‘I Did a Com­plete Ca­reer 180’

Cosmopolitan (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY BUSANG SENNE

What hap­pens if you de­cide in your mid-20s or 30s that you want a ca­reer change? And is a ca­reer 180 even vi­able if you’ve spent the last few years (or a decade) study­ing and graft­ing to make it in a spe­cific in­dus­try? These three women did just that: threw out their old jobs and em­barked on some­thing new. Here’s how they did it, and why it was the best de­ci­sion they ever made

Jessica Bonin, 34

Then Film pro­ducer Now Tea con­nois­seur and shop owner Capeto­nian Jessica Bonin thought she’d find her pur­pose in film: she loved per­for­mance and cre­ative di­rec­tion, and stud­ied drama and theatre be­fore do­ing an hon­ours in film pro­duc­tion. But the de­mand­ing na­ture of the in­dus­try and repet­i­tive com­mer­cial work made her ques­tion her choice. ‘I had no pas­sion for what I was do­ing. It was soul-de­stroy­ing and it lacked pur­pose.’

‘I felt trapped by my ca­reer’

‘I tried to nav­i­gate away from com­mer­cial work but I strug­gled with the na­ture of the film in­dus­try and work avail­abil­ity. I found my­self on com­mer­cial projects again and again. I moved to Jo’burg to get in­volved in more cre­ative projects but that didn’t make me any hap­pier, so I moved back to Cape Town – and the cy­cle con­tin­ued.’

‘I was will­ing to risk ev­ery­thing’

Bonin’s turn­ing point came when she re­alised noth­ing would change un­less she made a change. ‘I was com­plain­ing to a friend about my work; then, I saw a pro­ducer 20 years older than me com­plain­ing about the same thing,’ she says. ‘I re­alised if I didn’t change some­thing now, that would be me in 20 years.’ So, at the age of 27 and nearly a decade into her ca­reer, she quit. ‘I wanted some­thing that fuelled my soul. I wanted it so badly, I was will­ing to risk ev­ery­thing.’ That’s when Lady Bonin’s Tea was born. Yup, you read that right: tea.

‘What could I do that wasn’t out there al­ready?’

‘Tea dis­cov­ered me!’ says Bonin, now known as Lady Bonin, owner of an ar­ti­sanal tea parlour on Cape Town’s Long Street as well as a range of tea prod­ucts. ‘I de­cided to look at the skills I had. I’d had wait­ress gigs since I was 14, and ex­pe­ri­ence in hos­pi­tal­ity, so I thought start­ing a cafe would be easy. Tea be­came the el­e­ment that would cre­ate the en­vi­ron­ment: a place where peo­ple could con­nect. But the more I delved into the idea, the more it be­came about the tea. I wanted to do tea dif­fer­ently, so I asked my­self: what about tea do I want that is not out there? Take­away tea. At the time, not even Star­bucks was sell­ing take­away tea. I bought a car­a­van be­cause I had barely any start-up cap­i­tal and it was a means to get my prod­uct to mar­ket with­out rent­ing shop space. I used tax re­bates from work­ing in the film in­dus­try over the years to ac­cu­mu­late the R50000 I needed.’

‘I ques­tioned my de­ci­sion all the time’

‘I ques­tioned whether I was mak­ing the wrong de­ci­sion all the time. No-one could un­der­stand how I could make money sell­ing tea from a car­a­van, or how it could ever lead to a larger busi­ness,’ says Bonin. ‘Busi­ness is risky. I’ve had to learn that there’s a flow to things: when I had anx­i­ety it was be­cause I was on the brink of some­thing big. Trial-and-er­ror is part of the process – you have to fail to grow.’

‘I re­alised I’d found my “thing”’

To es­tab­lish her brand, Bonin used so­cial me­dia. ‘My first step was to con­tact blog­gers with a high reach. I sent a few sam­ples to in­flu­encers; they tweeted about them. The rest was the magic of the car­a­van: that sold it­self. I was con­tacted by mag­a­zines and me­dia out­lets that wanted to fea­ture this new con­cept. Six months into the busi­ness, I re­alised I’d found my “thing”.’

‘Now I have the free­dom I craved’

‘I de­signed all the pack­ag­ing my­self and learnt how to use

Pho­to­shop so I could con­tinue to im­prove my brand de­sign. I re­sponded to what the mar­ket wanted while main­tain­ing my eth­i­cal stand­point of plas­tic-free pack­ag­ing and or­ganic pro­duce.’

