As you transition from being a student in school into a student in your career you start to come across opportunities on the journey. Most of the time, you’re like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. Life is happening to you and not the other way around.

I was not brought up with a silver spoon and my family didn’t have the money to send me to university. I had to pay for my own tertiary education. It was during this time that reality struck – that if I wanted to get anywhere in this life, particularly in this capitalist world, I needed to change my opinion and behaviour around education. 

When the bug bit, I resorted to being a bookworm

Breaking out of the pigeonhole

I had to work and study at the same time. I had to take out a student loan. In taking out that student loan I realised that I’d have to pay it back. I constantly reminded myself that if I don’t get success out of the education I had invested in. There was going to be a ripple effect through the rest of my career. There would also be no money to pay back the student loan and I wouldn’t be able to get to my end goal of being an Accountant. That’s when I made the decision to study for 30 hours a week in addition to my 40-hour work week. 

In one of my early roles, I worked for a CEO who was two times my age. He helped me evolve into thinking further than just accounting. To consider taking on more than just this pigeonhole career path, called accounting. 

He guided me through how he ran his business and because of him I grew into more than just an accountant. This intrigued me and got me out of the pigeonhole that I was putting myself into. 

What is a pigeonhole in your career?

Pigeonhole is described as doing the same thing every single day in your life and not expanding into other possible opportunities. The physical meaning of a pigeonhole is a wall cabinet that was used to store people’s mails and message that was only allocated to them. 

The pigeonhole concept could play out in 2 ways in your career path. 

1. The business could pigeonhole you

If politics abounds in a business, this could constrain and put a lid on your career development from the beginning. Businesses naturally need to create structure and need to identify exactly what their position entails. However, this could create limits for people to start in a particular position like customer service for example but would rather be in marketing. And then the business doesn’t allow an open the door for the opportunity for you to grow your skills outside of your pigeonhole. Often times this is where toxic, empire-building managers capitalise. They are so afraid that “someone is going to take their jobs”, or they have a power trip. This is where politics creeps in and your career gets pigeonholed. You battle to develop your true potential.

In essence, politics reduces transparency! Stifles opportunities.

2. You could pigeonhole yourself

This one is not the business’s fault and most often, in the right culture and environment, you do this to yourself. Remember, nobody is going to lay your career out for you on a silver plate. Your competition is all around you. In the right environment, you limit yourself. You don’t make yourself heard or seen. You do not expand your knowledge and are waiting for someone to push you. You have the skillset to develop into a CEO as I did regardless of the position you start in. At AutoTrader SA, we have focused on building the culture to promote growth. If in an environment like this, you still choose to stay silent. You end up pigeonholing yourself because opportunities are there but you don’t take them, in fact, you don’t even see opportunities.

At AutoTrader, management pushes people to break out of the mould and try to get to their true potential. Creating opportunity and an environment where employees can “show what they’re made of and not be pigeonholed.