Mere months away from a milestone birthday, I rerouted my career and forged a new path forward. This is the wisdom I learned along the way.
“What do I want the next chapter of my life to look like?”
I asked myself this question when I took the biggest leap of faith and walked away from corporate life and a career spanning 28 years. The pandemic was certainly a catalyst for the introspection required to make a move as my fifties loomed – choosing to change jobs and join a startup, relocate to a new city and make the next 10 years of my career align, not only with my ambitions but - more importantly - my inner self.
This month I celebrated 1 year out of corporate and 6 months as Head of Operations at The Social Craft. Witnessing our CEO, Sam Coom, build this team from the ground up, remaining true to our vision of amplifying employer and corporate brands in Africa, and growing my skill sets has been nothing short of inspiring and invigorating.
In the beginning, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into, as this was a massive shift from a big company with a “safety net” to a small agency setup that was on the rise. However, by remaining true to myself, being adaptable, and using my experience in media, public relations (PR), and internal communications, I have been successful in bringing what we do to life.
My role is a key part of spearheading the evolution of strategic processes and offerings to help clients’ brands better connect in the marketplace. This includes ensuring that the intricate details of a project are taken care of and executed as seamlessly as possible. My PR skills have come into good use to actively network and open new doors of opportunities for agency growth and proactively problem-solve when any projects don’t go according to plan.
Most of all, it is about inspirational leadership and actively contributing to our company culture by mentoring our team to be best-in-class, and the envy of the industry. Sam and I often tease that we go together like Yin and Yang because we perfectly balance each other out, playing on that diversity to strengthen the business. As I evolved our execution strategy, it has been exciting to see the formation of a relay within our team. There is a seamless passing of the baton on tasks, and I serve as the glue holding that race together.
There have been many incredible lessons that emerged from this experience over a short time. From learning the power of bravery to staying true to who I am. Maybe you’re in a similar place right now? As I look towards the second half of 2022, I hope that my story inspires you to find the courage to do the very best for YOU on this interesting ride called life!
6 things I learned in 6 months when I left corporate for a startup:
1. Agility is vital
I made a career change just before turning 50, I did not have a clear plan for where I was headed but I used that lack of direction to empower my journey forward. I took time off to find myself, serve others and put self-care first.
When the perfect opportunity emerged (and there were a few before I chose what resonated with me the most) I remained confident in my abilities. Although the industry is different, and startups are a stark contrast to corporate, I have been flexible enough to adapt my skill set to fit this new environment.
2. “To thine own self be true”
I have learned the benefit of knowing and appreciating who I am because you cannot succeed as anyone else. Our CEO wanted me as part of her team because she knew who I was and what I would bring to the table.
There is also an element of being able to be true to myself through my input in who we work with. The process of selecting clients and stakeholders is guided by our personal and shared values and, for Sam and me, we also listen to our intuition. I passionately believe that the work you do has to resonate with your core values otherwise you are not aligned.
3. There’s less red tape
Corporate organisations follow certain protocols. However, these boundaries can stifle creativity and speed even if they are necessary to conduct some type of order to function effectively. As a startup, we are smaller and nimbler, and not structure-heavy so our decision-making happens faster.
In an industry that uses digital platforms to be a voice for brands, being able to move quickly is important. It enables us to shapeshift and adapt to the ever-evolving work-scape we are a part of. This also means our service offerings are in line with the times and meet the needs of our stakeholder's brands.
4. There's more autonomy
We are a flat structure, and we treat this business as if it’s our own so the decisions we make impact everyone. I love that we as a team get to make the rules and decide what works and what doesn’t. Since we are still on the rise as a business, the entire team has been a part of creating our vision and choosing what we want to be at the forefront of who we are and how we operate. Everyone has a voice.
5. Emotional Intelligence is important
Startups are generally built from such a diverse pool of talent that our age ranges can be vast. Having Emotional Intelligence (EI) in the workplace is important in bridging that gap in communication, understanding, and skill development to bring a team together.
6. Careers are not linear
A career does not have to be linear; it can also be a journey of self-discovery. When you accept that there will be twists and turns in your career, you’ll learn to be more flexible when change happens. This will allow you to progress through unexpected obstacles much quicker and be more prepared for the future.