Changing Career - From Pointless to Passionate

Are you happy in your work? Ever felt like you've ended up in the wrong career and wondered how on earth you get out of the current work situ into something you actually like? This article tells the story of changing career in your late 30's to following a passion and making that a career. With responsibilities and considerations about being judged, oh and of course the fear, it wasn't a move that was made lightly. But the change in balance, happiness and enthusiasm for work has made it all worthwhile. Thank you for sharing your story Prin!

When you were younger did you have an idea of what you wanted to do?

In short, no. When I was younger I didn’t even know that graphic design was a thing but as a kid/teenager I was unknowingly preparing my skills as a designer. I always loved sport and drawing and would try to combine the two wherever I could. That resulted in me designing imaginary sports teams, designing their kits, their badges and coming up with clear identities for these imaginary clubs. By the time I was 15 or 16, it seemed like I had a library of sketchbooks with designs and ideas for hundreds of real and imaginary sports teams. At the time it was a hobby and I never really knew that I could possibly make a living by being creative in a sports environment.

Did this interest/passion direct you to a particular route of study and employment?

I didn't really have any idea what I wanted to do on finishing school.  With hindsight if I had more formal art lessons I might have gone down the road of art and design in third level study but unfortunately it wasn’t a subject my school taught. I started a computer degree but dropped out in the first year when I realised it wasn’t for me and I then went on and did a degree in radio production.  I was really lucky to get a job in radio production (that I loved) straight out of college but gave that up to go travelling and then ended up down a different path when I got back.

When did your feelings towards your work start to become more negative?

I had been very lucky to work in the sports industry, within various admin roles, for over a decade. Its something I’ve always had a passion for and found working in sport to be really rewarding. I really loved the build-up to big sporting events and working with people who were just as passionate about it as I am.  I suppose the part of these jobs I liked least was dealing with dissatisfied or angry fans and members of the public and the level of bullsh*t that often goes with that. When the Rugby World Cup was finished I found a job that matched the more customer service type experience I had built up working in different sporting organisations over the years.  Crucially though it wasn’t in sport and I had very little interest in the type of work I was doing. I felt like I was just pushing a pen or typing pointless emails all day and achieving nothing.

How did this period affect your behaviour and your emotional state?

It knocked my confidence completely.  I felt useless at work and this translated to me generally feeling useless at anything. I couldn’t see a way out of it and often felt quite depressed that this was all there was to life.  Weekends were ruined by the thoughts of having to do it all again from Monday. I was constantly stressed out and beating myself up because I felt I was contributing so little at work.

What encouraged you to make a change?

My wife was really concerned about my health and tried hard to get me to rethink my career but I felt stuck. Any job search I did left me feeling more demoralised as the jobs I felt matched my experience filled me with dread as being just more of the same.  When we moved to London 8 years prior she had sent off for a brochure for Shillington (design college) for me, knowing that graphic design was something I really enjoyed. At the time the cost made it prohibitively expensive but it was always on the back of our minds. I came home from work after a particularly bad day, she threw the old brochure on the table and made me sign up for the Shillington open day there and then. We looked at job adverts for junior graphic designers and compared them with the type of admin jobs matching my current experience. Looking at specific job specs like this made it really clear what I would rather be doing.

How did you feel once a decision was made - did you have any concerns or fears?

I was really worried about how we would manage to support ourselves without me working and what if it didn’t work out after the course and I wouldn’t get a job.  I was also afraid that I wasn’t good enough and I was throwing everything away. As scared as I was about everything, the alternative of feeling stuck where I was, was so much worse so I knew I had to give it a go.

How has it been since you changed your career direction?

It was 100% the right decision.  I was incredibly lucky to get a job combining both my passion for sport and graphic design with a brilliant design team in a sports environment and not too long after finishing the course.  I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. I love going to work, something I never thought I would say!

Do you feel different?