Just over seven years since her ca­reer 180, Lady Bonin’s Tea is a flour­ish­ing brand. ‘I’ve sac­ri­ficed so much – a steady salary, job se­cu­rity. When all my friends were par­ty­ing and go­ing on week­ends away, I was sav­ing every penny, work­ing every hour. It’s taken years of 16-hour days, seven days a week, to get to this point. But the long-term re­ward is worth it. Now I have the free­dom I was crav­ing, some­thing to call my own, op­por­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate – and so many new ad­ven­tures on the hori­zon.’

‘Busi­ness is risky. Trial-and-er­ror is part of the process – you have to fail to grow’

Katleho tsoKu, 34

Then Restau­rant owner Now So­cial en­trepreneur

Katleho Tsoku thought her dreams had come true when she opened her own restau­rant in Jo’burg at 24. But it would prove to be a bit­ter­sweet fail­ure that would lead her to the ca­reer she was des­tined for: so­cial en­trepreneur­ship.

‘I wanted to start my own thing’

‘I’ve al­ways loved host­ing and cre­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ences,’ she says. ‘I’m a hos­pi­tal­ity grad­u­ate; I spent four months at a Radis­son ho­tel and two at a Hy­att ho­tel. But I wanted to start my own thing: I’d fallen in love with the idea of own­ing a ho­tel in my early 20s.’

‘I was broke and had to make a tough de­ci­sion’

‘When I was 24, I opened my restau­rant. It was self-funded. I’d gone to banks, but the first thing they wanted to know when I asked for a loan was what col­lat­eral I had. I didn’t. Those that said yes re­quired a huge stake of my busi­ness.’

So with her mother’s help, Tsoku opened Bliss at Jo’burg’s 44 Stan­ley. But the pres­sure soon be­came over­whelm­ing.

‘I looked at my peers liv­ing their life and not strug­gling to make ends meet. And here I was, at 27, hav­ing thought I’d found my pur­pose in Bliss – but I was broke, my mom was broke and I had to make a tough de­ci­sion. I was on my way to work when I re­alised I couldn’t do it any more. My restau­rant su­per­vi­sor had phoned to say the sup­pli­ers for­got to de­liver milk. I lost it. In the mid­dle of an aisle at Pick n Pay, I cried my eyes out. I’d had so many mo­ments when Bliss wasn’t do­ing well but I’d brushed them off and made them work. This time was dif­fer­ent: it was a wakeup call. Achiev­ing goals is never easy – but it shouldn’t make you mis­er­able.’

‘There was a lot of heart­break’

‘I’d fought to keep Bliss alive for two and a half years. The big­gest strug­gle was fund­ing: my mom had lim­ited cap­i­tal, and I had to cut our losses. There was a lot of heart­break, and a lot of shame as­so­ci­ated with fail­ing.

‘I had three ques­tions. Had I failed my­self? Had I failed my mother, who’d be­lieved in me? Had I failed all the women as­pir­ing to start their own busi­ness? But even­tu­ally I learnt that I hadn’t failed any of these peo­ple, or my­self. It took me a year of pro­cess­ing but I be­gan to make peace with it. I told my­self I didn’t fail – the restau­rant failed.’

‘I had noth­ing left to lose’

Af­ter Bliss’s clo­sure, Tsoku’s new role found her en­tirely by ac­ci­dent. ‘Spark South Africa found me. I be­came very open about my fail­ure and I was do­ing speak­ing en­gage­ments about what I learnt from the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. I caught the at­ten­tion of Aaron and Kaitlin Tait, who’d been run­ning Spark in Aus­tralia. They needed some­one on the ground in South Africa, and they ap­proached me. I’d been work­ing for my­self, so I was re­luc­tant to work for some­one else. But then I thought, girl, you’re broke, you’re de­pressed, what do you have to lose?

‘In ret­ro­spect, I re­alise I was suf­fer­ing from im­pos­tor syn­drome. I tried go­ing into hos­pi­tal­ity be­cause I thought that’s what I knew, and it failed. Now I’d been asked to run Spark and I was ask­ing my­self: am I ca­pa­ble? Am I enough? Turns out I am!’

‘It takes a lot to keep be­liev­ing in your­self’

‘Since then, my jour­ney has seen me move back into en­trepreneur­ship – but this time in my true call­ing: so­cial en­trepreneur­ship. I co-founded YHer, a part­ner of Spark, as a fe­male-fo­cused ac­cel­er­a­tor for women’s is­sues. In 2016, I took YHer con­ti­nent-wide. The defin­ing mo­ment was hav­ing for­mer First Lady Zanele Dlamini Mbeki ac­knowl­edge the pro­gramme as be­ing im­pact­ful.

