Why is your career journey the most important thing in your life that you need to get right?
How do you transform it and build success with career growth?
Some people will tell you that you need to work out your priorities in life and to get a real balance… otherwise you could suffer from burnout and relationship failures if you put your career first. The fact is… when making statements or comments like this, they are actually reinforcing why your CAREER JOURNEY should be your NO. 1 priority.
As someone who has experience a lot of change in my life and career… with many ups and downs… or highs and lows… I’m going to use my career journey in this article to show you WHY your career should always come first.
I’ll be explaining… What is a career? What makes your career? What is a career journey?
As well as providing 5 top tips you can apply to help you harness and develop a fulfilling career, through building a career portfolio of income generating projects including side hustles.
What is a career journey?
Our ‘career journey’ is the worklife that we lead… when we are working and living our life at the same time, knowingly and consciously… as well as unknowingly.
And it is during the journey of self-discovery or career journey that I discovered that careers and jobs are NOT the same thing.
I actually figured this out through trial and error and possibly only about 5 years ago knowingly, as I spent my life balancing my career and my personal-family issues and problems … including divorce and bankruptcy (not mine)… sickness, immigration etc…
And as I came to reflect on my career, after working in industry… for circa. two decades, all of these things formed a big part of who I am and my career journey.
Here’s my story of my career journey (feel free to scan and/or jump to the end – just click here to jump to the next section):
My father was one of the most hardworking people in the world with very little to show for it… unless you count the successes achieved by his children… that is mine and my brother’s successes.
My father grew up as an orphan with just a high school education… and worked in sales, insurance, before trying out entrepreneurship as a restauranteur, which sent him and us bankrupt before I turned 12. He raised my brother and I, our family, in a modest 2 bed flat while driving a taxi for over 10 years before he became sick and sadly passed away. During his career journey… there was a lot of ambition that was never fulfilled properly. I believe if he had a mentor and found financial backers… and if he was also prepared to listen and get help… he could have and would have succeeded. He tried to create his own Wagamama in the late 1980s in Australia and back then… the market and culture of Sydney… in the streets of Bondi Beach just wasn’t ready for this kind of offering… There was no foodie culture as we see today with the extreme popularity of Masterchef Australia.
During my father’s career journey… we also immigrated from Singapore to Sydney Australia… which caused my mother to go into deep depression… and to support and fund my parents health care needs, since both became ill, I arranged their divorce at the age of 18, so I could sell and leverage their assets.
Whether we know it or not, our own career journeys are influenced and guided by those of our parents. My own career journey started during my father’s career journey. At the age of 8 or 9, I remember helping him out to balance the till at the restaurant, learning to make milkshakes… served customers when allowed, and I was deeply affected by the ongoing fights my parents had over their finances and loans.
All of these early experiences definitely contributed to the journey that I took and the decisions and changes I made throughout my career journey.
Here’s a brief summary of some of those key decisions and their outcomes. The truth is…
- I studied Engineering because it was a nice and safe profession, and also because I won a Co-op scholarship worth 10s of thousand of dollars today. It brought money and an income into our home. This also served to support my mother’s mental state – she was a distraught mother who suffered the life of a wife and parent who had to raise her young children aged 9 and 5 with a bankruptcy looming over our heads. It was certainly not a choice made from a deep passion in engineering… not to say I didn’t develop one over time. I learned how to design and code software apps including the databases and calculations engines or decision trees that do the grunt work behind these apps. On my career journey, I ended up designing pretty significant banking apps or fintech apps for many millions of customers… using the latest technologies and with record breaking SLAs, that also managed many 100s of billions in funds or loans too.
- I studied for a Masters in Commerce specializing in International Business… because I was always curious as to how I could right the failures that my father suffered. I was deeply passionate about import and export and global operations and expansion. My father also shared his dreams and ambitions with me as a child… on his various ideas to launch new products or to adopt different successful products from a different market into a new one. No doubt this influenced how I became an entrepreneur eventually and why I went on to write my book, THE STRATEGY JOURNEY.
