In July 2019 I left teaching. Handing in my notice a few months earlier had been one of the biggest, and most difficult, decisions of my life. I never hated my job, but after 5 years it was already beginning to break me. I chose to protect my physical and mental health, said goodbye to education, and started my own business as a freelance copywriter.
Had I known in 6 months time that a global pandemic would hit, I'm not sure I would have made the same decision.
I am not a risk taker. I enjoy planning and organising, and then planning some more. The decision to change career at 27 was not one I took lightly. I started copywriting while still teaching full time. As I did this I considered every possible angle, and made steps to protect myself should the worse happen. At no point did I ever foresee anything like the last few months happening.
Towards the end of 2019, and the start of 2020 I was working harder than I ever had been before - but I was happy, and I was proud of the success I was making of it. In February I more than doubled my previous month's salary, and I looked set to do the same in March, until mid way through the month.
I work primarily with small independent businesses. In the last week of March I made 1 client. Businesses were being told to stop trading, the future was completely uncertain, and no one was looking to spend money on blogs, websites and emails. One by one, all of the long term clients I had spent months building working relationships with arranged calls with me and put my services on hold.
I completely understood. I was as equally as confused and terrified as they were. Not only did I have general pandemic anxiety, but I was filled with regret at my choice 6 months earlier. I was convinced that I would never make another penny as a freelancer, and that my business had failed before I’d really had a chance.
This was fuelled by the fact that I couldn’t quite believe that 6 months before I would have been in one of the few professions that was relatively protected and with a solid paycheck. (Not that teachers have had it easy in any way - I know for a fact that most of them are working harder than ever in increasingly difficult situations). I kept moving between fear of the future, guilt that I wasn’t there to help my old students and colleagues, and regret that I left in the first place.
I moved out of our shared office and set up to work from the dining table in our 1 bed flat. It was cramped, uncomfortable and I felt on the verge of tears every day. So I did what I do best - I planned.
I worked all day. Putting former clients on retainers, re-thinking my services and business model, reaching out to everyone I knew, finding support groups of other freelancers, and (of course) took every job that came my way. It took a while, but by the end of April I had managed to pull myself back to where I had been at the end of 2019.
I also made time to complete all the jobs that I had been putting off. I re-designed my website, updated my CV, and created new services that are already proving to be popular. Not only that, but I gave myself time to start writing for myself again.
A career change at any time is terrifying, and the move from teaching to freelance is one that I am still navigating, and likely will be for a long time. However, now I’ve survived working for myself during a global pandemic, I feel oddly optimistic about the future.
As I said, had I been able to see into the future I would have never made the decision to hand my notice in. To be honest, even if I’d have known my business would be alright, I know I still would have been too scared to make that leap. I would have told myself it simply wasn’t worth the risk.
Now I’ve had no choice but to live it, I’ve surprised myself with how resilient I can be. I feel ready for what the future throws at me next (although something a little less devastating would be preferable), and no longer regret my choice to leave teaching.
Plus, it could have been worse - when I handed in my notice, the original plan for 2020 was to go travelling.