Let me explain what it was like. I have had important-sounding jobs ever since I’ve graduated from university deviating from that path only once to go travelling for a year. In 2009 I took a ‘career break’ to embrace freedom, leisure and adventure. But in 2013 I took a leap of faith to change my lifestyle. I had a modest financial cushion for a softer landing, but it was still frightening. In fact, I craved fear, I was thirsty for a dramatic shake-up that catalysed my decision.
Six weeks later I launched Life Tonic, which in its original concept, was a platform offering talks and workshops on life skills and well-being, business and economics. I learned that in this day and age creating a business is quick and does not require any significant investment to test an idea. Apart from my time and its opportunity cost, I’ve hardly spent any money at all. There are plenty of excellent platforms for launching a website, such as WordPress, Weebly, SquareSpace, Shopify, etc. Such resources as Mailchimp, Eventbrite, SoundCloud, Dropbox, SurveyMonkey, Facebook, Twitter, TweetDeck, Intagram, YouTube, Google apps are free or charge modest fees for the services they provide. Six weeks into running my business, I’ve realised that my concept would take time and money to gain traction in very competitive market and will never achieve scale. I would have had to focus all my time on getting ‘bums on seats’, rather than relish Life Tonic as a creative challenge. Taking it all in, I’ve decided to 'fail quickly'. Thanks to lessons I’ve learned from the Lean Startup, I’ve tweaked my original concept into a blog, which has been successfully running for almost two years now.
Three months after I quit my job I was at a loss. What’s next? I had a chat with a wise life coach Judith Morgan who gave me the following advice: find a way to earn money to pay the bills, making use of your skill set and focus the rest of the time on things you love to develop them slowly, without putting the pressure on them to make money. It was brilliant advice I’ve been using ever since. Given my background in corporate finance, I’ve started business and corporate finance consulting, helping individuals and companies raise money for their businesses or evaluating investment opportunities for private equity firms. I got in touch with many former colleagues who have been recommending me to their friends and business contacts over the last 18 months. If you ever needed a confirmation that it pays not to burn your bridges, take it from me. At the same time, I’ve been running Ladies Who Impress and writing for Life Tonic, Huffington Post and now the New Statesman.
If I were to label myself, I’d say I have a "portfolio career" or perhaps that I am a "writer in transition". If a career change is something you are contemplating, let me share some observations with you.
It ain’t easy. Right now I have a good pipeline of consulting work, which means I can pay the bills and even afford occasional luxuries such as a play in the West End, a dinner out and a weekend away. On other occasions I had no projects, which is when worry sneaks in and starts stealthily to play mind games. Working on your own can sometimes be lonely, especially if you don’t make enough to justify hiring a co-working space. People often assume that you are always free and available to meet during the day. Procrastinating (on Facebook or planning a wedding while at work) and taking sick leave are reserved for 9-5 jobs. What I’ve learned is that when there is no work, it’s best to focus your time and energy on your 'passion projects', rather than to give in to anxiety. In my case I spent two months over the summer on writing short stories Babushka and Me, which I had then published on Amazon. At the end of that year I had little concern over how much money I’d made as I was too busy celebrating one awesome achievement: becoming an author.
It’s not about a new job, but a new lifestyle. Self-employed folks don’t have days off. Ask any freelancer or an entrepreneur and you’ll see that most often than not, they stay ‘switched on’ 365 days a year. It’s very different from having a job and leaving it in the office in the evenings, on weekends and holidays. For a freelancer it’s often difficult to plan vacations in advance. On the other hand, it is up to you to create a life you want. Typically, I get up without an alarm clock, I cook my meals from scratch, I find time for exercise and I rarely work late. Previously, I bought stuff and dined out a lot as a way to relax and reward myself for my hard corporate work. Now shopping, theatre and restaurant dining are genuine treats I savour and appreciate more. Travel is one of my passions so I indulge it. It’s easy to slip into the “starving artist/freelancer” mode but then I ask myself: “What are you living for?” And so I go skiing, I travel to new places, I often stay in hostels or with friends and fly with budget airlines but I splash out on experiences.
A portfolio career allows you to test a variety of roles. Over the last two years I’ve been offered several jobs from managing a boutique fitness studio to working for a private equity firm. I have tried myself in many roles working on consulting projects, which is often impossible with a full-time job. One my friends recently returned to work in the City on a part-time basis, having run her own private catering business for years in-between. Her temporary contract allows her to try a new role before committing permanently, to test a new environment to decide whether it’s right for her at this stage. My own decisions are influenced my changes in my value system: in my twenties I wanted security and stability (think a poor immigrant without a British passport); today my priorities are creative fulfilment and balance. I may yet find my perfect job, and my free range life allows me to experiment: one day I am a foreign correspondent, another day I present Woman’s Hour.
I’ve learned more in 2 years than I have in a decade. Being an entrepreneur means you have to be quick on your feet. You must be confident or fake it until you feel so naturally. You have to be well organised or learn quickly. One of my clients has been so focussed on his first film that he abandoned fundraising and developing new projects. At the end of the year he’ll have his moment of glory but with no funds and no pipeline, it’s bound to get tough. You must be able to network effectively however cringeworthy you feel about it. I knew nothing about blogging, public speaking, marketing, social media, copywriting, law, journalism, broadcasting, video editing or coding two years ago. I am still not an expert but I’ve learned a huge amount which has quadrupled my skill set. In addition, I’ve learned to give anything a go. Yesterday I learned how to edit an audio recording. If you are interested in coding, have a look at playto.io, developed by Decoded, where you can teach yourself the basics of coding for free.
Focus on your strengths, rather than weaknesses. During my time in corporate finance, I’ve always tried to become better at ‘soft skills’, office politics, play by unwritten rules of ‘face time’ and taking on tasks I wasn’t particularly keen on. Working for myself gives me as close as perfect an incentive to work hard and deliver my best without worrying about office politics. Whether I am building a model for a client or reviewing someone else’s business plan, I play on my strengths. What’s more, I now have time to work on new skills I genuinely care about: writing, interviewing, journalism and brand marketing.
Life is a journey. Over the last two years my life has been most adventurous and I came to appreciate living without a job. I’ve not been able to save or invest in anything significant. My lifestyle is anything but safe and secure. But I’ve developed my passion for writing and interviewing, I’ve been earning enough to live well, I’ve learned to appreciate things I’ve previously taken for granted and to enjoy simple pleasures in life. I lost fear and embraced unpredictability. I cannot wait to see where Fortuna takes me next.