This Is the First Ten Years of Your Career

You push the glass doors open for the first time.

It’s a beautiful office. One that only a huge multinational company like the one you’re joining today can afford. You work in the city center now; in a skyscraper. You can’t wait to share it on Facebook.

Predictably, you’re early to work. It’s your first day after all. You’re also one of the first among your friends to get a job with a multinational. The rest are still interviewing and hoping.

The ones who really matter of course. Some of your friends are already involved in startups of their own. You tell yourself that they don’t count. That you want real corporate experience before starting your own company. It’s comforting.

You’re nervous, but you’re also skilled as hell in pretending that you’re not. While your uni mates were busy getting involved in clubs, societies and events, you were reading business books and working on interview skills. You’re prepared.

You size up the other graduate trainees. They look nice enough, but you can already tell who the smart ones are, and who the politicians are.

You secretly hope that one of your new colleagues will ask you about your excellent CGPA.

Nobody gives a f*ck.

 

1. Reality

It’s your first-year performance appraisal. You’re a good and responsible worker. Your boss sits down with you and tells you he appreciates all that you’ve done.

But due to forced rankings, he can only rate you as a 3+. Which means a competent worker; slightly above average. You look at the slackers in office. Most of them get rated 3 as well.

You’re average. It’s a bitter pill to swallow — you’ve never been average your whole life.

You don’t understand why the politicians in your office get 2 ratings and above. Their bonuses will be double of yours.

You accept your boss’ appraisal and end the conversation with a smile.

Then you bitch about it on Facebook.

 

2. Lust

It’s the end of your second year. You understand how the company works now. You understand why some guys spend most of their time sucking up to the bosses, instead of doing actual work.

You’ve been looking outside for a while. All your friends seem to have perfect lives. The investment bankers are rolling in money. The accountants and lawyers seem to be doing great too. You never meet them much, but you keep seeing Instagram pictures of their exotic vacations and clubbing nights. You wonder how they can afford it.

You’re jealous.

You need a new job. Otherwise you’ll never afford that glamorous lifestyle you want. You don’t want to wait till you’re old to be rich. You gorge on articles saying how you need to step out of your comfort zone because that’s where the magic happens.

You wait for your second-year bonus. Then you resign.

You’re Gen-Y.

 

Picture of lady holidaying at beach
How come everyone can afford more expensive holidays than me!?

 

3. Revelation

You start fresh in another multinational. “Here it’ll be different,” you say. “Here it’ll be merit-based.” It’s an American company so you know they’re committed to fairness and transparency. More importantly, they have US dollars.

You like how things move faster in a smaller company. You can’t help comparing yourself to your ex-colleagues. When they meet you, they all say “You look so happy now.”

Of course you’re happy to see them. It helps you forget your current problems at work.

You swapped bureaucracy for uncertainty. Predictability for long working hours. Great benefits for tough learning. But it’s okay — you can’t afford to regret your decision. “Rough seas make good sailors,” you tell yourself.

You still benchmark yourself against your uni mates. The startup guys are hustling like crazy now. You read their stories on your feed, and think about how their lives must be so interesting. You haven’t met the doctors in person for years.

Thank God for social media.

You realize everything comes with a price.

 

4. Pain

You start to feel the itch again.

Two years in and you’re dragging yourself to work. You’re not sure if you’ve lost motivation or if you’ve just mastered the game. You feel that showing up on time is less important than being friends with the boss.

You arrive late in office one day to see a memo for all employees. The big bosses in America have decided to restructure the company.

A couple of hours later your boss calls you to his office. He says you have nothing to worry about, even though he seems to be worrying about something himself. He tells you that your future is bright — as long as you don’t keep slacking off at work.

One afternoon, two HR people enter your boss’ office. He walks out with a box, and stops by your cubicle to say “All the best.” You will never see him again.

You’re angry; confused. But with the restructuring comes your first promotion.

 

5. Discovery

You’ve made it big now. Or at least, you think you’ve made it.

Just to be sure, you Google what the average 29-year-old’s salary is. Phew, you make double the average salary. You compare your Instagram travel photos to those of your friends. Yes, you’ve been to more countries than most of them. Plus you have better pictures.

It’s not that you want to beat everyone so badly. But you just need to know that you’re doing well. That you’re not average.

Except for Sara. Sara has traveled more than you. Damn it, it must be because of her rich boyfriend.

And Dan. But Dan’s the founder of his own tech startup. He’s found a way to beat the system, so that doesn’t really count.

