It’s a New Year and I’m back on the blogging scene!
I decided it’s high time that I explained the name of this blog. Let this become part of the historic record, because people I meet now can’t be expected to guess that my previous job title was “Careers Adviser” which is just a short hop away from “Careers Lady” whereas “Professional Development & Employability Tutor” is more like a hop, skip and a jump.
Many years ago when I lived and worked on the wild and windy Yorkshire-Lancashire border, I ended up working in the school I could see from my living room window. Pro: a very short walk to work. Con: life lived in full view of surrounding pupils, requiring effort to maintain my public image. One sunny day, I was strolling through the park to return a video to the rental shop (yes a VHS, as I said it was a long time ago) when from a gaggle of teenagers lurking there, out burst a cry of “hur hur, careers lady!” In case you don’t know ‘hur’ is a laugh with a Lancashire accent.
Not knowing whether it was meant as an insult, intended to embarrass me or simply a statement of fact, I decided to take it positively since it was at least nice to be recognised and remembered. So, with a smile and a jaunty wave I went about my weekend business and counted my blessings, relieved the encounter took place in the park, rather than me being spotted lugging my dirty washing to the laundrette.
The incident did make me think, though, about how we perceive people and how we tend to identify others very strongly with the jobs they do. To those kids, my life only really had one dimension. For all they knew, I might as well live folded up in a box in the classroom, ready to be brought out for careers lessons. In their defence, it’s not just young people who think this way. Who hasn’t been surprised to recognise an acquaintance in new surroundings once or twice? Sometimes, it can even take a bit of effort to fit new information about people into our worldview. Back in the 70’s, Britain was astonished to see Angela Rippon’s long-legged, high-kicking moves in the Morecambe & Wise Christmas special, because we saw her as a serious newsreader and until then hadn’t considered whether she even had legs. More recently, reality TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing have allowed celebrities to wow us with their hitherto unknown talents…or lack thereof. The First Lady of TV News proved her diversity again in 2007’s Celebrity Masterchef and 2011’s Dancing On Ice. She’s a mutli-faceted national treasure.
But we don’t just apply this limited thinking to others, we do it to ourselves, too. People seem set on labelling themselves according to their “life roles.” Do we sometimes risk shutting ourselves into boxes? In her New Year post for the Manchester Postgraduate Careers Blog, Elizabeth Wilkinson muses on why people hold onto parts of their identity, even though it stops them becoming who they really want to be. Clinging to the role of student doesn’t help our undergrads prepare themselves for placements or jobs after graduation, but some seem reluctant to shift into a new mindset or try out new behaviours. When we find ourselves in our comfort zone, most of us don’t like to move too far outside it. But why is this? If you’re genuinely comfortable, then all’s well. If, on the other hand, the metaphorical sofa’s springs are busted, the carpet’s threadbare and the TV’s analogue, then you’re stuck in a rut and it’s time to move on!
The problem with the Comfort Zone as a metaphor is that it sounds really rather nice, so let’s try a different cliche to put things in another light. Many people believe it’s better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, but the key word here is devil. Just because something is familiar doesn’t necessarily make it the best thing for you. Creating a vision for a new, improved future requires effort as well as imagination and inspiration, but it’s a good investment of your time and energy. The best news is that small changes can be highly effective, so you can develop step by step rather than risking radical reinvention. Since the Careers Lady incident, I’ve had 7 jobs (add another 7, if you count temping in Australia), many of which were broadly similar but I learnt something new from each experience. The biggest change has been moving into my current job – but that wouldn’t have been possible without everything I’d picked up along the way.
As for demonstrating a broad range of skills, I don’t need to go on TV because my students already know I can sing. Well, sort of. My lecture theatre rendition of the Shake N Vac advert is captured on facebook for posterity. Still, if the Strictly producers call, I wouldn’t say no…