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"I want to be great at my role and known for being great at it"

Posted by Alex Heron, 20 days ago

4 min read

It’s often said that it’s never too late to start over. And Tara of Group Strategy, Corporate Development & Sustainability in Edinburgh typifies that spirit. She left a successful teaching career at 35 years old and applied for our Graduate programme, becoming a full time employee in September 2021.

“I’ve done all sorts throughout my career,’ Tara recalls. “I sold sheet music and guitars, I worked in an all-women’s spa, did insurance customer relations, and I also did a lot of retail and hospitality. Then I came to the UK and settled in Bristol, near where the majority of my teaching career was based.’

Being a teacher defines who you are

While specialising as a high school teacher, department head and head of 6th Form, Tara still got to teach a variety of topics.

“In teaching, particularly if you’re not a science or maths teacher, you kind of teach a little bit of everything. I taught all the human sciences, comparative religion, personal social and financial health, sociology, psychology, health and social care, careers development - everything that involved people and how to interact with them!’

As Tara’s teaching career progressed, she found herself taking on more and more responsibility.

“I was managing a faculty of more than 50 across two different sites and I was the one of two females on the senior leadership team. I was doing consulting work for the government and was being asked to act as a consultant for other schools, having had some of the best results in the local authority.’

Things came to a head after around ten years in teaching, when Tara was working exceptionally long hours and felt her profession was starting to define her own identity. Around this time, she also got a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease, which meant she felt she’d no longer be able to thrive in that environment.

“I got to a point where I’d gone as far as I wanted to go,’ she says. “I was working from 6am til sometimes 9pm and some weekends too. Being a teacher had started to become who I was as a person, nothing else. I’d tried my best for several years to impact young peoples’ hearts and minds as best I could. It was time to do something different.’

With the support of her partner and in a nod to her future role with NatWest, Tara did her research and followed the data.

“We did an Excel spreadsheet of all the places we’d like to live and marked them against job opportunities, quality of life, cost of living and the like, and Edinburgh came up as the place to be. So we quit our jobs, sold our house and moved up to Musselburgh, just outside Edinburgh in August 2019.

Tomorrow begins today

When NatWest came up as a prospective employer, then 35-year-old Tara noticed there was no upper age limit specified on the Early Careers website promoting our graduate development programmes. She took a chance and submitted an application… and the rest is history, with Tara joining us in September 2021.

“I felt really blessed because there were so few companies that were willing to see the potential in me,’ she says. “I had so many doors shut in my face for being seen to be over- or under-qualified. The bank were so excited to have me and give me the opportunity to grow at my own pace. They found that in me and gave me a start even though the graduate programme wasn’t necessarily developed with people like me in mind.

“I was drawn to the bank, because I love sociology and if you look at where the real power of influence lies to change society and change people’s lives, it lies with us big organisations, with enough resources to both be thought leaders and to take practical actions to improve things.’

As she worked through four six-month placements on the Change and Business Solutions graduate programme, Tara found working at NatWest very different than her previous career in teaching.

“I went from a career in teaching when every minute of my time was assigned and resource managed, to being given the autonomy and trust to work at the right pace for me, whilst also being accountable for the end result of my work.

“Initially, I spent a lot of time worrying about things like unintentionally taking an extra three minutes for a break, as I was so used to that from teaching. But one of my mentors said “We pay you for your brain, not for your time all the time.’ It was a big mindset shift to be given the autonomy to pace yourself through the working day without someone over your shoulder every two minutes.’

Nearing the end of her graduate programme, Tara turned to an executive coach to really drill into what she wanted to do with her life.

“I actually worked with an external business coach, and I really got down to the nuts and bolts of what was important to me and did like a reverse Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. First and foremost, I wanted somewhere where I could work with safe boundaries and where there’s a sense of kind of shared purpose – to work with people who actually buy into this as opposed to just having it on their company website.’

Having swapped managing a big team of people to being an individual contributor in her current permanent role as a researcher in the bank’s Research Academy in Group Strategy, Corporate Development & Sustainability, Tara’s current ambition is to become a master of this existing role.

“I’ve landed in the Research Academy which is the perfect space for me, because I’m using a lot of my learning and development training and my research training. I’m not an economist and I’m not a statistician, but I can read and understand journal articles quickly, or understand people’s thought processes and then explain them to a room full of people.

“I’m not in a rush to do anything in terms of progressing through the ranks. I’ve got an inner sense that I know I can accomplish things because I’ve done it before in teaching.

“Looking ahead, I want to relax into my role and be great at it and known for being great at it. Sometimes saying you just want to be comfortable is the truly rebellious answer!’

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