It was 3pm on a hot Wednesday in July when I stood on a pavement, laden down with handmade gifts and desk paraphernalia, contemplating my impending unemployment. I had just left my job as a teacher to pursue a career in writing and – if I’m completely honest – I was scared shitless.
With no full-time job to go to, I was about to embark on six weeks of what was effectively ‘work experience’ as a way to wedge my foot in the proverbial door and felt as if I was constantly teetering between a euphoric feeling of freedom (hurrah! No more marking or tying other people’s shoelaces!) and an impending nervous breakdown (which park bench will I live on when I inevitably can’t pay my rent due to the fact that I just QUIT MY JOB?). It was both exhausting and exhilarating – I was freefalling into a black hole with no idea of where I would land.
I had expected all of the above; had known that such a monumental shift in my day – to – day life would give me some growing pains. But what I hadn’t expected to deal with were the reactions from other people when I first shared the news.
Aside from the obvious concern that parents have whenever you do something remotely ‘rogue’, both friends and colleagues alike expressed varying degrees of bemusement and confusion. From ‘you’re brave’ to ‘what – you haven’t got another job lined up?’ I heard it all, but by far the most popular and surprising response was: ‘well – that’s the dream, isn’t it?’
Though I doubt anyone would’ve batted an eyelid had I been doing things the other way round – going from writing to teaching – there’s something about choosing to move into a creative field that people are particularly frightened of. The phrase, ‘that’s the dream’ implies that to actually strive for these things is folly; that creative ambitions such as becoming a full-time writer are not for the likes of me but only for those shiny, beautiful celebrity people cluttering up our Instagram feeds.
Through the whole transition process, this was the thing that shocked me the most – how afraid other people were of my decision to change careers. Thanks to technology, the world of work is progressing beyond recognition, with flexi-time and remote working becoming more commonplace. Yet, for some reason, as a society we struggle to get our heads around the idea that people might want to radically change their professions at some point over the next 50 years.
And that’s the point – for millennials, it’s looking increasingly likely that we’ll be working well into our seventies, so the idea of being happy in the same job for over half a century seems laughable. A 2017 survey by Britain Thinks and Investec revealed that we can now expect to change careers at least five times before we retire, yet there is still a huge stigma attached to doing so.
As Career Coach (aka The Coaching Diva) Rachida Benamar explained, ‘social pressure to find a ‘good job’ (and keep it) is huge’. This stems from the fact that we are straddling the line between ‘old modes of thinking’ – following the example set by our predecessors – and a changing world. ‘We still look at how our parents lived their lives and for a lot of them that meant finding a career and sticking at it no matter what. So, when we come to consider our own career, we use this as a benchmark for what is normal,’ Benamar explains.
Fear of the unknown, it seems, is what traps most people into a state of inaction, compelling them to stay in jobs that, at best, they tolerate but, at worst, they loathe. Life Coach Adele Clough recognises this as an ‘instinctive survival mechanism’ but one that we must work to keep in check. She urges her clients to ask themselves, “what career would you choose if you knew you would both love it and be successful?”
Although I was afraid of many of the same scenarios described by Clough – with failure, judgement and financial implications winning my top three spots – it was also, ironically, fear that became my catalyst. The fear that I would spend most of my waking hours toiling at something that didn’t make me happy was worse than anything else – even disappointing my family and having no money.
So for anyone dreading hearing ‘that’s the dream, isn’t it?’ in response to their plans, just remember – if I’d listened to those comments, I wouldn’t be writing this piece right now – I’d probably be having a nervous breakdown in a resource cupboard somewhere. And that, my friends, is enough of a reality check to have me running all the way back to the dreamland I’m supposedly living in.