How To Master The Career Pivot—From 18 Women Who Have Done It

Because career success isn't always linear.

pivot
Image: thestyleograph.com

Back in our parents’ heyday, the norm was to work for the same company for 20 + years. If you were a real go-getter you may have risen through the ranks, but generally, there wasn’t a lot of chopping and changing of roles. Oh, how times have changed! According to research, the average Gen Y worker will change careers four times by the age of 32. We’re not just talking about job-hopping between different companies in the same role, either. Many of us are reaching plateaus in our careers and starting over fresh to do something new altogether! It’s become so common that a new term has been coined, ‘the career pivot.’

If you’ve ever played netball or basketball, you’re probably familiar with the ‘pivot’ move. You catch the ball and while one foot stays firmly planted on the ground, the other can move forwards, backwards, left or right. A career pivot works in the same way. It could mean leaving a senior role to start as a junior in a new industry, taking a pay cut at a new workplace to learn new skills or starting a side hustle while you work full time. Whatever the scenario, it’s a strategic move that gets you closer to work that aligns with your passion.

If it sounds risky or scary, that’s because it is — but most of the time, it pays off. Just ask these 17 inspiring women, who are living their dreams because they dared to take a gamble (or several) in their careers. Read on for their top tips for mastering the career pivot.

1Natalie Tink — From Advertising Director to Blogger and Accessories Entrepreneur

I worked in real estate and advertising for 18 years before I fell pregnant and started my own little blog. This platform where I could talk about my own life quickly evolved into Mrs Tink, a parenting blog with thousands of followers. After the success of the blog, I decided I wanted to put my name on something (literally). So, I launched my own online monogrammed fashion accessories company, Miss Monogram. Now, I continue to work as the National Advertising Director at Coast to Coast magazine while running my business!

My top tip would be that there’s never a ‘right’ time to make a career change. Things are always going to pop up, but if you really want it you’ll take the leap and make it work. It’s also important to remember that if it was easy, everyone would do it. We can easily get trapped in the ‘easy’ or ‘autopilot’ mode, but to make big gains you have to get out of your comfort zone.

2Tamara Green — From Magazine Brand Manager to Massage Centre Owner

In my former life, I was the Brand Manager at various lifestyle magazines. Now, I own Sydney Ka Huna Hawaiian Massage and Wellness Centre in Paddington. I left magazines without having my next move figured out, but bought the centre four years ago. It’s been quite the journey, moving from employee to company owner!

My advice to others has always been to take the risk. In my experience, the universe never drops you on your ass! If you are one of those people who has the interest, drive or spirit to break out of the standard ways of working and earning (ie: salaried employment) then do it! Following your fire will ensure that you’re alive enough to adapt to changing circumstances or challenges and keep moving.

3Soolin Ong-Tan — From Musical Theatre Performer to TEDX Creative Director and Pilates Teacher

While I was studying law and arts at uni, I toured performed professionally in the musicals South Pacific and Miss Saigon. After deciding the touring life wasn’t for me, I worked in Industrial Relations for four years. I then decided I needed another career change, focusing on two things I was passionate about — Human Resources and Pilates. Now, I work in Organisational Development at the Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board (Metropolitan Fire Brigade), teach Pilates part-time at One Hot Yoga & Pilates and volunteer as the Art Director at TEDx StKilda.

I would encourage people to develop a keen understanding of themselves and how they like to work. For me, pursuing multiple careers gives me the variety I need to keep engaged but this may not suit everyone. I’d also suggest being curious and pursuing job(s) that are based on a genuine interest. In my case, I enjoy learning, diverse challenges and helping people and this is a key aspect in all of my current roles. I don’t know if I have discovered the exact balance I am seeking just yet, but as I see it I am on a journey and making the most of it along the way.

4Sophie De Somerville — From Real Estate COO to Wellness Coach and PT

Late last year, I left my role as Chief Operating Officer for a major multinational real estate company to become a Wellness coach and Personal trainer. I’m earning approximately 100k less than what I was on, but I’ve never been happier! My advice is to think about what “job” you would be happy to do if you had to get up and do it for free. This is your passion and if you do that, you’ll never “work” another day in your life! If you already work full time, I would suggest setting a date to resign and sticking to it. It’s easy to say “I’ll stay another month”, because of the money but what is it costing you personally? The hateful commute, the 10 hours at a desk, making money for someone else…

5Kate Forsyth — From Corporate Communications to Event Stylist

I left the world of Corporate Communications after about 12 years and am now running my vintage furniture hire and event styling business, Good Day Rentals. This year we are also planning on moving into property styling.

