From Banking to Healthy Holidays

“I am probably, ironically, working longer and harder. But I'm also more driven, and it's more exciting.”

Image of Kathryn Brierley

From Banking to Healthy Holidays

Kathryn Brierley was faced with a tough choice: stay in a career she loved but was exhausted by, or go after something totally different? Here's how she navigated isolation, ash clouds and growing pains to create a healthier, happier lifestyle.

What work were you doing previously?

I was working in the Equity Research department at Goldman Sachs, specialising in the retail and luxury goods sector.

What are you doing now?

I am co-running The Healthy Holiday Company – a business which specialises in well-being-focused travel ideas.

We work with everything from yoga retreats through to detox and spa breaks, and family holidays with activities and beach relaxation.

How did you feel in your work before you decided to make a change?

I was very happy with the work itself which was stimulating, and I loved the bright team of people I worked with.

It was the lifestyle I didn't love – the very long days and the weekend-working demands. It was all-consuming.

Why did you change?

I made the change because of the idea I had for a healthy holiday business.

I wasn't driven to make the change due to dissatisfaction with the life I had, as prior to coming up with the idea I wasn't seeking an exit. I was just drawn to the positives of how my lifestyle could change if I followed a different path.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

One year, I went to Tuscany with a group of close friends and we had enjoyed (perhaps a little too enthusiastically) the fine wines and pastas that the area had to offer.

On my return to work I felt sluggish, tired and had put on pounds. I needed to feel sharp and focused for my job but I was lacking in energy. I felt that the holiday, whilst vastly enjoyable at the time, hadn't provided me with the rejuvenation that I actually needed from the break.

So, the following summer I searched for a holiday that would be rejuvenating – that would offer a combination of healthy food with fitness, and it was near impossible to find. A friend and I settled on a tennis holiday in Spain.

It was while we were there that I realised there was a real opportunity. If I (a banker) and he (a lawyer) were looking for a healthy break and found it hard to find, then others too could be seeking a holiday that offered a well-being focus. Lifestyles are hectic, jobs are demanding and there should be holiday options where you can 'reset' and return to work feeling refreshed, not more exhausted!

At the time there were spas at every hotel, but these just offered external pampering and not much else. The group yoga holiday concept had just started, and so it was while on a sunbed on that Spanish holiday that I thought, "Why not extend that concept to also offer a very healthy diet with fitness training, nutritional advice, beautiful hiking, deep massages as well as yoga?"

It was the idea of offering a full health immersion that led to the idea for our first brand, in:spa. We have since launched Destination Yoga, and The Healthy Holiday Company.

How did you choose your new career?

Once I'd had that idea, it wouldn't go away!

I knew I had to develop it further as I saw there was real potential for the idea of wellness holidays to take off.

Are you happy with the change?

Very.

I feel in charge of my own destiny. I feel completely enthused about the content of my day. I feel grateful to have a choice about how and where I spend my working hours.

I should say that if I add up my time, I am probably, ironically, working longer and harder. But I'm also more driven, and it's more exciting.

I am also, without doubt, significantly healthier! The change has inspired me to run marathons and train to teach yoga. I have met some wonderful, inspiring, bright professionals who are changing lives for the better by improving people's health and well-being.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I miss a number of the incredibly bright, sparky people I worked with, and of course the annual bonuses.

Then again, I made the choice knowing that I was sacrificing the salary for a different, more fulfilling, more varied life. Days in the office were always about reacting to company news, calling clients, meetings and more meetings… and one week rolled into the next, one month into the next. I realised that my life was running away without me feeling really in control. I don't miss the lack of variety that there was in the working week.

How did you go about making the shift?

I'd had the idea, but it took another six months for me to realise that I wanted to resign to pursue it full time.

It also took a lot of self-questioning and pros-and-cons listing for me to convince myself that it was the right thing to do. My overriding realisation in this process was that in the last five years of work all that I could really recall were the holidays I'd been on and special events that I'd been to outside work. I had therefore 'lost' the other 47 or so weeks each year, which all just blurred into one! I didn't want the next five years to disappear in the same way.

The final decision was made over a Christmas break and I resigned in the new year just afterwards.

What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?

It's been a very steep learning curve – I knew nothing at the time about the travel industry or the wellness industry... or running a business!

The greatest headaches have been caused by events out of our control (recession, ash clouds, airline strikes, currency movements), but our own 'wrong turn' was that we should have been more cautious earlier on – we tried to over-expand too quickly, and it ended up being painful.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

I was fortunate in that I had savings I could live on for a couple of years until I could start paying myself a salary.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

I'm naturally a team player, so I felt fairly isolated working from home in the early days when I'd been used to being surrounded by a buzzing team.

Then I found the new 'pace' difficult to adjust to. Everyone works at a ferociously fast pace in banking, but I was frustrated when people generally took more time to get back to my emails! I had to learn patience.

The other challenge I still face now is getting the balance right between working 'in' and working 'on' the business. It's too easy to be consumed with the day-to-day tasks, when it's so important to take time regularly to step back, view the bigger picture and think strategically.

What help did you get?

I was joined by a business partner at the end of the first year.

Working with someone else, with different, but complimentary skills, has been a great help.

We've always recruited the skills we need from outside on a freelance basis, be it legal advice, accounting help, or travel industry knowledge.

What resources would you recommend to others?

I was very fortunate in that I had a fair amount of accounting knowledge built up from my years in banking.

I would say it's really vital to have an understanding of the financial drivers before you start a business. Every key decision you make will have a financial impact on the company and will ultimately lead to success or failure of a start-up.

What have you learnt in the process?

I've learned that running a business is the most exhilarating roller-coaster ride and can be wonderful and terrifying in equal measure.

It's not the 'easy' option, but it is wonderfully fulfilling.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Take time out to think – block out chunks of time to do nothing else.

If you're not happy in a career a magic solution won't just appear when you want it to, but once you have that 'niggle' it rarely goes away, so give it time and space to develop and transform into something positive.

Seeing a coach could really help open up your thinking. Talk to friends and family. What do you feel so passionately about or interested in that you want that subject to fill your day, every day? Once you have decided to dedicate proper time to the thinking and evaluating process, you're already on the path to potential positive change.

To find out more about Kathryn's ventures, visit www.thehealthyholidaycompany.com.

What lessons could you take from Kathryn's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org.