The rise of the hap­pi­ness hun­ters

Smart, suc­cess­ful women are in­creas­ingly walk­ing out on lu­cra­tive ca­reers to pur­sue their dreams. Alix O’neill (above) finds out why…

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

BY ANY­ONE’S DEF­I­NI­TION, this was a dream job of­fer. Here I was, be­ing given the chance to be the editor of a glossy food mag­a­zine, with trips around the world to in­ter­view Miche­lin-starred chefs. And yet, even faced with a sub­stan­tial salary in­crease and a bath­room cabi­net lined with Ae­sop toi­letries, I turned it down. I walked away be­cause, ul­ti­mately, I knew the job, de­spite all its trap­pings, wouldn’t make me happy.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suf­fi­ciently well off to make a habit of turn­ing down lu­cra­tive pro­pos­als. As a free­lance writer, my pen­sion pot is ris­i­ble and should my hus­band and I de­cide to start a fam­ily, I can forget about ma­ter­nity leave. But I’ve carved out a vaguely com­fort­able ex­is­tence do­ing what I love. I meet fas­ci­nat­ing peo­ple from all walks of life; I start and fifin­ish my day when­ever I like; I can burn a dozen scented can­dles while I work and no one’s go­ing to tell me it’s a fi­fire haz­ard (in re­al­ity, I can just about af­ford the oc­ca­sional Dip­tyque); and I an­swer only to my­self. It’s not ev­ery­one’s idea of pro­fes­sional nir­vana, but for me, it’s pretty damn close. I’m not alone in jump­ing off the ca­reer lad­der. Ac­cord­ing to a global sur­vey of 20- and 30-some­things by Deloitte*, a stag­ger­ing 71% of UK re­spon­dents said they ex­pect to leave their job within the next fi­five years. But for many women, aban­don­ing a well- paid job in favour of per­sonal ful­fi­fil­ment isn’t

check­ing out of life: it’s ‘hap­py­ing out’.

Un­like the Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers be­fore us, Mil­len­ni­als place less em­pha­sis on ma­te­rial wealth and more on flex­i­ble hours and a sense of pur­pose. Deloitte’s Dim­ple Agar­wal says, ‘The fo­cus used to be on job se­cu­rity and fi­nan­cial ful­fil­ment. Money is still im­por­tant, but it’s not the most im­por­tant thing. We’re find­ing that this gen­er­a­tion want to work with or­gan­i­sa­tions that share their val­ues and are de­mand­ing a more eth­i­cal ap­proach from busi­nesses.’

Re­al­is­ing me­dia law wasn’t for her, Jacki West, 32, turned her back on a suc­cess­ful ca­reer five years ago. ‘A se­ries of events in my per­sonal life meant that Lon­don had be­come a sad place for me to be and I started to ques­tion what I was do­ing pro­fes­sion­ally,’ she says. So she re­signed, re­lo­cated to Ber­lin hav­ing stud­ied Ger­man, and spent nine months trans­lat­ing le­gal doc­u­ments while re­train­ing as a yoga teacher. ‘Yoga has been part of my life since I was a teenager. Both my grand­moth­ers prac­tised un­til they were in their nineties and were a huge in­spi­ra­tion.’

Last year, she and her hus­band bought and ren­o­vated a prop­erty in the foothills of Por­tu­gal’s Sin­tra Moun­tains, and hosted two sell-out re­treats. ‘I couldn’t have imag­ined my life as it is now when I was a lawyer in the City,’ says Jacki, now back in Lon­don teach­ing yoga and mother to six-month-old Eric. ‘I never left my job say­ing, “I’m go­ing to be a yoga teacher,” but by pur­su­ing the things I love, I was able to find a path. Peo­ple thought I was mad hav­ing no plan for the fu­ture, but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith.’

Her new life­style isn’t as lu­cra­tive, though for Jacki, this is im­ma­te­rial. ‘I used to be a shopa­holic; I think I was try­ing to fill a gap. If you’re happy in what you’re do­ing you don’t need things.’

