Chris Hsiung’s occupation seemed the perfect fit. A software engineer for eight years at Nortel Networks Corp., he had grown up glued to the keyboard. But he also had a calling, seeded in past days as a junior high peer tutor: Hsiung wanted to guide people. He founded U Venture in 2007 and now offers strategy on everything from career transitions to exploring your hidden creative side. But to go from coding to coaching, he needed a little guidance of his own.
For Hsiung, 32, it started in Paris. Embedded in France by Nortel for a year-long stint, he was shocked when he returned to Cowtown in 2002. “Culturally, we’re very different,” he says of the European approach to business. He recalls being denied entry to the Paris office one weekend by security because working overtime was not permitted without the vice-president’s approval, something that would assuredly never happen in Calgary.
Hsiung sought reconnection with Calgary’s community, turning to the Leadership Calgary course with Volunteer Calgary. He liked its “lifelong learning” focus – it fit with his knack for teaching people, a talent he had used while implementing software training programs at Nortel.
However, Hsiung soon realized he wanted a lifestyle change, as well. After attending a lecture by Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire in 2004, he was flooded with an array of mixed emotions. He began to think about his role in the world and the difference that he could make. “He was talking about child soldiers. It had a strong emotional impact on me,” Hsiung recalls of the lecture.
He injected this newfound altruism into his life. Jumping onboard with the Learning Village, an after-school activities program, he started looking for courses in volunteer soccer training, but came across a life-coaching course instead. “It was serendipitous,” he says. “There were no soccer-coaching courses available.” He signed up thinking it might provide a few new skills. Instead, he got hooked.
While pursuing his Co-Active Coaching certification at the University of Calgary, Hsiung hired a life coach of his own to help him with his quest for self-reinvention. He was taken aback when his coach suggested he change employment gears. “He said, ‘It seems like you want to go off on your own,’ and I said, ‘No, no, no.’?” Then, waking up one morning, he had an epiphany. He realized that lifelong learning was his passion – and that coaching others was the platform he needed to pursue it.
But Hsiung still had to face his biggest barrier in making a career change – letting go of societal expectations. He worried about disappointing his parents, who had supported his engineering career and didn’t consider jobs other than the standard doctor, lawyer or engineer to be viable occupations. “You always get these signals of what success is,” he says.
Other fears existed, too. Hsiung had to deal with taking a pay cut. “Usually, when you start a business, you’re in the hole,” he says. He reworked his finances so he wouldn’t “burn through them” right away, took on roommates for extra income, and dipped into his savings to start Human Ventures in 2007.
Almost two years later, he is often called upon to coach people through similar life transitions, but doesn’t recommend making any drastic life changes such as the ones he went through. Instead, he suggests people change their lives through small increments.
“I remember coaching one person who had a passion for mountain bikes on the weekends. She loved sharing that with other people. It struck me: ‘Why don’t you hold a workshop and charge money for it? Then, you can see if there’s any interest and if you like teaching.’?” says Hsiung, offering a final piece of advice: Always test the waters before taking the plunge.
by K.D. Attwell
“Sketching Out a Game Plan” was featured in the October 2008 Edition of Calgary Inc.