As creatures of comfort, change is ominous. And when we’re talking switching careers, it’s more intimidating than one-on-one dinner with Meryl Streep. But what do you do when you’ve invested time, money and study into a job you’re slowly realising ain’t your truth? There’s two options: grin and bear an unsatisfying 9-5, or make the leap.
We chatted to two real life career switching success stories to see what advice they have and how they did it. Spoiler alert: the only person holding you back is yourself. In the words of Gwen Stefani, “What are you waiting for?”
“I had to take that leap of faith.”
Designs from A.N.X (Image credit: supplied)
Ann Xiao is on fire. Her designs, which are environmentally conscious and gender-neutral streetwear inspired by her Chinese heritage, are absolutely blowing up.
In the past two years, the Sydney designed made her MBFWA debut, started her own streetwear line A.N.X, and has been awarded more accolades than is appropriate to list out. She’s also the only Australian to ever be accepted into the CFDA+, the prestigious international program for emerging designers. Keep an eye out for her debut outwear line later this year, too.
But that’s not how things started out. When Ann left school, she enrolled in a Bachelor of Economics.
“I came from a very selective school – Baulkham Hills High – where I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of the arts,” says Ann. “So I was 16 or so and facing what I would do for my life, and economics seemed like a good option – I enjoyed it at the time, so I went with something safe.”
Safe, would you believe, didn’t cut it.
“I studied it for a year and absolutely hated it. Obviously that’s not the case with everyone: some people love it, but it wasn’t for me,” she says. “So, as cliché as it sounds, I wondered what would make me happy. If I was to sit at a desk doing something for the rest of my life, what would it be?”
She’d done a little sketching, but didn’t understand much else when it came to design. Before dropping out (“much to the dismay of my parents”), she taught herself basics from YouTube tutorials, buying a cheap sewing machine to practice with before eventually creating a portfolio to apply to design school.
“I applied for everywhere, but when I was presented for the opportunity to go to TAFE NSW’s Fashion Design Studio, I jumped at it,” says Ann. “The alumni speaks for itself – Dion Lee, I idolised even back when I was studying economics at school.”
Since then, in her own words it’s been “a lot of blood, sweat and tears” to make contacts. She did an internship every summer of her degree, including one with Dion Lee. But hey, it paid off.
Ann readily admits she was in a good position, being at the beginning of a career path.
“I was lucky enough to make my decision when I did: if it was 10 years later, I’d have a lot more to lose,” she says. “But I had to think, ‘If I’m unhappy six months into a course, do I really want to subject myself to 20 more years of this?’ I had to take that leap of faith.”
Her advice is leaping, but with a solid idea of where you’ll land. Just as she spent her nights teaching herself design basics before diving in, Ann reckons taking a short-term class is the best way to go.
“So many of my friends joined fashion design after doing night classes with the head of illustration,” says Ann. “If you’re not a high risk taker, or need that 9-5 to pay your bills, take classes first to test the waters.”
“If it’s not the right fit, then move on”
On the other side of things, Luke Eastman switched from trying to make their way into media into civil construction, which, uh, is quite a leap. But he’s never looked back.
“[At first], it was the job prospects, really,” says Luke. “[Media’s] a really niche industry, with a lot of people competing for the same job.”
Not exactly sure what to do, Luke was guided by a couple of forces. A good friend was a civil drafter who raved about his job, plus Luke has done some technical drawing in high school and liked it.
“I went back to in on a whim, thought I’d try it,” says Luke.
That meant enrolling in a Cert III in Engineering Drafting at TAFE NSW, which belayed a Diploma of Civil Construction Design.
“Pretty much right from the start I really enjoyed it,” says Luke. “It’s a bit more of a practical trade – you can see the results physically in the real world.”
He got his first taste of that as an apprentice at Sydney engineering advisory company Aurecon, which TAFE NSW helped line up for him. Seven years later, he’s still there, and absolutely loving it. He says the project he’s most proud of was working on the Barangaroo Park Headlands, a massive redevelopment.
While he knows his path isn’t everyones, he knows there’s a lot of people with those nagging doubts that they’re entering the wrong industry.
“If it’s not the right fit, then move on and try something else,” says Luke. “There’s heaps of options out there – just try things out.”
We’re all about bettering ourselves and moving forward in our careers and lives in 2K18. Feeling the momentum? With more than 1,200 TAFE NSW courses on offer – from degrees to certificates, from short-term to online courses – it’s never too late to switch things up. Go for it!
Image credit: The Simpsons