Changing course

Brighton Beach

Brighton Beach (Photo credit: dogfrog)

I never turn down a learning opportunity. I have no idea how much training and education I’ve had in the two and a half decades or so of my career, but I know it’s a lot. BP allowed me to attend college one day a week for six years and I went through every training course in the book. Temenos allowed me to take Open University courses for a further three years.

Among all of them, there are two courses that stand out; courses that changed my life. The first of these was the first course I ever attended. The title of the course was Putting People First. The whole company had to attend the course and when it came to my turn, it was held in Brighton. Everyone from senior executives down to tanker drivers and clerks attended the course.

The course was all about the importance of everyone’s job and how your actions affect those around you. Misery and happiness are both contagious and I know which I’d rather catch. The trainer used anecdotes such as a man asking two builders what they did for a living. The first said that he stuck bricks together. The second described the magnificent cathedral he worked on. I know which builder I’d rather be.

The course changed my outlook on life. The first thing it taught me is that I didn’t want to do the job I currently had. I wanted to do something with more significance. I didn’t know what at the time, but I knew if I studied hard, I was bound to progress. The day I returned to the office, I spoke to my boss about going to college.

The second course that changed my life was 2 decades later. It was a leadership course. It taught me the nuances of communication. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it is very important. Your choice of words, the medium, tone of voice, tempo and posture all have an impact on how your message gets received.

It also taught me about what motivates people. Why people do (or don’t do) what you ask of them. The course also asked a question which, for me, had no obvious answer. What makes you happy? I know when I am happy and when I am not, but the question of what makes me happy had me stumped for a long time.

Try answering it yourself. It might just change your life.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I Grow Up (Pussycat Dolls song)

When I Grow Up (Pussycat Dolls song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After I filled in the questionnaire, the computer considered my future. After a short pause, the printer chugged into life and rattled out line after line of career suggestions on green and white piano paper. Once the clattering came to a halt, the careers officer ripped off the two feet or so of suggested vocations. As he checked the printout to make sure it was OK, he asked me what I thought I wanted to do.

As a young child, it was obvious. I wanted to be a train driver first. Then I decided that I would have much more fun as an astronaut. No, maybe a scientist or a spy. As I went through school, I dismissed such fanciful ideas and came to terms with the fact that I had no clue what I wanted to do in the future.

I scanned down the piano paper at the list of jobs. I could not see any common thread connecting them. They looked like a random list of careers plucked from a hat. Some of the selections made sense and I noted with some amusement that most of the fanciful posts I’d whimsied about as a small boy were present and correct – with the notable exception of spy.

The careers officer said to think about which entries on the list appealed and told me there was an upcoming careers evening where I could find out more. I went home baffled. How do you decide what you would like to do from a list of things you’ve never experienced.

During careers evening, I wandered from booth to booth to see what they had to say. A GP told me all about his job. You study hard for seven years and then you get to sit behind a desk whilst sick people visit you. Hmmm – no thanks. Someone told me about a career in education, but I didn’t really want to stay at school even if I would be on the other side of the desk. The only job that floated my boat was on offer by the navy, ironically enough.

Their offering was a life on the ocean waves as an engineering artificer. During a five-year apprenticeship, you learned about maintaining all the military technology they had at their disposal and all while sailing around the world. It sounded adventurous. I often think about how different my life would be if I chose to take that apprenticeship.

So what do I want to be when I grow up?  I’ll let you know closer to the time.