Aims and ambitions
It’s appraisals season and I’ve been thinking about careers. Not mine specifically. Just careers in general. Because I’ve been sitting with the people who report to me (who are mostly very young), asking them what they want from their professional lives, and it made me wonder. What would I have said if anyone had ever asked me that question?
No one has ever asked me that question: not my parents, not my sisters, not my bosses, not my colleagues, not my friends. Even I’ve never asked myself that question in anything but the vaguest way. And that’s because, frankly, I didn’t know. And frankly, I still don’t know. I never set out to be the editor of a paper. In fact I never even set out to be a journalist. All my life I’ve just gone with the flow and here is where the flow has thrown me up at this point. Where it will take me from here, I haven’t a clue.
So I’ve been wondering, how do people know what they want out of their professional lives? And how do they know for certain? For some people, I’m sure, there can be no doubt. Those are the people with a vocation – they’re simply born to do a particular thing so there’s no question about doing it. But so many more people haven’t a clue. Yet, they’re forced to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives by the age of 13 or 14 – having to decide on science over the humanities, on commerce over science, on the humanities over commerce – the wider field that will narrow into the specific profession.
I’m sure I must have been asked the what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up question when I was a kid and in my teens. I don’t think I ever had a real answer to that. My first job was in advertising which I thought I’d do because that’s what my sister did. After I started it, I was bright enough to know that I wasn’t suited to it so I quit, but I didn’t know what to do next. I got into journalism because my sister insisted that I couldn’t make a career out of lying on the sofa reading and watching TV, so I applied for a job at The Telegraph, did a test, passed it and became a journalist and here I am.
But these young people I’ve been interrogating about their professional ambitions, these young people have done post-graduate courses in journalism or media or mass communication. Presumably then, they know what they want to do. And honestly, I wonder: how? How did they know they wanted to be journalists? Do they have a plan? Did they apply to journalism school thinking, I shall be an editor by the age of whatever? Did they have a vision of what they will have achieved by the age of whatever? Now that they’re in the field and working at it, now that I’ve chatted with them and (I think) provided them with direction, do they know what their goal is and why that goal is their goal?
I don’t know.
How did you know what you wanted to do?