As a young professional all Bengaluru-based Savitha Kuttan wanted was to move up the corporate ladder and become successful. She chose the consultancy route, worked with dedication and ambition, and within a decade became the youngest vice-president in a multinational pharma company. “I had achieved a lot, but there was a deep void, a feeling that I had not been able to create any significant impact in the world," says Kuttan, 36. In January 2017, a year after having a child, she left her corporate job and started Omnicuris, a social enterprise that aims to improve the quality of healthcare by providing doctors video-based content on a mobile app for continuous medical education.

Till date, Omnicuris has trained over 100,000 doctors. Kuttan doesn’t earn as much as her corporate salary, but it’s enough to run the household and maintain her lifestyle. The deep sense of achievement that comes with running Omnicuris, however, is priceless. “Finding a fulfilling career is difficult, but once you decide on it, have an aim and a roadmap, it’s not that hard to execute," she says.

For many, having a career means a structured corporate job, where they fit well and know what they are doing. For others, it means running a business or having a portfolio career, or multiple streams of income through a mix of employment, freelancing and /or consultancy. A free-range career is a custom-made career that caters an individual, their financial and emotional needs, and how they want to lead their life. “It’s living a life that suits your personality and doing work how you feel like it," says Marianne Cantwell, a UK-based career coach and author of Be A Free-Range Human.

Cantwell herself quit her corporate career in 2013, and started consulting, and working on a blog, “Free Range Humans". By the start of 2019, she had turned it into a full-time business with online courses and events across the world. “We live in the best time in history to start your own business, without a load of funding and to be successful at it," says Cantwell.

Ashutosh Harbola quit a marketing job to start Buzzoka with Rahul Puri
Ashutosh Harbola quit a marketing job to start Buzzoka with Rahul Puri

Changing aspirations

Millennials as well as Generation Z, who are now joining the work force, are very different from the previous generations. They have seen disruption in the way the world works, the environmental costs of work, the layoffs and the uncertainty. They don’t like desk jobs too much, and they aren’t big fans of the idea of permanence. They want experiences and a sense of adventure.

“Generation Z wants to live life on their own terms, create unforgettable experiences rather than be caged in a 9-to-5 job," says Prashant Sharma, 23, chief marketing officer of NoFiltr, an influencer agency that works with social media influencers. “Internet has opened up opportunities where you can be a vlogger and travel the entire world for free if you’d like," he says.

Because of internet, you can work remotely, communicate and collaborate seamlessly and access career opportunities without limitations of geography and time.

Work is no longer about the number of hours you are in the office but what you can achieve in those hours, says Srinivasa Addepalli, co-founder and chief executive of GlobalGyan Academy of Management Education that trains millennials to build their skills. Earlier the career goal was clear with a variable to maximize: your salary. “Today’s generation doesn’t aspire to create tangible assets that represent status or see salary or title as a measurement of success. They want to do something of their own, pursue a business, an off-beat project," he says.

Making a ‘You’ career

To create a custom-made career, you need to listen to your intuition. A calling is a calling and you should never ignore it, says Ashutosh Harbola, 32, who quit his job as a marketing head to establish his own startup two years ago. “When things weren’t working for me in the job, I knew it’s time to shift gears and act."

Within three months, in July 2017, he launched Buzzoka, an influencer marketing company. He was one of the first ones to move into the space and had early-starter advantage. Today, his company employs 14 people. It is expected to grow at a rate of 300% in 2020, claims Harbola. “Follow your instinct, your heart, as they always know what you truly want to achieve," he says.

The biggest step, Harbola adds, is to break out of the comfort zone. In spite of his success, Harbola’s mother continues to remind him of his classmate who is settled in the US and is earning well—a middle-class aspiration.

“A middle-class household teaches you to never leave a good job," says Rukmini Ray Kadam, 33, who followed this advice for 11 years, and did seven jobs, ranging from associate creative director to content writer. “Corporate life requires you to be agile, to be fast and meet targets. It has no place for creativity," she says. Throughout those 11 years, she had “this nagging feeling of being wasted away, of being ‘purposeless’". “My career offered good results, but I never built something I was proud of, something that gave me satisfaction and this feeling filled me till I could no longer write. I was done," she says.

Earlier this year, she quit her job to focus on Trumatter.in, a blog she had been working on since 2010, and turned it into a design consultancy that sells handmade home décor products. “Deciding what you want to do and making income out of it is darn difficult, but you have to try. You have one life." Within an year, her earnings are enough to take a vacation and supplement her income. Kadam, however, cautions against leaving a well-paying job for passions that you have not had time to pursue or wanting to establish a startup just because you don’t like your job. “I simultaneously built my blog for nine years of the 12 in corporate career, because I loved it," she says, adding that the salary helped her pad up her bank balance so she can pursue her business. She suggests that people should start small, something on the side, to see if it is something they want to pursue full time eventually.

Turning a hobby or a passion into a career is not always a viable option. “I love wildlife photography, but I don’t want to pursue it professionally. Sometimes, a passion is something that you wouldn’t want to do as a career. If you want to do something, try it for a month, see if it works," says Addepalli.

The choices we make

In a world of fast-moving technologies, where new career options are always emerging, the young population doesn’t really want to do the same thing for too long. Many are straddling two careers simultaneously, not because they have to, but because it gives them mental and emotional satisfaction.

Sonia Kadam, for instance, loves both her careers. She’s a technical lead in CitiusTech, a healthtech company in Mumbai, and a choreographer who learns as well as teaches dance. “Managing both isn’t hard as I love both my jobs," says Kadam, 30. She says her corporate job gives her enough time and financial steadiness to pursue her passion. “A fulfilling career is one where you get satisfied, mentally, emotionally and financially and I have it all."

Buzzoka’s Harbola, who started another company in January, agrees: “Satisfaction is not what I’m looking for when I’m 32. The hunger is still on."

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