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Reignite your career 2: Think like a chess master

Plotting your career requires more than reacting. Here's how to think strategically

This post is part of the Noon Masterclass: Reignite Your Career by Noon’s Career Expert, Lisa Unwin. 

Catch up with Part 1: Dump your excuses

Lisa Unwin portraitOften I am helping women get back to work who felt forced to leave their careers when they started a family.  The outrageous cost of childcare is one of the main factor’s women cite for deciding to leave their full-time jobs. Take care, I say. Making what appears to be financially smart short-term moves can prove damaging in the long run. Instead, imagine that your future – both personal and professional – is one very important game of chess 

Think like a chess master

A chess master doesn’t resign from the game simply because she is in a tricky situation. She thinks strategically, planning three or four moves ahead. She has an eye on the end game. Your decision to give up a full-time job might make sense today, but will that decision enable you to play the role you want, living a life you love, in the long term?  

Having young children is a temporary condition

As one working mother put it: Seeing my daughter start senior school made me really think about what I was going to do with the next 20 years of my working life, something I had given zero thought to when she was six and I resigned from a great job.” Your children will not be young forever. Have a long-term plan. 

Adapt your tactics as the game progresses

Like chess, your career is a long game. The first phase is busy. Along with your peers, you dig in and work long hours, establish yourself, build your network. As the game progresses, things change.

Children may come along who need and deserve attention. It is during this middle phase that a grand chess master stands out from the crowd because of her ability to devise cunning strategies; to take risks.  Be creative about defining your role and contribution, be prepared to be measured on output and not hours worked. Stay in the game. Play to win. 

Be prepared to sacrifice some pieces

As the grand master of your own life, it is inevitable that you will need to make sacrifices. That might mean taking a different role or perhaps going part-time. It could entail a sacrifice – passing up a promotion maybe. Seek out a mentor or a sponsor who will look out for you in the future. Position yourself to make your next big move a winning one by maintaining and growing your networks. Be prepared to lose some battles if you want to win the war. 

Remember, the queen is not the only piece on the board

Yes, she’s important. Powerful. A great multi-tasker. But there may be a king as well. On the same side of the board as you. Wearing the same colours. You need to have a shared view of what “winning” looks like. And you need to work together.  

Be a player

If you cannot work five days a week, make up for it with quality and delivery. Have the confidence that comes from knowing your value as professional and from continuing to develop that value. Many women see their career as a series of reactive moves, responding to circumstances as best they can. But if you think like a chess master, that begins to change.  

There’s a bigger game than work-life balance

It’s the game of creating your life, one move at a time, designed to set up all the people and organisations – your partner, children, clients, employers, and network – to give you the opportunities, support, and guidance that you need to succeed each step of the way. 

— Lisa Unwin

Lisa Unwin, Founder of the Reignite Academy, is Noon’s Careers Expert.


Go to Part 3: Make your CV sing