Change career: meet the women who left successful careers to pursue a healthier work-life balance

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Anna Brech
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Looking to change career in 2020? Would you consider trading in a higher salary and job security for a richer, more fulfilled life? Here, Stylist meets the women who risked everything to roll the dice and take a gamble on their careers.

We’ve all been there. We promise ourselves we’ll definitely leave work on time, but somehow find ourselves drowning in to-do lists and emails by the time 5.30pm rolls around.

And if you’ve been thinking about trading in a high-powered, but high-demand, career for a role that allows you a little more time outside of the office, then take heed from the following women, who risked everything to roll the dice and take a gamble on their careers and financial security.

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All from very different backgrounds, these women are united by the fact that they traded their reliable, well-paid day jobs to pursue a passion, whether that was freelance illustration, setting up a fitness business or running a luxury handbag website.

They put everything on the line to do this, from little sacrifices such as forgoing haircuts and holidays, to big ones, such as moving to a different area or selling their homes.

happy at work
Change career: Are you feeling fulfilled at work, or is it time for a fresh start?

Best of all, none of them have any regrets. In the pay-versus-job satisfaction debate, they’re all agreed that being happy and fulfilled comes out trumps.

So if you’re considering ditching your full-time job to set up your own business, listen up.

Take some inspiration from these Stylist readers’ stories of how they took the plunge into self-employment, their fears and discoveries along the way, and their practical tips on how to downgrade from a stable monthly income and factor in a significant pay cut.

Change career: from PR (£30K) to bar blogger and consultant (£0)

Alex Godfrey from Hackney ditched her £30,000 a year job as a PR to become a freelance bar editor (@theholborn), cocktail recipe blogger (@Tell_Tale) and communications consultant (@RghtHdPR). She is currently building her various businesses and hopes to start bringing in money soon. 

Work-life balance
Change career: Alex Godfrey.

I’m someone that’s full of ideas and bursting to make things happen: when you’re working in an agency, there’s lots of security and structure but I wanted to get out there and make my ideas happen for myself. I wanted to tell the stories of young food and drink entrepreneurs, because I think London is an extremely exciting place for people with ambition and a great concept, but we all need help to get the word out there.  

I was worried about destitution, naturally…! And of course, we always doubt our capabilities without the support of our teams, but I’ve already met dozens of inspiring people through networking and co-working spaces that give me confidence that what I’m pursuing will work. 

I think it might have been hitting 30, it just felt right and like a now-or-never situation: Eating out has had to take a brief hiatus, but luckily as a bar reviewer, I get some fantastic invites!  I’m also making all my Christmas presents - think homemade bitters and flavoured spirits. 

My lovely dad is proud of my decision but I think he wishes I could have a nice 9-5 job: with a pension fund and healthcare - that’s just not for me.  My friends have been absolutely fantastic, I’ve got volunteers to make my logo and website for free, as well as freelance writers, filmmakers, photographers, stylists and bloggers who’ve been so keen to help me out.

The benefits are meeting like-minded individuals from all different sectors in the start-up world: from crowdfunders to market stall holders and pop up spaces, everyone’s keen to help each other grow. 

I miss being able to sleep at night: I’m thinking about how my website should look at 5am and I’m thinking of launching a cocktail recipe app at 3am. Inspiration is out of control - in a good way.

I’m selling loads of old clothes, unloved cookbooks and records on eBay: it’s a nice little income and there’s something very cleansing about paring down your home - it’s also giving me room to make a larger home bar!

Believe in yourself or no-one else will: Think about what will pay your bills whilst you’re conjuring up ideas, you’ll need to keep advancing your proposition. Co-working spaces are ideal for making connections with start-ups who are keen to build something great together. Try to say ‘yes’ to as much as possible and remember, Twitter is your friend. 

Change career: from Olympic development manager (£42K) to CEO of The Fat Girls Guide To Running (£0)

Julie Creffield, from east London, left her £42,000 a year job as an Olympic development manager in November 2012. After some time on maternity leave, she received a small start-up loan to re-brand her website, She is the author of a number of fitness eBooks on Amazon

Work-life balance: Julie Creffield
Change career: Julie Creffield.

