September 17, 2020

Few career decisions are ever final

in: Work

Making career changes. Moving to a new city. Going back to school. Changing jobs. Switching to another company. Starting your own business. Going freelance. Going back to full-time employment. Moving back to your home country.

In the important decisions that we have to make while navigating our careers, few of them are ever final. Wrong decisions are seldom fatal. And we can always pivot and adjust our directions along the way if we find that we’ve made a wrong decision.

Sometimes, it might not even be a wrong decision. It could be the right decision for that time and season. Now that times have changed, you simply have to make another decision and move on.

Traditional career planning tells us to identify the role we want to end up in eventually.

Want to be a neurosurgeon? An architect? A school principal? The pathways to getting there seem clear. If your dream career is crystal clear to you, great.

But I’m not sure if that applies to the majority of us.

What if you don’t have a clear vision of the role you want yet? And what if the role doesn’t even exist right now? That’s not a far-fetched idea given that many jobs that exist today don’t even exist 10 years ago.

1. You just have to make a decision.

It’s tough, yes. Making important decisions like this make us fear making the wrong decisions. Thousands of “what-if” questions start to race in our minds.

The fear of making the wrong decision could paralyse us from making any decision at all.

So we get stuck in the same old thing. Never moving on. But never growing as well.

Navigating careers, especially in this day and age, can be messy. Perhaps almost everybody else is as clueless as us.

But if we know that our decisions are never final, it might make it easier for us to make a choice.

If you want to try a completely new discipline, you can choose to commit to it for a couple of years. If it doesn’t work out, choose from there again.

Often, we fear the sunk costs that we’ve already invested in the new career. We might have spent tens of thousands and a few years getting a degree. Or perhaps spent a long time in the same industry.

But if you no longer feel like continuing in the same industry, does it make sense to still continue with it just because you don’t want to ‘waste’ the investments you’ve made? You don’t have an unlimited number of years ahead of you. Staying on for another year means you have one less year of your life to try the new thing you’ve wanted to try.

The skills that you’ve picked up? They may be transferable. You don’t necessarily have to start all over again. You just have to make the decision.

2. Take small experiments

Money is an important aspect of our lives. We need it to pay our bills. And then just a little more to prevent us from going into survival mode.

When looking to make a career change, that could be a major thing that holds us back. Especially if we are thinking of going freelance or starting our own business.

But that doesn’t mean we always have to go cold-turkey when making career transitions.

Giving up your full-time job to start a new business is not for everyone. You need to have many months, or even years, of living expenses set aside. And that’s assuming that your business isn’t hungry for cash injections from you.

Instead, you can take small experiments. Take up projects here and there. Work on your business during evenings and weekends. Your full-time job can be a great source of funding for your business.

Or if you need more time, consider part-time work or renegotiate with your company. For example, I asked for a 4-day workweek at my previous workplace because I already had a part-time job (with a contract so I couldn’t quit immediately). I was also tutoring a few students at the same time.

Yes, not many employers might be open to such work arrangements. Or other forms of flexible work arrangements. But if you don’t try to ask, you’ll never know whether your boss will let you.

If your experiments are small enough, you will be able to stand up again easily after any failures along the way.

3. Take bite-sized classes and workshops

Some career decisions require you to pick up new skills. COVID-19 this year has accelerated digital transformation in many industries. And we’ve all had to learn new things. For example, how to work with colleagues remotely.

But instead of signing up for a complete 4-year degree, try finding modular, bite-sized classes and workshops. Take introductory workshops to find out if a new industry is suitable for you.

A 4-year degree might be a huge investment of time and money, especially if you were to change your mind after that.

But introductory workshops allow you to sample a new discipline. They help you to understand work in a new industry before you decide whether you want to further your study in that area. If you find that you’re not interested, at least you don’t waste too much time and money.

What’s more, you can learn many things online. Often for free. If you’re interested in programming, you can try out freeCodeCamp. If you need to learn how to use new software, there are many tutorials available on Youtube. It’s how I learnt to use Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects for my previous job.

We tend to value academic qualifications over skills-based training as Singaporeans. But perhaps it has never been easier to learn new skills that can be applied immediately to our work. That’s much better, in my opinion, than acquiring an academic qualification where you won’t be using majority of the content you’ve learnt. (Though there’s still value in academic qualifications, I think.)

Most importantly, keep moving.

No matter how much cost-benefit analysis you’ve made for your decision, you’ll ultimately have to take that first step. Remaining stagnant is not an option. Your progress doesn’t have to be huge. But you’ll have to do something.

Remember that few career decisions are ever final. Or even fatal.



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