Fancy a new career but scared to jump? Read this!
It’s a year since I walked out of the BBC for the last time, unsure of exactly what lay ahead. In the last twelve months there have been plenty of tears, doubts and uncertainty, but there has been a lot more happiness, more varied opportunities and a greater sense of making a small bit of difference in the big wide world.
I never heard the words “you’ve changed my life” through my work at the BBC. It was more of a ‘Who do you think you are waking me up at X O’clock?’ ‘You lost us hundreds of listeners with the way you delivered that report,’ or ‘You might have a good CV, but I can tell you right now, you’re not what we are looking for.’
But since plucking up the courage to quit the day job, I’ve helped athletes to achieve more than they had hoped, I’ve got 60 year olds enjoying exercise for the first time and I’ve put customers at ease as they prepare for their first Ironman abroad. I’ve helped to get coaches and athletes talking more about the menopause, I’ve co-hosted discussion panels to encourage more women into triathlon, I’ve written articles for a national magazine and I’ve helped young cancer patients to get stronger and fitter and feel better about themselves.
I’ve also had a lot of messages from people wanting to pick my brains about switching careers, quitting the 9-5, or starting afresh. So I thought I’d write down some tips for following your heart, escaping the hamster wheel and ultimately working towards a happier you.
1. Recognise it’s okay to change
When I first started to get itchy feet at the BBC, I worried a lot, but I didn’t actually do a lot. There were days when my head would be spinning with questions, but I didn’t take any action for a while, because I think I was in denial for a bit and there was so much to get my head around. I had worked so hard to build a career which I had always dreamed of, and I would think ‘Surely it would be daft and irresponsible to do something completely different? Is it really stupid to throw it all in? Did I waste all that time and money doing a postgrad?’ The questions seemed never ending and I do still think about them. But the sooner you can come to terms with the fact that it’s it’s okay to make a change, the better, because then can you start to do something about it.
2. Spend time doing what you enjoy
Once I began to do more outside of work, whether that was building up my coaching qualifications or getting into podcasting, I realised that I was learning new skills, meeting new people and really developing passions outside of the BBC. Even though I didn’t have a clue what, if anything, any of it might lead to, at least I felt like I was doing something other than complaining about work and sounding like a broken record!
3. Work on your skillset
If you think you want to make a change or quit your job to do something completely different, then develop as many skills as you can in your current workplace. Sign up for courses and workshops, whether that’s to develop leadership skills, attend mental health workshops, ensure your First Aid qualification is up to date or mentor junior members of staff. You never know who you will meet or what pathway it might lead you down. If nothing else, it keeps your CV up to date.
4. Do your homework
The grass is not always greener on the others side. Even people with so called ‘dream jobs’ and lifestyle careers have a lot of crap days too. Before making a snap decision and handing in your notice, speak to people who’ve done it before you, meet with others who are a few years further along the career change path. Find out what they miss about their old job, what they don’t miss and whether they would do anything differently next time. If you are thinking of going into a completely new sector, take some time off to go and shadow a bit of the role you think you want to go and do. What’s it really like on a day-to-day basis?
5. Do the maths
If you are going to be giving up a secure salary for a period time or even permanently to go at it alone, have you thought about how you and your family will cope if you’re suddenly not earning a regular income? Can you make it work? Can you start building up your second career on the side or drop hours at work? Can you still pay the mortgage? Will you be miserable if you can’t go on your annual ski trip with friends or you have to forego a hen do or a city break in the middle of spring? I was freelance for four years before getting a permanent job at the BBC, so it wasn’t a completely foreign concept to be self-employed again. But the flexibility does bring financial insecurity with it, which I do still think about a lot and it can add a lot of stress to your relationships.
6. Don’t just stand there, jump!
The biggest thing I took from a mentor I spoke to when I was debating quitting was his advice about timing. He told me: “There is never a good time to make a change.” There is always a reason not to jump, whether it’s finances or family, whether you’re at a particular time in your life when you want to settle down or whether you’ll miss out on a bonus if you don’t stay for another 12 months. This is when you have to think about how happy or unhappy you currently are and what motivates you to get up in the morning. If you’re constantly moping around at work and you’ve reached the point that you just don’t want to be there, then you just have to be brave and do something about it.
7. Be kind to yourself
I’m very good at being harsh on myself, but I’m not so good at being kind to myself. But if you become self-employed or you’re building up a new career, then you have to celebrate the small successes because nobody else will do it for you. The ability to switch off doesn’t come easily, but you’ll be more productive if you don’t work every single hour of the day and if you take time off to recharge the batteries.
8. Mix things up
If you’ve gone from being surrounded by colleagues to being surrounded by silence, then it can feel very lonely and the days can feel long. Think about how you might break your day up, perhaps by going for a walk at lunch time or taking your work to a coffee shop for a few hours. Does a friend have some office space you could use? Can you take your laptop to your local library for a few hours? Are there working from home groups in your local area who meet up once a month? Adding variety keeps you fresh and stops you from going insane in your own company. It also means you can’t get distracted by the pile of laundry by the washing machine or the grease mark on the kitchen window!
9. Have a support network
From your accountant to your friend who’s a marketing genius, make sure you have a network of people who you can turn to for help as you build up your new career. We can’t be experts at everything and sharing ideas with others or having someone looking over documents or giving honest feedback on a piece of work you’ve done is vital to help you to develop across the board.
10. It’s okay to say no
It’s important to recognise that you can’t do everything and you are allowed to be selective about what you throw your energy and time into. If you try something and it doesn’t work out, then it’s not the end of the world, you can always try something else. Remember that your time is precious and sometimes you have to question if it really is worth meeting up with that person for a coffee, for example? What will you be getting from it? If you aren’t sure, what’s in it for you, then suggest speaking over Skype instead. It could still lead to something, but it will take far less time out of your day.
I’m still working hard to actually put some of these tips into practise myself and my husband and family would agree that I’m definitely better at some parts than others! Although I still don’t know exactly where I am heading and I no longer have a ‘career plan’, I really wouldn’t change the past 12 months. I’ve done so many things I couldn’t have envisaged doing a year ago, things that just wouldn’t have been possible had I stayed put in my job. It is so, so scary starting out again and it really isn’t for everyone, but I cannot express enough how much happier I am. Have you done similar? How are you finding it? Or are you hoping to follow your heart but you’re not sure exactly how? Please do comment below!