The lows and highs after ‘career disruption’
With our focus on transitions this issue we interviewed four different professionals to share their real life experiences, as they transitioned from their successful Corporate roles.
We ask Christina Patterson about her experience and the challenge of losing her job which led to creating a new career portfolio and a Book of the Year along the way.
I was writing up an interview when I got the call. Five minutes later, I felt as if I was falling off a cliff. The letter had been bad enough. The letter had talked about “synergies” and “integration”. The “synergies”, it said, would “reduce costs”. And now the editor was telling me that he wanted to “freshen the pages up”. I shouted at him. He threatened to call security. When I walked out of the office for the last time, after ten years, nobody even looked up.
It isn’t always that dramatic when you lose a job, but it was pretty damn dramatic for me. That was six and a half years ago. I was a writer and columnist at The Independent. I wrote the lead column in the paper once a week. I interviewed Nobel prize-winners, novelists, rock stars and politicians. The week before, I’d presented a film for The One Show and been on a panel in the House of Commons.
And then, suddenly, nothing. If you lose your job as a journalist, you know you’re not likely to get another one, or at least not one like the one you had before. Already this year, hundreds of journalists have been “disrupted” out of their jobs. The business model for journalism is failing, but it’s not just journalism. A report by PwC has predicted that about 30% of existing jobs in the UK will be lost by 2030. So what the hell do you do if it happens to you?
The first thing to say is that it’s tough. I found those first few weeks and months incredibly tough. A few weeks after I lost my job, at a networking dinner, I met Grant. We all had to say something about ourselves and Grant said that losing his job as a newspaper editor had been “the best thing that ever happened” to him. I rushed up to him at the end and told him that losing mine had been one of the worse things that ever happened to me – and I’ve lost half my family and had cancer twice.
Months later, over a drink, he told me that he still fantasised about smashing a glass in the editor’s face. I told him that I’d been talking to a Radio 4 producer about making a programme about compassion, but told the producer I was now much more interested in making a programme about revenge. We clinked glasses and drank to that. But Grant also told me that he had decided he wanted to be a “fortysomething millennial”, putting together a freelance life that worked for him. I told him that I’d decided to do exactly the same.
I had a vision of the freelance life I wanted to achieve: a mix of journalism, broadcasting, book writing, board roles and consultancy. This is what I now have, but with different emphases on different bits of the portfolio at different times. At first, I focused on the journalism. I sent scores of emails out to editors and asked if I could meet them for “a cup of coffee”, which is the euphemism most of us use for a meeting to beg for work. As a result of those emails I started writing for The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Daily Mail.
I found myself a literary agent and we had a conversation that led to the book I eventually wrote, The Art of Not Falling Apart, which came out last year. I wanted to talk to other people about how they had coped when their lives had gone wrong. The result, a mix of my own experience and interviews, was picked as a Book of the Year in the New Statesman and The Mail on Sunday, which described it as “a manual on how to survive in the 21st century”. The launch party, at Dr Johnson’s House near Fleet Street, was one of the best nights of my life.
I’ve done communications consultancy for a wide range of clients. I’ve interviewed coffee farmers in Ethiopia for Nespresso. I’ve interviewed trafficked sex workers in Sicily for a charity. I’ve done a report on the state of global dementia for an international Alzheimer’s charity, and I’ve given media training to executives from around the world. I’ve done a lot of speaking – at conferences, festivals, women’s organisations and charities – and a lot of commentating on radio and TV news. And for the past three and a half years, I’ve been on the board of a big charity, which has taught me a huge amount about effective governance and organisational change.
It’s incredibly interesting, but freelance life is not for the faint-hearted. Every single minute, every single penny, every single piece of work you get and do is up to you.
From my six years of experience, I have five main tips:
1) Network like crazy. You’ll eventually find that most of your work comes from people you know, but they probably aren’t people in your inner circle. Go to events, be good company and ask to meet people for coffee. Many people will respond positively to a polite request.
2) Make sure your online profile is up to scratch, on LinkedIn and on social media. I got a website up and running within a few weeks and it helped a lot.
3) Be bold! It’s fine to email people you don’t know, as long as you’re offering something that might be useful to them. Fortune favours the brave etc.
4) Accept that most things take longer than you think. Every strand of my portfolio took a huge amount of effort – and much, much longer than I originally thought – to set up. Keep going, if you really want it, but check that you do. It’s no fun to flog a dead horse.
5) Do your work extremely well. If you don’t, you won’t get more.
And very best of luck with it! Freedom comes at a price, but it’s worth more than I can say.
Read more articles from our Summer Coaching Comment Newsletter:
- Why LQ matters more than IQ for career success
- Helping your child cope with the transition to big school
- Navigating change using the Change Curve model
- How can understanding our identity help us move forward in times of transition?
- How feeling safe at work delivers lasting resilience, good performance and a boost in staff engagement