My advice would be to do just do it! Thinking about taking the leap is far harder and more emotionally crippling than actually taking the leap. I spent SO MUCH TIME tossing up if I would do it and how I would do it and when I would do and oh my god, can I even do it? It was really quite an awful time because I had to decide if I would go back to the safety of a big pay check or set myself free to do something creative and new and challenging full time. But once you are taking action towards your business, the fear and discomfort go away.

6Anna Edwards — From Teacher and Dancer to Businesswoman

I have been through a few career pivots in my life and am in the process of making another! I originally studied teaching and taught for a few years. In my late twenties, I discovered that although I loved teaching kids, the structure and rigidity of the education system did not suit me and I was totally stressed out. For my first pivot, I started my own business that combined my two lifelong passions, dance and sewing. I specialised in dance costume design and manufacture and taught ballroom dancing at the same time for a few years.

This brings me to my current pivot. I have been back home for 9 months caring for my mum who has cancer, which is the sort of situation that makes you sharply re-evaluate where your priorities lay. I am in the process of selling my current business and developing a new one which draws on aspects of everything I have done before, but in a new way. It’s going to be a dancewear company combined with a social enterprise. With any luck, my next career pivot in about 5 years will be into mentoring and speaking on the development of sustainable, socially aware and profitable businesses.

I think one of the important things in making a successful transition is to know your innate strengths. Everyone has skills that are so natural that often we don’t even notice them in ourselves. Those close to us probably see them better than we do sometimes. They are the skills that go with you into every interaction and new career choice. 

7Nehal — From Divorce Lawyer to Entertainment Blogger

I started off as a Wills and Divorce Lawyer and after two years of absolutely hating that, I followed my dream and swapped the courtroom for the newsroom. Then, I became the mornings newsreader on Mix106.5 (now Kiis) and a red carpet reporter, interviewing the likes of Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman and Russel Crowe. I had to leave my job there after having three kids because the hours didn’t suit, but I’m back to interviewing celebrities for my site and I couldn’t be happier! It’s called Celebrity Kind and it’s all about celebrities’ charity and humanitarian work.

My advice is to figure out what you want to do (for me it was news reporting) and then plan how you are going to get there. Don’t waste another minute in a job you’re not committed to or don’t love! For me, failure was not an option and I think that’s a big fear people have when they change careers. What if I can’t do this? You CAN do this, it’s just a matter of planning and finding some good mentors.

8Row Murray — From Digital Marketer to Writer and Sex Education Commentator

I had worked in marketing for over 20 years, but undertook a major career pivot three years ago and left corporate life to freelance and write. The pivot was a snap decision I was highly stressed (my hair was falling out), I crashed my motorbike into a neighbours fence because I was so tense I couldn’t even park a tiny vehicle. I resigned that night, and have gone on to have a great freelance career and have even authored a book called For Foxes’ Sake, which is about sex education for teenage girls in the era of Snapchat. I’ve gone from a stressed, corporate individual to fulfilling my dreams, I’ve travelled extensively and am now making regular appearances on radio and TV as a sex education commentator. 

In my opinion, there are two ways to master the career pivot. The first involves zero planning, just lots of moxie and passion and it works because it just has to. The other way to do it is to give yourself a serious deadline and during that time, get your ducks in order. Keep your plans quiet, do a one-page business plan, get your company and brand name registered, get a logo done, meet with some accountants and get set up. Doing the second option means you go out from a position of real strategy and strength. But the risk is that it slows people down and all of these steps create invisible barriers. So I recommend a blend of the two. Be clear, be organised, and be fast. Because overthinking things can kill an idea, a business and a passion. 

