At a glance


Listen, there’s no bullsh*tting you here…
…this is going to be a longer read ‘at a glance’ or otherwise.

Sorry about that.

I kinda just dropped Inkbike into social media and didn’t really explain where it had come from, didn’t I?

It’s something I intended to cover on the ‘What’s Inkbike?’ page, but ultimately it felt like that needed to focus more on what Inkbike does rather than how the idea for it came about.

After listening to people’s thoughts/impressions since Inkbike launched, I’ve realised that for Inkbike to do what I hoped and reach who I intended it to reach, I needed to clarify why it was made.

To do that, I need to go back and talk about the earliest days of my career.

Let’s rewind

 

Like many who chose to do a degree without a specific career path in mind, the subject I studied at university didn’t provide me with a particularly specialised skill-set that drew in employers (who to my surprise, weren’t particularly blown away just by the fact that I ‘had a degree’ – go figure).

I knew that staying in education wasn’t for me so after I finished I moved back home to London to start my career.

I worked for a short spell as a travel agent and through that job, I was able to transfer to a store based in Leeds (YOOOOOORKSHIRE!), smy girlfriend and I could move in together.

After moving up, I quickly swapped employers and started working for a company that specialised in winning contracts from other businesses looking to outsource work (as interesting as it sounds). The contract I joined was massive, and involved working on PPI claims on behalf of a bank.

There were over 1,000 people working on my site, many of them recent graduates with similar levels of work experience and none of whom enjoyed their jobs, so there was a great sense of grim camaraderie among us.  

It turned out that having such a huge number of people in one place, all of whom viewed the job as nothing more than a salary until they could find something betterwas an amazing opportunity to put my finger to the pulse of a common experience for many graduates in the UK and in their twenties. 

It showed me how many people were working low-satisfaction jobs, feeling desperate to land a role with better opportunities, but struggling to even get interviews without already having relevant experience.

These aren’t lazy people either, everyone had weekly productivity targets to achieve and most met, if not exceeded targets. It also wasn’t for lack of desire for new responsibilities; whenever our employer offered any opportunities for additional responsibilities, there would generally be a mad scramble amongst colleagues to get it.

Successful colleagues would happily add the new role to their CVs and LinkedIn profiles and continue their job hunt with a renewed sense of motivation.

Unsuccessful colleagues however, experienced a range of emotions from disappointed to what can only be described as despair. Many of my friends really felt trapped in their job by limited experience and that they just had no way of moving on to the next stages of their career.

After eighteen months of working there and seeing this happen repeatedly, I grew really resentful of the idea that my career progression might be in the hands of anyone other than me. I knew that this must be a common experience for many other working people too.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that demonstrating a good work ethic and working hard is important, but I worked a job where literally hundreds of others did the exact same work as me and it proved that when there are so many people competing for only a small number of opportunities, demonstrating that you work hard is sometimes a secondary factor to decision makers.

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But what are they looking at? What are people supposed to do to get ahead in an environment where opportunities for more responsibility in the workplace are few and competition is fierce?

I figured, what about trying to get the experience I need to get the job I want outside of work?

I mean, if I create opportunities to gain experience for myself, then it means that I’m not waiting around for some manager to finally notice me right? I cut out the middle-man and get my career moving again.

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Fast forward a couple of months and I decided that I wanted to do something creative, and started to think a marketing role might be a good fit.

My mentality was that; if I found that I didn’t like it then fine, I could just move on to something else, but at least I’d feel like I narrowed down my professional interests a bit. That way, looking to the potential future of my career wouldn’t feel like as much of a daunting unknown because I was growing an understanding of what I had tried and what I enjoyed.

Obviously I couldn’t just walk into a decent paying marketing role from my current job; I had no relevant experience.

Thank goodness for Mandeep at Cha Lounge.

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My girlfriend and I lived in our first flat in Leeds for 18 months, and it just happened to be around the corner from Cha Lounge. We used to go on Sundays for brunch and we’d bring along a Scrabble board to play with because we’re cool like that.

As well as having amazing coffee (thank you North Star), Cha Lounge has an abundance of plugs and kick-ass WiFi, so I started coming in with my laptop on weekday evenings to job hunt.

In time I got to know the co-founder Mandeep, and started to feel invested in Cha Lounge’s success as a growing business. I remember her telling me one afternoon that she used social media for promotion but didn’t feel like she had the time to post new content regularly.

It took about 2 weeks for the rusty cogs in my brain to realise there was an opportunity there, and about 3 more weeks for me to work up the courage to speak to Mandeep about it.

