Taking the leap

What happens to our sense of self when we make wholesale career changes further down the line? Emirates Woman speaks to the women who turned their 3pm daydreams into a reality.


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January is very good at turning things around – in theory at least. We make our high-minded goals for fitness, health and perhaps better time management. But what about taking the high-stakes risk of changing careers and completely overhauling your professional existence?

If the 21st century work-sphere has taught us anything, it’s that we are more than just one thing – some of us are underwriters by day, personal trainers by night, others scribe out press releases from 9-5 and spend the rest of the day creating four-tier wedding cakes just for fun – or so it seems.

The ‘job for life’ is a thing of the past. Gone are the days of entering and sticking to one singular field. We hear of professionals leap frogging from one end of the spectrum to the other all the time now, but what happens in between? After all, what we see is the end result, not the midnight financial panics, the pendulum swings of ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ or the manic self-doubt.


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The route we’re seeing more often now, is a departure from the structure of corporate life to the free-fall of self-employment.

For Saudi-American Alia Al-Hatlani, she was working in an office job doing just about “every menial task under the sun. During this period of my life, I really took to baking and decorating cakes. It was something I’d done occasionally for family and friends, but it had never occurred to me to pursue it,” she says.

One year ago she established a wedding cake business – Lady Grey Seattle – in the US – where she designs, assembles and decorates elaborate cakes for nuptials. Maybe it was the fact that all her “college application essays were about the dinner table” and that someone told her “if you ever find you don’t know what to do with your life, you should do that” where the dots aligned and she put a plan in place.

For photographer American Makenzie Verbout who lives in Bahrain, she loved her previous career in publishing. The natural circumstances of a move to the Middle East forced her to leave a job she otherwise would have “stayed at for another decade”.

Change was less of an epiphany but more of a necessity for Makenzie. “I quickly found myself pretty bored after working in a high paced job for almost a decade. The move to professional photographer was very organic. I often took photos of my own daughters and would share on social media and over time friends started asking me to take their family photos.”


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Cut to October 2016, Makenzie had her first professional gig. Thereafter, it’s been more business acumen than lens work: “Taking pictures is really only a small part of being a successful, profitable photographer.  The rest is effective marketing, branding, customer service and sales savviness.”

She’s definitely experienced isolation in her largely solo job – “I miss having a team of colleagues” – but she’s mitigated that feeling through “tons of online groups focusing on different skills necessary for running a photography business”.

Most of us reroute our careers once or twice in a lifetime – Samantha Rothwell, from the UK and the Philippines, has changed careers three times in under five years. From a cabin crew position for a leading Gulf-based airline, to working in the jewellery department at Disney to now working in child development in multiple centres across Hong Kong. “My dad always used to say ‘how do you know if you like it, if you haven’t tried it?’ – I’m not sure he meant it in terms of careers, but it makes sense to me!”

When it comes to the questioning outside opinion – ‘Why would you leave this amazing job?’ career and life coach Anne Jackson, of One Life Coaching in Dubai, says: “It’s only an amazing job for those who want it. I’ve coached CEOs of top banks who earn super high salaries and hate their job.”


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Indeed, Samantha occasionally misses the higher paid positions she’s held but “sacrificing your happiness for a bigger pay cheque is not worth it in the long run.”

But she has felt out of her depth at times – particularly as her background is not in child development, but she is “going above and beyond” to learn and be present. And Makenzie feels her inner critic over-judges her work and compare to other photographers too, but “I don’t think I ever want to completely silence it, as it gives me a push to always keep improving.”

Instead of concerning yourself over your qualifications and feeling they don’t match directly, think about the skills you’ve got.“It’s not about your qualifications, it’s more the skills you’ve acquired which you can take with you can transfer to your next career,” Anne highlights.

In addition, knowing your values and aligning it with your job will manifest the right career by default, notes Anne. “I take so much pride in what I do and even though the pay isn’t nearly as much as I was earning before, I go home at the end of each working day with a full heart,” adds Samantha.

A key tenet to jumping ship from the stability of a job is being “completely clear-headed about it,” Alia says. As for losing who you are – commonly felt when leaving the familiarity and the status of a position – chasing after what you’re meant to do in life actually bolsters and “manifests your identity ten times over because you’re doing the right thing at the right time,” says Anne – “all of a sudden I felt expert, in a way. I knew who I was,” adds Alia.

The art of not falling apart when changing careers is to hunker down for the long haul, work hard and hone your craft. “We don’t know who Picasso is because he painted for a year. We know who he is because he painted for his entire life,” says Alia.

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