My gap year had a very unconventional start. Two months after beginning my studies at a leading Canadian business school, I made the decision to withdraw and transition into engineering.

This decision left me with an unprecedented 10 months of opportunity to work on projects that excited me. I was determined to make the most of it.

I began sharing my news with my network, and I woke up one morning to the following email from my manager at an internship I held the previous summer:

“Congrats on your big decision to pursue a new career direction. […] We have a project that could be a good fit for you if you’re interested. […] The project would start right away. […] Let me know if you’re interested.”

I enthusiastically started the following Monday.

Key is a Toronto-based housing startup with an innovative co-equity model that helps turn renters into owners and strives to make the dream of homeownership a reality.

Check out this blog to explore more details about the model: Real Estate of the 21st Century.

Not only does the mission of Key resonate with me as a young person, but the team and culture behind the company was incredible. It was a no brainer for me to join.

Making an impact on the sales team

After selling out of our first suite offering in record time, the focus of sales for the majority of my time at Key was to contact, qualify, and pre-approve candidates on our waitlist in preparation of our upcoming round of inventory.

My responsibilities were two-fold:

  1. I was responsible for my own group of waitlist leads to nurture, connect with, and ultimately convert to customers.
  2. Through these efforts, I also stepped up and took lead to define our overall sales process with the goal of creating the tools and systems to best equip the sales team for success.

An aside: during my sales calls, I gained an incredible amount of perspective on the challenges people face regarding homeownership. I had never truly understood the scope of the affordability crisis, and realized how unique every situation is.

It has been so rewarding to talk with real people and share with them how they can truly make real estate work for them with Key, when they would otherwise be locked out.

Going big on TikTok

My role also expanded into the marketing realm, where among smaller tasks like creating an array of marketing materials, I started and ran the company TikTok account.

TikTok was a platform not strongly explored by Key, but in the four months since its creation, has grown to over 500 followers and has attracted over 250,000 views! Ultimately, TikTok has now helped generate dozens of high quality leads of an audience that might otherwise never heard of Key.

Earning the team’s trust and gaining autonomy

What really stood out to me over the past several months has been that despite my age and education level, I was able to prove my abilities and earn the trust of my team (of highly experienced and respected individuals).

My mantra was to actively seek problems, and have the initiative to create solutions. I’m confident that this solution-focused mindset amplified the trust my team had in me.

Ultimately, I realized that education does not always equal ability, and that having a figure-it-out mindset paired with extreme initiative can go a long way. This mindset will be a core value in my continued career advancement.

I appreciate Key’s willingness to give me a shot and prove that I truly was capable of anything that they could throw my way.

1. Some of the best learning comes through people and experience

School teaches us through lectures and textbooks, and it’s important to recognize that the full scope of education extends beyond a classroom.

The textbooks and lectures provide the tools, the people provide the insight and perspective, and experience gives context on how to use the tools most effectively.

Learning from my colleagues was critical when practice did not always match theory. When trying to understand why things work the way they do, such as why leads might respond to different cues in certain ways, it was the lessons shared by others that offer the best insight.

Experience is also an important aspect to learning, one that is also not always stressed in school. When we gain knowledge, we develop tools that help solve problems; however, these tools might not always make sense without the problem to match them.

By having the experience of working on open-ended problems at Key, not only did I develop deeper critical thinking skills, but it also paired my knowledge with additional context that can now be applied more effectively in the future.

It’s okay to take the unconventional path and calculated risks

For most of my life I had taken a pretty conventional approach: do well in high school, join some clubs and extra-curriculars, go to university, get my degree and join the workforce. When I ultimately decided to withdraw from business school, it terrified me, because I was taking an unconventional path.

A mentor of mine often says the following quote:

“An unconventional path leads to unconventional success.”

By taking my gap year, I realized the validity of this statement. When making a calculated move to go against the grain, there is an extraordinary opportunity to gain experience you wouldn’t have otherwise found.

Even Key as an organization also took this approach; they are working on a third option for housing, something that is extremely unconventional that it equally impactful.

This year demonstrated that taking risks and making changes should be embraced, rather than feared. By making these decisions, we set ourselves up for the best chance of personal growth and success.

3. Determine your “three words” that define your interests

Here’s a question you might be wondering: why did I withdraw from business just to find a job in business? It’s because I was able to define what type of work I was most interested in, and Key was able to satisfy that desire for me.

My three words for the type of work I want to be doing include innovation, strategy, and people. These words are my North Star, and I felt that Key was the right environment that fit my values.

Having this North Star has been influential in guiding me through the early stages of my career, and will continue to support my efforts moving forward.

I encourage you to think about what your three words are, and assess how you can amplify their influence in your work.

While I may not have realized it in the moment, withdrawing from business school was one of the single most important and best decisions I’ve made in my life. Ultimately, working at Key provided me with an incredible opportunity to learn in a real world setting, and expose me to new growth that I wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else.

Onto the next chapter!