This is a post, based on my own experienced and struggles in my early 20s, and could benefit anyone who:
- Is a school leaver/university graduate;
- Wants to change career, but doesn’t know what to do;
- Wants to change career and knows what they want to do, but don’t know how to start.
I experienced many struggles in my early 20s, but have accumulated important knowledge that I would have benefitted from when I first started out. I recently recorded a podcast on five key considerations that I believe will go a long way to securing a career that you’ll love:
However, in this blog post, I open up a lot more about my own personal experiences, and how these moments have led me to doing what I do, to this today. Here are the five key points, which includes my career story so far:
1. Learning to have the humility to start from the bottom
As a graduate from a highly respected university in my field, I graduated with a massively false sense of entitlement. I was deluded and believed that I would be able to walk into a job, even though I had very little experience at this point. I soon learned that most employers value experience over qualifications, and that it also helped if you know people within the company! It therefore took seven months to secure work after graduating.
I was then actually fortunate to be given a fantastic job as an international sports event coordinator, based on my qualifications, within a year of graduating. However, I soon found out that I wasn’t suited to this role, and my position only lasted nine months, before I found myself unemployed again!
From this point, it was non-stop job applications, CVs, covering letters and interviews. The majority of which were unsuccessful. This was one of the toughest periods in my life, mentally. I had a good degree and international experience, but struggled to find work for another five months. I was turned down for lower paid roles, as companies thought I was “overqualified” and that I wouldn’t stick around long enough. But then, the graduate level jobs required relevant experience. The event coordinator role I had, was within a very niche industry and these type or roles were in very low demand, especially entering the great recession of 2007-2008.
It was a time of extreme low self-esteem, and even symptoms of depression, when I look back throughout those months. I had feelings of complete worthlessness and lacked a sense of purpose every day. Negative and even some very dark thoughts were frequent and crippling. Until I was sent a book by a friend at the time: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do”, and this provided inspiration for digging myself out of the hole I found myself in. I had to get out there and start from the bottom by working for free, volunteering, trying to provide value to others, and meeting people.
2. Taste as many experiences as possible
In 2008, it was then my goal to become a sports development officer, as these vacancies existed, and I had the relevant qualifications, but required coaching experience which I didn’t have at the time. I had to volunteer as an assistant coach in primary schools across Hull, in order to acquire the necessary experience.
Once qualified, I then started coaching Football and multi-skills in schools and getting paid for it. My mood improved and had a sense of purpose now. But it wasn’t enough, as although the work was rewarding, it didn’t feel like I was suited to coaching large groups, or working in schools. I even worked as an assistant to the PE teachers at a local secondary school, with a thought to becoming a teacher myself. But I didn’t enjoy or feel suited to the role. A lot of the teachers were quite stressed out and unhappy, and I didn’t feel this was the future for me.
I was fortunate enough to be selected to coach football in the USA in the summer of 2009, where I spent two months working with such a variety of coaches and children across multiple states. I even managed to get a job in the forests of Oregon for another two months, once the summer camps were over. This involved marking trees with paint for the Forestry commission. Not a role I particularly enjoyed, but it was a relatively well paid job and experienced working in some of the most stunning scenery you’ll ever come across. I also developed networking and teamwork skills, as well as a capacity for hard work, as it included carrying multiple litres of paint up and down mountain ranges, something that I’d never previously experienced.
3. Network and approach key people and meet them in person
Once back in the UK, it wasn’t long before I was contacted by David Lloyd Hull, and was asked to work as a sports coach for DL Kids for three hours a week. It was unpaid, but in exchange, I was given a free membership to the club. Perfect, as I now wanted to teach myself how to lift free weights, and had plenty of time to enjoy the facilities!
I’d previously sent my CV in to David Lloyd, and many other companies, without success. However, this time I took it upon myself to arrange a meeting key people in the club, who were responsible for recruitment. This is something that I believe can have a massive impact on getting your foot into the door of a company that you want to be part of.
If you think about it, companies likely get many CVs and applications for each vacancy. You’re potentially just one piece of paper in a pile. But how many people actually go into the company and ask to arrange meetings with the people who make the key decisions on recruitment. Relatively few. I originally approached the sports manager at the time, at David Lloyd Hull, in early 2009. I was offered a job in June, but had to turn it down as I’d just agreed to go to the USA to coach for the summer. But, on my return in October 2009, I contacted the management again, only to be told there were no vacancies at this time. However, I was contacted a couple of months later and started the DL Kids coaching role in January 2010. Perseverance paid off in the end, and only a month into working at DL, an opportunity came up for me to train to become a self-employed PT at the club.
4. Start your own business
Coming off the back of the most severe economic decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s, I was told by family members that Personal Training was a “luxury” and that there was “no money in it”. Especially in Hull, which is often widely considered one of most deprived cities in the country. But, I had no other choice. I liked the idea of working one to one with people and helping those who reach out for help. Did I know it’s what I wanted to do as a long term career, when I first started? I’ll be honest, I didn’t have a clue! But as soon as I started in the gym environment, I loved it. Everyone in there had made the choice to improve their health and fitness and there was a positive vibe within the environment.
There were only a few PTs working at the gym back then, and not many were successful at the time. But one thing was very evident: there were thousands of members at the gym, which was, and still is, considered to be the most expensive membership in the area. Even through a tough economic period, people stuck with their gym memberships, and I quickly learnt how important health and fitness is to people’s lives. Getting the most benefit out of the gym, ranked pretty highly on lots of member’s priorities, and it became clear that Personal Training wasn’t just being seen as a luxury service anymore. For those who are keen to improve, it became essential to seek the correct guidance.
I even took it upon myself to seek out the best PTs in the area and learn from each of them by being a client, and experience being on the other side of the service. This is something I still do to this day, and will continue to be a vital part of my personal development as a coach.
One piece of advice I’d give to anyone looking to start their own business, would be to read about “Ikigai”, which means “a reason for being”. If you can identify what you love, are good at, can be paid for, and what the world needs; you can’t go far wrong.
- What I love: Sport, health, fitness, strength training and self-improvement.
- What I’m good at: Helping people one to one and in small groups, coaching and empathising with people.
- What the world needs: People with better health, fitness and movement, and more confidence!
- What I can be paid for: Being in the right place (people willing to invest in their health), plus it’s coming up to nine years in business for me now.
5. Persevere and be patient
The process of securing a career that you are passionate about, are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for, can be a long and stressful road. There are no time limits to achieving this. The whole process is exactly that – a process that is full of set-backs and successes. Every loss is a learning curve that will ultimately lead towards success, provided that you don’t let failures define you.
So many of us work in jobs that we aren’t passionate about, for the sake of comfort or good financial reward. But my view is that we spend much of our life at work, so why not do something that you enjoy? If you’re passionate enough about it and good enough, you can make a career out of it. No doubt.
It took me a year of working 7-days a week, doing up to 16-hour days, including travelling around the city on a push bike to go and coach in schools, before I burnt myself out and realised I needed to plan a day off in to my week! But it was a necessary experience in order to establish myself and ensure that I never needed to go through those dark times ever again.
It’s crazy to think that those darker times of unemployment and unhappiness, were probably the main factors in pushing me forwards. If I’d have been given everything on a plate, I wouldn’t have had that same drive.