Wednesday 3 September 2014


If you're developing your career strategy consider your use of language carefully. You will achieve greater clarity and find it easier to maintain focus if you build a set of descriptors that market the real you.

Call it a 'phrase bank' or 'compendium of terms' that clearly define your career attributes; ready to be used at a moment's notice. Pre-arming yourself in this way instills purpose and conviction.

Remember, be precise and grammatically astute. 'Creativity' is not a skill. It is a quality, a trait, a state-of-mind. Arguably, a value. (Values fuel your desire to deliver your skills.) 'Creating' is a skill. As a rule, skills end in -ing. They are verbs. Doing words. Opportunities to do 'your thing'; which will underpin your vocational identity.

Another self-marketing principle is that verbs should be in the past tense on your CV/Resume. They end in -ed. For example, "Designed a new database using Excel which managed our stock inventory and led to a 17% increase in the organisation's ability to ship orders to customers and fulfill expectations 99% of the time."

In your phrase bank of career attributes, consider the ingredients in your strategy. Or, as I call it, your 'Career Dovetail'. Alongside skills, these will include: values, qualifications, experience, competencies, achievements, quantitative results, publications, the list goes on.

On the other side of your career strategy formula, define/decide what other parameters influence your options. Categories such as: the geographical area you might work, supply and demand of your chosen career in your local labour market. Your lifestyle choices and costs relating to them will determine wage decisions. Your social network and willingness to relocate.

All these strategic ingredients will feed into the clarity of how you manage your career and your ability to leverage opportunities when they arise.

One final point, opportunities are seized upon. They don't come to you! Hence, the need to be prepared.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Can we learn from someone else's agony?

For me, this article seems to distil into 'take it slow and be in the now'. Be mindful. To savour the important things in life and not get hung-up and distracted by what we don't have. Let's not preach it, but practice. 

Friendships, relationships, time with loved-ones, truly communing with one another, far outweigh new cars, Prada shoes, Virtue phones, tech gizmos and all attempts to fill emotional voids with material baubles. (Not that that was why Robin Williams took his own life.)

Be there for a chum today; especially the ones you haven't seen for a while, the one who might benefit from a hug. Anyone experiencing solitude. The one who could do with a chunk of forgiveness but daren't ask. Affirmative action, might make all the difference. Looking outwardly not inwardly always seems to help. 

We're social animals living in a world of rushing material singletons. It can be tough taking it slow with so much peer pressure, but there's so much to be achieved by taking it slow, downshifting and learning the craft of selective procrastination. Rome wasn't built in a day. Don't compare. It is singularly bad for your health.

Tuesday 29 April 2014



You may or may not know that I swim...A LOT. About 2 or 3 kilometres a day, sometimes more. I call myself a "Wild Swimmer" because I love swimming in the outdoors. I'm getting older now, but there was a time when I swam competitively. In 2007 six of us swam The Channel as a relay team to raise funds for poorly children. That was a test of my technique, resilience and preparation!

To prepare, you have to acclimatise to cold water and swim lots and lots of laps in the pool and hours in the cold sea to acclimatise. Swimming lots of laps can be boring unless you've trained your brain to go into a trance, to focus on your goal or simply mull-over ideas and put the world to rights. It helps pass the time.

You might wonder what on earth I am telling you this for on a career blog. Simple. Whilst swimming this morning, an idea came to my mind in the confines of my lane in the 25 metre pool I spend most mornings in. The key word here is 'confines'. It struck me in this large 5-sided tank of water that I was confined and, rather than feeling caged-in, the boundaries of the lane were very helpful to practicing my technique. Then it struck me that anyone succeeding in any particular job, career, sport or game, is similarly confined and benefits in the same way.

You see, nearly every business great, celebrity or sports star that we love have mastered their skills, strengths, talents and gifts within their specific arena. They have become outstanding by making themselves uniquely talented whilst performing ‘in the zone’. Every exceptional person you can think of has excelled within the confines of their chosen discipline. They have mastered the structures, rules and regulations of their chosen field and learned how to use these ‘guidelines’ (like a swimming lane) to their advantage.

In just the same way 'a field' can be a large strip of land surrounded by a wall to grow crops, the word 'field' can be used to describe an occupation, profession, trade or vocation. The more clear the demarcation lines around 'the field' the more recognisable it is. Some people get hung-up on the semantics that differentiate one field from another, e.g. Osteopath / Chiropractic, Farrier / Blacksmith, Sociologist / Psychotherapist. (Sometimes radical ways of interpreting the rules come along and we see the birth of new fields; but that’s another story for another blog entry).

