Self-praise, cheerleaders and good mental health are the essential ingredients to charting a career path, says former BBC journalist Dhruti Shah
If you want to give your career a shake-up and bottle your New Year motivation, heed the advice of Dhruti Shah, a journalist who spent nearly 14 years with BBC News across various editorial roles, before changing her career in 2021.
Journalists have many skills and can do a wide variety of work, she said on the Journalism.co.uk podcast. Shah left the broadcaster to recapture her identity as a writer, finding a reprieve from hardcore news and a creative stimulus through poetry. She has also written books and started doing public speaking and event moderation, plus coaching and consultancy work.
For all of us, the new year presents a chance to assess what we want to improve on in our careers and what we want to achieve. There is also the hangover of the pandemic: a niggling awareness of our job satisfaction and career progress. The end result can be stressful in a world where we feel the pressure to keep up with our peers and avoided the dreaded plateau.
At both your peaks and troughs, you need people around you to lift you up or shout your name. Confidence does not come naturally to everyone, so expect periods of melancholy, self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
That is where you need friends, family and peers to band around you. Shah says that having a community of caring cheerleaders, with a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds, has been the key to making the risky transition from the comfort of a staff role at BBC into new, uncharted work.
In reality, that means having people who will listen to your audition tapes or lend you equipment: “I hope that’s because when they ask me for help, I try to reciprocate. I know what it’s like to be lonely in our industry,” says Shah.
Cheerleaders are also vital sponsors.
“It took me a long time to understand this: you cannot get far in your career without a degree of sponsorship. By that I mean, people putting your name forward when you’re not there,” says Shah.
It is easy to minimise your contributions to a team effort but that will only hinder you.
Talking about your strengths is necessary to progress up the ladder, so learn to be comfortable praising yourself and recognising what you did, no matter how small. Find the most positive angle, like, for example, being the first person to gain the trust of a source who later featured on a programme.
You would be surprised about the knock-on effect this has. Shah, through being loud and proud about her work, says she has inspired other women journalists of colour.
“I cannot be shy about my achievements because, in the same way that others paved the way for me, I have to pave the way for others. And anyone behind us has to do the same.”
“I wanted to return back to being Dhruti who wasn’t being reliant on an institution as my identity,” says Shah on her decision to leave the BBC.
She admits that while her earnings have taken a hit, her mental health has been restored after the pandemic. Having the confidence and ability to make that call came down to a support network of friends, family and professional peers.
“One of the things which crystallised my decision was the end of my time with the BBC,” she explains.
“I was part of a very small team and we were doing pandemic storytelling. It involved speaking to relatives of the deceased for ten hours at a time. Listening to those people made me think about what I wanted my legacy to be and how short life is.
“If anyone is going through this chrysalis stage, know that we as journalists have lots of transferable skills and just because you’re doing other work, does not mean you have shed your identity as a journalist. It’s just evolving.”
Shah says that, early in her career, editors often struggled to find conventional roles for her in the newsroom. That resulted in knocks to her confidence and fears that she was not cut out for the industry.
If she could talk to her younger self, she would advice her to embrace her fate as a platypus: a unique but adaptable creature.
You might not feel like you fit in right now, but there is a place out there right for you – you just need to find it.
If you do one task to bottle your quickly evaporating 2023 motivation, rewrite your professional bio or LinkedIn bio. It will force you to step back, take stock of your achievements and figure out what else you can achieve with the skills you have.
If you are having trouble, try to organise a virtual coffee with a trusted colleague or someone whose work or career you admire just to get your thoughts together or get a fresh steer.
Even though everyone likes to be flattered, make sure you have a specific purpose for asking their advice: it shows intent, forward-thinking skills and professionalism.
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