I’m happy to share a new career transition story, this month telling another tale of leaving the corporate 9 to 5 to follow your passion and ‘scratch the itch’ of working for yourself. Rachel Reunis, who I know from my time at Procter & Gamble (P&G), had a ‘perfect storm’ of factors coming together that led her to quit her full-time job and embrace a ‘now-or-never’ change that has involved setting up her own consulting business as well as pursuing her love of horses.
Like many of us, Rachel really liked her job for many years, she loved the business of luxury and beautiful products and learned a lot during her time in the big corporation. Over time, though, changes in the organisation, a change in her role and some stirrings within her culminated in a decision to quit without a concrete plan of what to do next. The decision itself, she says, is easy – it’s what happens next that can be a bit more tricky!
We talked about the struggle of choosing one idea when you have lots of different ideas and interests; the need to remember what’s important to you so you don’t get distracted by other people’s promotions and job titles and shiny social media presence; and the difficulty of staying focused and positive when the stuff you’re putting out there doesn’t do as well as you had hoped and no one is telling you that you’re doing a good job.
I’m a big fan of portfolio careers, which involve a combination of different skills and roles. Having a portfolio career means that you are keeping things interesting with a variety of projects and clients, you are diversifying your income across different types of work, and, if nothing else, you are bringing in income by leveraging your skills and experience from your corporate job while you build something new that you are even more passionate about. In Rachel’s case, she has a really complimentary portfolio of being an influencer in the equestrian fashion space on the one hand with providing small business consulting to others in that space on the other.
Leaving a corporate job behind to follow your passion: From prestige to style (and horses)
Rachel Reunis worked at Procter & Gamble for nine years, having already gained some work experience prior to that. During this time she worked in Prestige Products, the perfume/cosmetics department of P&G, in a number of different global sales and marketing roles. Having quit her job to ‘scratch the itch’ of working for herself, today she is developing a portfolio career that involves fashion and horses on the one hand and small business consulting on the other.
1) At what moment did you decide it was time for a change?
Well, it was like a perfect storm of things coming together, to be very honest. I had been up for promotion for quite some time. I was doing okay, at least I was doing okay according to my standards, but, unfortunately, sometimes corporate standards are not completely in line with your personal standards. This I started seeing over the last year or two that I was working at P&G. When I came into P&G, I was not the standard ‘straight-out-of-university’ recruit, and I always felt like I never really got that moulding that a lot of people get, and that’s how they actually survive better in that type of corporate environment.
I guess nine years of survival still is pretty good, but I always felt like I wasn’t the ‘good soldier’. I often questioned things, and I unfortunately also often questioned them out loud, which wasn’t always the thing to do. It was again for me personally the right thing to do, but for the corporate environment, maybe not. And over the last year or two I had had an amazing time in one of my previous roles, and then I got put into a role where I didn’t feel quite comfortable. It just started coming together to a point that I thought, “Maybe this is just not for me, maybe I should just try and find a different corporation or do something for myself where I really feel that I can follow my own path and my own values.”
Again, that doesn’t mean that P&G weren’t good to me. They were very good to me, at the end as well. Apparently, they did appreciate what I did, but I just didn’t quite see that anymore at the end. But I left also at a time that the department was being sold, and strangely, I already felt that the year or two before, that something was in the pipeline but we just were not allowed to know about it yet. That’s probably also where the discomfort came from – because I knew we were doing things that were not really good for the company. I kept saying something about it, but there was quite frankly no point because we were going to be sold anyway.
That was a strange time, and it took me a while actually after leaving P&G to get over that and realign my gut feeling back with my brain, that they actually do work together and that it is okay to question things. I had to use that time for reflection to help me through that. That took about six or nine months, quite frankly, and then I tried to figure out what I wanted to do, and that’s where I am right now.
It was an amazing school, it was better than school because it was hands on. You had to do it. And P&G was one of those companies that did, not always but usually, allow you to make a mistake or two. You could give it a go, you could try things, you could be strangely entrepreneurial within a huge business. Again, at the end that became a little bit more difficult, and I think that’s what then started to bug me a little bit: “Okay but wait a minute, I was allowed to do this for six or seven years, why not now?” Anyway, so we now know. Hindsight is 20/20, right?
So it was a perfect storm of circumstances internal and external, but at that time it was quite uncomfortable.
And it was the right time. I think it could have gotten worse. We parted as friends, and I’m happy that I didn’t stay longer because I think I might have started to resent the situation. It was okay. It was good.
2) What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the change?
Strangely, making the decision to leave was remarkably easy. I’m very much a person that thinks things over a million times. The moment I say it, it’s already pretty much done. I mulled this over a gazillion times, talked it over with my husband, talked it through with my friends, and then the moment I announced it, it was as if this huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It was this like, ‘Ah, okay I’m done,’ and it was absolutely wonderful. Again, there are people who thrive in the business and people who are still there. For a lot of people, it still works (or it doesn’t and they stay, but that’s a different story). But for me, it was done, and it was just so nice to be able to say it.