‘You have to be re­silient. It takes a lot to keep be­liev­ing in your­self. Be­fore I do any de­ci­sion-mak­ing now, I ask my­self what my in­ten­tion is. Is my in­ten­tion in align­ment with my true self? If I can say yes, I’m on the right track.’

‘You have to be re­silient. It takes a lot to keep be­liev­ing in your­self

Svet­lana Doneva, 33

Then Jour­nal­ist; CNBC ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Now Com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager at an NGO A fast-paced jour­nal­ism ca­reer was what Svet­lana Doneva had al­ways hoped for – but 10 years in, she needed a new di­rec­tion. Lit­tle did she know she’d dis­cover a pas­sion for early child­hood de­vel­op­ment.

‘It all seemed so glam­orous’

Grow­ing up, Doneva wanted to be a writer. ‘Jour­nal­ism was a nat­u­ral ca­reer choice for me,’ she says. ‘I stud­ied pol­i­tics and eco­nomics at Rhodes. A few weeks af­ter my fi­nals, my mom drove me to my first job in­ter­view – for a re­porter po­si­tion at Times Me­dia Group in Jo’burg. At the time it all seemed so glam­orous. Times Me­dia Group met all of my 21year-old ex­pec­ta­tions; I longed to join the ranks of well-dressed women and in­tense men in the news­room. And I did!’

For 10 years, Doneva fo­cused on fi­nan­cial jour­nal­ism, work­ing in TV, print and on­line. Even­tu­ally, she’d worked her way up to ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer at CNBC Africa.

‘My big­gest fear was the un­known’

‘Around the time I turned 30, I re­alised I needed a change.’ Ten years of high­pres­sure stakes and long hours had taken their toll. But step­ping away from what you’ve al­ways known is scary. ‘My big­gest fear was leav­ing the known and the com­fort­able to en­ter a sec­tor that was un­known to me. I wor­ried I wouldn’t be suc­cess­ful and that I’d com­pro­mise my ca­reer tra­jec­tory.

‘I spot­ted an open­ing for a com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager at a small NGO called Ilifa La­bant­wana, which op­er­ates in early child­hood de­vel­op­ment. It was a field I knew very lit­tle about, but af­ter some re­search I quickly be­came con­vinced this was where my fu­ture was. In my re­search, I learnt that our suc­cess in life de­pends on the care we re­ceive early in life. The more I read, the more ex­cited I got about the NGO’s vi­sion.’

‘It takes time to adapt’

Like most women do­ing a ca­reer 180, Doneva had to re-eval­u­ate her skills and iden­tify what she could use in the new field, and where she’d need more ex­pe­ri­ence. ‘I got the job and the first year was a dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion,’ she says. ‘My lack of spe­cialised knowl­edge was glar­ing. I took stock of my skills, which was sober­ing. I’d mas­tered a skills set that was use­ful in jour­nal­ism, but not nec­es­sar­ily in com­mu­ni­ca­tion. This un­com­fort­able process is pretty nor­mal for any­one switch­ing ca­reers; it takes time to ad­just and adapt.

‘I had no pro­fes­sional net­work in the sec­tor I was go­ing into. De­spite my re­search, I knew very lit­tle about early child­hood de­vel­op­ment. The work pro­cesses were dif­fer­ent; so were the suc­cess met­rics. The of­fice en­vi­ron­ment was also to­tally new – not as noisy or fast-paced as I was used to. I also had to get used to a whole new way of mak­ing de­ci­sions.’

Dur­ing this tran­si­tion, it was key for Doneva to reach out to oth­ers for ad­vice and sup­port. ‘The process of de­vel­op­ing your skills is made eas­ier with the help of a men­tor who un­der­stands you and what you want to achieve. It’s quite dif­fi­cult to see the big­ger pic­ture on your own.’

‘I be­lieve 100% in what I do’

‘My ca­reer has al­ways been im­por­tant to me. I be­lieve 100% in what I do; noth­ing I’ve done af­ter my ca­reer change has felt like a sac­ri­fice,’ she says. Would she do any­thing dif­fer­ently? ‘It’s been three years and I’m still chal­lenged daily, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The more we learn, the more we grow. It’s ex­cit­ing to learn and ex­pand my skills set. Switch­ing ca­reers has been amaz­ing – and I feel lucky to have had the op­por­tu­nity to work in two sec­tors that I re­ally love.’ ■

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.