When I learned that the theme for this month was “Women on Top” I had been reading about Jessica Ennis and the reception that she received when she went back to her home town of Sheffield. Surely there has been no better example of women being at the top – of their game – than the London 2012 Olympics and there has already been much talk about how these talented, disciplined and successful women will influence the choice of role models for younger people.
However I heard Christine Ohuruogu being interviewed after a race at the weekend where she was asked about how she felt about winning silver in the Olympics and she said that she “ did not go into the race to be second”. It reminded me of what Rebecca Adlington said after getting her bronze when she apologised to the public for not winning gold but that she was pleased with her performance. And Beth Tweddle was similarly delighted with her bronze medal in the gymnastics. Rebecca and Beth might well have been very disappointed but they were not telling us that and if we believe what they say they had set themselves targets other than gold.
If we take this into the world of work – just like in the Olympics – not everyone is reaching for the same prize. There are clearly many people who do strive for the top job – or the best paid, or the one with the highest profile – whatever their criteria for “top” are. There are many others who want to do the best they can with what they have to maximise their potential . Some want to be recognised for what they do. Others want job satisfaction and fulfilment.
There is surely no right or wrong in this?
I work with clients who are going through a change of career. There are many reasons for this. Sadly, of course, some have no choice in the matter – their current job no longer exists. But many do. The interesting thing is that they will usually be quite clear about what they do not want to do in a new job but have very little sense of what they do. So I ask them to tell me about when they were having a great time to explore what they were doing at that point and what they were bringing to that situation to make it so good.
I remember one woman who started to tell me about a social event but stopped and said “ but that’s no good. I can’t earn a living by partying”. After a bit more digging though we discovered that she organised the event, picking the venue and entertainment that would suit the majority of attendees . The feedback had been universally positive. We mapped what it was that she did, how she approached it and how it might have looked if someone else had done it. She identified her organisational skills, that she took time to get to know people well enough that she did not need to check with them on their preferences and that the outcome really mattered to her. Using that newfound recognition of skills that she had not recognised and was in danger of undervaluing she started to look for new job opportunities that would allow her to use those. She realised that her earning potential was likely to be less than in the career she had before but she also saw that she was not driven by the money. Her goal to be at the top of her game had changed beyond recognition.
Now let’s be clear here there can be real barriers to people reaching their potential. Some are real, some are imagined and some are there because others deliberately put them there. Knowing what those barriers are and having a plan to deal with them can be very challenging.
But as I write this the Paralympics have just started. On the radio someone was explaining how a “level playingfield” was created to allow people with varying levels of disability to compete fairly and whilst I completely understand that I also heard about Sarah Storey winning the first gold medal of these games for Team GB and that she only just missed out in participating in the ( able bodied) Olympics so I am not sure she needs one!