Sitting at my desk the truth hit me – and when it did it was sudden, awful but also absolutely undeniable. I was stuck in a rut and unhappy. After years of working my way up the corporate ladder in Dubai, all sense of fulfilment had vanished. Several changes in my workplace and in my personal life meant I was no longer satisfied.
Gripping on to the sides of my desk I knew with absolute certainty I couldn’t carry on. So I came up with a very simple plan: to change my whole life.
Since then I’ve left my job as an editor, gone travelling, moved countries and I couldn’t be happier.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, of course. After years of working through several ups and downs, I was stuck in the rut of thinking that to give up a job would be madness. After all, I was one of the lucky ones, I had told myself. I had a good position, a nice house, I went on lovely holidays at least twice a year and I had a good set of friends.
But I’m not alone in having called time on a job. It seems 2014 has been the year of the fresh start. Thousands of women are taking stock, reevaluating their careers, deciding to make a change. And many are reaping the emotional, health and financial benefits.
Bianca* is another example of a woman taking a leap of faith into the unknown. She’d been working in Dubai for the past five years when, this summer, she decided it was time for a change. “Although I loved my job, it became apparent that I would never be able to move up or progress in my role. I feared that in another five years’ time I could be in exactly the same position.
“While I realise many people would be quite happy with this, that just isn’t me. I got to a point where I thought ‘I don’t have to be working’. I think that’s the key. I didn’t have to. Being single, with no financial ties, and a little bit of money saved, I just suddenly felt free.”
Diana Pullman, on the other hand, was living in London, working in PR, and dreaming of a life right here in the UAE, specifically in Dubai. She had always wanted to be a writer and had contributed to several publications. As her writing career took off, she had a sudden moment of clarity. She could leave her job and work as a freelancer in the UAE. There was a lot happening in Dubai – the economy was looking good, several major projects had been announced and the mood was upbeat.
“I wanted to challenge myself and go after what mattered to me and not live in safety,” she says. “I had reached a really secure place in my job – I was managing people and had good responsibilities – but it wasn’t making me happy. So I thought, why keep doing it?”
Not long after, she was on a flight to Dubai.
For career and life coaches, a rise in women resigning to find a new career or take a break isn’t a surprising trend. José De Heer, a life coach and trainer with Authenticity Coaching and Consultancy, based in Dubai, has noted the increase since the end of the global downturn. She reckons this may be the first generation of professional women with the confidence to walk out on high-paid jobs because they no longer find them fulfilling.
“When these women started out, their work and their careers were the most important thing in their lives, but as they progressed they learnt more about themselves, what they value and what they’re good at, and that they could find themselves in great jobs – but jobs that no longer fulfilled the person they’d become,” she says. “That’s natural.”
But many of us are no longer willing to put up with being unfulfilled for the sake of money. These women have some savings and they have the confidence that comes with age, and maybe the children are now less reliant on them. So resigning and starting again is a viable, appealing option.
“It takes confidence, but Dubai is a city filled with confident people – many have left home to come here so they are go-getters.”
And, reckons Penny de Valk, managing director of Dubai-based Penna Talent Management, there has never been a better time than 2014 to make the most of that confidence.
“A number of women are emerging from the global financial downturn feeling quite exhausted, having been in survival mode for a long time,” she says. “They might have been staying put because they were concerned about the financial implications of leaving jobs. But now they are likely to be taking stock of their lives and asking, ‘What’s next?’
“This could result in a career change, a job change or a career break – the important thing is that women are taking the time to consider what feels right for them.”
Natalie Ekberg, founder of Live Better Coaching in London, agrees. “Women have become much more assertive,” she says. “If they don’t like their working conditions, they are less prepared to put up with it. Changing careers multiple times during our working life is becoming normal and companies are beginning to accept it.
“As a result, quitting a job has become easier; I believe there is this underlying belief that you can apply your strengths elsewhere and that getting a new job might take a while, but it is not impossible.”
Natalie should know. She left a corporate career in HR in locations as diverse as Dubai and Prague to undertake volunteer work in the Philippines. It was there she realised she could help other women negotiate career breaks, country moves and to figure out what to do next, so she founded her consultancy company, which now advises multinationals as well as individuals.
So, what to do next, once someone has decided it’s time to make a change? For me, along with my unhappiness at the end of last year over my career situation, I realised my priorities had changed. Eleven years into my career, I wanted more time for myself and to feel I was making a difference, no matter how small. But resigning or the thought of resigning was keeping me up at night. Not just the reaction I would get, but thoughts of what would follow. Would I become destitute? Did I want to travel or plunge into a new job straight away? What might that new job be?
Nevertheless, deciding I might be happy elsewhere was the important first step according to life coach José. “That realisation is a big thing,” she says. “Once you say to yourself, ‘I would be happier elsewhere,’ and decide to do something about it, you are taking control of your situation.”
