What It’s Really Like To Change Careers After Your 20s

With the pressure to choose a career field starting as early as your late teens, it's no wonder that, fast-forward a decade or so and with a bit of life experience under your belt, you're craving change. But whether your life has changed direction, or you’ve simply discovered a new passion, it’s possible to successfully start over again no matter what stage you’re at – we spoke to three women who have done just that, with no regrets…

Lucie Holtermann: Primary School Teacher to Doula

Lucie was a primary school teacher in London and New York before realising the thing she loved most about her job was working with the parents. When a friend suggested she become a doula, she knew that was exactly what she wanted to do.

Did you enjoy being a teacher?

I loved it, but when I thought about going back to work I realised I’d be missing my own kids’ carol concerts and parents’ meetings to go to someone else’s. It just didn’t sit right. I didn’t know what a doula was but a friend said to me they thought I’d make a great one. So I did some research and realised it was exactly what I wanted to do.

How long was it until you acted on it?

I didn’t really know where to start, so it took me a few months to figure out how to become a doula. When I found the course I did, which was amazing, that was probably about eight or nine months. I also considered midwifery – but that was something I couldn’t manage with children as the course was three years full time, plus I prefer the holistic side to the medical side anyway. Even after I’d qualified, setting up my business and my website and figuring out how to get clients, that probably took another six months, so all in all probably about a year. It’s only in the last year my business has really taken off and it’s now a full-time career.

What’s the training like?

There's a course, then post-coursework which takes quite a lot of time – it’s a bit like a mini dissertation, except you don't get any guidance. You’re told you need to do a passion project about what being a doula means to you – finding time to sit on my laptop and work took quite a long time. I’ve got a four-year-old and a six-year-old.

When you were training were you still working as a teacher?

No, I was a stay-at-home mum. I’d already decided I wasn’t going back to teaching. And I’d just got divorced, so I really was juggling quite a few things, but it was actually the perfect drive to motivate myself.

What was the hardest thing about making the transition?

Although I was 29 when I decided to first make the transition three years ago, as a doula I’m actually very young – every doula I’d met was mid-forties. The first few interviews I had with clients I’d walk in and have a blind panic that they were going to think I was a fraud. I’d have to talk myself off the ledge and convince myself that I knew what I was doing.

But on the flip side, it was shocking to me that I'd only just figured out what I wanted to do with my life. That was a massive drive. It was scary thinking that I wasn’t going to be getting a regular income for a while. And trying to explain what I do to people who didn't understand what a doula does wasn't easy. I felt too old to be on this new thing where no one knows what I do and I wasn't even sure what I did because I didn’t have a doula myself. I was sort of just making it up as I went along.

And the best part?

Getting to help women every day. And seeing instant results; there's nothing like leaving a client knowing that their week has been easier because I was there.

Do you have to register as a doula?

Yes – I’m registered with Nurturing Birth, which is who I trained with. It used to be the case that anyone could say they were a doula, but now there are accreditation bodies making sure people can’t do that.

Deal with the rational stuff that has to be dealt with and just do it.

Do you make more or less money now? Does that matter to you?

If I worked 52 weeks a year, I’d definitely be making more. But the joy of this job is that I don’t have to take clients if it’s over the holidays and I want to be with my children. There’s obviously no guarantee of more work coming in, but the irregularity of money coming in is made up for by the fact I can set my own hours.

Do you have a better work/life balance?

I definitely have a good work/life balance in that I can take my kids to school every day – unless I’m at a birth. If I’m taking on a new client and I know my kids have something on like a school play, I can say to clients, “I won’t be available for this hour”.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?

Just to do it. Deal with the rational stuff that has to be dealt with – are you going to be able to pay your rent? Are you going to be able to have food in your fridge? As long as the stuff that really needs to be taken care of is taken care of, then do it.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from your journey?

Those moments of not really knowing what you’re doing – whether it’s changing careers or becoming a parent – everyone has them. Everyone’s confidence issues look the same, even though we all look at everyone else like they’ve got their stuff together and they’re really handling it. Chances are, they’re not. Seeing people at their most vulnerable has rammed that home to me.

