From Marketing to Portfolio Career

​“I wanted to make a difference. But all I was doing was making rich companies richer.”

Image of Kiran Gill

From Marketing to Portfolio Career

Kiran Gill's career looked great on paper, but left her feeling hollow. So, in a bold leap, she quit her job and started to bring to life ideas she'd been thinking about for almost a decade. Here, she shares how taking a portfolio approach to work has allowed her to pursue all her passions.

What work were you doing previously?

I was Group Managing Director of a brand agency in Dubai.

I'd worked in marketing and advertising for my whole career – about half of that was in the UK and then I moved abroad with my work.

In India I did both agency and in-house roles. I preferred the collaboration of agency work and eventually set up my own training consultancy helping agencies with client and creative services and people management.

I moved to Dubai when a role came up for an agency that wanted to grow into India. I started as Head of Client Services and then I just worked, worked, worked for over three years. Ultimately, I got promoted to Group Managing Director, overseeing offices in five countries.

What are you doing now?

I run my own online accessories business – bloomandgrace.com.

All of our products are ethical and vegan, we follow an artisan model, and we give back to education projects in the countries where we source our products.

I'm also working towards executive coaching for women in leadership. I know how isolating their experiences can be. It's a personal mission for me to do something about that.

The other opportunity I'm pursuing is property investment to add some passive income.

Why did you change?

On paper I was successful and I should have been happy.

Instead I felt hollow.

I started to question what I was doing. All I'd done for so long was work. My personal life was a mess; my dog was literally the only thing that brought me joy.

I wanted to make a difference. But all I was doing was supporting consumerism and making rich companies richer.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

I was in a meeting one day and I just quit.

Then I left everything – my job, my relationship, the country.

I had three months' gardening leave at least but it wasn't planned at all. I thought: “What am I going to do?” I started Googling for ideas. That's when I came across Careershifters.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes! I think I'm happier than I've ever been.

I'd become a fraction of myself before; now I'm not even the old me – I'm Kiran 2.0. There is so much that I'm passionate about.

I don't feel like I work. Every day I wake up excited to do things. Every day is different: I've got freedom, I'm learning, I'm using old skills and acquiring new ones. I'm making a positive impact. I'm contributing.

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

I miss the salary. But that salary came at a price for me. I'd never take the money again for the pain that it brought me. I'd much rather be where I am now.

I don't miss the environment or the culture that I was working in.

How did you go about making the shift?

With the support of Careershifters I began to dig down and discover what was truly important to me.

I'd had all these threads in my life for such a long time – sustainability, fashion, empowerment for women – but I'd never been able to really see them or bring them together before.

I became vegan. That really personal step launched me into a whole other world. I found new people, interests and ideas.

At a vegan fashion event I met someone who'd set up an e-commerce business. I started to consult for him on brand and marketing. I began to build up consultancy work in that way, based on my old skills whilst working in a new space that I loved.

Ultimately, though, I wanted to be my own boss. So, when the chance came to buy and revamp an ethical online accessories business, I jumped at it.

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

I don't remember anything being a wrong turn, as such.

I did look back and wonder if I should have explored other areas, but no, I'm happy where I am. All the steps I took were about learning; some were like bumpers on a bowling alley that nudged me onto a different course.

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

I'm still working on the money to be honest but I'm doing OK.

I was on gardening leave initially, so that helped.

Then, I built up some consultancy work that allowed me to test new areas of interest while using my old skills.

I'm going to need to work really hard over the next 18 months or so but I love the path that I'm on.

I've been surprised to realise that you actually don't need much to live well.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Changing my mindset and letting go of the way I'd always done things.

I'm the kind of person who's always looking six steps ahead. So I didn't like it when I couldn't see where the process was heading.

When I finally managed to stop worrying about finding the answer and just religiously went through all of the steps I started to get breakthroughs.

I realised it wasn't about being on one path. I can be on three! Having a portfolio career driven by my passions wasn't something that I'd really considered or even knew existed before.

What help did you get?

Kiran GillI got so much out of working with the Careershifters coaches and the other people in my group.

I would never have learnt as much or have been so supported if I'd tried to go it alone.

Outside of the programme, I had conversations with friends and family, I went to as many events as I could, and I also read a lot of biographies for inspiration!

What have you learnt in the process?

I've learnt what being open minded really means and what a difference that can make.

I used to think that all the travel and work I'd done overseas gave me a broad perspective but the reality was that I was very blinkered. My work and life had become so narrow in focus and so empty as a result.

I'd been vaguely thinking about other options for the best part of a decade. I'd chat about them over a drink but then dismiss them in the cold light of day. I realised that I wasn't incapable or an idiot. I just needed help to get me there.

I also learnt to take action, one step at a time, rather than trying to think ahead and see the outcome before I even did anything.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

Although it didn’t always feel like it, every step I've taken has been critical in getting me to where I am now, so I don't regret any of them.

Except, maybe, not having done it sooner.

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

Take the first step.

You don't have to run. You don't need to know where you're going. Take it one step at a time.

Kiran took part in our High Flyers' programme.  If you're a high achiever and ready for intensive support to help you find more fulfilling work, you can express interest in our next programme here.

What lessons could you take from Kiran'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.