The end of 2022 is so close we can almost feel it. And, despite it being another six weeks until New Year's Eve, there’s already a feeling of ‘new beginnings’ in the air. The dawning of a fresh year invites reflection – not only on the year that's wrapping up, but also on your life as a whole, too. That includes everything from your fitness habits and your career to your relationships – or even simply asking 'what makes me happy? and how can I include more of that in my daily life?'
Of course, it's one thing to ask those questions, but another to act on the answers they may reveal. But a great place to start? By hearing the stories of others who did exactly that – made a change in pursuit of their ideal career – in order to learn some really practical ways that you can cultivate a more satisfying working life. No matter how long ago it was that you graduated from school.
Olivia Lesurf Wray, 29, went to uni when she was 27 and now works in the props department for films and TV including The Witcher on Netflix.
I’m standing on a film set, and I'm surrounded by castles, in the middle of a fantasy land that I’ve helped create. I’m pinching myself; it feels like magic – how have I ended up here? With a job sourcing props for TV and film. For instance, if, for example, a character is talking on the phone, it’s my job to find the one that fits the script, the era and the aesthetic.
A conversation with my flatmate Millie kicked it off. After a decade working as a fashion buyer, I’d fallen out of love with it. Fashion didn’t seem to matter anymore. She knocked on my bedroom door. “You seem down,” she said as she curled up next to me on my bed. “Your career is such a big thing, you need to think about what you want. What’s your dream job?” I told her I’ve always been fascinated by film and TV, which Millie was studying at the time, and she said it’s the best thing she’d ever done. So I signed up for some university open days the very next day.
My first day was three years ago, but I remember it well. “This is one of the toughest industries in the world,” the lecturer said. Sitting there as a “mature” 26-year-old student, I felt chills go down my spine. I’d spent thousands of pounds on this, committed to three years and there was no guarantee it would work out. I thought about the maintenance loans I’d taken out, the part-time admin job I’d taken on and the savings I’d worked so hard to pile up – would it all be for nothing?
Everyone else looked so young. I was sitting there with ten years of experience in the working world and half of these people had just moved out of home for the first time. But as I moved through my degree, I never felt like the odd one out. I just kept going, lesson after lesson. And it was the props department where I found my home.
My lecturers told me that my fashion buying skills could come in useful and that I should use them to my advantage. I found out about these Facebook groups called ‘art department’ and ‘set decoration’ which sometimes had jobs listed. I posted in one of them saying I had nine years’ experience in fashion buying and I was studying film. I woke up the next day to 15 messages. I ended up picking up some jobs that I could fit around my studies. It all started clicking into place.
Three years might seem like a long time, but it’s not. Not really. The difference in age between 26 and 29 isn’t that vast. So, if you’re thinking about making a change and have the means to do so, just do it. If not, in another three years, you might be in exactly the same place you are now.
Holly Astral, 38, left her job in toy design at 31 to retrain as a tattooist.
“Why don’t you become a tattooist?” my friend asked me, as I ran ideas by her while she sipped her coffee. I was 31, I wanted to have a baby and a job that could fit around that. I imagined myself as a yoga teacher and never considered becoming a tattooist, but something about that idea just clicked...
I’d spent my career working in toy manufacturing after studying model-making at uni. I adored it. If Disney or Hasbro had an idea for a toy, they’d come to me with a sketch, and I’d make that into an actual physical thing that would then get mass-produced. Sadly, the nature of my job changed when 3D printing became cheap enough that all model-making studios had one in house. I went from making things with my hands to working on the computer. And hated it.
I bought a new sketchbook to mark my new start. I knew if I was going to become a tattooist, I needed to hone my drawing skills. I practised every night. Just me and the book. My mates gave me tattoo ideas to draw, which became increasingly elaborate. They'd say, ‘I want a portrait of me riding a bourbon biscuit over a rainbow.’ I worked at it for months alongside my full-time job.
