. It became an everyday reality to feel out of my depth, however learning on the job and assisting with 66 pitches in one year gave me the key to understanding how businesses are run, how commercial proposals are developed, how to choose the best team for a pitch and the legalities of new client contracts.

The area I have always wanted to and continue to develop is my digital knowledge. Having touched the peripheries of the digital landscape, I was able to talk confidently about digital marketing, but what I truly needed and wanted was to become more of an expert in this ever-growing arena, knowing this was key for my career development.

Even in the first conversations with Social Chain, prior to my joining the company, my inner imposter was on high alert. In my interview, I was acutely aware that I was unable to answer any of the specific questions about algorithms. That being said, I quickly learned that my transferable skills (negotiation, client service, the ability to put together commercial structure proposals) learnt from previous roles, would be an asset to the company and facilitate Social Chain in developing the business even further.

Success in our industry and particularly at Social Chain is not tightly linked to jobs and hierarchies, or “ladders”. Respect, growth, and team abilities are the underwriting driver of individual progression. I encourage people to follow their passions, as often that aligns them with company goals. We’ve found that if people are not passionate in their roles, we don't get the most out of them. It is safe to say that the trick for all our futures is to keep at the top of mind the removal of comfy slippers, and to remember to adapt to the ever-changing landscape that we find ourselves in. Do not be pressured by the need to climb a metaphorical ladder and do not be scared to seek discomfort in work environments, as only then will true progression occur.

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