From Law to Pilates

“I didn't enjoy document-driven work or working in an office.”

Image of Emma Burnett
From Law to Pilates

Emma Burnett's industry was stressful. Longing to get back to a childhood passion, and determined not to risk her financial security, she undertook a punishing retraining schedule to break into a completely new field. Here's how her determination made her leap possible.

What work were you doing previously?

Following university, I trained as a solicitor in London and qualified as an Mergers and Acquisitions lawyer.

I practised for three years before moving into a marketing role for law firms to gain more business experience.

What are you doing now?

I'm a freelance pilates teacher working in Surrey.

How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?

I knew early on that working as a lawyer wasn't for me, but that the training contract was a brilliant learning experience.

I didn't enjoy document-driven work or working in an office. I was lucky to have weathered the financial crisis with a good job, but it was extremely stressful and so was the nature of the deals. Sleep didn't feature much during my years of post-qualification experience!

However, I really did enjoy working in super-bright, hardworking and often fun teams.

Why did you change?

Firstly, doing meaningful work is important to me – I struggled to find that in corporate law.

Secondly, I've loved the art and science of movement since having dance lessons as a kid. For years I practised yoga and pilates and experienced how they could be life-changing.

I wanted to help other people experience it too.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

After a few gruelling years of the law, I decided to head to India to study yoga for six months to recharge.

It was then that I started to think about leaving to pursue other options. However, I wasn't sure exactly how I'd go about it, or what I'd do.

How did you choose your new career?

I went with what I loved.

I've accepted that early retirement won't be likely but I wanted to choose a career that I truly loved. I consider what I do now to be more of a vocation than just a career.

Are you happy with the change?

I'm so happy with the change!

It has taken years of hard work and sacrifice to fully transition, but it has been more than worth it.

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

I had an awesome work wardrobe and some great shoes. Those aren't so useful as a pilates teacher, unfortunately.

But that's about it!

How did you go about making the shift?

It was a long process because I wanted to make sure I was financially secure, so I worked full-time as I undertook my training and an apprenticeship.

I trained as a pilates teacher whilst I was working in marketing for law firms. I used my annual leave to do the course and to take exams. It was exhausting at times and caused some relationship issues as free time was eaten up with training. I also became very ill which wiped me out for five months. So it took longer than I would have liked.

Once I'd qualified as a pilates teacher, I cut down to part-time work in the marketing role. When I realised I could make a living being a pilates teacher, I left law completely.

What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?

Being ill and needing to put everything on hold with the training for months was hard.

But it was a temporary problem. And as they say, if it's fixable, it's not a problem.

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

I worked full-time throughout my training and saved money diligently.

I put as much into my pension as I could afford. A lot of sacrifice was involved.

Also, I decided to work in Surrey rather than London (as some of the best pilates studios are here). I lived with my mum whilst I waited for my partner to move out to join me.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

It was really tiring.

Especially as I was sick for a while, had to suspend my training and had to factor in extensive hospital appointments.

Also, working full-time in London at the same time as being an apprentice was a challenge.

What help did you get?

My partner has been super supportive.

He moved out to Surrey so I could work at one of the country's best pilates studios.

What have you learnt in the process?

Above all else, that if I really want something, I'll make it happen.

Also, I've learned not to overthink things. This was tricky for me as a lawyer, but I realised that the City would always be there for me if it didn't work out.

Don't let anyone frighten you into thinking that you can't go back. My experience is that that's not the case.

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

Meticulously research your industry.

I worked out early on who I wanted to work with and whether I could make a living doing it. Really research whatever industry you're going into and then put your all into going for it.

To find out more about Emma's business, visit www.emmalarapilates.co.uk.

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

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org. and you could win a £25 / $35 Amazon voucher in our monthly draw.