- I was deeply passionate about a career in management consulting and had several job offers to work for numerous top consulting firms in their strategy divisions that involved M&A deals, following graduation. It turned out I was brilliant in interviews especially when there was a real business problem to solve so apparently I aced these to land myself all of these offers. I also turned down a PhD offer to research and build my expertise in Solar Engineering because of this interest in growing a real business. Unfortunately, the post dot-com bubble led to me being made redundant before even starting my job. Instead of claiming government benefits, I asked the Dean of Engineering for work and landed myself three jobs, as a tutor, substitute lecturer in Electronics and Project Management for engineers, and my own private consulting and app development gig at the age of 23, worth 30,000 dollars back in 2001-2002, to deliver an inventory management, financial and billing system, end-to-end all on my own over three months to support 6 million in revenue.
- I worked too hard in the first three years post university graduation in consistent 15 hour days, for a bank… as a product manager, analyst and designer of their main app for lending and responsible for 80% of the bank revenue, which lead to burnout and other relationship issues in my personal life which I had no time for. This led me to take a sabbatical to fulfil my high school dream of studying and living abroad in France, as I moved to Paris to learn french, before then quitting my career as a rising star Product and UX lead for this bank in Australia (I won their CEO Award in 2003), and immigrating to the UK and London on my own to get away from my life troubles and start fresh – this was my quarter-life crisis. I turned down a major promotion to be an executive manager and director at age 26, offered to me by the GM at the time… to join him on this fast track to senior leadership to make this move. This boss and GM is now this banks CEO and a Facebook friend.
- I became an management consultant, architect and board advisor to the C-Suite and Senior Management at General Electric in Scandinavia by the time I was 27… travelling to 3 different countries and capital cites in the space of 1 week, and entertaining at 4-5 star hotels, business class lounges and michelin star restaurants. Unfortunately, I suffered from loneliness as I was too busy working to make any real friends my own age and quit my work after it got too unbearable.
- On return from Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo to London… I tried to build a more normal life but with the decision to return to Sydney Australia… as the UK and Europe was certainly fun and beautiful… given all the weekend holidays I took while travelling as a management consultant… but I needed to be with my friends and family. I purchased a new flat in Australia and had my mum move into it as she waited for my return at the end of the year.
- Two weeks after flying back from Australia to London, I met my life partner and spouse today, while having drinks at a pub/bar and ended staying in London for the next 15 years… buying two houses, and a rental or buy-to-let flat… getting a dog… while working as a business architect both in permanent and freelance consulting/contractor roles. While renovating my houses… I also studied part-time to pick up an interior design certificate and started my own interiors business working with a few clients in the Wimbledon area. I realized I didn’t like designing for other people and interior design as only fun as a hobby for myself so I quit that business.
- While working as a business architect and strategic advisor, in various roles, I helped advise senior decision makers on boards and product owners on how they should run their businesses… including how they should invest in transformation and especially digital transformation with budgets and/or funds under management totally many 100s of billions. I led the development of several business plans, and also implementation roadmaps… while supporting their various government committees to ask the right questions and approve budgets. I learned how several VCs work in this same process across multiple smaller companies and startups and adapt the model for one of my clients and also inside my operating model transformation training program. This training course was commissioned by a global training company, who sought me out as an expert on Operating Models.
- I grew an interest in the social services and health care, and insurance industries from having to navigate the health care system after my father was diagnosed with a brain injury induced tumor … which eventually led to his early death. I have also had several life threatening health scares of my own including a long 6 hour surgery which led to a collapse lung… so again, I become more personally invested into these industries that are there to support people’s health and wellbeing. This interest and research proved to be very handy as did my previous job teaching and lecturing… when I was employed as a course creator… to develop operating model course for the private education business. This interest continue to develop after I provided numerous training workshops to a range of companies including a big pharmaceutical company to show them how to develop their own business architecture and operating model strategies.
- My experience in course development, banking and fintech and management consulting, as well as entrepreneurship from my time spent with my father led me to gain further gigs developing courses for universities in Strategic Management and Innovation, as well as the writing and development of my own book and courses and to become a founder of my own online business and launching my own products. I decided to license my training instead of building it for any one company or employer.
