“There was always this nagging feeling that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing.”
What work were you doing previously?
I've had quite a squiggly career path with roles spanning sales, leadership, and marketing, mostly for the same company.
My most recent role was Performance Marketing Specialist. I looked after paid social media strategy across Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
What are you doing now?
I'm now a collage artist.
How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?
Whilst I had some proud moments throughout my career, there was always this nagging feeling that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing.
I started to feel really unfulfilled and disconnected from my work. I tried my best to be productive and work hard, but I just couldn't muster any passion for it.
Why did you change?
I always dreamed of starting my own creative business, but it never felt like the right time and I wasn't 100% sure what I wanted to do.
After listening to The Five Second Rule audiobook by Mel Robbins, it was crystal clear I had to make some changes to get my life travelling in the right direction.
I realised I often held myself back and talked my way out of things, even though I knew they'd be good for me. Mel's story opened my eyes and helped me to start taking action towards achieving my dreams, instead of making excuses that pushed me further away!
I could no longer face doing work that didn't feel like my true calling; so instead of making excuses, I made a plan. I determined to: 1) get a better-paid job to help with some financial commitments and 2) spend my evenings and weekends getting creative.
Although I couldn't immediately switch to starting a creative business, I had a well-planned route on how to achieve that dream.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
While my initial idea was to get a better-paid job, it wasn’t exactly going to plan.
I applied for several marketing jobs and often got to the final interview, but I was unsuccessful every time. As I had more experience in management (and enjoyed it a lot more), I started applying for those jobs instead, but with even worse luck. I didn’t even get to the interview stage.
Over dinner last year with my best friend, feeling drained and despondent, I told her I wished I could take some extended time off work but just wasn’t able to afford it. This was just before the pandemic hit. We spoke briefly about coronavirus, little knowing just how much it would turn our lives upside down, just a few weeks later.
And then, in the most unexpected way, I got my wish of having more time. I was furloughed for three months.
I felt incredibly lucky. I had the chance to experiment creatively full-time instead of just evenings and weekends.
As time went on and I eventually discovered I would be made redundant, I knew that I didn't want to go down the corporate path. Creating art was what I felt truly passionate about, so that's when I ditched the original plan and focused on my new creative path.
How did you choose your new career?
A few months prior to being furloughed, I went to an art exhibition, and whilst the exhibition was mind-bogglingly cool, it was a book in the wonderful gift shop that first sparked my interest in collage.
I picked up that book, had a little flip through and thought “This looks cool. Maybe I could try collage.”
I'd already tried my hand at creating digital art which I didn’t enjoy, so I thought why not give collage a go and see how it felt? I was rusty when it came to being creative, so instead of expecting to be immediately brilliant at it, I just allowed myself to experiment and have fun. Who cares if it’s rubbish to begin with? I had to start somewhere.
Whilst it took me some time to get into my groove, I really looked forward to my collaging time after work and over the weekends. And then when I was furloughed, I went from collaging in my spare time to doing it every day.
I woke up feeling excited instead of dejected. Instead of clock watching, hours would pass by in what felt like seconds; I was able to completely focus because I enjoyed what I was doing. It felt like a test drive of my dream life.
By the time I was made redundant, I had a new plan. I was going to do everything in my power to make this lifestyle permanent.
Are you happy with the change?
I couldn't be happier.
Saying that, I think all of my experience across sales, leadership and marketing has been invaluable in terms of setting up my own business.
It's easy to say I wish I'd started sooner, but I think I wouldn't have been as prepared.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss the camaraderie of a small team, and the separation of home and work life.
I don't miss the lengthy commute!
I don't miss the endless, drawn-out meetings, the bureaucracy, and the feeling that, in the grand scheme of things, my work didn't really matter and had no discernible positive impact on others.
How did you go about making the shift?
When I was furloughed, I spent that time experimenting and learning about the medium of collage.
When I discovered I was going to be made redundant that summer, I reached a fork in the road. I could either continue with my plan of getting a steady job and growing my art business slowly on the side, or focusing on my art business full-time.
After test driving my dream life on furlough, I chose the latter.
I made a plan detailing all of the elements needed to launch my business and gave myself a couple of months to get it done.
I’d previously tested a different creative path the year before, and had done a lot of research on the business side of things. This came in really useful; it saved me a lot of time as I had all the information ready and waiting.
What didn't go well? What wrong turns did you take?
The only thing that was a bit of a setback was an issue around using copyrighted material.
This wasn’t something I was thinking about when I was just creating my collages for fun during my time on furlough, but it became something I couldn't really ignore when starting my business.
The internet is a rabbit hole of conflicting information, so I made the decision to have an intellectual property review of my work to set my mind at ease and to clue myself up before I started trading. Thankfully, my work was deemed to have no evidence of infringing any rights and I came up with new processes on how to limit the risk as much as possible.
However, before I got this advice it was a bit scary thinking that perhaps I couldn't make this my business!
How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
As I had worked for my company for over seven years, I was entitled to statutory redundancy, which I've been living off whilst setting up my business.
Due to my redundancy, I was able to cancel my gym membership and took the option of freezing some loans for a few months.
Whilst I was on furlough, I used my wages to pay off my credit card, which meant it was clear by the time I was made redundant.
I also applied for universal credit and gained a place on the New Enterprise Allowance scheme facilitated by Shaw Trust which gives support to those starting a new business.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
I think shifting from a corporate mindset of being hyper-productive, deadline-oriented and ‘more is more’.
I've also had to learn that working creatively is a completely different state of mind. Instead of planning what to get done in a certain amount of time, I've shifted to consistently dedicating time to focus on my creative work. And instead of treating it like a task that I need to get done and out of the way, now I slow down and enjoy it.