Eventually I pitched the idea of me managing Cha Lounge’s accounts for her by showing her some ideas I had for Cha Lounge post-ers (social media graphics, geddit?) that I’d made.

This was one of them:

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I didn’t want any money to do it, I just wanted to be able to build up experience of social media marketing on behalf of a business (and possibly get a coffee or sandwich on the house every now and then).

She agreed and off I went, creating new graphics to post every day for the next few months.

I focused on Instagram and grew the Cha Lounge page from 40 to 430 followers, which gave me a stat for measurable success that I could refer to on my CV, and the work itself allowed me to build up a portfolio of Instagram graphics.

I was absolutely loving it!

Fast-forward to a couple of months later, I was able to land one of those rare opportunities for development at work and was seconded to the role of Communications and Engagement Officer – in part, because they liked that I had built up some minor experience of social media management.

The role wasn’t permanent, but I got 6 months experience under my belt and that experience meant I landed my next job with more responsibility at the University of Leeds.

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When I talked to some of my friends about it, the most common thing I heard about the Cha Lounge thing is ‘Ah, I never would have thought to do that‘.

I figured that there was something to that, surely most of the time it takes inspiration to encourage action? In my experience, it was almost always the friends I had with parents who’d built a business or had an independent form of earning money that were most encouraged to try building something themselves.

The people who tended to never consider working for themselves were the ones who didn’t know anyone that had done it either. People that wrote blogs or had significant hobbies outside of work or…whatever!

Obviously everyone has heard stories about the wildly famous self-made success stories like Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson, but I figured that the reason why they didn’t inspire more is because their stories felt un-relatable.

It’s a struggle to empathise with someone who made billions years ago because you know that if you tried to follow the same steps as them in the present, it wouldn’t work. It feels like you’re hearing about some forgettable historical figure in a museum.

Every successful venture they had after they were already rich is even more un-relatable because you know it was funded by the billions they now had and you just beat yourself up for spending £2.50 more than normal on your lunch at Tesco Express.

I felt inspired by Mandeep, and people that I knew who were building things up that I could see around me now.

That inspired me to start interviewing everyday people working on projects, ventures or businesses, asking them to explain in detail how they started things up (what tools they used, their working practices and the steps they took) and documenting our discussions.

The hope was that by collecting interviews with people from across as wide a range of fields as possible, that hopefully someone might stumble along the blog, learn from one of them and get inspired enough to start building something of their own.

Hopefully, if the interview went into enough detail, then they’d have all the information they needed to build their thing.

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And that’s the point of Inkbike, it’s about feeling you control the direction of your career – it isn’t about starting a business.

This was the impression I’d gotten from responses to Inkbike after it launched. By interviewing predominantly entrepreneurs, people might think that content was only aimed at other entrepreneurs.

It’s not, the reason most interviews are run with entrepreneurs is because they are the people that most commonly exhibit the behaviour that Inkbike aims to encourage.

Namely; changing your mentality to building experience and career development from passive (if it is) to active. There has never, in the history of mankind, been more resources which are freely available to use or learn from in order to develop new skills.

If you use new skills to build a business, then great(!), but becoming a business owner or freelancer isn’t for everyone. Experience you get from self-provided opportunities can equally be used to develop your career, or even just increase your sense of life-satisfaction without making any change to your work.

Seeking opportunities for development outside of your employment also doesn’t require you to know exactly where you want your career to go. It’s just about building a portfolio of experience outside of work which can give you options.

Although I honestly do believe that there is a revolution coming for the working population, as a growing number of people realise that traditional employment models, and the associated ’employed lifestyle’ that comes with it (think working in the same standard office every single day, having to plan your weekdays around work which takes up set blocks of your time and Tesco-bloody-meal-deals for lunch) doesn’t make them as happy as would the very real potential for them to find an alternative means of making a living..

…that’s a rant for another day though.

I hope that the above has shown that seeking self-provided opportunities has had a significant impact on my own career personally and, though the way it has shaped my career so far might seem inconsequential, the impact it has had on my mental health as compared to how I felt while working the soul-destroying outsourcing job has been tremendous.

The coolest thing that’s happened recently is that by talking about starting projects and following through with them, people closest to me have told me that they had felt inspired and wanted to do more.

That’s been incredible for me to hear and I feel like I’m not articulate enough to talk about it and how it fits in with what Inkbike aims to do, so I’m going to do something unimaginably cheesy and leave off with a quote by someone who does words better than me…innit.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone.

And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

– Marianne Williamson

Fin.

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