New Year, New You — Who’s Missing?

Big life changes rarely happen in isolation

Adele Barlow
10 min readOct 30, 2018

Roland (not his real name) was one of the ones I saw every six months. Floppy black hair, thick glasses, towering six-feet-four, always dressed in a button-down white shirt that was the uniform of his role in corporate law at a big firm in the City.

We got to know each other over the several years I spent working with Escape the City, a career change platform helping corporate professionals like Roland to do just that.

A big part of my role was producing events — most of which were along the theme of: “Run away from mind-numbing Powerpoint sessions and build a more meaningful career… come hear our inspirational speaker to learn the next steps to doing so.”

I also started writing for the Huffington Post which escalated into writing some books on the topic. I’d think of Roland as he was my target reader and I’d often replay the one conversation topic that never had a straightforward answer.

The key hurdle to changing jobs

Your choice of career is embedded into other areas of life, like your earnings… and therefore your rent and mortgage decisions. Shelter is a survival need. So when your brain thinks ‘new career’, it doesn’t just skim over the emotional benefits. At some point it also trips over that essential part of the equation — exactly how will you survive?

From hearing hundreds of stories of career-changers over the years, I learned that often those who had made the leap had access to a spare room or some other kind of rent relief — they’d move in with parents, their partner would cover the rent, or they’d couch-surf. In other words, there was a huge amount of luck involved.

This is what made ‘inspirational quotes’ like this one from Steve Jobs a bit grating:

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

I’m all on board for the idea that if you constantly hate your life, you should switch something up. Yet career change is a process that often takes a couple of years (not weeks) and the shelter question is a huge one that is often glossed over by self-appointed ‘lifestyle gurus’ or entrepreneurs so successful that they take for granted not everyone has the same level of options.

When Steve Jobs said that sentence, he’d already established a phenomenal company — his professional options were fairly open (and shiny). The intention behind the sentence is wonderful: change is often positive. Yet I hated seeing that quote used among career-change groups as a way of shaming those who hadn’t yet made the leap (“Oh, I was brave like Steve Jobs… guess you aren’t”).

Your career is linked to survival and so when you try to alter that part of your life, the most primal and protective part of yourself is also going to be activated. The transition can involve extricating yourself from demons not only in your own mind but also in the minds of your parents, their friends, their neighbours, the people you went to high school with, the list goes on.

A cartoon from the New Yorker

This is why I have been so excited to work with Makers — a four-month intensive software engineering training course that not only retrains people (many of them new mothers returning to work) but also gets them their first job as a software developer.

It is often described as ‘life-changing’ — (see here, here, and here). We’ve attracted all types — lawyers, painters, an accountant who quit the NHS to join us, a guy who moved on from Groupon, the list goes on.

What I love about Makers is that it answers the money question — there’s a job offer guarantee.

Importantly, it’s a group process — this is the single most ignored aspect of career change that I have found while coaching millennials over the years.

Millennials believe it is all down to them

When millennials don’t manage to change careers, they often believe it is a sign of personal weakness. Similarly, when they do it successfully, they often pat themselves on the back.

Personal choice is a huge element but often there are other factors at play beyond our control. The shelter question is a big one. Another issue is the emotional support question.

Some people have parents who would be totally cool with them being a doctor, an acrobat or an actor. (“You pick, honey… whatever you do, we’ll support you.”) Not everyone has those parents. Some people have to do a lot of separate emotional work to build the resilience required to ‘take the leap’.

For that reason, I think we should pause on punishing ourselves when careers don’t quite go to plan; similarly, we might not rush to congratulate ourselves when in reality a lot of luck was involved in the shift.

Furthermore, the idea that every single person has to be passionate about their job is an elitist millennial myth that is best destroyed. Instead, I believe it’s more realistic to strive towards work that satisfies our emotional, financial and intellectual needs.

Cal Newport writes about this in more depth. His main argument is to stop worrying about passion, get really damn good at something, and then use that to leverage yourself into the emotionally and intellectually exciting work that only comes once you’re more established.

This is what we help people to do at Makers — catalyse their entry into the software development field, and accelerate their new careers with the help of our hiring partners.

The limitations of the individual route

When it comes to establishing yourself in a new professional field, Escape the City was always (and still is) simply a gateway. Makers is another one. Yet before committing to a gateway, people might try individual routes: reading career change books, attending events, going on sabbaticals.

These have their benefits. Sometimes when you’re so burned out that everything seems hopeless, it’s helpful to completely disconnect from the familiar and remind yourself that life can be fun.

I would hear from people surfing in Indonesia or watching sunsets in Costa Rica and I’d be glad that they were just chilling the f*** out after working insane hours at their corporate jobs. And there are some books and articles that can be absolutely transformative.

