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How to Find Fulfiling Work: Don’t 'Do Your Time'

Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Gemma Milne, who is a science and technology journalist, author and venture scout.

I was an Account Executive at Ogilvy for about 18 months. I worked hard in that job, doing everything I could to move up the food chain as quickly as possible (pay and intellectual demand as an advertising AE is pretty low), until — eventually — my patience ran out. I learnt a lot in the role and worked with amazing people, but in the end, I was frustrated at how slowly I was progressing, and how few of my skills I was using to their full potential.

So, I started sowing seeds for change, and doing what we all do when we start thinking about changing job: I talked about it. With many different people in many different job roles, to try and work out what would be the best next move for me. Should I stick it out and wait for the promotion? Should I change company? Should I change role altogether? I was really struggling to work out what made most sense both for my interests and for my career trajectory.

During one of these such conversations, someone who was also at Ogilvy, but who was 2 job levels above me, dished out advice which, in his defence, he felt was the most appropriate and helpful given my situation.

He said to me: “Just do your time”.

“Just do your time as an Account Exec. You’ll get promoted when you get to the 2-year mark. That’s only 6 months away. It’s better for your CV to lock in the time at Ogilvy, than to leave and lose all that progress.”

I listened to him, thanked him for his thoughts, and immediately knew that it was time for me to leave.

Working a job is not like serving prison time. You are not sentenced to a particular number of years in a role before you can move on with your life.The very idea of ‘doing time’ in a role which isn’t helping you grow and is making you feel frustrated is a ridiculous hangover from the decades of career ladders and from-the-bottom-to-the-top mentality, which in a world of startups and lay offs and cuts and replaceable admin jobs, is at best, pointless and at worst, irresponsible.

Only you will look after your career. You are not guaranteed to be in good standing with your company, or any future one, simply because you stayed chained to a desk for a couple of years. That doesn’t prove anything other than a staunch adherence to arbitrary social ‘rules’.

A lot of people say millennials — or whatever you want to call us 'young folk' — are ‘entitled’. That we have come out of school and university and college and we’re demanding the best jobs, with minimal pointless admin and always-interesting projects.

I’d say we’re not entitled; we’re empowered.

It is so much harder to get a job now than it was 20 years ago. I’ve sat in so many discussions where Baby Boomers or Gen Y-ers have gone on about how they got into the top universities with 2 Cs and a D, and that getting a job was simply handing in cover letters at places you fancied. None of this entrance-exam-4As-and-a-B-psychometric-test-assessment-day-10-interviews-later stuff that young people today have to wade through to end up on some 3 year grad scheme that barely tests their intellect and requires managers to check their emails before they can click send.

We can do more than we are being asked to do in entry level jobs. Generations before us have fought for better education, and along with the fact we’ve grown up with this magical thing called the internet that has allowed us to learn and consume at rates far faster than the generations before us, we have much more capability at a younger age than our older peers.

No wonder Millennials are crying out for better work.

So this idea of not doing your time: it’s not about getting ahead of yourself, or declaring that you are suddenly ‘better’ than the work in front of you. For me, it was about taking stock of what my actual worth was, and working out to what extent my skills, my curiosity and my intellect weren’t being put to use.

I started working only my allotted hours, and stopped staying late at the office — no unpaid overtime — so I could use my evenings to work out what my real passions were. I volunteered to help organise a tech startup conference through a different department at work (which I subsequently ended up moving into — but that’s another story) so I could network and add to my experience. I started a training scheme with Code First: Girls, so I could work out if software development was a career I was interested in, and through that met people outside my usual circles (funnily enough, this community is now more ‘normal’ to me than the advertising crowd — it’s funny how seemingly random, in hindsight, decisions really pave the way forward).

Life is way too short to be racking up time to add to your LinkedIn profile.

I’m not saying just quit your job on a whim — not everyone has a load of savings sitting waiting for the day you can’t take any more. It’s also not about expecting more from your current role (top tip: some roles just aren’t for you, and no matter how much you try and go the extra mile, your employer might only want the bare minimum. This is neither your nor the company’s fault — it’s just simply time to move on.)

The point I’m trying to make, is that if your talent is being curbed and you feel like you are being held back, don’t just sit and wait for things to change. Once you’ve ‘done your time’, you’ll only move up and be invited into the next role — which will simply be a brand new prison sentence.

Don’t ‘do your time’ — spend it much more wisely.

(This post was originally published on Medium, which you can find here)

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