Looking back at how I ended up in consultancy is almost an accident just like many of my colleagues and friends.
However it was not so for one of my friend’s brothers who did a degree in Quantitative Economics at the University and after working at the country’s central bank for almost 5 years, he applied to an Ivy League University for a truly prestigious MBA and did a stint at global consultancy firm KPMG.
He intimated to me that whereas he could have stayed at the leading consultancy firm, he was offered an opportunity to have his CV graced by the name of one of the globe’s foremost financial companies in the name of Goldman Sachs. He took this opportunity and in hindsight he mentioned to me that he could have stayed in management consultancy if the name Goldman Sachs was not such a huge name in his MBA class at Brandeis, he would not have taken up the opportunity. He did 6 and a half years in New York City grinding out a career as a serious private equity analyst and decided to pack his bags and come back home to Uganda as this is where he has always wanted to live.
Making the transition back home has never been an easy decision especially for professionals. But transitioning is not the topic in question. Choosing a career is what I am attempting to articulate.
If you count the 9 or 10 most successful people in your lives from a professional angle, you will be startled to notice that majority of them have not had a linear path. Someone I know as an example always wanted to be an Engineer and he did just that at the University but when I told him I was accepted to study economics at the University, he told me he wished he had studied that instead. We talked about options he could study and by the time i was graduating with my MSc. in Economics, he had done a Post Graduate diploma in Economics and a Master’s Degree in Development studies with a bias in economic development. He now works as a Commissioner in a government ministry and is a leading authority on development issues within this region if sub-Saharan Africa. He took the painstaking process to deeply analyse what it was he really wanted and decided to become that person.
Whereas the choice of career can many a time be also accidental, for those who are successful in their career choices, the decision to do what they are doing has been formed out of a few clever options and realizations’ and above all making the most of a situation. For you to favourably compete in your chosen career choice or a new career choice you should be able to realise that this current situation needs to improve, but above all you must be willing to do something about it.
A few tips to guide you include
1. Accepting that not everybody was born to do that one thing: We somehow always know that lady or gentleman who has had a mazy career. S/He did sciences at A’ Level, and ended up as a medical doctor, but after medical internship studied accounting and ended up as a business manager in a high-flying pharmaceutical firm. Or even that lawyer friend of yours who flipped the script and works in a FMCG company as the Sales Director. One thing they have accepted is that change is a factor of life and not everyone is cut out to just do that one thing.
2. Take time to know what you really want to do: When beginning on our career paths we often have ambitious goals that keep swaying depending on many things. One needs to devote ample time to meditate and find out what they really want to. It surely takes time, but the more you think about it the clearer it becomes.
3. Learning never stops: A leading academic and business consultant I know (with the PhD and CPA title to his name) convinced his friend who had recently retired as a managing director in a big insurance firm to join him and start an accounting practice at the age of 52. He was at first amused to be coaxed to do this and obliged his friend. The new role as a business leader of a completely new practice was not lost and the struggles came in the interim as the transition period was a challenging part of his career. He called upon his former networks for advice and they all shared the same lessons. Or even an accomplished Professor of Economics that recently graduated with an MBA in Uganda. Keep learning.
4. Make the most of whatever you decide: My former schoolmate did not get the chance to join University at the same time as us and decided to opt for a Diploma in biological sciences and worked as a lab technician in a hospital. He had always wanted to work in the medical world and frequently spoke about the white coats and authority-like sense of appreciation given to Doctors by us their patients. In the lab world he met and was encouraged by Pharmacists to enter their world as it is still medical and also wear white coats. As I write this, he is presenting his M.Pharmacy thesis and is due to graduate later this year. He works as Senior Pharmacist and Lecturer of Pharmacology at one of Uganda’s leading universities and has made the most of his decisions.
5. Take stock: In whatever situation you are in now, many things seem chaotic and unpredictable when you look at them up close, but patterns often emerge as you look at the bigger picture. Chaos theorists call this self-similarity, but it’s easier to think of it as stopping to look at the bigger picture from time to time. Knowing where you’re coming from makes this process much easier, and taking time to reflect on the patterns emerging in your life will give you as great an idea as you’ll ever get of your strengths. Many people fear self-critique-ing themselves for the reason that they have not achieved their minimum expectations and this reminds them of how badly they seem to be doing. This fear discourages them from trying harder and thus they end up complaining more. Once you choose to take stock you can become more curious and create your own opportunities. Not easy to do however it is a recommended way of improving your career options.
6. Seek mentorship: Advice comes in all forms and is always so frequent, we never stop to realise how important it is to seek it because it is always thrown at you without you requesting it. For the ease of actually believing in some advice, an Advisor is a key to guiding one in making better decisions and affecting chosen directions.
7. Do not limit your options: When you are thinking before a major decision, do not only use the words “or” / “but”. Use the word “and” which will seem to open up your opportunities. The either-or model seems to only give one of two options instead of possibly exploring both options.
Case in point:
Let’s say you’re trying to decide if you should apply for a new position at that new roads agency. With a limited mindset, you might think, “I’m interested in this new position, but I have security where I am. I can apply for that job or I can stay where I know I have a steady paycheck and am on track for a raise next year.” When you substitute “and,” it sounds like this: “I’m interested in this new position, and I like the security of my current position.” From this shift, you realize you’d need to ask some pointed questions about salary and prepare to negotiate if you pursue the new position. Suddenly, considering the role doesn’t have to mean sacrificing stability. Or even from the academia part, think of a young business professional that is contemplating on enrolling for an MBA or CPA. If a critical assessment shows that both course will enhance your competitiveness, you may think of both starting with one that will have the most impact.
But maybe it’s not that important to know all these things
Maybe what is more important is taking a risk.
Maybe you having a little flexibility is more rewarding.
No one can stop you from learning.
No one can stop you from promoting yourself.
These twists and turns can look chaotic on the surface, but if you dig a bit, you’ll often find that the person was able to take lessons and skills from one circumstance and transfer them successfully to another—by being flexible and open to change.
By Edmund Kamugisha
Edmund is the Engagement Director at BLEGSCOPE®, and has 10+ years of management consultancy experience notably in MSMEs, FMCG companies and in the service industry. You can follow him on twitter: @edmokmg