Climbing the right career ladder

Categories: Workplace

Would you rather take the tried and tested way, or carve a new path for yourself?

Picture Laura Cho, a 21-year-old university graduate from Myanmar, many years ago. Equipped with a Bachelor’s degree in Education; imbued with a passion for teaching; and blessed with a job at a local high school already reserved for her, Laura should have felt like she had a world of opportunities waiting to be grasped. 

However, she made the decision to drop the job opportunity. Everyone around her was shocked. Why would she do that? After all, teaching is a very noble profession in Myanmar.

Her parents were outraged and intensely worried she would not find a stable job. Her friends all thought she was making a very foolish mistake, and her relatives and acquaintances did not hesitate to tell her that she was wrong, whenever they saw her at home or on the streets.

Laura was at a loss and constantly doubted herself. To make matters worse, she had a huge argument with her father, and he challenged her to prove him wrong by finding a new career and surviving in whatever industry she chose.

Choosing the Right Career Ladder for the Right Reasons

Today, over a decade later, Laura speaks to us over a video call, wearing a vibrant turquoise dress and an even brighter smile.

She chirpily says, “I turned down the job opportunity at the high school because it wouldn’t provide enough money to support my family.”

“But my parents just wanted me to have a good job and be happy for myself, they didn’t want me to think of supporting them.”

Not wanting to regret the choice she made at that pivotal point in her life, Laura took matters into her own hands.

She was interested in the idea of becoming a coach or a professional in Human Resources (HR), since these jobs involved meeting plenty of people at all levels and helping them.

So, jobless and determined to prove to her father that she could make it, Laura poured all her efforts into job hunting until she landed a HR role in a multinational corporation (MNC). 

Laura speaks at a panel on human resources and talent management.

Finding Her True Self

In this role, Laura was able to let her true self shine. 

“I worked hard and showed them I wanted to be there. I was very vocal about my opinion, and I respected people no matter who they were.

“I was mindful to be authentic and wasn’t afraid to fight for the employees who were sometimes the underdog. And most importantly, I always gave my best without expecting anything in return,” she said.

After five years in her career (and probably to nobody’s surprise), Laura got promoted to a managerial position at 26-years-old, a title most people in this industry acquire only in their 40s.

We asked her what her friends and family thought of her making this breakthrough. 

“My parents were so proud and happy. Some of my friends were happy for me too. Some others admitted they felt a little envy, and wished they made the same bold choice I did — to step away from the mainstream career path.

“And then some others told me that I was lucky to have ended up here.” Laura’s face tenses a little as she speaks. 

“It is not all about luck. It is about taking risks; it’s about determination; and it’s about hard work every single day, for years, and then, a little bit of luck.”
Laura conducts a workshop.

An Opportunity to Help

Laura got to interview plenty of executives and managers as part of her job. She noted that a lot of them tended to fail the interviews because they didn’t know the best way to answer the questions.

“You see, in Myanmar, our education system doesn’t include career coaching or advising. You don’t learn how to write a resume or how to present yourself in an interview,” she explained.

She felt helpless seeing people stumble in interviews, knowing that it wasn’t her place to advise them on how to do better.

“In addition, I saw a lot of my peers choose the jobs their parents wanted them to do. And years later, they realise what they really want, and leave their jobs to become actors, entrepreneurs, and so on,” she shared.

All these issues simmered in her, and Laura felt bad at not being able to help. One day, her inner turmoil reached a boiling point, and she decided to share some career tips she learned, on Facebook.

“I didn’t really know how to write and I wasn’t good at talking to people,” she said modestly. “But I had a burning passion for this and it made me happy, so I decided to polish my skills.”

In addition to self-teaching, Laura enrolled in the International Coach Academy in Australia and became a certified coach after two years. 

Laura coaches her international clients over video call.

From there, people started approaching her for help. Her clients came from countries like America, Brunei, Japan, Thailand, and of course, Myanmar.

“I have had hundreds of clients and the number is growing,” she shared when I asked her for the figure. What surprised me even more was that she did not find any of her clients by herself. 

“They all approached me because of the insights I posted on social media, or because of word of mouth,” she said with a grin.

“I never considered this a business, just a side hustle I am passionate about. At first, I was doing this for free, but people didn’t take it seriously, so I started charging the right amount to match my value.”

Laura with students from the local school she volunteers at.

People have told Laura that she saved their careers, or even their lives; and more than any amount of money, that is what makes it all so fulfilling for her.

“One day, I want to do more for people by helping the unfortunate and those who don’t have access to the internet. Imagine seeing people getting empowered and getting a good paying job, when they didn’t think it was possible for them. I want to teach people, share knowledge, and support the society. 

“And yes, I might have rejected my job in teaching in the first place, but it wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy teaching. I have always loved teaching — I just wanted to do it on my own terms, and not confine myself to what society tells me I should do.”

This article was published in partnership with Diageo Southeast Asia to celebrate International Women’s Day.

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