Thoughts after working in corporate for 8 years

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This week is quite a significant one for me in the timeline of my adult life. It’s my last week at a company I’ve worked at for 4 years and it’s my first time taking time out from working after 8 years. I’ve been reflecting over my career and I wanted to document and share my thoughts, so here goes:

I got my BSc degree when I was 20, and started working weeks after graduation. I was so eager to start my career and earn my own money. I remember my first salary was around R8k after tax and I thought this was SUCH a lot. I even told HR I’d be happy with less. Well, after paying rent, repaying my student loan, insurance, medical aid and petrol I was left with very little. I got by, and lived on those Knorr pasta and sauce meals and frozen crumbed fillets for the first few years of working.

I was a financial analyst at Procter and gamble, on Vicks, Olay and Oral B, which was very exciting and a great way to start my working career, as I knew nothing and was very naive- I had no idea how to operate Excel or Outlook. Within 6 months of working, I was told I’d be going to Geneva for training. I was terrified about travelling internationally on my own but I ended up having the time of my life. I only stayed at P&G a year and a half before I got itchy feet and wanted to move. I felt that I wasn’t using my degree enough and I wanted to do something more in line with that. I still always wonder how life would have turned out if I stayed there. I didn’t realise how good I had it. Every day was fun, I looked forward to Mondays. Creative marketing types are definitely a lot more fun than finance people.

So, at 22, I moved on to Nedbank Capital, where I was one in a number. I imagined wearing a Jenni Button suit and power walking through the bank doing cool work but actually there were about 20 people doing the same job as me and my role was really quite insignificant. I hated it from day 1 and never quite fit into the box that was built around me. Again, I made some great friends, and I loved being part of big team because it meant that someone was always game for a lunchtime excursion or a drink after work. Bonuses and benefits were great, but the structure was terrible and wasn’t worth the cash. It was a whole lot about pretense and showing face and kissing ass of executives and as usual, I rebelled against conformity. After 1.5 years there, I swore I’d never work at another investment bank again.

4 years ago, I moved to Anglo American. I was so thrilled when I got the job. I’d be trading actual currency, millions and millions of dollars, and negotiating huge loans for the company. The whole thing was very exciting at first. I got to call myself a trader! The team felt very much like a family, and for the first 2-3 years I really couldn’t see myself leaving- ever. I’ll always be grateful that I was given the freedom to be myself, my superiors saw me as a human whose life didn’t revolve around work. I was able to be honest about my passions, which were more than often not related to work.

Once my blog and freelance writing career took off, I was given more and more opportunities to travel internationally, and had less time to do this because of annual leave restrictions. I also had to decline tons of weekday events. I probably could have gone if I really really wanted to, but it would have meant asking permission to be out of the office for a few hours, and it was often just easier to decline. It became very difficult to balance both “jobs”. I found it difficult to focus because I was constantly multitasking. Which lead to this- burnout.

It’s strange,because rather than being satisfied with an increased salary vs all those years ago when I was 20, I actually felt trapped by it. I was claustrophobic and wanted to break free. I think this is what happens as we get older. As you earn more, you upscale your lifestyle- bigger car, better house, kids etc and then you depend on the salary to fund your lifestyle. Even if you’re not happy, you don’t have much of a choice because bills need to be paid. I was also using money frivolously, going on ridiculous shopping sprees, overpaying for stuff, just trying to get short term gratification from my salary. It was never enough to fill that gap in my heart though. Money is a strange thing. We always need more. We think it can solve problems, but often it creates more. Honestly, if I was offered double my salary to stay put, I wouldn’t do it. You can’t put a price on living the life you dream of.

This brings me to this post I wrote a while ago, when I just decided to leave my job and do an MBA.

I’ll likely go back to a corporate once I have my MBA, but my next role will be very different to what I’ve done before. I want to do something more creative, strategic. I’d love to merge my passions of finance and travel into one somehow, preferably online. Like optimizing revenue for Trip Advisor, for example. I’d love to start my own business and I have loads of ideas of stuff that could work in SA so that’s an idea too, except I have no clue where I’ll be based post MBA.

I think it’s important to be clear about direction before starting something, so these are the promises I’m making myself:

1. I’m not going to settle and take the first job that comes post MBA, no matter how good the salary is. I’ll stay unemployed if that’s what it takes. My next role will have me WANTING to be 100% interested and dedicated to my job, not doing it because I am forced to.
2. I’m not working at a company that uses the amount of I time I spend behind a desk as a measure of my productivity. My performance should be measured on the results I deliver.
3. I will aim to work somewhere with as little bureaucracy and red tape as possible. I’ve spent weeks on things that could have taken minutes because of bureaucracy.
4. I need to love my manager and my team. I’ll know after the first meeting whether we click or not. Work is challenging enough without having to deal with difficult people. There are too many managers out there who have absolutely no people skills- this is as, if not more, important than technical competence,
5. I will not spend more than 30 minutes on the road to and from work (assuming I’m driving myself and not using public transport). After spending close to 2 hours a day in traffic for the past 4 years, I can tell you, it’s soul destroying.
6. I will not let work consume me. I will not be that girl who works after hours and on weekends. I want a balanced life- quality time with my husband, me time, relaxation time and work when it’s appropriate.

What are your pearls of wisdom that you’ve learnt from the corporate world? Tell me in the comments!