- With many lectures to give both online and in person at conferences and events, I’ve also become a professional speaker… and with my business starting to grow… I am nearly a full time content creator and author… and I’ve been invited to join the board and editorial team on some professional publications too. Of course, I still love getting my hands dirty on consulting gigs to solve real problems… as a strategic advisor and business coach too.
Has my career journey been interesting? Has it fulfilled me with a sense of satisfaction and the wallet or bank account or asset pool to show for it? Has it made me happy and content, or empty and lost… as I now start or approach what might be the mid-life crisis age?
My career journey is unique to me… as yours will be unique to you, but I hope you can see how it’s impossible to not have what you do for a living and your personal life connected and intertwine.
Maybe I’ve made too many changes… or maybe I didn’t make enough changes. Sometime my changes were enforced on me or I was going with the flow, at other times, there were chance meetings with future mentors along the way… This may be the case for you too…
And somehow… I have a portfolio career of services that I provide with many smaller sources of income that I hope will continue to add-up to fund my eventual retirement if that is possible or proves to be a necessity one day. Maybe this is your journey as well?
What is a career? What makes a career?
Well, the the moral of my story (above) and the stories of many others… is that…
Our career actually make us who we are…
It is our sense of self-worth… and describes what we do… our reason for being and our purpose in life at any point in time.
A career is a journey of change… with many lessons learned, moments of frustration, celebrations and aha moments.
This is the difference between what is your career versus what is your current job or role that you might be performing in a company or for yourself and your family.
Careers are full of multiple job roles… that can include taking care of your family or someone else, running a business, supporting a community, and those real day jobs… in the corporate world too.
You can run all these jobs in your career all at once or one at a time… it really just depends on what you can take on and what opportunities might land at your feet, based on the chances or risks you’re prepared to take. It is fulfilling, interesting, boring, frustrating and to be celebrated too depending on your mindset and awareness of your situation. Context is key!
Your job pays you a salary or income… while your career pays you differently… and in many more ways with the potential for longer term or future income too… and that is why it should also be your No. 1 Priority.
Your career isn’t separate from your personal life or your family and relationships too… like a job is. In fact… your career is connected to your personal life. It is something you have to make time for and love to do, things that you think about and impacts how you behave.
You don’t work in your career, you live your career, and you can work on your career.
Why take take a bipolar approach and do two things like balancing your work and your life badly or inadequately, when you can take the best from both to make you who you are and what you stand for. This is why I describe my career as my WORKLIFE.
A ‘Career’ is a portfolio describing an individual’s WORKLIFE pursuits, comprising their experiences, lessons learned and achievements.
This is something I figured are after many trials and lessons learned in my pursuit of happiness from achieving career growth and acceleration… in my personal development journey (described in summary form above).
With this clearer definition of what makes your career, here are five top tips gathered from my experiences and those of my own mentors and coaches… on how you can achieve true career growth, and build successful career portfolio in your WORKLIFE, in whatever career you choose to pursue… with some examples from my worklife or career journey:
✅ Career Journey Tip #1: Be truly open to learning… and develop a growth mindset
Have you ever been stuck with a problem that you feel you can’t solve? Whether you feel this is related to you career or not… it is actually a sign that you have developed a fixed mindset.
Fixed mindsets are actually unhealthy… because it means you are not open to improving and hence the possibility of other alternative ways to solve your problem that you can’t solve, right now… and on your own, that is making you stuck.
When you’re stuck with a fixed mindset, you are not talking to people and asking for suggestions or help, either directly or indirectly. You believe you’re right about something in relation to this problem and that perspective or your perspective on what is the problem or solution… is all that matters.
We can all get into this kind of conundrum and some people have develop habits that keep them in this fixed mindset mode for much longer or even semi-permanently for a long time. In fact, as my Coach Sam Chia has illustrated in his article about fixed versus growth mindsets including 5 top tips on who you can develop a growth mindset… this is what many high achievers and senior executives develop over time, from having a achieved a lot of success and then building an ego… from this experience.
