Over 15 years ago, I left a six-figure salary in a field completely unrelated to the field I am in now. I was living in New York City at the time and enjoying the perks of having an expense account, attending lavish startup launch parties, schmoozing with potential advertisers, and receiving sales commission checks that were bigger than my monthly salary. It was during the infamous dot-com boom of the '90s.
What I can tell you is that the financial capital that was thrown around by startups was ludicrous. I remember attending one launch party complete with catering, an open bar, live music and a swag bag containing all sorts of expensive items that had nothing to do with the company’s product. In fact, the company did not actually have a tangible product. It was still in concept mode.
Unfortunately, events like these left me feeling empty. I wanted to pursue meaningful work. It wasn’t that I experienced a profound sense of enlightenment; I just felt a deep-rooted desire to create value for companies, specifically through the development of their people. After months of self-reflection, talking to others, and doing research about the field of people development, I knew I had to make a drastic career change.
To start with, how does one make a change without having the capabilities and credentials required in a new profession?
You can approach it several ways: 1) identify transferable skills, 2) figure out your gaps and experience needed in the new field and take courses, or 3) work in an entry-level position to gain specific requirements for the next job. But all of this requires self-determination and perseverance. For me, I applied all of these components.
Up until that point in my career, I had witnessed so much dysfunction in organizations, such as poor communication from leadership to staff, infighting among groups, bad managers, disengaged employees, unclear roles and undefined responsibilities. My observations led me to study the fascinating topic of workplace behavior and pursue a career in “human capital management.” This sounds like a buzz word, but all that human capital management means is helping organizations enhance their effectiveness through their people, structure, processes and systems.
Remember I mentioned the six-figure salary with lots of perks? Well, I left it all behind and started a master’s program to study human behavior in the workplace.
It was an industrial/organizational psychology program. During this time, while racking up student loan debt, I interned and also worked part-time at a Nordstrom makeup counter. I was paid very little compared to what I was making before. But it was a different environment, and I met a ton of great people.
As I was wrapping up my master’s program, I decided it was time for me to find a job where I could apply the skills and experience I was gaining from school. While in my exit interview with the Manager of HR at Nordstrom, I learned about an entry-level HR opportunity in her office. While my goal was not to go into HR but instead, organizational development, I was incredibly grateful for the chance to gain additional experience.
I didn’t get paid much — it was less than $30K per year — but what I got during that time was much more valuable than the salary.
By working in HR for Nordstrom, I learned the importance of a strong organizational culture, the criticality of a well-running team, how to mediate between difficult manager/employee situations, leadership development, and how to deal with a high volume of tactical work. I also had a ton of fun in the office. This entry-level position was a huge stepping stone for me. It helped me gain a reputable company’s name on my resume, acquire skills that I could transfer to other companies, and grow as a professional. A bonus was that I developed several long-lasting friendships with great people and I am still friends with them today.
What I learned is that money is a renewable resource — meaning, you can always make more at a later time.
The next time you’re faced with taking a pay cut for a new job, think about all of the potential benefits you can gain from it. The skills, experiences, and relationships you will encounter in a new job are what you should be focusing on, instead of just compensation.
If you have a desire to pursue something else, you have to honor that feeling. Otherwise, ten years later, you may be looking back at your life wondering how you got to this point. There are plenty of resources to help you start thinking about the next job. Here's one helpful article here.
Be curious, stay open to opportunities, and think beyond the paycheck. You may be surprised by what you find.
Yon Na is a leadership and organization development professional with 20 years of corporate experience. She has worked with some of the most admired companies on the planet: Warner Bros. Entertainment, The New York Times, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson. As a leadership development professional, Yon has helped hundreds of individuals fine-tune their unique talents through coaching and facilitating workshops. To learn more, please visit https://yonnaphd.com