Reflecting on my life and career journey so far

It’s currently mid-2018 as I write this, and I feel that I’m at a bit of an inflection point – in my life and my career. For the past 5 years I’ve worked as a management consultant, specifically in customer experience. I’ve helped companies of all shapes and sizes better connect with their customers. It’s fast-paced, intense job in which I’ve made some of the best friends I have, learnt a tremendous amount and had so much fun along the way!

However, I’ve always felt a disconnect (whether I’ve realised it or not!) between what I do for a living, and what my passions and interests are. So, to help you all get to know me a bit more, I wanted to document some of the stages of my life and career so far and explain the ups, downs and meanders along the way…

School

When I was at school, I fell into the category of people who never had a set idea on what they wanted to do. The teachers would say it to ‘keep your options open’ so over the course of GCSEs and A Levels I studied a range of subjects, eventually achieving solid grades in Geography, Biology and Maths. I’d always been really sporty, playing lacrosse, netball, athletics and most things in-between! Through injuries and playing sport at a regional and international level I became really interested in nutrition and the human body, but I wasn’t quite sure whether I wanted to do something like Physiotherapy or go the whole hog and do Medicine at University. I settled on a middle ground of a Biomedical Science degree and, if I’m honest, I picked the university I liked rather than worrying too much about the degree subject!

University 

After a semester studying Biomedical Science at Newcastle University I realised something wasn’t quite clicking. I wasn’t as passionate about the whole subject as I thought and I ruled out a medical career as I was just way more squeamish than I realised! I only really liked the Physiology module (which was just 1/6th of the degree!) and I had to make a big decision as to what to do next. The options were to try a more human biology or physiotherapy based degree at a different university (as Newcastle didDSC02645n’t offer those courses) or to make a more radical switch to an unrelated subject, but one that I knew I could get a good degree in. I chose the latter and changed to study Human Geography (a mix of Sociology, Politics and Economics), staying at Newcastle.

This turned out to be a great decision as I not only really enjoyed the subject area, but I achieved first class honours and my dissertation got nominated for a national award! I learnt that it’s OK to change your mind, as long as you’re doing something that you know will pay off. From this point I threw my academic self into studying and it’s probably the first point I separated what I might do for work, with what I was truly passionate about.

Alongside all of this at university I had the opportunity I had to play lacrosse internationally. I spent 4 years training with and playing lacrosse for Scotland, captaining their U21 team and gaining a full international cap! We were fortunate to have a great support team including nutritionists, physios and sports psychologists. When I look back at this now, I felt that lacrosse was something I always had to do, and I enjoyed doing something completely unrelated at uni. Plus, playing sport taught me about pressure and teamwork in a whole different way and is definitely something I talk about with passion.

Travelling

After I’d decided to change to Geography, I needed to figure out what to do with the rest of my year before I would return the following September to start the course properly. I hadn’t taken a gap year like most of my school friends and felt I was missing out. So, I went home from Newcastle in around March and worked at a pub to earn enough mo39916_452844402462_502712462_6102618_1353003_nney to fly out to Asia to join them. I was lucky enough to get the best of both worlds: starting university and meeting so many new people, and travelling South East Asia for two months in the summer! Since that trip I haven’t lost the travelling bug and try to go on a trip every couple of years, most recently to Indonesia but I also went to Brazil after I graduated which was incredible. My dream is to live and work abroad in several countries…

Work Experience

The hardest thing about applying for jobs as a graduate is the vicious circle of work experience: you need experience to get the job, but you need the job to get the experience. My strategy was to get as much volunteering experience and work placements as possible. I worked at Teenage Cancer Trust for a year, and also has a placement at County Durham’s Sports Department as a Social Media Officer. Here, I gained my first taste of the world of digital and was responsible for running their social media channels, and coming up with an engagement strategy. Looking back, I don’t think it’s a co-incidence that this role happened to be in the County’s sports department, promoting healthy living across the area…

Starting a career as a Management Consultant

By the time I graduated I had an internship sorted to start straight away, at Barclays Bank as a Social Media Analyst. During my internship at Barclays I gained a real insight into the working world, how companies functioned and just general business etiquette! However, working in finance was still too narrow for me and I learnt I love variety in a job. I began to research and apply for graduate consultant roles and secured a position as a Business Consultant with IBM.

The IBM Southbank lobby showing the augmented reality display stand in the background.
The IBM Southbank lobby.

I joined IBM in October of 2013 and in my two years there my feet barely touched the ground! It was an incredible role where I learnt so much about technology, business and finally understood why ‘commercial acumen’ is so important on every graduate job application!

I found my interest lay in Customer Experience and Digital. My favourite projects were ones where I would be working with clients in workshops and interactive prototyping sessions helping them to plan out their future customer experiences.

Over my time in the company I got to work with some very talented people and with some very cool technologies (as well as the chance to travel!) however in the end it was just too big and too broad and I wanted to hone in on some more specialist skills. I had completed a qualification in digital marketing and began to look for some agencies where I could develop the analytical side of my skill set. I joined a small digital analytics agency and got the change to work with lots of household brand names managing their social media.

After this, it was time to go back to a bigger consultancy, and I arrived at North Highland, joining their experience design agency, Sparks Grove, after a year. I’ve learnt how important the working environment is: here I am surrounded by driven, bright, hilarious people who make work a great place to be! I still work with clients across the UK, helping them connect with their audiences, and I enjoy the constant challenge and ambiguity. I am happiest when helping solve problems, and get a lot of energy from others.

Making a change

However… I have always been a person driven by my values. Whilst I’ve not always known what kind of job I wanted to do (I’m SO envious of those people who have this crystal clear vision!), I’ve always known I value ambition, honesty, and purpose. The times when I’ve found my job harder to do is when what I have to do conflicts in some conscious or subconscious way with these values.

Back to that ‘inflection point’… After 5 years as a management consultant it feels as if there’s a point of change in my life. I have some big life changes coming up which I’ll post about soon, but they mean that it’s a chance for me to take stock of what I’m doing, and possibly take a leap into different direction… (I’m reading Helena Morrissey’s book at the moment and she lives by “leap before you look”) I have always been passionate about health, nutrition, and keeping fit. It’s been a huge part of my life. But, I think that after having to train so hard all through school and university for lacrosse, I welcomed the chance to do something different with my day job.

I love consulting: the variety, the people and the pace. But now, I feel like I want to connect these two parts of my life a bit more: an opportunity to connect my knowledge in experience design & social media with my love of all things food/fitness/lifestyle. It’s time to explore my options and I can’t wait! I hope you stay with me for the journey, it’s going to be a good one 🙂

 

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