“If you wanted to make a career of it you had to make it your life. But I wanted to work to live, not live to work.”
From the Law to the Waves and the Stage
What work were you doing previously?
I trained and qualified as a lawyer. I had just completed my traineeship at a general practitioners. My work involved court work, property, conveyance, private clients and family law. I wasn’t sure which specific area I wanted to go in, so this was a good way to try out different areas in the law.
What are you doing now?
I have started my own surf school, and I am a surfing instructor. I work alongside the Scottish Surfing Federation, to get more women and youth into surfing. I also visit schools to tell my story of how to pursue your passion, set goals, and live a healthy lifestyle.
Alongside this, I play drums and sing in my band, Evera.
Why did you change?
My heart was never really in law. At school, I’d always wanted to be a PE teacher. I had good grades in PE, but everyone encouraged me to do law at university as a start towards a stable, interesting profession.
I wasn’t hugely passionate about it at university, however once I’d finished my degree my family encouraged me to do the diploma, and the next natural progression was qualifying.
Seven years later and I find that I’m a qualified lawyer!
During the traineeship I wasn’t happy at all. I thought I’d be helping people, but in fact it was about making money and being a commercial enterprise.
I’m quite a sensitive person, and often I had to do a lot of matrimonial work which was hard to not got emotionally involved in. It was stressful and you probably need to be a bit harder to deal with it.
I’d do my best at work, but was often just thinking about the waves and wanting to surf. I hated being chained to a desk in an office. I missed interacting with people in a more sociable way.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
There was no big light bulb moment. My heart was never in law, so when my passion for surfing started taking off, it felt like the right thing to do.
The office politics made it stressful. If you wanted to make a career of it you had to make it your life. But I wanted to work to live, not live to work.
You’re not treated well. The more established lawyers had to pay their dues to get where they are, and there’s an expectation. The pay is terrible for the first few years until you make a jump to associate or partner. You work all day every day until midnight, you have no life, and aren’t being compensated well for that, in relation to my friends who worked in other sectors such as banking.
Are you happy with the change?
Yes, so happy with the change. During the traineeship, I would get that Sunday evening sickness, I couldn’t sleep because I didn’t want to go to work that week. I dreaded it. And I wondered if that feeling was normal, if after all the studying and training that this is what I was supposed to feel like about work?
Career change has made such an impact on my life. My partner went through my unhappiness with me. When you’re unhappy at work, it put strains on your relationships - with partners and family. If you’re not happy at work then you’re negative in your life. Once I made the change, I look at things completely differently. I have a more upbeat outlook and am more fun to be around.
How did you decide which new career path to take?
I thought about going back to PE teaching, but actually my ‘unrealistic dream’ was to be in a rock band. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I took a step back and looked at what I wanted to do. I knew that I loved surfing, and that I’d wanted to be a PE teacher, and so this is a combination of the two. I know its so difficult as many of my friends say they don’t know what they really want to do. If there’s anyway you can make a passion outside of work a means of income, and make your passions more a part of your daily life, then you have to go for it.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
Honestly, maybe a few moments made me happy. I was sent flowers a couple of times from a client who was happy with my work. Things like that were really nice - knowing you had made a difference in someone’s life. I enjoyed meeting clients, and feeling like I could be of assistance.
I don’t miss wearing a suit, the stuffy work environment, or being in a regimented workplace.
How did you go about making the shift?
Around the same time as qualifying as a lawyer, I also became the Scottish Ladies Surfing Champion. I was picked up by O’Neill for sponsorship. Because my legal training contract had ended, I didn’t have a job. So I decided to do a surf instruction course, and was lucky to land a job at Granite Reef surf school four weeks after completing the course. After teaching there, I spent a season as a surf instructor in France, then when I came back to the UK decided to start up my own surfing school.
I didn’t have a plan, I just made a go of it. I also wanted to pursue music, so wanted to find a way to make both the surfing and music work. I had to tighten my budget and structure my time better.
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
Because I got the job at Granite Reef after the surf instructing course I was only really out of work for a month. I had savings set aside just in case.
When I decided to set up the business, the financial aspect was difficult. I ploughed my savings into the business without knowing if it will work. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my partner and family. I worked as a nanny for three months whilst getting everything going, to get money, and I liked working with kids. It didn’t bother me. You have to do what you have to do.
It was difficult changing from the stability of a monthly salary, to the uncertainty of not having that or knowing where money would be coming from.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
The reaction from most people. Everyone would say ‘Are you serious?’ when I told them I wanted to leave law to surf and do music. They almost said it with disgust. My family were worried. Everyone around me was concerned, so that made me feel like ‘is this going to go completely wrong and I’ll make a fool of myself?’
I suppose the moral of the story is if you want something, you do what you have to.
My close family were concerned about the lack of stability. They were also concerned that I’d done seven years of training as a lawyer, and was throwing it away. But I feel like I can fall back on my law training if I absolutely need to. I was happy of what I’d achieved in law.
I think it could be a generational thing. Some older people, like my granny, didn‘t really understand. Also some people make their career their life, trying to climb the work ladder, but I wanted to do something different, that gave me total fulfilment.
What help did you get?
My family and my partner’s family, my partner was hugely supportive. I know I couldn’t have done it without him. He does the website, helped with exhibitions, and is always hugely supportive. My sister too, who is in the band with me. It always helps to have a lot of support. Close friends were really supportive. Nobody was against me. Once everyone got over the initial shock they were okay about it.
Regarding the business start-up, I used the Business Gateway website and spoke with them on the phone a couple of times. My partner and other family members had their own businesses so having that helped, I could ask them for help if needed.
What have you learnt about yourself in the process?
I learnt that even the best laid plans don’t always turn out they way you expect them to. You have to be flexible. I’m quite a perfectionist and set myself super high targets when I got started. I have to manage my time which you didn’t have to do in an office. In the first week f business I was up until 1am answering emails, because I wanted to give a good service and get back to everyone within an hour of their email! I needed to learn how to manage time better and be less of a perfectionist.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
I wondered what it would have been like if I had done PE teaching. I wouldn’t have done everything differently though. It was hard work but I’m glad I qualified as a lawyer. Life is about making choices and its great to steer you own path, to make your own way. I’m glad I did what I did.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Believe in yourself that you can do it. Follow your dreams. You only get one chance at life so what’s the point in living with regrets.
The world we live in is very much ‘you need to have a big house, car etc’ but its all the material things, that for me don’t matter. I’d rather have a smaller house and car I can afford to run, and be doing what I love and making a living from it.
You can do what you want to do. You will have to make sacrifices. Yet it’s so rewarding when you do it.
What lessons could you take from Dee's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.