career crossroads

The epiphany comes after the career change

Having undertaken 2 very different full time jobs, 3 freelance jobs in unrelated fields, and running a startup at present, I’ve noticed a consistency amidst the inconsistency.

The process involves a desire to change my present circumstance and a realisation that I changed. Which begs the question: should I be looking for the one life-defining career or reinvent myself when the desire to change grows very strong?

Many of us have either been through the unnerving uncertainty of career switching or know of close ones who have. From observation it varies from sudden news (typically following a loud declaration of “I QUIT MY JOB”) to 3 years of “I really want to do something more meaningful”.

Conventional wisdom offered by headhunters is to reflect on our identity, heed the advice of those who know us well, think about what is meaningful to us then take time to carefully plan the next career option. This is in striking contrast to an eye-catching phrase we tend to read from entrepreneur success stories: “I dropped everything to pursue this even though nobody else understood why”.

Instead of viewing both approaches as separate options, it’s reasonable to combine the merits of both. In fact, most of us already practise this despite the fears and risks that the term career change connotes. How many of us 1) are presently pursuing our childhood ambitions, 2) tried but realised they are no longer meaningful, 3) have had to put them aside due to circumstances but feel like we owe it to ourselves to revisit them? Don’t raise your hands. Just admit that our grand masterplan to define destiny met with some unexpected kinks.

Back to a sensible approach. Initiating self-reflection and planning what is meaningful to us is, for many, not the first step. The act of embarking on a career is what allows us to decide if the choice is meaningful. Some choices were made long before the first full time job – school, private classes, hobbies, the family business or part time jobs. Much of it likely wasn’t planned by us but having gone through the experiences offered some sensing of what is meaningful.

Avoid planning to the point of inaction. You won’t know if the next career will be meaningful or how long it will remain meaningful till you’re in it. That said these are some important considerations before making the change:

1. Purpose of the new career

Clarity of purpose allows us to determine exactly how long this career remains meaningful.

Purpose can fall in 3 categories:

The option to attain an outcome with explicit impact on somebody, a sector or the world.

The option to learn a new skill, improve on strengths, acquire specialised knowledge, or apply oneself in more ways.

The option to pursue a desired lifestyle because of access to compensation, opportunities (network & status) or flexibility (where and when you work).

The 3 are in order of importance to me. Talenox allows me to combine sound HR practices with intuitive user design in a software to benefit HR practitioners first in Singapore then in Asia. In the process I learn about interface design, strengthen leadership and communication abilities, better understand technology and finance, and apply previous problem solving skills to a broader audience of stakeholders. Lastly, flexibility makes never ending work less stressful and the opportunity to meet great people is definitely motivating.

2. Financial budgeting

Money is important. But only as important as budgeting for wants/needs. While a make-as-much-money-as-possible approach seems like a safe bet, that’s not prudent planning. Budgeting accounts for financial demand scaling up in the future. Compromising your present income is perfectly acceptable as long as you’re prepared for how it may affect your lifestyle and of others dependent on you. More importantly, income should always be considered against a timeline of one’s entire life.

Talenox started out with the decision to bootstrap till MVP readiness. The idea was simple – commit full time to gain speed, live conservatively, make sure every decision brings us closer to profitability. Then rapid growth. Even now with funding and revenue, the pioneer team is in complete agreement to reinvest salary into the business for growth. Because the underlying commitment with startups is any short term financial sacrifice is an investment for long term financial returns.

3. Value alignment in key relationships

Know your boss well. Nobody ever complains about being on good terms with the boss but it should not be superficial. Right from the interview or introductory chat you should be actively discovering if his/her work style and personal values align with yours. Sometimes complementary work styles are better but compromising values seldom works.

The same goes when you’re the boss working with subordinates or with co-workers in your direct team. Preference for independent or team based contributions varies based on daily activities, roles or targets. But it’s also possible to base the preference on compatibility of values. On a larger scale this accounts for perceived differences in company culture. Hopefully the company’s core values are evident but clicks still emerge naturally – it’s easier to relate to another person with similar values.

Allow me a moment to reverse the perspective, from your considerations when changing careers, to what matters to the hiring organisation of choice. If they know your purpose for joining, preparations and expectations are clear, and see the value alignment, then why and when you left your last career should not even matter. Well as long as it wasn’t criminal.

Where possible, organisations and potential hires should run experiments to understand one another better without costly commitments. At Talenox, we champion business growth through talent growth. Which clearly means identifying purpose and values as equally critical for fit.

Because this precisely can’t be established in one interview, we encourage potential hires to get involved with projects for a couple of months, engaging with multiple team members. The result is a meaningful growth map for some and further clarity for the rest who move on.

So if you’re pondering a career change, don’t wait for an epiphany. Just go do the next thing and the realisation of what is meaningful will come.

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