You secretly want to be like Dan.

Every two years, you’ve either had a promotion or moved to a different company. But you’re starting to wonder if you’re going to be a corporate slave all your life. You now gorge on articles that talk about passion, purpose, and freedom.

You dream about starting your own company. It would be awesome to be your own boss, and do whatever the f*ck you want. But you’re scared; you know the statistics — 90% of businesses fail within the first 18 months.

You start to consider all the common side hustles: Uber, Unit Trusts, Property, Insurance, and Online Business.

You briefly think about joining an MLM scheme.

 

Picture of corporate meeting room
Your “favorite” place: the meeting room.

 

6. Priorities

Time is the most precious thing to you now. You spend too much time at work, but you know you should really be prioritizing your partner and baby.

It’s so hard to balance everything — sometimes you feel overwhelmed. You’ve given up so many things but you still can’t find enough time. You secretly wonder if you’re a bad partner or a bad parent. Maybe both.

Relief comes every Saturday — when you meet your close friends for brunch. There, you talk about the normal things — work, kids and property investment. Like you, most of your friends have apartments and families now. Even the doctors. They’ve finally re-emerged.

Three of you stick around longer after the rest go home, talking about starting a business. Like a mini-brainstorming session, each of you writes down ideas on a paper napkin, and everyone dissects them together.

You have great ideas, but no time.

But that’s okay. At least you’re making small steps towards owning your own business. You’ll worry about how to execute your ideas later.

It feels great. It feels like you’re on the path to freedom.

 

7. Opportunity

Your business never gets past the paper napkin stage. But it’s okay — you’ll start something once you’ve finished your MBA. “The knowledge will be necessary,” you tell yourself.

You’re bored at work: same shit, different day. More and more of your friends have left the corporate world to “pursue my passion.” They tell amazing stories about how they’re excited to go to work every morning.

You try to feel happy for them, but at the same time you wonder if they’re secretly broke. If they have no money in the bank. The economy sucks, and some of your other friends have recently lost their jobs. You wonder what their plans for the future are.

You feel like quitting, but commitments. Commitments. Your car loan is huge, but you had bought that BMW anyway to reward yourself for all your hard work. You deserved it.

Besides, if you quit — you’re not really sure what you’re passionate about anyway. Except music. You love music; but you don’t want to be a starving musician.

The phone rings — it’s your biggest competitor’s HR director. She wants to bring you over to their company and offers you a VP position. You like how the words sound: Vice-President. At 32 years old, you would be the youngest in the company. And definitely the youngest among your friends.

The work would be similar to what your boss currently does. It doesn’t excite you, but at least you’ll be paid 35% more. And Status. You tell the HR director to give you a few days to think about it.

 

Picture of guitarist at concert
If I just wanted excitement, I’d be a musician. But I need money…

 

8. Destiny

Your hands hover over the keyboard as Resignation_Letter_Template.docx stares back at you. But there’s so many things to think about.

The money would be good. More stuff for you and your family, and you can finally afford that long-planned Eurotrip.

At the same time, you would be losing your seniority and influence in the company. You don’t play politics, but you know what powerful friends can do for you now.

Besides, you really feel like ditching all the stress and doing what you love instead. Why not leave the corporate race, ditch the Master’s, and become a simple musician? It seems like a carefree life. And if you played enough gigs, maybe you could earn just enough…

You hesitate; it’s never that simple. The grass is always greener on the other side.

It’s never that simple.

Your thoughts are interrupted when your boss suddenly calls you to his office. You’re worried — did someone tell him?

“We’ve been monitoring your performance,” he says. “And as Nora is leaving soon, we’d like to offer you a promotion. You’ll be taking on her responsibilities for a period of six months. Then we’ll evaluate how you’re doing — and can discuss your new salary then.”

“OK?”

 

– – –

 

You feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. Decisions, decisions… Your head spins.

You take a deep breath and look around. Your eye briefly catches the calendar on your boss’ desk. It’s almost your career ten-year anniversary. Almost ten years since you first started work — gone in a flash.

You realize you’re really just starting out.

 

– – –

 

Inspired by Sunil Rajaraman’s writings on Medium.

Pictures from Pexels, Pexels, Pexels and Pexels.

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30 comments

  • Incredible article! Is there already a Chinese translation? If not can I translate and share it with my Chinese friends?

  • It has been almost 2 years for me in a corporate world and this scares me. Don’t know if reading this article on your first day work at the third company is a good thing or not. I do not get the moral of the stories though.

