Following on from the post I wrote about making tough decisions, today I want to tell you about how I made a huge decision – changing career – without ever really having to make any tough calls. I don’t pretend that this will happen for everyone looking to change their career – this isn’t a blueprint for how to do it with specific steps to take – but I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and if you let yourself be guided by what you really want, you’ve got a much better chance of achieving it.
So, after 15 years of a fairly(?!) successful career as an academic lawyer, I finally acknowledged to myself last year that it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. It took a course in creative meditation in a sunny room in a bed-sit in Hackney with some beautiful people and some serious soul-searching for me to finally admit what I had known for years, and it was a tough experience. Emotions I had been repressing suddenly poured forth and I was a bit of a wreck. I felt like I’d wasted all those years and I was too old to start again, but I realised I would feel even worse in another 15 years if I didn’t. And that is the kind of regret I don’t want to live with. But what else to do? Possibly freelance editing (which I’ve been doing professionally in law for a few years now) or writing, focusing more on the blog? I was even tempted by an outdoorsy kind of job like working in a garden centre, which seemed blissfully far away from law. But with debts and eventual ambitions of buying a house, what could I do? And despite wanting to quit law as a whole, I actually liked my current employment, worked with some great people, had a pretty comfortable life. So making a change wasn’t coming easily, even though I knew it had to be done.
Then – the chance came to buy a house up in Yorkshire and move there for a new life with my boyfriend, and I jumped at it. It meant a lengthy commute to London once a week, but I actually didn’t mind that, and it meant (ironically) all our expenses would be less, and we could live a better life on less money. I knew it was a golden opportunity to make the career change, because living was less expensive so I could afford to take a bit of a salary hit, and because the rural lifestyle just seemed more and more incompatible with my work life. But I still liked my job, so the next step of the transformation remained un-trodden. I was happy with the status quo, enjoying my new house, so why rock the boat?
Then work got crazy. I mean, from 2 to 3 books a year, I would be producing 12 this year (as a one-woman publishing house I might add). The first few months of 2015 were intense, stressful and unpleasant. About 18 months ago I suffered for six months from chronic daily headaches, waking up every day with a pounding head, trying to carry on living normally while feeling like my brain was about to burst, and constantly worried about how I could carry on. Medical investigation revealed nothing, and I was told to take up yoga to combat stress. Eventually things got easier, and they went away. About two months ago, they came back. I have had half a day since then without a headache, and it has been miserable. I know that many people live with much worse and cope amazingly well, but there was the underlying thought that if I could jettison the stress, the headaches would go away. I didn’t have to suffer. In the end, one too many tearful moments caused by something as silly as the dogs barking loudly at the doorbell or dropping something on the floor and not being able to face picking it up, I decided enough was enough. We had already done some sums and realised we could cope on one salary, and I did not need to continue putting myself through this, so I spoke to my very understanding boss, who agreed I could change working to part-time, and only do one half (the less stressful part) of my job. The relief from the moment the decision (again, a relatively easy one to make, I couldn’t see what else I could do) was made was huge. That was six weeks ago, and though I had to continue full time for a month due to my notice period, which was extremely busy trying to finish as many tasks as possible so as not to leave colleagues in the lurch, two weeks ago I moved to part-time.
Now of course, the transition hasn’t been smooth, with some projects I just couldn’t leave still ongoing, but from this next week forward, three days of the week I will be working, and two days will be mine to do with as I want. I have already got quite a lot of freelance editing lined up, which is great, and I also want to focus on writing and on the blog, so hopefully you can expect better and more regular content from me. And who knows? Maybe one day I can blog full time, if that turns out to be what I’d really like to do. But it may not. Rest assured though, whatever I end up doing, it will be something that makes me happy. Because life is too short to spend unhappy in your working life.
So I am sorry if you read this hoping for sage advice on how to tell your boss to stick it and then find work in an eco lodge in Guatemala. I can’t give you that. But what I can give you is assurance that you can make it work out, whatever you want to do. Start planning now. The individual steps towards the bigger change are easy to take one at a time, and mean that eventually something that seemed totally impossible a few months ago has miraculously become a reality. The steps might not be quick, but if you focus your energy on doing what makes you happy, you’ll find suddenly the things you really want start to happen for you. Good luck with it.
So, whilst my post didn’t include an awful lot of practical advice, this brilliant article from Stylist Magazine does. I wholeheartedly agree with everything – all the thoughts I’ve had in this career-change process are covered here, with expert advice too. I am delighted that they chose to feature my career change from lawyer to freelance editor/blogger as a case study – do have a read for some proper help and inspiration!