Career change: Why I left the corporate world

Sameer Kamat

It has been several years since I left my corporate job and I thought it was a good time for an introspective post on why I took a decision that appeared to be a big risk at that time (more from the perspective of folks who were concerned about my well-being). Many have asked me this question, so I thought I’d share it in a blog post to give some rest to my vocal cords.
 

What triggered the career change after 30

For many years after I started working, I felt I was in a good situation. And from a social viewpoint, I was. Good undergrad education (engineering), several foreign trips (all professional), good corporate brands on the CV, a decent salary.

Pretty early in my career, I got a break to work in Los Angeles. Beverly Hills, Universal Studios, Disneyland and Hollywood were a stone’s throw away. I soaked it all in within the first few months. And then the novelty began to wear off.

The money was good, but the technical work was getting monotonous. I didn’t find it challenging enough. A voice inside me (no, I wasn’t listening to FM radio) told me, it was too early to be enjoying the sun, sand, beaches. There was more work to be done, more skills to be picked up.

While many colleagues stayed back and took up other jobs in America, I got back to India and joined a consulting firm. The joy ride lasted for a while as the technology consulting role entailed a lot of variety. Every project was in a different industry, city (and country). And then stagnation started setting in.

I thought it was being in technology that resulted in the sense of déjà vu. Maybe it was time to move out of the industry completely. That’s when the MBA keeda (worm) raised its head, presenting an opportunity to gain new skills that would help me change the world (just like Achamba thinks).

After a few years (planning for MBA applications + actual MBA experience) and several lakhs invested in the process, I managed to move into a completely unrelated field (finance) after my MBA. The objective of going for an MBA had been achieved. Yeah, baby!

For the first few years, as expected, it was smooth sailing. And the cycle started again.

Realisation – It wasn’t being in technology or finance roles in the corporate system that was the main issue. It was the corporate system itself!

Of course, the nirvana moment was more of a phased process, rather than a one-off eureka moment. Several smaller pieces started falling in place over time. Here are a few that contributed to the decision.
 

10 career signs that raised the red flag

 

1. I was working really hard, but I wasn’t sure what the outcome really was

Whether it was a huge multi-million dollar projects I was working on, it was tough to really pinpoint whether I was really making any difference. Or was I just another cog in the wheel?

The plate was always full and every day there something new added to the list. Prioritising this list was a task in itself.
 

2. I was wasting a lot of time

The tangible wastages were easy to pinpoint. For instance, 3-4 hours of commuting daily. Add to it the peripheral activities that precede and succeed the actual commuting (e.g. waiting for the company bus first and then the carpool group).

When patience levels were wearing thin, waiting at the countless signals and dealing with the never-ending traffic was getting pretty painful.
 

3. I was not really sure that I was gaining new skills

Before starting MBA Crystal Ball, I moved across 3 industries. The first project in each industry had the steepest learning curve.

There were always incremental changes in each assignment. Beyond that the curve flattened out very quickly.
 

4. The risk-reward ratio didn’t seem fair

Most would complain that the salary they earn is lesser than what they should get. In fact, in my case, it was the contrary.

In my last job, I thought I was overpaid for the work I was doing and the contribution I was making to the company. However, I was in a role that has traditionally been labelled as ‘highly strategic’.

Either ways, the fact remains that a majority would never get the compensation they really deserve.
 

5. I was spending too much effort on unproductive activities

First off, there were the emails – responses, reminders, counter emails, CYA emails, planning emails, justification emails, more CYA emails, follow-up emails to chase people who had committed something, emails to the foreign colleagues so they don’t feel left out, emails to fix meetings.

And yeah, there were the meetings – weekly meetings, strategy meetings, status update meetings, meetings to decide when to meet next, meetings to decide who will send the emails to decide on the next meeting.

Of course all of this wasn’t unproductive, but it did become a hell of a task trying to segregate the useful work from the rest.
 

6. I was staying stressed for no apparent reason

It seems like companies gain perverse satisfaction by putting their employees under undue stress. It’s their way of saying to the world – look at us, we’re always on the edge…alive and kicking.