    • Hey Ain,

      Sorry didn’t mean to scare you or anyone. A lot of different people get different meaning out of this story — but if you asked me for my one final moral it’d be this: ten years in a career may feel like a long time; but it’s really still just the start. Don’t overthink things, but enjoy the journey!

  • Aaron this is an incredible read. You really stuck needles and knives into our hearts of hearts and even deeper.
    Please do translate this article into Chinese and Malay. Need to share.

    • Thanks Randall,

      Someone’s already translating it into Chinese I hear. For Malay… let me think if I would be the right guy to do it… Hmmmmm…

  • It’s my 10-year anniversary in the corporate world next month… And I’m still in the exec level. Life sucks. Seriously, I so want to cry, but I can’t…

    • Hey Et,

      Sorry to hear that. But I always believe there are ways to improve your life, no matter what stage it’s at now. All the best, and do reach out if you need to talk.

  • “You’ll be taking on her responsibilities for a period of six months. Then we’ll evaluate how you’re doing — and can discuss your new salary then.”

    This hits me. Sadly, its a common practise. We are all corporate slaves. Well, except for u!

    By far the best piece from u. Keep up the good work!

    Regards,

  • I’m six months into my first job, this scared me a little. always going to remind myself to chase my passions. Great read though thanks for the insight!

    • Hey Anjalie,

      No problem. Hope I didn’t scare you too much. The idea is to keep exploring and learning. You’re still so young. All the best!

  • Omg mr stingy, this piece of art really inspires me and really touched me deeply…. because i am technically facing what u said at 1st stage…. sadly i am still stuck at my first job – petronas with a huge oversea bond that cant afford to pay back and have to suck it up for another 7 years. What you write is so true, like hearing all my peers, and even my junior going to managerial and vp position whilst i still drive my old wira (which is the only car i can really afford as i am as stingy as u lolx ) to commute every weekly from kerteh to kl to see my wife and kids…… imagine my external auditor which use to be an associate now a manager/director in big 4 or partner of a mid tier audit firm…

    Well, this is called 1/3 life crisis (last time at age 25 is called quarter life crisis)….like what u say, i cant see my entire career working in this company …. and started my first small business concurrently to see if i can replace my current salary in 7 years. Still at infancy stage, dont know how it is going to work…. but it is just a believe that it will work one day…

    Psssssss heard so much about u in petronas especially a lot of ur junior here ( still only exec) praised u as “legend” in petronas and how u quit and work in other company and now an entrepreneur

    • Hey Kelvin,

      Thanks for dropping by and your kind comments. Hoping that your side gig will be successful! And it’s okay to still drive a Wira while being in PETRONAS. The grass is always greener on the other side; we don’t really know the story of your friends who are managers/directors and all the shit they have to go through.

      Funny to hear about the “legend” comments. I have my small humble mr-stingy LLP but I’m not a wildly successful entrepreneur by any means! 😀

  • I’m half-way there, so far it is true enough, except I’m still on my first job lol

  • This is an interesting insight from the viewpoint of Malaysian white-collar workers. Thanks for sharing.

    At the core, it all boils down to feeling like nothing is enough, isn’t it? You achieve something, it becomes a new norm, then you want something more.

    I’m convinced that the corporate world need more people who drive second hand cars with pride (this is you right? :D), who re-wear the same outfits over and over again without caring, who see expensive ‘collection’ (luxury watches, designer bags, perfumes, alcohol, etc) as what they are: wasteful.

    Good post, Aaron, keep it up!

  • I’m just 4 years on the career-journey, but this articles are 101% correct. Amazing article!

  • Wow, this article is superb!!! I like the following sentences….

    “You’ve been looking outside for a while. All your friends seem to have perfect lives. The investment bankers are rolling in money. The accountants and lawyers seem to be doing great too. You never meet them much, but you keep seeing Instagram pictures of their exotic vacations and clubbing nights. You wonder how they can afford it.

    You’re jealous.

    You need a new job. Otherwise you’ll never afford that glamorous lifestyle you want. You don’t want to wait till you’re old to be rich. You gorge on articles saying how you need to step out of your comfort zone because that’s where the magic happens. You wait for your second-year bonus. Then you resign. You’re Gen-Y.”

    Yes, I’m Gen Y…
    #truthhurts
    #staypositive
    #staypassionate

    • Thanks bro for dropping by here. It’s an honor.

      Out of curiosity, what happened to your blog? It seems to have become private now…

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