Six months ago, I left full-time employment as a lawyer to embark on a career change that I should have started years ago. I’m now in that transitional period of working part-time as a lawyer and every-other-waking-minute as a writer and blogger.
Since starting this career change, I’m fascinated by the whole process. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are contemplating a career change, or who have already taken their careers in totally new directions. What is clear from all these conversations – the what-ifs and the I-wish-I’d-done-it-years-ago’s – is that the decision to change one’s career isn’t one that’s made over night. It’s a process that can take months or even years.
Three very fascinating people I have spoken to about their own career changes are: Jennie Hogg, a former insurance lawyer, now founder of Lois Avery Italian made cashmere scarves. Katharine Paterson, a spa therapist who branched out and started her own beauty business, KMP Skin. And Bola Marquis, an IT programme manager who founded Okun an African-inspired beachwear fashion label.
Between the four of us, it seems there are definite stages that were common to each of our decisions to change career. And those stages lead us all to that point of making a (well-researched and informed) leap of faith…
1. the intuition
I call the first stage “The Intuition”. It’s basically that little voice or the feeling inside you that tells you that you need to be doing something else (or at least, something more). It’s not really a stage. It’s something that’s been there inside you for years.
For me, it was an unquenchable appetite for travel and a bordering-on-unhealthy obsession with fashion. On the flip side was my lack of enthusiasm for my own career in law. Although I steered my legal career into industries that excited me (TV and digital media), my heart was not in it. My heart was styling outfits and jetting off to new countries any chance it could get.
For Jennie Hogg, she always knew she loved fashion and travel and had a particular affinity for the beauty of Italy. But as she started university and her career in law, there didn’t seem to be any clear alternative to her. As she advanced in law and her law firm in London, her enjoyment in her legal career waned. At the same time, she re-discovered her passion for fashion as she broadened her friendships and network into the fashion industry. She found that she looked forward to going to fashion week and other industry events far more than she enjoyed going in to the office of her law firm.
“It’s a real deep-down feeling – knowing whether it’s right for you” says Bola Marquis, who always had a passion for fashion from an early age. He always had creative side projects to his IT programme management career. But he continued to pursue his corporate role until the call of fashion became too great.
So many of us ignore this little voice for so many reasons. It might be that we prefer the perceived safety of a permanent salaried career. We might have been discouraged by family or friends from developing the creative non-traditional dimensions of our personalities or talents. But that intuition doesn’t ever go away. It only gets louder, which for many of us lead us to the next stage…
2. the idea
Probably the hardest part of the decision making process for me was knowing exactly what it was I wanted to do. I didn’t have “the idea”. I knew I loved fashion, travel and writing, but thought that a career as a fashion or travel writer was beyond my reach. “It’s a hard career to get into.” “The competition would be too fierce.” I came up with so many reasons not to give it a go.
It wasn’t until I got hooked on Instagram about four years ago that I realised I didn’t need someone to hire me to write about travel or fashion. I could just start my own little media platform where I could write to my heart’s content about the things I love and the things I’ve learned over the years. And from what I could see there were not that many blogger/writers out there who wrote about fashion without taking themselves too seriously, with a bit of humour, but also with a focus on career.
That’s when I got the idea for Second Sister. It would be a place where I could share my experience and knowledge, like that second sister you wish you had who would tell it how it is on all things style, career and travel.
Katharine Paterson’s idea for her beauty business came to her when the exclusive Mayfair spa where she worked was taken over by new owners. With the possibility of change in the products and treatments at the spa, Katharine started to create a business plan for her own business. It would be based on the beauty brands she worked with and contacts she had in the industry up to that point.
While for Bola Marquis, the idea for his swimwear brand evolved over time. He had an idea of bringing Africa into a more contemporary setting and in a cooler way than it was portrayed in the media. He had started to develop ideas for an accessories brand. But after a trip to Lagos, the idea of swimwear came to him out of nowhere. No one else was doing anything like it, and it fit perfectly with his vision of channelling a pan-African spirit in his fashion label.
