What's Your Problem?

I've made a bit of a mess of my career path. After completing a PGCE, I wasn't confident enough to teach at an inner-city school in Birmingham, where I lived, so I went travelling for a year. Once back, I became a travel consultant. That was 1999. I still work there, but selling isn't right for me.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I want to do something more worthwhile, with promotion prospects. I can't return to teaching - my qualification is out-of-date and I now have a wife and baby to support. The careers fairs I've attended are geared up to graduates and young people (I'm 32). How can I get myself onto a sound career path that takes me in a positive direction regarding salary and prospects?

A: It's surprising how many people are convinced that everybody else's career paths were smoothly planned and effortlessly mastered and that it's only them what's messed things up. So don't fret too much. You're far from alone and, anyway, 32 still gives you plenty of time.

However, a slightly erratic start such as yours is likely to mean that the more conventional sources of career guidance may not help you that much. What you must do is conduct a sort of personal audit on yourself, as dispassionately as possible. And the first question you need to answer is: what do you really enjoy doing?

It continues to surprise me how many people don't ask themselves this fundamental question. They think about job security and salaries and pensions and status and prospects and social trends and where the next internet boom is coming from and what their parents have always gone on about.

And they try to work out what their financial needs are going to be and which are the jobs that pay that sort of money. But much the most important thing to establish is what you think you'd actually enjoy.

Doing a job you like not only delivers its own reward, but the chances are you'll do it well, and so be recognised and make progress. It's clear from your question that teaching would never be a lifetime passion, and that you and selling don't have a natural affinity either.

Since I don't know what you're best at, I can't advise much further.

Other than this: keep that thought in mind and scan the most unlikely job ads - in print and online - obsessively. It's easier than ever to find needles in haystacks. If you find what you're looking for but the initial salary is at the bottom of your family's needs, don't reject it immediately. Enjoy doing it, do it well, and things could look up quickly.

Good luck.


- Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of both the Guardian Media Group and WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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