From Customer Services to Bikes

“I felt I was floating without purpose in a career that I had fallen into.”

Claire Donaldson

From Customer Services to Bikes

Claire Donaldson had been scared of turning a much-loved hobby into a job – what if making a living from it killed her passion? But a eureka moment cast new light on the situation. Here's how she made her shift.

What work were you doing previously?

I was the supervisor of a customer service team in a yoga shop, Yogamatters, which traded mostly online.

What are you doing now?

Now I have two part-time jobs, both in the bicycle world.

The first is a bit of sales and a bit of mechanics in a women-focused bike shop. The other is administration and mechanics for a charity which fixes up old bikes and then donates them to asylum seekers and refugees.

Why did you change?

Because I felt I was floating without purpose in a career that I had fallen into.

Although I loved the company I worked for, and my colleagues, it wasn't really 'feeding' me.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

It was much more gradual than a moment.

What started out as a hobby to get fit and save money became something that I was doing more and more. I did some intermediate bike mechanics training and started volunteering in a community workshop. The more I got into bikes, the more I loved it!

I suppose if I had a eureka moment it was when I was doing that volunteering. I suddenly thought: "Hang on, why am I working in a job I don't really care about, while spending all my spare time doing something like this, when I could get paid to do this and spend my spare time riding my bike?!"

Previously, I avoided trying to transform hobbies I loved, like massage and art, into a career, for fear that I would end up hating them if I felt obligated to do them to make a living. I decided it was time to take the risk of making a living out of something I loved. I signed up for professional mechanic training shortly after that.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes – I couldn't be happier!

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

I sometimes miss having just one job – one desk, one set of routines: all that stuff I did without thinking.

Variety is the spice of life, and I have a fantastic balance between the two jobs I'm doing now; however, I am definitely being kept on my toes!

I've gone from a career in which I was well established and comfortable, to one where I feel like I'm at the lower end of the ladder. I still have a lot to learn about bikes; on the one hand it's great that I'm learning so much new stuff, but on the other it can be tiring!

I don't miss having to feign enthusiasm about what I'm selling. I also feel that I have room to grow in my new roles. There was nowhere for me to go in my old career, and I was bored – there was no stimulation or challenge for me.

How did you go about making the shift?

After a lot of research, I signed up for a professional bicycle mechanic course.

This took six months to complete. I had made a commitment to my current employer to stay until the end of the year; after that was up, I started applying for every job I could in the bike world.

Before I left, I saved up as much as possible, anticipating a drastic drop in wages and possibly less job security when I made the shift.

After a few interviews, I was offered a full-time role at a busy bike shop in the City. This was supposed to be a mixture of reception work and mechanics. Unfortunately, only the admin side of things was ever made available to me, and so it wasn't quite the right fit.

After a little while, Everyone Bikes, the women-focused shop I'm at now, got in touch and offered me a part-time role there. I jumped at it! However, it was only two days a week, so I began looking for other part-time work.

I was incredibly lucky that someone I used to work with at the yoga shop had a contact with The Bike Project – the charity I am now administrator and mechanic for. She knew I was bike mad, and that I was looking for work. She'd heard they were just starting to look for a part-time administrator too. She sent an email introducing us, and, well, I guess you can tell the rest went well as I'm now working there!

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

The job at the first bike shop was something I instinctively knew might not be quite right, but I was so keen to get my foot in the door I threw caution to the wind anyway and took it.

On the one hand, those few months were pretty hard – I didn't have much job satisfaction and was quite stressed. It was high season and I had to learn the ropes fast. On the other hand, the steep learning curve taught me a lot; I was far more employable in other bike jobs after experiencing how a big, busy shop was run and what needed to be done to make it run smoothly.

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

While I was still at Yogamatters, I set up a standing order of money to my own savings account; if I ever ended up with spare at the end of the month, I put that in there too.

When I transitioned from the first bike shop to the second, I used these savings to tide me over while I was working two days a week and looking for other work. It was enough to keep a roof over my head and have the occasional coffee and cake.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Leaving somewhere I was so comfortable for the great unknown.

What help did you get?

I asked everyone I knew to keep their eyes and ears peeled for opportunities for me.

This worked better than I ever could have imagined when my friend from Yogamatters connected me via Facebook to The Bike Project.

What have you learnt in the process?

I've learnt that having a job you look forward to every day makes an incredible difference to your happiness.

I love both my jobs, and I haven't started to hate bikes now I work with them full time (something I was scared would happen). I'm constantly learning new things in the workshop; plus, with The Bike Project being my first job with a charity, I'm learning loads about charities too.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

I wish I'd done my mechanic training closer to the end of my agreed working contract.

A lot of the skills I'd developed on that course had wilted a bit by the time I actually landed a bike job.

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

Think about how happy you could be, rather than sticking with the familiar but uncomfortable safety zone.

You can always go back, but if you don't go forward you'll never know what might look like.

What resources would you recommend to others?

The internet and your friends.

What lessons could you take from Claire'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.