Filtering by Tag: career

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

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


Welcome to The Alternative

Hello and welcome to The Alternative. I thought that the first story should be mine especially as I decided to set this little thing up!

I’m Jayne. I decided to create The Alternative because I have always been fascinated by people who have the courage to go change direction.

As a previous people pleaser, I used to have the constant internal struggle of what’s expected of me versus what I actually want. I spent a lot of time being in-authentic and comparing myself to others which was massively mentally exhausting.

Growing up, I never really knew what I wanted to do. Never had a path all planned out. I knew that I got bored easily, liked trends, interiors and people. But that was it. So I bumbled along, studying and getting work experience in a variety of fields. I first started to work in PR (that was really brief) as my boss was a gigantic bully, then moving into textile sales, to property sales, to marketing, to account management. Can you see a pattern emerging?

Whilst all of these opportunities were fantastic, they weren’t right for me and what I truly wanted out of my work life so I decided to sabotage them - subconsciously that is . Not applying myself, comparing myself to others and blaming everyone else when I failed was my game. I also moved house quite a bit in search of feeling content so that also added to the general mayhem.

Finally, and I can’t quite put my finger on why, I decided to take responsibility for my life and do the opposite of what I’d been doing for the last few (cough), OK many, many years. Now whilst I still didn’t know for sure what career I wanted to carve out, I knew how I wanted to work and I knew what elements of work I enjoyed and what skills that I had to contribute. That helped me build a picture of the type of working life I wanted to create and then that led me to The Alternative.

I absolutely love meeting people. I love finding out about them and also helping them do life. Hearing about how people have tackled their various challenges provides inspiration and encouragement. It’s also really supportive when you hear that you’re not the only person facing that particular struggle. And that’s why I set up The Alternative. To tell the stories of people and help people figure out their own story through my coaching.

Jayne x

Things that I like: cheese, wine, gin, Campari and more cheese. Music, coffee, shopping, interiors, architecture, sunshine and warmth, Pilates, sleeping, reading, learning stuff and of course, people.

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