When we are young, or just asserting our independence as young adults, most of us envision that dream job, but it is far away, sitting on a pedestal out of reach. So we train, take on further study, and leap headlong into new experiences, hoping to quickly push through the barriers so we can live that dream.
For those of you looking to move into a career in CSR and/or sustainability in Australia, that dream can seem further out of reach; Australia’s sustainability and humanitarian sector is a good decade behind much of the developed world so the early opportunities afforded those in the US and across Europe aren’t as readily available down under.
So you start to lose hope. You take the only job that comes along, and suddenly that dream job seems further away. Where to now?
Well the old adage “every cloud has a silver lining” come to mind. Not getting that dream job early in your career, can actually be good for your career, and here’s why.
1. Know thy enemy
Ok maybe “enemy” is a bit strong a word, but it helps to learn how others work, especially if you disagree with their business model, priorities and values. If you are inside an organisation that doesn’t value CSR or sustainability, you will learn about their structures and processes, and why they focus on other areas. Down the track, this understanding and experience will allow you to view complex issues from multiple points of view, and create solutions that will create lasting benefit for all involved.
2. That which does not kill us makes us stronger
Nietzsche made a good point. In the short term, working under pressure and in a stressful environment builds inner strength and resilience. Working with confronting people and confronting value systems will teach you how to handle the tough issues, and how to manage difficult stakeholders that challenge you personally. Think of it as a sort of baptism of fire; if you can handle the fire in the dragon’s lair, you can handle anything. What’s more, working with difficult people will increase your resilience and temper your ability to manage them and yourself in a more diplomatic manner. Negotiation skills and patience are invaluable; the calmness you exude will enable you to build strong rapport and respect, and enable you to reach positive outcomes in tight situations. This is all fantastic professional growth that might not happen if you fell into your dream job straight away.
3. Take the road less travelled.
Your current role can be a real opportunity to make a difference. Sure you might be in a company that doesn’t focus on environmental, social or community engagement issues but you have the opportunity to start the conversation and lead the charge. We have spoken with many sustainability professionals who were given the opportunity to build a function from scratch because they expressed interest where there traditionally was none. They expressed their opinions and proposed value-adding sustainable ideas and projects; they asked the question “how will this affect our community/environment?” It may not initially be the dream, but it might provide the opportunity and experience that will make you the right fit for the dream later down the track.
But I’m stuck in a career, in an industry that isn’t progressive. It’s too late for me to dream my dreams isn’t it?
Well firstly, it’s never too late to make a change – it’s never too late to stand up and be counted. In our discussions with various corporate and sustainability professionals, one story stood out. A corporate affairs executive at a national infrastructure firm (let’s call him/her Alex) recently told their story of becoming a sustainability leader. “Whilst my work in the infrastructure sector sometimes goes against my personal values, my recent appointment to the executive team gives me a chance to speak about mitigating social and environmental risk, and legitimately oppose some projects on these grounds. Sometimes I’m unsuccessful, but I am slowly changing the culture towards a discussion of sustainable business at the higher strategic level; I am creating real and lasting change – and that’s the real dream”.
Dreams come in all shapes and sizes. It may take you longer to get there than others, but you can always use any situation to your advantage. If you take charge of your career and treat each job with the passion and joy that you would your dream job, you will grow and become a stronger and more experienced professional, with more to offer that you may have had previously.
Sometimes dreams are found and opportunities arise at the right time. For those that have to fight for their dreams, you might find that waiting a little longer, and creating that dream from scratch can be just as rewarding.