With one in 20 of us determined to get a new job, Eimear O’Hagan meets four women who swapped steady, well-paid careers for exciting but untried new paths. Prepare to be inspired! Illustrations: Jonathan Allardyce
We all know someone pushed into a career change by redundancy, relocation or family circumstances. However, an increasing number of women are taking a leap motivated not by necessity, but by a desire to experience a new– and different – working life. A recent survey found that one in 20 of us is hoping to switch jobs within the next three months, while three-quarters of jobseekers are considering changing industries altogether. ‘Post-pandemic, we’re going to see more and more women asking themselves, “What parts of my old life do I want to take into this new world?”’ says business psychologist Michelle Minnikin. As a consequence, she explains, we’ll see more women embracing new jobs– not because they have to, but because they want to.
While past generations subscribed to the notion of a ‘job for life’, Michelle, who runs consulting agency Work Pirates, says we’re shaking that off– prioritising following our passions and feeling fulfilled over status, stability and salary. And, she says, making the move later in life can be advantageous. ‘With age comes experience and transferable skills that can be packed up and taken from one career to another, even if on paper they’re very different,’ says Michelle. ‘It’s amazing when you start to list all your skills how many can be transferred. This clarity – women deciding “It’s my turn now” when it comes to what they do for a living – is such a positive and exciting trend, and we’re only going to see more of it.’
Here, four women reveal how changing career was the best decision they’ve ever made…
“I USED MY SKILLS TO START MY OWN BUSINESS”
Lottie Trump, 35, is a teacher turned entrepreneur. She lives in Dorset with her husband Ben, 32, and is expecting their first child.
When I announced to family and friends in July 2019 I was leaving my career as a primary school teacher, with no job to go to, the reactions were mixed. Loved ones were confused, especially when teaching had always been my dream.
But after 11 years in the classroom, I felt unfulfilled and my life was consumed by my job. For a decade, I’d been teaching at a preparatory boarding school, and although I loved seeing the children flourish, being a ‘house parent’ as well as a teacher meant I only left work once or twice a week, and every other weekend. I was in my early 30s and couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was something else out there I could be doing with my skills.
By the summer of 2019 it felt like a ‘now or never’ moment: if I didn’t make the leap out of teaching, I never would. The only problem was I didn’t really know what I wanted to leap into. With Ben’s support, I quit my job anyway and started work as a private tutor to continue bringing in an income while I worked out my next step.
When the pandemic struck, and families all over the country were home-schooling their children, I was busier than ever tutoring, and by then had employed a team of teachers to cope with demand. Parents were asking for extra work they could do with their children between our sessions, and I realised there was a gap in the market for maths provision for younger children. Something that would provide daily reinforcement of the basics, in small chunks that children could handle, and all in a screen-free format.
Ben– who was working as a teacher at the time – and I began to design a product, along with the tutors who were working for me, and my company Cubie (cubie-education.com) was born. It’s an early years and Key Stage 1 maths programme, in the form of a monthly subscription box. Child-friendly, it has workbooks, a guide for parents, a reward poster and stickers and practical resources like a pencil, ruler and counters. It is the maths equivalent of reading for 15 minutes every day.
After months of market research and planning, in September this year I sent out the first subscription boxes. It’s early days but the feedback from families has been fantastic, and Ben has also left teaching to work with me running the business. We invested our savings to get the company off the ground so it really has been a joint leap of faith in many ways.
To know I’ve taken my passion for educating and my teaching skills, and used them to create something new that helps children and parents, feels wonderful.
Running my own business is so different to being a cog in the bigger machine that is a school – and I love it.
“I SOLD MY HOME AND MOVED TO PARIS”
Marie Bailey, 43, is a lecturer turned florist and now lives in Edinburgh.
Arranging a bouquet of flowers, knowing they’re going to make someone smile, is a wonderful feeling. My career as a florist couldn’t be more different to my old one, where I lectured in employment relations.
I’ve always been a creative person. In my spare time I loved interior design and took courses in horticulture, but it was only ever a personal passion. Like many people, I’d gone down the ‘get a proper job’ path and by 2018 I’d worked in academia for 15 years. I loved teaching but it wasn’t the job it had once been– and I’d become disillusioned.
Turning 40, and being single, I felt a burning desire to try something else. In 2018, I quit my job, sold my home in London and moved to Paris. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I wanted new surroundings in which to figure it out and planned to live off the sale of my home in the meantime.
It was daunting. Not just walking away from a good job and salary, but also my identity. If I wasn’t an academic any more, who was I? Reactions to my decision ranged from envy that I was brave enough to find something I really wanted to do, to concern I was leaving a ‘job for life’.
In Paris, I came across the Paris Flower School, run by top florist Catherine Muller. Instinctively I knew I’d found my new career. I spent three months training full-time to become a florist, paying around £20,000 for the course, and I adored every minute, walking home past the Louvre each evening clutching an arrangement I’d learned to create.
After graduating, I began to work freelance as a florist in Paris with expat and corporate clients.
Then the pandemic struck. I made the decision to return to the UK to be closer to my parents, but having glimpsed a career as a professional florist, I didn’t want that dream to end.