I can recall several of these fixed mindset experiences in my career that came from me, or my stakeholders or both of us at the same time. This is lack of open communication and desire to collaborate and co-create… to achieve the best possible result is the biggest cause of 70:30 failure to success rates on transformation projects around the world. I highlight these statistics in THE STRATEGY JOURNEY (2020) book.
Having a growth mindset means that you’re open to listening to others perspectives when it comes to solving the problems that you face in your worklife and your career and learning and even co-creating with others in order to gain the best possible results.
Concept founder of the Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck outlines in her famous book, her research on those with a this growth mindset, rather than those with a fixed mindset are more likely to achieve greater success in the long term.
It is absolutely necessary when practising design thinking and when you’re working on transformation projects of any kind… in your career and when apply the Strategy Journey Method which I provide in my book.
It goes hand in hand with mindfulness and being self-aware of whether you are approaching a problem or a situation with an open mind… ready to learn and then gaining that strategic advantage from what others are saying or doing, be it in person an or vitually over the internet, or other forms of media, books and research.. before you take further action that is for the good of all if possible.
✅ Career Journey Tip #2: Learn to work with data and listen to information
Once you have learned to become more mindful and open to learning… and to develop your own growth mindset, you’ll need to know how to store and then use what you have captured or absorbed from others… all of that data.
Data that falls through the cracks and isn’t captured can’t be studied and learned from.
This data that doesn’t exist in a specifically captured form, can’t be turned into useful and intelligent information that will inform you to take further action and support your decision making. This isn’t even about having AI (Artificial Intelligence) solutions to support your career or business either. You need this data first to be able to make sure of AI or any other forms of technology… as indicated in Tip NO. 3.
When it comes to your career, no matter what role you’re in… this ability to capture data from everything that you do in your worklife… is crucial, as we live in an age with information overload, and its just so easy to forget key things that you have picked up for later use.
You can capture this data useful simple tools like a daily journey or taking regular note using tools online tools like Evernote, Notion, etc…
If you want to be come really good at this to maximize your ability to keep your data and then even make use of that data later… I recommend this famous program called Building a Second Brain by Diego Forte. The course provides a set of structured techniques and tool recommendations to help you capture all of this data which you store online in this Second Brain. It really is an amazing concept, I am personally on the waiting list to join the next cohort at the time of publishing this article.
There are also lot of Youtube videos from some of the Alumni of this course that you learn from without taking the plunge in the expensive learning problem just yet, to get you started, such as this great viral video from my favourite Ali Abdul.
Regardless of whether you might invest in a program like the Second Brain, three of my key tips here even if you’re just using a simple journal, is to have:
- Categories and tags: against each piece of captured data so to help you search for the data, as well as to give that piece of data meaning and relevance to something that you engages you and that you care about in your career and worklife.
- Insight notes: that is a small summary of why this data is important to you and that key reminder of when and how it could be useful to you, should be captured immediately or if you have some spare time… and while you’re in a growth mindset mode… you should review your captured data and make these notes.
- Source references: so you can attribute your learning to your helper and this could serve as a reminder and inspiration to learn more from this source and when researching on similar topics.
✅ Career Journey Tip #3: Work your tools & technology for maximum value
Do you buy a lot of things that you don’t use properly just because you thought it was cool. Or did you receive a nice but pretty useless present for Christmas from your grandma or uncle. And this object or gift is sitting around cluttering you home, your space and your life?
If you own a gadget, or a piece of clothing that you’ve not used or worn in over a year and you’ve even forgotten about it… then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Well, this applies to technology and apps too that you use to support your life, your career and your work and inside of organizations and companies too. They could be sitting on your smartphone, or on your servers and taking up valuable memory that you could be useful to store other things and that is costing you money too in subscription fees to the space or the app itself. Maybe you’ve invested in an app that has more memory or functionality that you need and you’re paying a lot to keep it, but your usage is actually less than 50% or worst occasional and sitting below 20% or less.
I am truly guilty of all of these vices… as a lover of gadgets and tools, and former lover of clothing and fashion.
