How I Found My Vital Vocation
“I can’t do this anymore.”
The words popped into my head as I slipped behind my desk again at Marks & Spencer’s Leicester store, where I had been working – after a gruelling two-year graduate training scheme – as one of the company’s personnel managers.
It wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind – in fact, it had been doing so with alarming frequency over the preceding months – but it did turn out to be the last.
Propelled by a conviction that seemed beyond my control, I put down my pen, took a shaky breath and marched along the corridor to my boss’s office, where I resigned before I had a chance to change my mind. And before you ask, no: I didn’t have another job lined up.
When I think of it now, I’m amazed at my foolhardiness. What on earth was I thinking?
It wasn’t that I hated the job. In fact, there was a great deal about it I liked very much; I worked in a great company with interesting and talented people, the salary and benefits were generous, and the professional development opportunities were outstanding.
The problem was I didn’t love it. It didn’t feel like me. Somehow, I just couldn’t get excited about profit and loss accounts, salary reconciliations, or increasing the sales in men’s underwear.
Just a few weeks earlier, I had been visited by a senior personnel manager from head office. A formidable woman in her late fifties, immaculately presented - in finest M&S tailoring of course - she kept in regular contact with personnel managers in stores across the country and was corporately responsible for our welfare and career progression.
On that last visit, she asked me where I saw myself going in my career. Her face fell when I told her I wasn’t immediately interested in scaling the corporate ladder into a senior post in the company’s personnel division, and fell a few feet further when I revealed that I instead wanted a short-term secondment out of stores and into a job that involved “helping people”. I didn’t quite know what such a job might entail exactly, but I knew that M&S had a track record of supporting various good causes. Perhaps they could find me something along those lines?
I elaborated that whilst I was really enjoying my job with the company (a little white lie) I felt “called” to do something “a bit more altruistic” - and I had a feeling it would be good for me to “broaden my horizons”. I also pointed out that this would be “great for the store”, because they would be able to claim the secondment as a corporate social responsibility output and, furthermore, I would undoubtedly return with “renewed enthusiasm”, which could only help me to become “an even better personnel manager”.
It all made perfect sense, I thought. How could she refuse in the face of such well-reasoned and persuasive arguments? I had clearly demonstrated that everyone would come out of this a winner.
Her mouth smiled, but her voice was steely as she spoke. “I’m sorry, Brian, but that’s quite out of the question. We’re short-staffed in the division as it is, and we need all of our personnel managers in stores for the foreseeable future.” Then, pulling a crisp twenty-pound note from her handbag and handing it to me, she continued, “Now be a dear and pop down to the sales floor and get me a ham sandwich and a new pair of 15 denier tights. I laddered mine on the wretched train.”
With my escape route towards something that actually mattered to me so firmly closed off, it dawned on me in that moment that - if I really wanted to be happy - the only way was out. And happy was something I definitely wanted to be. I realised even then that I had to take matters into my own hands.
My first step was to start doing voluntary work in the sort of areas that interested me. I didn’t have a Vital Vocation process to guide me back then, but I knew on some instinctive level that I had to make space in my life for the things that I most enjoyed doing – or nothing would ever change. I volunteered in a social work setting for a while and also gave some time to a voluntary buddying scheme which helped divert young offenders from future criminal activity.
The voluntary work was so successful and enjoyable, I was eventually offered a part-time job as a residential social worker in a care home for young people with challenging behaviours – in addition to my day job with M&S. I accepted the offer. It gave me a great opportunity to try out another line of work, and it fulfilled that part of me that just wasn’t being fulfilled otherwise – but it was hard. My job at the store was very full-time, and doing this on top of it challenged me at every level.
On one occasion, after doing a long day’s work as a personnel manager and then a hard day’s night-shift at the care home, I fell asleep while getting a haircut. I think the barber was worried I’d expired on him. Clearly, something had to give, and I didn’t want it to be my sanity.
I don’t say this to impress you with my drive, determination or energy levels.
The important thing here is that I noticed what I felt called to do, and I took steps to do it. I understood even then that this would be the tactic that would help me find the golden thread to my ideal work.
Genre – NonFiction / Careers
Rating – G