There used to be an award called The Australian Secretary of the Year. True story. For the winner, there was an overseas holiday, a national tour and a year of speaking engagements. It was a bit like winning Miss Australia, but without the sash or crown. Or swimsuit. In the 80s and 90s, the Australian Secretary of the Year was a prestigious award, recognising the best in what was considered an important, highly credible career. I know all this because in 1996 I won the Award. I still wish it came with a sash, but the trip to Bali took the sting out.
Over the past 20 years, like so many people my age, I’ve continued to work – with breaks to have my kids – without paying too much attention to the fact that the job I once did has changed beyond recognition – because I changed with it.
The thing is, back when I made my acceptance speech, there was no doubt in my mind that I’d arrived. I’d reached the pinnacle of my chosen career and I was good with that. I was better than good. I couldn’t imagine things being better. I was lucky – my personal life was also ticking along nicely, so I was kind of living the dream. My dream, at any rate.
Obviously I was delusional. Not because things could go downhill (they can), but because the dream evolved. And it’s still evolving.
The landscape of any industry can (and will) change. Image via iStock.
In 2016, role of “secretary” bears little, if any, resemblance to what it did when I wore the theoretical crown. LinkedIn has changed the employment landscape, and learning is no longer something that ends at 17, 18 or 21. Back in the day, once you’d finished school, college or university, your days of learning were largely behind you – other than maybe professional development or hobby courses. Obviously I’m generalising, but as a 24-year-old secretary, it never really crossed my mind that I’d have the opportunity or even any interest in anything other than shorthand and typing. That sentence is laughable now.
It’s laughable, because now in my 40s I’m researching coding and SEO courses to help build my blog. Just that sentence contains ideas and words that didn’t even exist when I was at the “pinnacle of my career”. Later this year I’ll be taking part in a series of writing programmes to help develop the work I now do in corporate communications. The sheer volume of courses available nowadays that can help you to pursue the career of your dreams is mind boggling.
My mum followed an even more traditional path than me, training as a nurse in the 1950s and working until she married. Now, at 75 she’s doing a digital photography course and will follow that with a Photoshop course. She might be rubbish at turning on her phone, but she’s doing things in her 70s that were unavailable – and unimaginable – in her 30s and 40s.
"It’s laughable, because now in my 40s I’m researching coding and SEO courses to help build my blog." Image via iStock.
I’m the first to admit that today’s young folk are experiencing their 20s in a very different way than I did. I neither expected nor sought change beyond the usual – maybe get married, maybe have kids, maybe continue to work part-time (but still as a secretary). But for the 20-somethings of 2016 it’s a different story. Not only can you choose your direction, you can change it just as easily – which is a gift. Don’t for a second tell yourself that your 20s are the best years of your life. Thanks to the opportunities that didn’t exist even 10 years ago, the best years are the next years.
For me, even if I wanted to, I’d be hard pushed to find a job that used my supersonic shorthand and typing skills – at least not as I’d previously used them. If someone had told me – when I was 25 - that those skills would be redundant 20 years later, I’d have been devastated. But here I am, writing for a living, learning what makes the interweb work, and not even a little bit frightened about what lies ahead. Except for my 50th birthday. That’s a lot of candles right there.
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