The pursuit of happiness – unconventional career paths

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Bheemaiah, known only by his first name, had settled in a conventional job as an event organiser in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, before he decided to pursue his dream of founding his own business.

Five years later he has a thriving operation, selling speciality hand-painted walking sticks, crafted from driftwood from the forests of the Western Ghats mountain range, in cafés, markets and shops across multiple Indian cities.

“I wanted to do something unique that nobody else was doing,” he said. “I started a business that nobody had ventured into…nobody believed my idea but I had a vision.”

Following a new path

Harshal Shah, an Australian now living in Ireland, thought he would pursue a financial services career based on his studies in Commercial Law and Information Systems. But while working part-time in a restaurant as a student, he awakened a new passion.

“I discovered a real interest and love for wine and decided to enrol in a sommelier course in the evenings,” he said

He started his career as expected, in a risk management job with Deloitte, but kept his restaurant job, and gradually began exploring the idea that his pastime could become a full-time pursuit.

“After a few years with Deloitte, I took a call that the ‘consulting’ business was not for me. It was too boring!” he said.

He quit, and began to work as a sommelier, taking his newfound career to India, working for a wine importer and luxury hotels, then back to Australia for a wine-consulting job. Shah now runs one of Ireland’s top ten fine wine importers.

Taking risks

Both Shah and Bheemaiah belong to a growing global trend of professionals, who are taking the risk to leave less conventional paths, to attain the goal of a more fulfilling life.

The upside to this decision “is more aliveness and vitality,” said Devon-based career coach, Louise Rose.

“People are being really being true to themselves, and I’m not saying that you can’t find that in more traditional careers, but it’s more likely if you are exploring alternative options,” she said.

People were often conditioned by an inner voice, or by somebody external, discouraging them to chase their real dreams, but “it is still is active within them, saying actually, this is what you’re meant to be doing,” Rose continued.

Can you make a difference ?

“It takes some courage to look at that voice and to really honour it because I think it can challenge people when you step away from something which is secure and known, even if it’s not making you happy and not making the difference in the world that you really want to.”

Rose has noticed a greater transition towards people finding more meaning in their work.

“I think things have accelerated. I think more people are getting values-based, more people are making ethical decisions,” she said.

“I think even businesses are really getting that to be value-led and purpose-driven is actually integral, rather than doing it because it makes business sense,” Rose added.

“There is a growing trend forming and within that there are people saying ‘actually the world is in a place that I don’t really like at the moment and I want to make a difference and I want to step up’,” she said.

“We’re all on planet earth for a reason and I think people are getting that call to say actually yes I want to be part of the solution, I want to be making a difference…the kind of political and environmental instabilities that are happening are heightening that awareness.”

Going after what you want

Sally Culling, a Brit now based in Ohio, allowed her political convictions to take her along an unconventional path towards a communications career.

A day after graduating from university she had been tipped off about an opening for a press officer job for the upcoming European election and so “brazenly approached” one of the Conservative candidates.

“[He] thought this shameless act of self-promotion was fitting for a press officer, and I landed the job and never looked back,” she said. “I loved this job whole-heartedly. As a young ideologue, I felt like my work really matters. I even ran for local election.”

Culling’s job took her to Brussels for a stint working in the European Parliament, where she found contacts who opened up the way to her next move to conservative think tanks in Washington DC, that were “dedicated to advancing transatlantic relations.”

She finally switched to the private sector “and made the smartest decision of my political career: leveraging my current work experience to become a professional communicator.”

That decision paid off when she moved to Toledo for family reasons. “I am currently working for a Fortune 500 company which specialises in roofing, asphalt and composite materials,” she said. “I again love the work.”

Leaning on support systems

For others considering a less traditional route, she advises, “there is no substitute for building a network.”

Somerset-based life coach, Alison Muir, said she often takes on clients who want to do something more out of life. “They’re coming at it from a sense of purpose or something more meaningful than just rocking up at work, doing a day’s work, getting paid and going home,” she said.

She advises them to be clear about their top five values, and understanding why they want to change before making any big decisions.

“It’s a really good idea to work with a coach to go to through all those areas of what it is you really want to do, why you want to do that, what you risk in the interim, how long before you need to earn and how much do you need to earn from it,” she said.

Your mindset towards the challenges, and being able to set your boundaries is vital.

“If you’re really clear on your values and your why, then you will find solutions to pretty much everything. But if you’re not, then things will trip you up and you’ll be more likely to revert to what you know,” she cautioned.

If you’re really clear on your values and your why, then you will find solutions to pretty much everything

Don’t rush the journey

Establishing a support network, and grasping that it could take several years to establish yourself in your new profession, can help you succeed, argued Muir.

Understanding your relationship to financial security is also important. A transition period can help, if it is possible to remain in your current job while moving into a different a career.

This tactic worked for Ken Cazcarro from Manila, who worked both in the Philippine IT and call centre industries while he made the transition to his dream job – a professional wrestler.

Since childhood he had aspired to a career in wrestling. “Years passed and I held onto it until I realised that it was impossible. You need a lot of money to go to the US and train,” he said.

But a new pro-wrestling promotion in the Philippines in June 2017 turned his life around. He took up the challenge of the strict diets, regular workouts, “blood, sweat and tears” to escape the frustrations of the IT industry.

“This is where my passion is, this is where my life is, and I will do this until I can do it no longer,” he said.

Balancing your passions

Meanwhile, Londoner Phil Harmer, said he managed to balance his work and passions by combining property investing, with music writing for the TV and film world.

The buy to let investing and renovating helped to “shore up the otherwise non-existent pension,” he quipped.

Life and work coach, Karen Foyster, cautions clients to choose something they really love if they are deciding to leave a job with a regular income.

She tries to establish someone’s “drivers”, whether it be money, creativity or helping others.

“If you set off on a different path things aren’t quite as easy [as a conventional job] so you’ve really got to find something that you love to do so that you’ll carry it through. I ask what sort of a risk taker they are. Some people are better at taking risks than others,” she said.

A portfolio of careers

Despite the financial challenges, the plus side was “making your own rules,” she added. “Years ago people had one career and they stuck with it, and people nowadays have more portfolio careers, so at different times in their lives they might do different things that suit them.”

Simon Clarke, now a photographer, has taken that approach for his entire career. He started out in the army, which suited his love for the outdoors and his leadership skills, before moving into expedition organising.

Finding there was very little money in it, he moved into project management at the Olympic Park, but his frustrations in the corporate world pushed him into humanitarian work to have more of an impact. Now he is exploring his creative side as a photographer.

His unconventional route “certainly has its ups and downs,” he said. “I think the main advantages are thinking laterally around problems, being able to have a go at most things, and not getting flustered by much. Oh, and it’s quite handy at dinner parties.”

Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.

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