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Meet six women who've traded the 9-5 office haul for a life less ordinary

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Many of us dream of ditching our tedious office job but few have the courage to actually go ahead and do it.

Instead, we keep our heads down, work hard and try to ignore that lingering voice that tells we could be doing something different and altogether more interesting. 

But breaking out of the mould needn't be so difficult. 

We meet six women who've ditched their lives in the 9-5 rat race to pursue a lifelong passion, whether that's working as a safari manager in Africa or undergoing a 4,000-mile bike ride around the coast of Great Britain.

Once upon a time they too felt stifled, but each had that spark of an idea - and the grit to follow through and make it a reality.

While some of those who moved abroad have since returned, their experience of breaking free from the corporate grind changed their lives forever. Read on for their inspiring stories and get set to start a new chapter in your life: 


'I'm a warmer and more relaxed person than I used to be'

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Alice on a shoot in Brazil

Alice Brown was 33 years old when she left her job as project manager in ad sales for MTV to become a freelance make-up artist in Brazil

"After my father died, I came to a bit of a crossroads in my life. I realised that I had always ticked off the 'done thing' by getting a job, buying a flat, and so on - but I hadn't really experienced much outside of that. 

So I took a sabbatical to travel a bit and once I returned, I decided that I'd had enough of the corporate world, working in ad sales at MTV.  

I wanted to live in a different country (a hot one, preferably) and I'd always been interested in beauty and cosmetics  - but I never thought it was something I could make a career out of. When a friend asked me to do make-up for a project, I used it as a stepping stone to begin my new career as a freelance make-up artist in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.  

My mum was more worried about me going to Rio because it's so far away, and has a reputation for violence and crime. My friends were all very positive and said to go for it. I don't think anyone thought I'd end up being there for five years!

To be honest, I didn't really think too much about it. I didn't put too much pressure on myself; I just took it as it came, and it seemed to work out.

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Alice at work with male models in Rio

Working in Brazil, every day was different - I could be doing a shoot on the beach for a magazine, creating a look book at a studio or doing make-up for private clients going to weddings and events.

I was lucky enough to work with magazines such as Brazilian Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and GQ, as well as assisting on make-up teams at FAshion Rio (Brazilian fashion week), and coordinating on shoots with fabulous designers, Brazilian celebrities and members of the public.

It was much more physically demanding than I imagined. I was on my feet all day, lugging around a kit in the heat. And I had to get used to things not working the same way as in London. Portuguese is not an easy language to learn, but it was very important to me to be able to speak it fluently. It gained me the respect of my colleagues and being able to communicate with people in their mother tongue made my life out there much more interesting. 

I found my new work life was much more laid-back compared to ad sales in London, which was very money-focused. I didn't have the stress of working in an office or  worrying about things not being done, or getting things done.  I think the move made me more relaxed; I found myself becoming warmer and less closed off with people.

In London, I was a bit of a party girl and I loved going out (which I did in Rio too) but with the good weather, it was always nice to get up early and go and chill out down at the beach. 

I've now moved back to London and although the industry is more competitive here, I think I deal with people in a very different way than before. I don't get stressed out with things that I might have done in the past. My personality has certainly turned a little Brazilian!" 


'I've never been so happy to wake up and go to work'

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Kirsty, her bike and her dog

Aged 27, Kirsty Ho Fat quit her job in healthcare publishing to ride 4,000 miles around the coast of Great Britain. She then started up the UK's first women's only cycling site:

"After completing Lands End to John O’Groats in August 2011, I realised I’d been bitten by the long distance cycling bug. I was working in healthcare publishing at the time, selling advertising space in nursing journals and managing drug launches for pharmaceutical companies. I had become disillusioned; my workload wasn’t challenging and I didn’t have any children or a mortgage to tie me down. I had a real sense that this was a now-or-never moment.

After reading Mike Carter’s One Man and His Bike in early 2012, I had a flashbulb moment. It dawned on me that my mental health and happiness was more important than working in an unfulfilling career, living for the weekend and spending my money on material things that I really didn’t want or need.

I finally quit just before my 27th birthday, to cycle 4,000 miles around the coast of Great Britain. The point of the 4,000 mile ride was to challenge myself physically and allow me time to process my career to date and see which direction I wanted to take it in.

I subsequently became editor-in-chief of totalwomenscycling.com (TWC), the UK's first women's only cycling website, off the back of the ride in February 2013.

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Kirsty on her 4,000 mile cycle ride

People hinted to me that making your passion your job is not always successful, as it can leave you hating your passion. This scared me but I decided to go for it anyway and  throw caution to the wind.

Now I live, eat and breathe cycling.

