by Shakila Rajendra
I am once more standing at a career crossroads.
As with the life of careers, we inevitably find ourselves at pivotal crossroads every now and then. Sometimes solicited, other times not.
Regardless, any prospect of change usually floods our female psyche with endless worry. That all too familiar sense of panic creeps in. You feel a huge lump at the back of your throat.
For some of us, we knew from the ‘get go’ which industry we wanted to forge our careers in.
Others enter the job market having no idea at all which industry might suit them (let’s face it, this applies to most of us) then find their groove along the way.
And then there are those like yours truly, who start our careers in one industry only to realise half way through, we might want something entirely different. Ouch much?
I first worked as an editor for an environmental NGO. Then I moved on to the publishing media industry where I embarked on a successful career as editor at a women’s magazine. It was fun and I loved most minutes of it.
Yet deep down, I knew it was in the environmental area that I wanted to make an impact. Problem was, I wasn’t sure how I could transition to a science-based industry after having worked years in the creative industry.
Gradually I figured the best way would be to further my studies in environmental policy. But that would mean having to take a career break and having the financial resources to do it! To top it off, having been away from academia for some 10 years by then, there was the apprehension about going back to school!
Despite the many reasons not to pursue my heart, fate would generously bestow the scholarship I needed. Before I knew it, I was packing my bags for the UK to do that dream postgraduate degree in Energy & Climate Change Policy.
But that wasn’t quite the fairy tale ending. It was merely the beginning.
On returning to Kuala Lumpur, I had to find a way to put that shiny new postgrad degree to good use. That meant having to start right at the bottom of the food chain. A humble career reset.
As I walked into all-male meetings, depending on the day, I was even mistaken for the intern or coffee lady! But I pressed on anyway, working my way up and learning as much as I could along the way (that included having to literally make a glossary in my note book of corporate terms I did not understand).
Eventually, I landed a senior consulting position at a Big Four. Though thrilled initially, soon enough, I found myself ensnared in a game of thrones within the corporate world. It became clear that in order to stick to my principles of making a positive impact in an area I really, truly believed in, I would have to leave the firm. So I handed in my resignation. Amidst the economic anxieties surrounding Covid-19.
This time, I am thinking of starting out a consultancy on my own. An exciting albeit scary prospect. Doubt at every turn, but I have to at least try.
Here’s three lessons I learnt along the way for that next time that you find yourself at your career crossroads.
Don’t Listen to Doubt
The only certain element in the face of change is uncertainty.
Before you even take the leap, you have to consider all the pros and cons of your choice at least a gazillion times. Weighing the pros and cons of any big life decision is always smart. However, don’t let self-doubt or other people’s unfiltered opinions influence your ultimate decision.
Countless times people have questioned my choices. It hurts more when they are my nearest and dearest. Most people will discourage you from leaving your comfort zone.
To be honest, there is always a little voice in my head that fills me with negative thoughts too. How do you rise above this? It may sound like a cliché, but listening to your heart usually leads you on the right path.
Most life decisions come from the chances that choose you. Opportunities will present themselves to you. When you recognise them, these may end up being the best thing that happens in your career.
Case in point: when I was thinking of leaving my life in the creative industry to pursue a more science-based interest, I didn’t know how (or when) to take the leap. But when I was offered a scholarship, I knew this was the break I had been waiting for. The opportunity to continue my studies then presented itself and I had to take it!
Acknowledge the Panic Attacks
So even when you’ve fully embraced your new path, there will be moments when you feel unsettled and start to regret your choice.
Accept your fear, and understand that fear itself (of being stuck, of not pursuing your dreams) is what led you to make the change. The trick is to always go back to that list of pros and cons that you made at the beginning of your journey – it will remind you of why you made the decision in the first place.
Ultimately there is no right or wrong way your career should go. Taking the leap and making a change is scary but it can also be the most rewarding life decision. I tell myself that those who have succeeded most are also those who have failed countless times and nothing great ever came from being stuck. Ultimately, the decision is always to walk the path that speaks your truth. That path that speaks your heart.
Navigating our career paths is tough. Career paths do take on different turns in our ever-changing world. Your career sometimes doesn’t quite look like how you first imagined it to be. We’ve just got to just shape it as we go.
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