Career transitioning is exceptionally daunting. The idea of leaving something you have poured time and energy into (sometimes for years) and pursuing something new is often too much to think about. As if that isn’t enough, you also have to contend with thoughts of possible failure and sometimes face judgment from others.
I met Ginika Ebenebe through one of those serendipitous connections, and we immediately hit it off! She shared her powerful career change story, and I found it very inspiring. We then decided to collaborate and create a question-and-answer piece that will hopefully provide a glimmer of hope for many of you.
Are you considering a career change of your own but don’t know how or where to start?
This blog post is for you!
What was your previous occupation, and how did you get started along that path?
I used to be an Auditor at a Public Accounting firm. At 17 years old, I was trying to figure out what to study and decided on Accounting. I wasn’t sure I’d want to be an Accountant for the rest of my life, but I figured it was a versatile path that would serve me no matter what I ended up doing later.
How I got into Audit is kind of funny and maybe a bit superficial: recruiters used to visit my university campus all the time, and I started attending their networking events. It all seemed so glamorous! You go to these events and meet successful women from glittering offices in Downtown Vancouver. They’re wearing fitted suits and designer stilettos and sharing their amazing experiences. You think: “I want to be one of them!” I started actively trying to get recruited, and when I graduated from BCIT (BC Institute of Technology), I started with a CPA firm.
What do you do now?
I’m now a Freelance Writer that offers content marketing support for businesses and solopreneurs in the career and personal development space. I mainly plan and write content that helps career coaches, HR specialists, and mentors etc., educate their audiences and communicate their expertise.
How did you feel in your previous work, and what was the deciding factor that made you want to change?
That’s a long story!
I’ll start by saying that there was nothing particularly wrong with my previous company. The things I didn’t like about it mostly just come with Public Accounting/Corporate America territory. Over time, I started feeling like I didn’t really belong and that the Audit work I was doing wasn’t a good fit for my strengths. As a result, during the last several months before I left, I became severely depressed. I would be happy on Friday evenings and then really, really sad on Sunday afternoons.
On top of that, my health started to suffer. Public Accounting is generally very hard on your mind and body, and the stress took its toll on me. I worked long hours, slept terribly, and didn’t have much time for friends and family. I also started eating handfuls of sugar and almost no real food every day as a coping mechanism.
In summary, I was at a very low point when Covid hit. When the HR department informed me that my role was part of the company’s cutbacks, I was kind of relieved. You know you’re in bad shape when you feel good about losing your job during a pandemic! I also realized that my previous work was not fulfilling because it lacked the “human” and creative elements I craved in a career.
But most importantly, everything precious in my life was always on the back burner. For example, I became so consumed with work that even my family sometimes felt like an inconvenience when I had tight deadlines. That made me reflect. How could I give the best part of myself to my employer and give the leftovers to the people that mattered in my life the most? That was the deciding factor, I think.
I knew I needed a change. At that point, I didn’t know what that would look like; I just knew I couldn’t go back to that way of living.
How did you choose your new career?
I started by NOT doing what I did the first time: focusing on job title, prestige, and salary. Those things are important – but laying them aside for a bit helped me connect with my deepest values and think outside the box. I made a list of the things that mattered to me the most. For instance, I wanted to be creative, prioritize my health, and operate from any location so I can be a work-at-home mum one day.
Next, I considered my skills, the biggest of which is my writing talent. I started thinking about my childhood dream of becoming an author and researched how to make money as a writer. It turns out that there are all kinds of ways. And that’s how I picked my new career!
What was the most difficult decision you had to make in the process, and how did you navigate that challenge?
I think the hardest part of my decision to change was being a beginner all over again. I had been in Accounting for years, so it was all I knew. While my old peers were taking on management roles, I was trying to figure out this whole new path.
The first thing that I did was to accept that it’s okay to be a beginner. Many people that I look up to have made similar changes and all had to start somewhere. I reminded myself that they wouldn’t be where they are now without taking those first steps. On the practical side, I started teaching myself the skills I needed and absorbed as much information as possible to understand the business.
I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but it’s very gratifying to see how much I’ve grown over the last year.
How did you handle your finances to make the shift possible?
A few fortunate things came together all at once. I received a decent severance package from my old job. I had filed my taxes early, so I also got a refund around the same time. Also, my husband and I follow a personal finance expert named Dave Ramsey: he suggests having about three to six months’ worth of emergency savings, and we hit that goal shortly before I was let go. We’ve made sacrifices and put off some other goals for a while to give me enough breathing room to work on my business.