I wanted to do something as massive as the London Olympics, but on my own terms: I knew my contract was coming to an end once the London Olympic Games were over and I was sick of working for local government and other agencies bound by red tape.

I had been writing my blog for a few years tracking my progress as a plus size runner: by 2012 I already had a good following and I started to notice that many of my readers were from overseas.

It was only after I had my daughter that I truly had the courage to go for it: and formalise the blog as a business. In part this was because a doctor had told me I was too fat to run a marathon I had been training for, despite the fact I had run 18 miles the week before. I am of the opinion that you can be fit and fat, and that being active is far more important than being slim.

It put an incredible strain on my relationship as my partner was studying at the time: but I think everyone who knows me understands how passionate I am about the health of women around the world. I have found a gap in the market at a time when health is a global priority, if I didn’t go for this now, I would always be thinking ‘what if?’

I have a constant fear that my home will be repossessed: and I worried that with the salary downgrade, I wouldn’t be able to cover my bills. I am still surviving on a mixture of benefits, tax credits, savings and a little bit of drawing from the business - hopefully this won’t be for long. 

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I love the flexibility I have: I get to manage my own time. If I want to work on things until 3am I will, and then take a day off to see friends. I am really excited about my plans, which include a huge crowdfunding campaign and the world’s first virtual running club for plus-sized women.

I have no regrets: I am on a mission get one million inactive and overweight women running, which could have a huge impact on the health and happiness of our nation. If I manage to achieve that, it will be more than worth it. Not having a regular salary means I am much more money savvy, and it has forced me to be much more creative.

Being a slave to a monthly salary is not something I can see myself going back to: Now you can build a global business from your front room, with a bit of creativity and sheer determination.

Change career: from media relations manager (£42K) to copywriter (£20K)

Suzy Rigg from southwest London gave up her £42,000 a year job as media relations manager for DHL to become a freelance copywriter (under the hashtag @radiantlady). 

Work-life balance - suzy rigg photo
Change career: Suzy Rigg.

My mum passed away in November 2012: I was in shock for months afterwards. Managing a fast-paced working environment, grief and two dependents as a single parent was starting to take its toll. When I saw my doctor, she was adamant that something needed to change to prevent my health from deteriorating. 

In my situation, it wasn’t something I was consciously thinking about: so in a way, I didn’t have time to worry about anything. In fact, I saw my changing circumstances as a huge opportunity. 

The clear benefit is the opportunities to learn new things, meet new people and push my creative boundaries: I love writing and I have a very inquiring mind, so for me it’s a dream role. You have to be realistic about what money you can make, however, and know how to promote yourself effectively.

I’ve always been an avid charity shop shopper: and now I can legitimately give up the corporate suits and dress in a way that better suits my creativity and personality. Generally, I am just really, really careful with money and the priority is that the mortgage gets paid. I stay within my overdraft limit.

I have no regrets at all, I’m so much happier: It’s now seven years since mum passed and although you never get over the death of your mother, I’m starting to feel happy again and confident in my abilities. 

I’ve realised that life isn’t always a smooth path of steady employment work until retirement: for lots of people the ‘portfolio’ career is now a reality. My mum was a teacher, an intellectual, an author and she belonged to an armful of volunteer organisations. Not having the cushion of a steady salary can be a huge motivator to achievement.

Having at least three months’ salary set aside makes sense: Or save before you make the leap. If you don’t plan properly and go back into steady employment without having given your idea a proper go, you’ll feel disheartened.

There are often key times in your life when a natural ‘break’ presents itself: even if you haven’t planned it, sometimes you need to jump in and say a little prayer… you never know where you might end up!

Change career: from operations manager (£40K) to social media consultant (£22K)

Kerry Waller, from Brighton, quit her £40,000 a year job as an operations manager in 2013 to become a freelance social media consultant with her own business,

Kerry Waller and her duaghter
Change career: Kerry Waller.

