“I wanted to show my children that you don’t have to be one thing all your life; you can make a change if you want to.”

Image of Dawn O’Connor
From Teaching to Interior Design

Dawn O'Connor had only ever worked in one sector, and had little confidence that she could do anything else. An opportunity to take a different career direction however reignited her creative spark. Here's her story.

What work were you doing previously?

I was a primary school teacher for over twenty years.  

What are you doing now?

I'm now an interior designer and property developer.

Why did you change?

I'd been one thing all my life.  

I wanted to show my children that you don’t have to be one thing; you can make a change if you want to.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

Sat in a café having lunch with my husband a year before the pandemic.  

We were discussing our wish to build our own portfolio of BTL’s (buy-to-let properties).  We realised to do it properly one of us would need to leave our employment.  

I volunteered as I knew a change would be great (yet scary), and my wage was smaller than my husbands so practically it wouldn’t impact our family life as much.  

My initial change to be a property developer worked out well and we currently have a portfolio of ten properties, each one bought as a wreck or very tired property.  I project managed the builds and designed layouts.  

We moved onto HMO’s (multiple-occupancy house rentals) and for this I needed to design the interior as well. I loved it! 

That was the moment my career would change again, and I enrolled on an Interior Design diploma.

Are you happy with the change?

Absolutely, I love it.  

I did A-level art and design and technology, and my teaching degree was in art as well, so I guess I always had a love art and design. But somehow it had got lost during my time as a teacher.  

This change reignited those loves and I just feel so much better having a creative release.

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

To be honest it would only be the school children.  

However, I left teaching the summer before the pandemic, so just over six months later when we went into lockdown I was home schooling my own children. So that filled that gap.  

As for the rest of the paperwork and politics that come with working in a school, I haven’t missed that at all.  

While I do now have a lot of paperwork, and dealing with mortgages and solicitors hasn’t always been plain sailing, it's different as I’ve been doing it for our family, rather than as a job for someone else.  

How did you go about making the shift?

Once I’d handed my notice in, we started the process of buying our second rental property (we already rented out our previous home).

This was so that by the time I left teaching I’d have a project to do.  

I sourced builders, the electrician etc. and project managed the development.  To grow further in the way we sourced and purchased these properties, we worked with a couple of really good mentors.  

Once I’d decided that I wanted the interior design part of my property developer experiences to become more of a career, I enrolled on the Interior Designers Hub diploma.  This has allowed me to gain a Level 3 diploma in Interior Design.

Getting the right education is something I couldn’t recommend enough, even if it’s just to develop your confidence to allow you to take the leap.  

How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?

For the interpersonal skills I needed, I discovered that I already had these from being a teacher.  

When I left I had very little confidence in my ability to do anything other than education. However having worked through those confidence issues, the main thing I’ve learnt is to understand how many skills teachers’ possess that can be so easily transferred to other careers and circumstances.  

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

I’d probably say the timing of my shift from teaching.  

Making the shift just before a global pandemic didn’t make things easy. 

However I used the time, alongside home schooling, to also educate myself.

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

My husband continued to work full-time during my shift, and as the portfolio grew it allowed him to reduce his hours to a 4-day week.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Finding the confidence to speak to people in the profession. 

At the start of my shift, I was so worried about talking to people in the property profession and feeling like I was about to be ‘found out!’.  

I found that writing down everything I wanted to say before each phone call helped before I rang.  

What resources would you recommend to others?

Learn from a mentor, someone whose been there and done it.

Learn from their mistakes to hopefully avoid making the same ones yourself.  

The Interior Designers Hub is a fantastically supportive place. They work not only on your interior design skills but support each member as a person as well as a designer.  It’s a wonderful hub to be a part of and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

What do you wish you’d done differently?

Got over my fears quicker and worked on my confidence issues from the start.  

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

If you're tempted by a change and have the means to make the change possible, then go for it!  

If you are shifting out of teaching, remember that you have so many transferable skills.  Just because it’s in a different industry doesn’t mean that paperwork, parent interaction, assembly leading, hours spent in the classroom don’t prepare you for a world outside education.  

They do!

To find out more about Dawn’s business, visit https://reformliving.co.uk.

What lessons could you take from Dawn'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.