I'm surrounded by people who have a genuine passion for their jobs and I feel I've made a real difference to women's cycling, rather than being a small cog in the big machine that is healthcare publishing. 

Since launching TWC and working on the website for a year, I made the decision in 2014 to up sticks with my husband and move to the Cotswolds to start a family.

I now work as communications manager for VeloVixen.com, an online women’s cycle clothing shop. Due to my commitment and presence in the industry, I’m able to work from home and having recently given birth to my son Jack, I have positioned myself so I can look after him while still working.

My main regret is that I've not always had the guts to follow my passions. At university I studied Law but I wish I realised sooner that you don’t need a degree to be successful. 

Never have I had my skills match my job role so well and been so happy to wake up and go to work; I'm not consumed with the dread many of my friends are with office jobs. The cliche that if you love your job it doesn't feel like working really does apply to me."


'You have to do whatever you can to experience life to the full'

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Sarah with the zebra she raised

Sarah Jane Greeff was 32 years old when she decided to leave her job as a secondary school textiles technology teacher to become a safari manager at Luambe National Park in Zambia

"I had originally done Voluntary Service Overseas in Zimbabwe, which was when I fell in love with teaching. I also fell in love with Nick, who would later become my husband and crucially, was a qualified safari guide.

I left Zimbabwe to come and teach in the UK but after three years, I was totally exhausted teaching textiles technology to Year 7–13 in a high school.

After I married Nick, we went on honeymoon to Zambia. It was then that we made the snap decision to go back to Africa while we were still young and live and work together in remote wilderness areas. 

Our families did everything in their power to stop us - to them, it sounded crazy, stupid and dangerous. It was everything your parents don’t want to you do. 

And we were worried about making the commitment of giving up very stable good jobs in the UK to go and live in a tent for seven months of the year, miles away from anywhere.

Working as safari managers in Zambia's Luangwa Valley, the lifestyle difference was dramatic.

The nearest town was a five hour drive. We had no electricity - just a satellite phone for emergencies - and all our water was filtered through ceramic candle filters. Our team of 15 woke up with the sun, went to bed with paraffin lamps and washed in unfiltered river water. 

I spent the first few months re-building the camp and opening up the bush roads from damage caused by the rainy season. I then worked as the spotter for game drives, working a large spotlight for the magical night drives in the National Park.

We got no time off at all during the seven months we worked the season. The offset is that we got to live in an amazing wild environment, with no fear of being run over by a bus and 300 hippos living in the river right in front of us.

I went from working my way through a pile of marking to spotting the serval and leopard on a night game drive, then going back to camp with clients for supper cooked over a wood fire. I also raised a zebra (pictured above) from two days old until she was fully grown. She has since had her own baby and it's honestly the best thing I have done EVER!

After eight years, my husband and I returned to the UK to run own business on the Isle of Wight, making artisan Biltong.

You have to do whatever you can to experience life to the full. We only get to do this once!"


'My mum dying made me realise life is short - now I feel free'

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Rachael (left) and her friend in Paris

Her mother's sudden death prompted Rachael Chadwick to launch an extraordinary project and aged 29, she left her job as a contract coordinator for an oil company to become a full-time writer 

"In February 2012 my mum died of bowel cancer very suddenly. As a way of attempting to deal with my grief and keep her memory alive, I left a creative tribute called 60 Postcards, where I scattered handwritten notes around Paris in her memory, asking the finder to get in touch. I documented my journey in a personal blog and to my utter disbelief, it was picked up by the literary world and I was offered a book deal.

In September 2013, at the age of 29, I took a six-month sabbatical from my job as a contract coordinator for an oil company to write the book. When the six months was up, I decided not to return. 

My mother passing away made me realise life really is too short. I absolutely knew that I had to pursue my writing and see where things would go. 

I knew in my heart that I wasn’t in the right role or industry at the oil company, and that I should be doing something more creative. But, like many of us do, I stayed and worked hard, as I wasn’t sure how to make a complete career change. 

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Rachel's 60 Postcards project

I was very lucky that the book deal gave me the big push I needed. Now I am working on several projects on the go (blogging, writing and developing a new lifestyle site and social enterprise).

The change of career has encouraged me to take more chances, throw myself into new experiences and to be bold and spontaneous. I felt like I was in a bubble working in an office, and now I feel free. 

I face just as many challenges as I did in my previous job but now I feel more confident in tackling them, knowing I am doing what I am meant to do. I don’t get worked up and stressed like I used to. Not having to endure that rush hour on the tube is an absolute wonder, as is being able to take holidays and meet up with my friends and family whenever I want. 

