7 Lessons From My Corporate Journey (That Could Be Helpful To Your Career)

Disclaimer: This views and ideas expressed in the article below are solely my own. These by no means are a reflection of actions, thoughts, words or views of any organizations or people mentioned in the post.

After 12 years of working (learning) and running the corporate race, I quit my job and decided to take the plunge. While we all want to live our dreams, not many of us really have this choice. More often than not, money becomes the most important variable in our work equation. Everything else is a value addition.

Pressing The Reset Button

Moving to Switzerland was like a rebirth: everything changed.

But today, I am not here to talk about how this move changed everything – good or bad are relative terms. A big change happened, period. And with these changes came introspection and lessons that I’ll hold valuable for the rest of my life. Today I’m going to tell you the 7 Lessons I learned from my 12-year long (or short) professional journey.

A journey which had pitfalls, a graph which had more troughs than crests and a career which at this point is under serious evaluation. My story may resonate with some of you or it may become a cautionary tale. 🙂

Lesson # 1 – The best of us get caught in Peer pressure

I graduated in 2003, a year when the IT industry faced a serious recession. During my engineering days, I always wondered if I wanted to code or was a second-degree the better thing to do. Soon after graduation, I started to realize how real the recession was. I also realized that I was a misfit, but I took it upon myself and decided to pursue this further.

While I knew that an MBA was the right choice for me, my batch mates were getting placed – one by one. And so I made a mistake that we all do—I decided to pursue two things at the same time. What happened later was no surprise, neither did I clear the MBA entrances nor did I bag a “software engineer” title.

My playing it safe plan (if not this, then that) had flunked out. Trust me, for a 20-something-high-on-a-horse-adult, initial failures can be quite depressing. But also trust me, that almost every 20-something-aspiring-engineer, born in the early 80s has managed to do this. Soon enough, I got my first job with an all-American technology giant.

Lesson # 2 – What glitters is not always gold

My new job paid me virtually nothing (my dad was still funding my first independent adventure), yet the learning was immense. My biggest career goal during that year was to get converted: from a contractor to a permanent employee. I even painted a pretty picture: a permanent job, a stable income and proud parents of the first Engineer in their family.

Just when my dream scenario came true there came other offers. The “one (and a half)-year-younger” person in me, had finally won and I was keen to show the world that “I had made it!” My definition of “making it” was rather skewed, but that’s what the 20-something-adult in me knew. I was not really basking in the glory of my new found job at “the new breed German Technology challenger”, I was just excited and enjoying my notice period.

Remember Shawshank, he waited and then he waited longer, till it was time – time for it all to come together. A short term gain, just like the name suggests doesn’t last long. I worked very hard at my first job, I learned to code confidently and I made my connections. I had just started to make way till I decided to throw the last 18 months to walk in the opposite direction.
A change like this usually requires a lot of rework. Making a mark, gaining momentum and building a network. Is it really worth the 30% hike? Maybe. Maybe not.

Lesson # 3 – Don’t be stuck in a wrong job for a long time

Picking the wrong job, making impulsive decisions or being a jumping jack is all part of the game. It is unrealistic to expect people to NOT do those things in a thriving market – these decisions eventually make us who we are. While 93% (made up statistic alert) of careers are not pre-planned, your career path is a direct outcome of all the decisions that you took. These decisions are sometimes made – in zest, emotionally or with a rationale.

My stint at the German major lasted for 6 and a half (long) years, somewhere midway I even changed teams trying to find the spark – it was just not there. It was like having a child in the hopes of saving a marriage. People stay in organizations (like these) for long years, some even till their retirement. But these 6 and a half years were a very long time since it JUST wasn’t meant to be. This sort of a realization which usually takes a long time puts you in an unambitious comfort zone which adds unfruitful years to your journey.

Lesson # 4 – Finding your sweet spot

The Turning Point – The turning point in my life was the birth of my daughter, it made me a lot of things that I am extremely proud of! But the turning point in my career was the time I spent at this American Multinational Pharma giant.

It’s not easy to NOT be type cast

It took me over a year to find a job which separated me from being a “techno-functional” SAP consultant. I would give interviews, and I would come home disappointed. But I had unknowingly made a huge breakthrough, at the age of 29, I knew what I did not want. And then came a role, which was common to the world we live in but different from what I was being offered.

