Nowadays we hear more and more stories from people who have climbed the career ladder just to feel stressed and unhappy. Some keep going even though they feel unfulfilled, and others, like Rachel Murray, jump.
After completing an apprenticeship as a lawyer and spending years of her life practicing, Rachel found herself in an unexpected situation. she no longer wanted to work as a lawyer. With no idea what to do instead, her career change journey led her to start her fortnightly newsletter. Pivot!
From her openness to the decision to quit a job that burned her out to her advice to anyone trying to change careers, Rachel’s interview is a must for anyone with itchy feet when it comes to her Working life goes.
Hello Rachel! Let’s start with your previous career as a lawyer – was that always the plan?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to train as a lawyer. I really wanted to be one from the beginning, around the age of 13, and the reason was Ally McBeal! I was in love with Billy. I remember I was in a math class at school and my teacher was trying to teach me algebra. I just said, “I don’t have to learn algebra, I’m going to be a lawyer.” And that was it.
I did an A level in law, which I had to teach myself because it was not offered at my college beyond the AS level, and then studied law at the university. I then went to the bar school before I qualified and found a job as a paralegal. I applied and interviewed students in addition to full-time work. I was actually offered a pupil, but the circumstances at the time meant that I did not take it. My boss at the time also asked me not to go and offered to pay for me to qualify as a lawyer and become an internal lawyer. That never really happened, but I found that although I never wanted to be a lawyer at first, I really enjoyed the customer contact and was such a support system for them. The problem was that as practitioners, we never had support for ourselves.
We worked on really difficult topics; domestic abuse, alcoholism, drugs, child abuse – it’s a lot of things to deal with and to which you don’t respond emotionally, especially in the early twenties. Government cuts affected our work and what we could do for our customers, and brought me down. It wasn’t just the long hours, it was the intensity of what we were dealing with. There was no difference between working life and private life. I literally and emotionally took my work home with me.
After five years, I was forced to work in a private company. I didn’t learn enough due to lack of resources and support staff, so I thought I might as well try it. I thought it would be nice to go somewhere where not everything moves at the speed of light and not everything is an emergency application to protect a child. In my previous job, I did so many things at the same time that I would lose too much time if I got a piece of paper from the printer into the hallway. I was so busy.
The new job was a small career step, but paid much higher – it turned out to be terrible. I didn’t sleep and I was paralyzed with fear. In five years in my last law firm, I had six days off at a time because I was really bad, but in the new place I was at the doctor and outside every few weeks. And it was all about the job. When I left, all the problems I had … were gone!
I just thought one day, “Why am I doing this? That `s not worth it. “I didn’t enjoy practicing as a lawyer. In the end, I hadn’t been to a judge for a year and a half, and I had lost all confidence in doing so. I felt undermined every day and even feared basic applications. I have just no longer studying or making progress. I didn’t care about money – all I needed was enough to make a living from it – so I quit with a tiny amount of savings.
Was there a break? Or was it a gradual decision?
I went to an interview with a company run by a woman who had worked in fashion. I was in awe of her because I love fashion and also wrote a fashion blog. I did really well in both interviews, but when I left she followed me out of the room and said gently, “Think about whether you really want it or not,” and then I knew if it was you that offered me that Job that I would not answer in the affirmative. I was burned out and I think she could see that I was done.
It wasn’t the best way to go, but I made peace with it. I didn’t go “high”, so to speak, but went to protect myself, and that means more to me than anything else. The thing is that I don’t care about status and reputation. I knew I would never go back to the law, so I didn’t care.
How did you recover from burnout?
It is still under construction. I’m no longer burned out, but I’m still learning how to respond to stress. I think that after a burnout you are probably more sensitive to stress. At that time, I would not react to what I think caused problems across the board. If something stressful happens now, I’m much more likely to take a step back. I can see better when something is going on that can lead to burnout again.
Did you have any idea what you wanted to do next when you left?
How did you deal with it?
It was more difficult to deal with all opinions. Many people wanted to help. It was meant well, but I just had no headroom to think about. I just knew I didn’t want to be in the law anymore.
So … I fled to France for ten days to write and think, and one of the best things I did was take me out for dinner. I never used to go to a restaurant or cafe … five years ago I would have been waiting for you in front of that cafe instead of coming in and finding a table!
But I took myself out to dinner, and as simple as it sounds, it changed my perspective. When I left the law, I was just a shell of a person; I had lost part of myself – the happy, passionate part. From an early age, my life was only focused on the law. For the first time in a long time, I had to think about what I really wanted … I knew I liked to write, but I had no idea how to make a living from it.
A few months after I quit, I met someone at a friend’s party who put me in touch with a startup that he knew needed help. Then a friend asked me to help her write, and she brought me an accessible list of authors. Then it started to snow.
Did you intentionally look for work at that time or did it just come to you?
No, it was just opportunities I had, and three years later I’m still in that position. I am very happy. I landed a position Tatler on my own because I really wanted to work for a magazine, but otherwise everything is work that came to me through word of mouth.
Why did you want to work for a magazine?
Initially because I loved fashion, but I realized early on that I didn’t want to be a fashion writer. I want to write about lifestyle, opinion, political pieces, etc. It confirmed to me that I wanted to be a journalist. I recently published an article in Restless magazine about domestic abusewhat was fantastic; I want to do more, but it’s time to start doing other freelance work.
