“I realised that my workload was taking over my life.”

From Graphic Designer to Tutor

Jamie Mackie spent years grappling with the feeling that his work wasn't right for his evolving lifestyle. He's now happy and developing skills in a new role, but without having shifted away from the sector he loves. Read on to find out more.

What work were you doing previously?

For years I worked as a freelance Graphic Designer for an agency, and loved it.  

What are you doing now?

I now work as a Design Tutor. I find it refreshing, rewarding, and I've been able to maintain a far healthier work-life balance.

Why did you change?

I had enjoyed the varying nature of work and being able to build relationships with different clients. But the pressure in design is immense – deadlines are not negotiable and your entire career hangs on your reputation. Therefore meeting deadlines and delivering work to a high standard was imperative, but it came at a cost. I realised that my workload was taking over my life and I was missing out on spending time with my family. So I started to explore alternative careers that would utilise my skills and experience, while keeping me within an industry I am passionate about.

Freelancing is typically always better paid than a salaried job, but when you have a family it can get quite stressful. When the work is there it's great, but alongside actually doing the work, you have to constantly market yourself and ensure that you have more jobs lined up. This continuous pursuit of work and the worry that comes with supporting a family does eventually take its toll!

Are you happy with the change?

Yes. When my learners have a lightbulb moment, it's hugely rewarding. And no matter how many times I witness it happening, it never ceases to make me feel like I have achieved something.

What do you miss and what don’t you miss?

Being an educator has renewed my passion for graphic design. I had reached a point in my career where I was working almost on autopilot, and had stopped exploring my creativity.  Since teaching, the enthusiasm of my students is infectious. Even going back to basics has made me realise how vast and exciting my expertise is.

The thing I am enjoying the most is being able to stretch myself and develop new skills. The biggest challenge I found was finding different ways to explain concepts to learners – I expected them to just understand the first time I explained something! Also, when you have been doing the same thing for a long time, you sometimes forget how complex what you do really is. Relaying that to beginners through smaller and more manageable chunks of information is another new skill I've developed.

I also found it hard to make the switch from being able to schedule my own day to having it scheduled for me. However, it is nice to know that when a lesson is over, it's over. When I was freelancing, the day ended when I physically was too tired to work anymore. Getting through the workload also sometimes required an immense amount of self-discipline since I wasn't working in an environment with colleagues.

I do miss my time being my own to organise, and the money that freelancing opportunities offer. But I only miss it occasionally. Now I feel more part of a community and unlike before, I operate in a face-to-face environment rather than a remote one. This has meant that that I have friends at work and am able to actually build relationships with my students. The latter is particularly rewarding, but even being part of a team is novel for me and takes a bit of getting used to.

How did you handle your finances to make the change possible?

Since entering teaching I'm on a lower income than when I was a freelancer, but the regularity of the salary gives me stability and has alleviated the pressure of keeping work lined up. The time that teaching has freed up for me to spend with my family and pursue hobbies outside of work is invaluable.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

The biggest difficulty with changing to a different career is moving away from your comfort zone. It is scary to do something new when you have been doing the same thing for a long time, no matter how much you love or despise your job.  Regardless of the career change being the right thing for you, having the confidence and courage to go for it is a real impediment. From what I have read, this is a very common one too.

When I was researching the best ways to transition into teaching, I discovered lots of workshops, forums and sites (such as Careershifters) that advise you about the best way to go about making changes. In general most are more inspirational than informational, as everyone’s situation is different. Even if others haven’t gone through the exact same career path transition, they more likely will have faced similar life challenges.

What have you learnt in the process?

Contrary to what I believed, it's never too late to make a career change. Surprisingly, it seems more common these days. Most of my friends are considering some sort of shift, although most not as drastic as mine. Digitalisation and the internet have brought about a host of new opportunities, so alternative career options are vast.

I’ve also learnt to listen to my instincts.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

I wish I had made the change years ago. I knew deep down for years that I was working too hard, and had got used to the constant tinge of guilt for not spending enough time with my family. But I justified it with the reasoning that I was doing it for them. In truth, I was continuing to do something that suited my lifestyle and needs when I was younger, but wasn’t brave enough to help my career evolve alongside my life.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

If you're thinking about it, even if it has just crossed your mind a few times, don’t be scared to see what else is out there. Remember that researching other careers is not the same as making a commitment, but it does put you in a far more informed position.

I would also say that no matter what your fears or obstacles are, find a way to transition that works for you. For instance, if I had not found a salaried teaching job, I would have perhaps explored freelance training and kept going with the freelance graphic design in a more part-time basis.

There is no one way or right way to change careers. Find the one that suits you and empower yourself with whatever training you need to make it happen.

For anyone who wants to sidestep into being an educator, attending some sort of formal training is definitely valuable. Teaching is an art that is totally different from communicating with clients and colleagues. You have to work with a variety of people, help them overcome their obstacles and motivate them to believe that they now have the knowledge to complete tasks and solve problems without you being there.

Jamie's story was provided by Acuity Training

Also, find out more about Acuity Training in our Retraining Directory.

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


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