Started at the Dojo Now I’m Here… How I Mastered the Art of the Career Pivot

Hibby Zubairi / October 28, 2019

“Pay attention to the itch. That feeling that there’s something else bigger out there for you, that you should be doing something else better for you. That’s a feeling that you have to pay attention to, you can’t ignore it.”

-Ann Shoket

The purpose of this piece is not to run down my resume. I have LinkedIn for that. I’m writing this to share my example of what it means to pivot in your career. In life, there will be moments when you feel challenged by this overwhelming sense of unfulfillment you can either try to ignore, or you can muster up the strength and courage to respond to.

I’ve tried to pay attention to “the itch” my whole life, and I realize I’m better for it.

About 25 years ago, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer would have been simple – either a pizza-loving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or the real-life Daniel LaRusso (The Karate Kid). I didn’t want to live in the NYC sewers or learn to wax on and wax off, but I did want to have a legit reason to wear a headband, perfect the famous crane pose, and learn how to sweep the leg. Thanks to my parents, I was able to live out my childhood dream more or less.

From my first roundhouse kick, I knew that Tae Kwon Do and I went together like “peas and carrots” (yep, like Forrest Gump and Jenny) or like lamb and tuna fish (Big Daddy reference). The bond I developed with martial arts as a student was so strong that it was easy to turn the hobby into a career. As an instructor, I spent long days and nights teaching classes at a studio in Maryland. Eventually, my hard work and experience were recognized, and I became a master.

While the kid in me was living on a high, the adult in me felt like he was having a very early midlife crisis. In fact, let’s say it was a quarter-life crisis because that’s a thing, and I’m not that old (but my grays will tell you otherwise). Then in what now seems to have been fate, the economy started to take a downturn, and I was forced to reexamine my life and where it was headed. I had to make my first career pivot.

Stepping outside my martial arts comfort zone, I took a job as an administrative assistant for an IT firm in the Baltimore area. I didn’t speak computer, I wasn’t used to daily button-ups and slacks, let alone wearing actual shoes to work, and I hadn’t been in the routine of working a traditional 9 to 5. But I was used to learning what I didn’t know, practicing what I did know, and getting things done. After all, learning and practicing are the foundation of becoming a Master in Tae Kwon Do, and I strive to succeed in anything I put my foot in. Like my dad always told me, “whatever you do, be the best at it.”

I learned what I could about the IT industry and my administrative duties, put those things into practice, and GOT THINGS DONE. Soon my manager saw I had more to offer the organization and began trusting me in more management roles. Client management, team management, project management, operational management, let’s say I learned a lot while working for the company.

Here comes the humbling. Working for the IT firm, I still found myself feeling as if I was missing out on something in life. Like there was this great purpose that I was supposed to fulfill, and yet I was somehow ignoring it. I don’t know how many times I’ll get the chance to actually say this, but I felt like I was Dwayne Johnson.

Before America knew him as the Scorpion King and Luke Hobbs, Dwayne Johnson was The Rock. The WWE wrestling champ who would ask if you could “smell what the Rock is cooking” with a single raised eyebrow. During a point in his wrestling career, he knew there was more out there for him. There were other things in life to challenge him, to push him, to fulfill him in ways like never before. So he made the jump into acting full-time. Although I didn’t see Hollywood lights in my future, I did see something more.

Back then, I did what many in my position would have done. I sought counsel from a Master Splinter or Mr. Miyagi in my life, one of my mentors Mick. While I was grateful, and still am, for his advice in that moment, it wasn’t until I talked with Ashtan, a co-founder and partner of Model B, that the pieces of the next phase of my life began to come together. Speaking with him as a friend, Ashtan heard my predicament, and told me to come meet with him and his co-founding partner Abtin. After one face-to-face meeting with these two, I was sold on Model B, and my next career pivot began.

I started at Model B in a Business Development/Growth role, helping to bring on clients for the organization. Let me not forget to mention I was nervous as all hell when I started because I was in this new role in a new industry. This was an opportunity lightyears away from what I knew in my other positions.

In those beginning months with Model B, I was enrolled in a crash course for dummies in digital marketing, taught by Professor Ashtan Moore. We would sit on the rooftop, and he would flood my brain with info on the marketing industry. Plus, Abtin was literally a tutor times ten. He taught me sales, throwing a ton of reading material my way, and even putting me through sample pitch meetings.

Everything else that I had to know, but Ashtan and Abtin didn’t teach, I researched. Eventually, I caught onto the language of digital marketing, and as the company grew and evolved, that led me to become the Director of Client Services. In this role, I combine knowledge from my previous jobs to enhance the overall experience for Model B’s clients via relationship management (and enhancements), project planning, and strategic guidance. There’s not much room to get settled into a stale routine in this position, as I’m constantly dealing with exciting and interesting new clients. (By the way, have you ever had avocado gelato or the best Old Fashioned in the DC area? I have, in part because of this job).

So remember, don’t be afraid of a career pivot in life. While there is an art to pivoting, everyone is capable of doing it.

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