You've spent nearly a decade working towards a certain career - so what does it feel like to start over again from scratch?
Most of us can agree that change is scary. Changing partners, homes, even hairstyles – all involve a degree of trepidation. I’m averse to change more than most; I didn’t want to leave secondary school, I had a minor breakdown when I graduated, I even have a mortal dread of changing my bed sheets. So the decision to change careers in my mid twenties has given me more than my fair share of night-sweats (more reasons to change my sheets… ffs).
On the surface, my career change doesn’t seem all that drastic. I made the jump from print journalism to broadcast journalism, but I also became a 27-year-old intern in the process. Getting my head around being a trainee has been tricky. Instead of managing a team and frolicking in an abundance of creative freedom I’m now clinging to the very bottom rung. But at least I know I’m on the right ladder now.
The trainee scheme that I’m on is phenomenal. It’s hugely competitive, fantastically resourced and has already exposed me to some of the best experiences you can have as a broadcast journalist – I genuinely love it. Some days are still terrifying and I’m so far out of my comfort zone that I’m worried I’ll never find it again – but I am energised in a way I haven’t been since the very beginning of my career.
The past four months have brought me to the mind-boggling epiphany that change is good. Ok, so it’s not mind-boggling, it’s something we’ve been told all our lives, but until you actually throw yourself into the depths of the unknown it’s hard to imagine just how galvanising change can be.
What is it about change that scares us so much? For me it was the uncertainty. Will I be any good at this? What if I hate it? What if I don’t succeed? Any change involves taking a risk and praying that you’ve got what it takes to make it work. You have to be unafraid to fail. (Not an easy feat for the girl who faked an injury on sports day because she would rather not race than risk coming second.)
But I’ve found a trick that works. Whenever I’m at my most anxious I like to ask myself ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ Well, I could suck at my new job, get fired, be forced to leave London and move back in with my parents like a destitute loser. But bad things can happen even if I stay in the same, comfortable place for my entire life. I could still end up fired and destitute. Or a Boeing 747 could fall from the sky and flatten my office. You can’t eliminate the bad stuff, it’s impossible – so you may as well go for what you really want.
I don’t know if it’s a quarter-life crisis thing, but a sudden, desperate need for a career change is spreading through my peers. One friend is considering jacking in her publishing job and becoming a paramedic, another has just had a second interview with the police force. But it doesn’t get more drastic than sacking off your job as a doctor after nine years of intensive study and soul-crushingly long hours.
My friend Hannah wanted to be a doctor since she was six years old and after decades of hard work she achieved her dream. She became a fully-fledged doctor working in anaesthetics. But the relentlessly brutal demands of the junior doctor role soon made her realise that the reality was worlds away from her dream career.
‘The hardest thing was accepting that my dream was not what I thought it would be. My family were so incredibly proud of me as I was the first doctor in the family and they put me on a pedestal. Having to explain to them why I no longer wanted to follow that path was the hardest thing.
‘I always thought my family were proud of me because of my career, but I realise now that they are proud of me, full stop.
‘It took me about nine months to fully decide to change careers. I now work as a Project Manager for an online training company and I am so much happier, every single day. If you know in your heart that what you’re doing isn’t right for you, then do something about it. Don’t stay in a job for fear of letting people down – you might miss an opportunity to make yourself truly happy. The people you love care more about your happiness than your job title.’
As scary as change is, nothing is scarier than stagnation. The idea of spending my twenties tied to a desk while my creativity and vigour ebbs from my pores is terrifying. I’ve decided that I’m more afraid of not fulfilling my potential than of changing my routine.
Go for it. Sure, I’d probably prefer not to be a trainee at 27, but I don’t have a mortgage, or dependent children. I don’t even have a cat to look after. I can take a pay cut with the only real casualty being my weekend wine fund.
The longer you wait the harder it becomes to make the leap – real life stuff will start to cling to you and make it harder to get off the ground. Jump while your baggage is relatively light; jump while you have the energy; jump knowing that it’s OK if you don’t quite make it. You’ll probably still land on your feet.