In the course of finding my dream career, I’ve been naive to think it was going to be a linear path to finding ‘the one’. Riffing off the lyrics of Ariana Grande’s popular love song, ‘thank u, next‘, where she sings an ode to her exes, I have also come up with my own rendition that conveys reflections from some of my most pivotal career moments:
One taught me breadth, one taught me purpose, and one taught me boundaries.–ON MY TOP 3 ‘THANK U, NEXT’ CAREER LEARNINGS
I connect the sentiment of gratitude and growth in this song with the lessons I learned during the messy moves throughout my career path. Rather than thinking of these opportunities as the ones that got away, I look back on them as moments of growth and learning. Making mistakes and career moves served as necessary stepping stones towards overall inner fulfillment and happiness.
“If we treated careers more like dating, nobody would settle down so quickly.”-David Epstein, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
1. The one that taught me breadth.
In my teens, I remember feeling overwhelmed about choosing a career path when I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. From taking multiple career aptitude tests, to completing college applications, selecting a program of study, and meeting my family’s expectations, I was left extremely pressured and conflicted. My parents stayed at their companies for decades and advised me that loyalty, stability, and ladder climbing was just the way things worked in adulthood. I was afraid of making mistakes and facing the potential outcome of having to start all over again if I made the wrong choice.
When it came down to it, I changed my major every year and somehow managed to still graduate with an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree from disparate disciplines that I was proud of hacking together. Beyond the subject matter I learned at school, more importantly, I learned the importance of exploring my interests and expanding my horizons. Each time I said ‘thank u, next’ to a different program of study, I widened my skillset and nudged myself away from what I didn’t love and closer to what I was most passionate about. The internships and part-time jobs that I pursued at the time also ranged across different industries and job functions; allowing me to sample what I liked before settling into my full-time career.
The truth I learned is that making switches at any point in life doesn’t prevent career success; especially early on in your career when there is often less at stake. Even later in life, there are many examples of extraordinary people who make industry and job function moves after the age of 50 and seize success. Following the gentle nudges towards my boundless ambitions and claiming the world as my oyster taught me how to ‘dance across discplines’ throughout my career – not always gracefully, but definitely purposefully.
And for that I said, “thank u, next” to the expectation that I had to specialize or have it all figured out.
2. The one that taught me purpose.
In my first full-time role out of university, I found myself working a corporate consulting career, primarily servicing Big Pharma multinational clients. While I found ways to position it as the right move in my mind, I ultimately grew unhappy and eventually started to question motives of money and status over mission and decided to make a scary leap of faith into the world of non-profit.
Transitioning into a career in non-profit isn’t the sole way to find purposeful work these days. The sector lines are blurring and the rise of social enterprise is transforming what it means for corporations to serve a social purpose. Many companies are embracing the triple bottom line – people, profit, and planet. Furthermore, there is a greater urge for transparency and equity. Workplace inclusion is being called out to the forefront more than ever. Furthermore, inauthentic and self-serving corporate social responsibility (CSR) is now being exposed and company greenwashing practices are being called out.
We are entering an “Age of Transcendence” as people increasingly search for higher meaning in their lives and the rise of social enterprise ushers forward a new order of capitalism. 73% of professionals who identified as purpose-driven reported higher job satisfaction than those who were money and status oriented (LinkedIn Purpose at Work, 2016 Global Report). I myself have spent the last five years in the non-profit and charitable sector and have no regrets about making the initial move away from soul-sucking corporate clients. Leaping into the non-profit sector is where I ignited my purpose and started to find and align with my “why”.
And for that I said, “thank u, next” to ways of working that no longer served a higher purpose.
3. The one that taught me boundaries.
While my experience in non-profit fundraising and operations allowed me to gain a greater feeling of purpose in my work, it has also led to many moments of burnout and exhaustion that were often due to a lack of resources and support.
The reality for the majority of fundraisers is that there is a “tremendous pressure to succeed” in their role and many are left dissatisfied with the support they get from their boards. A few years ago I took an extended personal sabbatical for several months to focus on my health due to non-profit burnout and years of overwork and stress that took a toll on me mentally and physically.
After thoughtfully making a return to purpose driven work and finding myself back in charity fundraising, I worked with an executive career coach to firm up my boundaries and clearly state what I am willing to take on with my supervisors and peers. Knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em when it comes to the balancing act of ambition in purpose-driven work, and establishing work-life boundaries is something I continue to learn and refine. With the rise of the global pandemic and inevitable future unknowns, my life circumstances continue to change and evolve over time. Establishing good boundaries is important to define and constantly redefine. My experience of learning to pause with intention in order to press play has meant truly checking in with the state of my mind and body, rather than remaining on auto-pilot and being blindly mission driven at the expense of my own mental health.
And for that, I said “thank u, next” to anything in my professional life that threatened my personal boundaries.
All in all, I am grateful for the many moves and messy mistakes I made along the way that nudged me towards career learnings and greater fulfillment. From owning my breadth, discovering purpose, and establishing healthy boundaries, I learned how to shift and develop a growth mindset all along the way. And for that I will continue to say “thank u, next” to the future career shifts and unknowns that life has in store.
What are some of your thank u, next career moments and messy moves that led to your career growth and fulfillment?