Hold The Door … I’m Outta Here

Sometimes people in outwardly solid careers are like that – going in directions their heads, their peers, their parents but rarely their hearts, told them to take. Many are in the wrong jobs, and for all the right reasons.
Here’s sample: Ben van Grinsven, civil engineer who spent much of his life dreaming about designing yachts; Mamta Rana, PA by necessity and an artist by desire; Robin Elliott-Bateman who swapped persuasion for Punjabi chicken.
Today all three are on dramatically different career courses. Van Grinsven has become builder part-time while he makes the transition to position in the marine industry. Rana has enrolled to study website design. Elliott-Bateman and his wife Pat made their career switch nearly 20 years ago when they set up their tiny shop on Auckland’s North Shore and waited anxiously for customers.
What unites them all is their sense of unease in their former occupations – and the freedom they now feel having listened to, and acted upon their instincts. Together, they represent an increasing number of people who are changing careers and their lives.
Professional career counsellor Frances Harre, of Auckland’s Career Designs, has seen “huge” increase recently in the number of people wanting to change careers and for range of reasons.
“The concept of loyalty in the workplace has largely gone,” she says.
“In the corporate world, workers are being required to do more for less. They may be getting paid well but they are working longer hours.
“There seems to be point at which person says ?I’ve had enough’,” says Harre, adding that this sometimes arises from misfit between an individual’s values or beliefs and the directions the company is taking.
Job disenchantment is hardly new. But in this era, globalisation and the rapid pace of technological and market change all heighten the disaffection of some workers, she says.
“Sixty percent of the jobs we know now will be gone in 20 years and that’s conservative. Eighty-five percent of five year olds will be doing work we don’t even know about, so there’s general sense of uncertainty.”
There’s one other factor according to Harre: we are in the post-digital age and seeking more meaning.
Coupled with that, is “how can I have more fulfilment in my life? How can I get something going beyond or in conjunction with materialism?”
The challenge is to bridge the gap between dreaming and doing. In her Westmere rooms, Harre has watched as people have made the first step in transforming their dreams into new career directions. The stages seem clear enough: at first people remain in jobs for variety of reasons.
Then they make decision to break with the past – but not entirely, because sometimes the past can feed their futures. Harre’s clients work with her to decide where they want to be in 5-10 years. They look at specific steps to get going, and tackle the internal and external obstacles, which might confront them.
“People know what they are good at and what they want to do and it’s sometimes covered by whole layer of things,” says Harre.
“They may be earning good money and it looks like there is degree of security, but they are no longer lit up. It’s amazing how many people I see who say they are passionate about acting, or the arts but can’t see how they could do it.”
Flexibility is one other driver and not just for its own sake.
“When it’s flexibility around something you really like, it stops being work. People say if I am going to work long hours I would like to be doing it for myself rather than somebody else,” says Harre, former psychotherapist. As much as anything else she applies many of that profession’s principles, listening and guiding people who have alienated themselves from their own career dreams.
Fifty-year-old Ben van Grinsven is one. He became civil engineer in the early 1970s and worked for local authorities, one of them the Auckland Harbour Board where he was close to his love, the sea.
“As long as I can remember I have drawn boats – I used to sit at uni lectures designing them,” says van Grinsven.
“I never really believed that designing boats was possibility and then I came to the conclusion that it was time to either put up or shut up.”
By the time he did that in 1999 he had already spent four years on different career tack – as school teacher.
“The bottom line though was lack of fulfilment in what I was doing.”
Van Grinsven believes the turning point for him came in session with Frances Harre two years ago.
“She got me to look back over my life and asked if I had done what I wanted to do. In that moment I saw that I hadn’t.”
One of the reasons lay in the choices made for him at school.
“It’s not an uncommon scenario – I was good at physics and maths. In my fifth form year I wanted to do art but they wouldn’t let me because I was good academically.”
Engineering was an option and he took it. “In sense you kind of slide into it. You have this view that there is plenty of time. That’s conversation you stay in for long period but there was moment when I said ?I can’t do this any more’,” he recalls.
For van Grinsven the realisation was born after years of uneasiness about his career choices.
“It was an underlying thing – sense of it not being right, not being complete or whole.”
To keep up his cash flow he now works on building projects and takes two days off each week to build up his contacts and knowledge of the marine industry. His immersion in that industry’s culture has been brief but he says he already feels at home in its values. For his new direction he has had to sacrifice job security, but doesn’t miss it.
“I feel alive again. I just recognise how stagnant I had become,” he says.
So too does 42-year-old Mamta Rana, after turning her back on administration and enrolling at Auckland’s Media Design School for one-year course on new media design. She was born in India and went to arts school in Bombay for four years before marrying and moving to Dubai. She lived there for 22 years working as PA, kindergarten teacher and finally in her own studio the Wood Cattery where she designed wood puzzles for children.
She arrived in New Zealand five years ago, leaving behind broken marriage but looking for new directions in new country. The only problem though was age-old: the need for income and security. So she put her dreams of design on hold and took job in administration as PA at Morgan & Banks in Auckland.
“I was typical example of person who was scared of taking risk. I had daughter to support and I just wanted to have enough money to pay my bills. It’s taken me five years to get over that and identify what I want to do with my life,” she says.
She confronted her own fears of taking risks and traces it back to her family where security of job and income were regarded as paramount. As she thought through what she wanted to do with her own career, she says she realised that the difference between the successful and others was that the former were prepared to take risks. Her idea of success is now simple: peace of mind.
“Anything that keeps you up at night is taking away from your peace of mind,” she says. She concedes that money plays its part in achieving that tranquillity but adds that it was only bit part in her decision to change roles.
“The biggest motivator was that I wasn’t using my creative energy,” she recalls.
Once she decided to change, Rana sat down and analysed her skills and interests. She had been interested in websites and their design ever since she first surfed the net. She talked to her IT colleagues at Morgan and Banks and they confirmed she had the right skills for what she wanted to do. One of her fellow workers then put her in touch with the Media Design School and she was later accepted for the course. Rana arranged student loan and resigned from her job.
“It took me day. The day I

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