All technology and/or tools should serve a purpose and function, or they should be discarded and replaced. It’s not about having the latest and greatest. It’s about having the best fit and most relevant or useful, where its providing you with the most value.
So, of course look for technology and tools to help you and enable your journey and to help you solve your problems. Experiment and use them for sometime and make sure they stick and serve their purpose and function before decided to keep them.
I used to work a company with a really useful resource or procurement management function that ran a fairly effective BUY, SELL, HOLD process to govern what kind of software and or vendors that the company would use internally.
BUY means that you have added the technology or app to a list for evaluation and/or testing prior to procuring is underway. Of course there could be a cost to this trial period… too and maybe the app is already used by some users so its ok to add more licenses.
SELL means that the infrastructure, software or app is no longer being used properly and purposely so it needs to be decommissioned after a replacement has been found to take over the functions of what it does provide that are being used by the company and its users. Maybe migration to its replacement is underway.
HOLD means that the technology or vendor is currently part of the company’s architecture and plays a significant and adequate role. It’s being managed properly too as part of the company’s overall business and enterprise architecture.
Now… I’ve used this architecture governance concept and process here, but you could apply this to may other things, from your personal life, you career and to help you manage and govern anything.
It’s a very useful set of metadata to help you label and tag everything and anything and to help you make decisions to take action. Personally, I’ve used this system, not just to manage my architecture stack of apps and plugins that I use to run my online business and website, but more recently to my wardrobe, and my household items.. and this helped me to create a proper inventory of what I owned which help me to reduce my insurance costs since I was over insuring what I owned.
Not sure if this is part of the Second Brain program, but its in my Strategy Journey Acceletor program for career management.
✅ Career Journey Tip #4: Improve how you as solve problems
Wouldn’t it be great to have our problems in life, career and business solved better and faster… and to get that sense of achieve that you did it yourself too. In fact, you’re at a point having learned a new technique to solve a specific problem, whether its self taught or adapted from some training that you did, to now help others through teaching it to them.
Well, this is how I created THE STRATEGY JOURNEY Framework and Methodology which I outlined in my book and teach in more detail on my Programs and Courses through the Stratabiity Academy. What we teach is specific to solving business problems along the business lifecycle of course and so it may or may not be relevant or the right technique or process to help you solve your problem.
Context is key! When it comes to problem solving it’s important to learn different techniques from others who have been on similar journeys before and then having learned these techniques… to make them your own on your unique career journey.
❌ Key thing to not do:
Don’t blatantly copy… as then it won’t really work and you have learned anything.
And don’t be so insecure that you feel the need to copy someone else’s work either and claim it as your own.
✅ Key thing to do:
Take the time to really look at the data that sits behind the problem, and then search for a best fit technique to help you solve your problem. Always explore your options and adapt as needed.
Then follow and APPLY that technique as you solve your problem. Application means you are solving the problem properly and this includes truly listening to customers and users and understanding the true needs and wants, not what they are necessary telling you in what their symptoms are. Be the scientist, doctor and engineer that finds the breakthrough, cure and value-adding service solution. These professionals use the right techniques to help them solve problems… which are certified and governed by industry bodies and leaders. Many are also innovating and testing and experimenting with new technologies and techniques as part of their practice and then contributing their findings to their industry peers and for the greater good. That is why some of them win Noble Peace Prizes and other awards for their contributions.
So the tip here is, don’t rush and misdiagnose the problem and apply bandages that will break or stop working fairly soon. Instead, you can apply the right techniques that are suited to solving specific types of problems and of course you may have to train in a specific technique too and practice it like a doctor until you become an expert. The important thing is to get started and seek help too if you need it and to worth with others… as discussed in the next Tip NO. 5.
APPLY or application… means operating with these three principles… to be:
I teach these three principles and ensure you learn how to apply them in my courses covering the Strategy Journey Method with a set of 25 tools that have been specifically design to solve specific digital transformation challenges face by businesses. Of course you can easily apply these principles on your own too to whatever problems you have and when practising other techniques too.
