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How to take control of your career development

How to take control of your career development

Some reflections on a training event

After attending the How to be a great freelancer masterclass run by author Alison Grade, I quickly signed up for this event run by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis. 

Helen and Sarah are the authors of the ‘The Squiggly Career’ book and podcast. The title reflects the fact that our career paths may not be as linear as they might once have been – the squiggly career has replaced the career ladder and in celebrating this fact they seek to help us understand what makes us tick so we can grasp the opportunities that are out there. 

I first came across the book in spring 2020 attracted by the basic precept. I haven’t read the book cover to cover, preferring to dip into sections when I have a particular issue on my mind. I have subscribed to their weekly podcast (there are over 200 episodes to listen to) for many months now. I like the way they share their real world experiences (especially the bits which didn’t go as hoped/expected) and the importance of finding an approach that works for you.

The workshop was not aimed specifically at freelancers, but sought to help us learn how to ‘take control of your career direction and development’ and focussed around 5 core skills:

1. Strengths – what you want to be known for?
2. Values – what makes you you?
3. Confidence – how to avoid the confidence ‘gremlin’
4. Networking – potential shortcuts to opportunities
5. Future – new perspectives and staying curious

The session covered a large number of topics, but to highlight a few aspects which resonated with me:


In talking about strengths there was a distinction between what you are good at and what you want to be known for recognising that the two weren’t necessarily the same thing (if they ARE then continue doing this). If you are unsure of your strengths, Helen and Sarah recommended keeping an energy audit for a couple of weeks noting all moments that stood out – those that gave you energy AND made you happy. (This reminded me of the four seasons behavioural preference model that I had previously encountered.) 

Helen and Sarah suggested taking Marcus Buckingham’s standout strengths assessment. The process was straightforward, you are actively encouraged to respond to a number of scenarios and to answer instinctively. The report you get back highlights the two highest strengths that your responses have revealed and how to maximise the impact you can have with those you work with. I have just read in my report that I should “.. deliberately move toward roles where your success depends on meeting the needs of others”.


I have mentioned in previous posts my need to develop a ‘freelance mindset’ to cope with unsuccessful pitches, so I was keen to hear what Sarah and Helen had to say on the subject of personal confidence. They quickly sought to dispel the ‘confidence gremlins’ by placing emphasis on the fact that it is a skill that can be learnt. We were encouraged us to think of success as something that happened on a daily basis and not once in a career. They advocated writing down one success (whether at work, at home or in helping someone else to succeed) every day for two weeks and to review and reflecting on this list as a means to building our personal confidence. 


The importance of networking is critical for those experiencing a squiggly career. Helen and Sarah encouraged us to reflect on our current network and to consider if an individual was helping us with;

  1. your current role
  2. a possible future role
  3. your personal development.

Undertaking this process was designed to help identify which aspect is currently the weakest and to then focus on strengthening this.  Quoting Margaret Heffernan’s recommendation “spend time with people who know things you don’t know”. This might sound difficult during a lockdown, but I thought about the number of webinars and events I have enjoyed in the last 12 months that I would have otherwise missed, due to location or cost, had they been physical events.


To finish the session Helen and Sarah talked about the future, to deploy the curious mindset and to explore the possibilities as this might highlight gaps in our knowledge and how our network might help us with this.

I really enjoyed the session as it reminded me of the importance of taking control and doing something, to dedicate time towards my own personal development, to catch-up with friends and to stay curious. (PS completing this blog is my success for today!).