When taking a trip into the unknown, it can be helpful to hear from someone who’s been there and returned to tell the tale. Following are excerpts from an interview with Zoe Grams, fresh on the heels of a career transition where, one year out of university, she drove her passions for the written word, communications and the arts not only to a firm of her choosing but also from Glasgow to Vancouver. Now, six years on, Zoe Grams continues to blaze her unique path as Principal of ZG Communications, a highly successful marketing consultancy working with publishers, not for profits, and other socially conscious organizations.
While Zoe’s insights are those of a young professional, they’re relevant for anyone preparing for or in the midst of career transition.
What surprised you most about your career transition process?
In essence: I was surprised just how sensitive the steering wheel was once I decided to use it! I was shocked, and delighted, to receive such openness and positive feedback from other professionals in the industry. My scepticism about the possibility of generating mutually rewarding conversations just by asking for them soon faded. By having the courage to ask for support, I received it.
What assumptions did you bring to this process?
As a recent graduate, I entered the process fighting the mentality that one should “take what you are given,” assuming I would need to settle for a job that didn’t reflect my ultimate goals or my values. During my time at University I grew accustomed to hearing about talented young people ‘doing time’ (prison undertones acknowledged) at an unfulfilling job before getting their shot at their true passion. I didn’t expect to be able to control my career, or to create a path, so purposefully.
How would you recommend young professionals approach the challenges of career transition?
Be prepared to spend time and emotional energy. Your transition can be challenging and draining. Keep a keen focus on what you want to achieve – in the short and long term – and use that as your compass, especially when times are difficult and you’re offered a compromise (“Well, I’ll just do it for a year.”) It becomes much easier to commit fully to the process – and the associated workload – when you can see how it will contribute to who you want to be in the long term. Speak to people who know your strengths and will remind you of them regularly. Find a mentor who will support you throughout the process and help you stay the course.
And remember: it will be worth it.
What have you learned through this process that you would like to pass along?
1) Short answer? Do what you love. Wherever possible, make decisions about your career based on what fulfils you and what makes you happy. Six years later, this is the piece of advice I value most. The projects I immersed myself in out of passion continue to be my favourite – and have also led to the greatest career opportunities.
2) When starting your transition process, fully consider what work you enjoy doing, and when you are happiest in the day-to-day. By cementing an understanding of the tasks that you realistically like doing, you will find it much easier to decide which career opportunities you want to explore.
3) It’s cliché because it’s true: avoid comparing yourself to others. Others’ strengths don’t detract from yours (even if you are competing for roles), and another’s pitfall or failure may not be your own in the future. It’s almost impossible to stop this comparison, but do so during those inner, dark-night-of-the-soul moments, not when creating strategies for career development.
4) Think of where you want to be in 5, 10, 15 years. What do you want to be known for? Think of where you want your community or industry to be in 5, 10, 15 years. How can you contribute to this? Envisioning your ideal future can help you set goals to eventually reach your big picture plans.
5) Be patient. Don’t ‘sell out.’ Give yourself enough time for the seeds you plant to grow. My transition and move to Canada took five months overall with half the time spent in preparations. Set things up so that you don’t have to compromise on a less than ideal role.