Today I graduated from Kingston University with a Distinction from my MSc in Occupational and Business Psychology. It feels like the beginning of a new chapter. Four years ago I embarked on a career change journey after nearly 10 years working in various industries across multiple cultures. I had spent the preceding 8 years in the charitable sector, a sector still so close to my heart because it serves millions of needs across the globe.
Despite loving the spirit and the letter of my work in those 8 years, I reached a point where while on the outside, I seemed alright and fairly happy, on the inside I felt stuck, I became overwhelmed and tired, but not in a physical sense necessarily. A series of unresolved career traumas, life’s challenges and barriers had robbed me of my voice and my self-confidence leading me to the big question,
“what do I really want to do with the rest of my life”?
A career change can be daunting, many people make false-starts, and never realise a complete and successful transition. For those remaining in employment, destination employers often disregard and undervalue the many transferrable skills experienced transitioning professionals can bring into their businesses. By expecting this experienced talent pool to join the back of the queue, employers miss out on what could be a revolutionary talent pool, while denying promising candidates an opportunity for successful career transitions.
Similarly, inadequate transition planning and not seeking or finding the right kind of help and support, leave many transitioners dangling by the cord of “the one more qualification” they need to gain for their transition to be successful. For many, not being able to analyse the transferable skills and value they would bring into their new fields, and not being able to articulate this value to destination employers means they are left perpetually waiting for the day when it will be possible to move to the dream job.
But it gets more complicated than that for others…
I have particularly watched so many previously successful migrant men and women struggle to put their careers back together after relocating to the UK.
For these men and women, this is the place where dreams come to die.
Navigating the new career landscape with newly acquired disadvantages such as racial prejudice can grind even the brightest ones to a halt. You see, when you arrive in a foreign country, there is just so much you don’t know, and so much you don’t realise you don’t know inside and outside the workplace. If you are from Kenya for example, it starts with the right amount of milk to add to your British colleague’s cup of tea, or even a notch higher; the fact that the phrase “that’s interesting”, isn’t necessarily a compliment.
I have learnt of the sheer optimism and resilience it takes to put one’s career back together amid such obstacles. Part of that resilience is navigating the narratives and lived experiences of others. I remember one such narrative just a few weeks after I arrived in the summer of 2009. A well-meaning acquaintance, (let’s call her Jennifer), asked if I had started working, to which I said no, and explained I was still in discussions with the organisation I worked for in Kenya about a potential opportunity here. I was not prepared for the response that followed, “you could already be working, (she said), and earning some money. Why don’t you apply to McDonald's or a nearby care home, that is the sort of thing black people do here”.
Don’t’ panic yet… Jennifer is black, has two undergraduate degrees and a Masters’ degree, had lived in the UK for nearly 10 years, had 3 children under the age of 5, and worked 6-night shifts in a care home, on top of her long and busy days spent caring for young children. Up until that moment, I was a woman, and a foreigner,
the concept of “My Black” had not crossed my mind. Having lived all my life in Kenya – black was a colour, black was a norm, black was historically, socially and politically neutral, or at least in my mind, it was. Being black did not present one with advantages or opportunities, neither did it hinder one from accessing them.
Sometimes old optimism and resilience have to die to make way for the new…
The problem with being a resilient optimist is that it can take you a very long time before you realise that the brick wall against which you bang your head is not going to cave in. Many endure “serious injuries” banging their heads against career brick walls. First, optimism dies, then resilience, then dreams.
In Jennifer’s eyes, I saw a graveyard of dreams. I saw a fearful and stuck woman, haunted by her unfulfilled potential. It took about 5 years for me to understand what Jennifer was actually trying to tell me.
I had made the assumption that only my sheer drive, skills and “near-brilliance” would get me through whatever career challenges lay ahead. I was only partially right. Jennifer was trying to communicate (albeit very clumsily), the reality I would eventually encounter; the exhaustion you get after years of battling the combined effect of being female, mother, foreign, black, from a lower social-economic background, with a foreign accent. The exhaustion from disproportionately trying to convince people all the time that you are indeed smart, experienced, talented and worthy of opportunities. It is the slow death by a thousand cuts, the torture of many small wounds, the creeping normality, often only known by those who suffer it. It’s the mood captured by Ben Platt in his moving song Waving Through A Window,
…On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I've always been?
'Cause I'm tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I'm waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I'm watch, watch, watching people pass
I'm waving through a window, oh
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?...
So as I officially marked the end of my MSc journey today, I remembered one of the first breakthrough moments in my transition journey. It was winning a full scholarship award offered by Professor Peter Saville in 2017 to cover the cost of my MSc. Winning the scholarship reminded me that I was ready to win again, despite the odds I now faced as an overstretched part-time working mum, with a badly damaged self-confidence and over a decade out of academic life, trying to change careers into what felt like the unknown.
The real adventure begins…
Rereading my scholarship bid this week, I encountered a woman with a resolve to get herself unstuck. It has taken a #village along the way to get me here. The unwavering support of my husband, the love and warmth of my kids and family, friends, lecturers, bosses, colleagues, church, so many people who were just happy to stop, acknowledge and support me. I am grateful to each and every one you.
At the beginning of my journey, I promised myself that if ever got myself unstuck and made a successful transition, I would make the next part of my journey about people who need support to step into their best lives- and yes, there is such a thing!
I wanted to help people resolve career traumas, answer the difficult questions, deal with fear and adversity, unravel and pursue impossible dreams, do and be what they love with joy and purpose.
With my MSc behind me, a tidy 1st Class Honors, a recent nomination for a research excellence award for my work with the #BlackVanguard, and a portfolio career whose every bit I love, a hope-filled heart, renewed optimism and resilience, I am ready to embark on a new adventure. But this time, I want to take some people with me. I want to start close to my heart, with women desiring to be game-changers. I want to build a global community where a million dreams come to life.
I have spent the 3 years researching successful careers, personal growth journeys, and how to navigate barriers and obstacles to create a happy ending. I have used my experiences and those of other successful “transitioners and exceptional leapers” to validate what research says. I want to share what I have learnt, and I am finding it hard to hide my excitement. The real adventure starts…
If you want to be part of this new adventure, please book yourself into this taster event – A Million Dreams on Eventbrite. There are limited spaces, so I am afraid it will be on a first-come, first-served basis. If you would like to support A Million Dreams through partnership, collaboration or sponsorship, please get in touch, you can email me at email@example.com. Or simply share this #article, you never know, it may reach someone tap, tap, tapping on the glass right now…