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Career wisdom

(or what I learned from my Dad...)


When I was 19, my Dad was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and given 3 – 6 months to live. It was, or course, a difficult time for my family and he sadly lost his battle almost exactly 6 months later. But not without first imbuing me with some unbelievably valuable career wisdom.

For me (and for him, I believe), there was a silver lining in his diagnosis because we knew that we had a finite amount of time left to spend together. Rather than go travelling that summer as I had planned, I stayed at home and spent a big chunk of most days with him, whether he was in hospital, at home or in the local hospice.

I remember that time with immense happiness as we navigated his illness as a family. We had wheelchair races with a neighbour when he could no longer walk. Both of us failed to master the hoist that could lift him out of bed and, more often than not, would end up on the floor in fits of the giggles.

I also spent a lot of time watching test match cricket with him, revising for my university exams whilst he slept and talking about my thoughts and ideas for the future.

Career Visions

One day, I went to visit him in the hospital where he was having radiation treatment. He had the broadsheet newspapers with him and had pulled out all the job sections. They were spread all over his bed when I arrived.

“Sit down, Ali” he said. “I want you to go through all these jobs and tell me which ones you think might make an exciting career for you”.

He wanted to have a peep into my future and envisage what I might possibly be doing after I graduated. I love the fact that he wanted to talk careers rather than try and picture me getting married or having children!

We spent most of the afternoon looking at the different jobs and trying them on for size. Due to his recent experiences, he worked on me for the best part of an hour trying to convince me that a Radiology would be a really interesting and rewarding career.

“I’m studying modern languages, Dad. You’re the scientific one, not me, remember?”

By the end of the afternoon, I had boiled it down to me working in the European Parliament, initially as a translator, later progressing to something much more important obviously.

Dad’s summation at the end of our perusing of jobs was this:

“You’re good with people, Ali. That will always be a useful skill in life and in work.”

And he was right.

Strengths not Skills

Suffice to say that I never worked at the European Parliament. In fact, I never used my languages at work at all. From a job perspective, my modern languages degree has never proved in the least bit useful.

My approach to looking at my career that afternoon was with the wrong lens. I had spent my secondary and tertiary education being “good at” foreign languages. Thus, surely I would work abroad using these very important skills.

My Dad, however, had the right idea. He could see that my ability to connect with people would be the thing that carried through for me. And it did – into consulting, recruitment and latterly into coaching. Strangely, his suggestion about Radiography was much nearer the mark than mine because what he valued in those professionals was their caring approach to his treatment and wellbeing.

He was pretty smart, my Dad. And he knew me well. I know that he would love what I’m doing with my career mainly because he would see that I am happy and fulfilled. It’s this early support which has given me the confidence and desire to support other people to find career happiness and fulfilment.

What now?

If you have built your career based on skills not strengths or you think that your strengths have changed over time and your career hasn’t quite caught up, why not book a Discovery Call with me and see what changes you could instigate to realign your career based on what truly lights you up?

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