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Real ambition: the secret of my success as an author and speaker

To celebrate the launch of our new book, Real Ambition, we speak to six inspirational women about what success means to them. Read more in our October issue, out now

by Psychologies

Vanessa King is a board member at Action for Happiness and author of their Ten Keys to Happier Living book (Headline, £12). She plays an active role, speaking nationally and internationally and translating the latest psychological research into practical action to help individuals, organisations and communities enhance their wellbeing and resilience.

1. Describe your job in three words

A super, interesting, adventure.

2. What were three things you did that led you to getting the job that you love? 

It was stepping stone:

  • A really solid professional services training with a top firm.
  • Gradually collecting experience and exploring what really interested me.
  • Taking a sabbatical to study in depth, via a Masters degree, a new area of psychology that I felt was part of the future and wanted to be part of my future.

3. What is your biggest belief about how to be successful in life?

It has to be trying to believe in yourself, keeping learning and keeping going.

4. What's the secret of your success?

Don't be afraid of changing direction - you learn more about yourself as you progress and the world changes too. We'll all be working longer so I think many of us will have more than one career track.

5. What's the biggest career mistake you made along the way and how did you rectify it?

My first job out of university was to train as an accountant. Intellectually I could do it but it really wasn't 'me'. I'm quite a creative thinker and I like the people side of things. After I qualified (which took a lot of sweat and occasional tears), it was a good foundation. As a career track it was unlikely to make me happy which meant I probably wouldn't do that well at it. I spent a while reflecting upon what would be a better fit and looked around until I found a next step towards that.

6. What's the one thing about doing your job that surprised you the most?

That it exists at all! When I started my career it didn't. Jobs were structured and narrower, plus the field of positive psychology hadn't surfaced. Now you could say I have a portfolio career: leadership and organisation development consultant, writer, speaker and board member of the social movement Action for Happiness.

7. Do you ever suffer from 'imposter syndrome' and how do you overcome it?

At certain points in my career - big time. I think it's very common. For me, getting feedback on my work and developing a deep expertise has really helped.

8. What's the best piece of career advice you were given and by whom?

A senior partner at the accountancy firm once said he could see me at the BBC. Whilst I didn't go on to a career in the media, what I do now has something of the essence that he meant - creative, eclectic, deadline driven and always something new. And funnily now I'm interviewed lots on the radio, write for and contribute to newspapers and magazines and speak at public events.

9. What's the best career advice you would give to anyone who wants a job like yours?

Get a broad base of experience. For me it was: a professional services experience for a general business grounding, then in-house HR, then consulting where I worked with a wide range of organisations around the world and then, through my Masters and beyond, a deep area of expertise. All this experience combines to build capability, flexibility and the ability to innovate.

See your career as a journey with different possible directions. We may start out in one direction but sometimes we take a wrong turn, new paths open up or we decide to step off the path for a while to explore something we're curious about. And sometimes we start the journey not having clear sight of the final destination - that only comes into sight as we progress, explore, build experience and knowledge of ourselves.

10. What does success look like for you in five years' time?

I'd love to write more books, to continue to develop my public speaking and designing and curating exciting events that help people learn and live happier, more fulfilling lives. And I'd like to be having fun and still be learning.

Find out more in the October issue of Psychologies, out now. Our dossier will help you to achieve your dreams on your own terms...

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most successful of 
them all? Ambition often conjures up ideas of competition and greed, but we don’t believe it’s a dirty word. In fact, we ask: where would we be without it? Ambition propels us forward, helps us to realise our dreams, find fulfilment  – and even help others.

So, this month, we ask, ‘What does
 your own version of success look like? And will it unquestioningly give you a sense of fulfilment?’ 
We discover what makes successful people successful, 
hear how ambition can evolve, look at what holds us back from our goals (and how to get over it) and find out where 
our true passions lie, in this month’s test. Dreams, 
notebooks and pens at the ready… go!

Pick up your copy now!

Photograph: iStock