What no-one tells you about career-changing
“I was unhappy in my city job, when I realised there was a gap in the market for affordable, but well-designed underwear. So I began saving, created a business plan, initially asked my family to invest their money and quit to set up what is now an award-winning, profitable business.”
So went yet another entrepreneurial tale at yet another conference I’d paid the equivalent of a night at the Ritz for, at exactly the point in time when I couldn’t afford a tent peg.
While I’m grateful that women now have more aesthetically pleasing options than the pants made famous by a certain Ms Jones, this advice was about as practical as a thong during an Everest trek. If I was going to leave law and never return, I had to find another way to break into an industry I knew nothing about (media and publishing).
What followed was a slew of courses, events and masterclasses offering to make me a better pitcher / writer / freelancer / networker / entrepreneur, and at the same time, abjectly poorer. Most were fascinating, but no-one really touched on what it’s like to start out when a) you have no contacts or experience, b) you don’t have an idea for a cutting-edge AI startup and c) internships aren’t viable financially or otherwise. The most the audience got was, ‘It’s really hard at the beginning, you just have to keep trying’. I could’ve called my Mum to hear that and saved myself the overdraft fees.
I don’t begrudge those who have trodden their own path and carved out a successful career in the industry they want and will always appreciate the time taken to share their experience with others. There are however, people at the beginning or middle of the process that haven’t got there and want to explore their options, but with little help or information available. And it is this I want to address.
I’m now almost three years into my career change and it has been at times fun and interesting, but also incredibly tough. In many ways, I am ‘lucky’; I freelance so I can (to a degree) set my own hours, work from anywhere and, as of this year, finally get paid enough to stop living hand-to-ten-feet-away-from-my-mouth, which many see as the end-goal / dream reached. For a multitude of reasons, this isn’t the case. When asked, I still answer the question ‘What do you do?’ with ‘I’m a career-changer’. Not because I’m not grateful to be in this position, but because my ‘career’ remains in flux; I’m still navigating my chosen industry, learning what I like to do (mostly by doing something I don’t), where I want to go and what I want to achieve.
Careers paths are often seen as linear and progression as binary — you either climb the ladder or you stagnate; as such, people become siloed from the world outside their office doors, not knowing what the alternative is and carry on dejected.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
There is a multitude of jobs, careers and industries out there that may suit you better than the one you’re in, but taking the first step can feel impossible when you fear the unknown. For every person who is spurred on by a ‘hashtag motivation’ quote or LinkedIn post by a start-up founder who’s first five businesses failed before they hit the Bitcoin jackpot and now tells others: ‘You can do anything you put your mind to’, there will be many more who stay put because they are overwhelmed, scared or just can’t right now. This surface-level honesty is also reductionist in terms of privilege, bias and the shame associated with failure — especially in a professional context.
If you have no ‘relevant’ qualifications or experience, responsibilities and commitments that prevent time out to retrain/monetise a hobby, or aren’t sure what your passion is beyond Nando’s and a Netflix binge, career-changing can be frightening. I want to open up the conversation and explore the deeper complexities of the process to demystify it and begin to remove some of the fear in my fortnightly newsletter Pivot! which launches on 1 August 2019.
While my experience is personal and only one point of view, I have tested my mettle and learned valuable lessons, some easily, some the hard way. I therefore want to share my stories, advice and tips so you know what changing career (or even just job role) can look like — warts and all. This way you’re armed with the knowledge — and the right pair of pants — to make the best decision for you.