Lauretta changed career five times before starting up The Ambition Plan – the business helping ambitious women discover work they’re passionate about and were born to do. Having gone through multiple career changes herself and guided over 1,000 women through a career change, she is an unrivalled source of wisdom and inspiration in the career change world.
You’re the first person to be featured in The Career Changers series who has changed career multiple times! Let’s start at the beginning and work up to the present day – what careers have you worked in and what prompted you to change each time?
I started my professional career as a medical doctor. While I enjoyed the challenge and learning all about the human body, it didn’t satisfy my creative side or my need to question the status quo and try new things. In an attempt to try a more creative route, I left my career as a doctor and moved into fashion. It was a move few people understood and there wasn’t any kind of service out there to support me in figuring out what I wanted to do, so I simply chose an area of interest at the time (fashion) and went to the London College of Fashion to do a degree in fashion marketing. That led me to work in fashion merchandising and styling for companies like Net a Porter and L’Oréal.
After 18 months in that industry I felt that it wasn’t a good fit. The initial excitement wore off and while I enjoyed the creativity, I missed the intellectual challenges I experienced as a doctor. Eager to keep exploring, I took a job as a medical reporter for a newswire and that led me into journalism. I felt like a bit of an imposter, so I went back to university and got a master’s degree in international journalism. This opened up an opportunity to intern at CNN, which led me into the world of TV news production. I spent 3 years in this field, producing for channels, such as the BBC and Sky News, before I started to question my decisions. The world of TV news was all about focusing on the bad things that happened in the world and I knew I didn’t want to spend the next 35+ years of my career profiting from the misfortune of others.
I felt really stuck at this point as I’d made so many career changes and none had worked out, so I started to really doubt my judgement. While trying to figure things out I returned to the world of health, this time focusing on another interest of mine – nutrition. I set up my own nutrition consultancy, got a certification in nutritional medicine and began a new career. It never felt like a good fit, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I made it work. However, after 15 months, I knew I couldn’t continue in it. I then started to work on myself and do a lot of personal development work to figure out what was going on. It was a journey that led me to start The Ambition Plan. I realised that the lack of support I had faced while trying to figure my life out must apply to others, so why not provide the service and support I had so desperately needed?
Many people have limiting beliefs about changing career, one of which is that it’s not possible to change without starting all over again at the bottom of the ladder in a junior role. You have proven multiple times that this isn’t true. What would you say in response to people with this belief?
It all depends on the career field you want to enter. Sometimes you do have to start at the bottom – it’s essential to make sure you know what you’re doing and that you’re a ‘safe’ pair of hands. This is usually the case for industries that require a specific qualification to start working in that field e.g. medicine, dentistry, law etc. However, there are many industries in which the skills you have acquired from past roles can be more useful than you realise. When making a career change, it’s important to do your research. Avoid the temptation to assume that you have to get a degree and that no one will give you a chance. That’s rarely true. If you’re dedicated to making a change and willing to think laterally and plan ahead, you can often make a change without having to go back to the very bottom.
Talk through some of the challenges you did face in your career changes.
A big one was that people assumed I was going through a rebellion by leaving medicine and that I would eventually go back to it. New employers would often voice that they thought I was a risky hire as I was likely to leave at any minute.
Then when I had made quite a few career changes, I started to face questions about my commitment. Sadly, many people still struggle to make the distinction between someone who has high standards and is changing careers because they refuse to settle and someone who is changing careers because they are work shy. All you can do in these situations is keep working hard and prove to others that you have a bigger vision than they realise. They tend to finally understand what you’re doing when you find what you’ve been looking for. A lot of the people who questioned me years back are now getting in touch with me to consult for them or to give them advice on what to do about their career.
How did you know that running and building The Ambition Plan was the ‘right’ career for you? What did it feel like?
I didn’t and I still don’t! But sometimes in life you have to take a gamble and that’s what I did by starting The Ambition Plan. I’ve always wanted to run my own company and knew I would regret never giving it a try.
Looking back over all your career changes, what are the most significant things you’ve learnt about yourself along the way?
A lot of the beliefs that hold you back are all in your mind. I spent a long time feeling like a failure and like I was behind in life. I convinced myself that the 7 years I spent in medicine were 7 lost years and that I had to make up for those years. I put a lot of pressure on myself out of the belief that others were judging me. Now that I’m older, I can see that no one really cared about what I was doing and that all of the pressure and judgement I felt was coming from me only.
What, if anything, do you miss about any of your previous careers?
Nothing! They all had their good and bad points, but these days I prefer to focus on where I’m going rather than where I’ve been.
In the majority of career change stories I’ve read, people have had the privilege of a large savings fund, or a partner/family member who can financially support them while making a transition. Not everyone has that luxury. How many women have you worked with who haven’t needed to depend on finances to make a career change?
Money is often an issue, however it is also used as an excuse to stay stuck. I find a lot of people stay stuck in a victim mentality, lamenting over how tough they have it – but I think this depletes your power. Stop focusing on others’ stories and focus on yourself!
There’s always a way to make a change if you really want to. Yes, you may have to work multiple jobs and cut back on your spending (I certainly did – I remember working a full-time job, doing a full-time degree and interning, all at the same time – while living on my brother’s sofa), but money isn’t a true barrier to making a career change… if you want it enough. It’s the false belief that you ‘need’ every penny of your current salary or that things ‘should’ be different that can keep you stuck.
I’ve worked with clients who have had to pay their children’s school fees along with their mortgage and really felt like they couldn’t leave their jobs. In those cases, all of the women made a change – they just had to realise that they needed to plan well to do it. A lot of people think that making a career change has to be drastic and immediate, but it doesn’t. With those that feel stuck because of financial commitments, we focus on a gradual transition from one career to another. Doing this allows them to keep one foot in their current career while setting up the new career. By doing this they can keep earning their current salary until they have enough money coming in from their new career.
Knowing what you know now, what one piece of advice did you wish someone had given you when you first thought about making a career change?
You don’t have to get a new degree to change career.
And finally, what are you excited about over the next few months?
A big rebrand for The Ambition Plan! We’ve gained a lot of traction for our content, so we will be becoming a fully-fledged online magazine in 2020.
To learn more about The Ambition Plan, explore the website and social channels.