Johannesburg - It’s a mid-career crisis. The realisation that the years of hard work you’ve put in might put food on the table, but provides little else by way of self-fulfilment or work-life balance. People on the 9-to-5 treadmill feel it acutely, thinking: “Is this it?”
Career coach Reinhard Moors says people tend to reach this point in their mid-thirties to forties, when we are confronted with life-meaning questions. “We question what our lives should be, and there is often a misalignment between our current career and our perceived life purpose,” he says.
Moors knows two people who’ve jumped off the career ladder they spent years meticulously climbing, and are now swimming strongly in a new, very different career stream. “I think that leaving your job can be very fruitful, provided that the time off is spent proactively in realigning your future, and not just goofing off,” he says.
Typically, people ready for a “career detox” are those whose job has become too demanding, stale or unsatisfying. And often there’s an entrepreneur in there bursting to get out.
“It’s quite common for people to leave bosses and long hours to get into entrepreneurial ventures that are more aligned to their passions,” says life/career coach Sinazo Mboye. And like everyone who has found their passion, work is no longer “hard” but meaningful and inspiring, says Mboye.
Verve found four brave souls who dramatically changed career direction to achieve a better work-life balance. And found it.
Trish took the biggest leap of faith in her life three weeks before her 40th birthday. She was employed at the BBC in Glasgow, first as a PA, but had progressed to being a script developer. “I was in a well-paid job with a pension, but I felt stuck. I kept thinking, what if I’m still here in 10 years, doing the same thing?”
Applying for another job in the industry wasn’t appealing. “I was seeking something more significant in my life. I was inspired by a friend who’d taken a year’s sabbatical to travel. I saw this new expansiveness in her and I guess that’s what I wanted for myself,” Trish recalls.
Trish resigned, rented out her flat and hit the road, travelling for 15 months around the Middle East, Iran and East and Central Africa. “I wound up here in South Africa with a rucksack and nothing else. I knew I didn’t want to return to the UK, to the job I was in, but I had no idea where or how I was going to earn or live.”
Trish managed to get work in fiction script development, but one day well-known film-maker Jyoti Mistry, who Trish was working with at Wits University, asked her to rewrite a script she had optioned.
It turned out to be a seminal moment in her new career-life direction. “I started writing that script from scratch. I felt extraordinarily liberated. When someone asks me now what I do for a living, I say: ‘I’m a screenwriter.’ If I had stayed in my job in Scotland, I doubt that I would ever have been able to say that,” she says.
This month, Trish’s first movie as a screenwriter, Ayanda, was released across South Africa at Ster Kinekor cinemas. “Yes, there are wobbly moments in the choices I make around projects, but I don’t doubt that I’m on the right path now.
“And I find that somehow the right people come into your life at the right time. It pays off to take stock and walk away from something that isn’t working for you any more, at least once in your life.”
Taryn had a high-flying job as a publisher of a glossy women’s magazine, but when her son Charlie was born, she wanted more freedom and flexibility. “I no longer wanted to spend my days in the office or travelling, and I was tired of the office politics,” she says.
She didn’t know at the time, however, that leaving her job signalled a career change as well, filling her with a newfound passion for work and life.
“I didn’t see it coming. I had set myself up at home with my own publishing business, and then I was approached to launch a hair salon for black women in the city. When their funding fell through, they had a container of imported brands designed for curly, kinky, coily hair which they needed to sell.
“I had been using the product, The Perfect Hair, and wondered why we as African consumers never got that quality from the ranges on our shelves. It got me thinking that if these products filled a gap for me, there must be others like me.”
Taryn blindly took the leap. She spent the next year selling these imported ranges online, building up a loyal shopper community, and now has over 8 500 women on our social media and shopper databases. She now makes the product herself, and with the help of a bio-chemist and trichologist, came up with three ranges to suit South African women’s waves, curls and kinky coils.
“I’ve found the change in my career beyond exhilarating. It consumes me. It has given me a new energy. I feel like I’ve finally found my niche. At 40 it is exactly the recharge and invigoration I needed. This will be the legacy I hand down to my kids and grandkids. I can feel it,” she says.
She admits it took “huge openness to change, and buckets of self-belief, not to mention patience and poverty… starting from scratch is not for sissies”.
Jacques Pauw and Sam Rogers
A year ago, these two journalists peeled away completely from everything they knew, headed to the rural Western Cape and set up a restaurant-guest house called Red Tin Roof in the village of Riebeek Kasteel.
“It’s still hard to believe that just a year ago I was still trying to unravel the Zuma family empire, make sense of the Sars spy scandal and uncover yet another crooked cop. For the past year or two before my resignation, journalism had got stuck like a malignant lump at the back of my throat. I had to get rid of it, vomit it out and walk away forever,” recalls Jacques.
His wife Sam Rogers, also a veteran journalist, had also “simply had enough”. It was time to go. It was time for a new adventure. “I now infuse milk tarts with orange rind, flavour my braised pork shoulder with smoked paprika and design a summer salad with prawns, labneh and flatbread,” says Jacques.
His new location has a lot to do with the feeling of regeneration, he says. “The village of Riebeek Kasteel is just an hour north of Cape Town, but it feels a million miles from the commotion and turmoil of Gauteng.
“Tractors with harvested grapes roar through the streets, children play without fear in its open spaces and Zuma is just a rotten blip on the horizon. That’s why Sam and I decided to open a bar, restaurant and guest house in Rehab Kasteel, as we re-christened the village,” says Jacques.
He misses journalism – “it will always be in my blood” – but the fact of owning their olde worlde establishment, donned in new clothes and brought back to life, is rejuvenating in itself. “We work like slaves and the chore of running a kitchen and a guest house is relentless. But it excites, tires and exhilarates at the same time. And unlike my previous profession, it brings smiles to people’s faces.”