How to Leave Your Job (Tip 3)

I use to be addicted to role-playing games. One of the classic aspects of the game was that you often had to “level up” before you could move on to a new and more challenging section of the fantasy world. Leveling up meant increasing your character’s attribute such as strength, wisdom, agility, charisma by earning “experience points” (lovingly known as XP) through defeating a variety of monsters. Depending upon what kind of character you wanted to become – a thief, a mage, a warrior – you would develop certain attributes more than others.

However, the choice of when to move into the new territory was up to you though. Some players would level up until the new challenges would pose little threat. Others would throw themselves into dangerous territory and die repeatedly at the hands of overpowering monsters. The astute player realized though that if you can strengthen your character just enough to defeat one or two of the more powerful monsters, you would level up more quickly.

Leaving a job for new territory does require new “attributes” and perhaps new tools and skills. An engineer co-worker of mine started a successful business selling incredible coffee, but not before spending years studying coffee and running a small tutoring business part-time. He leveled up before he took on a bigger life investment.

Developing these new skills while on the job isn’t easy. With family and work commitments, you can easily find yourself unable to find the time. You may have to slowly develop those skills over many years. But at some point, you’re only going to gain the big XPs by fighting the big monsters.

In your real-life role-playing game, don’t foolishly throw yourself into the jaws of a monster business you can’t possibly succeed at, yet at the same time, don’t wait forever in the safe territory trying to develop all the skills you need. As Ken Low would say, you develop the capacities for the journey by taking the journey.

Chris Hsiung
Better Life… Better Business

Sketching Out a Game Plan

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.

Creating Your Career Excerpt

Here is an excerpt from the Creating Your Career web seminar. This clip provides an introduction to seeing your career as a life journey in the context of larger historical forces.

Would you like to be kept posted about future excerpts? Then sign-up for high-quality newsletters and other course news. Evening sessions are now available. Sign-up for the Creating Your Career web seminar here.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.

You Are Not Your Job Title

Hundreds of years ago odds were good that if your last name was Smith, you were a blacksmith as was your father and his father before him. Fast forward to today where the pace of technological and social change is so rapid that you can count on multiple careers within your lifetime let alone continuing your parent’s career. Jobs will always be subject to change now. Thus taking the reins of your career and preparing for change is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity!

I’ve mentioned before the engineer who turned industrial photographer and business consultant turned non-profit founder. Since then, I have met social workers transitioning into the police force and software developers moonlighting in photography. More and more people are broadening their career “identities”. These people have a unique ability to create new opportunities for themselves and go after them. There is fulfillment, I believe, in taking control of creating your career rather than letting the career dictate who you are.

How well are you developing your career creation ability? Here are some places to look.

First, throw away this notion that you are a ___________ (fill in the blank with the name of position, title, social standing) because one day it may no longer fulfill you or the needs of the world (a fancier way of saying that you might get sick of your job or your job might become obsolete).

We have an identity much bigger than the limited definitions we give ourselves. Too often we let society dictate what is or isn’t important. Social status, climbing the corporate ladder, or having a big house and a family are all fine goals, but we are socialized to believe it without question. What if you took a break from the usual, looked around the world, and thought about it…

What is really, truly important?
What is important to your family?
To your great grandkids?
To the city, country, world they will live in?

What is important in your life to honour from the past?
In your deathbed?

If this seems a little too abstract for you, then I encourage you to take any one of these practical steps to begin or continue your exploration… in no particular order, off the top of my head:

I would recommend shutting down that fear of “yeah, but… (insert common fears of any potential change)” and imagine instead “what if” and “what would it take…”. What if you were a meaning-seeking human being with many capabilities the most valuable of which is the ability to learn and adapt to ever-changing circumstances? What would it take to live it?

Have fun experimenting for as long as it takes! More to come in the next article on paths to your career path.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.

Waking Up to a Meaningful Life

“I was hanging out in Nepal doing this hike. I saw this one kid over a few days who was wearing this paper-thin t-shirt. Every day he wore this same t-shirt. My first instinct was to think, ‘Oh poor kid… he only has one t-shirt.’ I quickly realized that he was one of the lucky kids in the village. He was the only one who had a t-shirt!”

“I came home to my life. I looked in my closet and there were quite literally ten lifetimes of clothes. These people were using to their clothes to their functional end. Here I was changing styles every year. I was disgusted with myself.”

* * *

Jay Baydala was a successful IT project manager for large scale software development. After thirteen years of what he deep down knew was not meaningful work, he left the industry and sold most of his worldly belongings including half of his clothes (he’s working on the rest).

That was four years ago. Today marks the opening of his dream… ChristmasFuture (, an organization dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty by redirecting a percentage of consumer spending.

I interviewed Jay to learn about his journey so that I could (perhaps selfishly) extract some of his wisdom for myself. He’d be the first to say that he’s still learning, still “figuring it out”, and that every person must find their own path. But regardless of the path, I think pioneers have many common qualities.

Here are parts of that interview and my irreverent and real take on the lessons I learned.

* * *

What led you to leave your job?

There wasn’t one moment. I enjoyed IT project management. I enjoyed working with a team. I enjoyed making things better. However along that journey, I also realized that it wasn’t enough for me that the company saved “x” millions of dollars.

I got to a point where I had to move away from this. In reality, I did not know what I was moving towards. But the moving away, clarified what I was moving towards. You had to have a faith that this [job] wasn’t it.

The “Letting Go” Lesson: Sometimes the problem is that the job, the relationship, or the situation takes up so much space that it crowds out all other possibilities.