Eventually, I built up a portfolio and took it to all the tattoo shops in my area. Some of them told me to ‘f*ck off’, but others gave me advice and one offered me an apprenticeship. When I started, it felt like my first day at school, the beginning of a new chapter. I’d approached it methodically; I knew I needed to be here to get where I wanted to be in five years’ time. I broke it down into steps. I worked as an apprentice for a year. Alongside learning to tattoo, I was a general assistant. Occasionally as I was sweeping the floors, I’d wonder ‘what have I done? Why did I leave a well-paid job for this?’. Especially when I’d finish my day and go home to do freelance work to pay the bills.
But I did it. Now here I am living my dream life. I have my own tattoo shop in Watford and a six-month-old daughter. When people ask why I made that change, I say ‘life's too short’. I never wanted to be the kind of person who looks back and thinks ‘maybe I should have done that 10 years ago’. There’s this theory in economics called the ‘sunk cost fallacy’. As humans, we persevere with things because we've already sunk an amount of time into it. Sometimes it’s better to know when you need to quit and do what makes your heart sing.
Emily Jackson, 25, is doing a nursing degree through the Open University.
I didn’t get the qualifications I needed at school to go to uni. That’s how I ended up taking on an apprenticeship to become a teaching assistant. The part of that job I most adored was caring for a little boy with complex needs and watching him grow. Then, when my grandad was being cared for in a hospice, I saw how amazing the nurses were. I knew then that I wanted to be a nurse.
So, to start with, I became a healthcare assistant at my local hospital, eventually starting an apprenticeship to study nursing at the Open University.
It was surreal sitting in the interview room - I'd struggled with the application, but I was delighted when I was accepted on to the course and I started uni just two months later.
When I first began my degree in nursing, I felt out of my depth. If I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy the first month at all and wondered what I’d got myself into. It took me a while to get used to remote learning, but I ended up liking the flexibility it gives me. Now, I work full-time in a hospital as a student nurse. Studying alongside that is a lot. My friends with nine-to-five jobs can’t always get their heads around the fact that some evenings I have to stay in and study.
It’s all starting to feel worth it, though. I was recently shortlisted for student nurse of the year by The Nursing Times for all the work I've done on the ward to improve patient safety and helping to digitalise notes. Covid has made my first experience as a nurse tough, but it’s such a rewarding job – there’s no other like it. I can’t wait to be fully qualified.
Is it right for you?
Still have no idea where to start? We asked Jill Cotton, a career trends expert for employee review site, Glassdoor, for some useful resources to give you inspiration and to answer any questions you might have.
Am I too old?
“It’s never too late to retrain, or to take the skills you’ve already built up and transfer them to another industry,” reassures Cotton. “Hardly anyone can map exactly what they want from their career and stay in one role for their entire working life.”
You’ve got skills
“Not every job in a new industry requires you to retrain,” says Cotton. “Remember the two Rs: research and reflection.” Find out everything you can about your dream role and understand the skills needed to secure it. “Use professional networks such as LinkedIn to connect with those already working in the field and to check out their career paths and experience. Identify where you have gaps in knowledge and upskill in these areas," she adds.
Do I need to quit my current job?
Founded by The Open University, FutureLearn pulls together online courses from universities all over the world. There are more than 5,000 courses to choose from and they are all taught online so you can do them from anywhere and fit them around your current schedule.
Or you could try doing another, less intensive, online course to dip your toes in; Alison offers free online courses and is one of the biggest education and skills training platforms. LinkedIn Learning has nearly 17,600 courses too, covering everything from business to honing your creative skills.
How am I supposed to afford it?
Firstly, check out Learner Support which is funded by the Government and can provide support for childcare, materials and even accommodation. Alternatively, Turn2Us helps people in financial need access benefits and grants. They have a grant finder to see what options might be available to you.
Help... I'm still unsure!
Worried about taking the leap in parting with hard-earned cash or quitting outright? Take it slow. Consider making a case to your boss as to why a certain course might help the business and see if you can learn on (paid) work time. or, if your budget allows, could you make a flexible working request to change or reduce your hours and fit a course in alongside your job more easily? Failing that, do some initial reading around your subject or try reaching out to a few people in the field for a coffee or virtual chat.
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