I am generally a much happier and more relaxed person. That said I do still have moments of self-doubt and imposter syndrome but I try and remind myself of how much has changed in only a year.

With the benefit of hindsight, do you have any regrets, learnings or advice?

My only regret is not doing it sooner.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and life in that you can do anything whatever stage you are at, 16 or 60, you should never feel stuck in a rut because of past choices.  If what you are doing is bringing more negativity than positivity into your life then something needs to change.

You can find out more about Prin’s design work and contact him here: www.pringallagher.com

Changing Course - From Burnout to Balance

Full disclosure, this story is from my husband Mark. When I decided to set up The Alternative he said that he wanted to talk about a period in his life when he struggled to find some kind of work / life balance and ultimately this affected his mental health.

Originally building his career in TV, Mark started to realise that he was equally as passionate about photography. As one of those lucky people who truly enjoys his day job, Mark started to build his photography business as a weekend hobby whilst being fully committed to his full time main employer. This was all pretty good until a move to a completely new part of the UK tested his mental health and forced him to rethink the balance in his life.


Can you tell us about your life before the move?

This isn’t necessarily a story of extremes and life going from bad to good. I was living in Hitchin (Hertfordshire) which is a lovely market town where my wife and I have family and great friends. I was 5 years into commuter life with all the cliches that you can imagine when living in the surburbs and working in the capital. On the same time train every day, leaving the house at 7, home after 8pm and constantly knackered. Mixing it up by getting on a different train carriage really didn’t provide that much excitement!

With the routine I started to feel a lack of enthusiasm about the way I was living and working, I knew something needed shaking up. I was trying to build a photography business in addition to my weekday TV job and shooting weddings and portraits at weekends which took up time and energy. I loved it but felt exhausted and something had to give.


Why did you decide to move to a new location?

In all honestly I felt like I needed to force my arm in some way and by extension, that of my wife and I as a couple. Moving to Norwich (Norfolk) was quite a random act based on the fact we visited there in Summer 2015 and really liked the city. It had an artistic and independent feel to it. It was bigger than Hitchin, felt a bit like Belgium (which I loved and still do love Belgium!) and I could envisage a future life there in some way.

It would force me to think long term about how I worked and how I could achieve balance by implementing changes to my working daily life. I knew I couldn’t commute to London from Norwich on a daily basis and that was the ‘arm force’ bit.


Did you consider how you would make your work life ‘work’ in this new location?

I did to a certain extent but not totally. Maybe this was slightly reckless but at the time I didn’t particularly care. I wanted a change and whatever happened would happen.

I actually got lucky as my employer was very flexible and my boss was amazingly understanding. I made changes to my working week and was able to work remotely from home some of the week. It really made me appreciate my role and the company more.


Once you moved, how did you feel at this time - mentally and physically? 

First of all it was exciting. We’d moved to a new city that we knew very little about. Even the morning after moving day when I was on the train to London at 5:30am it felt exciting and I was energised. Then came the bedding in and exploring. It was a positive feeling, one of adventure almost. We made great new friends and were very lucky to settle in so quickly. The home part of my life was all good but as the months ticked past I was feeling a bit burned out. I was still spending 3 nights a week away from home in London. Don’t get me wrong I was, and still am, eternally grateful for friends and family putting me up but I was starting to feel exhausted. I do realise this was all self-inflicted though and so felt a tad stupid; like I had only myself to blame for how I was feeling. I thought I could manage 3 nights away from home every week but I couldn’t. I needed to address this and make a change to my work / life balance.


Did you speak to anyone about how you felt?

I internalise stuff quite a lot and didn’t really think I needed to let things out. I have a tendency to just work most things through, especially if the circumstances are of my own making.

In February 2017 about 13 months after we’d moved I’d reached breaking point and felt shattered, pulled in various directions emotionally and that I was a f*cking idiot for inflicting this on myself. I let everything out to my wife one morning before work (a 39 year old man crying outside Tesco’s on the phone isn’t very cool) and she helped talk me round and gain clarity on the situation.


