While preparing for a COVID-induced career shift, I reflected on my professional journey to date, the interesting turns it’s taken, and where I hope the road is heading next. My career has been mostly spent in various areas of tourism, some time leading a multinational business association, and a stint in executive education. But how, where, and when did I acquire the skills to successfully take on these roles? After all, I studied Radio Broadcasting, traveled the world for a year, then completed a Communications degree with a major in Journalism (TV), and attended an Executive Leadership program at the East-West Center in Hawaii. At first glance these don’t seem to particularly lend themselves to my jobs to date. How did I get to where and who I am today?
Further introspection recalled an evening discussion with my father during my final year of high school when I had no idea what I wanted to study or do after graduation. I was concerned and puzzled as all I’d done to date was go to school and work part time as a DJ at a rollerskating rink. How could I know what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life? My Dad wisely suggested not to focus on forever, rather study something I was most interested in at that moment and see where it takes me. He also advised that what I study now likely won’t be what I do for the rest of my life, but skills acquired will benefit and emerge in unexpected and interesting ways. Boy was he right.
Part of my mid-life, COVID-career-transition entailed reskilling and upskilling in the People Development space, along with reading a good number of books. One of those, Wisdom at Work by Chip Conley, has been hugely influential, particularly the idea that we aren’t less valuable to employers as we age, rather we should be valued for our acquired wisdom. Life as it turns out is just gaining steam as we approach 50. This got me thinking…
To gain further insight, I reflected on jobs I’ve held and formal studies completed to illuminate acquired skills and make sense of my journey:
- Roller Skating Rink: dealing with a variety of age groups and people from various backgrounds; breaking out of my social shell; learning to proudly take on all tasks – simple or complex in nature; managing crowds and cultivating positive moods
- Bartending: stamina over long, busy periods; managing high volumes of cash; entertaining others; being highly social and getting along with all types of people (including overly drunk ones)
- Radio Broadcasting & Journalism: public speaking; presentation skills; video, audio, and written editing; storyboarding; various styles of writing; storytelling; expressing myself confidently
- Leadership: effectively connecting with various cultures, styles, and viewpoints; galvanizing teams; listening with focus and speaking less; program design and delivery; the power of networks; lifelong learning
Wow, quite a list. I can now see where and when I began to acquire and hone skills which have gotten me to today, and have been utilized in unforeseen ways. Most importantly, I’ve gained a new appreciation for wisdom and lifelong learning. Our journey is not over or stagnant just because we’ve hit a certain age. It’s never over if we don’t allow it to be. Rather, it’s best to recognize our skills and interests, constantly build upon them, create value, and have as much fun as possible during our time on this planet.
My Peers’ Journey
This introspection got me curious as to what knowledge my peers have accrued, how they’ve used it, particularly in ways not initially imagined, and how they got to now. I’ve known each of these people for more than a decade and most more than two. Following is the cast of characters, noting what they thought they would be when they were young, what they do now, and how they got here:
Then: Movie Director
Now: Senior Communications Consultant
Path: Was 100% sure his future was destined for the film industry, but took a multi-month trip to Thailand with a friend, got a job teaching English at a Thai school, went on to build a career as a skilled corporate communicator, writer, and also hosts the highly-rated Bangkok Podcast.
Then: Refrigeration Mechanic
Now: Bank Manager and part time Bicycle Tour Company Owner
Path: Went into banking as a young man, then pivoted to Asia where he developed one of the region’s premier bike tour companies, Grasshopper Adventures. He’s recently transitioned back to banking in his native Australia for a change of pace and scene.
Then: CCO of Shell
Now: Mental Coach
Path: Majored in Economics and Marketing at university, has worked primarily as an account manager and sales manager for various companies. Has a deep love for horses and is currently focused on curating careers that tap into what truly makes individuals happy.
Then: Private Detective (family business)
Path: Toyed with going into Law, got distracted by an idea to start a tour business in Thailand, and the rest is history. He’s also filmed more than 300 Thai television episodes, acted in movies, and is a regularly called-upon speaker.
Now: Development Consultant & Executive Coach
Path: Had little idea what he wanted to do heading out of high school, studied Arts in university during which time he discovered an interest in Psychology. This likely led to him developing a purpose to re-awaken a sense of hope and possibility in everyone he meets, which drives his work at Lidera Consulting.
Early Adulthood Acquired Skills & How They’ve Been Utilized
Monique places importance on the hard skills she cultivated early in life, “I learned how to work with figures and formulas, how Economics work, about Marketing issues, Statistics, and Law, as well as a lot about languages such as German, French, and English.” She also values her tuning of personal EQ during those early years, “Most of my social skills were developed then. How to apply for jobs, how to present myself, and how to cope with setbacks, which I developed while traveling in Australia.” “And during all this time I learned that life should also be about fun!”
Matt on the other hand, had a different, but equally valuable skill-acquisition journey early in life, “The sports I played and the need to be physically fit for lifeguarding, search and rescue, and climbing, taught me the skills and attitudes to take care of my health first in order to help others.” “I was also a councillor at summer camp, taught lifeguarding and C.P.R. to adults, which led to a passion for teaching, mentoring, and helping others.”
