Experimentation clarifies career path

When we get to a point where we need change ... the key is to make small changes. PHOTO: GETTY...
When we get to a point where we need change ... the key is to make small changes. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
When I look at the people I trained with on my way to becoming a scientist, very few remain in a traditional science career, yet when we were training, that was all that was presented to us.

The same is true for many career paths. How many people with law degrees do you know who are not lawyers, builders who are not building, farmers who are not farming, journalists who are not writing, nurses who are not nursing and doctors who are not doctoring? Is this the fault of their career pathway, or is it that what we want at 18 years of age is different to what we want at 30, 40 or 50 years of age?

A few I know who have stayed on the science path are cynical about organisational restructures and tired of grant [application] writing. I ask them "Why don’t you leave?". They look at me as if I am crazy — perhaps they are the crazy ones for staying?

We are about to move into our long summer holiday. In my new business, it’s been frantic as we try to get as much done as possible before the "great New Zealand shutdown".

We have built some incredible collaborations and created five new products to be released in the New Year. We are also launching our lung health product in the UK in January with our business partners over there.

What a ride it has been and I don’t feel as drained as I normally do at this time of year. In saying that, I am already enjoying the benefits of slowing down to think and be more creative again.

I started dipping into my holiday pile of reading and podcasts over the weekend. A friend sent me the link to a podcast where Jehan Casinader interviews the chief executive of Fix and Fogg peanut butter, Roman Jewell https://omny.fm/shows/imagine-this-with-jehan-casinader/roman-jewell-fix....

Roman was a corporate lawyer eight years ago and admits to not feeling fulfilled and needing a creative outlet.

He didn’t know what he needed to do and started experimenting — working on different things in the evenings and in the weekends in an effort to fulfil his need for creativity. He tried pottery, home brewing, cheese making, even sewing. During those trials, he wasn’t thinking about creating a business, that came later, when he found he enjoyed making nut butters and people started to give him feedback.

I found that interesting — try it, test it and maybe if things click — turn it into a career. For some, simply having that creative outlet will be enough.

If you do want to go full time with a new creative outlet and turn it into a business, the clincher of course is the cost of life, mortgages and expensive lifestyles.

This year, I met some young student entrepreneurs who said to me — "What have we got to lose at this stage in our lives? If our business puts us through university, it’s a bonus, if not, it’s still a great experience."

What a fantastic attitude — where along the way do we lose the "give it a go" mentality? Is it sudden when we take on new responsibilities like children, or a mortgage? Or is that freedom of thinking slowly ground out of us? Perhaps for some, the freedom of thinking comes later in life, when we realise we don’t have to take the paths society expects of us?

When we get to a point where we need change, I think the key is to make small changes, as Roman Jewell did — to experiment as to what a big change might look like.

Before co-founding a nutraceutical company, my business partner and I knew we wanted to do something in the functional food and beverages space — we experimented with prebiotic pasta, kefir, spices, sauces, alternate proteins and kimchi.

Then Covid hit, and given my immunocompromised business partner’s state, the path for our lung health product was accelerated — we committed, and our nutraceutical company was born.

Experimentation, being willing to give things a go and thinking outside the square are ways out of feeling trapped in a career which doesn’t satisfy you any more.

You might also be surprised at what you can live on and what you can do without.

It’s not easy and there is always a fear of failure. I don’t have an answer to that, I live with it every day. But it’s better than living without trying.

Merry Christmas to you all and enjoy some downtime over the holidays — in whatever form or shape that takes for you.

 - Anna Campbell is the Co-Founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company and a partner of AbacusBio Ltd, an agri-technology company.

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