One of my London Business School Professor, Lynda Gratton, recently published a book on living and working in an age of longevity and asked me to write a post about career changes that can be accessed at:
“You’ll soon be very frustrated” my manager told me when I joined GE, straight out of my PhD, beaming with happiness, passionate and excited to be joining one of the best companies to work for. The first hire of a new technology team GE was setting up in China, I was assigned within a few weeks to recruit the rest of my colleagues from around the world and set-up the whole research facility. I was stretched and challenged, and did not know what work life balance was supposed to mean. I was quickly placed on the ‘fast track’ and found myself first transferred to sunny California, before moving again to Boston for an even bigger role. Neither the cold, nor my friends telling me I was insane to move from paradise to the Siberian East coast slowed my enthusiasm. I was having a blast climbing the ladder and could picture myself climbing it around the world for years to come.
However, my enthusiasm eventually began to cool down after a few years in Boston, not because of the artic cold and the snow which I loved to slide during the weekends but rather because of the lack of freedom and the need to constantly change plans to “increase shareholders profits” as the message kept on coming down. I needed to rechallenge myself and put back on the table the MBA I had looked at years before but pushed aside because I could not really justify it when GE kept on sending me for various trainings. “Would you regret it if you don’t do it?” my friend Marie-Claude asked me when I pondered about treating myself to going back to school. With two masters and a PhD, I did not really need another degree but wanted to take the time to master some of the business skills GE had not trained me on and simply to satisfy my love of learning. “Yes I would regret it” I replied without any hesitation.
Attending the EMBA Global program from Columbia Business School and the London Business School with 74 similar world travelers really made me consider life and events from a different perspective and eventually broke the umbilical cord with the corporate life. The adventurous and entrepreneurial side of me that earned me to be nicknamed a ‘pioneer’ at GE took over and carried me to Sub-Saharan Africa where I spent a year doing some research on potential new ventures. The creative side of me, suppressed during years being told that “since you’re good in sciences it’s better to focus on these skills since these will get you a good job”, sprang up fully when I landed in Hawaii. I eventually took the time to write all these inspirational travel and personal stories my friends loved to hear and let myself paint and create arts.
Eighteen months later, my arts exhibited in galleries, a draft of my personal journey saved on my Mac, and still alive after daily swims to listen to the whales while avoiding the sharks, I wanted out of my creative bubble. In Dubai for an EMBA class I had put on hold and to explore the last continent I had always wanted to discover but had never worked in I met a professional connection who offered me a job as CEO of an education startup.
I obviously never had imagined I would end up in the Middle East working in education when I joined GE straight after a PhD in sciences but I have discovered over the years that our careers evolve into different phases. I think our lives are not as binary as we have grown up to imagine and that we can let different sides of our selves shine in our professional lives. “You had such a nice career with GE” my family remarked disparagingly when I landed in Hawaii and they eventually had to admit that I would not go back to the corporate life they liked to see me in. “People are used to the person you were three years ago” my dear Columbia coach had told me. A corporate career certainly looked more stable than venturing in Sub-Saharan Africa or being an artist on Maui but it limited my ability to realize myself fully and be the black marsupial I have always been.
My financial advisor certainly has a lot less to invest these days after my spending a couple of years on the road and my EMBA but I have no regrets. I actually wish, in hindsight, that I had at times moved faster and not waited for outsiders to unlock situations for me that I could have acted on. I wish I had at times taken even more control of my life to follow my deep desires and passions because I strongly believe that we all know deep inside what truly makes us happy and that life is about crafting careers that let our true selves emerge and fully bloom. Life is way too short to live someone else’s life. Time is running short to eventually craft our careers to let our personal selves shine to fully realize our true potential and become the authentic self we all long to be.
The full story and more about Lynda Gratton’s new book can be found at: