Friday, August 25, 2006

Riches to rags story

Destitute, graduating from university at 22, but with a good management degree in the bag, the M&S graduate scheme seemed like an obvious choice.

Most of my course mates were becoming investment bankers but that certainly didn't appeal to me.

Travel and writing were the only two things I really felt passionate about. I had enjoyed doing student journalism but at £3000 for a post grad course and living expenses to pay on top this wasn’t a viable option.

At least going into merchandising, I would get the chance to see a bit of the world, and hopefully write about it?

The graduate scheme had its benefits. The training was good, for those interested in merchandising anyway, and I could afford to live in London.

My manager left within my first year and for a month I was in charge of sourcing and planning M&S knickers for the country.

I was then moved to run the ladies nightwear department. The perks of the job included meeting glamourous lingerie models and free undies for my friends and family.

However, M&S suffered from terrible sales figures in 2004 and the working environment at head office left a lot to be desired.

I was offered a job with Tesco, a company whose clothing sale pattern was the antithesis of M&S at the time. I was told I had been strategically brought in to move Tesco from third to first place in the schoolwear market.

It was motivating to be working for a successful company but the achievements of Tesco seemed to come at the expense of many of the staff’s well being. The systems were archaic and within clothing, the staffing levels couldn’t keep up with the company’s phenomenal growth. Twelve hour days became the norm.

I did get a trip out to Bangladesh but sleepless nights filled with daunting excel spreadsheets meant I had no time to see anything of the country, let alone write about it.

I envied those who could stick with it. People spent longer in the office than they did at home or with their loved ones. I appreciate this is the case in many jobs but I found the overwhelming emphasis on number crunching mind numbing and soul destroying.

People seemed constantly stressed about the next season and there was never time to look back to celebrate the success that had been achieved.

Fortunately I was earning enough to be able to save up and plan my escape. Other people were not so lucky.

Dropping a mid thirties salary to start a career in a competitive low-paid industry was a big risk.
At 26, I started my post graduate diploma in journalism at Westminster University. It allowed me to develop journalistic writing skills from scratch and gain essential understanding of law and government. I also got the chance to get work experience with a number of companies - from the Camden New Journal to the BBC.

I’m now freelancing for the BBC news website and trying to do as much writing as I can in my spare time. I love the challenge of having the blank canvas of a Word document in front of me and knowing I have a deadline to create something I can be proud of.

I’m finally working in an industry that inspires me and I want to be a successful journalist more than anything I’ve ever desired.

If you have few commitments but are miserably sat at your office desk, gazing out of the window, dreaming of a career you think you might excel in, perhaps even enjoy, my advice would be to take the risk and make the move.

It may be the best decision you ever make.

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