I went for a career development course sponsored by my bank today morning. I had previously gone for the induction training session a few months ago, which turned out to be really fun and interactive. Whilst providing me with a good overview of the corporate values, culture, leadership and structure of the bank. Similar sessions that I have attended at my previous firms have always turned out to be dry, dull and ineffective.
Given my nice experience with the induction program, I found myself going into the career development course with higher expectations than compared to similar courses I have attended in the past. After finishing the course, I’m glad that those expectations were met. In fact, there were a few takeaways that really stood out for me. This came at an opportune time because one of the questions I have been getting from readers is how we survive the corporate grind. The daily cycle of waking up, travelling to the office, working on a desktop/laptop, taking a lunch break, keep working, travelling back home, winding down and falling asleep. Before repeating the entire cycle the next day.
Is the corporate life suitable for you?
First, I have to say that the corporate life is not suitable for everyone. It’s the main reason why you have poor performers, average performers and high performers in any organisation. You also have people who leave after a few years and people who stay in it for decades. Remember, there are many career paths out there, even more so now with the rise of the gig economy and side hustle. I have seen family, friends & ex-colleauges become successful teachers, professional trainers, real estate agents, personal trainers, drivers etc. They still had to put in a lot of hard work to get to that point where they can be happy and satisfied but in a non-corporate life.
I wish there was a magic pill we could all take to let us know immediately what we should work as and where we should work at that we will excel in. It would have saved many people from heartache, burnout & misery due to being stuck in unsuitable and non-conducive work environments that seem to suck the life out of them. It’s important for me to stress that there are so many types of corporate jobs in a diverse range of industries. The skill sets and requirements can be so different that a change from one to another could shift your corporate life outlook entirely.
There’s no easy answer to this. But what you study at university is going to be a big sign of the direction you are headed in. Which is why internships are crucial to your personal and professional development. Not just because any form of work experience is valuable to you in the long run but also because it will tell you whether you are going to like the next decade of your life building a career in that field after graduation. Welcome to the rest of your life.
What to look for in a corporate job?
This was my biggest takeaway from the training session this morning. To excel in my corporate career, I have to find a job that suits my talents, overlaps with my passions in an organisational environment that allows me to thrive. Aligning these 3 aspects sounds complicated but the trainers did a great job breaking it down for us. Let’s use myself as an example.
- Attention to detail
- Critical and analytical thinking
- Adopts practical, efficient and effective approach to problem-solving
- Racquet sports
- New and interesting travel experiences
- Good food and wine while catching up with friends and family
- Personal finance
It’s not usually the case you start out in a corporate job that immediately aligns all 3 aspects. I started out in tax compliance in a graduate role in Australia. It was routine and repetitive work of the same nature at my desk with some level of analysis every year. I didn’t like it even though the organisations in Melbourne and Sydney offered work-life balance with good learning environments. Those 4 years were tough and I had to keep reminding myself that this was all for building up my overseas work experience. After all, it was just me & my wife and we had to pay for our rent and living expenses.
There was something else that the trainers emphasized on. Often, you have to move jobs to find the role that can align all 3 aspects. When returning to Singapore, I took on a tax advisory role (with a focus on regulatory compliance) in an accounting firm. I was able to apply a higher level of analysis to my work and my job involved significant client engagement to discuss their issues & problems for me to come up with solutions. But I found the advice I was providing to be too technical and not practical. Plus I was spending too much time at work and didn’t have much time for other pursuits. At the end, the organisational environment became hostile with the worsening conflict between my tax partner and tax manager. So I left. Much to the surprise of my colleagues then.
Now, I’m a Subject Matter Expert in that area of regulatory compliance in a bank. I have to do detailed reading and interpretation of regulations, provide technical & operational advice in a practical manner, while continually finding solutions to issues faced by the business units. I am given autonomy to make decisions and the organisation invests heavily in my learning & development. I have the time to play badminton every week, take leave to go on trips & holidays without getting hounded and hang out more with close friends & family over the weekends. Of course, nothing is perfect and there will always be its fair share of challenges and problems that I face in my current organisation. But take a look at how far I have come since my first job.
It was mind-blowing stuff. I have always thought I had a higher than average level of self-awareness to know what works and does not work for me. But it was not until I started writing down some of the above points that I realised the significance of what can happen once you can align those 3 aspects in a job. No, life doesn’t become all sunshine & rainbows and you hop out of bed each day excited to go to work. But you feel satisfied, utilised and balanced. This can go a long way in helping you survive and thrive.
What is the point of the corporate grind?
Eventually, my belief is that it still won’t be enough. There has to be a bigger purpose. Something more important than feeling satisfied, utilised & balanced at work and in life. I remembered realising this when the trainers were explaining traits of the organisational environment that suited our working style. Freedom. It was used during the training in the context of having the autonomy, flexibility to make decisions on a self-directed basis without being micro-managed.
But I saw it as my ultimate goal to why I’m putting myself through the corporate grind in the first place. Specifically financial freedom. I’m finally in a job that I’m good at and the pay is decent. I can see myself improving in this area and getting even better with broader & more in-depth experience & knowledge on other areas of regulatory compliance. Which is why I have stopped exploring the idea of participating in the gig economy and having a side hustle. I wonder if I dedicate and apply myself to excel in a field that continues to increase my pay, would spending my time on developing other sources of active income be worth it?
Things can always change. But for now, this is my main source of motivation and inspiration. That every day I work and earn, I’m closer to my goal of financial freedom. Which increases my ability to seek out new job roles that align the 3 aspects even better than my current one. It’s a self-fulfilling and positive cycle of attaining more utility and happiness for my life.