Why my first week at Mentally Friendly made me reevaluate my life choices: An insight into Career Switchers.

Sam Stanley (Studio Coordinator)

My first week at Mentally Friendly (MF) made me reevaluate my life choices. It was the kind of realisation that made me want to punch myself in the face for wasting three years of my life studying the wrong degree.

*Cue Cher’s “If I could turn back time”*

Before you jump to conclusions, let’s set the scene. Fresh out of Uni with a degree in Human Resource Management I accepted a temporary job as Studio Coordinator at MF, whilst gearing myself up to eventually take on the corporate world in HR. What I wasn’t prepared for was how insanely jealous I would become of my new co-workers’ projects.

My curiosity ignited after I got a glimpse of what MF’s multi-disciplinary teams were working on, and I yearned to learn more. Jumping at any opportunity to immerse myself in their world, I participated in usability testing, attended Agency Agile workshops held by Steve Wages, and got involved in an internal Service Design project aimed at improving the front of house experience. I was hooked. But like reaching a big fat sign at the end of a long road that reads “Wrong Way, Go Back” I was forced to ask myself yet again “what do I really want to do?”.

Commitment Issues

Sound familiar? Well you’re not alone. In fact in 2013, a U.S. poll by Gallup revealed that close to 80% of employees in their 20’s expressed the desire to change their career. More recently, research conducted by LinkedIn indicates that within the first decade post studying, millennials (18–29 years) are changing jobs an average of four times, and not only jobs, but switching industries entirely.

It’s not surprising then that some of the most researched questions online are framed around the word ‘career’ and what career people should choose. As it turns out, people are also pretty curious (and rightly so!) about how to get a career like Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. Kicking ass Monday to Friday, and just being an all-round Boss 24/7, where do I sign up?

Answer the public: Career and career choice ranks highly on the “searched” scale.

So, spies aside, why are so many of us switching careers?

Well, there’s plenty of research out there. LinkedIn for example, conducted a survey with over 10,000 people who’d recently changed jobs. The results indicated that the number one reason people changed jobs was due to a lack of career progression opportunities. Makes sense right? If there’s no where to move up, move on!

Although this research provides powerful insight for employers about retaining talent, the analysis doesn’t specify whether those surveyed changed careers entirely (ie. switching to a different field of work) or simply changed jobs (remained within the same line of work). This is the issue with a lot of the data out there- there’s currently no consensus on the definition of a ‘career change’ or ‘job change’, with the two terms being used interchangeably. This is problematic as the ‘why’ part becomes fuzzy. Hence why I decided to conduct a little research myself- putting a poll out to MF’ers.

I asked each of them whether they’re currently working in a different field to which they originally studied or worked in. The results? Just over 50% of the company answered ‘yes’! Feels good knowing you’re not alone doesn’t it? Naturally curious, I wanted to dig a little deeper into those statistics. Meet super friendly MF’ers Isabel and Justin.

All smiles: Isabel Lau.

Isabel Lau, 26, is currently a Junior Strategist at MF. Isabel’s academic background is grounded in people. She’s a people person. Before making the career switch to strategy she was working as a mental health counsellor.

Feeling limited by what she could do in terms of helping people as a counsellor, and craving a more collaborative and creative approach to her work, she started an internship at Mentally Friendly, which quickly turned into a job offer!

“I wanted to be more creative and help people come up with solutions, but the nature of counselling doesn’t allow for as much creativity as I wanted” She said.

After speaking with Isabel, it became clear that it’s her love for helping people which drives her career direction. Working within multidisciplinary teams, her role in strategy doesn’t seem all that different from her first career.

“My role involves understanding both the client’s and customer’s motivations and frustrations and coming up with opportunities and solutions that lead to improvements”, she said.

So despite changing career paths, helping people still remains at the core of what she does here at MF.

Coding whiz: Justin Davidson.

Justin Davidson, 36, is currently working as a Full Stack Developer here at MF. What’s that you ask? I’ll let Justin explain.

“I’m responsible for building and implementing any and all development stages of a project, be it front-end, what you see on a website or back-end, the data structure and logic behind it,” he said.

This is essentially what’s known in layperson speak as ‘coding’. However, just three years ago you would’ve found Justin dabbling in a bit of film and television production, not messing with 1’s and 0’s. Rewind even further to 2013 and you would have found him thriving in his career as a Diagnostic Radiographer and trainer. So how the heck does one go from X-Raying bodies to coding for websites?

Well, aside from craving more creativity in his work, Justin’s love of learning speaks volumes in terms of what motivates his career direction.

“I had learnt everything there was to learn and had gone as high up in my field as I could without going into management”.

It turns out that the steep learning curve that Diagnostic Radiography required to master, acted as the same motivator that drove him to change career directions once he’d conquered that. Remember what we were talking about earlier, he had no room to move up so he moved on.

What Justin loves about learning is the ‘why’ part as he’s extremely interested in understanding the mechanics behind everything. That’s where the appeal for coding became apparent because it ticked all the boxes. As coding is part of a constantly evolving industry, it requires ongoing learning to master the mechanics AND allows for creativity. According to Justin the more technically advanced you become, the more creative you can be. Couple that with the friendly and supportive culture at MF and you’re laughing!

What does it all mean?

The responses I received were far from what I expected. What at first glance looked like a total f*&k up of career choice, turned out not to be the case at all. Neither one of them expressed any regret, in fact both career transitions (from counselling to strategy, and radiography to coding) are linked by a desire that carried over from their previous careers. For Isabel it’s helping people; for Justin, it’s his love of learning and the challenge of mastering some very technical stuff.

For me? After having a little ponder, I realised that what drives me is my desire to understand people. I’ve always been interested in psychology, which is what first attracted me to the behavioural component of HR, namely, attracting and retaining the right people. However, perhaps HR is just not the right vehicle with which to pursue my interest, just as counselling and radiography weren’t quite the right fit for Isabel and Justin.

Now, this is only a small sample of course, but it does give a little food for thought. So if the whole James Bond thing doesn’t pan out for me, I guess I should start thinking about what would enable me to pursue my desire to understand people. Maybe it’s through strategy like Isabel, maybe it’s not. This is just the beginning my friends and only time will tell.

The names Stanley, Samantha Stanley.

This piece was written by Samantha Stanley, our Sydney based Studio Coordinator.


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