Capturing opportunities

When I finished school and headed to Uni I had no idea what I wanted to do, or be when I grew up. I'm sure there are thousands of 17 year olds out there who are feeling exactly the same way right now. I figured that doing a degree would be a good thing, and it would delay me having to make a decision about my life for 3 years. At the end of 3 years I still had no idea.

I got a job in retail. I knew that this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life but I figured I would learn great skills, and I did. I eventually became a store manager and along the way I learnt about customers and running a business, and managing people and understanding the difference between revenue and profit and what drives both. I learnt how to deal with conflict. Fast. An angry yelling customer standing right in front of you with only a glass counter as a barrier, means you work this stuff out pretty fast.

During my time in retail I became interested in how businesses manage people and get the best out of them. I went back to Uni and study Business and Human Resource Management, part time. Studying part-time takes a looooong time. As I neared the end of my second degree I started to wonder how the hell I was going to convince a company to employ me in a HR role. I got determined because I had been working my butt off working full-time and studying part-time. I wasn't going to let that go to waste.

I set about to look for any opportunity to get any sort of HR experience in any context. I took a casual job in the university business school with one of the HR lecturers doing filing and photocopying and finding HR articles. I participated in a mentoring program run by the university and was so lucky to be paired with a HR Manager working at a sugar mill. He took me to meetings and asked my opinion about things. I attended training sessions with Managers at the sugar mill. I attended free and very cheap Industrial relations and human resources networking and training events. Anything that was remotely related.

I then set about trying to work out how my retail management experience related to the discipline of Human resource Management. When you work in retail other companies don't tend to acknowledge the value of the skills you learn dealing with the general public day-in and day-out. Communication skills, conflict management skills, dealing with difficult people, how to manage people......

I was so proud when I landed my first entry level HR job (which paid more than my retail Store Manager job) and I got the job not because I could demonstrate experience in HR, but because I could demonstrate my tenacity and attitude.

More recently I decided I wanted to improve my photography skills. I'm an OK amateur photographer and am very critical of the shots I take. I get frustrated when the image doesn't turn out the way I see it in my mind or what's in front of me. Despite this, friends will say, "how did you get so good?" I look for opportunities to practice my skills that are real and challenging. I participate in "photo a day" challenges, I have attended a number of courses at Sydney Photographic Workshops including an introduction to digital SLR photography, so I could actually use my camera! I also looked for opportunities to take photos at events like conferences and work events. These experiences feel REAL and force me to take photos that I hope will create a record that are special for the person or the company. Offering to take photos for people has also had unintended and generous consequences. I had the opportunity last week to take photos for a very special book launch and in return I have been offered a place in an Executive Women's development program.

I certainly don't want to become a professional photographer but I want to take better photos of my family and to illustrate my blog posts. Opportunities like these are forcing me to learn and be a better photographer.

So what do you want to do differently? What do you want to learn? What do you want to be better at? How can you seek out opportunities to gain practical experience or demonstrate your tenacity and focus? Would love to hear about it!