Creating your own path

Sarah Langeveld, Senior Finance Business Partner, Gas Transmission, hasn’t travelled an easy road to where she is now. With personal and professional challenges along the way, Sarah shares her journey and tells us why it’s important to forge your own path.

I didn’t take a traditional route into finance. After leaving school at 17 without any A Levels, I started working seven days a week on a petrol forecourt. I also did a brief stint at Next in the housekeeping department before managing to get a job at Barclays sorting cheques – and cleaning sick off the cashpoint machine on a Monday morning. Not the most glamorous start to my career.

I worked my way up to selling mortgages, but knew I didn’t want to do that forever. So, I started looking to the future and saw accountancy as a good career move. I spoke to the Partner of an accountancy firm for advice and was told to set my sights on something less ambitious. Needless to say, that lit my fire and I signed up to study for my ACCA professional accounting qualification.

Studying for my exams alongside a full-time job was hard. I persuaded Barclays to give me a job in Finance, so at least I was working in the right environment. But I was still paying my own way with text books, exam fees and using holiday entitlement for exam leave. It was worth it though, because I knew the qualification would get me where I wanted to be. Later, when I’d qualified, I set up a programme at the company to support others taking the same journey.

After climbing the career ladder at Barclays for 20 years, I reached the position of Senior Finance Business Partner. I had a young family by then, and I didn’t want to move them to London to search for more options to further my career. So I carved a new path and set up my own business coaching and training finance professionals in soft skills, alongside training as a commercial mediator and providing profitability consulting to medium-sized businesses.

It’s important not to be limited by your starting point, your background, or what other people think you can do. If you want to do something, or change your career, do it.

It’s tricky balancing a full-time career and a busy home life – at this time my daughter was young and we decided to expand our family by adopting our son. The adoption process was long – it took about two years – and it wasn’t smooth. But family comes first and my husband, Mark, gave up his part time job at this point to care for our children.

While juggling all the craziness that adoption brings, our family life and my busy career, we were thrown another challenge. In 2015 my husband suffered a spinal cord injury that left him partially paralysed. The adjustments you have to make to your life are overwhelming, and we’re still going through that process now.

The whole family puts all of our efforts into coping with the injury and Mark’s rehabilitation. It wasn’t really a time to be thinking about careers, but I got a call from a researcher about a role at National Grid and the idea of getting some stability back into the family was very tempting. It was also an opportunity to reignite my career again, so I joined the company and that was a great decision.

We’re all still adjusting, and will be for some time. Mark gets significant and unpredictable nerve pain that can require me to flip into mum mode and suddenly need me to drop the kids somewhere – which can have an impact on my work life. It’s better than it was, but it’s still a huge challenge to balance a demanding role with a changeable home life, but National Grid really understands and supports me in this.

I want my children to have all opportunities open to them and Mark does too. He drives them around to different activities and is himself a world-ranked wheelchair tennis player. He’s amazing. My family and I support him because we’re a team, and we make each other stronger.

It’s really important that people don’t limit themselves in what they can do because of other people’s perceptions. I had an unconventional childhood and an unusual route into Finance, but it’s important not to be limited by your starting point, your background, or what other people think you can do. If you want to do something, or change your career, do it. You might encounter challenges along the way, but keep your eye on what matters to you and stay determined to succeed.