Career U-Turns: Inspiration For Changing Industries

For many of us, it takes just a handful of years in the workforce before it becomes painfully obvious: 18 is too damn young to choose a career path. Given the changes that take place in our lives after our teenage years, it’s no surprise that many of us later find ourselves stuck in a job that doesn’t make us happy.

It can be daunting to think of the time and money you spent getting to where you are, only to change your mind. But you’re not alone: Australian statistics show our 20s and 30s are a peak time for career change. Experts suggest young people today will have 17 jobs in five different industries.

Think your dreams of doing a career switcheroo are too outlandish? Take some inspiration from the experiences of our u-turners: from playing in a rock band to writing children’s books and from working in finance to designing shirts, these stories of major career shifts show how it’s done.

The Rock Star Who Wrote A Children’s Book

Stavros Yiannoukas spent 13 years tearing up stages across Australia as part of the beloved band Bluejuice, a group often described using words like “outrageous” and “antics”. But offstage, Stav was pursuing another creative project: a children’s book.

“I was slotting it in between touring and things like that, whenever I could,” he says of the eight year process.

“It started in 2009, when my nephew was born. His name is Elliot Foxley. That got me thinking I should write something a bit based for him. A month later, my father passed and that kind of drove the narrative of the story.”

The result is Elliot Foxley, The Story of a Little Fox Who Lost His Home, an e-book and iPad app for kids.

Career change Stavros Yiannoukas Bluejuice

Stav Yiannoukas and Elliot Foxley, the star of his e-book for kids

While it sounds like a surprising fit, Elliot Foxley drew on skills Stav had honed in his years in music. He says writing lyrics was a good training ground for the rhymes he used in the book, and working on film clips for Bluejuice helped prepare him for working on the e-book animations.

He emphasises that it’s not so much a career change than a shift in creative focus. He’s also doing things like voiceover work to make a living.

“As much as I would like to say, this is my new career path, I think, much like with any creative endeavour, you’re always doing lots of things.”

“Even though it did start during my time in the band, I think it definitely helped fill a creative gap for me in that period as I transitioned out of it,” he says.

The Venture Capitalist and Accountant Couple Who Started A Fashion Brand

The career path Ali Khan choose at 18 wasn’t the right fit

“Math was a strong skill for me so I thought I’d get into accounting and it was simply the wrong thing for me. But I kept doing it and I became an accountant.”

While she stuck with accountancy, she says she was always looking for the opportunity to create something.

Her husband Omar Khan has worked in strategy and venture capital, completing an MBA at Sydney University and scoring an Emerging Leader award from the AFR. Together, they’ve started men’s shirt brand MR. KOYA.

Career change Mr Koya team photo

Ali, centre right, and Omar, far right, with the rest of the MR. KOYA team.

While the world of finance definitely evokes images of suits, the shirts made by MR. KOYA are nothing like the buttoned-up styles you’re imagining: they’re unashamedly colourful.

Omar says the idea came about when he and a friend were having a hard time finding shirts with personality. “In this time of the individual and the individual personalities, we just felt like there was no kind of shirt brand that reflected that.”

While finance and fashion might seem worlds apart, Omar says the move was seamless.

“You don’t have to come out of fashion and style and design to be really good at it and offer the customer a really high-quality product.”

Ali says the problem solving skills the pair learnt in business have been vital to their new venture.

“I think both of us were able to kind of reverse-engineer things. Even in finance, even in product development, you’re always starting with the customer requirement and then working backwards.”

Ali’s advice for anyone wanting a career change? Make a plan, and ensure you’ve got a safety net or an emergency fund.

“It you want to take some risks with your career, then you’ve got to de-risk the rest of your life.”

Omar agrees. “The older we get, the more responsibilities we have in terms of family, etc, so now is the time to do it. We can take a bunch of risk, but there’s a safety net behind us.”

Ali emphasises the importance of weighing your options before making a switch.

“I think I’ve made the best career decisions when I’ve taken stock in my options… You don’t want to ever be backed into a corner and take the first option that comes because you’re desperate to get away from a boss or something like that.”

But she says the right move is always worthwhile.

“What you do for your work and what you do for your career takes up a lot of time. You want to make sure that you enjoy it.”

Feature image courtesy MR. KOYA