TLDR: It is possible to be equally passionate about two very different vocations at the same time and, far from detracting from your performance in each, it adds depth of experience and perspective that gives you an advantage.
I only recently heard about Marci Alboher’s book: ‘One Person/Multiple Careers: The Original Guide to the Slash Career’, (thanks Brenée) and immediately felt a sense of validation for what would traditionally be seen as an unconventional/risky/wasted career path over the last 6 years. My inherent values of worth rear their ugly heads from time to time and I must quieten them: “I have failed at my jewellery business (because I can’t make a living from it for a family) and gone back to my other career with my tail between my legs…and less senior to boot, what a failure! What title would I have/how much money could I be earning by now if I had stayed on the same path?” I remind myself that I am happier and more fulfilled than ever and would not change a single thing about how my life is playing out. I am more than comfortable, have two vocations that I’m passionate about, and am now in a place where I feasibly have time to do both well and have plenty of family time. I never thought it possible.
In 2016, I made a dramatic decision to reverse my move to New York to lead the Customer Success team for Eastern America. I had been running two regions for around 3 months, completing all the extensive work required for an expert visa (am grateful to this day those of you who helped with this), trying to secure a rental for the flat I was leaving behind, all the while worrying that my partner’s life was up in the air until we had news on the approval. We had already had our leaving party; we were getting ready to move in two weeks if the visa came through...but it didn’t. There was further work needed and further waiting needed and my stressed-out little mind told me ‘Enough is enough’.
My partner had noticed a fog descend on me and was worried. When he suggested that we didn’t have to go to New York, the idea seemed crazy. I had already found my role replacement, what would I do? ‘You could leave’, he said. I had enough money saved, and I had started my jewellery business a few years ago, so I knew I had some savings and a project to keep me going. The huge cloud lifted from around me. I was immensely grateful for the opportunity to move to New York, and I offered to stay way past my notice period to ensure I did not let anyone down too badly, but I had to be selfish. This was 100% the right thing to do.
For my leaving speech, my boss announced that I was leaving to work on ‘my real passion: jewellery’. I know it isn’t how it was intended but somehow that phrase reduced the prior 15 years of hard work and commitment to my career thus far into a blip of insignificance. It wrenched my gut at the time, but I ignored it and focused on the exciting things to come.
To my amazement, fortune did indeed seem to favour the brave, and not long into my notice period, I was approached for another role, which I managed to turn into a contract that allowed me to work few hours with enough to keep me comfortable while I focused on my health and my jewellery business. Being able to wake up naturally, workout at 11am if I wanted, and able to practice piano for hours at a time if I wanted, will be remembered as some of my happiest days. I experienced first-hand that time was far more precious than money, and that the space to be creative, take time to be in nature, exercise and not have a fixed schedule gave me more satisfaction than any fine restaurants and clothes could.
The contract lasted a year, but a friend had also helped get a teaching job on the Google Squared courses, and I spent the next four years throwing everything at my jewellery business; designing, shooting, interviewing amazing women for the blog (all of who have slash careers, incidentally), trade shows, pop ups, markets, marketing, public speaking and hosting panels with creatives to inspire others to find their other passion, because it had been so life changing for me; to work on something totally mine, that meant I had to learn a new skill/wear a different hat every day. I felt free in a way that I never had before and I experienced living with just enough money to pay the bills and maybe go out once a month (and appreciate instead the joy of hosting dinner parties). It made me realise that I did not have to fear leaving a job again if I was unhappy, because we could and would always find a way to make things work.
In Jan 2020, my daughter was born and it was clear that we would need to move to a bigger place before long. Despite being able to cover the mortgage payments on our self-employed incomes, we would not have the salaries to get a new mortgage offer in the first place. It was time for me to consider employment once again. We had made the decision to move to the Brighton area and so I started researching tech companies down there. Brandwatch was clearly top of the list and I approached my now boss on LinkedIn to explain that I would be looking over the next 6 months and to please keep me in mind for any positions. Astonishingly Liza offered her time for a virtual coffee even though there wasn’t a role and gave me some tips on other companies. I was blown away by her generosity of time, and immediately became even more keen to find out more about Brandwatch.
I was happy to take a lower position than my previous because I knew that I would be able to do the job well and still have time for my new family, and money was no longer the driving force, but some companies thought this meant ‘I wouldn’t be as motivated as another candidate coming up into the role’ (which is content for a whole other post). Shortly after moving to Sussex, I was contacted by Liza about a role. Liza was aware that I had been more senior before and saw it for what it was – excellent value for money! That it would add experience to the team and only be a positive. Meeting everyone else in the interview process was equally refreshing. I met real people, seeing me as a real person and I knew this was where I needed to be.
Brandwatch gets it. Everyone brings their whole self to work and work is evaluated on output, not time spent at the desk. Everyone finishes by 5pm or, as I do, works flexible hours - a little later in the evenings on a few days so that I can work compressed hours and have Fridays free to be with my daughter. This, by the way, was suggested to me a few weeks into being at the company after hearing about my daughter’s nursery arrangements (never heard of this being offered up willingly in any of my other companies, it always felt like a dream situation). This company and team make me feel so cared for, that I can’t help care about them. I love working hard for them and my passion for Customer Success and SaaS is back with a vengeance.
I was cautious of falling back into ‘my old ways’, always pushing myself and seeking the next step up. When an opportunity came up to be a manager again, not long after starting as an individual contributor, I had to really think it through – is this what I really want in terms of the reality day-to-day, or am I going for this because it is more money? Honestly, I wasn’t sure, I just knew I would regret not taking the opportunity. I got promoted before my probation was up and I am moving into a new position again for Jan 2022. What I have learned is that it is just my character to push myself and that isn’t going to change, and I love leading and coaching. I have an opinion and want to be able to contribute at the highest level and I have a wealth of experience and perspective that allows me to be extremely calm under pressure. The burnout from the previous role wasn’t because I was pushing myself too hard, per se, or because this wasn’t the right role for me, it was because I was pushing myself too hard and not growing. That kind of grind is exhausting.
Now I’m back in tech, I can see all the things I loved and missed, and I appreciate my old career in a way that I couldn’t without focusing on the other one seriously for some time. I don’t take the salary or benefits for granted now that I have experienced living on very little, but equally I know what I need to make me happy, and I’m not scared to leave a company where I am not cared for as a whole person rather than just a worker.
As Marci Alboher says in her book ‘One Person/Multiple Careers’: “Sometimes removing yourself from the fast track, or just slowing down a bit, is an ideal way to allow another passion or vocation to flourish.”
And that is what my jewellery business is, not my real passion, but another passion. It has had to take a slight back seat this year, but I delivered my first commission piece in July and the shop in London Bridge has been open most of the year (post-covid). Having this other vocation helps me to not take my day job too seriously which, contrary to how it may sound to an employer, is a great thing! I can see the emotions more clearly and be pragmatic. I don’t take things to heart, and I am even more goal orientated than before.
On the flip, it means I don’t have to let the need to pay a mortgage guide my design decisions. I can continue making more niche designs that, while making a profit, are not going to keep our family in house and home, at least not for some years… and that is just fine with me. The beauty of jewellery for me has always been about discovering something unique, and as a maker, I want my customers to feel this too. Now I am feeling financially liberated, it is time to get designing again. Watch this space for some new earrings and a new upcoming collection in Spring. I love my loyal customers and I’m sorry not to have delivered something new to you sooner. 2022 is the year where I properly nail the slash career…bring it on!