“Say Yes To The Butterflies.” Alex's Real-life Career Change Lessons


When Alex Brooks joined the Career Change Launch Pad, she thought she’d end up with a new job. Instead, she overhauled her entire life. Here, she shares the shift in perspective that put her back in the driver’s seat and doing what she loves.

I was working as an Operations Manager at a charity, and to say that I didn't like my job was a huge understatement.

I was so miserable, unhappy, and desperate for a change. And I had no idea how to make it happen.

I spent hours scanning job sites, trying to see what other people could offer me as an escape. I drew up so many different pictures of what I wanted my life to look like, and it broke my heart to see how different they all were from my Oxford office life. There I was, working for a charity, trying to improve the lives of other people, but I couldn't sort my own out. And I couldn't find a way out.

My ability to have any conversation that wasn't entirely about me was virtually non-existent, so my friendships were suffering. I felt a constant sense of surface-level anger, and the smallest things would push me over the edge.

I'd spent so long focused on everyone else's ideas, of what was right and expected and appropriate, that my life had become all about other people's needs and desires, not my own.

I don't think I'd ever really known what I wanted.

And then I joined the Launch Pad.

That experience gave me exactly what I needed. I needed guidance, I needed someone to listen, and to reflect back to me what was going on.

The Launch Pad finally helped me see my situation in a new way.

It was incredible – so impressive, and so varied, and such a great space to be in, shining a spotlight each week into an aspect of myself that needed looking at.

There was one Mission halfway through the course that literally transformed my understanding of where I was at.

I saw that I was actually very clear on what wasn't working and what I wanted. I just hadn't been listening to myself properly.

And from that moment things really moved.

The course led to so many small but powerful moments of reassessment. I finally started to realise I have control over my life.

During the course I went for a job interview with an international NGO and landed it. It was a volunteer position, and involved going away to Tanzania for six months. I jumped at it, handed in my notice, and moved to East Africa.

And then it all got a bit crazy.

I had a huge breakdown.

17 days after I arrived in Tanzania, I returned to the UK, very unwell, with severe mental health issues. The stress of the previous few years had pushed me into this completely unsustainable place. Now, having arrived in the desert to build toilets… my body and my mind had simply said 'no'.

I had no choice but to pause, and reflect, and take care of myself.

I had to admit to myself that I was burned out, and I couldn't do everything.

So, I slept a lot, and focused on my well-being for a while. And, as part of my recovery, I slowly started to sign up to some courses.

I did a month-long CELTA course to teach English as a foreign language, which I've always wanted to do.

And that one course, that one action, reminded me of exactly what I'd discovered during the Launch Pad: that I can do new things.

I can take actions that I want to take, explore things I want to explore.

The things I want to do are within my reach; I just have to go after them.

Career change is a funny thing. We expect it to be difficult, but we want a simple answer.

And I did go into this thinking there would be a simple answer.

I thought I could just leave my old job and everything would be miraculously OK.

But what the Launch Pad showed me, and what I've learned since, is that career change isn't just about changing your job.

It shone a light on my choices and asked me to question so many areas of my life.

If I'm not doing this job, then what's holding me in this city? And if it's not this city, then what’s holding me in this friendship group? For me, my career change question was the starting point, not the end point.

I started to look at my whole life as a creation.

Alex BrooksI asked myself: I love travel, so why am I not doing that?

No job is going to feel amazing if I'm not in the right geographical space. So I started experimenting with geographical spaces, and now that's a habit.

I've been to 11 countries this year. I haven't stayed in the same place for more than three weeks. And it turns out that being in one location doesn't work for me.

Not having a house does give me a huge amount of flexibility, but also uncertainty, and I know not everyone wants that.

But exactly what I'm doing and how I'm choosing to do it isn't the point. The point is that I asked myself: why do you have to do things based on how things 'are'?

What else could I create?

Going for a legitimate, single, labelled 'career' was something I always thought I needed. But actually, it's not. And that's not my fault, per se: I was just sold a model that didn't fit me.

I've always been interested in lots of different things, so I'm going to do lots of different things.

And I trust that if I put myself in the right places, and show up feeling as good as I can in that moment, I'll attract the right opportunities and the right people.

That's how I became a freelance trainer and consultant within social care, delivering support for national providers.

I started telling people that was what I was doing, and one conversation led to another conversation, which led to paid work, which led to the next project... I haven't had to submit a single CV, I haven't had an interview – it's really just been about reaching out to people and letting them know what I can offer.

I set up a programme with a friend delivering resilience training for people working within social care. And in September this year we ran our first Sustainable Source gathering, working with carers, giving them a chance to take some time and get back in touch with who they are. There were tears, there were PJs around a fire, delicious meals, clear ideas, book making.... It was amazing.

In something that might seem totally unrelated, I'm also starting a conversion course soon too, to become a landscape architect. But whether or not I do any of these things as full-time work, or whether it 'makes sense' isn't the point. I've just been having fun, doing the things that interest me.

While I was in Mexico I went to a toy museum, and discovered the principle of 'Ludic'.

It means something along the lines of playing without outcome, and the development of a playful attitude. I loved its simplicity, and the fun inherent in it, and that's what I'm working on in my whole life right now.

I finally feel like me for the first time in my entire life (which is either a really great thing or a really sad thing, I'm not sure!)

It's been about putting myself in the spaces where things can happen.

I think we often think of career change as being about the big things – the huge moment of inspiration, the big day when you hand in your notice – but it's actually mostly not the big things.

It's the little choices you make: to go to an event, to have a conversation...

For example, someone in the Launch Pad Alumni group shared an event called the Happy Startup festival, and I decided to go. And while I was there, I gave a speech on my resilience project, Sustainable Source, to 150 people. A woman came up to me afterwards and gave me an hour's coaching to help me take it forward.

One choice led to another choice, which led to this amazing conversation, which could lead somewhere else…. I'd never have gotten any of it if I hadn't showed up.

I'm not saying I've got everything totally sorted, but I'm a million miles away from being the unhappy, anxious person that I was two and a half years ago.

The biggest thing I've learned is to be honest with myself, and say yes to whatever causes the butterflies.

That flutter is a good thing.

I’ve learned to practice asking myself in every moment: is this what I want? Does this make me feel good, outside of what other people want for me?

And then from there, what's the smallest change I can make that will make the biggest impact?

What's the smallest thing I can do to make things feel even a little bit better?

Then I just follow that sensation. The more I do it, the faster the process speeds up, and the closer I move to a combination that works.

Alex took part in our Career Change Launch Pad. If you're ready to join a group of bright, motivated career changers on a structured programme to help you find more fulfilling work, you can find out more here.

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

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is head coach, writer, and experience designer for Careershifters. When she's not working, you'll find her listening to neuroscience podcasts, learning pottery, and dreaming up her next adventure.