Thinking about changing careers mid-pandemic? These women have done it

Scarlett Conlon
·9-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

From Harper's BAZAAR

Embarking on a new career is a daunting prospect at the best of times, never mind in these “uncertain times”. The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic and the economic turmoil that’s ensued has many feeling, understandably, tentative to attempt something new. Yet, for some, it's the pandemic that has prompted them to bravely take a leap of faith and pursue their dream job.

Rewind to March and Tamara Klein, Daisy Simpson and Lauren Milligan entered into the first lockdown as a high-profile fashion PR, a media and marketing executive, and a senior fashion features editor respectively. Fast forward to lockdown 2.0 and the landscape looks very different.

Klein is now a sound meditation practitioner, conducting regular classes through her Instagram account, @_ThisIsITam, and for prominent wellness brands. Simpson is a full-time jeweller for her brand Skomer, making bespoke pieces to order for private clients and selling though @Garmentory among others. And Milligan is a birth doula, helping to prepare mothers for birth as well as motherhood and delivering daily insight via her @TheBarnesDoula Instagram account.

Like 9.6 million other people in the UK this year, the trio found themselves furloughed and unable to work for their employer. While they had all made in-roads to pursuing their new careers pre-pandemic, it was as a result of having this unexpected time that ultimately gave them the push they needed to pursue it.

“Meditation has been a really big part of my life since my mid-twenties, but it was during lockdown when I was on furlough, I dared to put myself out there for the first time,” says 37-year-old Klein. “Not just because I needed a purpose, but because I could feel the tension and the anxiousness of everyone around me.” Klein had already embarked on a teacher training course with gong bath guru Leo Cosendai last year, which proved to be a turning point. “I hadn’t found my thing before, [but] when I came across sound for the first time it was profound.”

Photo credit:  Manon Ouimet
Photo credit: Manon Ouimet

Simpson, 28, had also put in legwork prior to being furloughed in April. She started her jewellery brand, Skomer, a few years ago enjoying success with stockists including Wolf & Badger, but it was always a side-line that she had to juggle with a demanding full-time job.

“Since I graduated, I’ve always worked in the media which I feel like I fell into, really,” she says. “For a while, I was using my 9-to-5 as a safety net for something that I would have preferred to be doing. The one thing Covid did was to make me stop and think about what I really wanted to do and what I am actually interested in.”

Photo credit: Rick Pushinsky
Photo credit: Rick Pushinsky

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“Covid has done that for everyone,” agrees Milligan, 40, who completed her introductory course into becoming a doula two years ago. “As life has become less certain, a lot of people have said to themselves, ‘What am I doing if it’s not making me happy and if there’s no purpose to it?’”

Milligan had been thinking about making the transition for a while, “but the way that birth work is unpredictable, it was difficult to set up while working as a full-time journalist,” she explains. Like Klein and Simpson, she was also furloughed which gave her the time to recalibrate.

She set about finessing her website and growing her Instagram following, as well as taking advantage of all the additional courses – such as newborn sleep, breastfeeding, miscarriage awareness – that would normally take place in person, but moved onto Zoom becoming more flexible to family life at home. “Most of the things I did during Covid was finishing things I had started but couldn’t see where in my daily schedule I would find time for,” says Milligan, who is also mum to three boys.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

The trio agree that changing career is something that should be instinctive if it is to succeed.

“Most people who make a leap to a new career do it with an idea that has percolated for a long time,” says Milligan. Just like Klein practicing and promoting meditation while also being a skilled PR and Simpson burning the midnight oil making jewellery while securing contracts with world-famous advertisers, Milligan was the person her friendship group came to for advice when it came to giving birth, while reporting from the fashion FROW. If it’s right for you, she says, “the business almost presents itself and you go: ‘I can do this, I’m doing this already’.”

If it sounds easy, it certainly isn’t. Klein, Simpson and Milligan were all content doing what they were doing, until they realised they really weren’t and actioning such as a realisation is no small feat. Soul searching, business planning and ‘leaning in’ is required.

