• Huong Bui

A different kind of progress

I recently rediscovered an older article from Krista at A Life In Progress titled What if All I Want is A Mediocre Life. A few weeks ago, I searched for the article again and shared it with a friend who was struggling with an important career decision. I shared it with her because she was at a similar crossroad where I found myself a few years ago: whether to pursue the next promotion.


For most of us, career progression typically means moving up the organizational chart, earning more money, and having increasingly impressive/authoritative job titles. Before I met Angela and started digging into the research to build GigifyWork, I instinctively knew that there had to be a different way to progress one’s career without climbing the ladder, but I didn’t know what it could look like, much less how to get there.


Early on in my career, I had the opportunity to build a department from the ground up. It was exhausting, but also extremely rewarding. When the department grew in size and a manager position was created, everyone naturally assumed that I would pursue it. But I was hesitant. I was drawn to the opportunity to make an impact at a larger scale but the perceived stress and workload put me off. When I shared my feelings with a mentor, she asked me if I’ve heard of the term “ambition ambivalence”. I hadn’t, but it immediately resonated with me. Like most millennials, I want my life and my work to have meaning and purpose. In that sense, I have ambition: I am driven to amplify the difference I can make through my work. However, I want more out of life than just work. I want to have enough space in my life for my health, my relationships, my love of gardening, and my desire to be a civically engaged citizen. Most importantly, I want to do all of that without feeling like I’m burning the candles at both ends. Ambition ambivalence seems like the perfect way to describe the push and pull feelings I was experiencing.


Well, after much thought, I decided to go for that manager position. I couldn’t bear the thought of handing my baby over to someone else when I had a clear vision for where I wanted to take it. Fast forward 8 years, my career has progressed quickly in the traditional sense: I moved from managing a department of 7 to managing a department of 20; then onto a director role, leading 3 different departments. A couple weeks ago, I changed jobs again, but this time, in a less traditional trajectory. In my new role, I do not have any direct report. I will be making less money and working less hours. I will be moving out of the “management” classification and losing some great perks. On the surface, it looks like I’m taking a step back. But for me, this is a giant step forward.


With much reflection and coaching this past year, I’ve gained clarity on my definition of success. I also gained clarity on what I truly want out of my life and my work. Thanks to the research I’ve been doing the past two years to build GigifyWork, I get exposed to alternative work arrangements and organizational designs, which in turn helped me to realize that there are many paths to grow and advance in one’s career that does not involve climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. It was powerful to realize that I could step off the spinning wheel and I would be okay.


As a multipassionate who value flexibility, I find the idea of a gigified career very appealing. I still remember agonizing over the list of programs and majors when I was applying to university. I have never been drawn to just one thing. I’ve always found a lot of things interesting. I’ve always been a really good learner so whatever it is that I find interesting, I would learn and become good at it. A gigified career, where I can be involved in multiple things, continuing to grow and expand my skills set seems ideal. I get to have my cake and eat it too! A gigified career not only satisfies my diverse (and evolving) interests, it also allows me to build and expand my knowledge base and skills set. In a world full of uncertainties, continuous growth is the only way I can ensure that I will have a long-lasting and satisfying career.


So I got to work planning for my eventual exit from my full-time job so I can build my gigified career. First, I reviewed our financial picture, combing through 6 months worth of bank statements, and revised our budget. While I’m not motivated by money, it is important to make sure that my plan would support the life I envisioned when I wrote my definition of success. Then, I looked at my competencies, skills, and training. Understanding what I’m good at, what I enjoy, and what I want to become better at is essential in thinking about my ideal portfolio of work. Last but not least, I created a list of things I want to do in a week, prioritized them, assigned them with a realistic amount of time that is required, and attempted to slot them onto a schedule in the order of priorities that I had established (surprise, surprise, not everything fit so I had to go back to the drawing board a few times!). Slowly, over the course of a few months, my picture of personal balance became clear, and most importantly, within reach.


Applying all the strategies and techniques that I’ve taught countless clients about job searching, I landed my next gig, with the same employer, same boss, same team. The stars were aligning (well, I created the path for them to align with each other!) for me to realize my goals. Two weeks in into my new world of work and I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure that this is real. It’s been magical to be able to do everything that I love in a week, both at work and at home. I’ve never felt so light, energized, and engaged in my life.


I’ve learnt a lot about myself through this process. But more importantly, I’m more motivated than ever to help others find their personalized picture of balance and satisfaction. Angela and I are putting our heads (and our experience) together to develop a coaching program that will help other ambitious, career-driven folks to achieve work-life satisfaction, balance, and well-being. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months!

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