Live Better Coaching’s Natalie advises ‘owning’ your resignation. “I would say the most important part is to be at peace with the decision,” she says. “Once the decision is made and you have resigned, there is no point in going back and questioning it. It takes away the energy that can be spent on moving forward and building a new future. I think it helps to have a certain plan. That way, you’re not walking into ‘emptiness’ but into an ‘action’ of proactively building a better future.”
Don’t burn your bridges either, advises Penna Talent Management’s Penny. “Make sure you keep important relationships open, and try to leave on the best of terms,” she says. “It’s about being emotionally mature and showing colleagues that your decision was personal and not necessarily anything to do with them.
“Everyone accepts that as one door closes, another opens, but you don’t necessarily want the door to slam behind you. Be professional, upbeat and maintain connections and networks, particularly if you’re staying in the same sector.”
For Bianca – and for me too – weighing up whether she could afford some time out made her decision all the easier. “I’d say to people who are thinking about changing their job to look at how much they need it. If you can afford to put a roof over your head and get by comfortably for a few months, then do it. Life is short.
“However, if you have debts and/or mouths to feed, secure something else before taking the leap.”
It’s normal to be worried about the unknown. I certainly was. I loved Dubai and when I left my job I had only a vague idea of how long to travel for and no idea of what I would do once I moved back to London. But if you have some savings and no financial ties, it’s time to believe in yourself and discover who you are beyond your career. It’s a risk worth taking.
Bianca agrees. “I didn’t really fear quitting, I feared not quitting,” she says. “On the surface of things there seemed no real reason to leave my job so I feared that I might not go through with it. ”
Whether quitting without a new job is right for you is something only you can work out. Bianca says, “You need to be positive, proactive and open to different possibilities. If the thought of being unemployed fills you with terror then maybe quitting without anywhere to go isn’t good for you; but if you think it will give you some freedom, then do it.”
And if you’re afraid to even raise the subject with your boss, don’t be, says Penny. Everyone avoids tricky conversations but nothing can change if you continue down the same old path. “It’s not necessarily about telling your manager you’re unhappy,” she says. “You should make a point of sharing what you want to do and where you want to go on an ongoing basis.
“In some cases, this can prevent a general feeling of disengagement as issues can be tackled earlier, and you can take better control of your career path. However, if you are really unhappy, you should be honest with your manager and explain clearly the reasons why so that you can talk solutions.
“That solution might be moving on, but maybe it could be in another, more fulfilling role within the company.”
I knew before I dived into another stressful job, that I wanted a break to go travelling. I went to Vietnam for a month and was completely re-energised. It was the first serious length of time I’d had to just be me since I started working at the age of 21 and it helped me to figure out what I wanted from a new position.
But while travelling and taking time out is more acceptable during a career than it was 20 years ago, it’s still important to plan it and to have a goal.
“Whatever the reason, and whatever your age, you need to be able to articulate what motivated you to take time out,” says Penny.
“If you return from your career break and are actively looking for new jobs, employers will ask questions about it, and it’s important that you position your time out correctly and show why it was important – whether it was for personal development, to enrich your knowledge of a subject that may prove useful in any new roles or because you wanted to simply take stock. Many employers will view a career break as a valuable attribute if you can clearly show why and how it benefitted your development.”
She adds, “If you’re leaving a career behind because you are unhappy, don’t make the leap without thinking about what you really want to do and what difference that will make to your well-being. Otherwise you risk moving into something that leaves you feeling just as dissatisfied as you were before.”
There’s no such thing as a job for life any more and, while this can leave some feeling anxious, it should be seen as an opportunity to explore more than one passion.
“While it’s not unusual for people to have five or six fairly dramatic career changes, it’s important you articulate the reasons you’ve changed careers, and that these reasons are coherent and credible,” says Penny. “Ultimately others will respect you if you can show them that you’ve boldly pursued a dream job or taken a risk to fulfil a long-held ambition.”
So how do you start working out what your next career should be? Natalie believes in making lists. “Do an analysis of all the jobs you’ve had and put on one side all the aspects of the experience you’ve enjoyed and on the other side all those aspects that bother you.
“Then do a similar exercise with your strengths and weaknesses, hobbies and interests and things that are totally not of interest. Look at the list of all the positive aspects and start designing an ideal career from there.
“Sometimes it helps to revisit an unrealised childhood dream or simply go by jealousy: what professions are you jealous of?”
Diana is certainly glad she pursued her dream. “The new job in Dubai is amazing,” she says. “Things are still scary, and changing rapidly, but I know that the leap allowed me to seize other opportunities. I’m trying to really live my life – not just settle.”
And me? Having been terrified of ending up homeless, alone and broke I’m about to start my new career as a freelancer, have moved into a new flat and couldn’t be happier. All it needed was a bit of confidence to put my happiness and health first.
*Name changed on request