MY CAREER CHANGE
A NEW FRESH BEGINNING
I wrote this blog post a year ago and never posted it for the exact reasons I have highlighted in the post below: FEAR. "Who am I to tell people my story, who cares about it anyway: NOBODY!!... This is ridiculous, what are people gonna think, blah blah blah..." (goddamnnnn fear! You are LOUD!) :-/
But I decided to post it today after listening to a Podcast called Conversations With Giants (Ep. 34 - Kash Sree). Kash Sree said something that really resonated with me: "Don't become realized" and this is my mojo. So I figured I was onto something. So here it is. The beginning of my journey the day I decided to switch career.
It may seem scary at first, but seriously if this is something you have considered for a very long time, GO DO IT.
There is that little scared voice inside going crazy... “But where should I start, I love my current lifestyle, I will have to compromise so much, I am too old, it’s too late, I am not sure I am up to the task…” All excuses! Fear will always take over because that’s what fear does. Sometimes the fear in your gut warns you for the right reasons, but other times it only sounds like excuses.
I know, I have had all these same voices, and felt all of the fears. I went through the fake excuses, billions of times, until it all started to sound like bullshit even to myself. So, I took a leap of faith and I did it: I changed careers. And it only took me 10 years… No big deal. I wanted to share my experience--maybe help anyone who might be considering a career switch realize it can be done. Sure, it’s a life-changing experience. I had/have to make some pretty major compromises but it is totally worth it.
I started my career in as a senior project manager in the eCommerce fashion industry 12 years ago. I began in Ireland, then moved to London, and then to New York. I was making a decent salary, so I could travel, go out, and experience a lot of the areas around me. It was pretty awesome. Yet I was struggling and battling with myself a lot. Yeah sure, I was making money and was able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, but I was not fulfilled in my job. It was a lot of pressure and very long hours for something I was not really into anymore.
When I moved to London there was a lot of focus on working, but I was more junior and the economy was still flourishing, so there was less pressure and more leisure time and self-indulgence to keep a good work-life balance.
Then I moved to New York, where you really “live to work” (as opposed to, “work to live”). From the moment I got to NY, I had more responsibilities, many more long hours, and more pressure. This is when I realized if this is the way life was going to be, I’ve got to do something I freakin love. Otherwise, I’d soon feel like I was living in a nightmare. That was that, I had to become a designer. There was no more questioning, no more doubt--I hit the point of no return. I had to make it happen.
I started by registering for design classes. First I took some continuing education classes at SVA (introduction to graphic design, branding and visual identity). After those, I registered for a graphic and web design certificate--a 2-year, part time program at Parsons School of Design. I religiously went to my evening classes twice a week and did all of my homework.
I also signed up for a Skillshare account to do more outside the classroom. I worked on personal design projects and extra class assignments; I helped friends with their brands and websites. I would take anything possible to practice the art of design, while still working full time as a Senior Project Manager. It was all very tiring, and I got easily distracted having so much going on, but I had to do it. I was already 32 at the time, and felt that the change needed to happen sooner rather than later.
My next step was to design my own website. I put it out there as fast as I could with all the artwork I created along the way. I re-wrote my resume, added a tight cover letter, and started bombarding agencies and companies across NY.
I would apply to existing jobs and send spontaneous job requests--I used a lot of the AIGA job board. I generally got some good responses. I think my prior 10 years of PM experience, and the client names I worked with, got me some good traction. Out of 40ish applications I got five interviews, two hot leads, and one solid job offer--which I accepted! I have now been working as a designer for the past year and a half, and I love every minute of it.
Of course all this took some lifestyle reshaping!
THE FRUGAL MENTALITY
To make the switch I had to make some inevitable compromises. Money was one of them. I used to make a decent living as a senior project manager, but starting in a more junior designer role, I now make close to half of what I used to make. When you live in an expensive city like NY it makes a huge difference--rent, bills and lifestyle are all at higher costs.
Here are some lifestyle adjustments I started almost immediately:
- Bringing lunch to work dropped my lunch expenses at least $5/day on average.
- Reducing the amount of eating out, take out and drinks after work.
- Paying closer attention in the grocery store. I still eat what I want, but I am overall more carefully what I buy, even if it drops my final receipt of only a dollar or two. I shop at cheaper stores, look for cheaper brands, and check the promotions (especially on expensive items such as detergent).
- No more traveling around the country (I will get back to that later).
- Less expensive clothes. Sorry Reformation, Aritzia, Maje, Sandro, Sézane… I might see you again on Black Friday. Until then, Asos, Zara (stretching it there), H&M... And wearing all these clothes I already own.
- Drop the wasteful attitude. One thing this experience is showing me is that I was spending my money on very unnecessary things, which I could have lived without and saved instead. It has taught me to be frugal without being too tight.
Even though it may seem like a painful thing to go through, it was an eye opener and I am grateful for it. I hope once I get back to a higher salary I will remember all of this and keep my more frugal mentality.
WORK YOUR ASS OFF AND CLIMB THAT LADDER BACK UP AS FAST AS YOU CAN!
I am afraid there are no shortcuts here. You’re gonna have to work your ass off if you want to become good and legit! But the good news is, you already have the junior job--now you only need to perfect your skills and become very good at the art of design.
A career change is like being back at the beginning of your career when everything was so exciting and new, except you have many years of prior work experience in your back pocket. This can serve you really well.
A career switch definitely helps kick your motivation back up, and that is just great! I am also so passionate about what I do that I love going home at night and working after dinner or while I’m watching a show. I always throw new projects at myself to keep learning new methods and new creative processes. I use Skillshare a lot, but recently signed up for Lynda.com and also the Pattern Observer eCourses because I am quite into surface pattern design. All these online services have great resources and awesome teachers (thank you Bonnie Christine, Elizabeth Owen and Mary-Kate McDevitt to only name a few), with great creative processes to learn from. And at the end of the class you have one new piece of artwork, and a new valuable skill to practice, master and put to use.
So here is how I look at it: yes it may be a bit rough at times but it’s all for the better in the long run and I am having a blast right now, getting out of bed exciting for the day to come. In a year or two I will be back on track. When I’m 80 (God forbid I get that old), will I regret the years of sacrifices and hard work I had to put into my career change, to then have 30 years of work life I love? I already have the answer to that question: CERTAINLY NOT. Plus I will very likely remember it (if my memory allows it), as an awesome time in my life where I took the bull by the horns and just freakin’ did it!
I hope this will help anyone out there who is considering making the switch. If you know this is right for you, and the constant thoughts keep on coming back, nagging you--just freakin’ take action and go do it!!
Don’t hesitate to drop a line if this post resonated to share your personal experience! I would love to hear it.