3 key traits to navigate a non-linear career

Kaoru Nishinakagawa has 15+ years of international professional experience focused on developing new business and product as well as managing strategic partnerships. As an Innovation Consultant/Entrepreneur, she is passionate about helping large organisations, SMEs and startups grow businesses through understanding clients' needs and applying data analytics to co-create innovative solutions.

Welcome to the Ribit International Women's Day series of inspiring stories designed to encourage students to ‘Shine & Rise’. In the lead up to March 8 and supporting this year’s theme ‘Balance for Better’ we invited leaders and influencers we admire to share their experiences entering the workforce, building their careers, and the lessons they learnt along the way.

Growing up in a conservative and highly structured culture and education system in Japan, I had come to interpret 'successful life' as 'moving up the corporate ladder without fail'. It was a no brainer to get a stable corporate job when I graduated from university. My curiosity took me overseas to explore new exciting things and helped me land interesting roles dealing with foreign companies; however, I was always conscious of staying on the right career track.

After working in large organisations in semiconductor and digital media, I was appointed to move to the Sydney office of Getty Images, the worlds largest digital media enterprise, where I ended up transforming my life.

A girl who thought to have a stable job is the best life choice is pursuing a non-linear career in a foreign country.

The transformation took a lot of courage, failure, and realisation, and also brought a joy of discovering new capability and passion in me. I am not here to say that a non-linear career is cool; I’m saying it is okay if you don't know where you want to go now and change course later, as long as you are ready to fight for it. I have identified three key traits that encouraged me to continue to move forward which may be helpful to keep in mind when you are building or changing your career.

1. Adaptability to the Changes

Whether changing roles, industries, or countries, you will face different dynamics of people, culture and process every time you take on a new position. It is daunting but at the same time exciting as it is a chance for you to learn something new and meet new people. I have worked for eight companies, five industries, and in three countries, which taught me how to be adaptable to grow in various working environments. You will find your best way to define how you position yourself in a new setting as you progress your career, but one thing that will help accelerate the process is listening to what new colleagues are saying without preconceptions. Some things they say may not make sense or confuse you because of differences in cultural background, language, or career level, but be mindful not to dismiss other perspectives too quickly, and don't be afraid to ask questions when you are not sure. You will be invited to contribute your ideas and opinions at some point, and it is powerful if you can demonstrate an understanding of the situation and incorporate learnings from careful listening and observing.

2. Synthesising new skills with existing experience

As the world is changing rapidly, continuous learning and applying knowledge are fundamental to keep up and go beyond in a disruptive environment. It is fascinating to think about the speed and amount of changes happening and how quickly we have to adopt new situations. Every time I changed my career, I have spent a lot of time gaining new skills and mastering how to use new tools but found combining the new learnings with the existing experiences is the most critical to bring myself up to speed and perform better. It is easier said than done in the early stage of the career, but what you can do now is to map out your skillset to understand the gaps between 'what you already have', 'what you are doing now' and 'what you will need to gain' to achieve your goal. It helped me utilise my diverse experiences such as market research, business development, and stakeholder management to become an entrepreneur and innovation consultant.  

3. Growth Mindset - don't limit your interest and capability

By the time I started the MBA program at AGSM, I had 13 years of work experience and thought I knew what I was made for. As mentioned earlier, my passion and goals were shaped by skewed views which had blocked me from thinking about changing my career drastically. I decided to immerse myself in the experience with an open mind, which led to discovering a new me, an innovation fanatic. I was always interested in entrepreneurship but thought that it was for people born for it. During the MBA program, I learned that 'Innovation is creative problem solving’,  plus great ideas are the tip of the iceberg, what makes a difference is an ability to penetrate the market with products and services. Once I learned about the innovation principle, methodology and frameworks, I realised that I could be an entrepreneur as long as I had the right mindset and tools. All I needed was a mindset shift combined with the tools. After I completed the MBA program at AGSM (UNSW), I started working as an Innovation Consultant and co-founded a cross-cultural innovation consulting firm, Innovation Dojo, to help startups, SMEs, and corporates innovate and grow their businesses globally. Don't let other peoples' opinions cloud your judgment and keep challenging yourself; the door will open for those who take a brave step.

Click here to read other inspiring stories in our series celebrating International Women’s Day 2019.

Ribit.net is a free to use online marketplace that connects student talent to jobs with growth startups and innovative organisations. With a focus on STEM and entrepreneurship, Ribit is committed to helping students present their ‘best selves’ and gain a successful and rewarding experience to further their careers, while also assisting Australian businesses seeking to transform or innovate find the talent they need to grow.

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