What support did you get to help you get through the transition?
I have really supportive family members. My sister’s a freelance artist. My sister-in-law left corporate years ago and now runs a successful at-home cookie business. Both their journeys gave me a lot of hope and confidence. Also, my mom raised me to focus more on the future than the past. I come from a Nigerian background, and in our culture, you can either be a Doctor, an Engineer, an Accountant, a Lawyer, or a failure. However, my mom never raised with that type of mentality. Instead, she taught me to go after my dreams using common sense and a plan. My husband also saw how my old work environment affected me, so he’s been very supportive.
What are the challenges, and what is good about your new job?
Working for myself takes a lot of discipline, which is not always easy. I also sometimes struggle with impostor syndrome. Every time I have a discovery call with a prospective client, I tend to doubt my capabilities. Another challenge is the very idea of being a freelancer. There’s no exact blueprint, so it’s a roller coaster compared to a stable path like Accounting. This is very much at odds with my risk-averse nature.
Still, for every challenge, there are many awesome things. I can prioritize things that are important to me. For example, in the morning I spend time in prayer, exercise, and make sure I eat a good breakfast, all things I never managed to stay on top of at my old job. I can also take mental health breaks when I need them now, which used to be another challenge. But the thing I love most is working on something of my own. Everything I do now is for myself and my family’s holistic, long-term benefit and that makes me feel good.
What have you learned in the process?
I’ve learned many technical skills like how to write better, market myself, and run a small service-based business. Emotionally, I’ve learned how not to let my occupation define me. As mentioned earlier, it was a humbling experience to be a beginner again while my peers went up in the world. I’ve stopped comparing my one-year journey to their five-year journeys.
I’m still working and learning. I’m not a success story yet, but I’m way further along today than a year ago. While it’s a scary path to take, I’ve discovered that the best way to fight fear is with a plan.
Do you ever worry about failing?
It’s normal to worry about failure, but I think society conditions us to believe it’s the worst thing that can happen. I disagree with that. I think regret is worse than failure. Moreover, people tend to regret what they didn’t do more than what they did. The way I see it, the biggest favour I can do for myself now is taking a shot at something I know will make me happy in the long run. Forty years from now, I’d rather know I at least tried to make my dreams come true rather than fail by default.
Do you regret all that time you spent becoming a CPA?
Not at all. It turned me into a well-rounded professional and helped me develop a strong work ethic. The journey taught me how to manage time, handle clients, and stay strong when things get tough. Those years made me who I am today.
What advice do you have for those who want to do a similar change?
First off, if you’re feeling dissatisfied at work, figure out if it’s the field or specific job you don’t like before making any drastic decisions. For example, Accountants have tons of options: Tax, Advisory, Finance, Private work, Government work, etc. I researched and talked to Accountants in other areas and found that many of the issues I faced in my old job were common pretty much everywhere. So I permitted myself to consider an entirely different profession.
If you decide to change careers, start whatever you want to do as a side hustle if possible. When I was in Audit, I planned to eventually transition to Industry for extra time to start something else on the side. But Covid happened, and circumstances forced me to hit the ground running with no plan. I don’t recommend that, but life happens.
The other thing I would say is, it’s normal to feel intimidated when there’s a huge gap between where you are and where you want to be. That gulf can easily paralyze you into inaction. Start researching the field you’re interested in and talking to or following people who are already doing it. Then list 20 things you could do – big or small – to start making that transition happen. Start with the simplest one. Then pick the next one. And the next one. Break things down into small steps and tackle one thing at a time. Doing so also makes it easier to balance the transition with your current job or other responsibilities.
Finally, I want to encourage anyone who’s feeling lost and powerless right now that you’re probably not as stuck as you think you are. You likely have more ability to change things for the better than you give yourself credit for. Allow yourself to explore and take small actions towards the change you want to make, whether it’s designing something online, taking a course, or getting a coach or mentor. As you work to bridge the gap between your current reality and your goals, you’ll find your dreams more attainable.
Thank you Ginika for your wise words and encouragement.
If you feel stuck or want to explore a career change, book an intro session with me.
If you’re looking for content marketing support about career or personal development topics, find Ginika here: https://www.thequintessentialcorner.com.