Every day seemed like it was designed to test out the employees fire-fighting abilities – little issues blown out of proportion and insignificant tasks getting escalated for no obvious rhyme or reason.
 

7. I was falling sick more often

Nothing major, and definitely not an excuse to skip work. But minor illnesses (coughs, colds, acidity, headaches, aches, pains) seemed to have become common place. Maybe it was the sedentary lifestyle, or maybe the persistent stress levels, or a combination of them.

The body was trying to send a message that the brain was constantly ignoring.
 

8. The salary was no longer the prime motivator

Most companies I worked for, paid very well. In every new job, it was fun seeing the paycheck in the bank each month. It gave me a sense of security…and the belief that I was growing professionally. But again, that euphoria would last only for the first few months.

After a while it was just another number that was expected to be there each month, whether you work or don’t.
 

9. I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing

The big brands and the designations on my resume (and their perception about how much salary those jobs pay) might have seemed glamorous to the external world.

But if anyone were to dig deeper, they’d realise that a lot of the grunge work is extremely tedious and boring. For instance, the Mergers and Acquisitions role involved loads of random financial and business operations related numbers in complex worksheets, technical and legal jargon running into hundreds of pages.
 

10. Monday morning blues became worse

Weekends were a welcome relief and getting up on Monday morning seemed like a torture. There was nothing to look forward to. I knew it was going to be more of what I left back last Friday. The bigger picture, if there was any, seemed as hazy as it was last week, last month and last year.
 
All these signals indicated that the symbiotic relationship with the corporate world was over a long time back. Now, I was just there because that’s how it was supposed to be.

Would it even make sense for me to be a sissy when so many brilliant folks around me had little to complain about (big misconception, I realise now as a career counsellor when I hear stories of why professionals want to get away from their current jobs).

But I decided to be more receptive to these developments and that helped me decide – Enough is enough.

Could I have short-circuited the entire realisation curve and taken the decision earlier? Probably not. It was important to go through the roller-coaster ride to really appreciate what lies on the other side.
 

Another radical career change after 35

A career change at 35 is tougher than at 30, but still easier than a career change at 40. Better late than never, I thought. I was 38 when I took the decision to move full-time into MBA Crystal Ball.

How have things panned out since then?
 

1. Am I changing the world yet?

Tough for me to answer that. But I am helping those who are getting to a stage where they can make a bigger impact, but need a better platform.

Many of the folks who work with us have already achieved more than I did before my MBA. It’s a humbling and enriching experience to help them take their dreams to the next level.

I am helping heroes like you become super-heroes…so you can change the world!

The collective power of highly skilled and capable Indian professionals trying to change the world in their own unique way beats trying to do it on my own, right?

So if you’ll be generous enough, I’ll skip the technicalities of what changing the world really means and put a dotted tick mark here.
 

2. Tangible and measureable impact

Compared to the corporate roles where the impact of all those big, complex and long drawn projects was very difficult to measure, now there’s a fixed timeline by which we know whether our efforts have made an impact or not.

Career counselling still tends to be a little subjective, but admissions consulting has a binary outcome – success or failure.
 

3. Zero commuting

Well, almost. We follow an virtual (online) model, as is the norm in the admissions consulting industry. There’s no need to swipe a card anywhere to show attendance. No need to sit in a fixed location and pretend to be busy.

The occasional face-to-face meetings with high potential candidates with impressive accomplishments is a pleasure. Unlike corporate meetings, I actually look forward to these meetings.
 

4. Risk-reward equation more balanced

The income for me and my team is decided by demand-supply economics, not by an HR team that’s religiously following policies laid down years ago. The quantity of work we take on as well as the quality of results influence our income in the longer term. To a large extent, the daily wage earner model applies to us.
 

5. More emails than I was expecting

The quantity of emails has sky-rocketed. Given the operating model, this was expected though.

The good part is that the intention behind those emails is clear and simple. No hidden agenda.
 

6. Higher productivity levels

The vision now is simpler and more intuitive compared to the cryptic corporate vision statements we are used to.

