MENTAL STRENGTH: CHANGING CAREER
Five years ago, a perfect storm of work, family, career and health problems saw Jon Sutton descend into the depths of depression, he decided to leave his job and set off on a journey to rebuild. Below is a list of crucial changes anyone can utilise in the same situation.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE JOB…
TAKE A BREAK
Before making a life-changing decision, take some time to stop and think. I’ve always had a love of travel and it was only after returning from a kickboxing camp in Thailand that I rediscovered the clarity to think straight. If that seems a little much, try a week off work or even a long weekend. But don’t treat this break like a celebration. Instead, treat it like time to work on yourself. Avoid the pub and turn off your phone. And instead of lying in front of the TV, plan a few days walking or tidying the house whilst listening to music. Only when you slow down a little, far from the stresses of the workplace (and the escapist fantasies of the pub), will you begin to think clearly enough to embrace the reality of leaving your job.
VISUALISE YOUR GOLDEN CAREER PATH
This doesn’t mean ‘the perfect life’. It’s easy to imagine how we’d spend our days if we won the lottery, but not so easy to imagine being happy whilst still working eight hours a day. So, consider your skill set, your interests, your hobbies and even the knowledge you’ve built up in the industry you’re planning to walk away from. You’ve put in the graft; why not use it?
I’d never been one for maths or computers, but somehow I’d daydreamed my way into a Business Intelligence role in my early 20s that relied entirely on both, becoming quite possibly the world’s first dyscalculic data-diver. By my mid-30s I was burned out. Finding what to do next came easily. At 37 a career as a fighter was never going to happen, but a career as a writer could!
Even in the career I hated, I still loved to write anything from emails to technical documentation. Ask yourself: what would you would love to do every single day? What would make you happy both in the doing and in the outcome? If you find that, you’ve found your golden career path.
VISUALISE YOUR SILVER CAREER PATH
But you also need to stay realistic. Not all of us have the opportunity to realise our dreams, despite what self-help gurus might profess. The truth is that most writers, most actors, most artists never make a living and the same can be said for any other career which we start later in life. In my case, a ‘silver career path’ – one that would still be acceptable even if it still wasn’t the ‘dream’ – was writing marketing literature for websites. It was a massive departure from writing technical documentation, but it was at least a utilization of my skills on a practical (paid!) level.
Another acceptable career was plying my trade as a Business Intelligence Consultant with Cardiff Met Uni, shortly after handing in my notice and running out of money. Yes, it was the exact same coding job I’d grown to hate over two decades, but helping students to find their place in the workforce was a whole lot more mentally productive than helping a CEO find his place in the rich list. A job is split into two main parts – activity and outcome. If you truly despise both of these parts, perhaps you can start by simply changing one.
AFTER YOU LEAVE THE JOB…
PREPARE YOUR FINANCES
Ideally, like a monkey swinging between trees, you’ll be prepping up your future career before leaving the current one. But for many, this is simply not sustainable. Many of us need the mental freedom to focus on what to decide to do. So, before handing in your notice and forging a new career in the arts, or any other endeavour, make absolutely certain you can afford the bills. Set yourself a target to save as much money as possible for a set number of months.
Address your outgoings. Consider new suppliers for household bills and if you’re a homeowner, look around for new mortgage deals which might allow a lower rate. Check out your local ads for part-time work, think about renting out a room and, worst case scenario, learn what benefits you’d be eligible for should you hit the ice. Never be ashamed to consider all options if they help you to attain the strong mental health and stability you’re going to need to succeed.
MAKE A SOLID PLAN
Never discount the value of a good plan, no matter where you work or what you do. Start with a spreadsheet or a simple list. Down the left hand side add a number of ‘Work Item Groups’ with titles such as ‘finances’, ‘training’, ‘house’, ‘health’ etc. Next, add ‘Work Items’ to each group with numbers and titles: ‘pay leccy bill’ and ‘chase XXX invoice’ under ‘finances’; ‘run ten miles’ under ‘health’; ‘learn to use Excel’ under ‘training’. Across the top, add a series of column headers: ‘target date’, ‘work required’, ‘costs’, ‘contacts’, ‘priority’ and ‘outcome’. These will come intuitively depending on your line of work. Perhaps the most important of all is ‘rework’ – because if you fail to meet a deadline, you’ll need to hold yourself accountable.
SET YOUR ALARM CLOCK
Sleep experts agree that our circadian rhythm, responsible for regulating our sleeping pattern, is crucial to our mental health. So, too, are targets, to avoid standards from slipping. Both of these can be kept in check with an alarm clock. When I left my job, I not only kept my alarm set, but I moved it an hour earlier, to 6am. This allowed me to get up an hour before the rest of the world had risen – or so it seemed. We are at our most creative in our waking hours and we are far less likely to have any disturbances to our flow at that time. One word of warning, however… do not open social media or email accounts until later in the day. If you do so, your bubble of oblivion is likely to burst.
START AN EXERCISE ROUTINE
Replace the piss-ups with pull-ups and the pub with the gym. If you can’t afford a gym, there are plenty of roads out there to run and plenty of exercises online you can do in your pyjamas before you log on or head out for the day. And remember that exercise can become your new social activity. So, even if it’s £40 a month, that’s only a tenner a week to go and meet your friends as often as you like. Far cheaper than the pub!
Exercise will boost your mental capacity, seratonin levels and personal/professional confidence, all of which you’ll need as you go it alone. If your friends aren’t interested, then it’s time to say goodbye and promise to see them for a coffee on Saturday mornings. Those who support your goal will understand. Those who don’t never will and don’t deserve your friendship. Or a share of your soon-to-be-discovered success.