‘Would you tell us your story? How you got to where you are?’
WomenUP (Anna) asked so here goes:
My professional life is rooted in the desire to enjoy my work, its content, the people and its lifestyle and culture, to learn and develop, to have fun and earn enough to have some fun.
At school I decided I didn’t want to be a pharmacist like the rest of my family but develop my language skills. I loved learning French and later Latin. I did want to take another language – but the teachers told me I wasn’t clever enough – that wouldn’t happen now, at least not in those words. I started to teach myself Russian at the same time as studying for GCSEs. I eventually decided that it would be more sensible to put that on hold during my exam preparation and instead read some of the great Russian authors in English. At the end of my school life we were given 3 career options: become a secretary, a teacher or go to university. There were no other choices.
Eventually I found a course at Middlesex which would enable me to study French and try out a number of other subjects. I settled on Psychology as my second subject of focus. Although never taking it much further academically, it has always informed my ways of thinking and understanding the world.
I worked during the long university holidays, my jobs included usherette in a luxury cinema complex, guiding people to their seats and watching the same film every day for what seemed like weeks. I worked behind a bar, learning to pull a perfect pint of Guinness and also I helped out with the family business. My first real work experience came when I spent a year in Paris working for a company that made brake linings and brake drums.
Every morning after an hour’s commute and 3 metro changes across the city, my first task was to phone the factory to take down the production numbers. I was in the accounts department – a unique moment in my varied career. Maths and numbers never were a strength – that hasn’t changed. The experience of working in a foreign country, doing a job I wasn’t much good at and yet still feeling welcome as a member of the team brought valuable insights into managing change and managing difference.
There have been many periods of flourishing, growth and lots of fun. I am no different to any one else. There have also been twists, turns, despair and some dead ends. Some of these were my own making and some through the brinkmanship of others. I began to understand politics more and that disappointingly, people are not always what they seem. Over the years and through the different companies and people I have worked for and with, I have come to understand that I have to be comfortable with the culture and ways of working. At first, it’s always new, exciting and different to be in a different environment. It’s OK to ask questions, to challenge and find out why things happen the way they do. Learning names, roles and how things work around here is all part of the induction. It also gives clues as to the attitude to creativity, risk taking, mistakes and tone. Six months on, you still want to ask questions and yet be part of the group.
Key to who I am are my experiences when I lived and and worked in Paris for over 15 years and then later in other countries but not for quite so long. There were many different roles, opportunities, the joy of living in a beautiful city and the frustrations of tourist dodging for most of the year. It was there my enthusiasm for supporting change, addressing leadership issues as well as training and development grew stronger. I could see the difference in the participants as they worked through the programmes I created and ran. My trainer training programmes opened career avenues for the participants, driven by new self confidence and self worth. I was involved in the development and writing of new school text books which were used in the national curriculum and I am proud of the book I wrote in French on experiential learning for adults.
I cam back to the UK eventually, moved to Sheffield and started a full-time Masters course. My excitement on returning to student life was dampened by the others on the course who were much more serious and spent every evening studying rather than having random intellectual discussions over a glass or two of wine as I had hoped. The return to employment wasn’t easy. I didn’t have a UK network and as an honest single mother I was always asked what I would do when my son was ill.
Several applications and interviews later, I started to be more economical with the truth about motherhood and also about living in Yorkshire. I didn’t mind a commute but the city was seen as long way – from wherever the job was located. However, this didn’t sit well with my core values and integrity – so I set up my own business. Networking was and is key, as is agreeing to meet people for coffee just to talk. An hour with someone can result in a, different ideas, learning about the experiences of others and new contacts.
My own business went well providing consultancy on organisational change and leadership development. I worked in all sectors with many different sizes of companies. Each project being different from but building on aspects of others. Developing a stakeholder engagement plan and implementing it for a high-profile construction project reinforced the need to share ideas and listen to different ones, not always ending with those first thought of.
Supporting the academies programme, and the changes schools were making to governance as well as curriculum and buildings gave me new experiences of people struggling with culture change, its impact on their vocation, and how that influenced their world.
I moved into an employed consultancy role within the construction sector for a short while and then into higher education. I discovered that contrary to my initial experience of being a fish out of water because I lacked skills I was now a fish out of water because I had skills that others lacked, didn’t want, but needed. Challenging culture and expectations, asking questions about ways of working and taking risks are not always easy. Each step of progress becomes important and worth celebrating as you encourage others to join you along the way.
There have been lots of frustrations, late nights, lost sleep and vehement debates. There have been smiles, cheers and celebrations. Whatever has been going on I know that I have been comfortable with the place, the people and the role and expectations. I have learnt to my cost when that isn’t the case, you need to leave. I waited too long in one instance and it was a tough price to pay. What made the healing faster was the support received in particular from unexpected sources.
I know that there are lots of possibilities which I want to seize with both hands, work with others to bring to fruition for the benefit of others. These ideas and opportunities are new, working with different tools and techniques- some of which I’m going to have to learn. and that’s all part of the fun.
Like many other contributors to this section, there wasn’t a plan with numbers, dates and targets. The novelty of many projects, the edginess of risk and creativity offered the excitement and energy to give it a go and see what happened.
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Ruth Sacks – . Expert in consultancy and project management. Initiated a number of creative leadership programmes which offer an original approach to senior professional development. Formerly Business Development Director & Principal Lecturer at Westminster Business School, London’s biggest business school, Successfully launched ‘Women for the Board’ which is recognised as an innovative and ambitious approach to promoting women’s development at a senior level..
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LinkedIn: Ruth Sacks