I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while but I’ll be honest, I’ve been nervous about sharing it. However much we talk about not needing to care what people think, I definitely do, and if the last few months have taught me anything then it’s how closely my identity is wrapped up in work and that I spend far too much energy worrying about people’s judgement.
I should start by saying that this isn’t going to be some sort of no-holds-barred exposé on the marketing industry; what I want it to be really is an encouragement that you don’t have to feel stuck in what you do now if you don’t like it. You can change your life.
Back in 2013 when I first moved to Leeds, I kind of fell into marketing I suppose. I’d previously worked as a shop assistant and loved the visual merchandising aspect of dressing the windows; I liked selling to people and making them feel good about themselves. It felt as if marketing might be a good match with these interests and so when I saw a full-time marketing assistant job advertised, I went for it. To be honest the job wasn’t really what I’d expected, but it gave me a platform to move into account handling at a creative agency. I loved working with people all day long, developing relationships with clients and colleagues, and having an input into creative process. There were other aspects I didn’t like so much, but isn’t that the same with every job? I worked my way up from that job to another, and then progressed again at the end of last year to the role of Account Manager at a digital agency, a title I’d worked so hard towards. If anything though, 2018 has taught me to care less about titles.
For one reason or another, things just didn’t click. I kept telling myself that it was because I was new, and everything would fall into place in the new year. The people around me were lovely and there is nothing negative for me to say here in terms of specifics – just somehow, something wasn’t right. I started to wake up in the mornings with a sinking feeling, which became a gut-wrenching knot as I walked through the train station each day. I’d try to think positively and come into the office chirpily, before the knot in my stomach expanded into full-blown acrobatics as I loaded my emails. I remember sitting behind my computer screen feeling like an imposter every day, despite any reassurance anyone could give me. I’d had amazing feedback on my interview and my boss regularly encouraged me but his praise fell on deaf ears; I was convinced I wasn’t good enough and that they’d given the job to the wrong person. Self-doubt started to consume me and before long, simple tasks felt overwhelming. I got used to taking foundation to work so I could do hurried cover-up jobs on my blotchy, tear-stained face in the toilets before putting on a smile and heading to a meeting room for another client call. Ironically, it was probably the most supportive agency I’ve ever worked at, but as time went on I realised that didn’t make it right for me and I couldn’t continue life this way. I had lost my weekends – it took until Saturday lunchtimes for me to relax, and come Sunday lunchtimes, the dread would start to set back in. It all feels like a weird blur now – maybe I’ve blocked some of it out – but what I do remember is my birthday and heading home from Chester Zoo with that familiar knot in my stomach and knowing I couldn’t last much longer.
The only problem was, I was spent. I didn’t have the energy to apply for another job or hardly a shred of self-belief. At the risk of sounding a little soppy, I am so so blessed and lucky that I had Aaron, who got me through that time and relentlessly encouraged me to just leave. We had a lot of discussions about money and I worried that it wasn’t fair on him, but we knew it wasn’t going to be forever, and if we could make a few cut backs that we’d be okay. I know a lot of people aren’t in the financial situation to do that with a job and I’m not oblivious of my privilege. I think if I hadn’t had him, I’d have gone back home to my parents for a bit, but I know not everyone has that option either. If you do have some kind of option though, I would so encourage you to take it. However much of a terrifying and (in my head) backwards step it felt like at the time, the relief was huge. Anxiety and self-doubt are things I’m always going to need to work at – I know that – but a massive weight was lifted after that last day. Despite this, the mix of emotions at that time was bizarre. I felt embarrassed and ashamed of my unemployed status, I worried what people would think despite incredible support from my friends, got nervous about seeing people in town, or even posting things on social media. I had judged people in the past for not working, why would people now not judge me? I vowed to stay productive and got up with Aaron each morning, banning myself from TV and focusing on writing and drawing and getting stuff done around the house. I have to say that never has creativity meant more to me, and in particular over this time was like medicine for the soul (I wrote more about this in a post on hobbies and passions which you can read here).
During this time I also started helping out more and more in a school. I LOVED it. I suppose it couldn’t have been more different from what I’d been doing previously, and maybe it was just a change that I needed. “I wish you could be here every day” said one of the pupils to me that first lunchtime (admittedly I was a bit of a novelty factor!) and my heart melted a little bit. Over time I realised that I was good at it – I could explain things clearly, I could help children learn, I could make them feel cared for, I could support the teachers and other staff, and at the end of the day, I could leave a workplace feeling like I’d given something back. From that experience, I got a job as a full-time teaching assistant at another school and have just completed my first three weeks there, before breaking up for summer. It’s been brilliant, and at risk of sounding like a total geek, I’m really excited for September and the new school year. (I’m sure teachers still knackered from a full academic year will be exclaiming in disbelief but I suppose I’m still fresh after three weeks!)
Will I go into teaching? Maybe! It’s something I’ve thought about. Will I ever go back into marketing? Maybe, you can’t rule these things out. I don’t know what the future holds but for now I know I’ve made a career change that has drastically improved my life and happiness, and I’m hungry to learn and grow and be the best possible teaching assistant that I can be. Whether you’re just graduating and feel like you want to do something different from what you’ve studied, whether you’re in your late twenties like me, or whether you’ve worked in one field for decades (my mum totally changed it up at about 50), there is always the potential to change what you do and it’s not a step backwards, it’s a step sideways to go forwards.
Have you (or someone you know) totally changed what you do? Do you sometimes think about another path but haven’t felt ready to take the plunge yet? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!