“I had to fight with my 'rational' side that raised concerns about leaving a great job and salary behind for an uncertain future.”
What work were you doing previously?
My first job after finishing my master's degree was in marketing at Procter & Gamble in Geneva, Switzerland, where I stayed for seven years. I started in 'traditional' marketing in the perfume department and gradually took on more responsibilities in digital marketing specifically. I eventually headed up digital across the Prestige beauty organisation, as well as consulting on other mainstream brands.
What are you doing now?
I've started my own business, providing digital marketing consulting to brands and agencies, and I'm also a freelance writer.
The main difference comes with the freedom of running my own show, the variety of working with different businesses, and the flexibility to work on other projects. I'm dedicating more time to my writing, both blogging personally and for the business.
Why did you change?
In the seven years I was working at Procter & Gamble, I'd had a good range of roles, from design through to business delivery and finally digital marketing. I thrive on new challenges, continuous learning, and new environments, so there was an overall sense that it was time to move on.
I had also ended up at P&G 'accidentally'. I had studied international relations and development. Initially I had in fact been aiming for a role at the UN or at an NGO, and now I wanted to make a more intentional career move.
On a personal level, I'd been in Geneva for nine years, and although I loved it, it's a small city. Many of my friends had either married and settled down in the suburbs, or left Switzerland altogether.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
I had been thinking about leaving for a long time, half-heartedly sending off a few job applications now and then. I had also been talking about taking a sabbatical and travelling to South America, again not really taking any action. After a lunch with a colleague that left me convinced that I should do something to realise my plans, I resolved to ask my boss for a sabbatical. She said yes immediately, and off I went, having the most amazing time.
Halfway through the trip, my boss contacted me about possible assignments for my return. This was a critical moment. I knew that if I came back to another role in Geneva, I would again get comfortable and stay on for another few years. After a lot of soul searching, and discussions with family and friends, I finally handed in my resignation.
Are you happy with the change?
Absolutely! As soon as I had made the decision, I felt relieved, empowered, and inspired to make things happen. Deep down, I had known it was right all along, but I had to fight with my 'rational' side that raised concerns about leaving a great job and salary behind for an uncertain future.
I love consulting. It means that I get to work with a range of clients with different objectives and challenges. I'm applying what I already know while also learning about new businesses, and how to run my own business. It's also opened doors to other opportunities, such as providing mentoring to start-ups and running trainings for different organisations.
Throughout all this, I have the flexibility to manage my own time, to focus more on my writing, and to spend more quality time with family and friends.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss my colleagues, the big off-sites and Christmas parties! I don't miss the competitive atmosphere that is inherent in a company that ranks its employees against each other, and I don't miss the rigid Monday to Friday schedule.
How did you go about making the shift?
It didn't happen overnight. When I returned to Geneva from South America, I had to arrange for all my things to be shipped to England, which I would use as my base until I knew where I wanted to go next. Even then, I was thinking about what my next step should be: I went to job interviews set up by recruiters, I planned a trip across south-east Asia, I considered taking a whole year to focus just on my writing… I made small decisions along the way, and after about six months I had created my current set-up of consulting and freelance writing.
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
I was lucky to have had a well-paid job in Geneva and, although the cost of living is also high, I had sufficient savings that I knew I could manage for a year or more without any income if necessary.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
It was all psychological – the comfort in maintaining the status quo, being surrounded by people like me, not knowing what was out there. Taking the sabbatical was a huge help, in moving me one small step in the direction I wanted to go and making the final leap much easier.
What help did you get?
Since I made the decision, friends and family have been incredibly supportive. My sister and brother in-law have given me invaluable advice on working freelance, sending invoices, and managing the accounts for a limited company.
I've also discovered a large support network of friends and former colleagues. They have cheered me on as well providing useful contacts and ideas.
What have you learnt in the process?
I've learned to trust myself, my own decisions. In the past, I've tended to look to others for reassurance and confirmation that I was making the right choice. In the last year or so though, I've made big decisions that have come from my own intuition, and with each decision, I've become more confident in my own path.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
I don't think it's useful to question how I acted in the past, why I didn't make certain decisions sooner, or why I ended up on a particular track in the first place. I made choices based on who I was, and how I was feeling, then and there.
Sometimes you need time for ideas to mature in your mind, to get your head around a particular change, and to prepare yourself psychologically. Everything I've done has led to where I am now, so I really can't complain!
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Do it, whatever it is! If you've been thinking about the change for a long time, you obviously have the passion and the determination to make a go of it. You can do things to make the shift easier. Cut down on your spending to save a buffer of six-twelve months, talk to people who are doing whatever it is you want to do, find out if you need a particular skill or qualification. Then make the change! You'll only regret it if you don't try. Worst case, you'll always find another job.
What resources would you recommend to others?
I love to read, and I've devoured books like The Escape Manifesto, How to Find Fulfilling Work, The 4-Hour Work Week, The Art of the Non-Conformist Life… all with corresponding resources online.
I also encourage you to read success stories, like this one on Careershifters, as it really is a huge boost to see that others have gone through the same doubts and come out at the other end.
With that in mind, try to meet people from other walks of life, people who aren't in the same corporate culture and mindset. Go to events, go travelling, go out and 'find your tribe'. Eventually, though, you need to stop making excuses and just do it!
What lessons could you take from Anna's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.