I was really stressed out in my job as an operations manager: I wasn’t getting any work satisfaction. I also wanted to spend more time with my five-year-old daughter rather than relying on after-school clubs and childcare every day.

I was waking up in the middle of the night worried about work: one morning, knee-deep in emails, I just thought, ‘What’s the point in doing this if it’s making me feel so negative?’ 

I’d been slowly trying to build up my own social media business over the past few years: so I decided, now’s the time to give it a go full-time.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent: I stopped going out to eat and drink in restaurants so much; that’s for special occasions now. I do more home cooking to save money and cancelled my gym membership. 

My fiance was very supportive of me as he knew I was really not enjoying my job: I assured him that if couldn’t build up enough business then I would go and get a bar-tending job or anything to bring in the money. He had faith in me that I could to it.

I love what I’m doing: I love working with so many different businesses and feel a great sense of job satisfaction from seeing how well clients market themselves online after my training and advice.

I don’t miss the money, because I was so unhappy: I ended up spending money on retail therapy and things I didn’t needed. The only thing I miss is working with a team and the relationships you build. A friend and I also started Prop Hospitality, an event management consultancy business, so I could still use the skills from my old career, but do it for myself!

Life is too short not to do what you love: If you are happier and content and have a work-life balance, your family will reap the rewards and you can’t put a price on that.

Change career: from teacher (£20K) to journalism intern (£0)

Yasmin Khatun from Stoke Newington in London, traded her graduate job as a teacher in training to become a freelance journalist in August 2010. She waved goodbye to a potential starting salary of £20,000 (she was earning £15,000 in her year of training) to an initial income of nothing, in order to intern and write for free. She later worked as a freelancer and went onto become a full time journalist and producer. 

Yasmin Khatun
Change career: Yasmin Khatun.

I was worried I’d be stuck in what I felt to be a safe job: I wanted to pursue journalism and felt that if I didn’t do it then [in 2010], that would be it. My passion is to write, share stories and experiences and hopefully inspire a much larger group of people. I always wanted to be a journalist and was going to complete my NCTJ [journalism qualification] before teaching. But being offered a teaching job was great for a new graduate in times like these, so I went for that first. 

Trading the security of a full time teaching job with a non-existent one in journalism was slightly scary: I saved money by upcycling my wardrobe, walking to places a lot more, cooking the vegetables in my garden and chilling out by doing yoga - it was actually a pretty great period. 

Some of my friends and family did advise against leaving my teaching job: but I’m a pretty determined and clear-headed person, I didn’t really have any doubts about going forward. 

When my I told my boss I was leaving, she replied: “Why?!” She was really lovely and tried to find ways to make my experience all the greater in the hope that I’d stay.

I’ve been working as a journalist for three years now: I work full-time, as well as writing freelance for a number of publications. After a spell of various internships, I actually got a job pretty quickly. In 2012, I was shortlisted for investigation of the year at the AIB (Association of International Broadcasting) awards and have been involved with so many great projects I most certainly believe I made the right decision.

I have no regrets at all: Teaching is a wonderful job and I’m interesting in education. I’d like to set up an independent school some time and become more involved with education again but I adore being a journalist. 

Change career: from marketing account director (£55K) to jewellery designer (£20K)

Rachel Kearsley from Kent left her £55,000 a year job as an account director at a marketing agency. After training in jewellery manufacturing, she set up her own company, Jitterbug Jewellery, showcasing striking colours and stones from around the world. 

Rachel Kearsley
Change career: Rachel Kearsley.

For what seemed like an age, I had this compulsion to do something completely different in my career: something that truly lit me up inside and most importantly something where I could express myself creatively.  

At the start of 2012, I got a leaflet through my door advertising a local evening course in jewellery making: and that kick-started my urge once more.  I then took the big decision to retrain properly and enrolled on a diploma course in Jewellery Manufacturing in Hatton Garden, London, which I completed earlier this year. 

There were some days when I just wanted to pack it all in and head back to my safe, comfortable job: but I just reminded myself of all the reasons I wanted to do something different and that kept me moving forward.