I was given a push but I would say to anyone thinking of making a career change – don’t wait for that! Trust your instinct and if it is telling you to jump, then jump. You will make it work."  


'I used to drink a lot to escape the pressure of my job'

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Kelly busting a few moves

Aged 29, Kelly Brooks left her job in HR for a banking project and finance team and flew to India to train as a freelance yoga teacher

"I was 29 when I decided that HR wasn't for me. I started doing yoga in my office gym because of a knee injury I sustained from cycling. 

In my 9-5pm role I found myself drinking alcohol at the end of the week, as if I deserved it for working so hard. Once the yoga became a daily practice, I started to cut down my drinking in order to have a fresh head when I practiced. 

I realised that I didn't have any passion for my job and I wasn't interested in the next step up the career chain. I had a conversation with my boss and I got a career coach to help me work out the next steps to make yoga teaching my full-time role. 

It was a snap decision; one minute I was at my desk, the I next I was in India undergoing teacher training for yoga. I went from partying the whole time to a lifestyle that revolved around meditation and Teetotalism. 

I had fantastic support from my yoga teacher and the career coach. They gave me the excitement that I need to carve out a career for myself in the yoga world; they convinced me that there was nothing outside of my reach. 

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Yoga in the sun; so much fun

I knew that I had found the right path in teaching yoga, but I felt vulnerable making the transition. I was moving away from a full-time salary in a fantastic company and after I returned from India, I couldn’t afford my rent. I stayed with friends for 13 months until I was able to make yoga teaching a full-time pursuit.

Teaching yoga doesn’t now feel like work - I can choose what hours and days I work, and it's varied enough that I never get into a routine. Last week, I was in Bulgaria filming yoga videos with a company from LA. Next week, I will be in Dalaman running my own yoga retreat. I get to run around London on my own timetable, working at The Third Space gym, and with corporate and private clients. 

I used to drink a lot because I was trying to escape the pressure and now I hardly ever touch alcohol, which has caused a shift in my social network. I have never worked so hard with this venture, but equally it doesn’t feel like work because I am my own boss. I am more positive despite working longer, more unsociable hours.

You have the power to manifest and make your life whatever you want it to be; there are no limitations."

Click here to see Kelly's yoga website and Facebook page


'I learned to slow down and feel truly alive'

Molly

Molly Watson used her role at an international company to move from London to Zambia aged 30 - swapping city chaos for life on a remote farm...

"I have always loved spending time abroad: my gap year in Nepal and a career break I took in Brazil for six months (in 2005) were the best experiences of my life to date.

I was working as a coordinator in the London offices of an international HIV awareness project called dance4life. As I began finding out more about HIV, I became really interested in working in the field, to see how prevention education was going in places that were really hard hit.

At the age of 30, I moved to Zambia with the programme to run a project in schools where students educate each other about sexual health. It was something I wanted to do for a long time but I applied quite spontaneously when I saw the job advert. I did not really know where Zambia was or anything about it before I researched for the interview!

I did get a bit worried on arrival when I went out alone: it was June, and little did I realize at the time, the only month of the year which is cold in Zambia. Electricity was variable and I spent the first few nights huddled under a mosquito net looking at enormous spiders on the wall, thinking 'Oh god,what have I done?'

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Molly and her husband on their Zambian farm

My office in Zambia was more like a residential house, in a pretty garden with a lemon tree. Internet was really variable, which in the end was quite relaxing as you could not expect to get things done instantly.

My colleagues were friendly and people worked hard but stress was not really a concept; if it could not be done one way, you would find some other way eventually.

Lunch was cooked every day for us, and in a particular season every Tuesday this consisted of caterpillars. Even covered in ketchup, this culinary item never became a delight. 

My favourite thing of all was walking every evening after work on the farm in northern Zambia where me and my boyfriend (who came out to join me) lived. It was a massive area of beautiful landscape, sandy tracks and great big trees: the whole world seemed vast, open and ruled by nature. 

I loved learning to slow down and enjoy the more important aspects of life. Open top trucks would drive past in the morning packed full of people singing, sunset were huge and stunning. Not having a TV or reliable electricity meant you could spend the evening sitting outside, dogs curled at your feet, reading by torchlight, listening to the crickets going nuts all around. 

My boyfriend and I loved it so much we got married there and although we've since returned to the UK, I have never regretted the move for one minute.

I think sometimes people feel trapped in their day-to-day lives and want to take risks, but they get too comfortable. You don't realize how stuck you are until you move. By taking the plunge, I felt truly alive!"


Find out more about the practicalities of making a dramatic career change, with expert tips and advice, right here

Compiled by: Anna Brech

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