Discussing The ‘Art Of The Possible’ And Career Change With Executive Coach Matt Sevenoaks

I first met Matt at Escape The City, and like most people I meet there, I liked him straight away.

I asked Matt to share his story with me because, in my mind, he is a shining example of how Millennials can redefine their experience of work to better suit who they are and what they care about. Matt’s story begins in the familiar setting of the corporate graduate scheme, but what’s remarkable about him isn’t where he began. After a decade of the corporate world, Matt realised that instead of reshaping his life to suit his career, he could reshape his career to suit his life.

But how did he do it? What challenges did he face? Is he better off now as a result of this career change?

In this post, Matt shares his experiences of reinventing his career and the lessons he learned during the transformation process. Whilst his situation may not be exactly applicable to yours, much of what Matt learned through his experiences are hugely relevant for all young people currently tackling the question of ‘what should I do with my life?’.

So Matt, what are you currently working on?

I work three days per week as an internal executive coach at KPMG working with high potential leaders across the firm to develop their personal impact, building effective relationships with clients, colleagues and their teams. I do so via 1:1 coaching and group coaching.

Two days a week I run my own executive coaching business, working with charity sector leaders, start-up leaders and people studying for MBAs from corporate organisations who are seeking a coach as part of their personal development.

What’s unique about your experience of work?

My current work set up is the product of 10+ years of self-reflection and deliberate career design. I now work for a corporate and also run my own business. Working in both environments enables me to play to my strengths in different ways.

Whats the story of your career transformation?

I joined KPMG’s Audit graduate program because I wanted to work with friendly, bright, collaborative people and have a clear 3 year program which developed me professionally and gave me a marketable professional qualification (the ACA chartered accountancy qualification) which would broaden my career options further. I also wanted high earnings potential, because my family struggled financially when I grew up. I was great a Maths, so assumed chartered accounting would get me all those things.

KPMG gave me all those things, but I soon found Audit too repetitive and very technical, and I discovered that I’m someone who actually likes creating my own way of doing things, and don’t like getting too bogged down in technical detail. So I sought out a secondment to the advisory part of the business, where I worked on high profile fraud and regulatory investigations at listed companies, which was fun for a while, but once I’d been on a few investigations I found myself getting bored again.

It was around those years that I realised three big things:

1) I wasn’t motivated to earn any more money than I was currently earning,

2) I wasn’t attracted to the idea of becoming a partner in the firm, since I value work/life balance massively and I didn’t see any roles models at that level showing me it was possible at the time.

3) I didn’t enjoy being a chartered accountant – I was good at mathematics, but working with numbers no longer appealed to me.

I decided that I wanted to redefine who I was and take on a role that gave me complete autonomy, enabled me to be entrepreneurial, and also enabled me to shape the future of KPMG.

So I applied to lead KPMG’s investigations into how to use crowdsourcing. I was tasked with figuring out what “crowdsourcing” meant, how KPMG could use it, and why it would be useful to our clients. I formed an alliance between KPMG UK and a crowdsourcing technology start-up, which enabled KPMG to connect our clients to their own customers and employees in ways never before possible – and of that I’m proud.

But again, eventually the role became one which didn’t play to my strengths and which sapped a lot of my energy, leaving me little energy to pursue other interests.

When thinking about what I should do next I approached the head of coaching within the firm to state that I was looking to move on from my global crowdsourcing role, move to part time work at KPMG, and to do more coaching. I told her I wanted to share my current position with her and “discuss the art of the possible”.

My current working arrangement is the result of that open and honest conversation.

Why was it so important to you to make a change?

I was stagnating. I value personal growth and challenge. I enjoy applying my strengths and getting positive recognition for it. Although I was working with great people receiving praise in my global role I wasn’t playing to my strengths and found that very draining. I needed to feel energized by my work and grow when doing it.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

1) Reflect on your experiences. When you are feeling emotions frequently, notice them and think about the possible root causes. I think when you feel frustrated or annoyed, or some other energy sapping emotion, then it normally means one of your core values or beliefs is being stepped on by someone or something – e.g. feeling frustrated when you are consistently asked to work late and you value spending your evening with friends/family. When you feel happy, excited, or proud, it can mean that one of your core values is being honoured in some way (e.g. feeling happy when someone thanks you for your hard work if you value recognition).

2) When you are clear on what you don’t want, think about what you do want. Then go and talk to people who can help and support you make the change you are seeking.

3) Accept who you are. I’ve learned that I’m someone who actually enjoys and needs change. I used to think wanting to change somehow meant I’d made the wrong choice or had somehow failed. I now realise that becoming a charted accountant, working on high profile fraud investigations, leading global crowdsourcing at KPMG, and being an executive coach have all been awesome experiences.

What advice would you give to others looking to change the way they work?

Seek out others outside your existing social circles who want to make similar changes too. It’s very easy to feel stuck when you want change, but are feeling anxious about the amount of learning that may be required to make the change, and what you may lose by doing it (e.g. status, prestige, money). All of this can impact your self-esteem and confidence. Have a support network of individuals who understand your perspective and are going through it too can be the support you need to enable you to move from thinking about it to actually doing it in reality.

Matt S pic

Photograph by Laina Pattni

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