Goodbye Job. Hello Lively-hood.

Goodbye Job. Hello Lively-hood.

Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility.”

Oprah Winfrey



What can you do when the path is far from clear?

Mathy Lisika-Minsende set up Whatthejobisthis to“inspire career transitioners seeking more than just another job” through the sharing of personal stories.

I spoke at one of her events along with accountant turned comedian Special P and recruitment consultant turned independent careers adviser Shamila, founder of Brighter Mondays.

My talk was called “How I left my job for a livelihood.”

A transcript of sorts:

Livelihood” means a couple of things to me. First of all, I love the way it sounds: “lively-hood” – much nicer than job! Also, in old English, it just means a way of living, which is something that I’ve aspired to for years. I’ve finally ended up in a position where what I actually do reflects who I am. That wasn’t always the case.

I started off my career as a city solicitor. From the outside it probably looked great. The building itself was a huge marble building, there was an atrium indoors with trees and fountains. I strutted around like everybody else, probably appearing very successful, but I knew the real cost of my Prada shoes. I was absolutely dying inside, because this was the last place that I wanted to be. For one thing, I liked my trees outdoors.

Why had I ended up there? Well, probably because I didn’t have enough courage when I was growing up. I come from the sort of background where my parents expected me to be a lawyer, which I was, or a doctor or a dentist or that sort of thing. So I ended up there, in this office, absolutely hating it. I used to cry in the toilets, and I used to have this bizarre recurrent dream where I’d turn up to a meeting where everyone was there in their grey suits and in my dream I would come in with a plate of cakes. It was just not right for me.

One evening, I was looking through the Evening Standard. You may remember the Far Side cartoons. There was a cartoon which had a wolf at a desk, and he was just sitting there in the middle of the forest, and all these tiny little animals were bounding in front of him, and the wolf just says I envy those critters their freedom”. And I realised that it was probably just as simple as that. It was my choice to be sitting there in this place that I hated, and I could just actually stand up and I would be in the real forest.

So I handed in my notice the next day. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do next, but what I did know was that I didn’t want to be there. And I thought about some of the things that were worse, and the only thing I could think about that I wanted to do less was be one of those people in Oxford Street with a sign saying “Golf Sale This Way”.

So I left. I obviously had to work to pay my bills, so I went to work in a restaurant, basically taking people’s coats and taking them to tables. That was a real eye-opener for me in what people were really like, and I learnt a lot about human beings at that time. I was exactly the same person, but people treated me very, very differently. I left that after a while and went and qualified as an aerobics instructor and personal trainer; and I helped some people who worked in film production with some of their legal issues. And I just got really, really tired.

So after a while, I did go back to law and I thought I’ll try something different. I wrote, not thousands, but it felt like thousands of letters. I eventually got a job in a music law firm. I did that for a while. I didn’t like it that much more. I tried working in-house for a company, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and advising in a different way.

And then I had what I think is probably my big breakthrough. I was out eating mussels. So, you know, miracles happen in very unusual places.  I wasn’t bored with my companion, but I was thinking “… Oh, gosh, you know, these shells are so iridescent … they look like butterflies! Oh … chrysalises … what else comes out of chrysalises? What if human beings could come out of chrysalises?”

I woke up two weeks later and wrote a story, it just came out, about a little girl who’s not very well. She gets visited by a butterfly and all this amazing transformation takes place, and at the end of it she flies over the rainbow. I illustrated it as well, and the illustrations were pretty awful. I hadn’t drawn since I was about 14. My parents were very insistent that I only did academic subjects, so I just didn’t really have those skills. I went looking for an illustration class, and when I was doing that I found out about something called Access, which is a course you can do that then enables you to apply to go to university. So I did a two year Access in to Art course in the evenings, and then I applied to go to St. Martins and got a place on their five year part-time BA.

I then left my job at PwC and went to work part-time at another law firm, which was kind of quite unusual at the time – but there was a condition, which was that I always had to have my mobile phone and if I had to go to a client meeting on my art day I would do it. The result was that three years into the part-time degree it just wasn’t working, law was still taking over. And I sort of gave up. I gave up the degree and I also left my job. I was even beyond thinking because actually to give up St. Martins was a big, big deal for me.

