Fiona spent over 20 years building a career within media sales before taking on a side project, studying part-time for a degree in nutrition. By combining her experience and passion she’s shifting career and has landed her dream job. This is her story.
When someone first meets you and asks the question ‘What do you do?’, how do you respond?
My career started when I was 14, selling made to measure curtains to customers that expected a John Lewis service, for a fraction of the cost. In that role I learned very early on to be consultative in my approach, and that I enjoyed putting together ideas for customers, based on samples of wallpaper and colours they would bring into the store. Essentially I was coming up with creative ideas and solving problems.
Further down the road, this experience led me to want to work in media. I imagined a career where I would be putting together beautiful magazine spreads of clothing and cosmetics! That dream didn’t become a reality, but instead I put those sales skills to good use.
Some 22 years later, I had built a career in media selling advertising space within newspapers, magazines and digital platforms, and I’ve spent the last ten years in broadcast radio. That career sparked passion in me for so long because I loved the idea that I was helping businesses to be successful and I found it rewarding to take the time to understand what the challenge was, then overcome it with a creative solution.
For fifteen of those years I specialised in recruitment marketing, which meant helping employers attract the right kind of people to join their business. It was here that I learned about challenges that really matter to businesses and people in relation to their career, such as diversity and inclusion; skills gaps; youth employment; and the role that company culture plays in supporting its people to ‘be the best version of themselves’ and develop professionally. These topics mattered to me too.
So, in short I would describe ‘what I do’ as helping people develop themselves or their business, through the creation of opportunities that employers present.
Talk through how you came to the decision to take on an extra project in addition to your day job.
It came from a need to change how I was working and living my life. I was excellingat work, I’d build up a solid reputation in my industry and never struggled with hitting targets in my job, yet meanwhile I had this niggling question that kept popping up in my head: ‘If money was no object, what would I do with my career?’.
One December I was burning the candle at both ends and I needed to give my immune system a boost after a recent bout of glandular fever. I was interested in nutrition and decided I would like to get a professional qualification in that field, so three years ago I took the leap and started a part-time degree studying to become a nutritionist with the University of West London. This was something I thought would be useful for both myself and my family, and if I could make some money on the side at the end of the degree too, it would be a win-win!
I didn’t go into higher education when I left school and I started my first media sales job when I was age 17, without any real qualifications. So the idea of going to university was somewhat terrifying to me. I didn’t put any pressure on myself about achieving long-term goals, as learning something new was the focus and enjoyment, whilst getting the benefit from this new knowledge myself at the same time!
Was nutrition an obvious route to pursue, or did it take some time for you to settle on what area you wanted to explore?
Nutrition was an obvious choice for me, as I’m a big lover of food and cooking in general. When I started to do more reading on the subject, what I learnt blew my mind and I wanted to know more. I don’t think that further education is right for everyone, but I do feel strongly that if you’re giving advice to benefit a person’s health, then the information needs to be accurate and evidence based. There are so many people giving out bad nutrition advice on Instagram – I couldn’t be that person and sleep easily at night. I did my research and found out that to be qualified I would need to study with an accredited university, so this route was the right one for me. However there are many hobbies that you can devote weekends or evenings to, so experiment with your interest; see what’s out there and where it takes you.
What are the biggest challenges you have to manage when working in a full-time job and studying a degree part-time?
In my first year of doing the degree, I found working five days a week tough, as I was studying both days each weekend and not having any down time, which became counter-intuitive to my own wellbeing! So I had an honest conversation with my boss, and we agreed I would be able to fulfil my role over a four day week, which meant I was better able to balance my commitments and still take some time out for myself.
As time off from working and studying has become very precious, I make an effort to prioritise rest, along with things that need doing around the home, and seeing family. Ultimately though I can’t do everything and accepting this in the short-term will have long-term benefits.
Also, dusting and ironing are overrated.
How has having a side project changed you?
It has changed my life. More recently I realised I wanted my full-time role to be one that complemented what I was learning at the weekend and combined all the things I am passionate about. I’m now delighted to say that my passion and the degree I’m working towards have helped me to land my dream job! In July this year I’ll begin a new role as a Wellness Manager, which will incorporate writing the strategy for the environmental, physical and mental wellbeing for the company’s people. I’ll be creating events that will engage people with healthy habits, from all corners of the business in an inclusive way, and I’ll be coming up with a benefits package that works for the needs of the people and business. Looking further ahead, I’ll qualify as a nutritionist in two years’ time.
What advice would you give to someone who’s considering taking on something extra in addition to their current job?
Find your passion and immerse yourself in it. The Japanese call the secret to a long and happy life ‘Ikigai’, which you can learn more about in the brilliant book recommended below. It just made so much sense to me. Read books, articles and blogs to learn more about your area of interest. Listen to podcasts, (Eat Sleep Work Repeat is a favourite of mine), do your research and go to events, make connections and champion content that is related to your passion. Think about what projects you can put yourself forward for, that might help fill a skill gap. Keep an eye out for related opportunities and offer your time. Or if you can’t offer your time, show support in other ways by sharing content. Let people know what your interests and future ambitions are, so that when an opportunity comes up, you’re the person the client or employer will think of to take it on.
Believe that you can do anything and it’s never too late to change careers. I planted a seed three years ago when I began studying, yet I really had no idea that I would change the direction of my life to live my passions and help other people get the best out of their day too.
But if I can do it, so can you. Really.
And finally, what are you excited about over the next few months?
I’m excited to finish my third year and start my fourth year at university – something I could never have imagined saying a few years back. Anatomy and Physiology are hard! But perseverance pays off and I’m very proud of how far I’ve come.
I also can’t wait to start the new role and come up with creative solutions to solve
issues that prevent people from engaging with healthy habits. I’m looking forwardto getting to know new people, start living my dream and find ways to ensure that wellbeing is at the heart of company culture, in a way that works for everyone.
I found my Ikigai. I challenge you to find yours.
To learn more about Fiona, follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
Facebook: @ Itstheberries