Greg cites the written word as an important skill he’s relied upon, “Writing was something I never wanted to formally do, but I did it for fun back in the day. Turns out it’s largely what I do professionally now.” Early jobs also taught him a lot, “Learning how to deal with different people and situations has been important. I learned that if you maintain flexibility and keep an open mind you’ll likely be able to learn something from everyone you meet and every situation you go through, even if it’s way outside your comfort zone and/or you hate it.”
Dan is proud of the presentation skills he’s developed, “Public speaking absolutely paved the way for junior leadership in an advertising agency and later on moonlighting in a television career.” There are a few other early-acquired skills that also have served him well, “Critical thinking and participation as a member of a group have been valuable.“ ”Customer service and creativity too – essentially what we do as a travel company now.” “And writing. I knew how to do it, but didn’t know it would come in so handy.”
While first working as a bank manager, Adam acquired a host of useful skills he then employed in tourism, “Professional communication, verbal and written, along with basic work/productivity habits have been valuable.” “I also learned the fundamentals of credit provision and assessment, as well as an understanding of the concept of customer centricity.” He’s also benefited from maths, a subject he struggled with in school, but has used extensively in his professional life.
For Greg, “It’s 50% being trained and 50% just trying it and doing what you can. Lots of people don’t even try, but I’ve never been afraid to try something totally new even if it turns out poorly. At least I can say I tried, even if I suck at it. Most people are competent at a lot of things, and with a bit of practice you can become fair, decent, or even excellent.”
Dan is focused on continuous learning, “Upskilling is terrifying, so I set realistic, easy levels to reach, adjust, and go higher from there.” “It’s also been valuable to develop a sound but functional knowledge and application of technology, law, business, and history. These are likely the most important things to continue to sharpen as you age.”
For Adam, it’s about solid routines, “Developing good habits and discipline has been immensely important.” “Only through repetitive and constant practice do they improve.” He’s built much of his professional life and reputation around great planning and consistent execution.
Matt says those early skills can take you to unexpected places, “I worked for a large telecommunication company who saw I had all this first aid knowledge and brought me into a management role to revamp their company-wide first aid training program and administer other safety programs. This taught me a lot about how to inspire people to buy-in to something willingly, versus because they have to!” “The simple act of listening deeply to someone can also help them feel more valued and encouraged.”
Advice You’d Give Your 18-Year-Old Self
Very happy with what she’s accomplished, Monique has some advice she’d share with her younger self, “Try as much stuff as you can, even if at first it’s not something you think you’re overly interested in. Also, take time to hang out with a variety of people, develop your social skills, travel, and meet new people. Never stop learning. Invest in and develop yourself, especially as you get older.” “If you use the skills you have in a job that makes you happy, then your skills will flourish!”
Dan recommends, “Public speaking and empathy are the key soft skills worth developing at a young age. They’ll serve you well for the rest of your life.”
Adam advises, “Be open to the possibility that you might discover dimensions to life that you had no awareness of at all and be willing to embrace them. For example, if you never thought about traveling the world, then at age-23 you suddenly discover this is all you want to do, be ready to adjust your life around that newfound priority.”
Being open to the unknown is Greg’s advice, “You think you know roughly how your life or career will turn out. You think you have a plan to stick to. But it won’t turn out that way. Nothing ever goes exactly to plan, and often you end up doing something or being someone you had no intention of doing or being. But that’s the exciting part.”
Matt says it’s about following a passion, “Ask yourself, “What are you most passionate about?” “What would you like to do?” Then ‘choose’ that and go for it. Also, in choosing, and not waiting, it’s not a life sentence. If you find that a vocation or company is not for you, great. Choose again – you have the rest of your life.” “And finally, develop a Growth Mindset and remember you can learn at any age.”
Here’s what surfaced most often among all six of us:
The soft-skills are the ones in most demand and higher education tends not to teach them. You need to get out there and acquire them over time, as well as via diverse, non-traditional learning opportunities. Get these ones dialed-in and continuously hone them.
Being a skilled communicator is a must. Written, verbal, presentation, body language, convincing others of your case or cause; build-out a deep personal communication suite.
Openness & Flexibility
Be open to the unknown, learn new things as they emerge, adapt, and flow with them. It’s never too late to learn, pivot, and transition to the many things that will materialize along the way.
Listening & Empathy
Listen, really listen, deeply, strive to understand, empathize with others, learn from them, cooperate, collaborate, and be a sought-after team player.
Keep learning, not only during the early stage of our lives when it’s what we’re required to do. Keep opening unknown doors, soak it all up, digest from broad areas, combine that knowledge, ask powerful questions, put it all together, tear it down, add something new, and continually grow.
It’s time to upend the life cycle we’ve been taught: you graduate high school, perhaps study some more, begin a job, slug away at it for 30 years, then retire quietly. Life consists of phases, transitions, learning should be ongoing, and we should believe we’re just as valuable in our later years, if not moreso, as a result of the wisdom we’ve accrued. The value of experiencing a broad variety of items and knowledge, soaking them up over time, letting them compound and manifest in unexpected ways is a key component of life’s magical journey. Set your course and adjust as the winds and maps evolve.