Career lessons from a survivor turned thriver and published author - Women's Agenda

Career lessons from a survivor turned thriver and published author

Gwen Wilson has written about her experiences of rape, violence, poverty and homelessness in her new book, I Belong To No One. She worked hard all her life in a variety of different roles and eventually built a successful career in the male-dominated field of transport and logistics. Below she shares some of the key career lesson learned.

I had a stellar career. I started at the bottom, clawed my way to the top through hard work and diligence, and – once there – I was able to relax and rest on my laurels.

No. No way! That’s not my story and it’s probably not yours.

I started at the bottom, yes. My “office” career started the day I walked into a receptionist centre and asked them what skills training they could offer me.

It also finished at the bottom – emotionally – the day my ultimate corporate position was terminated on the spot, ten days after receiving a glowing three month probation review.

Along the way it was a roller-coaster of highs and lows.

My career started accidentally. As it developed, my path to professional success was derailed and diverted several times by redundancy, economic downturn and moving cities.

Sound familiar? Most women I meet have had an equally frustrating experience. Any number of factors – not the least of which is motherhood – conspire to interrupt our careers.

Mine nearly didn’t happen at all. When I started out, if anyone remarked I was ambitious, I told them I was only trying to pay the rent. People recognised talent that I didn’t recognise myself. I knew I had capability, but it took me a long time to realise that I also had a flair for leadership.

Throughout my career I learned:

• Don’t sit around waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder for a job well done.
• Be prepared to speak up in performance reviews about what training you need, and how the company can support you to become more valuable to them.
• Set achievable goals. When you’ve achieved them. Set the next ones.

Looking back on my career, the advice I would give my 20-year-old self would be:

• If you are doing a great job, make sure someone in authority knows. Not just your immediate boss. They are too busy worrying about their own careers.
• That performance review question: “where do want to be in five years”? Disregard it. Even your boss doesn’t know where he/she will be in five years’ time. Have a direction, yes, but be prepared to be flexible.
• Be prepared to put the hard yards in, even if it intrudes into your personal time.
• Keep improving, move your personal bar higher and higher.
• Exhibit confidence even if you don’t feel it – i.e. – “fake it till you make it”.
• Don’t put yourself down. There are others who are happy to apply for that job.
• Grab those opportunities!

And remember, you are no one if you leave your team behind you. Do not be a woman who gets to the top and pulls the ladder up after her!!

I Belong to No One by Gwen Wilson ($29.99), published by Hachette Australia.

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