Co-founder of Shine for Women, Caroline Whaley, explores how you can take a leap of faith by changing careers just as she did after a senior career in global brand marketing for Nike.
According to a recent study by Aviva, 60% of UK workers are planning a career change. The same report also found that under-25s are most likely (87%) to be re-thinking their career choice due to the impact of the pandemic. Changing career is undoubtedly a daunting prospect, and not a decision to be taken lightly – yet it could be one of the most rewarding things you do.
Thinking back to when I decided to switch careers, it was a perfect storm which instigated the change. I was working for the Nike Foundation in Africa, a hugely rewarding role that I loved, but they were moving my position to the US and I didn’t want to move back there again. By this time I had been working for Nike for 17 years. Coupled with a milestone 50th birthday on the horizon, I knew if I wanted to make a career move, now was the time to do it. So I did.
Much to the surprise of many of my colleagues, I left. Without a plan and without another job to go to. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. All I knew was that I was going to start by stopping and doing nothing–for the first time in my life–mostly to see what would happen. I also decided I would say yes to every opportunity that came my way.
Consciously deciding I wasn’t going to structure my time following 17 years in a busy role in a major corporation was challenging. Yet the truth is this break allowed me time to realise what I was really good at.
Taking time out and creating space, even if you know what you want to do, can be hugely beneficial. By stopping, I was able to see the depth of my values, and what made me tick. In my case, I need challenge and I need to achieve.
Saying yes to everything made me understand my value in the world. I was a trained coach, but had never practiced professionally. Suddenly, ex-colleagues were reaching out asking for coaching. Then a friend rang me needing my help with a business idea – Shine for Women. While I’d never thought about a standalone role focusing on women’s leadership but when I reflected, I knew it was the perfect chance for me to use all the skills I’d developed in my career. I took the leap and haven’t looked back.
Learn, develop, evolve
Changing careers taught me many things. First, your past experience is so valuable. Everything you’ve done before can be reused, reinvented and recycled. Your life lessons, be it in business or relationships, can be re-applied.
I also learned the importance of staying in touch with my former colleagues and allies, because they can still be that for me in my new life. Don’t underestimate their importance, and in your next chapter they’re likely to be even more valuable for the fresh perspective they provide.
Starting out on your own
If, like me, you’re planning to set up your own business, you will likely find the freedom that goes with it incredible. But with this comes great responsibility and it requires unwavering confidence and self-belief because every decision, challenge and direction you choose is yours, which is wonderful and, at times, terrifying.
Finding a business partner who is aligned with your vision and values is critical. Sharing the highs and lows with someone makes it much more fun. Finding the right person can be hard, and I would never advocate jumping into a formal business partnership with someone you don’t know well. I’m one of the lucky ones, but more partnerships fail than succeed.
It takes time to switch careers or build a business. Try to limit other pressures in your life and be practical and honest with yourself. It’s really important to assess how long you can last financially before you must earn again. If in doubt seek advice. It’s added pressure you don’t need.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong in making this step and switching careers. The hardest part is making the decision. Once you get over this hurdle, you just run with it.
Have faith in your abilities. Be brave, be bold and understand that while it might not turn out the way you envisioned, you won’t know until you try, and there will always be another step forwards. When making the decision, ask yourself: if there is no right or wrong, which way would I go? Your heart and your gut will give you the best answer.
Also remember that something interesting will always come when you make a change, and that fear, while a natural emotion, is a sign that you’re growing and being pushed. So, accept that fear as part of the journey you’re on.
Lastly, although it’s scary, relax and trust that it really will be ok. Honestly, it really will be!
Caroline Whaley, Co-founder of Shine for Women
Caroline built her career in the adventure travel industry before joining Nike in 1996 where she spent 14 years in senior global brand marketing and GM roles in UK, Europe, North America and Latin America. Following this, Caroline spent three years with the Nike Foundation, leading public-private sector partnerships and creating new brands to inspire, empower and shift social norms for millions of teenage girls living in Africa as the fastest route to eradicating global poverty.
Caroline is also a qualified Organisational Relationships Systems Coach and has an MBA (Distinction) from Lancaster University.