From Finance to Writing & Own Business

“I don't miss the sweaty morning commute or the feeling that I was living for the weekend.”

Katherine Preston

From Finance to Writing & Own Business

Feeling trapped in her asset management job, Katherine Preston left on an adventure that took her to the US, got her a book deal and gave her the inspiration to launch a start-up. We asked her to share her amazing story.

What work were you doing previously?

I was an investment writer at an asset management company in London.

What are you doing now?

It's rather a long answer!

I work as a public speaker and a writer. My first book: Out With It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice, has been published by Simon and Schuster and hit the shelves in April 2013.

I am also the Creative Director of ExchangeMyPhone, a business I co-founded with my partner that pays people for their used cell phones. Jeremy and I created the business as a way to make old cell phones into vehicles for good, and every cell phone payout can be turned into a charity donation.

Why did you change?

I had a very sensible job and worked with lots of wonderful people, but I felt trapped.

I felt as if my life was being ruled by my voice. I stutter, and my speech was starting to dominate my thoughts and my career.

I decided to hand in my resignation and spend a year facing my biggest fear. I flew to America to interview a hundred stutterers, researchers and speech therapists in order to discover why we all stuttered and debunk many of the misconceptions that shrouded the condition.

I had long dreamed of being a writer, and in the wake of my year of interviews, I wrote my memoir. During my research I met Jeremy and joined him in his dream to start his own business.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

It seemed to happen very quickly (I left for America three weeks after I handed in my resignation!) but it was an accumulation of moments that began with the painful realisation of how stifled I felt.

Gradually I realised that I wanted to find out why I stuttered, and I wanted to take the leap to purse my dream of becoming a writer.

Are you happy with the change?

Happy doesn't quite do it justice.

I love the life I have. It's not always easy but I wouldn't change it for the world. It's full of adventure and I'm surrounded by people who inspire me; people who are doing work that they believe is meaningful.

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

I miss all my wonderful friends back home in England and the safety of things like a salary and health insurance.

I don't miss the way I felt about myself. I don't miss the sweaty morning commute or the feeling that I was living for the weekend.

How did you go about making the shift?

Leaving to write the book happened very quickly.

Once I made the decision to leave, I researched the subject, planned interviews, bought recording equipment and booked my flight.

Starting ExchangeMyPhone was a much more gradual process. We created a business plan, saved up the money we need to launch and learnt as much as we could from other entrepreneurs in New York's thriving start-up scene.

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

We control our expenses, live within our means and work hard.

Both Jeremy and I are naturally very scrappy people, so we do what needs to be done to make life work.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

The uncertainty: the fear that the gamble might not pay off.

With the book, I set off with no agent or publisher behind me. I signed with Simon and Schuster three years after I left England – up to that point I had no idea that anyone would ever publish the book and my desk was stacked with a rather depressing stack of rejection letters.

In both launching our own business and writing a book, there's been no clear path to walk down. We've had to create our own journey. So, we try to make educated decisions and adapt every day.

What help did you get?

In writing I was incredibly well-supported by my family and friends.

I have a writing group that keeps me on track and inspires me to create the best work I can.

In our business, we have been amazed by the strong network of start-ups in the city.

What have you learnt in the process?

It's wonderful to have a plan, but nothing ever goes entirely how you expect.

I've learnt that you have to be open to change, spontaneity and the opportunities that arrive when you least expect them.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

I feel as if I'm tempting fate if I say that I don't regret anything at all.

There are lots of small things that I could have done differently, but there is nothing fundamental that I regret.

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

If you have a dream, go after it. And never give up.

What resources would you recommend to others?

To learn more about our company visit www.exchangemyphone.com. To learn more about my journey with stuttering and my book Out With It, visit www.katherinepreston.com.

What lessons could you take from Katherine'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.