How a step down the career ladder can help you rise to the top

October 14, 2021

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When Carol Lee left school, like so many people, she had no idea what she wanted to be. She’d been a swimming teacher and lifesaving coach during school and university, studying Law at Aberdeen. However, even by the end of her degree she wasn’t sure the law was for her.

Over the next few years, Carol went on to complete traineeships, seats and secondments with some great legal firms and household names in the UK, gaining knowledge in several specialisms and diversifying her experience. But after spending five years as an employment lawyer, she started to feel like she needed a change and, perhaps surprisingly for someone in such a respected role and having worked so hard to get there, Carol decided to go back to the beginning and retrain as an Oil and Gas Lawyer.

Carol’s current role with Spirit Energy assumes responsibility for many different areas of the business, combining her breadth of experience into what would appear to be a perfectly designed position. Using her background as an employment lawyer she works with HR and management; while also liaising with external insurers on personal injury matters; and managing compliance function and its team. No day is the same as the last and can see Carol covering General Data Protection Regulation queries, conflicts of interest queries, Gift and Hospitality, training or giving advice relating to immigration, Brexit and the recent pandemic. Carol thrives on this diversity in her working life, but it wasn’t a straightforward route to get there. 

Don’t be afraid to play career snakes & ladders

Although to many people, taking a step down the career ladder may seem counterintuitive and a sure-fire way to slow up your career progression, Carol has found it to be quite the opposite. Carol says that without:

“Diversifying and not being afraid of trying something new – even if it’s meant several steps down the career ladder – I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Carol admits that, of course, the decision to take a more junior role or to learn a new skill can be a struggle at times, especially initially when you don’t know the answer to questions, but she believes it’s the very best way to learn and taking those risks can have huge payoffs professionally and personally: 

“Although it was hard to move away from the comfort of knowing what I was doing to start again, the move down and into new territory opened up more doors of opportunity.”

Moving into an unknown field or learning a new skill can also be hugely motivating. It’s about following your interests, identifying what you need to thrive at work and not staying put in a job just because you think you should. It’s about recognizing what you want from your professional life and exploring all the options that are available to you, not just the obvious ones or the expected tried-and-tested routes. Carol has learned that, although it may not be for everyone, she appreciates a multidisciplinary role and welcomes change and new opportunities: 

“The past has shown I get bored doing the same thing day in, day out. I’ve never been into the idea of a ten-year plan, or a five-year plan. I feel that you can miss the opportunities if you’re too focused.”

Make time for joy

While it’s obvious that Carol loves the challenges her busy role provides, work is only a part of her life, not the sole focus. The loss of a close friend in a kayaking accident in 2017 and the recent loss of her father to cancer brought into sharp focus the things that really matter: family and friends. These experiences reminded Carol how important it is to prioritize what makes you happy and to live without regrets because “you don’t get those lost opportunities back.”

We think we can all relate to the feeling of having “too much going on in our lives and trying to cram in too much.” But now, Carol says “yes” less often so she can make time for the people and activities that bring her happiness and joy. Outside of work, Carol loves spending time walking with her kids and the dog, paddle boarding as a family, and she’s also recently rediscovered her love of playing the piano. Like her newly acquired balancing skills on the paddle board, Carol is certainly the embodiment of a happy work-life balance.

It’s not just in our personal lives that we should be focusing on joy though: the same goes for the workplace. Carol believes we should all be in a role that “makes us happy, doing what makes you happy; life is too short to work somewhere or in a role that doesn’t inspire you.”

And it sounds as though at Spirit Energy, Carol has also found her joy. With its “brilliant atmosphere and ethos”, Carol is proud to be a Free Spirit, championing the forward-thinking reputation of the company, and as an ambassador advocating change. Through the Free Spirit program, which has representatives from every level and location, they work to help drive innovation and culture change, embedding the Spirit Energy Values across the company. 

Spirit Energy also supports its employees in creating a flexible and fluid approach to working with a “fabulous flex system, where you get back time to take off if you’ve worked more than your core hours.”

Being told NO can empower you

Perhaps Carol is so keen to advocate for new ways of working because she has personally come up against obstacles and biases in her own career, especially when working in such a male-dominated industry. She acknowledges that “everyone hears no, whether it’s for a promotion or role change.” It’ll come as no surprise though, that being told “no” does not hold Carol back – in fact, quite the opposite:

“Being told NO can empower you, it can help you reassess where you’re going and where you truly want to be.”

Carol is also familiar with the juggle of being a working mum. She doesn’t deny that it can be tricky at times, especially with young children, but she has learned through experience that “it does get easier as they grow”. Not necessarily because they need you less – she says that in many ways, older children can need you more, but “being open with them and honest allows a good relationship to grow.”

Any last words of advice?

Carol stresses how important it is not to close yourself off from opportunities, and that “sometimes you need to go backwards or sideways to move forwards.” Sharing her grandmother’s words that have stayed with her throughout her career: “What’s for you won’t go past you.” With such wise women in her family, it’s no wonder Carol has risen to the top.

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About the Author
Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job. Check out the latest job vacancies with Spirit Energy