Now it’s easier to align almost all the activities that we undertake to this vision. Whether it is paid work, or all the free stuff that we post online through our blog and forum to help those who can’t afford our services, we know that it’s directly connected to our vision.
 

7. Better health

Stress levels are far more manageable, as I can control the workload. Over the years, we’ve chosen to close our doors to new requests, when we start approaching peak capacity.

Sacrificing the additional revenue manifests itself in the form of better quality of work…and lower stress.

Admissions consulting is a seasonal business. So the workload peaks come in the form of Round 1 and Round 2 applications.

Btw, the frequency of coughs, colds, allergies, headaches, et al has gone down significantly. Now, when it occasionally happens, it is influenced by the changing weather rather than work-related stress.
 

8. No more Monday morning blues

I work harder than I’ve ever worked in my life. In fact, the concept of free weekends doesn’t exist any more. The daily working hours have increased. But yet, no blues. Because it’s something I like doing anyway.

I was helping out folks for free before I started MBA Crystal Ball. Now, I’m getting paid for it.
 

Are you thinking of a career change?

For some it might seem ironic that my current role involves helping folks get an MBA and head back to the corporate world. I see it a little differently. For me, many that we help are going through the same introspective process that I struggled with.

In fact, during the MBA MAP discussions, apart from the MBA focussed strategies, we end up spending quite a bit of time on general career change related topics.

Some will find their calling without an MBA, some many years after completing one.

The sad part is that a huge majority will adopt the grin-and-bear-it philosophy, as that’s what gets rewarded by the corporate world.

If you have started questioning the status quo, the change has begun. You will not get quick answers. It may take years before you realise what you were really meant to do.

Maybe you’d thrive in the corporate world, if you find the right direction. Maybe you’ll launch your own business.

Even if you feel frustrated at not having a firm grip on what’s gnawing inside and what’ll make it stop, don’t stop asking yourself where you are going.

If your mind seems confused with how to start the introspection process, here’s a little tool I created to give you a structured start >> Free Career Planning & Development Tool.

I don’t know if MBA Crystal Ball is what I’d do for the rest of my life. Probably there’d be other opportunities that I haven’t thought about. But for now the little career evaluation tool tells me – among all the jobs I’ve been in, MBA Crystal Ball has been the best.

Does any of this resonate with you? Have you been battling similar thoughts? Share them below. If nothing else, it’ll give me the assurance that I am not the only crazy one to be thinking that way.


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MBA Crystal Ball provides professional Admissions Consulting services. Hire us to improve your chances of getting into the top international universities. Email: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat

Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here’s more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

33 Comments

  1. Nisha says:

    Hey Sameer,

    Thanx for sharing this personal (antaratma) post…..no doubts me in my mid 30s,, MBA n career change keeda working in my head 24*7……but unlike u I am yet to find my calling !!!

  2. Rajat Arora says:

    Thanks Sameer Bhai for sharing your personal story! Its actually a little reassuring for me!!! I was also battling with some of the things you mentioned (especially commuting and never evolving HR policies) and made the decision to move! But guess for me there are many skills still to be acquired and thoughts to be channelized. The process has already started and I am hopeful that I will get there before I turn 40!! :)

  3. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Nisha: Some things need to simmer on the backburner for long enough for something interesting to result. Keep the keeda busy for a while more. Just don’t burn yourself out in the process.

    @Rajat bhai, the new skills and clarity of thought is precisely what you need to keep working on. That’s your best weapon to combat the external dependencies (like commuting and HR policies) and find better alternatives.

  4. Sachin says:

    “Even if you feel frustrated at not having a firm grip on what’s gnawing inside and what’ll make it stop, don’t stop asking yourself where you are going.”

    This statement really makes sense because its so difficult for anybody to get clarity on what you actually wanna do unless you have an amazing network of highly accomplished folks in various fields.
    I believe continuous introspection is the only way you can try to get closer to reality and clarity. Even if you do have this network, it will still be difficult to find you calling but yes, it would reduce the effort you want to spend on gathering information.

    Sameer, for those who don’t have this privilege of being connected to the network, will the insider guides of wetfoot and information from vault help? Could you please come up with a post on how to gather information, sources to gather information, places where opportunities can be explored, etc.?