One way you could generate additional income and create that career portfolio is to leverage your skills and expertise in any specific techniques and methodology, to help others solve their problems. Doctors, scientist and engineers already do this and they are rewarded for this. They charge by the hour or by the type of procedure or technique they are performing. It doesn’t matter if its not your technique at its core… since most techniques are actually improved versions of previous techniques anyway… that is what advancement in any and every industry. What matters is how good you are at applying to solve he problem… and that is how you make it your own.
You could learn any business technique and become a consultant or business coach for that technique and you could be certified and accredited as a practitioner or expert of that technique. You could do this in any discipline or method… from designing thinking to the Strategy Journey Method… to interior design, anything.
✅ Career Journey Tip #5: Know your customers, engage and co-create
Problems only exist if there are customers and users… who are willing to engage in the journey to solve that problem.
Business and jobs only exist if there are problems to solve for customers and users.
Product or service solutions only stick if the customer and user is engaged in the problem solving process and using or applying the solution together with the practitioner problem solver or as the problem solver intended if its a take home and self-applied solution.
I go into a lot more detail on the specific problem solving process and framework that is what I call THE STRATEGY JOURNEY inside my book and also the design thinking programs and courses that I teach where you get to learn more on how you make these sort of problem solving applications on specific projects in your career journey.
The big tip here is that you need to work with customers and users and engage and co-create with them… in order to solve their problems… and you should be using a form of design thinking as you problem solve.
Design Thinking is a 5 step problem solving framework where you, as the problem solver or service provider use different resources including people, tools and techniques… to EMPATHISE, DEFINE, IDEATE, PROTOTYPE & TEST different value propositions or product and service solutions with customers and users until the problem is deemed to be solved by the recipient of the solution.
When applying or practising design thinking, you are doing it from the perspective of the customers or users on their journeys where they have their problems… and this is why you are also applying human-centered design as part of design thinking. The Strategy Journey Method that I cover in the book and inside my courses and problems is a specific Design Thinking Method or a set of techniques for solving specific types of business problems and connecting the problem through data end-to-end along the customer and user journey. There are numerous other design thinking application techniques that we actually cover and join within the Strategy Journey Method… and which you can apply on your own to a specific type of business problem. This is why in Tip No. 4, I indicated, the three principles to be problem-specific, service-led and value-driven.
And of course you can apply Design Thinking to the problems that you solve as part of your career journey… whether it is a problem you want solved for yourself, where you are the customer and user, or you have other customers, users and/or stakeholders too inside of a company that you work for or it could be friends or family too, who become your customers and users. Its about taking this kind of human-centered design perspective to the problems solving process.
Whenever there is a problem that needs solving with customers and users who engage and are willing to pay for that service to have their problem solved for and with them… then you have a possible product or business that could generate an income… that you could add to your career portfolio.
The act of productising everything that you do… is something I see many YouTubers and young entrepreneurs do fairly quickly.. with many of these incomes sources starting out as side hustles that are suppose to generate spare or any income to help pay the bills. This is what I have done… too having learned this from my newer online friends and communities. You simply cannot rely on one job or income sources as your only means to make a living anymore… as some of these could literally disappear overnight in crisis moments that drive behavior changes in the global economy or any economy… COVID impacts being the most obvious examples.
The resilient… people and companies simply look at other ways to spend their time and other services they could provide to solve other or newer problems that people and customers have. And many have succeeded from these new opportunities that come about from disruption.
Career Growth – Summary and Conclusion
When it comes to your career growth and career journey, don’t place all your eggs in the same basket. There is no such thing as a dream career for life… All the jobs that form your overall career will change and get disrupted overtime.
Your career is a portfolio of services that you can offer to different companies, employers and customers or users.
Develop an open growth mindset, improve your skills to capture and explore data and information that could serve you in your career endeavours, learn to experiment and use design thinking to help others solve problems in your career.
Your success and income too… is built through the size and extent of your career portfolio with all your experiences, lessons learned and outcomes achieved, rather than any one specific job or path that you may take now or in the future.