However, the thing with content consumption is that it doesn’t always lead you to a new solution. It can move you away from the old, but then tempt you into this purgatory where you no longer fit into your old life but also don’t yet have a means of paying rent for your new life.

Programs like Makers are essentially conversion courses (in Makers’ case, into software development). Having been there over a year now, I’ve thought about why this route often produces more effective results than the individual routes alone.

Group accountability

“It’s a very complex experience. It’s a life-changing experience… I was very happy to find a tribe with a similar mindset.”

This is what our Maker alumni Igor Ryabchuk wrote here. What he’s describing — finding his tribe — is something I’d see with Escape members too.

When you’re working on your own on something, there’s nobody to celebrate the highs with or mourn the lows with.

So many entrepreneurs I know are part of mastermind groups; so may runners I know are part of running clubs; so many professional women I know are part of career support networks.

These networks matter. It’s hard to quantify, but I was thinking of the evidence on weight loss that highlights the role of group accountability.

Group accountability at Makers means learning to work as part of a team, and it also means that you have an entire careers team working towards finding you your first role in the industry. You have a tribe behind you — you’re not in it alone.

Our wonderful careers team

Professional emotional support

Beyond careers support, you also have our Chief Joy Officer Dana (who blogs here) helping you to navigate the inevitable wobbly moments you’ll get whenever you’re starting something completely new.

Dana, our Chief Joy Officer

With making big changes, you often have to lose yourself before you can find yourself. As the old self dissolves, it can be unnerving.

In fact, sometimes it’s not your choice as to whether to make the change, as another Maker, Ayodele Alakija writes here:

“It’s not many times that you find yourself in the position I was in by March 2017. Fired from a job with no clue how to get into the sector that I had studied for, it was hard not to panic. Leaving Groupon was not only painful but deflating. For the first time, I felt that I had truly failed at a job and not mastered the challenge it presented. The feeling was one that can best be described as ‘little boy lost’.”

Ayodele is now doing Makers and blogs about his journey. The point is that Makers has housed all kinds of career-changers and a huge part of the journey is learning to let go of the old patterns, habits, and routines.

Dana not only teaches meditation and yoga but also generally helps all Makers to regain their emotional equilibrium when everything feels uncertain.

A promised outcome

Through doing Makers, you are connected to an established industry and have increased your professional capital by the end of your training — Makers is a recruitment partner as much as it is an education partner. (In future, as more people question the value of the traditional degree, I could see the model being replicated in other industries where there is a skills shortage.)

We hear so many stories of successful career change but one of my favourites is Simone Smith, who was working in literary publishing before doing our program. Recently she wrote:

“Amongst all of this, I was also interviewing for the Guardian’s 2018 Digital Fellowship scheme which, I’m delighted to announce, I will be joining in October!

It’s really quite remarkable to reflect on how much I’ve learned over the last few months, and how quickly it’s been possible to make what feels to me like a pretty radical career change.

I left my old job during a week of glorious weather at the start of May, and this apparently never-ending summer is still going strong now as I enjoy my first days off since before the course began. It definitely hasn’t been easy, and I’ve worked harder and more consistently than ever before, but I have no regrets at all.”

Who do you need to create the New You?

If you’re feeling like 2019 is the year when you want to make changes, don’t beat yourself up thinking that this will cause the shift you seek. Instead, think about which networks you can use to catalyse your growth.

Roland, as it turned out, did leave his corporate law job to become an entrepreneur, and now runs his own business — but he did this through a group coaching program that Escape launched a couple of years ago.

I believe in the power of group coaching because I’ve seen it work. When you’re setting New Year’s resolutions, it’s common to look at what is missing. But instead, I’d argue — think about who is missing.

If you want to change relationships — maybe there are some single friends of friends you could start meeting up with more regularly. If you want to lose weight — maybe you could invest in a personal trainer, or join a free group fitness program in the park.

If you want to change jobs, maybe there’s a professional association you could join. If you want to change careers and become a software developer, Makers is one option (among others) in London.

At Makers, we do a one-month PreCourse. The next one starts on November 26th.

This means that you’d start on-site at Makers in early January and graduate Makers in March. You’ll then be job-hunting in April, which is often when most companies are recruiting.

If you’d like to apply, read more here. If you’re not sure Makers is right for you right now, you can still come join the Q&A or come check out a Demo Day — our events page is here.

No matter which route you choose, I wish you all the best, because I know that change is hard — and it does require you to be brave, and vulnerable, and perhaps temporarily a bit lost. If you’re feeling too overwhelmed to make any big decisions, an excerpt from Finding Fulfilling Work (a book I wrote for recent graduates, although it can be applied across career stages) is here.