I Quit My Job And Became A Llama Farmer. You Should Too

A stressful NHS career burned me out. Then I met my first llama and everything changed, writes Celia Gaze.
Courtesy of Celia Gaze
HuffPost UK
Courtesy of Celia Gaze

Have you ever felt that your job is almost making you ill? Like you’re stuck in a dead-end job that pays your rent but crushes your mojo? Are you frustrated about getting older but no closer to following your dream? Have a crazy idea for a career change but worried what people will say?

I was working as an NHS programme director in 2010 when work-related stress and burnout caused me to ask myself all these questions. I used to walk to work in so much stress I had chest pains, was snappy with my partner when I returned home, and couldn’t sleep due to worry about the next day. I remember the moment I realised I couldn’t keep going any longer. Sat in yet another meeting, suddenly everything hit me. I burst into tears, walked out of the room and that was it.

My burnout was a result of too much pressure being placed on me... by myself. I was determined to be seen as a knight in shining armour, to deliver every impossible project I’d been assigned. In hindsight, I think I had returned to work too early after having my baby. Pre-baby, 4am starts were the key to my success but when you have a baby who wakes up at 4am every day too, I just couldn’t work the hours I used to.

I was slowly crumbling but didn’t want to admit it. Nine years ago, having stress or a breakdown on your CV wouldn’t be helpful to a career-driven woman, so I ignored the symptoms. The thought of going to a doctor to admit something was wrong, that I couldn’t talk, that I couldn’t think, that I couldn’t deal with this any more, was really embarrassing.

“I decided that I was to stop, enjoy my baby while I could, and re-evaluate my life. So I quit my job.”

I remember making an appointment with my doctor and sitting down with him and describing everything I had been going through. I told him about the things that I had been thinking and feeling, and how I felt like such a failure. I told him about the constant cloudiness in my brain. He diagnosed that I was on the verge of a breakdown and needed to take some time off. My initial response was shock – what on earth was he talking about? I was too busy to take time off. But he gave me a wakeup call, saying: “If you don’t stop, you’re going to be very ill.” He signed me off for two weeks.

You would think that I’d just accept I was stressed and take time off to relax, but I couldn’t – I wanted to understand more about stress. What was it about this condition that had transformed me from a career-driven and ambitious person to someone who literally cried all the time and felt everyone was judging me. I realised this is what overwork and stress does to you, and I decided that I was to stop, enjoy my baby while I could, and re-evaluate my life.

So I quit my job.

Still obsessed with the causes of stress, I even completed courses on stress management. I then built a vision of a business that would help people like me live as stress-free as possible. I visited exactly 195 businesses around the country, with my baby, to get ideas.

My partner had a somewhat neglected farm inherited from his family, and I found myself wondering whether this was where I could create my dream wellbeing business. I thought back to the New Economics Foundation’s ‘five ways to mental wellbeing’ – connect, be active, take notice, keep learning, give – and put all five at the heart of my decision on how to change my life. But I had no experience of creating a business – could I really do this? Soon, the stress returned as I tried to plot the perfect plan, but it was different this time. It was passion and enthusiasm I was feeling.

Courtesy of Sarah Glynn
Sarah Glynn Photography
Courtesy of Sarah Glynn

I had read lots about the calming effects of animals, so I set about finding an animal which could be core to my business. It needed to a creature that could live in a stable, survive challenging weather and didn’t take much in terms of looking after. The one that ticked all three boxes was unexpected: llamas.

After researching how to actually purchase llamas in the UK, I came across a specialist llama trekking provider. From the moment I first met a trained llama, I knew they were the animal for me. Working with them was a steep learning curve – and obviously completely different from anything I had ever done before – but I never looked back.

We ran llama trekking for a while but eventually, when I started to turn the farm into a dream wedding venue, the llamas themselves became the stars of the show – dressed up in bow ties they create an amazing wedding experience and are now so popular with staff and couples alike. And being around them helps all of us de-stress too! You just can’t help but smile when you look at a llama: their beautiful eyes and lashes, out of proportion neck and their big teeth make them truly the most adorable creatures.

“It’s eight years now since I decided to do something to change my life, and transforming a neglected farm into a unique, peaceful, special place has paid off”

In the years after we launched I can’t say it wasn’t hard. I would experience more stress than I originally experienced in my old job, but the stress was different – instead of frustration, I was feeling passion. I had the freedom I wanted to run my own business and design the life that I want.

It’s eight years now since I decided to do something to change my life, and transforming a neglected farm into a unique, peaceful, special place has paid off. We focus on sustainability and the wellbeing of both staff and couples who get married here – taking as much stress as possible away from the couples who get married here and encouraging them to put all the focus on what really matters on the day: fun, laughter, family and friends. This has seen us win awards and, more importantly, a secure future.

When I think of the moral of my story, it comes down to this: if you have a dream for a different life, don’t let anyone stop you. You only have one life, and you don’t waste it all thinking ‘what if?’. Live your life now, and give it a go – what have you got to lose?

Make 2020 the year you changed your life.

Celia Gaze is the founder of award-winning wedding venue The Wellbeing Farm and author of Why Put a Bowtie on a Llama?, available now

Have a compelling personal story you want to tell? Find out what we’re looking for here, and pitch us on ukpersonal@huffpost.com

Before You Go

Go To Homepage