Close your eyes and picture yourself “at work”, five years from now. What do you see? What kind of environment do you imagine yourself in? Are you with colleagues or alone? Are you addressing someone? If so, who is your audience? How do you feel in this moment?
These aren’t the exact questions that were posed to my Crossing Thresholds cohort during our first meeting but, in my mind, they capture the essence of a visualisation exercise we were guided through that left an impression on me. Over the months that followed, as I coursed through the programme along with seventeen women I’d never met before, I returned to the version of myself that I had imagined during that first meeting, learning to understand and question with honesty the impulses of my “want muscle”.
Having been recommended Crossing Thresholds by numerous friends and colleagues, I had high expectations that the year-long career development programme for female Civil Servants would be of a high quality, which indeed it was. Yet, what I hadn’t quite expected was the degree of self-reflection it would invite, and the extent that actively listening to, and supporting, my fellow Crossing Thresholds course-mates would add to my own development.
It was enlightening and refreshing to find myself in the company of a diverse group of women, most of whom were in circumstances different to mine. Our common ground as female Civil Servants enabled us to support one another to navigate the unique challenges and opportunities that come with working in the vast, complex, pressurised and often ambiguous environment that we do. Our mix of backgrounds, ages, home commitments, lengths of employment in the Civil Service and career histories created a rich learning environment as each person brought different experiences and viewpoints to our many discussions.
The course encourages participants - within a secure and confidential setting - to open up and articulate personal views and feelings about topics surrounding career development. As such, the conversations shared amongst my group throughout the facilitated sessions, and in the margins, were authentic, sensitive and constructive. It’s no surprise that many developed close bonds. Since completing the course, I’ve noticed a sense of sisterhood among Crossing Thresholds alumni and incumbents, a shared understanding of the journey that the course inspires.
Committing to undertake Crossing Thresholds created an opportunity to carve out space in my busy schedule to reflect purposefully on my own - to use the Civil Service term - “big picture”: my priorities, motivations and ambitions. It opened doors for me to forge new networks and job-shadowing opportunities and the course days gave me a grace period to catch up with myself in many ways. The sessions were considerately facilitated and executed, thought-provoking and practical, and I continue to refer to some of the resources that we covered.
The timing of my course fortuitously coincided with finding myself at a career crossroads as less than half-way through, I was offered a temporary promotion. Having clarified the vision and rationale of my ambitions in the early Crossing Thresholds sessions, I was resolute in aiming for what I really wanted from the next step in my career. I felt privileged to be able to put into practice and leverage the training and networking that the Crossing Thresholds course offered. My mentor became an invaluable support during the tough months that followed as I broached the dual challenge of stepping up to, and substantiating, my promotion. I drew a great deal of advice and self-assurance from my peer group too.
It took a lot of self-discipline to switch off entirely from other demands during course days and prioritise focusing on my professional and personal development. Looking back now, I’m grateful for how protective I was of that time and feel it granted me (and my current and future employers) the best return on the investment. Though at times it felt almost self-indulgent, on reflection, this seems a vital interlude for everyone progressing in their chosen profession. Career goals continually evolve and it takes clarity and purpose to chart out a course and make choices that speak to that “want muscle”.
I expect that as the years roll on, the version of myself that I visualised on that first course day will no longer be the person I aspire to be. Yet, whatever version my imagination conjures up of my future self, the skills learned and network generated from Crossing Thresholds will undoubtedly continue to support my decision-making, confidence and ability to listen to - and exercise - my “want muscle”, regardless of what its impulses call for.