Mid-age career switches are becoming more common and acceptable these days. While we are still far from what’s ideal, fortunately a beginning has been made in India. The quest for learning new things, finding meaningful work, or following one’s passion are some of the commonly cited reasons for career switches. And, mine was no different.

For 17 years that I spent in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector, I was extremely satisfied with my professional growth, exposure and the nature of my work. Like many professionals, I moved from one organization to the other, from one role to the other, from one project to the next. But during the course of this, I largely tried to find a safe zone of “working within the domain of my comfort”. I never took a step back to reflect on whether this is the professional journey I would want to continue for the next 20 years. I didn’t bother to ask myself “What excites me the most?”, or “Does my current career role really give me a kick?”

A few years back, however, the thought of “How am I contributing to the society at large?” started consuming me, and it became dominant with time. With this, I started exploring for options; still halfheartedly though. Comfort of staying back in my own zone was still easier and more lucrative. At the same time, I also wanted to try, just to convince myself that “At least I tried”.

Next question was — What options exist? Can I contribute to the betterment of society while leveraging my hard-learned professional skills? Do such options exist in India? And if yes, would I be more suitable at a policy level, or work on-ground to drive implementation?

My quest for finding the right fit for me in the impact sector started with NGOs, which in my limited knowledge was the only entity operating in the sector. But now that I look back, how wrong I was, and how little I knew about the sector. While NGOs are making a meaningful contribution across the country, I had apprehensions about their sustainability and scalability. As destiny would have it, I finally found a career option which offered me scope to leverage my consulting skills in the social sector at scale. I got an opportunity to work with a governance consulting firm. And ever since, there has been no looking back.

Hold on. But, was it that easy to switch from the corporate sector to the social sector? Absolutely “Not”. There were many fears — fear of uncertainty of what lies ahead, fear of ‘what if I fail’, fear of my fitment, fear of lack of knowledge about the social sector, fear of lagging behind my peers, fear of lower compensation, amongst many others. Basically, similar fears that hold many of us back; back in our own sweet comfort zone. Believe me, those two months of decision making were very tense and intense. But then, you get the answers to toughest questions from where you least expect it. I got it from an informal friendly conversation with my colleague. He asked me just two intriguing questions “If not now, then when?”, “If not this, then what?”, and that helped.

And that’s how I shifted to social impact consulting and it turned out to be one of the most amazing decisions I took in my life, given the passionate colleagues I get to work with and challenging development issues I get to solve. If I ask myself again if this is the journey I want to continue for the next 20 years, the answer is a clear “YES”.

In my current journey, in the last few years I have worked on a range of problem statements

  1. Working towards improving quality of education in a state with ~15,000 schools
  2. Trying out newer outcome-based procurement models in government systems
  3. Contributing towards solving for perennial air pollution in Delhi
  4. Incorporating tech and data systems in government to drive decision making
  5. Developing sustainable models of EdTech adoption in government schools
  6. Engaging emerging private sector participants to drive women economic empowerment and financial services to poor

I couldn’t imagine working on these complex programs at such scale in my previous roles. Any problem statement that I pick up now makes me feel connected to the lakhs of beneficiaries. It took me some time to settle down, but I was lucky to find some great team members who guided me along the way.

At GDi (www.gdipartners.in) now, joined by a bunch of folks with similar values and mission, I am aiming to contribute my bit towards transforming the lives of individuals and communities for an equitable and inclusive world. We do so by partnering with government, philanthropies, NGOs and the private sector. In every project that I undertake, I now have a clear answer to “how can I contribute to society in a meaningful way?”

To conclude, for those who are sitting on the fence, switching careers is worthwhile. I know some of us are just satisfied, or may be not, with our current roles, but one can follow simple rules to find something meaningful and enjoy their life.

  1. Recognize and assess if you are satisfied with your current work or if you’re just comfortable where you are
  2. If not, start exploring, and see what excites you the most, without maybe the real intent of making a switch. Just explore.
  3. Find a mentor, talk to friends and seek their inputs
  4. Listen to your heart and take the plunge. It’s very tough, I admit. But it’s equally rewarding. Assess both pros and cons and be ready for failure even.

Believe me. Amazing things happen when one takes the leap of faith– “Go, do that start-up, if you want”, “At Least try the career option that you ever wanted to” Fortunately, one can go back and start over if they fail; but at least they can say “I tried”.

“I followed my heart and figured that I tried and failed, at least, I’d know that I tried”

– Michelle Branch