Don’t let careerism take over | Stay true to yourself in business

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Life is full of mixed messages, particularly when it comes to finding a career.

People tell you to follow the money and take necessary measures to get ahead; others implore you to follow your heart and nothing else.

Cutting through the noise can be a challenge, but it’s important that whatever you do, you stay true to yourself. That’s something that’s always been important to me. It’s not the easiest pursuit when it comes to business, but it can be done.

My career in marketing has spanned a variety of sectors, and in all of my roles I have sought to connect people. I started out as a sales and marketing executive for Hodder & Stoughton, one of the UK’s leading publishing houses, before joining Elsevier in 2013. I was essentially promoting products that connected with people via the use of language, opening up their minds to the knowledge and experience of others, which may further inspire their lives. This was my way of making a small, but positive impact on the world we live in.

I could have chosen any branch of marketing, but the human connection element has always been incredibly important to me. I could have made the decision to market shoes. But I didn’t. Shoes are important. I love shoes, don’t get me wrong, we all need them! But I needed a role with meaning and purpose. I needed to be a part of something bigger. And by choosing this path, I was staying true to what I stood for.

In 2016, I went one step further and joined the charity Pilotlight. Pilotlight is a not-for-profit that matches teams of business people with charities and social enterprises to offer coaching that helps them become more strategic and impactful. Our programmes encourage networking, knowledge sharing and, chiefly, experiential leadership training, meaning the partnership is mutually beneficial.

I’d never worked for a charity before, so it was all pretty new to me, but exciting all the same. I was drawn in by the organisation’s model and the huge positive difference it makes to both businesses and charities across the country. Charity leaders are passionate and driven in support of their cause but can find it difficult to step back from the day to day and plan. So, they seek support from Pilotlight to develop their strategic thinking. There’s a great quote from a leader of one of our charity partners, Martine Verweij, CEO at Kid’s Run Free on working with us: “If you feed the root of a charity, the charity will grow.” It may be true that if you feed the root of anything it will grow, but in terms of working with charities, it was something that hadn’t occurred to me before.

Martine’s words are clearly chiming with other charity chiefs as Pilotlight’s latest impact report reveals.  Charities working with us have seen their income increase by 36 per cent and their reach grow by 52 per cent. Nine out of ten leaders say they’ve improved the effectiveness of the services they deliver for their communities after being on the programme. It’s so rewarding to hear feedback like that.

For business executives, strategic thinking and planning is second nature. When I drop in on a project meeting it’s so exciting to see the light-bulbs go off in a charity leader’s mind when a challenge they’ve faced for a long time is suddenly not such a big barrier. Watching the business executives, otherwise known as Pilotlighters, illuminate a solution to a problem brings its own magic into the room. Everyone knows that they’ve done real, tangible work that’s going to be meaningful and impactful to the charities’ beneficiaries.

My role is to manage all elements of the marketing mix, including social media and PR. I actively engage with the businesses and charities we work with, bringing the two together to demonstrate the added value for both parties, while also meeting the needs of our different stakeholders.

Working for a charity can be a challenge, particularly when you realise how much need there is, and the kinds of things our partner charities are up against to help alleviate suffering and disadvantage. But it’s a brilliant way to give back, achieve a true sense of fulfillment and feel connected to the world. I’ve always sought to make a broader difference that goes beyond business, and my job enables me to do this on a daily basis.

Outside of work, I’m a playwright. Some of the issues our charity partners grapple with inspire me and filter into my plays. A lot of my shows are linked to women’s issues and some of the central characters I’ve created are inspired by women I’ve met. Hearing stories from charity leaders who work at women centred organisations moves me, and reminds me that simply sharing well-crafted stories through my work can change people’s ideas about the world, and connect them to real problems being faced.

It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of careerism, but you should always keep your values at the forefront of your plans. Don’t allow yourself to be blinded by money and power. Dig deep and focus on the things that really, truly matter to you. You’ll be surprised at the positive difference you can make.

About the author

Lucy Avery is the marketing communications manager at Pilotlight


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