Unfamiliar territory – how I learnt to embrace challenge

You could say I fell into my first career by chance. I’d been working in a food business as a customer service advisor when I decided to study for a degree. I quit the job to work evening and night shifts in a conference centre so I could study and learn during the day; self-support was always an important feature of my decisions in life. After a lot of hard work, four years later, I had finished my degree and was looking for some temporary work, when a former colleague from the food business recruited me back to my old place of work. What was meant to be a temporary solution turned into nearly ten years of employment in various roles, most notably six years as a food buyer. Looking back, I know what made it so easy for me to fall back into the rhythm of that business, taking to any of the roles they offered like a fish to water: it was familiar, it was safe. I knew the people, I knew the way the business operated, I was known within the business and its supplier base. I thought about quitting many of times, mostly as I was disgruntled by the lack of pay rises for women whilst watching my male counterparts jump from promotion to next challenge, including the accompanying pay package. There were perks, too, of course: I had made some great friends, the work atmosphere was mostly enjoyable with lots of banter and practical jokes getting us through what would have been mundane and insignificant days. A lot of the time we looked at each other like a work family, and the comfortable, cosy knowledge that I was going to see the same faces on a Monday and relive the antics of late Friday nights in the pub, made me settle for the job, the money and the people.

Familiarity got pushed aside when I became a mother. A lot of things get put into perspective and, looking at my little baby girl, I knew that settling was not going to cut it any longer. I would hate for my daughter to settle for anything but the very best, and so clarity cut harshly through the foggy curtains of my comfort zone. It still took me two years and some harsh rejections to make the final separation. Once I had broken free from what I knew, I struggled a lot to adjust. I remained in the same industry for a few months but I was not happy. A long commute, a stiff corporate environment, a jealous, malicious new boss and a job that paid well but sucked every last drop of passion and sanity I had left made me question everything and I desperately longed for the fuzzy, warm feeling I used to have when I walked to my old job every morning. However, my pride and stubbornness drove me to look past the comfortable memories, the pining for days and moments long gone. Instead of settling again, I pushed myself further, I jumped through every hoop that was placed in my way, I revised for more tests than I sat during my degree, I presented and talked in front of the British Council to get a scholarship and, most nerve-wrecking of all, stood in front of a class of 30 teenagers, teaching my heart out, hoping to get offered a place in an outstanding school’s training programme. I did. And I got the scholarship. Fast forward one and a half years later I have not had a moment of familiarity, bar the giddy feeling of secure knowledge that I made the right choice. Changing my career was the scariest and most uncomfortable thing I have ever forced myself to do. I bit off much more than I could chew and it was one of the toughest and most challenging years of my life. I went from knowing everything, from being an expert in what I used to do, to knowing not much, having to start again from scratch. I was scared and frustrated a lot of the time, battling with the demons of the unknown. Yet somehow, jumping into the unfamiliar breathed new life into me and gave me back my bite. I’d highly recommend it to anyone. And I would do it all over again.

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