While my first year here was a little bit bumpy, my next two were inspiring, challenging and so “meant-to-be”. I met my mentor, developed strong professional and personal bonds and learned what I wanted to do. I had finally managed to see my strengths as a professional; I had already met my weaknesses. 🙂

Getting people together, delivering results and adding processes gave me a new high. Fixing something that was broken or wasn’t even there gave way to something extraordinary.

If I had to pick the single, most important factor on why this stint was the best thing that happened to my career – I could easily pinpoint at it and say that it was all the people out there who helped me find my bliss. In a matrix setup (which is quite common in complex organizations), you usually have two bosses – now you can choose the company that you work for but you cannot choose your boss(es). This is where I got lucky!

While one of my bosses put more faith in me than I had on myself, the other one pretty much shaped my career. I had the best teams reporting into me and I had talented peers that kept me on my feet. But all this didn’t happen overnight, it took time and it took hard work. But that’s the thing about hard work; you give more of yourself when you enjoy what you do. Invest in the right people, make them feel valued, ‘coz your success is tied to your people. Every mentor or manager or leader that inspired me had this quality.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. After you become one, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch

Lesson # 5 – Patience is a virtue, worth practicing.

It isn’t surprising when I tell people that SAIL was my mom’s first and last job. She never stopped working from the age of 21 to the age of 60. I remember calling her up and telling her that I got a long service award for completing 5 years at one of my former organizations. She laughed and told me that she was still waiting for hers. In today’s times, the permanence of singularity on anyone’s CV is rare to find. I still find it relevant and I’ll tell you why.

Sticking to a job where you find your “swag” is one of the most important lessons of my professional journey. And more often than not, no amount of money justifies a move that takes you away from a situation like this.
It’s a bold statement to make. However, the gamble is real, it is between you being a star somewhere vs. you being a nobody elsewhere. The risk factor is – this may or may not work and as you mature in organizations, your risk factor continues to multiply.

A new job brings with it – an immense amount of rework, popularity contests, understanding a new organization and its dynamics. All this, while you’re starting to get a handle on your new role and responsibilities. The return to this sort of an investment has to be justifiable, not to the world but to yourself. However, the truth of the matter is that not many of us really dig deeper after offers are rolled out.

“Life is rosy, the house is bigger and the aspirations have always been sky high.”

I sometimes wonder how life would have been if I did not part ways (the standard “coulda” “woulda” “shoulda”) like I said before, we are nothing if we are not our own decisions – good or bad are relative terms. My reasons, at that point, were justifiable, so I chose and I chose the best for myself. I joined an Anglo-Dutch FMCG Major which has been the most recent of my experiences before I took the plunge.

Lesson # 6 – Your network is your net worth

A little more mature and wiser, this time a 30-something-adult joined this new place and was uneasy. I had taken too many “yes-no” decisions in a month’s time, and there was a feeling of nervous discomfort. Trust your impulses.

The time I spent in my last job was challenging, but again the talent game this time went up by at least 10 notches. My peers, my superiors, and my teams made sure that there wasn’t any space for mediocrity.

The most important lesson I learned this time around was how important it is to rely on your network. A strong network is the result of all the relationships you harvest inside and outside of your organization. While I can attribute a lot of my successes (during my time there) to the professional skills I possess, I can attribute a lot of my failures to my network, or maybe the lack of it.

Lesson # 7 – Changes are unwrapped opportunities

While I was working, my other aspirations of – a master’s degree, an entrepreneurial venture, travel and spending time with my child were constantly getting sidelined. Though I was doing much better (than many others) at most of these things, I wanted more. It was then that I realized that my personal goals needed my attention.

In 2016, an opportunity knocked our door, we decided that we were going to take it. It was a big decision for me, as this called for a career break. We moved to Switzerland, I started doing my masters, I became a partner at Be for Beauty (content management services and lifestyle blog)and most importantly, I was the busiest mum around.

Taking breaks (if your situation allows it) are important, they give you something very important – perspective. So while I am gaining perspective every day, I am also extremely busy LIVING.

What’s next – a better version, the 2.0 that has learned her lessons, gained some perspective and added immense value to this “hibernation” mode.

Thanks a lot for reading.

This feature was first published on LinkedIn.

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