There is no undo button for a big career move

Big career decisions do not announce themselves well in advance, as part of that neat and tidy career plan you had in mind 5 years ago. They simply confront you. An opportunity pops up that isn’t exactly what you planned for. Life happens.


Something or someone comes out of the blue.


Or sometimes a situation simply builds up and you slowly realise that something has to give.


And they don’t exactly wait in line either – sometimes you have to make a big career decision as well as a big life decision. Natalie not only had to ponder the implications of the pay cut – she also had to think of their plans to start a family, and the beautiful 3 bedroom house they had just viewed last week, with the lush garden she had always wanted.

With decisions like this, there is no magical career assessment that will spit out a 4-letter acronym with a perfect prescription of what to do. It’s not your personality type or a SWOT analysis that tells you what to do. As fun and easy as superficial career guidance or feel-good fuzzy conversations might be, real decisions are not that simple.

Part of the problem is that there are always many factors at play. You have career goals, but you also have lifestyle goals. All these different dots connect differently depending on how things turn out. If Anele takes the scholarship, how does she pay for the remaining 50%? If she takes a loan, how much will she need to earn to pay that off? And will she enjoy the kind of jobs she would have to take to earn that amount? And also, what will it mean for her plans to take extra time off when she has her first child?

How much can Thamie afford to risk in his new venture? If it didn’t work out, would it mean that he would have to permanently give up on other important goals, or could he recover and try again?

Traditional career planning is dead. What you need is a career strategy.

In 2018, people no longer toil endlessly at the same job from the day they leave school, for a single company, until they get put out to pasture to sit on their stoep and read the local daily tabloid. And thank the heavens for that!

But because the average person will change jobs 10 to 15 times in their working life, including the possibility of a second or even third career, and might work remotely, internationally or as part of the gig economy, the ol’ hard and fast rules we once used to charter our careers simply no longer apply.

Dealing with big career decisions today requires you to have a toolkit that can handle all the many facets at stake. You want to be able to make the most of opportunities as they arise and react to uncertainties or scenarios you may not have expected, but you simultaneously need to ensure you’re heading in a clear direction without being tossed and turned by any random wave that happens to come your way.

The main difference between a career strategy and a career plan, is that a career strategy embraces the fact that careers are not linear or predictable.

A career strategy starts with 3 components:

  • A clear objective, so you know where you’re headed
  • A diagnosis that roots you in the reality of where you are now
  • An actionable plan, that covers what career moves you want to make, but also some options and decisions that you might need to take depending on what happens.

Our approach will help you get in touch with your most important goals and values, and we’ll then help you work through a career strategy diagnosis and develop an actionable plan. We consider the plausible moves you can make, and run the clock forward for you so you can catch a glimpse of what a given path might look like so you are in a position to make the smart moves.

Once you’ve embarked on a relationship with LifeCheq and have a LifeCheq plan, access to a consultant as well as our exclusive research and content will guide you through your roadmap – from interviews with thought leaders, guides through assessment tools, special reports on trends and access to exclusive proprietary data sets.

You have to join the dots, even the ones that are not obvious

Thamie worked with the team at LifeCheq to plan how he might start his business and be in a position to still provide support to his extended family even if it didn’t work out. We looked at how much would be needed for the business, how he would cover bills, how long he could commit to the venture before he’d need to fall back to plan B, and what plan B needed to look like. It was crucial to strategise beforehand because, as an entrepreneur, plotting plan B can be either counterproductive or even impossible when you’re in the thick of it.

If he had followed a seemingly obvious path, any minor setback in the business would’ve meant an additional 10 years spent providing for his family’s needs, binding him to a steady job well into his 70s – a soul destroying turn of events for an entrepreneur at heart.

Thamie took two years longer to get started. Business is now starting to slowly take off, but it’s early days. Even if it fails in the next year, he will still be able to achieve everything he wants – he only has to go back to a role at a similar level, and will have a chance to try it again a few years after that. Either way, he has a solid 18 months to dedicate himself to a lifelong passion.

A smart career move creates good options; a bad career move limits your options.

Anele is a 30 year old marketing professional working for an IT firm. She’s a bit of a bookworm who loves to travel both geographically and intellectually; and when she does have kids, it’s important to her that she has the extra time and flexibility to enjoy them growing up in a 5 bedroom house with a private library and yoga room. She loves creativity and autonomy in her work. She has ideas that perhaps starting her own business might give her this, but she’s never felt she quite has the stomach for swashbuckling entrepreneurship. She had explored the possibility of doing her MBA and applied for the Harvard MBA and scholarship not quite knowing what to expect.

To help make this decision, Anele built a career strategy with the team at LifeCheq. We combined a view of the career choices she was considering with an understanding of her lifestyle goals and a detailed view of her personal finances. We considered how she would fund the remaining R1.4m for the Harvard MBA, and the kind of jobs she would need to take in order to earn enough for everything else she wanted to do.

Anele turned down the scholarship.

That was 2 years ago. She is now a senior manager at a multinational retail fashion company. In 2020, she’s planning on attending the General Management Program at Harvard so she can apply herself to the generalist skills she originally wanted. She won’t be coming back with any debt, and she will have the option to start a consultancy to give her the autonomy and scope for creativity she wants. Even if it doesn’t work out, she will still have good options.

Career capital is more important than career income.

Natalie had to choose between sticking it out in her current job, or taking a pay cut as part of a career shift. As an IT professional in an industry where trends come at you thick and fast, she felt overdue for a change – something to help her combine her inherent creativity with her technical side. She also really wanted to take time out at some point to explore a second career.

Sticking it out seemed like the safe bet – why not wait and see? Working with the team at LifeCheq, however, showed her that this path was in fact a lot more risky than taking the pay cut. How so? If she stuck it out and the promises her boss had made turned out to be as solid as hot air, then her life circumstances and her plans later would leave her stuck in that role for a further 4 years. It would be too late at that stage to make a change, and in all likelihood, she would have to give up on her future, bigger opportunity to try something different.

Natalie took the pay cut.

Two years in, her passion for her new role in user experience (UX) and the effort she’s put in means she’s bounced back to her old salary, and on a strong growth trajectory. When she’s back from maternity leave in 3 month’s time, she’s got a key assignment as product manager for a critical product launch. Even if this path doesn’t lead her to a heftier income as soon as she thought, she has more options available to her on her current trajectory to look beyond her immediate paycheck and grow her career capital, so that the future paychecks and future options are better.