“My unhappiness boiled; everything at work made me angry and bitter.”
From IT Engineer to Therapist
What work were you doing previously?
For the last 13 years I have been working as an IT Support Engineer. Essentially, I'm the guy who picks up the calls about broken printers, laptops that are blue screening, and important presentations that somehow vanish into the ether just before the big sales pitch.
What are you doing now?
I am currently enrolled on a three year Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy course, while still working as an IT Support Engineer at a company in Essex. I'll hopefully qualify as a hypnotherapist at the end of 2014, and a psychotherapist at the end of 2016, so there’s a long road ahead yet.
Why did you begin your career change?
To sum it up, I knew in my heart of hearts that the career path I was on was wrong for me. I would sit on IT courses trying to force knowledge into my brain which seemed to reject the information on a fundamental level. I always felt I should try to advance my career in IT, but whenever I came close to making a step into a higher level role, something inside would stop me.
I kept moving jobs in the hope that if I just 'found the right place' this nagging doubt would vanish. After all, I had put years of effort and study into my IT career, I thought people would think I was mad to simply give it up. I eventually found myself working in a brokerage in the city surrounded by great people, in a job I (mostly) loved, with the opportunity to travel the world for work, and still I found myself becoming increasingly unhappy.
This unhappiness eventually boiled to the point where everything about work made me angry and bitter. Fortunately I had a very understanding manager who allowed me time off to go see a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, who completely changed my way of thinking. For the first time I allowed myself to admit out loud that my career wasn’t what I wanted, that it was making me increasingly unhappy, and that I needed to make a change. At this time I didn’t even consider becoming a therapist as a career choice, I only knew what I didn’t want to do, so I set out and did some research.
I came across Careershifters online, read through the website and attended a Careershifters workshop one evening after work. It helped me work out the parts of my current career that I liked (mostly interacting with and helping people) and got me thinking as to what to do next. Ultimately something just clicked, it all came together and I knew I wanted to become a therapist to help people make a difference in their lives.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
Finally admitting out loud to myself and the therapist that my career wasn’t working for me was a big turning point. This all happened around the same time as my Dad lost his job in a career he didn’t enjoy and found a new vocation as a volunteer gardener which made him so much happier. I thought if he can do it at nearly 60, then I can do it at 33.
Are you happy with the decision to change?
Completely! It’s so different working and studying towards something you have a real passion for. Also as retirement is looking more and more unlikely for my generation, I want to spend my life doing something I love.
How did you go about making the shift?
I started out reading a lot of self-help, therapy and psychology books and websites whenever I could. I spoke to my girlfriend, my family and my friends, all of whom provided encouragement to go for it. I had to give up working in the City for a job closer to home with a shorter commute which was a hard sacrifice as I loved the atmosphere up town.
I got in contact with the therapist who I had seen previously and she gave me some tips and advice on how to start. Ultimately I found a course at a college close to home and enrolled there. We have one day in class per month, a study group meet up at least once a week, and a lot of homework.
How are you handling your finances to make your change possible?
As I am still working full time in my current role, I'm able to pay my half of the mortgage and household bills, so my girlfriend and I carry on more or less the same lifestyle as before. I do try to save more than I did previously so that when I begin to make the transition we will have a safety net. Ultimately it means more making my own sandwiches for work and having to resist the temptation to buy a new X-Box (not that I would have time to play it anyway).
How are you handling being in your current role whilst making the change?
It’s actually a lot easier to go into work and do my job now that I know I have a path that I want to walk in front of me. Once you drop a lot of the 'I should be... progressing.. enjoying.. grateful...' statements about your career and that dreaded thought that 'this is all I will ever do', the day to day becomes easier.
Of course I do still get stressed and frustrated at times but it doesn’t quite have the impact it used to. One of the added benefits of being on a therapy course, surrounded by trainee therapists, is that there is a lot of work on relaxation and stress reduction.
How do you manage your time to make the change?
It is sometimes tough to cram everything in around working full time, but I suppose that's the trade off for financial security. Most nights I get in from work and, bad day at the office or not, I will have some reading to do, or an essay to write, or a study group meet up to go to. Fortunately my girlfriend is very understanding, and there are people in my class who are juggling a job, kids and studying so I can’t complain too much.
What is the most difficult thing about changing?
It’s the fear of the unknown, I suppose. I know I can do my current job, I have an employer who takes care of getting me paid and providing work, so all I have to do is turn up every day. When I am a therapist the chances are I will be working for myself, so I won’t have the luxury of that comfortable ride.
What help are you getting?
As part of my course I am seeing a qualified hypnotherapist so I am getting a lot of help and advice on how to build a successful practice. I have my family, friends and study group who are always willing to help or give me the kick I need on those days when it all seems like too much to do. I find it useful to speak to people about my plans whenever I can as 99% of them will provide encouragement.
What are you learning in the process?
That it is possible to change careers without the drama of chucking it all in one day and riding into the sunset. That it is possible to enjoy a job in a career you may not want any more, if you simply choose to take the pressure off yourself and focus on the positives.
Is there anything you wish you'd done differently?
Honestly I wouldn’t change a thing, as the sum of my experiences, both good and bad led me here. I may have spent thirteen years on the wrong career path, but the pluses by far outweigh the negatives. I have met some great friends at every place I have worked, met my girlfriend through work, and had some good times along the way.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
I would say really take the time to think about what you want to do, seek out others who are where you want to be, and make a plan. The career-change goal you want may take a number of years, and while this may be frustrating, be aware that it’s possible to gain a lot from the journey.
What resources would you recommend to others?
We are lucky enough to live in an age where we can go online and research just about anything, so start Googling! Attending a Careershifters workshop will give you some ideas as to what to do next, as well as help you realise you are not the only person feeling this way. I would also recommend the book “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” by Susan Jeffers which really helps give you that push to be brave and go out into the unknown!
What lessons could you take from Paul's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.