Creating a coherent career

My background is in content design, and most of my career has been focused on that.

Over the past 11 years I’ve spent:

  • 6 years at Which?, working in publishing, moving through the roles of researcher, writer, editor and digital content creator
  • 3 years at the Government Digital Service, working as content lead for the GOV.UK Design System
  • 4 months contracting at Babylon Health as a product manager for their design system, before leaving abruptly due to illness
  • 2 months doing sporadic freelance editing and copywriting while I recovered
  • 9 months contracting at BT as product owner for their design systems
  • 6 months contracting with Mace and Menter on 2 local NHS services

Now I’m working on design systems at Springer Nature. I joined as a content designer, but after discussions with my client about what they most needed, I’ve ended up doing more of the strategic planning I might have done as a product manager.

I’m so random - wanna hire me?

On the one hand, broadening my skills and experience is no bad thing. As a contractor, it means I can offer more services and consider a wider range of opportunities, which so far has meant a steady stream of work.

On the other hand, I started to worry that I was building a meaningless mish-mash of a portfolio. I feared that would put clients off, and I wondered how I would create a sense of purpose and cohesiveness for myself within this ostensibly random collection of projects.

So the big question I had was: can I find a common thread that allows me to explain to myself and others exactly what it is that I do?

Bringing order to chaos with a core perspective

Inspiration struck last year when I sent myself on a brilliant 6 week coaching course: Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s Courageous Leadership programme.

Sara encouraged us to think about our own triad of values, skills, and experiences, which we then used to come up with a short statement, which she calls a “core perspective”.

This was mine:

”I want to share the importance of open, inclusive communication and practices when building systems. I approach this work from my unique viewpoint as someone with relative power and privilege, who has experienced exclusion. I do this because I believe people can bring value and make positive change when they’re empowered to participate.”

Writing this core perspective helped me to see the common narrative in my career. It continues to help me to assess new opportunities by asking:

  • is this in line with my values?
  • will I find it meaningful?
  • will I be able to apply my skills and experience?

It’s helped me to avoid the temptation of roles that offer a good day rate but nothing else, or high-profile roles that I know would look good on my CV, but aren’t quite right for me.

I know it’s an incredible privilege to be able to make these choices. It’s one I know I might not always have, and that I’m extremely thankful for while I do.

Evolving my perspective over time

I expect and plan to revisit and update my core perspective statement over the next few years, as my values evolve, and my experiences (and hopefully skills) grow.

I actually made a tweak to my statement when I wrote this blog post. I changed “design systems” to “systems”, to make space for the work I did with Mace and Menter which I gained a lot from, and would like to do more of in future.

However, having a more stable concept of “what it is I do” helps me understand my purpose and values, and create meaning in my career.