And in that space I suddenly realised that I had to appreciate and accept all of myself. So I’d spent all these years going “I hate law, I don’t want to be a lawyer”, and I suddenly realised “well, hold on, yes, I don’t like being a lawyer, but I’ve learnt all these other things. I can facilitate people, I’m used to processing very complex material”, and I thought about all of the other things that I could do.

One of the things that I had done when I was lawyer is I had been a contributor on a programme for Christian TV. They’d made a programme on the Ten Commandments, and asked me to speak about the rights that Jesus has in his name, because I used to advise on trade marks, company names, domain names. So I got that material and I sent it off to an organisation called Legal Network Television who make programme for lawyers, and I pestered them every week for nine months. And they eventually said to me “we need a freelancer”. And so I made a freelance programme for them, and I carried on working for them as a freelancer really until last year. Well, I’m technically still on their books, but they’re really not using freelancers any more. So I started to make programmes for other organisations.

I also decided that I would like to do an online advisory service for artists, where they could send in their copyright and contract queries and I would answer them. And I made an Arts Council application. I got so much discouragement around it from everybody I interviewed in support to my application. Rather than being put off by it, I let the application go through. I didn’t get the funding. Everyone had kept saying it’s been done before, it’s been done before, and I found out why. I investigated, spent a lot of time finding out why, and tracked down the “man who everyone mentioned” (Henry Lydiate) who had set up a very similar service in the ‘70s, and he and I ended up approaching another organisation called Artquest, who now have that service, which still runs today. It’s called Q&A. And he also invited me to assist him as a lecturer on various postgraduate courses, which I still do.  Once I was a bit more stable, I also re-embraced my art and started to take my children’s story to schools as part of a combined arts workshop with art and dance.

So where am I now? Well, it’s 2012 and all of that’s still on-going, but I have a blend that I’m very happy with, of kind of different things that I feel feed these different parts of myself. Nothing’s really a huge compromise. So, what are the things that I learnt along the way that meant a lot to me and kept me going?

I would say that the biggest thing is just to keep going, and if someone says “no”, don’t think about it as being a “no”, look at what’s underneath it, because it might be a no to what you were asking for or expecting, but it could be a yes to something that’s actually much bigger and much better, and something much more wonderful than you imagined. 

Mathy runs a regular storytelling evening “Tell it like it is” connecting those who have changed career and those undergoing any sort of transition. 

I would love to hear how you’ve found the path that is true for you or if you are still discovering it.  Please leave your comments in the box below and I will read every one.




4 Comments to Goodbye Job. Hello Lively-hood.

  1. Wonderful to hear your story Lubna. You are an inspiration.

    I handed in my notice from a well paid job in IT sales three years ago with no idea what I wanted to do next. Like you, I rediscovered art. I wrote 47,425 words of the book I’d always wanted to write and started a blog. I learned to allow myself to sit still and do nothing.

    I’ve just set up my own business in the general insurance industry, where I had my first full-time job. So in a way I’ve come full circle. But this time it’s on my terms and so there is a place for love, compassion and spirituality.

    Good luck with your portfolio livelihood!

  2. Hi Karen

    Thank you! For your lovely words and good wishes and – being the first person to leave me a comment (☆´* ♥ ´*✿. ☆’´* )
    So encouraging to know there are others sharing this journey and heartening to hear you talk about “a place for love, compassion and spirituality” – wouldn’t it be just wonderful if these qualities drove business!
    Good luck to you too – in finding a beautiful balance and enjoying the stillness.

  3. What a great story. Thank you.

    It’s really encouraging to read the ‘on-off-on-off’ section in the middle about how bumpy the transition process was before you arrived at a place which seems to be working for you. This seems so much more believable than the kind of thing I tend to read in weekend newspapers etc


  4. Hi Tim
    Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog and sorry for the delay! I had to unexpectedly find a new workspace which threw my plans for 2012 off kilter again – my experience has and is definitely about the journey – discovering and navigating the terrain – than of knowing and getting to the destination!
    Best wishes

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