How did you decide to change your situation and what steps did you take?

I approached my manager and explained the situation, that I wasn’t managing and luckily there was a role I could go for in the team that was a job share. It would mean I would be working for only 3 days a week, plus one of those days would be from home. This was a brilliant scenario. There was the reduction in salary to consider but as I was building my photography business I felt it was a perfect opportunity to jump at. It would give me the impetus to push myself and go after what I wanted to achieve too. That wasn’t easy for me though as I’ve always struggled with a lack of confidence in my ability and had a tendency to sit back and take an easier road than push myself. I knew it was an opportunity I wanted to take and I felt I was good enough to keep learning my craft as a photographer. Again, that ‘arm forcing’ was there to go for! I do appreciate that I was lucky to have this part time situation presented to me but you have to try to make it happen. To look for these opportunities.


How would you describe your life and your outlook now?

I feel positive about the direction I’ve taken and am really glad I embraced the chance to work and live in a more flexible way. It’s helped me gain perspective on a lot of areas of my life. I realise how much I love working for my current company even though its’s part time and feel massively fortunate to do this. I’m stimulated in my role, love spending time in London with all the benefits of being in a creative, forward thinking company with great work mates. I also stay over one or sometimes two nights a week and get to spend valuable time with friends and family too. The balance is right now!

Just as importantly, I’ve had time and opportunity to grow my photography. I’ve built a portfolio of work I’m proud of and I’m enjoying building on my skills and taking my work forward. It really does take time to find what you love doing and you have to put the hours in. I have more time to dedicate myself to that! Freelancing has improved the ability to organise myself too.

Looking back at my old self before, I was in hindsight too relaxed and to be honest pretty rubbish at getting myself in order. That was always a big issue and source of frustration to me and my wife. Being brutally honest it caused me feelings of self-loathing, guilt, anger and stress. I’m more driven now and happier. It’s not all smooth sailing and there are still moments of doubt and worry, especially financially. Sometimes the fog of self-doubt rolls in but I feel I can gain control of the fear easier and quicker now, evaluate and be rational and plan my way out of it with a good outlook.


With the gift of hindsight, is there anything that you would do differently?

I wish I’d have gone to Reading 92 and seen Nirvana! No seriously though this is the million dollar question and only helpful, I think, if you can act on hindsight to improve what you’re doing now.

I wonder if I should have been a photographers assistant maybe at 18 but I really wasn’t even aware of what I wanted to do at that age. I do think I should have thought about how I wanted to be working at 40 when I was in my 20’s or early 30’s even.

At 30 I was working at ITV Granada doing script clearances for drama programmes such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Doc Martin. I loved it and was taking stills on Coronation Street and programmes like Granada Soccer Night under the guidance of the pictures team and a great photographer called Neil Marland. There was a job opportunity there for a stills photographer on Emmerdale and I wish I’d have gone for it instead of leaving Manchester to head back to London. But I wouldn’t have had valuable experiences I’ve had, worked with some fantastic people over the last 10 years and arrived where I am now. I’m now shooting TV stills, have a great network of friends and family and genuinely love what I do. I never did see Nirvana though.


You can find out more about Mark’s photography at: ashbyshoots.co.uk. Portrait of Mark taken by: Beth Moseley

Giving up booze and gaining happiness

Kate is a Reiki teacher, Kundalini Yoga teacher, writer and founder of the Connection Experiment which is an online course to tell the truth, gain happiness and form community and belonging. After living in Amsterdam for 8 years, she moved back to the UK and settled in North Manchester. She kindly agreed to tell The Alternative her story of giving up drinking and how it has changed her life.

Give us a little insight into your life before you gave up alcohol.

I had a bit of a delayed reaction to drinking - not doing the usual 16 year old drinking cider in the park and trying to hide it from parents. I started at 18 (Taboo and lemonade) but didn’t really enjoy it and suppose I was always a bit scared of getting paralytic, so would sneak in secret colas on a night out so I would always be in control. But I liked the confidence it gave me and enjoyed the dancing and laughing of a night out, so it was generally quite a positive experience.

I would say that my relationship with booze changed in my late 20’s and the run up to my 30th birthday where I was using it more as a numbing tool. I was unhappily single, having panic attacks, was in debt and working in corporate jobs that I detested with a lot of blokes who I would try and match pint for pint to join in with their banter; to get some sort of inkling of belonging. They were never ‘my people’ and I was doing it to fit in. It was a very sad time for me but the binge drinking on a Friday night would help me forget how unhappy I was. It would start out as a good laugh during the first few drinks but the drunker I got during the evening the more I spiralled out of control. I took stupid risks, had one night stands and usually ended up as Drunk Crying Girl in the toilets. Those nights would always end badly resulting in horrible hangovers and the fear from memory loss of what I’d done the night before, with real self-loathing increasing the unhappiness even more.

It was only when I moved to Amsterdam, where the drinking culture was nothing like the UK that I cut down to a couple of glasses of wine a month (if that) and didn’t miss it one bit. Over there, most people will have a couple of beers then stop, so during that time the only occasions I would get drunk was when I was back the UK for weddings or Christmas which would again end in tears or arguments. Overall it was very rare that I would drink and I found that the more I investigated the Spritual side of me, practising self love and acceptance and trying not to be so mean to myself, the more I also didn’t want to ‘poison’ my body. Rather ridiculously, on my return back to the UK 8 years later, despite not having missed drinking in any way it started to creep back in again.

How would you describe your social life at this time?

Back in the UK I didn’t really know many people and was hanging around with new friends who were big drinkers. I was still hardly drinking and spending a lot of evenings on my own but about once a month I would have a blow out and stay up partying with colleagues - mostly people younger than me for whom a good night out was getting so drunk you couldn’t remember what had happened the night before… and I would join in just because I was secretly lonely. It was a mixed time as I was genuinely also much happier with myself, but had just resigned myself to never being in a relationship again (I was 42 and never been married/had kids) so I would just have sex with unavailable men every now and then to get some male attention and connection, albeit fake. Taking the crumbs if you like and using booze to justify my ‘bad’ behaviour.

Was there ever any any correlation between alcohol and your mental, physical or financial health?

God yeh. In my earlier days I would always be first to the bar after work (buying love/people pleasing/wanting to be seen as generous) despite having huge debts and working with people who were on triple my salary. My physical and mental wellbeing were probably affected the most in the hangovers. I developed the term ‘Suicide Tuesday’ which was the worst day emotionally when I would feel so depleted from the booze and late nights of the weekend and would also be beating myself up about my behaviour. I was very sad, lonely and lost. Plus I would often feel disgusted with myself from ending up with short term connections with men who didn't care about me, so all the self development work I was doing on loving myself would be pointless and I would be back to the drawing board.

Was there a pivotal moment that made you say 'Right, I'm going to stop now'?

Yes. New Year’s Eve/Day 2017. I was happily together for about a year with my current partner but whenever we drank together, anything past the 3 drink mark would end up in a huge row. I guess there’s a reason its called the ‘demon drink’ as I would often feel possessed and would be screaming like a banshee in rage during arguments. On that particular New Year’s Eve we’d had a great night out dancing together then around about 11.30 as the booze kicked in, old insecurities surfaced and it ended in a big row. We were so separate and disconnected at midnight as the fireworks went off that I decided in the morning to give up mainly to just avoid the conflict and shame after these bouts of anger, frustration and shouting.  It was initially just for the year but I am so much happier that I have extended it and doubt I will ever drink again.

Were you met with any resistance from those closest to you?

A bit. If we were out at a function where I would be offered a drink and would refuse by explaining ‘I’d given up for a year’. People would then try and persuade me to have one drink or tell me I was boring. So after a few months I started to tell people ‘I don’t drink’ and people tend not to be so bothered, although they do like to tell me how ‘good’ I am and that they could never do it!

What benefits have you experienced?

I feel happier in myself and my relationship is much stronger despite us not being able to do some things together, like go to the pub! My fella sometimes drinks but we agree to stay away from each other on those nights so there’s no conflict. Generally it has been positive and I have organised a sober dance event or some movement meditation evenings so I can still get my dancing fix. A lot of people in my new circle of friends don’t drink anyway so it hasn’t been difficult on the whole.

Have there been any negatives?

It can be lonely if you’re out with people drinking. Around about 10pm when the booze is kicking in for them, there’s a real disconnect and I feel out of the gang but its very rare that I would even be around people drinking these days anyway. I also miss a lovely crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc with my bezzie on a Sunday afternoon in the summer but that was so rare that its not a biggie. The other downside is my other numbing tactics were ramped up so after a sober night out I would binge eat on toast or sugar or crisps.

Have you learnt anything about yourself or others during this change?

That I’m really judgemental of drinkers! Now I hate the smell of booze, I judge their shoutiness, their brash confidence and I wince if I hear a drunken argument. I just see a lot of sadness in drunk people. I may be totally projecting as that’s how I felt so it’s probably just painful to see how I also used to be when I was pissed. I’ve also learned that I like the simple life and stay in a lot more. I am also less insecure, paranoid and find it easier to be happy now.

Has this encouraged you to make other life changes?

I’ve given up sugar and meat this year, initially as New Years resolutions but more to try and avoid the numbing I used to do through emotional eating.  To be honest giving up chocolate has been ten times more difficult than the booze, as sugar was always my drug of choice. The meat doesn’t bother me as I would hardly eat it anyway.

Would you do anything differently?

No. I could say I wish I’d given up earlier but I really believe in timing for these things. I’m so grateful to all of the lessons and experiences (especially the negative ones) I had with the booze as it has helped me forgive all of my self destruction and tactics to block love for myself. It highlighted the unlovable bits in me that I try to bring compassion to now.

Do you have any advice for someone reading this who is thinking about doing the same?

I would never give advice as its different for everyone. Perhaps booze just makes you a bit giddy and only enhances your night out. But I suppose if like me, you recognise yourself in the same destructive cycle of ‘I’m unhappy with myself so I’ll have a drink to numb these feelings, which makes me do/feel/say things that make me MORE unhappy with myself which leads me back to escape in drinking’ then I would encourage anyone to take an honest look at their relationship with booze.  But it shouldn’t be about giving up alcohol - its about giving up numbing your feelings and stopping being mean to yourself in whatever form you choose to do that.

As humans we are programmed to be fearful of happiness because we want to protect ourselves from it ending. We are so uncomfortable feeling fear, sadness, loneliness, unhappiness, frustration, anger etc; so we choose a ‘lazy’ tactic to avoid feeling those things. Or try to replace them with a temporary hit of happiness which sometimes works if its ‘just a couple’ but often ends up amplifying the initial stuffed down emotion when your guard is down.

We have so many ways to do that and I guess the booze/sugar/sex/shopping/working (insert your particular numbing strategy) is always going to be the easier distraction to avoid being kind to ourselves. Why is it so hard to be nice to ourselves? So my advice, rather than necessarily going teetotal (although it helps!) would be to try to hold off and just sit for a minute longer...just one minute and work out what you’re ACTUALLY feeling in that moment just before you reach for the drink/piece of cake/social media. Like really sit with the reasons why you’re trying to distract or escape or hide and see what’s there and just be a bit more gentle to the boredom or the loneliness or the self doubt or the sadness and sit with it. And give it some attention rather than continuing to look for love in the wrong places or at the bottom of a bottle.

Kate’s first book ‘What Love Told Me’ will be available from Amazon on 22nd April. Find out more about Kate here: Katey Roberts Holistic

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