“That feeling of not bringing my whole self to work ultimately became frustrating.”
What work were you doing previously?
I qualified as a barrister at Middle Temple Inn, then spent ten years working in-house on compliance matters for several multinational corporations.
My role was about preventing bribery and corruption within supply chains. It evolved into creating entire strategies for organisations.
My work allowed me to travel to the Middle East and across Europe. I have worked in oil and gas, media, pharmaceuticals and e-commerce in both established corporate and start-up environments.
What are you doing now?
I'm Founder of Peart’s Montessori, an authentic Montessori setting due to open in the next few weeks.
The title 'Founder' doesn’t really do it justice. Effectively I'm Founder, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Head of HR, Head of Talent Acquisition, Chief Marketing Officer, Head of Estates, Chief Interior Designer, oh and a teacher!
Why did you change?
I was always happy in my work, but I felt there was a whole other Chenaara bursting to emerge.
I developed a series of skills I wasn’t using and I couldn’t see space for them to thrive in my work. That feeling of not bringing my whole self to work ultimately became frustrating.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
There was no single moment. It was more of a growing feeling that came in waves over a period of five years.
When I finished my last contract working in London, my heart knew I wasn’t returning to that set up, although it did take the logical part of me a bit of time to catch up!
How did you choose your new career?
I attended a Montessori school as a child. My mother then went on to train as a Montessori teacher so the philosophy has always been in my life.
It's an educational experience I knew I wanted for my own children when the time came.
Initially, I attended a training open day with a view to taking a short course to support learning at home. After that point, it continued to be a presence in my life until I decided to take a formal qualification. Since then, it's grown into a business that I'm excited about every day.
Are you happy with the change?
Yes, I'm able to live using my whole self each day and embrace capabilities that have previously gone unused.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss company.
Working to run your own business is quite lonely as you don’t initially have a separate workspace to attend or colleagues to interact with.
I don’t miss commuting to London. I also don’t miss the frustration of feeling like I could be doing more.
How did you go about making the shift?
I enrolled on the Montessori Diploma in Early Years Education with the Montessori Partnership.
It was important to me to lead my business from the front by equipping myself with the right qualification.
What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?
I didn’t initially trust myself to go public with the biggest version of my idea.
The fear of failure made me want to play it small and safe.
However, when I went public with the biggest and truest version of what I wanted to do, the momentum that followed was phenomenal.
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
I made clear choices to remove unnecessary expenditure.
That included my TV package, Netflix and Arsenal FC tickets, which helped both my budget and time management (and possibly mood given Arsenal’s recent performances).
Commuting and the costs associated with working in London disappeared overnight.
I also set aside savings to be used until I had a full-time income.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
Embracing the mental shift from having a defined career and title to being something more fluid.
For the first few months I felt a loss of identity because I was no longer connected to a recognised profession.
What help did you get?
I founded a mastermind group with two other black, female entrepreneurs.
We began our career shifts at the same time. We have a 30-minute weekly call to hold each other to account on progress with our businesses. I continue to find strength in having a supportive space for an underrepresented community in entrepreneurship.
What resources would you recommend to others?
I strongly recommend joining a community of people who are going through the same changes as you.
I'm a member of local entrepreneur groups. Despite us having different businesses, we are all feeling that sense of loss, trepidation and excitement.
I also attended a leadership course with the Leadership Trust. As a veteran of corporate life, I have done my fair share of team / resilience / bridge-building days out. This experience was something totally different. The course helped me focus on what leadership meant to me personally and how I wanted to implement it in my business. It shifted me from being a project manager to being a leader.
What have you learnt in the process?
To understand the value of my time to the business, and to ask for and accept help.
I've learnt to outsource tasks that take away my time which would be more valuable elsewhere in my business. For example, I attempted to create my own logo and website. A friend who runs a design studio reviewed my output and questioned, pointedly, why I'd embarked on this road when they could have provided twice as much in half the time.
That leads me to the point about asking for and accepting help. This friend had offered multiple times to help design my logo and website but the super-independent part of me hadn’t truly heard it. It's a mistake I haven’t repeated.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
The point at which you make your career shift is going to simultaneously be the best and worst time to do it. My advice is do it.
Trust the process. It might feel at times like nothing is happening, but a career shift entails learning to do the new thing as well as doing it.
Tell people what you're doing. You'll be pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who want to help in completely different ways.
What lessons could you take from Chenaara's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.