Whatever thoughts you have in your head right now, about how you imagine life panning out for you – well, park them. It’s a truth universally accepted that often even the best-laid plans don’t go as expected.
You’ll expend far less time, energy, money, suffer fewer hangovers and save on tissues if you accept that, though it’s fine to aim for the stars, for some of us that journey to the other side of the galaxy might take longer or go in a zigzag.
But before tearing this letter up and reaching out for yet another box of tissues, please let me reassure you that although your career and life didn’t turn out how you expected them to – it doesn’t mean you’ve given up on your dreams, forgotten what hair dye looks like and are wearing ‘big’ Bridget Jones-style knickers on a permanent basis. It simply means your ended up taking a slightly different route. And that is, well – just fine. Because, it’s true what they say – life and your career are a journey. And for me, not knowing what’s going to happen next and surprising myself is what makes it so wonderful.
Drafting this letter, I cast my mind back to my 25-year-old self, rushing into The Lawyer magazine’s West End offices. I was running very late for my first interview, working up a sweat, wearing a pink pussy bow shirt and hair extensions.
Thinking back, I probably looked ridiculous (but we all make fashion mistakes growing up). It was also probably the first time in my life when I began to feel a bit of a failure. I’ve found myself in a few similar situations since, but quickly realised that rather than beat myself up I should learn from negative experiences and use each one to motivate me into planning the next turning in the road.
I was feeling a bit down in the dumps as I’d studied to be a journalist, cutting my teeth at a local newspaper and then on to be a “Celebrity News Reporter”. At the time, I was on cloud nine, thinking the girl from Croydon had bagged a job on real-life celebrity press agency and was actually “Living My Dream”!
Except I wasn’t. The harsh reality was, I lived in a cramped, mice infested studio apartment in London’s King’s Cross (this was obviously before the area benefited from being regenerated) and I absolutely hated my job. It wasn’t really anything to do with the agency, it was me. I found the work incredibly boring, writing the same stories day-in-day-out about the next celeb to go into rehab.
What’s more, I was absolutely terrible at interviewing celebrities – I would get star-struck and start laughing in their faces like a complete eejit. For instance, I once interviewed Kylie Minogue at a red carpet event, with my hand clenched around an invisible microphone, and asked her (still speaking into an invisible microphone) if she “liked living in England”. This was when I knew it was time to hang up my celebrity dreams.
I Quit. Whooop. I Quit! But sh%t, now what? And double sh%t – speculation was mounting over another stock market crash, owing to what I now know was initially caused by sub-prime mortgages and eventually resulted in a collapse of the banking sector.
With a shrinking jobs market and desperate for work, I applied to any of the few magazines or newspapers that had vacancies (I did, however, draw the line at Fish Farming International – no offence, obviously) even though I wasn’t mad keen on working for most of them.
Eventually, I accepted an offer from Lawyer 2B, The Lawyer magazine’s student title.
I sat nervously in the downstairs lobby, thinking I didn’t know a thing about the Law and I should’ve probably stuck with fish, when I was greeted by Cat Griffiths and Husnara Begum, editors of The Lawyer and Lawyer2B respectively.
After a great interview, whereby I did fess up to knowing nothing about the Law – except my stints reporting at Dartford Magistrates’ Court – but get on so well with both of them, I land the job.
And at this point, I want to tell my 25-year-old self that you’ll have a wonderful time at The Lawyer, learning so much from Cat and Husnara who turned out to be great mentors and female role models. You’ll get to interview genuinely inspiring people like Shami Chakrabarti, Baroness Scotland and who could forget the 90-year-old proof-reader Reg Frary? You will also go onto make life-long friends.
To my astonishment, I also found the legal industry fascinating. I liked the people, the issues that impacted it as well as the buzz of the City. And in the end, I quit journalism for good and like so many of my former colleagues switched to public relations (PR) and joined Hogan Lovells.
Starting as the most junior member of Hogan Lovells’ global PR team, I learnt so much from Chris Hinze, Karen Snell and Vanessa Montero about what good legal PR looks like. I even got to meet a few celebrities – HRH Prince Charles and ITV news presenter Alistair Stewart. During my encounter with his Royal Highness, I’d inadvertently worn the colours of the British Flag and laughed hysterically when he asked me a question. Whilst, when speaking to Alistair I foolishly blurted out: “It’s nice to see that you have your trousers on today.” I was obviously joking about newsreaders wearing pants under their desk, but it all came out completely wrong and nobody other than me saw the funny side. It also didn’t help that I was eight months pregnant at the time. Note to then 30-year-old self – don’t do or say either of those things.
I then had my son, Michael. The best gift ever, as well as my most important achievement to date. During maternity leave I hit another roadblock and suddenly found myself as a single mum and thought that was the end of my career. But thanks to my own wonderful mother, newly found maternal determination to survive and provide for my son (and a good blow-dry, of course) I returned to my role at Hogan Lovells and back to what felt my old (but slightly wiser) self.
My next and current move was to Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF). After speaking to Global Head of Communications Anna Ward about a newly created role, I decided to make the leap and take on responsibility for looking after HSF’s global disputes practice. Now this, my younger self, has been a real journey of discovery – and a wonderful one at that.
A year into my new role, HSF needed somebody to help set up a PR function in their New York office. Justin D’Agostino, then Global Head of Disputes and now our CEO, asked me if I wanted to go and help. WOW. I was beyond excited and knew I could make an impact there, if given a chance. My firm didn’t see any barriers for me to go, they even helped me find childcare for Michael and an apartment beside the park. The secondment was amazing, I made connections with journalists in New York something I just wouldn’t have been able to do from London and also got to know the wonderful HSF team in the Big Apple. It was also an incredibly special adventure for Michael and me and I felt proud that we could go it alone in a new city – and thrive.
One lesson it did teach me though, was to never get ahead of yourself. I remember walking down Fifth Avenue, the sun was beaming down on my face, I had a coffee in my hand and was thinking, “This Croydon girl has definitely made it this time round”, and then I got covered in cement from head-to-toe after walking past a building site’s mixer tube rather too closely.
After the secondment I returned to London and continue to be amazed and inspired by our firm and the leading work we do. Although I don’t have the buzz of the City at the moment (something I don’t think I will ever tire of) because we’re all in lockdown and working from home, I still – to this day – get a thrill seeing a quote from one of our lawyers in the papers, after I have pitched it in, or seeing one of our team being interviewed on the news.
So to my younger self – although you don’t think much of yourself at the moment and you won’t get everything you think you ever wanted – it’s exactly how it’s supposed to be, because the adventure ahead of you is indeed more fun and exciting that you could’ve ever imagined it to be!
Corinne McPartland is Communications Lead, Disputes, at Herbert Smith Freehills