9Tara Kingi — From Content Strategist to Marketing Agency Owner

My business partner and I met at a digital agency, where we started building a network of Instagram influencers (in 2014, nobody was doing this well in Australia). Our directors were supportive of this side project and even allocated time on Friday afternoons for all the employees to run their side projects to “stay ahead of the game”. Months later, we were called into their office after they had had a change of heart. We were given an ultimatum —give up the project and keep our jobs OR leave the company to pursue it. We had 24 hours to decide. We knew by the time we got home that the right choice was to chase this dream and we handed in our resignations the next day.

Then with no funding, no clients and no income we took our influencer marketing company, The Exposure Co. to market. That was was in mid-2015 and just over a year and a half later, we have activated Influencer campaigns for national & international brands like Invisible Zinc, Isopure and Nice & Natural. When it comes to big career decisions, there will always be a reason not to make the leap. What’s the worst that could happen? You get another job? Learn a few lessons? Often the primary thing holding us back is ourselves. Don’t be that person that wonders “what if…”.It also helps if you have someone you can talk to, bounce ideas off and rant to! It keeps you from going crazy. 

10Alexandra Galin — Owner of Data Muse

I’ve spent my career pivoting from corporate finance to running a global environmental non-profit to political advisory to a fin-tech startup to my own company in growth consulting, DataMuse. My advice is not to step sideways unless it’s absolutely worth it. Often, this means you should wait a little longer for the right opportunity. When pivoting into a new industry or role, you’re told that you will need to sacrifice career progression. This happened to me, but I have to admit, it happened to me because no one told me it could be otherwise so I was too scared to negotiate. If you’re giving something up, the challenge should be big enough to be worth it (and it often is). But just go in with open eyes and keep in mind that it’s not a fact of life that you can’t move up and move across at the same time.

11Jaymie Faber — From Advertising Partner to Surf and Travel Writer

Three years ago, I quit my role as a partner in an advertising agency to pursue my passion for writing, surfing and travel. Since then, I’ve travelled the world, written articles for Australian and international surf magazines, wrote and published a book and even started my own weekly publication on the Sunshine Coast. My advice would be to plan and save before you make your big career move. Work out how much you need — then save double that!

I’ve also found having a good support network is invaluable. Just because something may be your passion doesn’t mean the road is suddenly going to be easy. There will always be times where fear, doubt and possibly exhaustion may come into play. Having a good team of people who support what you’re trying to do will keep you going during the tough times. 

12Annaliese Allen – From Corporate Accountant to Fashion Entrepreneur

Until last year, I held a high-profile role as a Corporate Accountant. But I walked away from my 6-figure career to start Honeybell Waterwear, a stylish UPF50+ sun protection clothing line for women. I knew that if wearing a rashie was making me feel body and fashion conscious, then other women are probably feeling that way too. So, I decided to fill the gap in the market by designing sun protection clothing I wanted to wear and the idea has taken off!

My advice would be to define what you want before you begin your career pivot. For me, I wanted the freedom to ‘fail’. This was more important to me than the responsibility to succeed.Consciously employing a ‘freedom to fail’ mindset up front allowed me to make creative and out-of-the-box decisions that I believe have made my business unique and enhanced my product offerings. It also gave me the ‘excuse’ to work on the areas of the business I wasn’t comfortable in, but interested in learning, that I could have more easily and quickly outsourced.

13Danielle Glover — From Pharmacist to Skincare Entrepreneur

I’ve had a pretty major jump in careers, from a Pharmacist dosing heroin addicts and working with mental health patients to now owning two organic skincare companies, DnA Elements and Simple As That Skin. The biggest advice I can give to anyone when who’s considering taking the leap of faith is to be practical and gain some expertise in the field first. It’s great to have passion (in fact, it’s essential), but without knowing a bit about your marketplace and intended new industry, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure. I’ve seen so many people start a new business and fail within the first few months because they haven’t done their research.

14Fairina Cheng — From Marketer to Jewellery Designer

Back in 2009, I was working in marketing in the corporate world – meetings, deadlines, early starts and late nights. I made an offhand decision to take an evening jewellery course to encourage myself to get out of the office on time at least one day a week. When I picked up my first jewellers’ saw in a small Sydney workshop, I fell in love. This is when I made the commitment to pursue jewellery design as a career. I spent 5 years gaining qualifications in jewellery design and manufacturing and launched my own custom jewellery business, Fairina Cheng Jewellery.

