“I realised that I literally couldn't make myself care anymore.”
What work were you doing previously?
I was Director of E-commerce for a fashion start-up label in Berlin.
What are you doing now?
I'm a freelance web designer and Google Analytics consultant.
Why did you change?
The same thing was happening that had caused me to leave every other job I'd had in the past.
I'd get used to the job, be given more responsibilities and recurring management tasks, my pace of learning would slow – and I'd get bored. Which would always lead to a massive bout of depression as I wondered what the hell was wrong with me: I couldn't work in any one place for more than a year without starting to lose my excitement and love for my work.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
When I realised that I literally couldn't make myself care anymore.
So much of my job had become mindless admin – my team had grown to around ten people and at least half my time was devoted to simply managing them and trying to navigate through the usual start-up chaos.
For a while it was fun – to this day I am still Queen of the Inbox! But as that became a bigger and bigger part of my job, and I got to do less of the work that interested me in the first place, like working on the website or developing our marketing strategies, I just lost all interest in my work.
Whereas once I'd happily stayed a few hours late each night (start-up life!), and was excited about almost everything I was doing, I was starting to become one of those people watching the clock, getting my things together at five minutes to six so that I could be out the door the second the work day was done.
Are you happy with the change?
I couldn't be happier!
That was over two years ago and, if anything, my excitement for my work is only increasing. I work harder than I ever have in my life, and I love it.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I do miss being surrounded by creative, talented professionals – that 'meeting of minds' is awesome and it gives you such a boost when you're around other people who love what they do.
Other than that, I don't miss a thing. I love not having to commute every morning, I love being able to set my own hours and determine my own priorities for the day.
How did you go about making the shift?
First I talked to my then fiancé and told him I was cracking up (he had noticed).
Our finances were not exactly in great shape. He was working part time in order to focus on a Master’s application, and our wedding was planned for the following summer.
But I didn't think I could keep at it for another nine months (on top of everything else, people were starting to desert the company in droves, fed up with the long hours and lack of appreciation, so I was rapidly running out of friends there too!). So, regardless of how financially smart it was, I handed in my notice and negotiated a freelance consulting position with my boss, so that the company wouldn't be left in the lurch and I wouldn't be at zero income while I decided what to do next.
By sheer coincidence, a friend happened to be setting up an online homeware and accessories store, and was overwhelmed by all the decisions they had to make: how to build their website, how to market their store, etc., all on a bootstrap budget. They came to me for help, and I realised I loved helping them more than any job I'd ever had in the past.
Thus began my freelance career, helping small businesses and creative entrepreneurs with their web design and using Google Analytics to help with marketing and website strategies.
What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?
This sounds so dumb in retrospect (given my hatred for admin), but originally I started an agency, so that I could also offer things like campaign management, ongoing graphic design services, copywriting, etc.
Unsurprisingly, as I grew busier and busier, managing my team started to take over again. That's why, a few months ago, I hit the brakes, wrapped up the agency work, and returned to full-time web design and Google Analytics consulting.
I don't really regret that learning curve though, as now I have a fantastic group of people I can just refer clients to directly, and I get to focus on what I love.
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
Badly, as I think most people would probably agree.
Like I said, we had no real savings, a wedding coming up, and extremely low income.
Luckily, we've always been able to make do on very little, and Berlin is a pretty cheap city anyway, so we were just about able to get by.
And having very little money was an excellent motivator – I hustled like crazy to get my first few jobs.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
Fear of failure, definitely.
I'd freelanced before, years ago as a fashion photographer in Dublin, but I'd always had to take on other work to make ends meet. This time, I realised I just wanted to be able to work for myself. I was absolutely terrified that it wouldn't work, no one would hire me, and I'd have to return to another standard office job, where the best I could hope for would be a staving off of boredom before routine kicked in again.
That fear plagued me for my first few months, and still kicks in every now and then (although, happily, it's an increasingly irrational fear).
What help did you get?
Friends and family have been and continue to be absolutely amazing, offering continual encouragement.
But the biggest help I received was from former colleagues, which was as unexpected as it was touching.
People I'd not worked with for years popped up to offer me glowing testimonials, and were amazingly active in referring me to potential clients; that was the biggest booster when I was just starting out.
What have you learnt in the process?
That I prize freedom much more highly than money.
Over the past year I had several last-minute travel opportunities that I would never have been able to pursue had I been in a standard full-time job. Happily, I can now work from wherever I choose to be, and travel at the same time.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
If you hate your job, go find another one – the weekend is far too short for that to be the only time you enjoy yourself.
But, before you do that, have a good long think about what exactly makes you miserable in your current job, and use that to inform your next steps. For me, realising that my real problem wasn't my work so much as lack of change, learning and freedom – that was what finally got me out of my rut and into my current career.
What lessons could you take from Emma's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.