Emma Thompson took a 'career swerve' – and so can you

Actress Emma Thompson has spoken of her own career swerve in her early twenties, after feeling she'd never be taken seriously as a comedic actor. She reluctantly gave into then-expected norms of "serious" acting in order to make a living. We can all relate to that pressure, writes Jennifer McShane.


To decide to alter your career path is no easy decision. You've invested time and money in a chosen field, worked hard and banked relevant experience. But something is missing. It's not as you thought it would be. You're not earning enough, not moving up the ladder enough. Things aren't happening as you need them to, in order to thrive.

Actress Emma Thompson said she was all too aware of this as she tried to break into comedy early in her career. Her 1988 BBC comedy show, Thompson, did not go down well.

"Thompson was ripped apart by critics," she said. "They said it was 'man-hating'. You can't imagine how terrible they were, so destructive and deeply, inutterably misogynistic. I absolutely know that now, but I didn't then. At the time, I couldn't get out of bed. I thought, 'All right, maybe I shouldn't be doing this'.

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"So I got into serious acting," she says. "I'm quite good at serious acting." This serious acting paid off; two Oscars wins and a slew of awards later. But nevertheless, it was a pressure she gave into because she wanted to earn her living. She swerved careers, even if it wasn't what she originally set out to do.

“I think my response was a sensible one," she continued. "I had to support myself. I had to earn money. I really mean that, especially as a woman. You must be able to earn your own living. You cannot be dependent upon someone else’s wage. Money is so important to young women.”

She is right, of course. Sometimes, it's just what needs to be done.

The career pivot 

Many of us have done this. It is also what's known as the career pivot: which sees you keep one foot planted in your 'safe zone' - your current industry or company - and pivoting with your other foot as you seek an alternative pathway. This isn't about starting over completely, but moving around in your existing company to an area that's growing; re-skilling yourself, setting out on the road to self-employment, or taking on part-time jobs where you utilise your existing skills in different ways.

It's more normal than you think; recent research has shown that it is highly likely that everyone will change jobs ten times before they are 42 and will make at least six career shifts before they retire.

So, how can you do this?

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Career Psychologist Sinéad Brady of Workstyle.ie says you need to take into account five pointers as you prepare to pivot:

  1. If you really wanted to pivot what you could do, risk-free, if you replaced one hour of Netflix per week to concentrate on a course from Future Learn or Edx.
  2. Imagine if you used your daily commute to listen to a podcast, read a book or listen to an audiobook in an area of interest for you.
  3. What if you made time each month to go for a coffee or lunch with a colleague from your past or present work?
  4. What if you used your holidays to do some work experience in an area of interest to you?
  5. How about you take a weekend to do a course that interests you? Could you take 30 minutes per week to follow your curiosity and see where it might lead?

"The key is to develop a professional identity that is strong, resilient and confident so that it's possible to change your situation without having to leave or change your job," she advises. "To complete a pivot you need to build your skills while in your current role."


Read more: Why we're all suffering from 21st century busyness

Read more: Work anxiety is a real thing. Here's how you can manage it

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