    Thanks for the information you have been sharing on this website. It really is soothing to find such information available for us to use.

    -S

  5. Ramesh says:

    Hi Sameer,
    That’s a very good detailing of the happenings in the mind during those boring job days; I completely agree with you. I am also sailing in the same boat from few months. Career change after proper introspection is more effective and rewarding as you described.

    Your book “beyond the MBA hype” is a reference book in this subject and I have referred it to most of my friends who are thinking of the MBA route. I am taking the MBA step next and hope to see the world and myself differently there after…

  6. Kishon says:

    Sameer,
    Great post. I have started thinking about the same since Jan 2013. I want to contribute to something big. My current job (IT Architect) is fine. But, it’s got a flat learning curve now. I want get out of my comfort zone, but, there is a family resp, which is making me think twice or thrice before I can take a big decision and trying some interesting and risky (may be worth it).
    Please share any additional thoughts.

  7. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Sachin: It does help to have connections in various industries, but only partially. They can help you gain insights into various options, but what clicks for them may not work for you. At the end of the day, it comes back to what your priorities are – money, flexibility, responsibility, good brand…
    But I appreciate and value your suggestion for a post on what to do when you don’t have the network or access to premium career guides. Topic added to my to-do list. Thanks!

    @Ramesh: Glad to hear that you found the book useful. Good luck with your MBA applications and the rest of the career change process.

    @Kishon: Jan 2013! Was it part of your new year resolution, sirji? On a serious note, if you have dependents, be extra careful about the decision you take. Don’t take any unilateral (and purely self-serving) step that’ll put their interests at risk. Instead of big, uncertain steps to reach your goals, why not start an incremental transition? For instance, starting something outside work to see if your ideas have real world demand.

  8. Satish says:

    I appreciate the effort to combine the different stages and aspects of our career and present in a form where we can easily correlate events to get more clarity on the next step we should move towards… I am now more firm on the idea that “Do what you love to do..” i am going through a transition phase and dwindling between my better and best change.. now its clear.. it should not be better or best.. the transition should be what u r and what u actually want to b..

  9. Arun says:

    Very well articulated Sameer!

    I really admire your level of commitment towards doing select work. Something for me to learn :)

    Arun

  10. Monil says:

    A very well thought-out post, Sameer. It certainly did add a perspective to my thinking. I would be lying if I say I feel very similar in my ‘corporate’ career, but having been an ex-entreprenuer myself, I can certainly appreciate the other side of the coin, and I agree the risk reward ratio is more tangible and meaningful. Look forward to other ‘introspective posts from you and hopefully a few interesting comments on this one!

  11. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Satish: You are spot on when you say, there’s no ‘better’ or ‘best’ in absolute terms. You decide what those mean from your perspective.

    @Arun: Saar, with multi-tasking skills like yours, you’ve already elevated yourself to the next level that lesser mortals like me can only aspire for.

    @Monil: Not having the same feelings about the corporate world is a fantastic situation to be in. Having seen both sides of the story is a big advantage in being able to view and appreciate what you currently have. Seems like you’ve found your calling.

    Good to see the kind of comments pouring in here. Thank you to everyone who’s posted comments and also to those who’ve read and shared the post.

  12. Shashank says:

    Loved the post! The sad part is that even if we want to look out for what we really want to do in a longer run, we might not get the answer just like that..answer will most probably be spanned over a period of time..there might not be any shortcuts to it.
    Realizations will follow experiences and so will we get more clarity.
    The most important thing I guess is to act; Try new things whenever career stops being fun – just as you did.
    We will at least then be sure of what all we do not want to do

  13. Muhammad Hazem says:

    Thanks Sameer for this article. I just came across it by coincidence.
    Actually I reach the stagnation point you were referring to last year. And that’s when I decided to get enrolled in a MBA program in a local university where I live now (Egypt).
    But the things is, I can feel myself learning and I find the program is very beneficial. However, now i am dreaming of taking a wild decision after finishing the MBA.
    So i am thinking of one of 2 options, in which you can suggest me ways to achieve them:
    1- Is to leave the corporate life and go on an international exchange program, where I can work in an NGO that develop a community there are working in. My thoughts are India and Mexico.
    2- Is to work as a teacher assistant in foreign university where I can help other people getting their MBA programs and witnessing how the foreign university is developing its academic content.