I spent the 2020 lockdown at my kitchen table developing my business Ollie & Ivy Flowers (ollieandivyflowers.com)– creating a website and branding, and leasing a studio space to work from so I could start taking online orders.
It was scary. I wondered whether I was crazy launching a new business and investing my own money in it when the world was closed down. But I kept pressing on, determined not to return to academia.
In August last year I leased my first premises in Edinburgh. I now employ four staff and our clients range from locals to five-star hotels. To earn a living from being creative is a dream come true.
“THE FAMILY I’VE LOST WOULD APPROVE OF MY NEW PATH”
Sharon McLean, 51, is an IT consultant turned funeral director and lives in Romford, Essex, with her husband Paul, 50, and their sons Max, nine, and Harvey, seven.
In 2014, I was 45, an IT consultant in the banking sector and it had never crossed my mind to do something completely different, until I lost four family members in close succession. My parents died within a year of each other, followed by my sister-in-law and young niece.
Planning four funerals in 18 months opened my eyes to the fact that, at their most vulnerable, people weren’t always receiving the high standard of care they needed from the industry. As a family we experienced my mum being placed in the wrong coffin, the funeral director not having enough pallbearers to carry my dad’s coffin, and other disorganised glitches, which added to our stress at a time when we just wanted to grieve.
By late 2015, a seed had been planted in my mind. If I’d had these experiences and been left feeling dissatisfied, others had too. And I was convinced that I could do a better job.
I didn’t know the first thing about becoming a funeral director but knew I could learn the practical side of the role – I already had the emotional experience and compassion. I did worry that my mid-40s was too old to make such a change; after all, I had a job, I wasn’t being made redundant, I was able to provide a good lifestyle for my family. But I felt so passionately about it, I had to try.
I kept working in my IT role because we needed my salary while, in the evenings, I created a business plan, set up a company and rented an office in London, forging connections with businesses who supply coffins and funeral cars. There’s no formal training needed to become a funeral director, but I had so many transferable skills, especially my admin and planning experience. At the end of 2015, I quit my job and launched Integrity Funeral Care (integrityfuneralcare.co.uk) and the following year my husband Paul, who worked as a manager for Network Rail, joined me.
Working in this industry is not for everyone. You have to be compassionate but emotionally robust, able to take a step back from the sadness of a family and lift the weight of planning and organising from their shoulders.
Now my job satisfaction comes from knowing I’ve played a part in celebrating someone’s life, and making their sendoff as stress-free as possible for their family.
I know the family I’ve lost would approve of me taking this new path, motivated by compassion for others.
“AGE GAVE ME THE MATURITY TO TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH”
Sam Carbon, 51, worked as an administrator while studying to be a psychotherapist. She lives in Northwest London with her partner Kevin, 60.
I often wonder what my mum would think of me today, a qualified psychotherapist with a degree to my name and my own practice.
When she died in 1999, I worked in admin in London’s financial centre. I think she’d be amazed by the changes I’ve made to my career since then, and very proud. After my O-Levels, I went to work for a large bank in an admin role. For over two decades I worked in the City. My job was to support 17 traders, managing their diaries and organising their travel.
It was a busy job in a stressful environment and colleagues would often come to me to talk through their worries, both professional and personal. I’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed listening and helping, and in my spare time I volunteered for Victim Support and an HIV charity.
When Mum died I was 30 and she was 52. It was completely unexpected and I was devastated. I had therapy to help me deal with the shock of losing her and found it hugely beneficial. As I got older, I realised I wanted to immerse myself in the discipline that had helped me so much.
Life got in the way, though, and also having never been to university, the thought of going for the first time in my 40s was scary. I also had financial responsibilities– I couldn’t afford to leave my job to become a student.
In 2010 I decided to bite the bullet and enrol to study for a master of science qualification in transactional analysis psychotherapy, while working full-time. One weekend a month I attended classes, along with studying at home and doing weekly practical placements at a rehab centre, working with recovering drug and alcohol abusers.
In May 2015, I proudly walked across the stage at my graduation ceremony at Middlesex University to accept my degree. I still get emotional remembering that moment.
I went on to quit my job to set up my own practice (samanthacarbontherapy.co.uk). Today around 60 per cent of my clients come from the corporate world. They know I have an understanding of their environment, the pressures, the politics– I was once one of them. I brought the communication and listening skills I acquired in my old career with me, and my background in admin has been invaluable in running my own business.
Age gave me the maturity and courage to take my leap of faith. I realised I could do what I wanted.
Now I help clients make career changes, guiding them in breaking the belief that a job is for life. I teach them there’s always scope for change – just look at me.
HOW TO SWITCH CAREER
By Eleanor Tweddell, career coach and host of the Another Door podcast
- List all the skills and achievements you’ve acquired in your current role – seeing them written down will boost your confidence and help you take on a new challenge.
- Ask yourself why you want to change career. Thoroughly research whether it will deliver what you’re hoping for. Your ‘why’ will be what motivates you to make the change and stick with it even during challenging times.
- Plan ahead. You know the job you want, but how do you get there? Do you need a qualification? Training? Will you need a financial safety net before you quit your current job? Plot your route from one career to the other and accept it won’t be linear.
- Write your way into that job. Your CV is your story, so big up your skills and experience acquired in your former role. Celebrate the fact you have a longer and deeper story, and so much to offer.