“Everything about my job screamed 'This isn't me!'”

From Office to Outdoors

Following a serious car accident, outdoors-lover Catherine Hanna found herself desk-bound, stressed and unhappy at work. Then, an insightful colleague opened her eyes to a simple truth that changed everything. Here, she shares how she rediscovered her passion and found work that feels like being welcomed home.

What work were you doing previously?

I used to be an international-level show jumper.

I stopped doing that around 12 years ago; since then I've been working in various roles within a public sector organisation.

What are you doing now?

I've started my own business, breeding horses.

Why did you change?

I've been around farms and horses all my life.

When I gave up show jumping, I applied for a public sector role focusing on research, which seemed a good fit as some of the work allowed me to spend time outdoors.

There were 10,000 applicants for the job, but I was the successful one. I felt like it was meant to be, and I enjoyed the work I was doing.

Unfortunately, a few years later I was involved in a serious car crash, which left me disabled to the point where I could no longer do my job properly.

At first I didn't know what I was going to do, but I wanted to keep working, so I looked at other options in my organisation.

To meet my medical needs, I switched to an admin-based role that saw me mostly confined to a desk. I was on shift quite often, and I worked long hours. It felt like I was hardly ever at home, never around to make the kids their tea or help them with their homework.

I was being paid well, but everything about my job screamed, “This isn't me! What am I doing?”

I started wishing my life away.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

My role involved quite a lot of stress and responsibility, and I was constantly worried about the potential consequences of getting something wrong.

I'm a perfectionist, so whatever I do, I have to do right. That just added to the daily pressure I felt.

I sat some exams for an internal promotion, which I passed. But I didn't feel any of the elation I should have felt. I started wondering what was wrong with me.

I'm a huge introvert, not the kind of person who talks very much about myself. I thought I was doing a good job of hiding how I felt, and just getting on with it, until a colleague who was working on my shift took me aside.

He told me that he could see how stressed and unhappy I was. He said, “You can't go on like this.”

It was a shock for me to realise that other people could see how miserable I felt. I knew I needed to do something about it.

How did you choose your new career?

I started talking to a friend at work about the different career change ideas I was having.

He told me how my eyes lit up whenever I mentioned horses, and that he couldn't see me doing anything other than working with them.

I realised he was right. Horses are my passion, but I'd been used to riding and show jumping, and those options weren't available to me anymore.

The car accident had left me feeling useless, but I needed to find a new way to work with horses. Breeding them was the ideal option.

Ever since the car accident, I'd been offered medical retirement from my job. Taking it was something I would never have considered before, because I didn't know what else I would do. It felt like admitting defeat.

But now I'd found something meaningful to focus on. I decided to accept the medical retirement, and leave my job.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes. I feel as though I'm back where I belong – like I've been welcomed home.

Now I'm expecting some foals that will be born early in the new year, which is wonderful.

I've also found I've got a few spare hours, where I could do something else on a part-time basis if I needed to. But my passion will always be the horses.

What do and don't you miss?

I do miss the craic and the camaraderie of office life sometimes.

It might sound silly, but even a simple chat about the weather can help lift your day.

But on the flipside, the horses don't give me any lip, so it's all good!

How did you go about making the shift?

I Googled 'career change' and discovered Careershifters.

I read some of the articles on their site, and they were really refreshing and positive.

When you're feeling low and stressed in your job, you really can't see any way out, so those articles felt like rays of light! I saw that instead of feeling lost and trapped, it was possible to be happy about the idea of career change.

I signed up to the Career Change Launch Pad programme because I felt it would give me the clarity and courage – not to mention the kick up the backside I needed! – to make a change. That was exactly what happened.

I also rediscovered how to have fun. One day I went biking down the side of a mountain with my then-five year old, and we ended up in a heap at the bottom. I don't know who was laughing the most, me or him!

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

I was lucky enough to have some money I could use to get started on my business idea.

I was able to buy some horses, and I had a huge shed built, to use for stables.

I'll admit to feeling a bit like an imposter at the moment, though. I've achieved so much, but I'll have to see some money coming in before I can really feel as though I've succeeded with my plans.

But breeding is a waiting game, so it's all about getting used to that.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

There have been some pitfalls along the way.

I set aside some money for building work, but it ended up costing double the amount. That felt scary, but I managed to offset some of it by selling one of my horses a year earlier than planned.

The horrific winter we had last year also took its toll, with plenty of unplanned expenses. I had to spend an extra £500 ($650) on rugs to keep the horses warm!

Things like that can come as unwelcome surprises, but I think if you're determined enough, you'll be OK.

I was so stressed in my old job that the tiniest problem would make me feel anxious, but your mentality changes when you do something you love. You really want to make it work.

What help did you get?  

I talked to a friend at the start of my career change.

I've known her for years, and though I don't see her much any more, it was clear that she understood the real me, not the stressed and unhappy person I had been presenting at work every day.

I had felt so lost and miserable, but she reminded me of who I am, and that really helped as I started looking for something else I could do.

What have you learnt in the process?

I've always tried to work everything out for myself without asking others for help, but I realised that isn't always the right way to be, especially when you want to make a big change.

As an introvert I find business networking difficult, but I developed the confidence to approach people and ask for advice.

I set myself a goal to contact a senior show jumping judge, to see if I could help out with some judging – and they replied straight away with a yes!

I've found that when you ask others for help or advice, they're willing to provide it. I've also signed up to Facebook, and I use it to connect with people in my industry.

Now, I'm learning so much. It's amazing how much you can pick up from a casual face-to-face conversation, mostly things you would never have thought to ask.

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

Don't waste time weighing up all the pros and cons of career change without taking any action.

If you really want to make a change, go for it!

Catherine took part in our Career Change Launch Pad. If you're ready to join a group of bright, motivated career changers on a structured programme to help you find more fulfilling work, you can find out more here.

To find out more about Catherine's work, visit her Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/chisumleafarm.

What lessons could you take from Catherine'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 [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.