Mid Life Career Change: From A to ?
A few weeks ago, Nikki, who works for a woman’s magazine, used n21online.com, Facebook and Twitter to reach out to women who had made a radical career change, “chef to marine biologist, lawyer to circus performer”, you get the gist. The request got passed around cyberspace and elicited a large number of interesting responses from a number of women in and around the N21 postcode. Not all these ladies’ stories could be featured by the magazine, however their stories may provide food for thought, at a time when many women are losing their jobs; planning to return to work, or just want to do something different.
Career change isn’t easy. It invariably leads to loss of status and financial stability. If you have been made redundant or left your old career in difficult circumstances, it can lead to anger, sadness akin to grief and a loss of confidence. Starting again can be a lonely and even scary process. However recognising that many career changers experience these feelings and manage to overcome them can be beneficial to know.
Some career changers do go on to build businesses which provide a decent income, many, perhaps even the majority, never attain their former earnings, but may come to measure their success in other ways, like a better work/life balance, more autonomy, flexibility in when and how they work or just do something that they feel has a more positive impact on the world.
Whilst the interviews cannot be reproduced in full for this article, here is what some of the career changers in and around N21 have to say about their experiences, which may be of use of other women, or indeed men contemplating a new way of earning a living.
It can be difficult to change direction in mid life and persuade someone to employ you in your new field, therefore it is not surprising that most of these women have set up their own businesses Many had come from highly paid jobs, although the flip side was that they invariably worked long hours, for a big organisation, where they had little control over their work. A number had endured gruelling overseas trips, stress and discrimination, and even bullying and harassment.
One such case is Martina McKeough who runs Balance Hypnosis, a hypnotherapy practice, who spent most of her life working in the oil industry. “On the outside my life might have seemed glamorous, eating in nice restaurants, got well paid and got to fly around Europe on a weekly basis. However, the travel however was relentless, the organisational structure within my last company became a nightmare, then my mother died and all I could think of was that I wasting my life working somewhere that I didn’t want to be”.
She already had an interest in hypnotherapy and after taking a short introductory course, she was certain that this was what she wanted to do.“That was a turning point for me, I knew I couldn’t stay with my old company any longer so I handed in my notice and spent the next nine months studying and preparing for my new life as a hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner”.
Despite having to overcome serious health problems, following the diagnosis and subsequent treatment for ovarian cancer, around the time she was setting up her business, Martina says it is now flourishing. She attributes her success to hard work and determination and seeing the benefits that hypnosis can provide to people who are suffering from physical or mental health problems.
“My hypnotherapy throughout this time proved to be invaluable as I found that it kept me calm and positive throughout all my treatment. I even hypnotised other patients in the same hospital ward to help them come to terms with their illness. Seeing what great benefits it had made me even more determined to set up a successful business so as soon as I was able to I started marketing again and seeing clients”. I volunteer one morning a week with cancer patients using hypnotherapy to manage pain, promote healing and to reduce nausea”.
Martina’s advice to other women contemplating career change is “to stay positive and you can achieve anything. Even setbacks can lead you in new positive directions if you let them”.
Dai Alford’s career change was borne out of a need to provide a steady income for herself and her family, following the separation from her partner. She describes her childhood as insecure, brought up in care, with numerous foster parents. She trained as a croupier at 18, worked on cruise ships and in South America, before being spotted by a photographer and
“whisked off to London to be a model and spent the next 8 years travelling to Barcelona, New York, Paris and various other very glamorous places. Then when my partner and I separated, I wanted to be able to provide for my two young daughters but needed a steady pay cheque that modelling didn’t really provide- it was either feast of famine!
I didn’t feel I could do all that much, I was a bit lost looking for another career path. I asked a good friend “What am I good at” she replied children and yoga!- How on earth was I going to mix those two things together? That’s when I found Tatty Bumpkin! Now I own a franchise going into schools and nurseries teaching yoga to children. It’s hard work, I’ve never really had to work this hard for my money! But I wouldn’t change it for the world, I love it and have found my anchor!"
"I find the business side hard, but I am getting the hang of it now. it mostly fits around the children and I have real fun everyday with the children and it keeps me fit! The best thing is I feel it is wonderful to do something that I am actually passionate about, I leap out of bed every morning happy to be going to work!"
