There’s always a seminal moment when you realise the corporate life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. That the dream job everyone told you to go for while you were at uni is… well, empty of meaning.
My realisation came on my very first day in management consultancy…
I was fresh out of uni and surrounded by 40 other excited graduates in a posh hotel lounge… when a lady came and stood on a table, silencing the chatter around the room. She was clad in sombre shades of grey with a face set in a permanent frown, and began speaking of “company values”, before uttering these fateful words:
“One day, if you work hard and follow your dreams, you can be like me.”
In that moment, I couldn’t dream of many things worse than a life spent in management-consulting middle management.
No doubt you’ve had a moment of realisation too, that got you to wondering “there’s got to be more to life than this…”
The bad news is that, while there definitely is more to life, you’ll have to muddle through feeling lost and uncertain deliberately and for years before you can find that fulfilling path through life.
The good news is — you’re really not alone. There’s a quiet revolution happening; thousands more of us young professionals every month are leaving the corporate world behind and leaping into the unknown to create careers that actually mean something, that lead to lives worthy of a story or two.
So, given this revolution, what are your options to get the hell out of that empty corporate lifestyle and into something more fulfilling?
Conventional wisdom says there’s three paths available to you:
• You’ll remove yourself from all the familiar reasonable voices (‘you should be grateful to have that job” “what if you can’t get another job”) that are holding you back.
• You’ll feel alive again, living life in vibrant emotions of new cultures, foods and zany people from god knows where.
• Oh, and most importantly, you’ll get the space and perspective to reconnect with yourself; to explore what makes you tick and what matters to you.
That being said, there’s some serious downers to backpacking too…
• You’ll probably get distracted by all the awesome stuff to do… so you won’t do much of that tough soul-searching you thought you would.
• You’re also losing money… which is reducing your options for when you finally head home.
• Ever backpacked alone for a few months? It can get pretty lonely
• You’ll get that warm, fuzzy feeling of belonging from being in a community again…. studying, eating and partying together. Now that is valuable.
• You’ll be getting an education too, hopefully in something new that’ll help you to pivot your career.
OK, ready for the downsides?
• Of course, they’re OBSCENELY expensive
• There are far better ways to learn than in a lecture hall. You know it’s true.
• This one’s the MBA’s dirty secret. After about three months into your MBA, everyone will start applying for jobs. Combine that with the heavy workload they’ll throw at you, and you’ll have no time to actually reflect on what type of career would be most likely to make you come alive. Leaving you back at “there’s got to be more to life than this” pretty quickly (and with less savings than before).
• You’ll be working for companies with some meaning and purpose, and have real responsibility stemming from being in a small team.
• You’ll definitely learn fast too, through taking action rather than studying.
• Oh, and you’ll get some pay — it won’t be much, but it’ll be something.
• The demand for reasonable-paying jobs at startups that are genuinely onto something is very competitive. It’ll be tough getting a foot in the door given your rather irrelevant corporate background.
• You don’t have the specific tech skills to be in-demand, so will have to start at the bottom rung of the “startup ladder” (yes, there is one)
• You still haven’t taken the time to find out what makes you come alive, to figure out where you’re headed in life or what matters to you.
So all three options have their pros and cons no doubt… but as you’ve probably noticed by now, they all have the same “con” in common.
And it happens to be the foundation to you creating a career you love…
None of the conventional options for leaving the corporate world give enough respect to asking ourselves the hard questions like “what matters to me?” and “what do I not want in my life?”.
And those questions are vital, because it’s only by having an idea of where we want to be that we can make big career and life decisions with confidence, and have the internal strength to keep going through the tough times that will certainly hit us at some point.
If we don’t, we’re just running into the future blindfolded and hoping that by luck we’ll end up with a fulfilling life.
Thing is, asking those questions is really hard — there’s no guidebook to it, no proven method or clearly defined timeframe it’ll take to get to answers.
But there is a way you can make that journey easier for yourself. Surround yourself with other young professionals who also feel like there’s something missing, and who are also brave enough to do something about it.
Start by reaching out to people who dare to live remarkable lives; to those who won’t settle for corporate mediocrity and are already asking themselves the hard questions. Ideally meet-up in person and create your own community; but online communities will do OK too.
Where can you find those communities? Truth is, there are so few communities out there right now that bring young professionals together to go on this journey towards fulfilling careers — which is ridiculous given how many of us there are.
Here are a few to get you started:
Don’t feel lost alone. Find out what matters to you, and take the leap towards a more fulfilling lifestyle alongside other amazing people. You’ll have more moments of fun on that difficult journey, and create a life you love far sooner.