    Any thoughts on these two points?

  14. Rohit Gupta says:

    Hey Sameer,
    It feels so refreshing to witness someone brave enough to break out of the corporate mold to chart his own path, because it usually gets progressively difficult as one starts to set firmly into his/her comfort zone.
    And all this hype about “finding-your-passion” does no good generally as it involves no specifics, while a logical and reasonable approach like yours helps in an altogether different way.
    Keep up the good work!

  15. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Shashank: Your last line hits the nail on the head. When there are 100 options to choose from, it still helps if you know the 50 that you’d never want.

    @Muhammad: Don’t take wild decisions just for the sake of taking them. Your MBA gives you one good (and final?) shot at changing your career and getting back into a regular income mode. Don’t let it go due to purely emotional reasons. apart from having a blast with what you want to do, you need money to survive too. Choose an option that maintains a balance.

    @Rohit: My story and decision making process might seem very logical based on how I’ve presented it here. But believe me, the process gets pretty chaotic when you don’t know which way it’s heading and what the final outcome will be.
    It was very much possible that my story could’ve backfired. That’s why I waited for 3 years before publishing this post.

  16. viren says:

    hi sameer,

    i have 12+ yrs of IT experience and working in reputed company as prinicipal consultant.

    I am 38 now ,I did executive program in business management from IIM Calcutta in 2006 which was 1 year correspondence but that didnt boosted or helped the career to change the track..

    Now im planning to appear for GMAT and give a shot at full time mba at this age

    i plan to do mba abroad or best of business schools in india like ISB or SP Jain global executive mba

    Please advice

  17. Prahlad says:

    Sameer,

    While reading your story here, I was having the feeling that how the hell you know my story :) execept that I did not do an MBA and I did not dare to quit my job yet. But you have definitely incited me enough to do a corporate suicide :) soon.

    MIND YOU: YOU WILL BE HELP RESPONSIBLE.

    thanks for sharing your story.
    Prahlad

  18. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Viren: Be very careful about that strategy. The law of diminishing returns applies when age starts going beyond the regular range in the class.

    @Prahlad: I realise (and hope) that you are saying this in jest. Anyone looking at placing the blame on someone else’s shoulders isn’t ready for the big move yet.

  19. Riyaz says:

    Sameer,
    I found your article really interesting and those 10 career change signs are very much familiar to me. I am 35 with 12 years IT experience in Dubai. I am about to complete my EMBA degree from University of Bradford (UK) in few months. The main reason to join this program was that I felt my current profile has reached its penultimate point and there is no room for growth. So I decided to make a career shift in finance after doing MBA. But reality bites, I have applied for so many places for a finance related position without any response at all, seems like my own IT experience is working against me. At this point I stand as confused as I was before starting EMBA. I see several doors of opportunity in front of me, but the doors are locked from the other side….am knocking but no one answers.

    Regards
    Riyaz

  20. Sameer Kamat says:

    Riyaz: A career change after 35 becomes difficult mainly because recruiters see more value in paying for skills that you’ve already sharpened over many years.

    Moving from software / IT to finance is a BIG jump. Even you’ve tried your best, it’s also important to know when to change the career plans and target something that might be easier.

  21. Chaniya says:

    Thank you so much Sameer. Sounds that I’m not the only one in the world suffering from my own frstration over and over again for all these times.

    It’s been reassuring to read:

    “If you have started questioning the status quo, the change has begun.”

    “Even if you feel frustrated at not having a firm grip on what’s gnawing inside and what will make it stop, don’t stop asking yourself where you are going.”

    I quited my job in an international lawfirm two months ago and decided to pursue an MBA. But also have been questioning my direction and my goals on and off. It is the sense of purpose that one needs in life. And to seek to do what one’s find meaningful is currently my ultimate goal.