Professional footballers make their living quite literally on a field of play. But their sport is differentiated by rules and regulations as is each position in the team from forward to defender, goalkeeper to winger. Otherwise their sport would be chaos and each game would be a free-for-all with no way of managing it. 

Skills mastery is a key ingredient in career success in whatever field, occupation or sport. For example, when I am swimming well, I know that I will take exactly 18 strokes of frontcrawl to swim a 25 metre length in the pool. If my stroke is inefficient, it will take more. If less, I will tire more easily. Knowing this fact about my performance disciplines my mind and helps me swim more efficiently because it gives me a reason to focus on form and technique. It also stops me from getting tired. 


Going back to football, world-renowned David Beckham has mastered his footballing skill to the extent that he is famous for his precise passes of the ball and great goals scored from free-kicks. He is outstandingly talented yet he plays within the confines of strict rules, keeps the ball within the boundaries of the pitch and focuses his energies, ultimately, on precision goal-scoring. 

He can tell when he is performing well or not by the number of goals scored or whether his passes to other players land at their feet or go off the pitch (field of play). His experience gained through many hours of practice inform him when he has made an error or when he is playing well. He can adapt his technique according to the results because he sees where his passes or shots on goal finish-up.

We know it takes the world's most successful people about 10,000 hours to get to the top of their field and Beckham’s level of expertise. Be that in sport or in business. This means that people like Bill Gates, David Beckham or sports stars like Maria Sharipova will have invested in the region of 10 years hard work, focus and sacrifice to win-through to achieve recognisable success.

Mastering technique requires much dedication. Yet, perhaps equally importantly, we need to understand the rules of the landscape we operate in. Choosing to specialise and become masters of our career attributes, talents and gifts means we must understand, visualise and respect the confines of our professional discipline. This is why we use the word ‘discipline’ to describe an occupation or skill in a sport.

Far from cramping our style and reducing our choices, limiting our peripheral vision helps us to concentrate our attention, effort and time into becoming proficient at what we do best. There will always be people who would rather taste a wide variety in their career choices before they settle down to focus on one thing.

However, after experiencing the peaks and troughs of my own career journey – once I discovered my own career passion - coupled with 15 years of coaching others along their career journeys, I can safely say that it is the people who knuckle-down sooner into their own rhythm in the confines of their preferred field who tend to reap the greatest rewards and look happiest. Limiting our choice, focussing our attention and pouring our energies in a specific field make our decisions far easier and career so much more resilient to the inevitability of change in the 21st Century labour market.


Following the global financial crisis of 2008 earning a sustainable livelihood has become much more about finding a wage than building a sense of career. We see the phrase ‘career resilience’ used to describe how important it is for personal survival to be able to evolve from one skill-set to another in order that we find work that puts food on the table. Yet deep-down, I see the workers who master their talents as being the most resilient, the most happy and the better equipped to face the ever-changing work landscape. They are also the most employable.


My advice, therefore?  If you wish to excel, ‘learn to swim’ in the confines of your own field. Invest many hours in mastering your skills and polishing your talent. This is one reason why the artisan craftsmen and women I see are so in demand and always have a sparkle in their eye. That way, you stand more chance of being master of your own destiny and eating whilst many others go hungry.
Here are 5 words that will help you along the way:

  1. ‘Discipline’ – it takes a lot to focus your mind on a particular goal worth striving for. Unless your goals are worth devoting yourself to, the discipline will never come.
  2. ‘Control’ – Sometimes, alongside ‘Discipline’, we have to control our thoughts, actions, emotions and thirsts for the temptations that might thwart our progress.
  3. ‘Denial’ – often great plans are undone by refusing to acknowledge the reality, even when we can see why we’re failing as clear as day.
  4. ‘Sacrifice’ – Along with the many temptations that risk distracting us, we have to give-up some of our favourite indulgences like TV, crappy food, unhelpful friendships and delusions if we are going to fulfil our potential.
  5. ‘Opportunity’ – Having honed all of our talents and skills and polished our gifts to a bright sparkle, none of the investment of time, effort and dedication is worth a bean unless we are able to recognise the opportunities to excel that come our way.


Step-back for a moment and look at your work/life plans. Can you see your metaphorical ‘swimming pool’? Can you visualise the shape and form of the guiding constraints of the particular field you wish to specialise in? Have you disciplined your technique through many hours of practice so that you know exactly when your technique is great and you’re performing well? Give your potential a chance, zero-in your focus, choose your goals well and polish your devotion.