For Klein - who by her own admission “is a Virgo who likes lists and security and pay checks at the end of the month” - it was about confronting insecurities and trusting in herself. “I had never thought about music as a career path because I thought I wasn’t a musical person as a child, but I realised if you are told you’re not talented in something you can talk yourselves into believing it.” She confronted the beast and emerged enlightened. “I should be worried, but I’m just not! I was amazed at how natural it felt when I did it.”

Pragmatism is also a must, says Simpson. “Being furloughed is nothing personal, but it does make you think, ‘If I’m not needed now, I want to do something with more purpose’.” She set about getting a strategy together. “I’m someone who has to get things straight in my head, first, so I put together a six-month plan and said to myself, ‘if in six months this hasn’t happened, I need to ask myself whether I continue or step back,” she says. To her delight, April, May and June were the best months she has ever had in sales: “I was like, ‘oh wow,’ this is completely different to what I expected.”

Being kind to yourself and trusting in your ability, is integral too, says Milligan, who was a fashion journalist for 13 years. “It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable and to say, ‘I know I’m good at this’. There’s a trepidation of walking into a new world where you don’t know the most anymore, especially when you’ve been the person who everyone comes to ask a question.” On the flip-side, she says, she identified that “there’s a lot of what I did before that’s relatable, such as building a trusted rapport, which is exactly what I would do in an interview situation.”

With the newness, says Milligan, comes a scariness which is quite nice. “I love that I’m learning all the time. Before, I’d tricked myself into thinking I was learning, because I was finding stuff out about other people, but I wasn’t actually developing much myself.”

Feeling the fear is to be embraced, concurs Klein. “We all have a fear of failure, so it’s natural to feel like the new kid on the block and ask yourself why someone would want to ask me to do it when other people have been doing it for years, but you have to not listen to that.” She advises that “it’s up to other people to decide if they want to work with you and see if your service or product is right for them.”

Trusting and believing in the right thing to do has never been more pressing or scary, but it’s worth it, says Klein. “We live in a convenient world, so we’re more scared of taking risks, but there’s no safe place to do [something like that] and no one can make it easy for you. Now, it may all be insecurities, but it’s so exciting, it makes you feel alive.”

With lockdown 2.0 now underway, the trio have words of wisdom for anyone who is in a similar position to them and considering putting career ambitions into action:

Take any time you can to concentrate on yourself

Simpson took the time to engage with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness therapy: “I started CBT and mindfulness therapy and I would advise anyone to use this time to concentrate on yourselves, what you’re doing and what can come from it. There’s comfort in knowing we’re all going through it, and you can either drag your heels or make the most of it.” Klein agrees, "spending time identifying who you are to start with will really help you down the line". She made a moodboard of herself, which helped her realise what image she wanted to promote.

Research the market to find a point of difference

In Milligan's case, it resulted in helping her define the doula she wanted to be: neither overly medical or overly spiritual, but a neutral support system in the middle. It resulted in a black and white logo featuring an illustration of a pride of lions to communicate her straight-talking nature and because it spoke to her approach: “to create a supportive space that doesn’t fight out instincts as mammals to do what we feel is the right thing to do.”

Look beyond the pandemic when coming up with a business idea

“There will be a time when things return to some semblance of normal and you don’t want to have left a full-time job to pursue something that is so moulded to what’s happening now," says Simpson.

Keeping things simple when starting out

“Perfection doesn’t exist and you can make yourself go crazy with it," says Klein. "It’s a fine line, of course, but most people who tend to be too perfectionist, end up not doing it. Keep it simple. Simplicity is your friend and keeps things easy – you can always build things up later down the line."

Devise a realistic financial plan

“The last thing you want is to turn something that has been a passion into a stress,” says Simpson. For example, adopting a bespoke business model and making her jewellery to order, helped Simpson control the cost of the output versus the return.

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