By Isaac Jason Usi on June 6, 2015
What if, after obtaining that much-desired diploma and upon practicing the profession you studied, you realize it’s not what you want? There's something else that's calling to you. What do you do?
Don’t despair. It’s not unheard of to pursue a new career that’s different from your course in college. For instance, actress Natalie Portman finished with a Psychology degree from Princeton University, yet she still returned to her first love: acting. Of course, not every one of us is an A-list Hollywood star, but if you find yourself in this tricky situation of wanting to switch careers, here are a few things to consider in shifting gears, as told by two people who did it successfully: Penshoppe Merchandising Manager Carlo Chu and TV5’s Digital Operations Head Tet Suntay.
Look back at your reasons for choosing your college course.
Do you still remember what made you take your course?
For most Filipinos, especially those who come from average-income families, the practical choice is to get the course that leads to high-income jobs or that are in-demand abroad, like Nursing or Physical Therapy.
Chu recalls what motivated him to set aside his passion for fashion and enroll in Computer Science (Com Sci) instead: “Back in the late 90s, it was a popular course. Though I considered myself a creative person, fashion was not considered a lucrative profession. So I took my family’s advice to take Com Sci.”
For Suntay, family played a big role in course selection. “BA Philosophy was my course when I entered college. I wanted to be a lawyer like my grandfather. But through my first year, I was convinced by my mom to take up Medicine instead because we already have a lot of lawyers in the family, so I shifted to BS Psychology.”
How about you? Was your course really what you wanted? If not, what would you have taken back then? Answering this question may help you dig up what it is that you really want to do.
Evaluate what it’s like (or would be like) working in your current field.
The basic questions here are: are you good at what you're doing, and are you happy doing it?
After college, Chu took on yet another popular job for Com Sci graduates back then: Technical Support Engineer for an Information Technology Business Process Outsourcing (IT BPO) company.
“I excelled to a certain extent, I had potential. But I would always wonder, if could do well at a field that I was only half-hearted about, how much more in a field that I truly like? Then maybe I can really shine in there.”
Consider your turning point.
Eventually the night shift and the toxicity of troubleshooting computer issues over the phone wore out Chu. “In less than a year of working, it struck me hard that work is not like college anymore with levels or academic year-ends. There’s no fixed schedule. I would be working for the rest of my life, so I might as well do what I like."
Sometimes, however, the turning point comes in circumstances in our lives that force us out of our original plans and take us to new unexpected paths, which was the case for Suntay.
“After college, I took up Medicine but decided to stop on my third year to focus on my kids. I ventured into different business endeavors: food, wall-climbing gym, balikbayan boxes, events, etc. I pursued Nursing in 2010 from the prodding of my uncle in the US. My subjects in Medicine were carried over, so I finished in two and a half years.”
Suntay never got to formally work as a nurse however. "Certain life events led me to advertising. It wasn’t a deliberate decision. My stint handling events for 12 years, while studying Nursing, led me to the advertising industry. Ad channels grew from events to digital and that is how I got to where I am now."
In your case, at what point will you say “enough is enough” to take a different direction?
Recognize your fears.
Taking a step into the unknown is always scary. With such a big decision to change directions, it is important to identify what it is exactly that is stopping you to make that change.
For Chu, finances and the thought of starting from scratch made him hesitate.
“I was worried that my high school and college batchmates would get ahead, while here I was, planning to go back to school. Money was also a problem. I had a bit of savings from my work, so I thought I could support myself for a while. But I explained my choice to my mom abroad, and she agreed to help a bit.”
For Suntay, it was a bold leap of faith. “Fear was out of the question given my [financial and family] situation at that time. When I got into Tequila Manila as an Events Manager, I was determined to make it no matter what.”
What are your fears? Are they so insurmountable that you can’t overcome them?
Learn what you can about your new field.
Double effort is required on your part because you will be catching up with peers who are already knowledgeable in the field you will be entering. Fortunately there are different options you can take.
Formal education and short courses.
Plenty of schools offer short courses depending on the field you want to enter, may it be culinary arts or fashion design, among others.
Chu decided to take a second undergrad course. “I had friends who were UP Clothing Technology graduates, so that door was opened to me. While studying, I designed wedding gowns for close friends and other referrals as ‘raket’. These side projects were good learning experiences while helping me generate additional income.”
Taking a second course may not be a practical option for everyone, so learning on the job fast is important. This was Suntay’s strategy while transitioning from medicine and business to events.
“I did a lot of researching and self- studying to cope with the demands of my work. I paid close attention to how things were done, reviewed decks by my colleagues, asked a lot of questions, and went with logic when faced with decisions. I was never absent for special trainings. I took on all clients that my boss assigned to me and worked and learned at the same time.”
Thanks to the internet, there are now several sites that you can check and enroll in for additional studies. Check out this article: Staying Sharp: Where to Find Online Classes to Build Your Skills.
Remember that what you learned from your previous course/field will not go to waste.
It’s all about connecting the dots, as Steve Jobs said in his famous commencement speech. Whatever you have learned before, whether it’s the actual knowledge or the discipline you have developed, will come in handy in your new endeavor.
As Chu relates, “I grew up thinking I was bad at math, but my course made me discover that I could handle it. At the core of Com Sci was logic, which I retained and now apply in my current position as manager. I have developed analytical and technical skills, which are essential in decision-making.”
You can fake it until you make it, until you become it.
Shifting to a different career can make you feel like a fish out of water, but you've got to learn how to swim.
Suntay relates her experience after shifting from events to digital, “My first few months doing digital were tough. I had to double up learning. Digital was still at its infancy age then. Continuously educating my clients reinforced my learning experience. Many times, it felt like I was really faking it. But it was when I was getting promoted and having successful campaigns for clients that I realized that, hey, I am making it.”
Ask yourself this question: What if it doesn't work out?
Put all your power to making it work out.
Chu has never regretted his decision. “If not for my little detour [to Com Sci], I wouldn’t have been as passionate for my new field. And what do you know? In this age of social media, fashion has become a ‘legit’ career. Now I am just really thankful that I made that brave decision several years ago. My current work allows me to travel abroad and do photo shoots with international stars,” he says.
Perhaps Jim Carrey answers this question best in his 2014 commencement speech: “It is better to fail at what you love than what you don’t.” You pursued what you love, and that in itself is already a form of success. Besides, your original course can always be your fallback.
Finding our path in life is difficult. What we thought we liked may eventually turn out to be different, so know your passion and stick to it. As the wise Confucius once said, “Love your work and you will never have to work a day in your life.”