Professional Development – What’s your retirement plan?

Am I thinking about retiring from athletics again?

Well, yes. But not anytime soon.

In the past year, I qualified for my first ever Olympic Games, made my first ever Olympic final and jumped the third furthest distance of my life (6.75m) after a turbulent 18 months.

Before the madness of COVID-19, I jumped a lifetime best of 6.86m after two years out of the sport and finished 7th at the European Indoors and the World Championships. 7th in the world.

Okay, you know these stats. But sometimes I have to remind myself so that I have the motivation to keep going.

So, if I’m not thinking of retiring, what’s this blog post about then?

Well – retirement planning.

Do you have a retirement plan? Because I do. And I ‘d love to share two of my strategies with you…

If you prefer to hear me talk briefly on these two points, watch my short YouTube video on this:

You can especially benefit from reading this post if you’re a British athlete on the World Class Performance Program, whether at podium or podium potential, for two reasons.

[1] PDA: Professional Development Allowance

The PDA – professional development allowance is a budget every athlete on the WCPP has access to so that they can further their growth in whatever area they choose.

I’m thankful to Julie Smith (Senior Performance Lifestyle Coach at the English Institute of Sport) for reminding me to make use of this budget and for helping me to access it with ease.

In the next few paragraphs, I’ll share how I used this budget over my last two years on the program and to encourage you with ideas of how you might choose to use it yourself.

Year One (2019-2020)

In year one of accessing this budget, I spent a large portion of my allowance on French speaking classes at the Alliance Francaise, Manchester – https://www.afmanchester.org/. I did this because I’d previously studied French up to A-Level and then lived out in France (Aix-en-Provence) from September 2010-June 2011 as part of my university degree program, studying French Law. Pretty much every year since I left Aix, I’ve returned to the region to catch up with old friends and compete in Marseille most years so that this catch-up also coincides with competing. Coincidentally, I always jump well here, probably because it feels like home! Despite all this, I’d found my French skills significantly deteriorating so wanted to re-familiarise myself with the language through small group online French language classes.

Year Two (2020-2021)

In year two of accessing the budget, I used the remainder of my year one budget coupled with the whole portion of my year two budget to study CORe (Credential of Readiness) Business Fundamentals course with Harvard Business School Online – https://online.hbs.edu/courses/core/.

Why?

Coaching Advice: Jules encouraged me to go beyond my personal development, e.g. French classes again, and look at how I might use the budget to build skills in the professional business world. Ideas I threw around related to coaching courses, including life coaching and corporate coaching, an ILM 5 or 7 Diploma or Accreditation. But, with my previous certifications in NLP and CBT, I realised I wanted to do something completely different to anything I’d done before; I really wanted to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone and make full use of this funding.

From a business development perspective, as the director of my tuition agency – Manchester Tutors, http://www.manchester-tutors.co.uk, the added knowledge I knew I could gain to support not just this business endeavour but future ones would be a game-changer. The course focuses on three core areas of business: Financial Accounting; Business Analytics; Economics for Managers. I’ve participated in several business accelerators over the years and they’ve grazed on this subject briefly, but I wanted and needed a deep-dive. I wanted to be able to speak the language my accountant speaks. I wanted to be able to make proper financial forecasts, analyse the data and use that to scale and build new ventures.

And, from an empathetic perspective, I’ve been out of the education game as a student for almost a decade, which means I started to feel too far removed from the challenges and joys of being a student. And that didn’t sit right with me.

CORe would address this gap, without question. 12 weeks of study with weekly assignments and deadlines. Deadlines? I don’t remember the last time I had to turn in weekly assignments and sit an exam!

But I truly wanted to understand, empathise and encourage the students and tutors I support by remembering and experiencing the frustration and beauty of learning something new, of handing in assignments, of being marked on my performance, of interacting with peers, of failing and trying again, of being graded and of achieving academically.

