Figuring out my first major career transition
This past 2 years in the SAP ecosystem has been massive for me. And massive feels like an understatement. I left the shadows of passive SCN participation and found my voice (well my fingers found the keyboard). I developed my online professional reputation using SCN as a platform. This provided me with opportunities and recognition in being a Topic Leader, Member of the Month, Moderator and eventually a SAP Mentor.
I also changed jobs in the past 12 months (as an independent consultant, regular job change is normal) which resulted in cross-country commuting – a 6 hour flight from one side to the other of Australia and living out of a suitcase. At the same time, my partner was posted to another city so I threw in a 3-city triangle commute. But the benefit was access to the new products within SAP: HANA platform, SuccessFactors, Ariba, Fiori and soon mobility. And pay the mortgage whilst we’re at it (for the home I never see).
How could I say no to all of these opportunities? I love my job: the work I do; the problems I solve; the variety and the people. My work is my hobby. I’m a proud nerd who lives and breathes SAP and its technologies. I spent my 20s studying and working. Any opportunity to get exposure to new content and help out would see me cancelling my social life and staying back late in the office. My friends knew to find me in the office and could only entice me out if it involved food and wine.
At the same time, I did manage to meet a wonderful person – happened to be an ex-colleague (I do wonder how many relationships have formed due to SAP implementations). He understand go live coming up means a temporary pause to social life. He’s not surprised when we’re watching television that I’m multitasking with SCN on my iPad or that I’m going to scan my emails before I go to sleep and when I wake up in the morning. Or my insomnia that awakes me at 2am will be channelled into SCN community. He knows I’m a workaholic and he still wants to marry me (yeah that’s another thing I’m juggling with joy right now). He also wasn’t surprised that I’d choose to have the wedding a week before a major go live (honeymoon is deferred to next year as I hop on a plane back to work).
To add to my busy year my partner and I decided it was time to start a family before my age catches up with me. Monster (kids are scary) must have realised at the beginning that my life is a Spreadsheet and embraced my schedule with an intention to greet us in October (no TechEd/dCode for me this year as airplanes apparently aren’t a substitute for hospital beds).
But now I find some realities and practicalities catching up with me. And this means it means I have to accept some limitations and make some changes to create more balance. It also means I’m going to have to be less selfish in my career-first approach to life to achieve this balance. I’m going to have to recognise monster might be kind enough to fit my schedule right now but come October my project-plan approach to life won’t work.
This realisation (to which everyone else can roll their eyes and see how clueless I am) has meant major reflections on how best to proceed with my career. The reality is: I have to stop flying from August. I have to add numerous doctor appointments to my schedule and learn patience (they are never on time and some dates you are told when to turn up without choice). I have to accept the physical symptoms of pregnancy – burning the midnight candle isn’t sustainable in the best of times and near impossible when monster has sapped you off all your energy and sleep is the only option (preferably not during a client meeting). Living off a box of skittles each day for instant sugar hit isn’t sustainable either. I have to relinquish a fair bit of control and reset my expectations.
But what I have discovered more recently is I can keep my career. As much as I fear career stagnation (monster making was one of my motivations in writing that blog) I know I’m in a unique professional situation to sustain my skills and continue to work in some capacity. I just have to change how I work and how I contribute.
I haven’t got the answers but what I have learned so far:
I work in a male dominated industry
Ok hear me out on this one if you have just had a “WTF are you blind” reaction. When I go to work each day I don’t pay attention at all to whether someone is a male or female. I work and collaborate with colleagues based on their positions and skills. I don’t check myself as the door as some woman in a man’s world.
I work with some pretty awesome men and I don’t see a glass ceiling
Based on news articles, government policy and Facebook feeds I feel that I am in a pretty fortunate and unique situation. I felt comfortable to tell my boss (a man) that I was pregnant at 8 weeks. I didn’t have any fear or worry that my job would be at risk due to this revelation. His reaction was to support me in whatever decision I wanted to make with my career and we’d work something out.
There were a few stressful moments where I found myself lacking some confidence in standing up for myself. I confided in my boss that I was struggling to differentiate between preggy-emotions and valid frustrations of the project. His reaction was I’ve got your back and you’re not being emotional (or it’s not impacting decision making). What a huge difference to stress and overreacting when someone supports you and you are able to get a sanity check.
My immediate team (all men) congratulated me and asked how they could be of assistance. They’re all fathers themselves and each with daughters – and if they had the chance to be at home with the kids instead of the office they’d take the opportunity to be. They considered my change in dietary requirements (they learned I’m still allowed a coffee a day); they understood when flu season hit I would avoid the germy people; they knew I’d be home at 5 for a nanna nap but online later. They genuinely cared. But ultimately, they treated me the same professionally: if there’s a security question then ask Colleen.
I have built a pretty good reputation and I don’t have to give it up
This one hit home in the past few weeks. As much as I want to stay in my current role there may come a time when it’s no longer feasible. And so I worried – what would this mean to my finances to be out of work indefinitely? Even scarier – what happens if I have a huge gap in my resume and no longer have the skills that everyone seeks? Or the still unknown – will my mind go gaga from lack of mental stimulation and adult interaction?
My fears and worries were unfounded. I have had:
- An acquaintance through SCN still encouraged me to collaborate with him and his company in some form or capacity.
- A bunch of awesome SAP Mentors tell me about other work opportunities and offer to keep an eye out for me.
- A publisher asked if I would be interested in writing a book at some point.
- My awesome boss still willing for me to work in some capacity.
- My professional network offer to consider me for part-time and/or short client engagements.
- And the list goes on (even moments of pass the monster around the office floor and come in for a few meetings).
I can continue my education and keep skills current
SAP has so many platforms now to learn. I have SAP Learning Hub access. I can enrol in Open SAP courses. SCN has a wealth of knowledge.The list goes on. Availability of time and motivation will be my only barriers to continuing my knowledge development. I don’t have to be stuck on the outside unable to learn and de-skill as a result.
I have opportunity at flexible working conditions
I just need to adapt and recognise life won’t be the same. I have been able to develop working relationships and prove my ability to work remote and still deliver quality. I am an independent consultant who is not reliant on my employer’s schedule and work policies. I can seek out part-time work. I can take time out of the workforce for as a long as necessary (something my partner and I are working through now) and gradually re-join it when the time is right.
I’m not sure what will happen post October. I have no idea what my priorities will be next year. I have no idea if I’m going to find my calling as parent and find work is no longer my main hobby. I do know life will change. I do know I have to adapt. I do know I have a fantastic support network – partner, family, friends and colleagues. I know I have choices. And for all those reasons I am very lucky and even more grateful! For now, I’ll keep my eyes out and eventually figure it all out.
P.s – I’d love to hear your stories on how you made a transition with your careers or even decided to balance out your private life from the world of SAP!