Despite working the equivalent of full-time in my own business, it was only last month that I gained the courage to take the leap and pursue this full time. I listened to the audiobook of Tim Ferriss’ book the 4-Hour Work Week and heard the following: “Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time… “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.” Three days later, I resigned from my job and became a full-time jewellery designer! 

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15Helen Dao — From IT Consultant to Skincare CEO

I’m a Corporate Analyst turned Skincare Formulator and founder at Be Fraiche Skincare. I worked as an IT Consultant and Business Analyst for 7 years in the corporate world until my calling for creating something new took over. The career change was not sudden but had been ignited when I was looking for skincare products for myself. I was on the skincare quest for years but it seemed no skincare company bothered making products for the combination skin type like mine. Hence, I decided to take the matters into my own hands. I left my corporate job in 2014 and embark on a brand new journey. I enrolled in a cosmetic science school, started teaching workshops and launched my skincare range in 2016. It was a whirlwind but so rewarding journey for me. Even if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

My top tip is to take action! You know you’re itching for a change, so do something anything — to get started. Don’t let your passion or desire sit for too long in your mind because it will cool down one day. Let it fuel you and plan your breakthrough. Start doing what you love part-time, enrol in that course, set up that Facebook business page, network with like-minded people and share your ideas. At the end of the day, you need a little push to overcome fear, to make that leap of faith and no one else is better at it than you. 

16Natalia Galin — From Engineer to Data Scientist

I started out studying electrical engineering, simply because I was good at maths and making things. However, quickly I realised that after graduation I’d be pushed into a management role, so I pursued a PhD in geophysics/remote sensing. During my PhD, I was lucky enough to receive the Fulbright Scholarship and ended up with a desk at NASA – Goddard Space Flight Center. 

After a couple of years taking up a couple interesting postdocs that moved me from one continent to another, I came back to Australia. Now, I’m self-employed as a freelance engineering consultant and Head of Data at my sister Alex’s company, DataMuseIn my spare time, I also I built an artwork and participated in Vivid2016. So, lots of career pivots but zero regrets!  My advice to someone thinking of making a career pivot would be — if you’re thinking about it, you should do it. Otherwise, you’ll be left wondering ‘What if?’ Before doing something that scares me, I explore the downside – what if this all goes wrong, where will I be? Most of the time, the answer isn’t so bad. Once I’ve prepared for the downside, I’m much stronger going forward.

17Melaney — From Stockbroker to Skincare Entrepreneur

I was a Stockbroker for 10 years but gave it all up in July 2015 to go travelling and think about what I wanted in life. Somehow along the way, I ended up spending 6 months in Morocco as a manager and host of a surf camp in a tiny fishing village. The complete opposite of my life before!

While  I was in Morocco tending to the needs of weary surfers, I stumbled upon my next career move, one that I’m in the middle of still developing and putting together. I’ve developed my own moisturising body and face oils and am now looking at manufacturing them in Australia and abroad. My business is still in development and design phase, but I’m excited to see what happens next! 

My advice is that if you don’t know what you want, then that’s where you need to invest your time and money first. Straighten out your priorities and decide what’s really important to you in life. Is it that really expensive, unnecessary bag that society says you need, or is it better to spend that same money on some time out so that you can make better decisions about your future?

18Amanda McMillan — From Education Innovator to Wellness Entrepreneur

I founded a learning and development organisation, which ultimately sold on the stock exchange. The process had a huge emotional impact and I was treated for PTSD not long after. Cue the creation and launch of Wellineux, a wellness company designed to support individuals and corporates on their unique wellness journey. 

My first tip would be to get really clear on your values. A moment of self-discovery will ensure that the career move you’re seeking is in fact aligned with the way that you want to show up in the world.  The second would be to decide if there is an “and”. And by this I mean – it doesn’t necessarily need to be a choice between THIS thing or THAT thing. It could be an “and” for a while. So, for example, you could be in your current role “and” you’re going to drop to part time for a period of time, while you take the time to launch your idea or venture into a new career.Or, you might maintain your current job “and” launch the new role on weekends or nights. Take comfort in the knowledge that it is possible to do both.