What help did you get?
I had financial support from universal credit and the New Enterprise Allowance, which meant that my redundancy money has lasted longer.
This has enabled me to be less stressed about finances and more able to focus on setting up the business.
The company that does my fine art printing has been an enormous help in terms of the printing and logistics side of the business.
Solicitors helped me understand how my work doesn't infringe copyright and gave me the freedom to continue creating collages with peace of mind.
What resources would you recommend to others?
I'd say to watch tutorials, read books / articles, and speak to people in the industry you're looking to break into.
Take part-time courses as well, if relevant.
What have you learnt in the process?
An unbelievable amount.
The process of starting a business is a steep learning curve, especially in a completely different industry.
I think the biggest thing I've learned is that everything takes longer than you think. I now give myself plenty of time to get things done, so that I don't get stressed.
I've also learned to trust my instincts creatively and how best to balance my time between the creative side and business side.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
If you're looking to shift into something more creative, give yourself the time and space to explore without putting too much pressure on it.
Think more about how you feel whilst you're creating, and whether it makes you feel happy and excited. Once you have that feeling, you can then hone and improve your skills.
Don't aim to produce brilliant work in the beginning, just have fun with it and let it develop organically.
Make sure you do plenty of research, and have a fluid plan, but most importantly just get started. It's easy to let the fear of being rubbish at something hold you back, but you'll never have the chance to improve if you don't try in the first place!
We caught up with Gladys recently to see how her shift was working out, roughly two years on. Here's what she's been up to, and the biggest lessons she's learned.
What's changed for you in your career since we first published your story?
I’m no longer creating collages – so, everything has changed!
However, it's a very positive thing. I learned a lot during my shift and realised that collage wasn't quite the right fit for me.
After much reflection and revisiting old work I created, I'm making a return to printed textile design. I studied Fashion Textiles at Ravensbourne over a decade ago and I realised just how much more it suits my way of thinking, working, and creating.
How do you feel about your work now?
I feel proud of the work that I created, and sometimes I look at certain collages that are made up of incredibly small bits of paper and wonder how I had the patience to spend so long on them!
After deciding to stop creating collage art, I felt disappointed, frustrated and perhaps slightly embarrassed that this path I had chosen didn't work out.
However, after a while I started to feel grateful because I had learned so much about myself and how to run a business. Even though this particular path didn't work out, I'm now armed with a wealth of knowledge and experience that I can pour into my new business!
I’m excited, a little nervous but feeling much more certain and clearer that this will be a far better fit for me.
What challenges have you come up against since making your shift, and how exactly have you dealt with them?
I started the business during the pandemic, when I had a once-in-a-lifetime abundance of time on my hands and money from my redundancy to live on.
So, when life started returning to normal and I started a part-time job three days a week, it was a bit of a shock to the system to feel like my time to create and work on the business completely shrank.
It's the norm for most people who start a business to do so alongside a full-time job, eventually leaving when they can financially support themselves. But I had done it a bit backwards which, in hindsight, had a poor effect on my mental health.
This shrinking of time paired with the fact I’d chosen a very painstaking, time-consuming way of creating art meant that I felt frustrated at how long things took to create, especially compared to other creatives I’d see on social media.
I thought that a change in environment would help me build a better routine between my business and my part-time job, so I rented a studio for a few months but it only highlighted further how this particular creative path I'd chosen wasn't the right fit for me.
I took some time to reflect on why it wasn't working, and decided to change to a new creative path that aligns with who I am, what I value and what brings me joy!
I think the biggest challenge was to accept and admit that this wasn't working even though I’d given it my all, and to share with my family and close friends that I was leaving this path behind.
How is the financial side of things panning out and is this what you'd expected?
I have to say I was a bit naïve on this front.
I’d expected my prints to sell fairly well as I was approached by the retailer Not On The High Street a few months after launching, and I had some great feedback from various sources, but the sales were inconsistent and sporadic.
This made things a bit tricky for me financially because I had some monthly loans that took a sizeable chunk out of my monthly wages from my part-time job, which left me with very little money for myself.
I knew that I could earn a bit more from my part-time job if I went up to four days a week but that would have meant sacrificing creative time. Because the medium I’d picked was so time-consuming, it would have meant it would have taken even longer to complete a piece.
I had already started to feel frustration at this, and reducing creative time would have tipped me over the edge! It was a hard balancing act.
Thankfully, the loans are now paid off and I've worked hard to reduce my outgoings as much as I can, so I can go down my new creative path with a mind free of financial anxiety.
What have you learned, since making your shift?
I've learned a lot about my intrinsic motivations, my values and fundamentally what I'm looking for out of life.
After much reflection, I learned that my most important values are freedom, excellence, curiosity, and connection. And quite simply, creating collage art was not aligning with those values in a way that fulfilled me or brought me joy.
I’ve no regrets however because I don't think I would have become as self-aware or knowledgeable about these things had I not started this business.
I made a lot of mistakes and often focused on the wrong things, but experiencing this has taught me so much more than if I had never made the shift in the first place.
With everything I've learned, I have no doubt that I can be happy, successful, and fulfilled in my future creative business.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I wanted to share my update to show that sometimes the first shift might not be the right fit for you, and it's okay if it doesn't work out.
It's so much more important to try things and learn from your failures and mistakes then to not try at all. Whilst this creative path didn't work out for me, I’m so much knowledgeable and self-aware that I would have been if I hadn't made the leap.
And I'm taking all my learnings to my new business that will have a much better chance of making me happy and providing me with the fulfillment and success I'm looking for.
It's okay to give up on something that's wrong for you and to instead put all your energy and focus into something that's right. It might take a couple of attempts but don't stop looking until you've found it!
What lessons could you take from Gladys's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.