Don't think career change is a picnic in the park, all the women who were interviewed talked abut hard work, long hours, especially in the first couple of years. Many like Leah and Christine, have set up their new business whilst still working full time and then part time in their 'old career'. They have set themselves up as female electricians, trading as as Elecchicks. Both worked for government uniformed organisation (they aren’t allowed to say which one) but decided that they wanted to set up their own business.
Having worked for a male dominated organisation they didn’t exactly decide to go into anything girlie, but took at the various City & Guild and other courses and are now fully fledged electricians. They are using their gender in a positive way, building on their perception that many women would prefer to have a female trades person in the house. They have created a distinctive brand and are keen to support other women wanting to follow in their footsteps and how to take on their first female apprentice shortly. They have been featured in a recent NICEIC ‘Jobs For Girls’ campaign to encourage more women to think about a career in the electrical trade.
"We started our business purely because there was a gap in the Market for female electricians. We also needed to think about the career change as we are coming from very secure jobs to the unknown. There is definitely a market for women in trade.
We would highly recommend to any women wanted/thinking about a change, to research thoroughly there new career path, but to just go for it, we did and we have never looked back, it was a massive challenged for both of us, but one we thoroughly enjoy and don't regret".
Claire, who with her business partner Cynthia runs CynClaire, a decluttering business. She worked for thirty years as an occupational therapist, supporting people with disabilities. Over her career she worked with a number of local authorities and care organisations, but says that she was happiest when she was self employed, although admits that “In the first year I fell into the trap of taking all the work that came my way so was exhausted but really enjoyed being self employed”.
Her career change came about after her elderly mother had a serious fall, which necessitated a move into sheltered apartment.
“She had lived in her property for 25 years, had sold a second place and incorporated furniture into the bungalow and still had items from their business. The loft and 2 garages were very full! I spent 6 months decluttering ready for the move. We realised that it was sometimes easier for Mum to decide to part with things when my friend Cynthia was working with her”.
Both had helped clear out other properties, when relatives had died, as well as their own family clutter over the years, and found that they were being asked by friends and neighbours for help, so Mum said “you girls should start a business”.
Cynthia had previously worked as a teacher, so she and Claire had different skill sets. Before embarking on the business they researched the market and believed that “decluttering to downsize filled a gap in the market. At the same time we found Enfield Enterprise ran the “Inspiring Women” business course and were lucky enough to both get places. At the end of the course we started CynClaire – Decluttering to Downsize and haven't looked back since then. I enjoy the freedom of working in our business, ...... instead of these things being forced upon us.
Claire passes on some useful advice, which echoes that of Martina and Dai.
"My advice to anyone thinking of setting up a business would be: Most important of all – believe in yourself
Research your market and the best way to market your business
Don't rush making decisions such as business names, logos, website layout – it's much harder to change these once the ball is rolling
Get help and ask questions – if you can, go on a business course and have some mentoring/coaching to help with targets and actions.
Some times it's better to pay for specialist help – just because you have a skill or good business idea it doesn't mean you can design a logo or website or provide all that HMRC needs.
Consider joining a networking group for support"
Apologies to the other women whose stories are not featured, including Tracy, who has moved from estate agency to running an online business, Luvponies; Jude who has gone from drama management to teaching Alexander Technique; Anne a former from M&S fashion buyer who retrained as teacher; Ellen from city systems analyst to running an interiors shop and Jackie from oil broker to yoga teacher. All reported positive experiences and wouldn’t want to go back!
There is never the right time to start a business. The economy may not be brilliant but there are still loads of opportunities, It will be hard work and most people have hurdles to overcome, will face rejection, but learn not to take it personally, to pick yourself up and carry on. it is not a weakness asking for help.
Don’t let being a 40, 50 or even 60 something shouldn’t inhibit you and if you need a helping hand Karen Knott, who runs Prime Time Business, based in Palmers Green, has a great e-book which you can download by registering on her site.
Career change isn't easy. It often leads to loss of status and financial stability. If you have been made redundant or left your old career in difficult circumstances, it can lead to anger, sadness akin to grief and a loss of confidence. Starting again can be a lonely and even scary process. However recognising that many career changers experience these feelings and manage to overcome them can be beneficial to know.