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What I Learned From Making An Uncomfortable And Unexpected Career Move

Small steps are fine, but confident leaps and staying open to possibilities will get you where you want to be.

What I Learned From Making An Uncomfortable And Unexpected Career Move
[Photo: Flickr user Whatsername?]

Every professional has a path in life. It’s how you navigate your road that makes the difference.

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Controlling your professional destiny is about more than nudging your way to promotions–it’s about knowing when it’s the right time to take a chance and seizing an opportunity. It’s about understanding what skills you possess, which you lack, and what experiences can help you more effectively account for your weaknesses.

Instead of looking at my professional development as a constant grind driven by a desire to reach new titles and status levels, I’ve learned to look at the journey itself as being an integral part of the process, while still keeping in mind the bigger picture.

I can definitely say that things haven’t followed the standard route, but almost every position I’ve ever held filled a specific need or skill set that I felt was helping to achieve the direction I’ve wanted to take my career. Here are three things I learned on this journey:

1. Don’t Be Scared

With a Bsc in Electrical Engineering, seven years of experience as an algorithms developer, and an MBA, I decided to pull out of the booming hi-tech sector whilst on maternity leave for a nearly unpaid internship in a beauty company, making certain people in my life think I had gone slightly crazy.

To make this change was a scary decision. It meant leaving behind an industry that provided a comfortable salary and a great sense of career security. However I realized that I’d only be continuing to develop algorithms out of the comfort of doing something I’m good at, rather than breaking my own boundaries and going for something completely new. Essentially, if I stayed it was because I was making a decision based on fear, and this wasn’t a good enough reason.

It was during my MBA that I discovered my passion for consumer marketing–a field that I’ve worked in since. Some of the most fulfilling moments in my career would have never occurred if I hadn’t taken that leap.

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A lot of women say that what holds them back from making a leap professionally is that they are scared of change, scared of failing, or afraid of making the wrong decision. Whether you choose to stay or go, the decision should be based on the quality of the opportunity, not the fear of taking a chance.

2. Build Your Skill Set

I can safely say that when I made the decision to accept the internship my decision wasn’t driven by the idea of a higher paycheck or a greater title.

Although on paper it looked like a major risk, the decision was fuelled by my desire to gain knowledge outside of the tech world. The outcome was a six-year stint working in marketing at L’Oreal–a job that served as the antithesis of being an algorithms developer.

But this position broadened my skill-set, gave me the perspective of a new industry, and sharpened my analytical skills. It’s easy to focus on doing things you feel comfortable with–it’s pushing yourself into professional situations out of your comfort zone that will enable you to develop new skills, learn about yourself, surprise yourself, and become more well-rounded.

From an early age we’re told of the importance of building a comprehensive skill set. The concept behind a CV is to impress a potential employer with a broad array of talents. While we should always aim to take steps forward; we do ourselves a great injustice if we only measure progress by our title or paycheck.

If someone takes a step backwards, and this step provides knowledge of new things, allows the development of new skills, and access to more exciting possibilities, then it can be the right move. Make your own development a priority and the jobs that will give you the most fulfillment will be pulled within reach.

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3. Enjoy The Process And Focus On The Present

Throughout my career I’ve consciously kept my options open. By experiencing and appreciating day-to-day opportunities I’ve come by, I’ve been able to notice and peek through open doors when I’ve seen them, rather than blindly walk by.

It’s far too easy to get caught up in the big picture, forgetting to appreciate the process of achieving your goals. Being driven and ambitious is crucial to a successful career, however it’s important not to be too focused on the end goal, because ultimately, this will leave you detached from the present, and incapable of adequately taking stock of the situation you’re currently in.

By appreciating the day-to-day, when unexpected opportunities do come along, we’re able to assess their potential value against our present sense of need, rather than just cancelling out the opportunity because it doesn’t align to the end goal we had previously expected. The present is where you’ll find what you’re looking for in order to be fulfilled in the future.

Everybody encounters difficult career choices, whether it’s about making a job change, an industry change, or even whether it’s about choosing not to make a change at all. While it’s important not to completely turn off the volume of the opinions of family, friends and colleagues, by limiting fear, emphasizing learning new skills, and embracing the process, the choices will be far easier to make and far more likely to end in success.

Irit Singer, CMO of Mobli Media, has combined her passion for both tech and consumer marketing to help grow Mobli Media into a leading player in the social media ecosystem. She previously held senior positions at Microsoft and L’Oreal after beginning her career as an algorithms developer. Follow her on mobli here.