There’s nothing like returning to work in January to get you daydreaming about a new career, especially if you’re on the brink of a quarter-life crisis.
As we move through our 20s and 30s – when retirement still feels like a lifetime away – we start to wonder whether our jobs will satisfy us long-term, and it’s enough to cause many to consider a change. In fact, two-thirds of workers say they’d like to switch to a more meaningful career before they turn 40, according to a recent survey.
But making the leap, rather than simply pondering what could have been, takes guts and a lot of hard work. We asked four women what finally pushed them to turn that dream into a reality, plus how they did it.
Banker to Psychotherapist
“Making the change felt like more of a relief than a worry.”
Rakhi Chand, 36, London
Having studied economics and economic history at university, Rakhi Chand, 36, from London, almost fell into banking, saying simply: “I had been travelling and I needed a job.”
Her first contract was at Goldman Sachs and, although she made friends and had fun, she knew almost instantly the job wasn’t for her long-term. But early on, she realised it could financially facilitate therapy training, something she felt more passionate about. While still working as a banker, Rakhi volunteered at the Samaritans. “I remember negotiating leaving early once a week to get to volunteering,” she recalls. “It didn’t go down that well, but I managed it.”
Five years into her career, Rakhi left and retrained as a psychotherapist, using the money she had built up. She also lived with her mum for a year to save cash. “It was a sacrifice and hard for us both at times,” she says. “But I was ready to make the change and it felt like more of a relief than a worry.”
Rakhi has since launched Chand Counselling is glad she changed careers when she did, acknowledging it can be harder later in life. And, from listening to her clients in the past decade, she has understood that a lack of fulfilment at work “can be a bugger for mental health”.
Her advice for anyone considering switching jobs? “Think about it, play with it, talk to people.”
Police Officer to Teaching Assistant to Horror Writer
“You will be surprised how many transferable skills you have.”
Janine Pipe, 40, from Swindon
Janine Pipe, 40, from Swindon, worked as a response officer for Wiltshire Police for five years before considering a change. She loved the job, but the shifts were hard on her relationship – her husband works 9-5 as a lawyer, so they were like “ships passing in the night”.
Becoming a mum at the age of 31 cemented her decision to leave. “I couldn’t return to that type of work,” she says. “Never knowing when your shift would end, dealing with child abuse... it was no longer for me.” So, she left.
Janine and her husband managed mainly on his salary by being “very frugal” for a few years, with Janine blogging for a travel company to bring in extra cash. When her daughter started school, she took shifts there at lunchtimes, and volunteered to listen to readers some afternoons. And when a teaching assistant job came up, she applied. “It was demanding but extremely rewarding and children are just amazing,” she says. “There was never a dull day.”
Sadly, Janine lost the job due to staff redundancies, but she decided “fate had intervened”. She’d been writing horror stories as a hobby, and her redundancy encouraged her to contact her favourite horror podcasts to share her stories, in return for payment. They were an instant hit, and she has since had several short stories audio-published.
Janine now runs her own horror blog. Most of her writing is supernatural-based, but she’s currently penning a couple of serial killer shorts. “My knowledge of crime scenes and police procedure will be extremely useful for that,” she says.
Her advice for anyone considering a career change is, simply, to do it. “You will be surprised how many transferable skills you have – my knowledge of crowd control from policing was a God-send on the playground,” she jokes. “If there is a career you’ve always wanted to get into, and you’re financially able to, do it.”
NHS Nurse to Baker
“I was completely burnt out and had nothing left to give.”
Lynsey Bleakley, 43, from Northern Ireland
Lynsey Bleakley, 43, from County Down, Northern Ireland, worked in the NHS for almost 18 years – first as a nurse, then as a health visitor supporting new mums and babies in their homes. But after she and her partner suffered four miscarriages, her job became impossible.
“I was in a very dark place, crippled with anxiety as well as overwhelming grief,” she says. “I went back to work as a health visitor after each miscarriage, but it became harder to manage the anxiety and give myself to the families I worked with. I was completely burnt out and had nothing left to give.”
To cope with the stresses of work, Lynsey found herself baking in the kitchen more. “There are only so many brownies and cakes you can give to your family and friends though,” she jokes. “So it seemed like a natural progression to turn it into a business.”
Bumble & Goose Bespoke Bakehouse was born and Lynsey soon left her job as a health visitor to work on it full-time, using savings to cover her lost income. She now supplies bakes for events and has three part-time staff working for her.
Lynsey has mixed feelings about leaving the NHS: relief, but also a loss of a sense of identity. Still, she’s glad she made the leap. “If you’d said to me two years ago I’d give up my career and start up a small baking business I wouldn’t have believed you,” she says. “Life circumstances pushed me to make big decisions and prioritise my health and wellbeing – it didn’t feel like a choice, more of a necessity, but it was the best thing I ever did.”
Her mantra for anyone considering the jump? “Sometimes, the reward is worth the risk.”
Corporate Consultant to Owning A Book Subscription Service
“I was worried about how I would define myself.”
Keisha Ehigie, 36 from Essex
Keisha Ehigie, 36 from Essex, worked in the city as a Corporate Governance Consultant, providing advice to boards of directors at private and public sector organisations.
During this time, the mum noticed a lack of representation in children’s books. When her daughter turned two, she started asking questions about her hair and skin colour. “She was observing physical differences between her and her friends, so I decided to get her books which had characters that looked like her,” she explains. “I soon realised it was a struggle to find such books.”
Through her research, Keisha discovered that kids’ books are far more likely to feature an animal character than a person of colour – so she decided to do something about it. She launched Imagine Me Stories, a subscription box service which delivers kids’ books that feature characters of colour.
The business was initially funded through personal savings, as Keisha was nervous about leaving her job – “I was also worried about how I would define myself and how I would be viewed,” she says – but she soon realised that if you have a dream that’s important to you, you should pursue it. In 2018, she left her well-paid job to work on the business full-time.
Two years on, she’s says her career feels incredibly fulfilled. “It’s so rewarding when I receive feedback from children and their parents about how empowering the subscription box is for them,” she says. “I also get amazing feedback from schools who’ve struggled to find diverse books for their school libraries.”
Her advice for prospective career changers is to transition alongside your current career, and to find a mentor who may be able to guide you.
“The alternative [to career changing] is to look back on your life years from now and think ‘what if?’,” she adds. “There will always be a reason not to start – very valid reasons in a lot of cases – but if you don’t take the leap, you’ll never know.”