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Published on 7th June 2019

Careers – Do they happen by accident or design?

There are very few people I know in successful careers, who when asked how they got there, say it was all part of a grand plan.


However, when starting out, and in the early stages of career development, a question that is often asked is ‘where do you want to be in 10 years’ time’? Truly one of the worst questions ever. An easier one may be ‘where do you not want to be’? We pretty much all know what we don’t like, but until proven otherwise, are prepared to try out many things which we may like.


Dame Fiona Woolf at the last WUN event on networking, shared with us the guiding principle she has used in her career – ‘Be lucky, and say yes’. A fantastic mantra which we should all adopt. She went on to make it very clear that ‘luck’ is most often made, and comes from being brave, working hard, talking to lots of people and building enduring relationships. Luck rarely falls into people’s laps without these ingredients.


People and relationships are at the centre of most career paths. From a personal view, I know that all my career moves in the last twenty years, have originated from people I know. That does not mean that I haven’t had to earn the right to be appointed into roles, but a recommendation to a head-hunter, an opportunistic call, a push to apply or simply reassuring support that I can do it, have all contributed to my career progression.


The ‘say yes’ of Dame Fiona’s guidance resonates with me. Whilst never having a clear path, I’m definitely one for following my emotional gut- If I get really excited about an opportunity, whatever its nature, I’m likely to say yes. The only conditions are that the opportunity has to be challenging, builds on my existing skills and involves people. I’ve therefore, worked in big organisations, small organisations and start-ups; swapped from operational lead to consultant and moved across all aspects of the energy chain, getting experience in regulation, retail, generation and flexible markets.


The magic of this apparently random path has been that I’ve met a lot of great people on the way and worked at making my luck! By dint of all this linked experience and a broad network, two years ago I finally took the plunge and set up my own consultancy- and I’ve been very busy ever since. Now, in addition to paid work, I also get to do fun things like speak at industry events, work with the WUN team, sit on various committees that interest me and spend plenty of time meeting people whether formally as mentees or informally giving support in career development. I’m also lucky enough to be the non-exec chair of the Board of TEC, an energy consultancy focused on the higher education sector.  This fun and hugely rewarding stuff, magically also often results in more consultancy work, new relationships and new learning, because it is all centred around people and networks.


Where is my career going next? I really don’t know, but that’s exciting.  


I could very happily carry on along the same path that I’m currently treading, I could nuance what I’m doing by taking on more NED roles, or I could equally take another tangent in a completely different direction if an exciting opportunity wets my appetite. I am really very relaxed as I know that I am in control of my career rather than the other way around. I will never sit waiting for the golden ticket to arrive and am constantly curious as to the art of the possible. I have learned along the way that if something is not right, then change it (or in some cases have it changed for you). Never sit still in a job or organisation that does not give you what you want, whether it be culture, career progression or reward.  And most importantly- never be scared of change, because it inevitably results in new opportunities and career development.


So, are careers a function of accident or design?

I think the answer is both! The accident bit is that you rarely look back and see a straight or planned line, the design bit is how you go about making and taking opportunities – ‘Be lucky and say yes’.