Becoming a jewellery designer and maker has always been about following my passion: it’s not about the money. Someone said to me once, “find a job you love and you’ll never work again” and that is so true.

From loft-style open plan offices to my windowless, unconverted loft has been quite an eye opener: The challenge of being my own boss, making all the decisions from coming up with a load of designs to whittle down to the best one,  deciding what colours, which materials to use to make my collection, branding, website design, pricing, packaging, finance and having to make ALL the tea runs hasn’t been easy. It’s all been a fantastic and frustrating journey and I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

There is nothing more satisfying than physically making something that people love and want to wear: jewellery is an emotional purchase and it’s such a rush to see people’s happy faces when they open up their gift box for the first time. I’ve always been slightly envious of people who talk about how much they love their job but now I’m one of those and it’s the best!

If you really have a passion for something then life’s too short not to act on it: everyone has different circumstances to consider and setting up on your own isn’t easy. It’s hard work, financially challenging, 24/7 and naturally has high and lows but it’s so worth it. 

Change career: from project scientist (£23K) to illustrator (variable)

Willa Gebbie left her job as a project scientist in August 2010. She set up a career as a beauty, fashion and portrait illustrator based in both London and Berlin.

I actually enjoyed my job, I just didn’t love it: I realised that if I’d be doing it until I retired, then I’d need to have something to motivate me to get up every Monday morning. I’d been thinking about it for a while so when I was offered the opportunity of being the lead scientist on a new project, I realised that I would eventually let people down.

I wasn’t afraid of the lack of money: but I was afraid that if I made a mistake, I’d struggle to explain it on my CV.

I took a part-time job to fund my career change, so I ended up working much harder: It seems ironic to be working harder and earning less.  Now, I’m able to support myself completely from my illustration, but I still hope that I’ll make more money in the future.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been shopping to buy clothes (guilt-free).

I work longer hours and take home less money but I have much more control over my life: I regularly travel and can work from the road. Within reason, I can choose my working hours and holidays. My favourite thing, however, is that I can’t complain about my boss any more.  If I’m not enjoying my job, I only have one person to blame; myself.  

I don’t work for free: but being freelance does mean that some months are better than others. I’m lucky that my husband gets a regular salary, so between us we manage fine.

There is no better motivator to making your business a success than having to pay rent: It’s a lot of work to start a business. Do as much of it as you can before you leave your current job, while you have the financial support.

Change career: from retail and buying controller (£80K+) to owner of Fred&Eve (£0)

In June 2011, Nikki Britton from Peterborough took voluntary redundancy from her £80,000 a year position as a retail and buying controller to set up her own handbag website, She sold her house and moved into rental accommodation to fund the business, and has not yet taken a salary. 

Nikki Britton
Change career: Nikki Britton.

I had become weary of the inner workings of large retail organisations: I wanted to be able to make decisions myself rather than through a committee and I wanted to work ethically throughout which meant treating people decently and not doing things just because of money. I had seen good people being unfairly treated and I’d had enough! 

All of my fears were financial: to go from a good salary to no salary was very scary indeed. We had to reduce our household bills by almost £4,000 per month. We economised wherever we could: with cheaper cars, we stopped going out, I learnt very fast which supermarkets sold the cheapest fruit, and so on. 

I used my voluntary redundancy pay to finance the start-up of my own company: The redundancy payout wasn’t huge so along with my husband [who later joined the business] I looked around for available funding. But given the prevailing economic climate, we found it extremely difficult to find banks willing to lend. With our options exhausted, we decided to sell our house and moved into rented accommodation so we could fund the next stage of our business ourselves.

I love my new role, it is the best job I have ever had: I get to work hard and spend time with my beautiful children and husband. I have learnt so much about running my own business, skills that I simply wouldn’t have learnt if I had stayed working in big high street retail.

When you work for yourself, you truly realise what is important: and strive to keep that at the forefront of your mind. It is stressful, without doubt, but if you can handle it then I would recommend it to anyone.

