Exactly one year ago I left Hong Kong, and with it, my consultancy which I had started 3 years prior. I learnt so much as a small business owner: establishing and building client relationships, collaborating with vendors and partners, owning my own IT and marketing, and finding time for accounting, legal and tax compliance. And I loved it!
But I reached a point when I realised that I would need to scale-up to avoid my own burn-out. And to be honest, I was looking for a different kind of challenge.
I was becoming increasingly passionate about the world of digital marketing and the analytical tools now available to us all. I was producing events about digital excellence but I saw a huge gap between companies who were walking the walk. I also knew that the U.S. was at the centre of innovation, and that my favourite clients – who treated me as an advisor rather than simply a service provider – were also overseas. I wanted to see for myself what it was like on the other side of the pond.
So I jumped at the opportunity to do a Masters in Integrated Marketing at NYU. And although I am one of the older students on my course, my millennial classmates from around the world have taught me so much about working in autonomous teams, consensus building and Snapchat!
I have gained more than I could have hoped for through my degree, and appreciate the value of education far more having 10 years of work behind me. That said, as an undergraduate I worked 2 waitressing jobs to support myself, and I couldn’t get enough of the independence, interaction and satisfaction that a hard days work gave me. Yes, I was hooked on working from an early age!
So I probably shouldn’t have been surprised about the gap in my life that a career-break would leave. And it wasn’t as much my bank account that missed the work, it was my mojo. The daily fulfilment and self-identity that a job gives you is unbelievable, and I found that this was incredibly hard to replace. Study was certainly challenging and inspiring, but I missed the pace of the workplace, the industry partnerships, the risk of failure, the collaborative wins and the culture you are part of in an organisation.
As an event manager driven by targets, deadlines and real-time problem solving, patience was not something that came naturally to me. I’m still not convinced that it’s something that can be learnt. But it’s certainly something that you can manage. Arianna Huffington‘s book, Thrive, reinforced how special this work sabbatical has been for me and I hope that these lessons stay with me a lifetime.
During my first winter break I had the opportunity to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in Guatemala, with an incredible group of people from around the U.S.. The conditions in rural Guatemala were eye-opening and the warmth of the local families humbled us. Our team leader reminded us regularly that flexibility was essential to adapting to our surroundings and any challenges that came up. And we took this attitude on with abundance.
I may now be grad-school poor, but really I am so much richer for all these lessons. And now my patience, flexibility and dedication has been rewarded too, and I’m delighted to say that I’m back in business!