Wednesday 21 March 2018

New year, new career? Three Irish people who quit jobs they hated to fulfill their dreams

Considering a career change in 2017? Our reporter chats to people who ditched comfortable, well-paying work in pursuit of professional happiness

A fresh start: Darren Grant left his job at Dell to set up the Organic Supermarket in Rathgar, Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
A fresh start: Darren Grant left his job at Dell to set up the Organic Supermarket in Rathgar, Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
JudyMay Murphy

Tanya Sweeney

Time once was that jobs were for life: you got one as a youngster and did a slow but certain shimmy up the same ladder until it was time for the golden carriage clock.

But these days, we're likely to think of work as less about what we do and more about who we are. And with job satisfaction now paramount, it's not unusual to find people moving from one career to another mid-stream in the pursuit of professional happiness.

In fact, recent statistics hint that 'encore careers' are becoming less the exception and more the rule, with experts estimating we'll enjoy an average of 3.2 careers.

It may be the new normal, but for a number of people, a career switch really does seem easier said than done. Job satisfaction is one thing, quite another is a perilous leap midway up the career ladder. And who likes to turn their back on years of accrued experience, success and training?

According to coach Judymay Murphy, anyone with an eye on an encore career needn't worry about consigning their original skill set to the great photocopier room in the sky.

"The thing is, if you've had a career, you'll never be starting from scratch," she explains. "Your experience is transferable, whether you're good with language or good with people.

"Those who are going in the wrong direction often took something up after they were given certain advice in school and were lost at the time," she adds.

"You need to stop immediately. It's the only responsible thing to do for yourself."

For some, the switch can be seamless and risk-free, but for others, the path towards job satisfaction was not quite as smooth.

Formerly a journalist, Sylvia Leatham from Cabra in Dublin now manages the Steps Programme - an outreach project for schools - at Engineers Ireland.

"I'd been working as a tech journalist for about a decade around the dotcom era when the industry was exploding," she says. "A few things conspired together to make me take the leap out of the job. I was gradually discovering a real passion for science and I was becoming more and more de-motivated in my job.

"I kept coming up with reasons not to leave my old job - it was nice and comfortable, and had lots of benefits, including good pay. I felt the pressure of my age a bit too and didn't want to have to start all over again in my mid-30s. I started a four-day week at work and then set up a science podcast with some other like-minded people called Scibernia," she says. Through the podcast, she began making new contacts on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

"Via LinkedIn, I saw a job in science communications… I'd never have seen the advert were it not for the podcast. I didn't feel qualified to do the job and I usually like to stick to what I know, but all I needed was the push."

Sylvia's advice: "Everyone needs a career cheerleader and mine was my now-husband Joe. Find someone who can give you a good pep talk and ask yourself why exactly you want to make the move. Dip your toe in the water somehow: get involved, volunteer or do something small in your spare time. You don't have to make a drastic change… yet."

Darren Grant from Rathfarnham in Dublin left his job as Global Project Manager at Dell Computers to set up the Organic Supermarket (

"When I left university, I went to Dell and worked all the way up to the global project manager job. Everyone thought I was set - I was on fantastic money - but in 2008 I knew I wanted to be my own boss. When I told people I wanted to sell vegetables, everyone assumed I'd had a breakdown.

"I sold everything, all my share options and security, gave up my ¤100k a year job and gambled everything. The day I found my premises in Blackrock in 2008, Anne Doyle was on the news telling us we were about to face into the biggest recession in years. And at that point, no one was interested in a premium product," he recalls.

"In 2010, I went to the bank and asked for €15,000 to expand and was told I wasn't viable for a loan. I was struggling with cash flow and put myself in mortgage arrears. The stress levels in Dell were nothing on the stress levels of being a self-made entrepreneur. I'd gone from a comfortable background to having the heat cut off in my home. Many times I thought: 'What have I done here?' But the only way out was to keep fighting.

"I found an investor and managed to turn around from nearly losing everything to today where I have a staff of 31 and a multi-million turnover. At the end of the day, I'm delighted I created and built my own brand and have three stores (in Rathgar, Blackrock and Malahide). I feel a real sense of pride I survived it all."

Darren's advice: "Don't quit your safe job. When you have built a comprehensive business plan, talk to other professionals. There's a lot more Government support out there now, so do your homework on that front. And have a little bit of personal money set aside and save like mad because your business won't launch into profitability and you'll need a salary to pay your mortgage."

Sarah Gleeson from Sandymount in Dublin left behind a career in insurance HR to retrain as a secondary school teacher.

"I loved working with people in my old job and while I was on the trajectory to a very successful career, it wasn't fulfilling. I've always had a job after I fell into office work at 21 and I like the security of a weekly paycheck, but you can be really good at something and realise there is something else you were born to do. Teaching has always been at the back of my mind; I had an English teacher in school who was a huge inspiration.

"The deadline for applying for the Professional Master of Education (PME) teaching qualification came and I figured I'd see if I got a place before I spoke to my manager at work. Three months after handing in my notice, I left the job. The course is online, which means I can work as a temp during the week and holidays.

"Because of my corporate experience, I'm the perfect temp… I've been around and seen things and know how to handle people. When I qualify as a teacher, I'm not likely to get a full-time permanent job in my first year, so I can still do temp work through the holidays.

"There have definitely been a few days where I'm thinking: 'I can't do this'. I moved back in with my parents and will still be on ¤10,000 less than I ever was in my life when I qualify. But when I walk into a classroom full of 14-year-olds, I think, 'well this is kind of brilliant'."

Sarah's advice: "Rather than be miserable, know that there is always a way. Money will always be an issue, but don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. And if you want to go into a different area, ask as many people as you can all about that field."

Irish Independent

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