Fortune favours the brave: you won’t regret having a go, but you will regret not trying!

Change career: from events and campaigns co-ordinator (£25K) to media relations temping (£19K)

Kate Bouchier-Hayes took a £6,000 pay cut to move from her job as events and campaigns co-ordinator with the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) in May 2013. She took up a temporary contact role working as a media relations officer with Festivals Edinburgh, in a gamble that paid off once her role became permanent earlier this month. 

Kate Bouchier-Hayes
Change career: Kate Bouchier-Hayes.

When I actually resigned from my job, I hadn’t actually been offered the next position I wanted – which was a little nerve-racking! I resigned from SYP in May 2013 and took up the post with Festivals Edinburgh in July 2013.

It seemed crazy to have this opportunity on my doorstep and do nothing about it: Having lived in Edinburgh for 12 years, I was an avid festival goer. I’d always longed to work as part of such an internationally recognised and celebrated cultural powerhouse. 

Life’s too short, at least that’s what I told myself at the time: a friend emailed me with a PR job opportunity within the organisation who represents the 12 major festivals of Edinburgh. This hugely exciting role, albeit temporary and lower paid, was just too good to pass up. 

It wasn’t an easy choice: quitting a full-time job that you spent years developing for a two month contract is pretty frightening. Was I throwing away a well-established career? Could I afford the drop in pay? Could I actually do the job?

I’m a bit of a foodie and love going out for dinner: which I had to significantly cut back on and needless to say, all plans for a holiday went out the window. 

My friends thought I was slightly mad to ditch a full-time job: given the state of the market. I think because many who I had been at uni with struggled to find work. In the end I made the decision I felt was right for me and bashed on.  

I don’t think working to promote something you have genuine passion and belief in can ever be underestimated: Edinburgh’s Festivals are known and admired the world over and to work as part of the team to help promote them is hugely exciting and constantly challenging (in a good way!).

Don’t make a career choice based on salary alone: I consider myself extremely lucky to have the opportunity to do a job I love. That combined with the skills and experience I have gained (and continue to gain), I would rate far above a higher salary in terms of career rewards.   

Change career: from banking customer service (£16K) to jewellery and headpiece designer (£0K)

Lynsey MacGregor, from Scotland, left her £16,000 a year job as a customer service officer at a bank in July 2011 to set up her own jewellery and headpiece business, Lark & Lily Design

Lynsey MacGregor
Change career: Lynsey MacGregor.

The job I had in retail banking was very demanding for sales and targets: it was stressful and I decided that health and happiness were ultimately more important. I was signed off ill with depression for nearly three months and when I returned, I knew that the job wasn’t for me. 

My husband was wary, and understandably so: but he didn’t want to see me upset and stressed out over a job. My mum was the one who pushed me to take the leap of faith. 

I had always dreamed of owning my own business and had researched into it a year before I took the plunge: I had completed a honours degree in textiles and fashion so that was what I always wanted to do career-wise, but living in the Highlands of Scotland made it a wee bit difficult to do that type of job. There weren’t many opportunities. 

Running your own business is a scary thing: Many questions crossed my mind. Would it work? Would people want to buy my work? I did research to see if people would buy my jewellery and used savings to buy equipment and materials. 

Obviously money to pay the bills was one of my first concerns: I found a part-time job as a sales assistant that would bring in an income (of around £4,000 a year) while I got the business started. Now it’s much busier, so I could afford to give up the part-time job to focus on building my company.

I don’t regret leaving my old job: Yes, it was a better salary. But what’s the point if you are miserable? I still do not earn anywhere near the annual salary of my old job at the bank, but I am doing something I love.

My business has gone from strength to strength: I’ve gone from winning Caithness Chamber of Commerce Young Entrepreneur of the year 2012 to winning Accessories Supplier of the Year 2014 at the Scottish Wedding Awards. I am still a one-woman business but it shows that no matter what your background, it can be done! 

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This article was originally published in 2015

Images: Getty, Unsplash, courtesy of case studies


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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