A freelance journalist I really respect called called Anna Codrea-Radowho wrote for the Guardian, the New York Times, Vice etc. She writes a great newsletter called The professional freelancer and a friend of mine from school suggested signing up. Anna turned it into a monetized community and although I hadn’t used the newsletter advice as often as I would have liked, she started holding events, so I thought, “I’ll pay for it and learn.”
The dream is to write a book about career changes at some point. I wrote the premise and all the chapters for it a few years ago, but then I thought … go before you can run.
I write for work every day, but editors and publishers won’t care that I only wrote about technical development. You want to know that I can write about lifestyle, etc. So I thought start a newsletter! I firmly believe in practicing what you preach. If I want to write a book about career change and write for women’s magazines on the subject, I have to write about it myself.
How do you juggle work while writing a book?
When I changed my career for the first time, I went to one Guardian writes master class;; One of the staff told us that some people hate the writing process and love the end result, and that’s me. It feels counterintuitive to say that, but I don’t like to write. I love the ideas, I love the beginning hate writing and then love the bottom line. Apparently it’s 50/50 in relation to other people who feel the same way.
I am a brain dumper, not a planner. My creative process is to write only vomit on the page. Like everyone else, when I write about things that matter to me, the words just fall over, but often it’s not in the right order – I have to go back and do everything carefully. My newsletter, pivot! I wrote again on a personal level, rediscovered writing for pleasure and built up my niche / expertise that will get me on the way to writing more of the book soon, I hope!
With Pivot !, did you already have an audience of people interested in changing their careers?
Short answer: no. I know a lot of people who started a company, but it’s not exactly the same as changing my career because you notice it with an idea. I wanted to share the whole trip, from departure to looking for something new.
I changed my career at a really stupid point. I own one property and had just walked up the stairs to buy more shares when I left, so my mortgage payment doubled. I live alone and am fully responsible for myself. I had serious financial commitments and no plan to meet them. It scares people and I want to help. I want to help people make rational decisions, think about the consequences and enjoy the process.
Speaking of fear, what do you think brings people to the point where fear is no longer an issue? To you, it sounds like you’re more afraid of what this job will do to you than what would happen if you left.
I’ve written a lot about flexible working and psychological wellbeing at work because I’ve been on both sides and I think such a big change is taking place. They accuse the millennial generation of being entitled, but what they are actually doing is simply no longer accepting the status quo. I think a big part of it is that it doesn’t benefit women or people with caring duties, etc.
Millennials are no longer accepting it, they are demanding more from employers. And that’s important to me in my career. I want fun, I want passion and I want meaning. I think all of this can happen at work.
I think when I was a lawyer – and in my opinion that contributed so much to my idea of identity – there was “work for me” and “home for me”. And I didn’t know how to marry them (and we weren’t really allowed to). The interesting thing about working in the startup world is seeing how open everyone is to everything and that it’s good for them. I still tend to be pretty private, and there are certain things that I still do for N.S.F.W. hold – not suitable for work! But I’m trying to loosen up a bit.
Do you think you can control more stress now?
Yes, to a point. I’m much more stressed out about emails. You know, Inbox Zero … will never reach it! But writing your own can sometimes be stressful. I have to keep reminding myself that it really doesn’t matter what people think. I am writing about my experiences, not others, and you cannot invalidate them. You can pick up on my grammatical errors, but you can’t invalidate my experience.
How do you think your personal experience can help other potential career changers?
I learned it in a really crazy way! I started at the bottom, I had three jobs; a full-time typing job, two freelance projects outside of it, and I put my apartment on Airbnb and slept on people’s couches for a year just to cover my mortgage. I had another quasi-breakdown during that time, so changing careers wasn’t a panacea!
I think a lot of people are looking for silver bullets to change their careers, move around, whatever the shift is. People think that any change will change their lives. For some people this is really the case and my life has changed a lot, but I am still the same. I am still in the same apartment, I still have the same friends. I still eat too many burritos.
When someone says, “Oh, you look so much happier,” it scratches. It implies that life is binary and by this change you have fixed everything and somehow reached nirvana. But it’s just about having more control. I have more control over my daily routine than spending an entire Monday at Pivot! To work and that’s amazing … isolated! The stress of getting it out and growing the community and everything is exhausting! So I’m trying to share the good and bad parts of the career change experience so that people have a more realistic view, can equip themselves with what’s needed, and increase their resilience.
What kind of conversations did you have with the pivot! Audience?
I started Pivot technically! in June / July last year. So far, many people have spoken to me that they are unhappy and quit in their work. I am very good at rational advice on work and have received some nice news about how much pivot! helps them feel less alone and gives them food for thought.
If someone was previously in your position – really unhealthy, really unhappy – and wants to make a change but is not sure what to do, what advice would you give them?
I give everyone the same advice and it never changes: “Always stop on a good day, not on a bad day”.
On a bad day, your judgment is clouded, you tend to have a knee-jerk reaction and do not respond appropriately to the situation. If you stop on a good day, you know that you are doing it right and that it is the right decision. It should give you some clarity about what you really want.
And if you can, quit with money. It’s very easy to say because I was lucky enough to be in this position for a short time, but I saved from the minute I was unhappy. I started putting some money away. It wasn’t much and the money quickly disappeared, but I took three jobs to cover it. It was a victim that I was ready for. Some people do not want to get into debt and are wary of them. But for me, debt was synonymous with my freedom, so I agreed. Find out where you can be flexible and where your limits are before jumping. Doing so is half the battle.
Are you curious about a career change? Rachel’s 14-day newsletter, Pivot !, is aimed at potential job and career changers and offers advice, tips and stories. You can subscribe to Pivot! Here. And you will find them Instagram here.
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