Annu's story: At its best, work is a mirror that shows our own development points and also how well we really are doing
In the spring of 2001, I had finished high school and I suddenly was in a situation, where I had to figure out what to do next. I had been working in various summer jobs since I was 15, but none of them had felt like my own. I had no internal feeling or intuition of the right direction, so I tried to solve the problem by thinking: I like drawing: I could apply to study graphic design. Computers are fun to use, and IT skills are needed everywhere: IT studies would certainly be a sensible option. At least I would have work!
I did not get in to study graphic design, but I got in IT, with half a point over the minimum score. That solved it, I would become a Master of Science in Computer Science.
Student life was fun, and the studies left a lot of good memories. However, in 2008, when graduation began looming ahead, the familiar anxiety began to rise again. What do I want to do when I grow up? Graduation was suddenly not a great relief, but also a frightening demand to make decisions on my life.
I completed my master's thesis at the research assistant's desk in my school at the Helsinki University of Technology (now Aalto University). Through the networks created in that work, I got my first "real" job at the Nokia Research Center. Our team was young and dynamic, we had a good atmosphere. The smart home project, started at Nokia, was continued in a new company, where I had time to work less than a year, before I took my first parental leave, and then another year, before I received my second place of study and went on study leave. I remember crying when I talked about the study leave with my supervisor at the time. I don't remember what I actually cried about. In any case, it was quite a fundamental decision.
I started studying Spanish philology at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Helsinki. For some reason, studying humanities had always been my dream. Thanks to my exchange year in Mexico, my Spanish was fluent, and my studies went smoothly. What was even more important, I found sociology as my minor subject. I had not even known what sociology was, but when browsing the course lists, I felt that I had to get to study this. I fell in love with structures, "social", the invisible, but all-affecting level of reality. My studies at the University of Helsinki were unfinished when my life threw obstacles in the way, but they were not wasted, even though I did not receive a degree.
My search time started. In autumn 2015, I received a job from a company called Youredi, which produces integration solutions especially in the logistics sector. I didn't really know exactly what integration in the IT context meant, but fortunately I am a quick learner. Even in this workplace, the best thing was the colleagues, even though I also liked the problem solving and certain creativity required for the planning and implementation of integrations. I also got to practise cooperation skills when working with client companies.
I felt I had to take a leap of faith
Gradually, however, the idea for a change of sector began to mature so far that I was prepared to take a concrete step towards something new. In a home party, I had been recommended social services studies, and since then, when I browsed job advertisements, I noticed that the qualification requirement for positions of interest to me was often a Bachelor of Social Services degree.
I familiarised myself with social services studies, and they seemed to combine two things that were important to me: Travelling alongside a person and influencing social structures. Encouraged by my psychotherapist, I applied in the next joint application round to study the social sector as multiform studies, and I was admitted. I continued at Youredi part-time, until the combination with my personal life got too heavy and I became tired. After being on sick leave for a few months, I resigned: I felt I had to take a leap of faith.
The break was good for me. In addition to studying, I did occasional work at daycare centres at first, because I had noticed in my first social services internship, at a daycare centre, that work in early childhood education and care suited me well. I received wonderful feedback from both children and adults.
I completed my second internship at a special needs’ vocational institution, the Luovi Vocational College, because I was interested to see what work in a school would be like. In particular, the group sessions I planned on self-knowledge and emotional skills, and the encouraging feedback I received from them, remained in my mind, but also the fact that my internship instructor praised my ability to gain students' trust quickly and be a relaxed and yet safe adult.
Later, I made a few substitutes, as a social counsellor, in the supported housing service for substance abuse and mental health rehabilitees, and I got the confidence to encounter people in difficult life situations.
At some point before my last internship, I became interested in a counselling approach: Longer customer processes and goal-oriented work seemed meaningful and motivating in light of past experiences. So I sought to complete my final internship at Vamos, in the Deaconess Foundation, where counselling services are offered to young people aged 16 to 29 who are not in employment, or in education or training. The internship confirmed my belief that I want to do counselling work in the future.
I do not remember exactly how many jobs I applied for, before being selected for my current position in the Hoivatie tailored counselling service. I think about five. My applications improved over time, and writing the last one went almost as if by itself: my professional identity had begun to take shape. I also invested in the design and content of my CV, which was worthwhile: I received praise specifically for my CV from my current employer.
In my work, as a career counsellor for jobseekers in Helsinki, I get to experience big or small successes almost every day. The biggest moments are when, near the end of a challenging process, the customer says that they feel their life has a direction now, or when someone who has not been able to look for a job on their own is able to get a permanent job with my help. "Smaller", but still meaningful moments, are, for example, a more optimistic mood for the customer at the end of the meeting or even a good discussion with a colleague.
My IT expertise is particularly useful in mapping the interests and skills of customers who want to work in the IT sector. Thanks to my background, I can ask the right questions. I could not have guessed this in advance, even though I think that nothing learned in life is ever wasted.
I think I'm the sort of person who never likes to stay in one place for a long time
I have learned a lot from myself in working life. At best, work is a mirror that shows our own development points and also how well we really are. If you do not feel comfortable in your work, even if you otherwise felt good and there were no major problems in the work community, it is worth considering, whether it would be better to come up with something completely new. This does not necessarily mean a radical change of direction, as in my case, but it is often possible to find sufficiently different tasks and new perspectives within the same field. However, I encourage you to listen to the voice that whispers (or shouts) that this is not my place.
I have realised that I have a strong need to act in a sufficiently concrete way to promote the well-being of people and the fairness of society. The technical expert work did not satisfy this need, and I always felt somewhat lost. Fortunately, I dared to take the leap and also to trust that not all answers need to be ready right away. Instead, they come on time when you are brave enough to move in your own direction.
I will continue to walk my own path. I like working as a career counsellor, but I think I'm the sort of person who never likes to stay in one place for a long time. So, I am about to start a work instructor training this autumn, alongside my work. The advertisement for the Future Work Instructor training, organised by Maria Akatemia, came up on social media, and I immediately thought: This is what I have been looking for. Individual guidance is my strength; therefore, I would like to strengthen my skills especially in group and community work. I believe that communities have an enormous power, which we need to solve the major problems of humankind, in the future. Without cooperation and conflict resolution skills, it will not be possible to harness that power.
I would also like to promote the use of work guidance in sectors other than social welfare and health care. "Soft" skills are also needed in technical and commercial fields, even though the substance of the work itself is different from that of social work. Perhaps my IT background will become useful here.
In other words, soon I will be able to work with my wonderful customers and also learn something completely new. It is impossible to guess where it will take me. One of the best things in life is when you can look back and think: "Oh, this is why that needed to happen." Intuition and curiosity are perhaps the most important guiding forces in my life. Following them, working life cannot become boring!