The crossroads at 18 for Sarah

13 February 2020

By Sarah Knight

​A Level students are gearing up to take the exams that may determine their next steps. Will they be off to university and get in to the course of their dreams? Is an apprenticeship on the cards or is the time right to get in to the world of work?

This week, each one of the Sarah West team will take a look back at the choices we made – would we do anything differently? What did we think we’d end up doing career-wise back then? How does that match up with where we are now? Next up its Sarah’s turn to share the choices she made in her teenage years!

What did you want to do at 18?

My decision between education and work came when I was 16 – this was in the days when it wasn’t compulsory to stay studying until you’re 18! (feeling old..)

After my GCSE’s my Dad persuaded me to go to college and study to be a legal secretary, we lived near London and it was known to be a well paid career path in the City. Anyone that knows me is probably falling about laughing at this! Needless to say I lasted about six weeks. I knew it wasn’t for me and knew the career at the end wouldn’t play to my strengths. I didn’t see any point dragging it out. I just wasn’t interested – I’m far more ‘hands on’ – I wanted to get out there and earn money, which is what I did.

My first ‘proper job’ was as an admin assistant for an Independent Financial Advisor. Although full time education wasn’t for me, I do like to constantly challenge myself so to keep my brain ticking over I went to college and did an A Level in Business Studies too.

Was working life what you thought it would be?

Yes and no. I had a degree of independence (I wasn’t earning the huge sums I’d envisaged!) however the job I was doing just wasn’t ‘enough’. I was massively motivated to earn more and a having my son made me even more determined. I changed jobs regularly seeking regular change and challenge and ended up working for a motor insurance company as a trainee loss adjuster where I started to blossom and where my career really started. I loved the customer focus, the problem solving and the fact that each claim was so different.

As so often happens, fate or luck stepped in and when I moved to Devon, I walked in to an agency that I thought could help me find a job and walked out with a job with them instead! I happened to be in the right place at the right time and haven’t looked back since.

What were you like in the early part of your career?

If I’m being honest I suspect I was a bit of a pain to manage. Like so many people at that age I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I lost interest easily and was always striving for ‘more’. Working out what I didn’t want to do ultimately helped me better understand what I enjoyed and what type of job was going to give me the constant challenge that I know I need.

What do you think about education vs career now?

I think it very much depends on your career aspirations – having a degree gets you a foot in the door for some jobs whereas for others practical experience or personality can be more important to the prospective employer.

How has your choice impacted your later life?

I’ve been successful in my career and that’s down to my people skills, resilience, tenacity and problem solving abilities, all of which are skills I’ve developed in different jobs/environments and also outside of the work place. Of course it hasn’t always been plain sailing and I learnt from an early age that nothing’s going to be handed to me on a plate and equally that in sales if you work hard and you’re smart that the rewards are there – and that’s what drove me.

What would you tell your 18 year old self now?

Put some of your salary into a pension and save regularly. If you have some security and money in the bank, you have choices.

Build your network, be kind and act with integrity.

What advice would you give teenagers now?

First and foremost, believe in yourself – you don’t have to follow the crowd – do what’s right for you. I feel like I’ve achieved a lot by doing that.

I don’t see starting work at a relatively young age as an easy option – you’ve got to dig deep to succeed – and learn to bounce back when the knocks come along.

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