Starting over can be daunting at the best of times, but it’s something an increasing number of women are doing in their 30s, 40s, or beyond, as the idea of an ‘encore career’ takes hold.
General dissatisfaction, changing priorities, bolt of inspiration — there are myriad reasons women can decide to change course mid-stream, as I did three years ago, when I took time out from the fashion business I’d run for the previous 11 years.
Growing a small fashion label from a market stall to a Topshop concession brand had taken dedication, relentless 70-hour working weeks and most of my 30s.
By 2013, I was flailing. Tired, directionless, burnt out creatively, I felt trapped by the idea that if I quit now, all that hard work would have been for nothing.
I needed to reassess where I was, where I wanted to be, and how I could get there. Essentially, I needed a new road map.
At the beginning of 2014, I shut up shop and took a break. I started a fashion blog and began teaching, realising — far from being ‘all for nothing’ — that a decade at the helm of my own label had given me a unique understanding of the fashion industry.
By the end of that year, professional opportunities began to come my way.
Though I could have allowed my crippling imposter syndrome to hold me back, I took Richard Branson’s advice: ‘If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes, then learn how to do it later’.
By 2015, I was ready to clear out my design studio, officially close that chapter of my life and enjoy my encore.
Social media goddess
Mine is not an unfamiliar story to Samantha Kelly. The social media guru, who goes by @TweetingGoddess, runs the Women’s Inspire Network, an online resource for female entrepreneurs.
She meets many women embarking on new careers, either by choice or by circumstance and, having been there and done that herself, she’s well positioned to offer guidance.
“I worked in numerous temporary customer service and receptionist roles, but found I couldn’t quite settle anywhere. A common entrepreneurial trait,” she says.
“When I discovered my daughter was hearing impaired with a severe language delay, I gave up work to care for her full time on carer’s allowance, but when she came to school-going age, I found myself wondering ‘what am I good at? What am I going to do for a living?’
“When my other daughter reached the awkward milestone of her first period, I developed the idea of a first-period kit — ‘Funky Goddess’ — and took it to Dragons’ Den. My marriage had just broken up, I was hitting 40, and my dad had just passed away, so my mindset was ‘you only live once’.
“I started promoting the kit on Twitter and Facebook and, to my delight, I discovered I was really good at it. Businesses were approaching me and asking for help with their social media, and I realised ‘I could have a business here!’
“I was struggling to make a profit from Funky Goddess and, one evening, sitting by the fire, with no more coal to put on it, I thought: ‘I can’t do this to my girls, it’s not fair.’ So, I sold Funky Goddess and became a Tweeting Goddess, instead,” she says, laughing.
The crossover period was stressful, she admits, adding that establishing herself as a social media strategist “hasn’t been easy”.
“There were times I thought about getting a job, but, as I realised my clients were happy, I started to believe in myself. That’s my advice to anyone starting out on a new path: trust your abilities, learn to value what you do.”
Engineer Yvonne Brady wasn’t actively seeking change when she founded EVB Sport in 2012. After running the Dublin City Marathon in 2010, following the birth of her third child, Yvonne began searching for sportswear that would support her core.
“I was working in our engineering company, Brady Hughes,” she says. “I loved it, but I had a gut feeling we could make a real difference to women’s lives.
“When I discovered I had an issue with my pelvic floor, I searched the market for a solution, but couldn’t find one,” she says.
“So I set out to engineer one. Fifty per cent of women between the ages of 25 and 45 will suffer urinary incontinence, so I knew our sportswear could genuinely change women’s lives.”
Initially juggling both careers, Yvonne eventually made the decision to focus solely on EVB Sport.
“I knew it needed my full attention to make it work,” she says.
“My children were used to me working, so this was just a new role for their already busy mum. I know there are many mums out there who run a business and juggle family time — it can be tough, but if it’s what you really want you can make it work.
“There have been moments of doubt, but then I’d receive an email from a woman who had avoided even walking her dog for fear she might have an ‘accident’, and now she’s walking daily wearing our support shorts under her clothes.
“My husband and business partner, Brian has been a huge support. We worked together for years and he understood my goals and vision. I believe we really are changing women’s lives, one step at a time.”
For Dublin-born sisters Lisa Grainger and Susan Jane Corbett, opening a boutique involved, not just a career change, but a move to Cork for Susan Jane.
“I was living in Dublin, working as a hairdresser, but the time came when I needed to do something different,” she says.
Mum-of- two Lisa, meanwhile, was a manager in Market Lane restaurant, part- owned by another sister, Tracey. “Most of my career has been in hospitality, and I really enjoyed it. I opened the Savoy nightclub in 2000, then ran the Bodega on Cornmarket Street.
“I always had a love for fashion, and I always wanted to open something of my own. In 2013, myself and Susan Jane decided to just go for it. This resulted in her moving to Cork, so we knew we had to follow through, there was no going back,” she says.
In the run up to the opening of Olori — named for their mum Dolores, who inspired their love of fashion — the sisters juggled work with fitting out their Oliver Plunkett St premises and buying stock.
“There were lots of trips to Paris and London researching new brands. It sounds glamorous, but it was exciting and stressful at the same time,” Lisa recalls.
“When stock started to arrive, I panicked. What if no one likes it? What if no one buys anything? Have I made the right decision? But you just have to get on with it and believe in yourself.”
Susan Jane adds: “Doubts are human nature, but we pushed through them.”
It helped that their parents had a strong work ethic. “We were blessed with hardworking parents who instilled the belief that anything is possible when you have a positive mental attitude,” says Lisa.
Her advice is to stick to who you are and the vision you have. “Local enterprise boards are great and have courses running all the time. Utilise what’s free in your area.”
If you’re tempted by the idea of a new start this year, expect plenty of ups and downs. You will have doubts, and moments of excitement and despair. But with a bit of luck ‘what was I thinking?’ will soon become ‘why didn’t I do this sooner?’
Before you reach that point, though, the first question you have to ask yourself is: Are you ready for your encore?
How to make your dream career become a reality
New year, new career? Take some tips from Aisling Curtin, psychologist, author, co-director of ACT Now Purposeful Living
1. Psychological research shows we regret the things we don’t do more than the things we do. As Mark Twain once wrote: ‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.’ The regret of an unlived dream can haunt us for a lifetime.
2. Only take guidance from those who are in a career they love. Family and friends will dish out advice with what they believe are your best interests at heart, but people are hardwired to fear risk, so seek guidance from people who are where you want to be.
3. Realise it’s perfectly natural to have crises of confidence. People often think they need to wait until they feel confident enough to make a big change, but it’s normal to have doubts as we venture into new territory, so make th move — don’t spend your life in the waiting room.
4. Become aware of self-limiting beliefs and learn how to unhook from them. Your mind has evolved to avoid danger, but it can be like an overprotective parent — many of its attempts to help you can hinder you in the long run. Don’t allow self-limiting thoughts dictate your actions or inactions.
5. Short-term pain, long-term gain or short-term gain, long-term pain? If you want a fulfilling new career, this will inevitably lead to some short-term pain —unwanted emotions internally; financial uncertainty externally. Keep long-term gains in mind, particularly when there are sacrifices to be made.
Extended tips are offered on Aisling’s blog actnowpl.com/blog/
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