Former lawyer turned writer, Katy Drohan, on how she changed a career crisis into a one-person vocation revolution...
It wasn't that I wanted the car to knock me out. Just give me a shunt. A broken wrist maybe. Something that would get me out of my meeting that day, off the project, and away from the office for a good month without admitting I didn’t want this life. It was 7.30am on a Tuesday, and I was walking to work.
I spent my final four years at school working towards a red brick uni to study law, then three more years at that uni, doing just that. A further year came and went at post-grad law school, with holidays lost to applying and interning for positions at a raft of well respected firms. Another two years as a trainee solicitor at my number one practice, and you'd think I'd be pretty ecstatic to get a permanent position in the very team I wanted. And I was — there was Champagne, proud parents, pension schemes.
I worked my final day as a solicitor in 2015, just two years after qualifying, and it was up there with the scariest, stupidest, best decisions I've ever made. The moment I qualified, I knew that spending my life making or saving varying amounts of money for people I didn't know, really wasn't my thing.
But some seemingly compelling reasons kept me there: Lots of my friends worked for the firm. And friends are good, right? Then there was the vain reason. Society seemed pleased with me, my Mum's neighbours were pleased with me and my Grandma was pleased with me — I'd followed a socially accepted path that seemed to impress. The practical reason? I’d spent nine years, and all of my adult life, getting here. I was thousands of pounds in debt and I’d worked really hard to land this role.
And then there was the real reason. I had no idea what else to do. But what I did know was the more contracts I amended and legal updates I reviewed, the less and less creative I became. I could feel the the zeal being chiseled from me.
I was hoping a car would hit me.
After trying to resign for the first time, I ended up agreeing three months of "thinking time" with my bosses. And I’d started to read books and look at websites which made me feel less completely insane about the decision to leave an objectively promising career. Every guide essentially starts off by telling you to write a list of things you enjoy. So I did.
- words — writing, reading and listening to them;
- food — eating it, cooking it, sharing it and reading about it;
- doing new things — from local one off workshops, to new productions, to jumping on a plane and traveling somewhere novel;
- smiling; and
It read like a fantastical wish list. I didn’t tell anyone about it. And I immediately enrolled on a sensible project management course — people kept telling me to think about “transferrable skills”, and I’d just essentially project managed a £70 million third generation IT outsourcing (which is as exciting as it sounds). Realising sticking so squarely in my comfort zone was probably not the transformation I was after, I thought about property — my Dad knew loads about that. And I thought about really creative, high-end events — my sister-in-law was brilliant at that. But the books told me to keep looking at that dreamworld list I’d made: to focus on things I actually enjoyed. So, in fact for the second time (I got no response the first occasion), I replied to the one thing in my work inbox that had never failed to make me smile — e-magazine, I Choose Birmingham.
Fast-forward three years and I essentially spend my working hours reading, writing and talking about food, drink, culture, new things and travel (see dreamworld list…). I’m deputy editor of two titles, and I part-own two small businesses. I smile a lot. I haven’t totally cracked the sunshine bit, but when it is sunny I have a huge amount more time to enjoy it. I don’t have medical insurance or life insurance, and I probably earn half of what I would be earning if I’d stayed in the law (and no, I haven’t told my mortgage adviser). But as part of my job, I get to attend all sorts of plays, pop-ups, and tastings. And for me at least, the experiences, the job satisfaction, and the time I now have outweighs the previous “package” every single day.
And I’m not super brave. The intervening steps were very much incremental for me — there was no big blow out. I did go back after that three month thinking period and worked part-time in law. My employers were incredibly supportive of this, and I thoroughly recommend having the conversation if you are able to make the lifestyle changes that the income drop will likely cause. Then I moved over to comms at the same firm, before increasing my writing enough to completely walk away from the corporate world that actually gave me a lot once you discount the sleepless nights.
I’m still in touch with all my friends from the firm, I’ve now managed to pay off my student loan, and it turns out my Grandma really just wanted me to be happy.
Care a bit less about what people think — this is your life. Know that you are stronger and more capable than you think you are. And if you regularly think that getting hit by a car could be preferable to going to work, quit.
Illustration by Laura Tinald.