“My partner asked me what I would do if I was not afraid. Spontaneously, I answered ‘I would quit my job’”.
What work were you doing previously?
I was the strategic advisor to a university president.
I led the strategy and planning office – a central advisory unit to the university leadership.
Before that, I worked in Vietnam, supporting the development of the Vietnamese German University and in charge of setting up a study programme for Vietnamese students.
What are you doing now?
I've founded my own company (idayz), which offers paid masterminds for groups or teams who want to bring their ambitions to the next level.
Masterminds are peer-mentoring groups that bring together four to six like-minded peers. idayz carefully composes groups who support and challenge each other, and who will sharpen their business or personal ambitions to accomplish goals through structure and peer accountability.
The programme is based on scientific evidence from behavioural economics, design thinking and mindfulness.
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?
I wasn't reaching my full potential and was about to burn out.
I felt stressed because of office politics and a general organisational reluctance to make decisions. Although my team and I had great ideas and the support of a wide range of staff members, including the president himself, we got stuck in inefficient procedures, meaning that we couldn't move forward at a speed that we could maintain.
Why did you change?
I've spent my career within the public sector of higher education, but it came to the point where I felt stuck.
I've always been driven by the ambition to create and always enjoyed an environment of constant development. I was eager to leave the public sector to find a position in a more dynamic environment.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
Just over a year ago, my partner asked me what I would do if I was not afraid.
Spontaneously, I answered “I would quit my job”.
Four months later, I took the final decision, and I quit two months after that.
How did you choose your new career?
Initially I aimed to find a position within a 'corporate university' or the learning and development department of a large international company.
After I quit my job, I spent four months reaching out to professionals who were doing jobs that I considered interesting and who had profiles that resonated with me (mostly from HR, learning and development or organisational development). I contacted them, asking for an informational interview of 15 minutes.
Almost all agreed and were willing to share their expertise and advice. Some offered to meet in person and referred me to members of their network that they considered helpful for me. I was able to gather a wide range of information and feedback regarding my profile, skill set and experience.
After four months I felt ready to apply for positions, but unfortunately it didn't work out as I expected. Without a background in HR it was impossible to get into the learning and development sector and with my PhD many considered me over-qualified for junior positions. I was offered one managing position within the research environment and realised that I didn't see myself 'managing' without 'creating'.
When I asked my former team and bosses to fill in a short questionnaire in which I asked about my unique strengths, the problems they would call me to solve and my main achievements, I realised that the skill set I had wouldn't help me find a corporate job.
After a few failed applications, and rather out of boredom, I joined a meet up with female entrepreneurs. In a conversation, I stated that I considered myself as a 'random idea generator and professional brainstormer'. One participant joked saying that I should throw idea parties. I sat with this idea for a while and eventually transformed it into the mastermind concept.
Are you happy with the change?
It's been the best decision I've ever taken in my life.
I wake up energised, full of ideas that I can implement and test at my own speed.
Two weeks after I registered my business, I finalised my first prototype that I tested with a group of friends. A month later, I tested the second prototype with a group of strangers and literally earned my first euro. Today, two months later, my webpage is live and I won my first corporate client (signed the contract today). My professional life could not be better.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I do miss working with my team and the certainty and comfort of having a regular income.
I don't miss the strict working hours, or asking for permission to introduce and test new ways of doing things.
How did you go about making the shift?
Luckily, I had some savings that would allow me to survive for up to one year.
Then, I went all in, not permitting myself to doubt. I read as much as I could about entrepreneurship, solo careers, dos and don’ts, and how to increase visibility. I work every day on my mindset so that I'm not scared about taking each next step.
What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?
I was (and still am) unclear when it comes to money.
Although I informed the participants of my last test run about my 'pay as you value' pricing model, and although they confirmed how satisfied they were with the course, they seemed reluctant to contribute. When I reached out asking whether they would contribute to help me cover the costs they seemed surprised.
Now, I clearly communicate the contribution I expect from the beginning so that I can be certain of covering my costs. I will define a price tag as soon as the final product is ready and, until then, I'm not expecting to earn money but to concentrate on the learning I get with each test run.
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
I had my year's savings to help me survive, and I agreed with my partner that we would cut down on any unnecessary expenses.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
Keeping myself motivated and self-confident, knowing that I would fail for sure if I started doubting myself.
Also, I had to learn to throw myself 'out there' – advertising myself and communicating my value proposition in a confident, unobtrusive way. I had to learn about accounting, content marketing and a new form of networking (compared to the lobbying for university goals I was used to).
What help did you get?
I received great emotional support from my partner, family and friends, and great advice from my professional network.
I didn't get any financial support.
What resources would you recommend to others?
I spent (and am still spending) significant time listening to podcasts (such as Solopreneur Hour, Smart Passive Income from Pat Flynn, and Future of Work).
I'm also reading books by Dorie Clark and Todd Henry, blogs, following online courses (Seth Godin on Udemy) and watching webinars, to learn from the best. Who succeeded in their solo-career? How did they do it? What mistakes can I avoid? There is so much free content out there that is very useful.
The most important investment was a Linked In Pro subscription, to be able to approach interesting profiles for informational interviews and get in touch with potential clients.
What have you learnt in the process?
Not being afraid of trying.
Not being afraid of asking, and the importance of listening.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
If you are ready to take the next step, go all in and invest your time and energy in following your path.
I don't believe I would've been able to succeed if I had spent only 20% or even 50% of my time on the project.
Dare to reach out to anyone who could help you, and don't let your ego stand in your way.
To find out more about Myriam's business, visit www.idayz.nl
What lessons could you take from Myriam's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.