As of time of writing this post, I am ten days into the course and I want to say ‘thank you, Julie for encouraging me to go beyond myself’, ‘thank you Abs for taking up the challenge’ and finally, ‘my goodness, students, I empathise with you’. Even choosing to type up this post rather than immersing myself in the HBS content before my 6pm deadline today is filling me with a little bit of anxiety. Okay, bye.

[2] British Athletics’ Partnership with PwC

Okay… I came back to finish this post and again express my thanks to my Performance Lifestyle Coach, Julie Smith and Farzana & Paulette at PwC. Thanks to Julie, I was able to take advantage of a partnership British Athletics has with PwC. And thanks to Farzana and Paulette – the PwC dream team – I was blessed to participate in in-person and online work-shadowing and interviews with employees, directors and partners at the firm.

Without disclosing too much, for privacy purposes, the beauty of this experience was:

  1. Learning about the organisation’s people, purpose and culture
  2. Thinking about life after sport

PwC People

What can I say? The people are open, honest and friendly. Professionally, they’re clearly great at what they do – creative and collaborative thinkers, unafraid to go beyond the remit of their titular roles and expand their learning for the benefit of themselves and the clients they serve. And their inclusive hiring practices mean they also recruit at various levels, including offering apprenticeships for students without a university degree.

PwC Culture

And ultimately, people build culture. So the openness and transparency, fresh-thinking and willingness to try and fail, iterate and go again, is why culturally, PwC is a great environment to grow both personally and professionally. In fact, it is renown for its ability to train their people well within this culture of growth mindset and resilience, which combined with excellence across their diverse skillsets – tech, medicine, law, accounting, etc – leads to creative approaches to problems and innovative solutions for their clients.

Let me balance this with a reality check. Yes, the people are positive and engaging and friendly, which resonates within the culture. Equally, you will work hard at PwC and you will probably put in a lot of hours. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you enjoy what you do!

PwC Purpose

At PwC, the firm’s purpose is to ‘build trust in society and solve important problems’. On the surface, this may sound like just a nice tagline, but I discovered through my time at the various locations and online, that this was certainly put into action from the top-down and the bottom-up. One of my highlights below relating to their tech expansion project will provide you with a picture of how they live out this purpose, not just for their clients, but also for the regions where their people live and work.

Life After Sport, e.g. Retirement

My only experience of the workplace was during my first two years after graduating from university at UCL Law.

I had a 9-5 at a legal recruitment consultancy in the City.

So it was great to get back into a more formal work environment from the perspective of an onlooker, getting a mini insight into the world of consultancy. I went in to this, mid-September, thinking “PwC is a tax and accountancy firm. Where does ‘consultancy’ fit in?” and I left this experience a few weeks later realising, “oh, PwC is SO MUCH MORE than that!

I had certainly underestimated the level of enjoyment, engagement and insight I would get into the people, purpose and culture at PwC. I am extremely thankful for the candidness of every person I spoke with at the firm; they truly wanted me to feel at home and to have answers to all the questions I had and answers to questions I didn’t even know I wanted answers to.

Highlights were learning about the various journeys people took into their roles and being at the Manchester office on a day where they had the largest office turnout since pre-pandemic days, thanks to the buzz and expectation of hearing their Chairman and Senior Partner, Kevin Ellis and Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham share their vision for the future of tech in business and the opportunity that presents over the next few years for the ‘level up’ agenda in the North, particularly Manchester. This essentially means up-skilling, job creation and improving diversity and inclusion within the world of tech from multiple angles, including gender, race, ethnicity and socio-economic background. I am happy to share this part of what I saw and learned at PwC as this is public knowledge. You can read more about this on business-live here.

Thanks for reading and I hope these two posts have been an insightful guide into the benefits of the UK Sport WCPP with British Athletics and the opportunities you have to grow professionally and prepare for life after sport. Get in touch if you’d like to chat about any of these above options or anything else on this topic.

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