Strange as it may seem, the truly outstanding talents who walk alongside us in this multi-faceted, diverse, complex and decision-laden world, know better than anyone does the confines of their own fields. And that is exactly the reason they came to shine so brilliantly.

Happy swimming!!

Friday 21 March 2014


My life was transformed in 1994 when I sat down and had my first-ever 'proper' career guidance interview with Mike Bond at Pathways Adult Career Development Centre in Sunderland.
Prior to that time I was pretty-much kicking about achieving not very much. At the time of meeting Mike, I was rock-bottom. The irony is I ended-up getting Mike's job at Pathways and, by way of a 2-year process, fulfilling my dream. I will be grateful to him for the rest of my life for the help he gave me in sparking my 'calling'. (What some people call the 'Aha Moment'.)
I designed my 'Career Dovetail Formula' in 1997 when, working with students in schools and colleges, I began relaying the visual metaphor for what can be a very hard-to-grasp, esoteric and intangible commodity - the 'perfect fit' of finding great work. Subsequently, it has been my brand, philosophy and methodology, see below. I've been evangelising about the power of quality-assured career guidance ever since and my own quest has led me along a magical mystery tour helping others tune-in to the power of meaning-filled and meaningful work.
Most often people are pretty downbeat about the notion of discovering joy at work; at least when we start out. But watching them transform is the joy I derive from what I do. One of the toughest lessons for me has been that you can only help someone when they are ready to help themselves. The process usually involves devotion, sacrifice, control, denial (?), faith, self-encouragement and discipline. So it can be a tough journey. [And that's why I believe only 10% of the population discover their perfect work.]
Therefore, to improve that worrying statistic and with so many young people struggling to build traction in their careers, I am currently researching the 'Anatomy of the Aha Moment' for a new book/ short film we're making. I'm dissecting the 'before and after' of the changes people go through when they take time to 'career dovetail' themselves into great work.
So - after all that - here's the question:
(You can be as critical, quizzical, doubting, orthodox or enthusiastic as you like. This has to be a sliding-scale of opinion to be credible). 
***What faith do you have in there being a perfect 'career dovetail' out their for you? Have you found yours? If so what does it mean to you? Is it purely qualitative or could you quantify it too? And is there a price to pay - time, money, relationships, attrition, anxiety...***
It would be great to get a dialogue going on this BIG QUESTION here below. But if you would feel more comfortable, you can email me at
I'd be ever-so grateful if you would contribute your thoughts, feelings and aspirations. If we can crack the recipe, who knows where it might lead.


NB - if you could share this post with your friends, we could grow a really big conversation about what I hope will become an inspirational solution.

Saturday 1 March 2014


Believe me, you can find the answer. The idea that it is possible to discover a perfect career choice which weaves every one of a person's attributes in a single strand, has to be one of the toughest challenges for even the most inspirational Career Coach to translate.

People don't know what they don't know. Similarly, how can we know how wonderful it is to be in love without having ever fallen in love. How can we appreciate the rush of adrenaline of freefall without actually leaping from a plane. That wistful gleam of intoxicating joy can only be held by the bearer of the actual experience. So it is with being docked into our perfect work. It took me 32 years to find mine. I now know I couldn't have survived without it.

Truly living the experience of beaming all of our gifts, talents, skills, capabilities and life experiences in the mastery of a distinct vocation is transformational, confidence-giving and supremely energizing because it helps us invest in our own purpose in life. As always, no two people are alike. The career conundrum facing all of us is as taxing as the hardest equation we ever saw in a Maths exam. But that mystery is so much a part of the joy created by self-discovery!

The driving motivation for solving your career conundrum and unleashing your unique blend of traits on the world is that you, and only you, own it. Your career identity is yours to invest in and, once you've uncovered it, not only will put food in your belly, it will feed your life with purpose that will sustain you for always by fuelling your day-to-day living.

More than anything you will possess that deep self-assuredness and innate smile that you see on the face of any hard-working, skill-mastering, and devoted artisan craftsman or woman, radiating from the joy invested in them by their discovery of what it is that truly makes them tick. The 'Master-at-the-Helm' knowing their true bearing in life with a beacon on the horizon to aim for every day.

Life is a journey, we pass this way but once. We owe it to ourselves and our loved-ones around us to uncover our true destiny in life. This quest is made all the more joyful when we know what it is we are here to do with our lives.

Remember the guiding maxim: "Find a job that you love and never work another day for the rest of your life!".

BE ENTHUSIASTIC OR RISK NOT BEING ANYTHING AT ALL. Be hungry to solve your career conundrum. Be hungrier for the prize.

For help in your quest why not attend one of our career discovery workshops or call for a one-to-one coaching programme: