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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

Leaping from the London rat race to rural France

Becky, Tom and Hete currently live in the Dordogne, France. Their home is a stunning 16th century mill that needs renovation, plus they plan to adapt certain areas of the grounds for their new eco-friendly business.

You might be thinking that this is all very ‘Escape to the Chateau’ but their journey from London to France (via Spain) was extremely testing and pushed them to the limit. In her own words, Becky tells us about the process of making this huge life change. What’s the saying, no pain no gain - right?

Tom, Becky & Hete

Tom, Becky & Hete

Tell us about your UK life and what an average day was like for the both of you?

Tom was up at 6am and out by 6.30 as he had his own business in London refurbishing properties, and he normally wouldn't be back home till 8pm. Me, I was up at 6am getting our daughter, Hete, ready for nursery and a 7.30 drop off. I would then catch the train into London where I worked for 12 years at Channel 4. 

Do you remember the moment when you both decided that something had to change?

We were at home exhausted, fed up of hardly seeing our daughter, money was tight and Tom was stressed out (to the brink of a breakdown) running his own company.  We had watched something on TV about leaving everything behind and this got us thinking. That night we discussed where.

I wanted to go further afield to Canada, a little ambitious maybe. We both agreed on France and straight away looked at properties online. We very quickly figured that if we sold the house in Orpington we could buy out a house in France - no mortgage! F**k it lets do it! - they were our actual words. 

What did you hope to gain from the change in lifestyle?

Healthy living, growing our own vegetables, no mortgage, time to spend with our daughter and for her to learn a new language. Tom speaks to her in Hungarian and I speak to her in English but she is now learning French at school. We wanted a better life for her. We both had an adventurous upbringing, playing outside for hours and we felt that Hete wouldn't get that in London. It was important for us that she experienced this.

Also being in the country was something we loved. We would often spend weekends outside of London on country walks, and of course we had a huge interest in treehouses and living off grid. But we are not hippies we are normal working class people... hmm maybe a bit hipster rather than hippy ;) 

So once the decision was made, what steps did you take to devise a plan?

We put our house up for sale, Tom liquidated his company and I handed in my notice as soon as we had an offer on the house. We bought an Airstream caravan as an asset as we didn't want to just buy a standard caravan, we wanted to use something slightly different that would give us other opportunities perhaps. We also needed this caravan to travel around France to discover where we wanted to live.

When did you start telling people what you decided to do and how did they react?

More or less straight away as soon as we made the decision. Some were very excited and envious others (family) were worried and nervous for us. Then the rest thought we were MAD!

Did you ever consider changing the plan? 

Not really. We always stayed on the same path, although there were times when we couldn't find the place that we felt was right, we'd discuss other countries and opportunities. 

Did you have any fear about the decision? If you did, how did you handle it?

Of course. Big fears all the time. How did we handle it? Well Tom was much better than myself because he's done a big move before so he had adapted before. I was and still am in fear but you can't make a huge decision like this and expect it to be easy... it comes with the decision.

There were many what if's such as finding the right place, are we going to be too isolated, learning the language, how to set up a business, permissions, Hete adjusting, so on and so on. You have no choice but to deal with the fear and I have to really work hard on this, otherwise you just lose the excitement of making such a huge change. You have to enjoy it too, this is very important. 

Were there any occasions when you were ready to pack it in?

Ha yep, many times I have thought what the hell are we doing here with such an old building and so much to do. We were in the Airstream for the first 6 months living here whilst Tom and some volunteers put a new roof on the house. I remember the rain, non stop rain for 10 days, water levels so high it flooded the downstairs rooms. Thankfully the living space was on the first floor. The neighbours were so concerned they offered us a bed but we stayed and stuck it out in the caravan. I'll never forget hearing the water gush down the river thinking what the hell have we done!

What benefits have you experienced since living your new life?

We’re definitely healthier. All of us are eating fresher food, walking more, swimming in the river. Another benefit is the culture. Learning how the French live and learning a new language. Summer was glorious here with loads of outdoor activities. Hete is learning a new language and settling into a new school. And of course we have new friends both French and English.  

You’ve experienced a few challenging situations to get you to where you are today. When you look back, what have you learnt about yourselves throughout this?

If anything we have become tougher and less materialistic. We are so appreciative of family and are stronger together as husband and wife, even though at times it was very testing. You have different challenges than what you would normally have in London, some harder, some better. There will always be a part of London in my heart forever and I’m grateful for this. If things don't work out we can always go back.

If someone is reading this and wondering how to take the first step towards changing their life, what would your advice be?

Its not as easy as you think. You need to be a certain type of character to be able to cope with it. It will test you in ways that you never would expect but it gives you bountiful rewards and joys that you would ever expect. But whats the point in wondering... just f**k it and do it!!

Personally, I think that it is quite easy but you have to be very decisive. Look at your current commitments/situation and what you could gain in life. You make up your mind and go for it no hesitating, no what ifs… just take the leap, if you start questioning things or analysing situations you won’t do it!

Has it been worth it?

Ask me in 5 years (joke). Yes it was worth it. I don't want go through life asking ‘what if I did that’ or ‘should I have done this’. You only live once you have to give everything your best shot. That's what life’s about right?! 

Becky, Tom & Hete x

You can follow Becky on Instagram: Becky Allin

Making the leap from Education to Illustration

Having spent the last 20 years studying and climbing the career ladder within education, Cate was pushed into re-thinking her choices when her mental health started to suffer. She told The Alternative her career change story and how she has become more resilient…and happier!

What were you doing five years ago and how does your life differ now?

I was working as a Head of Keystage, SENCo and Early Years English Specialist Teacher (phew!) in a school and there is no way in which my life doesn’t really differ! As much as I loved my students and watching them grow, I’ve rediscovered ‘me’ and my passions.

My life before was all about facilitating and supporting others which although this is just part of my make-up, I needed to save a little bit for myself and being a teacher just doesn’t have room for that. Even on the rare occasion you’re not working, you’re constantly thinking about it and neglecting yourself. I don’t even mean thinking about it in an ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait to do XYZ’ but relentlessly worrying about not doing enough. Teaching is never finished.

What initiated the change?

A breakdown to be honest. I couldn’t think, eat or function! There was simply no way I could be responsible for the future of young people when I needed to get my own life back on track. Management were less than supportive and had been told a number of times that my breaking point was approaching and although they were very kind, little actually happened to ease the load.

How did you start the process?

I had a long period away from work as my doctor had declared me unfit. There were the usual meetings in order to ease my way back to school but ultimately my trust in the establishment and very sadly, the whole system, had been lost. Eventually I handed my notice and walked away from the years of experience and training but it had to be done.

How would you describe the journey that has brought you to where you are now?

On the whole, exciting. Finance was a big concern, especially pensions and mortgages but my friends and family have been great and so supportive. Naturally they were worried about the career I was throwing away but also recognised it would be the death of me. I really had to evaluate what made me happy and begin learning about a whole new industry. I’ve also had to embrace being self-employed which took some getting used to after years of steady employment and a regular salary. You have to become a jack of all trades - but that’s what makes it exciting. I’m always learning and open to giving anything a go. What’s the worst that can happen? I think I’ve already been through that and I’m still here and smiling, so just give it a try.

What support did you have?

I was the main wage earner and now my husband has supports me financially and he and our children have had to get used to not having the luxuries but he prefers to ‘have his wife back’ than expensive holidays. My wider support network have been amazing too and helped spread the word about my new ventures and I’ve had several projects offered to me as a result. I’m lucky that I live in a buzzy, artistic city where everyone wants to see you succeed. People have been so generous with their time; for example a local very successful illustrator taught me to use Photoshop and wished for nothing in return other than for my success. Norwich is very special that way but you have to put yourself out there, it won’t come to you.

How do you feel about the life that you have created?

Still excited! Instead of lying in bed wishing I didn’t have to go to work or worrying about something I didn’t have time to do, I lie there bursting with ideas. Too many to even count! Of course I have days when I think people may not like my work but I’m working on accepting that if they don’t like my style then I probably wouldn’t enjoy working on their project. Ultimately, as I only answer to myself, I can walk away from a job I’m not enjoying - its very liberating.

If you could do anything differently, would you?

Quit sooner - I stayed way too long. I knew it wasn’t right but the eternal optimist in me hoped things would change with a new school year, new head teacher, new government. It didn’t. I also felt incredibly responsible for my students. It's hard to leave when they tell you you’re the only reason they’ve stayed in school but realistically there's a million other people out there who could do the job just as well or probably better than me. Sticking it out made me ill and I wish I’d been more courageous and made a choice before it got to that point. Had the move not been forced, I could have begun to build up a portfolio and attend courses before being thrown in the deep end. That said, I probably would have been too knackered to do them haha!

What motivates and or inspires you?

The pleasure from seeing someone else enjoy something I've made. And a little bit of education - the teacher thing will always be with me but I'm happy for this to take many guises. If children learn to love reading from my illustrations or enjoy a loving moment sharing a book with mum, dad, grandparents etc then brilliant! If my interior design advice can help a house become a home then that's great too. Home is a place of safety and a small budget shouldn't prevent us from making the most of it. Also, as a daughter of an engineer, I've grown up with a 'can do' attitude. DIY is a dying skill and there's no reason why, with a little guidance, people cannot maintain their own homes. Let's face it houses are expensive and the potential saving and the sense of achievement from fixing it yourself can only be a good thing. In short, I guess my motivation is seeing others succeed and be happy through my creativity. Kindness is perhaps the most basic act, but arguably the most important.

What is the best part of your day or week?

All of it! Although I can easily work seven days a week, it doesn’t really feel like work. It's a choice I’ve made and a lifestyle I want to continue with. My family are happier, I’ve met some amazing people along the way and I don’t dread Monday morning. I’ve become braver too, I lost a well respected career and am building myself back up. If you lose everything once, you’re not frightened of it happening again - you know you’ll survive and probably become a better person for it. At the risk of irritating everyone, it’s the best choice I’ve ever made.

Cate x

Find out more about Cate and her work at: Cate Wicks Illustration


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