Elizabeth Draper: Film Executive to Bakery Owner

From the outside, many people would envy Elizabeth Draper’s 30-year career in the film industry. As Head of Fox Searchlight UK and subsequently heading up the Events Cinema division for Arts Alliance Media, she’d reached the pinnacle of her career. But Elizabeth was ready for a new, different challenge, leaving the industry to start her own gluten-free baking business, Elizabeth D Bakes

How did your career in film start?

I loved cinema, but I fell into a career in film. My first job was for the French government in New York, working for their promotional film company as a bilingual secretary. I got it because I spoke French, but the good part was it was about cinema. So I ended up in this unbelievable situation where I was interpreting for the likes of Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve.

When did you realise you wanted to change paths?

It was a long time coming, I had been frustrated in my job for about five or six years. The cinema world had changed in a way that I didn’t like, but I also wasn’t someone who enjoyed working in a corporate environment. I realised I was someone who really needed to run her own business.

What made you decide to make the switch?

I was actually made redundant from my last job. And I think if they hadn’t done that for me, I might not have had the courage to do what I did.

Was baking always a passion of yours?

I grew up in Alabama and come from a family of bakers, so I was always passionate about it. One of my first jobs as a student was waitressing in a bakery and I loved it – it’s funny, 20 years later, I look back and think, why didn’t I just stick with that? But at the time the film stuff felt very glamorous and exciting.

How did you go about starting your business?

I started in street food markets – Brick Lane Market was the first stall we had – and that’s still what I do today. Early on in the business, I really messed up. We became the supplier to Waterstones cafés – I was a one-woman band supplying to around 13 shops and we even won a Great Taste award for one of our brownies. But I got to a point where I didn’t have the finance to grow the company – I sold it thinking someone else could grow the business better than I could, but it didn’t work out. So, I started again a little bit smarter. That’s when I was discovered by the buyer at Whole Foods at Berwick Street Market.

Why did you choose to focus on the market scene?

They’ve been so valuable for me, not just in terms of getting the word out but also learning and getting feedback and developing products with real people. If you don’t have money to open your own shop or café, it’s a terrific way to get yourself out there and selling.

How did you finance the business?

I did it off my own back initially, relying on loans and income. We’re at the point now where we’re looking at an equity fundraise to expand the business, and we’re fortunate that we have a bit of success behind us now, but it’s still tough. It’s a very competitive environment.

What was the hardest part about changing careers?

The financial side of things is hard. I suppose beyond that it was about status. When I was on Berwick Street Market – because it’s the heart of the film world in London – numerous people who knew me as an exec with a huge amount of power would walk past my cake stall and see me. I'm sure plenty of them probably think I am no longer successful – but it raises the question of what success looks like and how do you define it? Accepting that your status can change and understanding that a job isn’t what defines you really spurred me on.

Was there ever a point that you felt like it might not work?

I probably still feel that way 25% of the time, because it’s really hard to start your own food business. I have good days and bad days, but the good days outweigh the bad days.

I’ve accepted your status can change and understood that a job isn’t what defines you.

How do you keep going when it's a bad day?

When I realise I’m doing something that people are loving. Fans on social media will say things like, “You’ve changed my life as a coeliac,” or someone who's given up dairy will tell me, “I didn’t think it was possible to have something that didn’t taste like a compromise and is actually delicious”.

Do you feel like you have a good work/life balance?

No! But that’s something to be said of someone my age. My daughter’s at university now – she comes and works for me sometimes. If I had small children at home it would be impossible, but I’m at a time in my life where I can devote myself to something in this way.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t be afraid of taking a risk. And remember, you can’t do everything yourself – find a partner or a really good support system so you’re not doing everything alone. Part of the reason I sold my first company was that I was feeling so overwhelmed and couldn’t get any perspective on the situation. I don’t have a partner now, but I have people I trust who are there to advise me in different capacities.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt?

Really trusting my instincts but again, also realising there’s areas where I need help. Asking for help is success because its identifying what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. It’s a funny combination but I think that’s just growing up. 

Kim Palmer: Strategy Director to App Co-Founder

Kim Palmer, now age 39, spent her career climbing the corporate ranks, eventually becoming a strategy director at a major digital agency in London before constant panic attacks caused her to rethink her life plan. She now owns and runs the hypnotherapy app, Clementine.

