Once we’d got over the initial excitement of working in our PJs, batch baking banana bread and squawking at pixelated faces on HouseParty, for those of us in non-essential jobs, lockdown inevitably became a period of slowing down. With a stripped back social life and no hours lost to commuting, there was extra time for reflection. And for some, this meant ample time to rethink their current career status.
For Ellie, 30, who works as a marketing manager in the TV industry in London, a career change had been on her mind for over a year, but lockdown gave her newfound clarity. “I was struggling to work out what direction to take and whether that was a new job in a similar field or a complete career change,” she says. “The distance from the office, no longer rushing between work and social events and the calmer pace of life gave me a clearer head. I’ve had the time and space to think about what I would really enjoy, what suits my skills and interests and the lifestyle that I would like to have.”
The result? She’s decided to retrain as a physiotherapist. It won’t be a quick or easy switch. It involves embarking on a three-year undergraduate degree which means completing a refresher course for mature students and doing work experience. While she can get a loan for the degree fees, before starting in September 2021, she’ll need to save up the majority of her living costs for the years studying, where she’ll only be able to work part-time.
With coronavirus impacting the economy, others have found themselves making changes out of necessity. After leaving a role in the restaurant industry in early March, Jen, 31, from Edinburgh, found herself in the tricky position of searching for a new job when lockdown hit.
“The ‘we are now pausing recruitment’ responses to my applications came streaming in,” Jen says. “Some jobs I’d applied for were no longer available as they were related to the Edinburgh festival or other cultural projects no longer going ahead.”
With opportunities looking limited, Jen used her extra free time to pursue a passion project that had been in the works for a while: mindful marbling workshops (teaching people the meditative art of marbling). “I’d previously had the idea to run paid mindful marbling workshops, plus offer free mindful marbling for people living with Dementia,” Jen explained. Zoom workshops proved problematic so instead she grew the business in other ways.
“I’ve been focusing on selling my own marbled cards and wall art which wasn't the original plan,” she explained. Thanks to frequent and consistent posting on social media and word of mouth recommendations she has built up her customer base, which she sells to via Etsy.
“Lockdown has accelerated the process of developing the business massively,” she added. “I would never normally have had the time to focus on creating products, building my social media following and developing the website.”
It was a similar story for Merje, a 37-year old from London working in tech who also chose to focus on building a side project when her freelance contract was cut from five days to three. “It left a significant hole in my finances which were fairly precarious to begin with,” she said. Merje’s been working on Scandiscapes, an online sustainable plant shop, and with solid sales throughout lockdown she hopes to work towards making it her full-time income.
Benedicta, 39, who was furloughed from her Project Manager job in the Midlands, has been using her free time to work on Blaqbase, an app to discover and shop black-owned businesses.
“I started building the app last year, but furlough has given me the time to grow my audience and app sign ups, build the Blaqbase community [and] become more active on social media,” she said. While the future of her previous job is unknown at the moment, she plans to keep growing the business regardless.
During a global pandemic might not seem like the opportune period to make a major career move, but for these women it will be worth it in the end. Knowing they have chosen a path where they can pursue their passion and have a healthier working environment.
“Lockdown has been an illuminating time for me,” Merje explained. “Going on auto-pilot was no longer an option and this really made me think about what is important to me. I love speaking with happy customers - you just don’t get that immediate feedback in a city organisation. I like the friendly female plant scene much more than the male dominated city. Plus, I get to be creative and surrounded by plants every day - it gives me more joy than working with a financial company ever could.”
Alice Stapleton, a career coach for young professionals, shares her wisdom on how to switch up your working life...
Do your issues stem from the actual work, skills you’re using and your overall purpose? Frequently changing roles, not feeling proud of what you do and constant niggling doubts are clues it’s the industry (career) not the job that’s the problem.
Visualize what you want your working day to look like; what strengths and skills you want to use and what you want the result of your work to be.
Listen to relevant podcasts, read ‘day in the life’ interviews, look up people’s career journeys on LinkedIn and sign up to talks, webinars and short courses.
Speak with people who work in the industry you’re most interested in and try to gain as much relevant experience via short periods of volunteering, internships and contract work.
Use the STAR technique in interviews (structure each answer to highlight the Situation, Task, Action, and Result you brought about).