Rebecca Sumner Smith, October 2016 Associate, asked some members of her cohort for impressions of their first month on the programme.
In the middle of October, twenty nervous and excited new Associates – me included – sat around a table in central London, ready for the start of this new chapter in our lives. For most of us, this wasn’t the start of our journey to a purpose-led career. But for many, it was the most conscious part of that journey so far.
I had spent much of this year travelling and volunteering, knowing that I needed a new direction, and trying my hardest to make the right decision. I tried a lot of careers on for size – in my head at least – narrowing down what mattered to me; identifying what I needed to learn.
I had been aware of On Purpose for a while, both in London and more recently Berlin, where I was living. It had cropped up on ‘Escape The City’. I was interested, but unsure if it was for me.
To find out more, in May 2016 I attended an information evening, which is where things started to become clear. I found myself in the midst of an enthusiastic – and happy – community of bright people wanting to make real change in the world, and I wanted in.
Six months later, and I have just completed my first month on the programme.
So how does it feel to take that leap?
Here’s what a few of my On Purpose colleagues have to say.
Tim Motz, October 2016 Associate, explains why he left behind an established career to join the programme.
A job for life, generous pay, interesting colleagues, public service, being close to power, managing policies that affect everyone, the pension… The explanation of why I left the Civil Service for On Purpose often starts with a tribute to what I left behind.
But yet. What should be a list of downsides feels irrelevant next to perhaps the most liberating process I’ve ever been through. I left a career where I felt stifled and unmotivated and have rebooted, changing sectors and job role so that my work affects social change directly. And it’s been a fresh start in more ways than just the day-job. To borrow a favourite Civil Service phrase, I’m ‘turbocharging’ my professional learning and development through training, coaching and mentoring. At the same time I have nabbed a new band of friends who have taken the same leap as me, and have entirely shifted my London centre of gravity, hanging out not in Westminster but Deptford and Brick Lane.
After one month, my On Purpose year has been revitalising – we’re all looking forward to the next eleven.
Reka Budai, an October 2016 Associate who moved from her native Hungary to join the programme, reflects on what she has learnt about the British.
This is the story of how I ended up having a ‘Nigerian Sunset’ every day from an office building at Waterloo.
Everyone knows the usual stereotypes about British people: the queuing, the endless chit-chats about the weather, or the obsession with tea. Facets which makes them unique and adorable.
In keeping with the stereotypes, the funniest moment at work so far was when my teammates all gathered at my desk with the sole purpose to teach me how to make tea properly – after seeing the shock on their face handing them plain black tea with the teabag inside.
In case you are wondering about the sins I committed, it turned out they were endless: not taking the tea bag out after the precisely measured 3 minutes; not adding any milk, and not carefully considering the amount of milk different people would prefer.
There is even a tea colour chart hanging on the wall (which I had naively mistaken for a foundation palette!) On this chart, different tea type and milk combinations are eloquently named, so as avoid ever having a misunderstanding about your ideal level of dilution.
Make mine a Nigerian Sunset.
October 2016 Associate Will Sheldon on joining the dots and learning to love uncertainty.
The problem with closing one door on a problem, is that I’ve opened a million other doors. And the real pain is that most of those doors seem to lead straight back to the starting point.
Moving into the social enterprise sector after 2 years of marketing for a corporate consulting firm, I am full of anticipation and naive enthusiasm to solve some really interesting problems and have a social impact. I still get the thrill of really wanting to talk about my job with friends. I’m not embarrassed to ask someone I meet on a Saturday night if we can “connect” to talk about the amazing work they’re doing as a social entrepreneur. And yet I’m anxious, full of self doubt and am becoming increasingly used to being uncertain about a lot of things.
I left my previous role after having joined the dots that marketing in a corporate consulting firm leads to a lot of companies doing a lot of “bad” things better. But suddenly everything is a question. I am joining the dots on everything I do. Each week I seem to face a new crisis about my personal impact on the world around me: should I be vegetarian? If I need clothes, should I only buy second hand? Should I bank in a different way? Can I go on holiday to Canada to visit my best friend?
My mum eloquently puts an end to the Canada debate. “Friends are important, it’s only a flight. Now stop being an idiot and go to Canada!”
And yet I feel uncomfortable. I have entered a world where I know so little about so much. Namely, about me; how I affect the world, how I might be able to affect the world, and what I feel comfortable to think, do and advocate. All the while I am surrounded by 19 other remarkable Associates who provide an amazing net of support and yet also are intimidatingly intelligent, experienced and seemingly well-formed in their opinions.
Everything I thought I knew is being questioned, undermined and reshaped. And yet it is nice to be so uncomfortable. I take heart from asking such difficult questions now so that I can spend 50 years failing to answer them instead of never asking them at all.
And as for me…
Well, I call it Life Number Two.
Life number one was pretty good, really. I had a solid corporate career based on years of experience, and probably years of CPD and professional study too, if you added it all up. I got paid well. I knew who I was. My profession had a name people understood.
Life Number Two? Five weeks in and all that nice categorization has been thrown out of the window. Every day is full of new challenges, in my work and to my personal identity. Like Will, I find that everything I thought I knew is being questioned and reshaped, and that this is a positive and stimulating experience. Like Reka, I am learning even from the work culture, although for me it is the sector change rather than the country change which I noticed first.
Supporting all of this change are the 19 other people who sat with me in that room on our first morning. At social events, weekly training sessions, through email pleas for assistance or even through our ever-buzzing WhatsApp group, we encourage each other through this period of sometimes radical change. The other Associates are perhaps the very best discovery I have made in my On Purpose journey so far. And as Tim says, we can’t wait for whatever the rest of that journey has to offer.