Only when you leave it behind do you invite the answers into your life. Be prepared still! AND also have faith that you have the ability to figure it out.

How would you describe the birth of ChristmasFuture?

I realized that I didn’t want to live in a world where someone starved to death for no good reason because they didn’t get 20 cent medicine. It wasn’t right. The more I saw how much I actually had in my life compared to what I saw in the developing world… the more I wanted to engage in this issue.

The Compassion Lesson: True compassion is not just about feeling sorry or pity for someone’s suffering. It’s about feeling the suffering of the other and doing something about it.

How did you come up with ChristmasFuture?

I wanted some way to engage in changing the world. So I looked for something I wanted, and it didn’t exist. That’s part of my business training. When you’re looking for something and it doesn’t exist, there is probably someone else looking for it… which means opportunity.

This is something that I can do. I have the skills. I have the connections. I can make it happen… accompanied with some faith.

The “it’s never too late” lesson: Just because you leave your previous job behind doesn’t mean that you leave behind your abilities or your experiences. Not everything you’ve learned up until now is throwaway.

How did you get started?

My training said business plan. You have to be able to communicate your business. An effective tool is the business plan. That honestly took about a year. I ended up with a 145-page document which highlighted everything. Then I summarized it down to ten pages so that I can get the right people involved for the next level.

I had a high-level view of the pieces. But I didn’t know enough to bring that through to reality. I knew I had to learn. Part of that process is finding [what we had to learn] from the bigger picture. For example, we don’t know enough about Christmas spending through the internet. Let’s find out more information about that.

It’s an iterative process. The more you learn about one thing, the more it changes how you view other the pieces.

That’s what I’m good at. Fitting the big picture pieces together. I’m not so good about the details, but I had to do it. I had sold my stuff afterall!

The “You are the Business” Lesson: There is the “start with the big picture and work your way down” lesson.

But I think the tougher lesson is, if you want to start something new, be prepared to do some things you are good at, some things you’re not good at and many things you need to learn to be good at!

What gets you through the tough times in building ChristmasFuture?

The thirteen years of not living a meaningful life. Thirteen years of learning that other way and now feeling this and experiencing this. This is a far better way to live!

This has made every choice very easy. I’m not trying to want to or wanting to want to. I want to. I want to sell my big SUV that is polluting the atmosphere and costing me hundreds of dollars. I want to sell my house that fills up with things I don’t need. It’s clear. It hasn’t been a struggle.

The “Surviving Through Tough Times” Lesson: When you are on purpose with what you want to do, it becomes easier to do what needs to be done, learn from the challenges, and change your behaviour.

What happens when no one knows the answer?

You mean what happens when no one knows the answer or knows where to look for the answer? First is panic [laugh].

Then it comes down to trying some things in a controlled setting, looking for examples of similar things, similar industries, similar patterns that could transfer. Then you try those theories out like in a lab… without hurting anyone.

You also have to be transparent. We don’t know. We’re learning. The answers aren’t within the four walls of your organization. Open it up to learn from everyone.

The Pioneering Lesson: In the frontier, you can’t only rely on what has been done before because no one has done it before! Get over the panic. Open yourself to what life has to offer and use inquiry and testing to find a way through.

What has been your process of waking up?

I’ve been on a journey. Part of living this awake life is realizing what is most important. Thinking, “I don’t need the expensive new pair of jeans.” You wake up first and go down that path. Then you want to do something about it and participate. Then after going down that path you realize the complexity of the things that you are doing.

You move from doing something that makes you feel good to doing something that does good. ChristmasFuture is about doing good. It’s not just a water well. It’s about how you move people out of that situation. It’s about how you empower people to live a life where they have some choice and freedom.

The Waking Up Lesson: Waking up is a continuous process of seeing what needs to be done and doing something about it.

Ultimately it is a choice. Like in the Matrix, you can wake up, hate what you see, take the blue pill and go back into the Matrix where you will find safety and even success. Or you can decide to live the real life where what you do is meaningful and worthwhile.

What would you like for society to wake up to?

I would like for all of us to understand how much we have. Not just in our head, but in our heart to experience the feeling of knowing that we’ve got a lot. That’s part of it. And part of it is realizing the connectedness of all lives. It’s not us and them. It’s not, “Let them starve to death” or “It doesn’t effect me”. We’re all connected and we’re all responsible.

I use to say, “It doesn’t matter.” I drove a big sports utility vehicle. Every time someone criticized me, I’d think, “I make a lot of money. I can afford it. Why can’t I?” That was my attitude.

NO! It’s not okay. Every choice I make affects everyone else. That’s why I’ve tattooed “WE” to my forearm. There is no “just” affecting me even if I create the illusion that it doesn’t. The “WE” reminds me. Keeps me alert. What are you choosing today?

The Connection Lesson: We are part of a larger community and that is one step to waking up. See “Have you thanked humanity lately?”

What does it mean to be fully alive and human?

It’s being on that journey towards who you are and realizing and joining that connection with everything around you. It’s not about you. Yes, you are writing a story of your life, but if you think it’s all about you, you’re going to miss it. It’s about everything and your connection to it.

The Life Lesson: Life is not about you. You are about life.

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
HUMAN Venture Coaching

Chris Hsiung graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering. He is a certified professional coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is learning, teaching, presenting curriculum through Leadership Calgary. Currently he runs a practice (U Venture) guiding and coaching professionals who are choosing to engage in pioneering life challenges.