If you are stuck for an idea, think about what you loved as a child or teenager. Talk to people who knew you then. Look at what people are doing – on the Internet, social media, real life, podcasts. Don’t listen to people who tell you it’s not possible. Brainstorm. Be open to inspiration.
Once I got my idea, I started work on developing it. And while this involved a lot of thinking about what my media platform would be about, how it might make money, what I’d wear to the many glamorous industry events etc, it also involved taking those first few steps. I had to create something.
First I created my website, started my instagram account and started writing and posting articles in my spare time. From there the first followers and readers came. And while it was daunting at first, and I look back and cringe at some of my early efforts, it was a necessary part of the process.
Once Jennie Hogg had the idea for her cashmere scarf line, she immediately set out preparing to launch it. She read, researched, did business courses and networked with the aim of launching a year later, all the while working as a lawyer during the week. “You learn something from everyone. It’s important to keep your eyes open. If you meet someone along the way, they might introduce you to an important contact, or inspire an idea.”
Bola Marquis had a similar experience. “Once I had my idea for a swimwear label, I told a friend about it. It turned out his girlfriend worked in the swimwear industry and was able to introduce me to people on the business side of the fashion industry.” Bola reduced his working hours as an IT programme manager to four days per week. All of his spare time was dedicated to preparing to launch his label.
What is clear is that while it is imperative to have an idea, you absolutely have to start taking steps, however big or small, in the direction of making that dream a reality. And this doesn’t have to involve quitting your job and jumping straight into a new career. For all of us, we started our preparation and started creating something while still doing our “day jobs”.
Parallel to developing your idea, you need to mentally commit to it. The best idea in the world won’t get you anywhere if you are not mentally committed to making it a reality.
There are two sides to the career-change equation. One the one hand, there’s the dissatisfaction with your current career. On the other, there’s this passion for something else. A lot of people leap into a new career not because they have a great idea or a passion for what they’re leaping to, but because they are simply trying to escape a miserable situation.
And while they might feel like they are committed to this career change, it is not likely to be a successful one until they are clear about and whole-heartedely committed to what they are jumping into. If you’re not sure, think about it some more. Get in touch with your intuition, and go back to “The Idea” stage.
5. leap of faith
For everyone making a career change, there comes a point, after all the research, networking and preparation, where you stand at the edge of that cliff, take a deep breath, close your eyes tight, and leap. Sounds terrifying doesn’t it?
Strangely enough, when I came to leave the company I had worked for the past six-plus years, I wasn’t scared at all. I’d researched the interim and freelance legal market and knew I would still be able to keep earning while I developed my writing and blogging business. But more importantly, I knew in my heart of hearts I was doing the right thing. And once I left, things just started falling into place. The ideal part-time freelance legal role was offered to me practically straight away, giving me the perfect way to ease into my life as a writer and blogger. And opportunities just came to me for collaborations and writing gigs.
Jennie Hogg had done all her research and was ready to pull the trigger on her legal career just over twelve months after she conceived of her fashion label concept. “When it came to leaving the law firm I’d worked at for so many years, I wasn’t frightened. It was more a sense of sadness at saying goodbye to so many people I’d worked with for so long. The fear came later, when I was in the midst of running my fashion business. But if you are doing it out of love, it is all worth it and you can only succeed.”
Bola Marquis took his leap when there were changes in the company where he did his IT programme management role. It was the motivation he needed to leave the company and devote his time to growing his fashion label.
Similarly, when the new owners of the spa where Katharine Paterson worked changed the products and treatments, it was the kick that she needed to leave and launch her beauty business with another colleague. “As soon as we set it up I knew that I loved it. I knew the products, I knew the brands and I knew the clients. It all happened relatively fast, so there was no time to feel scared. I never regret doing it.”
Taking that leap of faith is not as daunting as it seems if you are passionate about your idea, you put in the time to research and prepare for it and you build in a few safety nets where you can. You might freelance in your previous job part time to keep the cash coming in. Save up a fund to sustain you while you get your idea up and running. Or make lifestyle changes to be financially able to exist while your earnings take a hit in the early days. There is always a solution.
Finally, there is a sixth stage to the decision making process that everyone I spoke to would agree with: don’t look back! None of us have.