What should I be when I grow up?

It has been more than a month since my journey at Rainmaking and Startupbootcamp came to an end. I have spent the past few weeks on a new type of journey. Meeting people, having lots of coffees, applying for a few jobs and basically trying to figure out what I want to be – when I grow up.

Seems funny to say that when you are 45 years old. When I was nine, I could answer that question very easily. ‘I want to be a journalist!’. And I was, for 20 years.

In a way, I will always be a journalist. Watching, observing, talking and writing things down. But do I want to go back to that as a job? Do I want to apply for positions as ‘editor’ any more? Probably, not. Not only have I ‘been there, done that‘, but the money sucks. Seriously, really sucks. (People have stared at me, opened-mouthed, when I have revealed my salaries over the years. ‘But…but…whaaaa…?’)

Anyway, as part of my weeks-long discovery of where I want to be professionally and how I can earn some money (The Woolwich doesn’t take, ‘But, I’m Liz Lumley and people think I am awesome!’ as a legitimate mortgage payment), I have applied for a few full-time jobs.

For the first one, three separate people recommended me  – and it would have looked great on my CV. But the organisation didn’t take things further, because I lacked experience related to a core component of the job. Fair enough, they are right (and I would have had to drastically curtail my social media use and my habit of ‘speaking my mind’ in public – which as you all know is one of my favorite things. 🙂 )

The second one was more along the lines of ‘Liz, you shoulda known better’. A notice on Linkedin, from a company I was familiar with, asking for someone to join the team who had knowledge and experience of an annual event I had attended so many times I often feel like Bill Murray pointing out everyone’s movements in a small town in Western Pennsylvania to a bemused Andie McDowell every time I attend.

The person who posted the job spec had a bit of a reputation in the industry. I had never worked close enough to gather an opinion of the work and management style of this particular executive. And, after 23 years working in financial services and technology, I had had my fair share of working with ‘difficult people.’ (Hell, I am woman enough to admit that I have been ‘difficult’ to work with in the past)

I was led to an office, in a tall building, in an area of London I had never worked in, but where I have spent extensive time roaming its streets. There was a view, a view of London I had seen several times before. My ‘potential future boss’ walked into the spare office we were using for the interview. He shook my hand and then walked over to the window.

‘Do you like the view,’ he asked?

Yes, I replied. (It was a nice view)

‘Yes, I chose this office especially, for the view,’ he continued.

I nodded.

Then he proceeded to stay at the window, staring out at ‘the view’ he had specially chosen, leaving me sitting at table, waiting for the interview to start – for several minutes. ‘Did he want me to join him at the window? Did he think I had just arrived on a bus from the Outer Hebrides and had never seen London?’

I sat at the table and waited for him to join me. I am not 22 years old, it is not my job to fluff up the ego of a grown man who wanted me to stand next to him and gush about what a great person he was for picking an office ‘with a view‘.

That should have been my first clue. But I am known for giving people more than one chance – we all have our quirks.

‘The senior management here love marketing. They really get involved,’ he started. ‘They even come up with some really great ideas…unfortunately.’

He said ‘...unfortunately’ with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

Shit, I thought. How the fuck do I get out of here? After all, this office had a great view, jumping out the window wasn’t an option.

The rest of the conversation (which went on 15 minutes longer than it was scheduled – yes, folks I was there for 75 minutes) just confirmed all my fears that the snarled ‘…unfortunately’ had promised.

What I know about myself is that I like working with a team. It is why I didn’t exactly enjoy my six years as a freelance journalist – too lonely. I enjoy the collaborative process. Ultimately, the managing director or CEO of any company has final say – meaning that they are the person who should take the blame when things go wrong. Not the person who should take all the credit when things go well. Because, as we all know, all great successes are made so by the work of a team.

I have taken and run with ideas that came from a 22-year-old intern. (and given her credit). I have had to check my own ego, when a great strategy enacted by someone I didn’t exactly respect, ended up working and made a project more successful. For the past eight years, I have followed a piece of advice – good advice – from a man with whom I would loathe to be in the same room today.

So, why would a ‘good idea’ coming from a CEO regarding your business line be described as ‘unfortunate‘?

The rest of the interview consisted with this person asking me how I would handle certain elements of the job. My answers were immediately followed by a description of how he would handle that project, sitting back in his chair, with a small smile on his face.

Dear Lord. I decided to go numb. Answering his questions. Nodding ‘yes, that is a good way to handle that‘ whenever he finished one of his ‘well, this is what I would do’ stories and basically checking the time. When the white board markers came out, I knew I had to make a run for it.

‘I have to go, I have another meeting’ (which was true – I ended up being late for it). I waited until the next morning to send the company an email thanking them for their time and saying that I did not feel I was the right fit for their organisation. (I can be professional -when I need to be:-) )

What is the moral of this story? Well, advice in startup land is always, ‘do what you love’. (When you end up knowing you would rather stack shelves at Sainsbury’s – this job is not for you.)

Well, I love FinTech (I do! I will write a blog about so ya’ll can understand better.)

I love working in a network and with a team.

I love learning.

I love writing.

Will I end up going back ‘inside’ – belonging to an organisation I did not create and did not build – with all the safety, regular paychecks, business cards and standardized email addresses? Or will I branch out on my own – create a vision – and invite others to share my vision and let theirs shine alongside?

One thing I do know, if you work with me, your great ideas will never be considered ‘unfortunate’ because they didn’t emerge from my feeble brain.

Maybe that is ‘grown up’ – in a good way. The next step is figuring out how to build it.

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