Now after, that is when it became hard. If you do spend nine years in corporate heaven, and a couple of years before that within big companies as well, that’s how you’re wired. Working on your own, trying to figure out what the priorities are, what you really want to do, what is important, what is good, what is not, without having your annual review and your data to back you up – it’s really hard! I’m quite… let’s call it insecure in that sense. I like numbers because they don’t lie, and if they’re above 100 then it’s good, and if they’re under 100 then it’s not good! But in this individual working environment you don’t always have those numbers, so you really need to review how you figure out what’s good, what’s success… That has been really hard.
Also, I was completely lost, because I had many, many ideas – which is a luxury, and it’s part of who I am, but it also makes for chaos and it’s really hard to figure out what you want to do. Plus, I always love everything, so when people say, “Oh, you could do this,” I think, “Oh yeah, I could do that too.” Guess what: you can’t! You really do have to focus on just one or two things and do them well, and one or two or three things can still be a very nice portfolio career – and that’s where I find myself at the moment. But I sometimes need to be careful not to go, “Oh, this is cool,” and go completely in the other direction and then forget what I was actually doing.
3) Where did you get the support you needed to make it happen?
I have a husband who deserves a medal or two, he has been very understanding about these dips – because they just do happen. But he is actually one of the people who was most supportive of me leaving the company. He, quite frankly, had a very miserable bunny coming home on a daily basis! He said, “Right, that’s it. Enough. You hate it. Don’t worry, we’ll make it work one way or another. Quit.” I thought, “Hmm, okay.” And now, still, I don’t have a fixed income. I rely on if I have a customer or not this month, and even then he says, “You know what, go for it. We’ll make it work.” I’m the one who lies awake at night! He doesn’t, bless him.
My parents are also very understanding, which I thought they wouldn’t be. That’s really funny. My parents are relatively traditional in the sense that my mom worked from home and was a teacher, and my dad had a 35-year corporate career with the same company. Now if you grow up with that, that is your example, so my mum had a very steady job, flexible and part-time, but still she knew what she was doing, she enjoyed that, and my dad was always with the same company. Now you come into a P&G, you see yourself becoming your father, and thinking, “I’m not entirely sure if this is the right path for me.” And I was so scared to broach that subject in the very beginning, to talk to my parents and say: “This is not what I would see myself doing for the next 35 years,” but, guess what, they just went, “No, we didn’t think so either.” And now they are very supportive. I call my dad on a regular basis just to kind of ping pong some ideas back and forth, and it’s great.
I guess the fear was in my head – but you should listen to your gut feeling and not to your head every once in a while!
4) What’s the best part of your lifestyle today?
Freedom. Flexibility. On top of that, I also ride other people’s horses for them, so talk about a portfolio career. I would have never been able to do that if I had a 9-to-5 job. It’s already hard enough to combine just one horse with a full-time job, let alone two or three. Three this morning, actually! It’s something I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy, and being with the horses is also my little bit of ‘disconnect time’. Most of my life takes place online, either in a Skype call or on Instagram or whatever I need to do, it’s all in front of a screen. Being with the horses is my, “I’m not here right now!” And I love doing it. So yeah, the flexibility of having the time to add that into the mix as well is absolutely magnificent.
It was a bit of a ‘now-or-never’ thing because I had just left, we were financially okay, and I thought, “You know what? If I don’t do it now, I will continue to overthink this for the next five years, and it’s just not going to happen.” So I did it. I now have a very beautiful money-eating machine standing out on top of the hill, who I love to bits. And talking about a support system, I pay for it but I think it’s been part of my support system as well. It gave me a sense of purpose on days that I quite frankly felt useless and didn’t want to get out of bed after leaving the company like that. You have to put some pants on and you have to go to the horse because it will not ride itself. That has been really good as well, and on the bad days it just kind of perks you up and it feels good and it’s wonderful. I can recommend it!
Strangely, it all came together, and if I look back now on how I used to look at things… It’s funny, but that’s why I don’t understand why people get tattoos! They’re there for life, but your life changes, and you should let it change – because what if I was still stuck there? I don’t think I would be very happy. So again, hindsight’s 20/20, I know that now. It looked very different about a year and a half ago – but it’s good!
5) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is considering making a big career or lifestyle change?
It’s about facing the beast head on. If you’re already on your way to being burnt out and you are unhappy, it will happen. You need to face it head on, and you need to be incredibly honest with yourself. Why am I doing this? For whom am I doing this? And is this really what fits with my core values? Do I really want to sacrifice what I believe in for the good of the company?
Now, if the answer is, “I’m fine with that,” then that’s perfectly fine. Then continue! Maybe you just had a bad boss or a bad month, and then you just need to talk about it and move on. But if that feeling continues to nag, there is something that’s just not matching, it doesn’t line up with what you feel and what you think you should be doing, then you will burn out unless you face it. And facing it can be done in many different ways. ‘Facing it’ can mean learning to deal with it or realising that the situation is temporary, or realising that this might never change and it’s time to go. In my case, time to go, and it was fine. At the end of the day, it was actually perfectly fine.
And I think that’s really important, realising that it’s okay. It is okay to not feel comfortable in a job. It is okay to feel like it’s time for a change, and it’s really, really, okay to take a decision that doesn’t work out very well, because then something else will come along. Nobody’s going to tell you that it’s wrong – or they might tell you that it’s wrong but then maybe they want to leave as well, so you never really know what’s behind that kind of feedback. It’s okay.