When your career aspirations feel arrogant and impossible

In my first graduate job, I was a employed as junior tax consultant for a firm that specialised in helping FTSE 100 companies claims for tax relief on some expenditure. 

It was a small company and for that reason we were exposed to lots of what was going on. There was good company atmosphere, regular training and celebrations on Fridays at 4pm when we won a new client or piece of work. 

I was paid a competitive salary and I worked in a pleasant office in a small town. Yet,  I was becoming bored by the repetitive nature of my work. I couldn’t see the big picture, it was just a load of numbers and pivot tables. 

I wanted more. 

Specifically, and this was my secret desire: I didn’t want my job, I wanted the partner’s job. And I wanted their job without having gone through the levels in between. 

How arrogant is that? My desire felt ‘wrong’. Who was I to think I could make it, or be any good at it? I felt guilty for even thinking such a thing. 

I wanted to quit writing sales letters - cold - to companies I’d looked up on the internet and instead go and talk to the people myself. I envied the partners who went to talk to prospective clients about what we did, to chat and discuss the reports the team had created. 

But of course, I didn’t really have much to talk to them about. I had very little experience in the tax arena, and much less experience in talking to clients. It seemed impossible. 

I was frustrated that I would have to go through the levels of management, up through the ranks, just to do the thing I most wanted to do. 

And then I realised. I had separated the ‘job' from the experience I wanted.

What I wanted was to talk to people. To be to be a creative. To be myself. And to make connections. 

This was a big aha moment for me. I didn’t necessarily need to have a partner’s job to talk to people. Suddenly, the path opened up. 

There was more.

I wanted my work to involve talking to people, yet I didn’t know if I was any good at it. I mean, I knew I could hold a conversation. I had regularly attended church through my childhood and teens, so could chat away to Christians over coffee. But maybe it was just something I liked to do, but had no real benefit. I mean, how could you make money from just talking to people? 

One afternoon at work, an email flashed up on the corner of my screen. There was immediate silence, as there always was when an email popped up from the managing partner: everyone silently reading to themselves. I read quickly and smiled to myself. This one was a great email: we were hosting a client event! I felt excited. At last, a day out of the office to drink wine and chat to potential clients. An opportunity to put my people skills to work. 

Yet, everyone else was dreading it. All of my colleagues, who were super good at spreadsheets, were fearful about having to stand face to face with clients and potential clients and make small talk.

I (mentally) punched the air. I was ACE at small talk.

The event started and I spotted an older man, standing on his own, looking at the night view across London. I didn’t know that he was the Group Tax Manager of a major national compnay. I just saw him as a guy who was on his own and would probably prefer having someone come up to him to start a conversation, rather that him having to go to them. 

I said hello and introduced myself and we started chatting. We talked about my time in Canada and his daughter’s gap year. We discussed careers and ideas and I knew we had connected, despite our different lives and interests. 

An email from him to my managing partner the next morning specifically mentioning me had my colleagues and managers delighted (and, as I recall, slightly surprised!), yet it didn’t surprise me. I already knew I’d made an impact, I could sense it. It confirmed to me what I already knew deep down, that I could connect with people I had only just met and this was one of my best skills. 

I stepped away from tax and started on a journey to pursuing work I loved. My desire wasn’t wrong, and it wasn’t impossible. I had to see it for what it was.  

My encouragement to you today is look underneath your impossible desire. It’s not wrong to be so ambitious. It’s probably not arrogant. Open up the field and ask yourself what and why. 

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