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.
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.
On a related note read,
Life after investment banking: Top exit options