Did you enjoy your old job?

I’m a really positive person, so I always try to make the best of any situation, but deep down I had a desire to do something else.

What made you want to go down a different career path? 


There were two major things that happened; I started to suffer from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks and my mental health took a real battering. Then I was made redundant – it made me feel really crappy and so I had to start rebuilding myself. I had hypnotherapy and hired a business coach and started pushing my way back to the top.

But one day someone very senior at my new company asked me, “If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?” It made me step back from it all and realise I was doing what I thought everybody expected of me, rather than what I wanted, and that I was going to head in the same direction as I had before unless I changed.

Would you recommend having a business coach?

Definitely, it was a game-changer for me. When you’re working, there’s very little time for people to think about they want to do with their lives. She made me commit to thinking about that stuff. She guided me and challenged my thinking. When you're working, there's very little time to think about what you want to do with your life.

Where did the idea for Clementine come from?

I knew I wanted to start my own business but needed some space to think about what could I do. I listened to lots of podcasts, read lots of books, went to lots of networking events…. I saw this woman speak who had a successful fashion brand, and she was talking about how you know when you’ve come across the right idea because it’s something you obsess over. When I heard her speak I just knew what I wanted to do, because I couldn’t stop thinking about using modern hypnotherapy to help women cope with everyday situations.

When I started to research and talk to women, it became clear how sad and overwhelmed so many felt. It was something no one was talking about, and I knew then there was a space to do something to help women.

How long did it take to get the app up and running?

I came up with the idea around February 2017 and launched the business in November 2017. I read this book called The 100-Year Life. It talks about the idea of having side gigs in the portfolio of your career. At the time I had a really senior position, and was pregnant with another child already at home – so I decided to make the transition whilst I was on maternity leave: focus on Clementine, see where I could get it to, and then make a decision about what I do from there.

Do you work on your own?

I started out on my own, and now I’ve taken a business partner, Annie – she’s a big influencer and runs a parenting site called The Early Hour. We do it together and it’s amazing to have someone else on board.

How did you fund the app?

My husband and I have funded everything ourselves to date. I used the money from my redundancy, plus I’ve always been really good at saving, I’ve saved my whole life. But going forward, to expand the business we would need to get investment.

What was the hardest part about changing careers?

Having confidence and trusting my instincts. In a way I was institutionalised; when you work in an office, you usually have loads of people around and you’re protected because you’re never doing something on your own. So at first it was daunting because it was just me and I was making all the decisions. I tend to overanalyse things, so that was my biggest challenge – to learn the confidence to make a decision and move on to the next thing.

Embrace what people are telling you and make a decision based on that. Just embrace everything.

When did you know you’d made the right decision?

When the Guardian promoted the app. It was on the front cover as one of the seven apps women should own. That gave me the validation. Sometimes when you’re so close to something, you start to question whether you’re the only one who likes it. But when I saw it on the front cover of a national paper, I knew I was definitely onto something.

How do you currently monetise the app?

We made the app free, so now it’s easier to grow a large audience around it. We have a list of selected partners, and they’ll become almost a brand sponsor of Clementine – similar to when you go to a festival and they have a headline sponsor. I’m talking to a few big corporates about getting involved, because women and the gender pay gap, along with mental health in the workplace, are both big topics of discussion – but lots of businesses don’t know what to do about it.

What advice would you give women who want to follow in your footsteps?

I don’t think people should try and follow in my footsteps. Everyone’s got their own journey. I spent a lot of time at the very beginning talking to my coach and it all came back to what my values were, what I wanted my life to be like. I see others jumping into things and I think it’s important to step back and design where you want to go. Don’t jump into something you know nothing about – yes, I built an app, but all my skills fit what I’m doing.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt through creating your app?

It’s all about progress. I used to be all about solutions: "When I get to that point I’ll be happy", "When the app is launched I’ll feel happy". I wasn’t enjoying the process, I was striving for everything to be perfect. ‘Progress, not perfection’ is my mantra. Don’t wait for things to be perfect; you learn and you grow in confidence by doing.

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