Issue 4: Ladders & Dots

The career path that has led me to sitting at the helm of Conker Spirit is full of twists and three point turns. I couldn’t have foreseen how each path would play a role in getting me there – you can only join up the dots looking back.

In early 2014 I had got Conker to the point where my day job was holding it back. I had people to meet, botanicals to forage, and a gin recipe to perfect (basically all the things I couldn’t do on the sly at my office desk…)

But I was terrified of taking the final leap to hand in my notice. I had to admit to my friends, family and colleagues that the thousands of pounds and hours spent hunched over my desk revising, was all for nothing. I had chosen the wrong path, I was walking away. Part of me felt like I’d failed.

This was not the first time I had stumbled across a ‘dead end’ in my grand plan. For me it’s been a bit hit and miss; first setting off on a Biology degree, digressing to a Masters in Construction, pouring years into becoming a chartered surveyor, only to find myself now running Dorset’s first gin distillery!

When I’m out Conkering some dark and thirsty corner of the UK, I’m often asked:

“so, how did you get into the drinks industry?”

“I’m a Charted Surveyor” I reply. Proving that some things can lead you to drink…

In fact, the closest I came to working in the drinks industry was as a barmen at the Stumble Inn whilst ‘studying’ at Royal Holloway University. Whilst I have since long forgotten how to assemble the perfect ‘Slippery Nipple’, there is something that has stuck with me ever since. At a six month appraisal I was sat down by my manager and told that I “would climb to the top of whatever ladder I chose to climb”.

Halfway through a Degree I had begun to see no future in, this really struck a chord and I have never forgotten it. At the time it gave me some hope that everything would work out ok, but now it’s even clearer than that;

It is up to you to choose the ladders you want to climb, and it’s likely you won’t pick the right one the first time around.

The concept of a single career ladder is flawed. Instead it will be a series of ladders and snakes, hops and leaps of faith as you make your way to the next rung that feels like your next best move. Trusting your gut rather than a perceived obligation to see it through, and crucially, not viewing each previous ladder as a waste of time.

This was perfectly put by Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs, at his 2005 Stanford University commencement address. Uninspired by his traditional College courses, he dropped out, leaving him free to attend only the courses that interested him.

By following his curiosity and intuition, he took a course in calligraphy, something he says seemed like irrelevant and unproductive training at the time. 10 years later, however, Apple’s Macintosh were the first computers to have beautiful typography, with multiple type faces and proportionally spaced fonts. As he put it;

“It was very difficult joining up the dots looking forward from college, but very clear looking back 10 years later”.

Anything you do you will learn from. And while I had previously seen my meandering career to date as a series of unrelated false starts, each have played an essential role in setting me up to run Conker.

The ladder you are on should not be your guide, you are not a train. Nor should the lure of more money or that sexy promotion persuade you to keep climbing and finishing what you started.

It is the belief that the dots will eventually link up that will allow you to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path.

That’s the Spirit®