Career Change Advice for Talented Women with predictable, boring, mundane jobs

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Taba Cookey is an extremely talented woman who had immigrated to Canada from Nigeria to go to work in high level finance. She had earned her first degree in England and had got  a Masters degree in Canada some years later before returning to Nigeria to continue her banking career.

She said that while she was in Ottawa looking to move from her job in financial sector research, she thought she should “take advantage of the kind of career consulting (that I offer) that doesn’t exist in Nigeria,” and explore her options for career change.
I had Taba write “her story”–eight examples of experiences that had been very satisfying for her throughout her life. They didn’t have to be job related.

What came up again and again is that she thrives with new competitive challenges that force her to stretch herself beyond anything she had ever done before. She also needs those challenges defined with deadlines and guidelines for measuring success. For example, she was usually one of the best student in her schools and was the only student in her graduate school class to complete her master’s thesis in time to graduate on schedule.

When she moved from Nigeria to London at age 9, she quickly established herself as one of the star sprinters in her elementary school. Before long, having run out of female competition, talk in the playground was that she should take on the fastest boy runner in the school.

“Finally, a date and hour was set. It was close…but there was no doubt about the result: I won, and that was the end of John’s bragging about how fast he was,” Taba said.

At some point during this career audit, she accepted an offer as Standards and Insurance Manager for a Canadian government agency that was charged with protecting consumers’ deposits in event of the failure of federally regulated banks and trust companies. She didn’t understand why at the time, but found herself so bored and frustrated with her job.

We figured out that even though her position at the government regulatory agency might be the perfect job for someone else, it was “just pushing papers” for her. Many jobs, including the one she was in at the agency, organized to be predictable and mundane and often become simple and boring for talented people like Taba.

Using “her story,” we determined:

* The work environment she would thrive in.

* The type of work she would thrive in.

* The way she likes to be managed.

* The way she likes to be rewarded.

* What motivates her.

* And how she likes to approach tasks.

“My work with George made me realize this sort of work was thoroughly unsuited to me” says Taba.

She began to seriously consider returning to Nigeria and we talked about the need for African ex-patriates to return home and use their knowledge and expertise in developing Africa.  She decided to go back to Nigeria without any prospects for a job. I told her that she had lots of talents and people would recognize and reward her for that.

I think that one of the reasons ex-patriates don’t go back to their home countries after being educated abroad is because they’re worried they won’t get challenging jobs. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem for Taba because she has talents that transfer across borders. It was just a question of packaging her talents to be recognized and rewarded in different cultural contexts.

So we had to put her talents into a resume to show what this person could do for an employer anywhere–a dramatic example of how her talents transfer across cultures and borders.

She sent me an email saying, “An amazing opportunity opened up in Ghana. I am a Program Manager with the African Finance Corporation (http://www.africafc.org), based in Accra, responsible for overseeing all IFC leasing development programs in Africa. IFC is the private sector arm of the World Bank, promoting development through loans, equity and technical assistance to the private sector.”

A lot of businesses in Africa have difficulty in accessing traditional bank financing, and leasing provides an attractive alternative to such companies. The program aims to promote the role of leasing through training, public awareness, attracting new investment into the industry and working with the authorities in specific African countries to improve the legislative and regulatory environment for leasing.

This job is challenging for her because it is so varied and really stretches her capabilities. Also, she travels all over Africa and has to deal with different personalities in differing cultures. She needs to be in circumstances that stretch her, like beating the fastest boy in school.

“The other day I went through the life stories I had written and the analysis you had done four years ago now, and was amazed at the way it has all come together in my present job,” said Taba. “It is really quite uncanny. But then again perhaps not, since you had so accurately identified the kind of work and environment that would give me ‘jobjoy’ and I have finally found it. It is not surprising that I can now say without hesitation that I have never enjoyed work so much, and…yes, feel fortunate that I am actually getting paid for it. I come to work every day with a sense of anticipation, and hardly know where the time has gone at the end of the day. I actually have to tear myself away! This is such a change from so much of my previous life spent clock watching and day dreaming at work.”

When we get into a jobfit, other parts of our lives often fall into place.  After a few years in this job, Taba returned to Nigeria in 2008 .  “It is great to be back home, I think age is finally taming my itchy feet!”  She was recently married, and took a new position with the Nigerian Stock Exchange.  Congratulations, Taba, in  putting down roots!

–with Nick Isenberg

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