On International Women’s Day, We Ask – What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?

Every day is a great day to celebrate the amazing women in your life, but #InternationalWomensDay gives you an extra reason to do just that.

This year’s theme is #ChoosetoChallenge, calling on us all to think critically about our own thoughts and actions and how we can better promote gender inequality and celebrate women’s achievements.

As a team of women who work in a predominantly male environment, we are feeling reflective and have been asking ourselves, “what advice would you give your younger self?”.

Here are a few of our pearls of wisdom…

Chris was given this piece of advice, early in her career, when she was working her way up in Local Authority and believes is has been invaluable throughout her career. ‘Town Planning is a game, an important game but still a game’ which was from her former manager Richard Teece, who Chris says was one of her biggest advocates and shaped her into the planner she is today.

“I took things too seriously and was very regimented with my planning views in my initial career and any decision which went against my recommendation I took personally and was very critical of myself.  I soon realised town planning is bigger than just looking at policies and regulations, at the end of the day, it’s about people and places.”

Once Chris embraced this, she feels she became a better Town Planner, which has led to an amazing career so far.  It is definitely a piece of career advice she would want to pass on.

Another piece of “life advice” Chris would want to pass to her younger self is ‘balance does not mean compromise – a work life balance should not mean compromising one for the other’.

“During my career I sacrificed family time for a career and whilst it served me well career wise, I have realised that now this shouldn’t have happened, you can’t get back time with your family and that’s a big driver for me in terms of developing Planning House, we are a family first business with flexible working at the heart of it, which makes us very responsive to our clients.  I would tell my younger self that success isn’t measured by a title or salary and it’s much more of a personal measure.”

If Chris could speak to her younger-self, she would also tell her how important fostering relationships and building strong networks would be.

“Your network is your biggest asset, I was fortunate that even when I disagreed with developers/architects during my time in local authority I had a respect and understanding for their viewpoint (most of the time!), and a lot of them we work with in private practice as clients or sub-contractors.  I didn’t realise how much influence a network could have on your future career plans.  Whilst I had an open-door policy during my public sector days, I wish I had embraced networking and building relationships more when I was younger.”

Finally, Chris would encourage her younger self to experience both sides of the public/private sector fence.

“I wish I’d known sooner that experiencing the different sectors of planning will really set you up to be a more well-rounded planner with versatility to work in any area and the commercial awareness which you don’t get in Councils. I do believe that working in the public sector gave me a firm grounding in planning, how it works and the politics that go with it.  But working in that environment can be blinkered and the higher you climb the more difficult it is to leave.   I’d love for town planning public and private sectors to do secondments to allow planners to experience both sides of the industry.”

Claire* would tell her younger self to ‘trust your instincts’!

“I am a planner in all sense of the word and have always felt the need to anticipate and bring about the next stage in my life (usually quicker!). My determination has been a constant, and it has got me to where I am both personally and professionally, but I think I would say it is also ok to be unsure about your next move. Try to be patient and trust your instincts. It is usually best to focus on one thing at a time rather than looking too far ahead.  Try to stay in the moment as much as possible and remember/ enjoy what you have achieved so far.”

Claire would also want her younger self to know it’s great to have goals, but don’t get too stuck on what your ‘perfect job’ looks like.

“Your ambitions will change as you and your priorities change.  Also, don’t get hung up on other people who seem to ‘have it all’ and don’t compare yourself to them – it is a waste of time.  ‘Having it all’ isn’t what people told you it should look like – work out what it means for you.  Take the pressure off, most of us either never get there or do not get everything all at once. And that’s ok too.”

Finally, Claire would want to tell her younger self “be braver and do the difficult thing”.

“I’ve always been a cautious type (the kid who was scared by the big water slide for instance) and this has impacted on my career.  I knew for a long time I wanted to take the leave the public sector, and I was actively looking for new opportunities, but often when it came to make a decision to apply or accept a new role, I thought of reasons why it wasn’t for me (e.g. long hours, the commute, level of experience, family commitments, etc).  It felt when the opportunity with Planning House came along, I was finally at a point where my self-belief and confidence had grown, along with my expertise, so I was more than ready to take the leap.  And it has certainly paid off! I feel like I am finally rediscovering my potential and passion for what I do.”

Helen stayed in local authority planning departments for 13 years before taking the plunge into the private sector. If she could go back and speak to her younger self, she would tell herself to have confidence in your abilities and wrestle harder with self-doubt!

“That lack of confidence and self-doubt nagged away and told me to stay where I was and ‘play it safe’.  Although I gained some invaluable experience and worked with some fantastic people, I wish I had made the move sooner.”

Like Chris, Helen would also tell her younger self how important networking is in career development.  Helen wasn’t particularly confident about networking at first, so her advice would be:

“Networking is not something to dread, everyone in the room is there to meet new people, it may look like everyone knows each other and while some do most of them really don’t.”

A piece of “life advice” Helen would give to her younger self is: “Its ok to have a different opinion to somebody and voicing it doesn’t mean people aren’t going to like you.  Providing it is approached in the correct way I think most people respect someone who says what they think.”

Finally, Helen would tell herself to focus on the good stuff! “The days are long, but the years are short! Sometimes I can’t believe my babies are 6 and 3. I hate the phrase ‘enjoy every minute’ because that’s impossible and sets you up to fail!  Everyone is human and its ok not to enjoy every minute but let go of the rubbish bits, focus on the successes no matter how small.  Nobody is perfect, not all days are good – and that’s ok!”

Until someone comes up with a solution to time travel, we can’t go back to give our younger selves these pearls of wisdom, but we do hope that it can help guide and inspire other young women (and men), who are venturing out into the professional world.  Be Brave. Develop your professional networks. And enjoy the journey!!

Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day, Chris, Helen & Claire.

* Claire embarked on a new adventure from May 2021 leaving the team, we wish her the very best of luck