    Still in search
    And will keep searching
    : )
    Thank you
    Chaniya

  22. Sameer Kamat says:

    Hope you find the answers you are looking for soon, Chaniya. Good luck!

  23. VV says:

    Sameerji,
    it was a very good read.
    I especially liked what you wrote under ‘I was spending too much effort on unproductive activities’. Very humorous!! yet So true!

  24. Kaushi says:

    Great to read this article. I am in my late 20s. Although I did my b.tech and Mba, I ended up in psu banking industry because of health reasons. It seems like a secure10-5 job but it is so painfully monotonous that it kills my thinking ability. Despite few opportunities, people who don’t like the field still cringe and work in the name of job security.

  25. Abhishek Mallik says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Thanks for your genuine story :)
    I have worked with pvt bank in an IT role, and can feel your experience. Though, I am still “Sindabad the sailor”, but glad I moved on.

  26. kanupriya says:

    Great Article, Sameer. When I read this article, I was like..it just resonates my thought !
    I left my job 4 months back..not knowing what o do next but being sure that this kind of job is not what wanted to do for the rest of my life.
    Hopefully i should find my true calling soon !!

    Thanks & best of luck !

  27. Vj says:

    Hi sameer,
    Inspiring article I would say. As I am also struggling through same phase of my life where I don’t want to continue with my job.
    I wish I get something soon to do with my carrier.

  28. Amit says:

    Amazing article Sameer.
    Just like your MBA Hype book (which was brutal,blunt and honest), you are spot on in all the 10 career red flags.
    The last point ‘Monday morning blues became worse’ is a culmination of all the 9 points above that.
    I am in IT (Quality) for the past 11 + years and have reached a point where half of my brain is constantly reminding me why I hate this monotonous (albeit comfortably paying) job.
    Now past 35 I don’t know how many years more of this job I can take.
    A part of me is scared shit about the future while the other part still pushes me to get a business degree (even if it’s a 1 year full time course).
    Considering how the new economy is panning out working till late 70’s will be the new norm.
    Health being good, getting business degree this late won’t be bad as there still will be 25-30+ productive years in front of me.
    That’s what I keep reminding myself when I feel down and out.

    However I am not sure what exactly are the companies looking for in experienced candidates who get business degrees in their late 30’s early 40’s.
    I would appreciate some pointers in that direction.

  29. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Amit: Thanks for the kind and encouraging words.

    My earlier response to Riyaz might have some perspectives for you as well. With experience candidates, recruiters expect more than what juniors can deliver. With career changers who have to navigate a steep learning cruve all over again, that’s difficult to achieve.

  30. tushar shroff says:

    Hi Sameer,
    I am an MBA finance grad and it’s just been 4 months on my first job. I am already not liking my job actually the corporate life it self. I have always loved food and cooking but I made a mistake by listening to my brain than my heart. I thought making more money will bring me peace and happiness but unfortunately I was wrong. I am 24 and I seriously wish to put a stop at this type of life as early as I can. But I fear that it might not be a right decision to go back do my chef course and become a Chef. Need some help.

  31. Vipin Savai says:

    No matter how many times I see your post or photo I think of a career change.
    I have seen you up close during our work together and easily relate to all you have jotted in this article.
    Change is required.
    And unless you change it won’t happen.
    Change to have a satisfying act which ain’t work anymore.

  32. Navin Bhatia says:

    Sameer, I always have a great admiration for your tenacity right from College Days . I read your articles out to my 14 year old son and tell him these are the kind of people I admire . So talented but always modest . Keep up the good work and I am glad to hear you are really enjoying what you do since that is so important

    Keep in touch

  33. victoria hanks says:

    Very good post–speaks more naturally about what it feels like to want and need a change while not producing lists of things to do to be successful in a self-run business. Very true words about how the corporate world actually forces its employees to waste time, produces unnecessary stress by dysfunctional practices and expects us all to just grimly keep going while feeling awful. I’ve switched corporate careers and now realize exactly that it is the corporate environment, NOT the specialty or field. Very tough choices ahead because it has seemed the safe road when of course it’s not–layoffs are frequent and random–but corporations can be like big parents. Anyway, very helpful thoughts.

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