Gemma Sch­lehmeyer, 33, agrees. De­spite an in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful ca­reer, the civil en­gi­neer has taken a hia­tus to hone her draw­ing skills at a lead­ing Florence ate­lier. ‘I’d hap­pily go back to my job at a later stage. But you’ve only got one life, so why not fill it with all your dreams? I fol­lowed the tra­di­tional path of mar­riage and buy­ing a house. I had a lot of pos­ses­sions, but I was tired all the time and not par­tic­u­larly happy. I’ve re­alised that real wealth is cre­ativ­ity and na­ture and com­mu­nity. I’m still quite driven, but rev­el­ling in the new chal­lenge. In short, hap­pi­ness for me is ad­ven­ture.’

And it’s hap­pi­ness that is the holy grail for the YOLO gen­er­a­tion. Hardly a week goes by with­out a new book on the sub­ject. The Scan­di­na­vians seem to have it sewn up. Den­mark claimed the top spot in this year’s World Hap­pi­ness Re­port Up­date, with Nor­way and Swe­den hot on its heels. But is it re­al­is­tic to demand con­tent­ment in all ar­eas of our lives?

Blog­ger and mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant Tanya Korobka be­lieves the bound­aries be­tween work and play have be­come more fluid, not sim­ply be­cause we have con­stant ac­cess to our emails. More com­pa­nies are em­brac­ing work-life in­te­gra­tion with lunchtime med­i­ta­tion and flex­i­ble hours that al­low us more space to breathe. ‘A lot of Mil­len­ni­als want their job to be an ex­ten­sion of their pas­sion and who they are. Take the ‘slash­ers’, for ex­am­ple (graphic de­signer/ film-maker, etc). These are peo­ple who are fam­ily by the time I was 30, but that’s not nec­es­sar­ily what hap­pens any more. I’ve al­ways loved trav­el­ling and, with prop­erty prices as they are, I can’t af­ford to buy here, so why not do some­thing dif­fer­ent with my life? I know where I’m hap­pi­est and it’s not in an of­fice.’

Of course, not ev­ery­one can or wants to leave their job to find ful­fil­ment, and the good news is you don’t have to. ‘There’s an el­e­ment of prag­ma­tism in­volved,’ says Dr Ju­dith Mohring from the Pri­ory Clinic. She sug­gests build­ing hob­bies around your work to happy out at the week­ends. ‘You need to bring in a cer­tain amount of money, but it’s also im­por­tant to do some­thing that’s in line with your skills and val­ues. Even if it’s in a tiny way, try to bring the things you love into your life.’

The things I love are: eating peanut but­ter straight from the jar, my mum, clean py­ja­mas, hot show­ers, my hus­band’s ba­con sand­wiches, Le­vi­son Wood, au­tumn, navy blaz­ers and writ­ing. With the ex­cep­tion of au­tumn (and sadly, Lev), it’s fairly easy to get my fix of these on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. I know that no one thing – job, re­la­tion­ship or oth­er­wise – will lead to per­fect hap­pi­ness (not even Bud­dhist monks are ca­pa­ble of per­pet­ual bliss) but maybe lots of lit­tle changes can take you close enough.

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‘Peo­ple thought that I WAS MAD hav­ing NO PLAN for the fu­ture, but sometimes you have to take a LEAP OF FAITH’

good at a num­ber of things and want a ca­reer that com­bines all their in­ter­ests. Do­ing one job and work­ing your way up for 20 years is a lit­tle out­dated.’

Felic­ity King is philo­soph­i­cal about her life-chang­ing de­ci­sion. The 30-year-old, who prac­tised law in Lon­don, re­signed last March to go trav­el­ling. While in Nicaragua, she hit it off with a fel­low back­packer and hatched a plan to open a bou­tique hos­tel on Mex­ico’s Pacific Coast. She has no hes­i­ta­tions about the move. ‘When I was lit­tle, I as­sumed I’d have a house and

Jacki’s pur­suit of yo­gic ex­cel­lence took her to In­dia and re­sulted in sell-out re­treats

Left and above: for­mer City lawyer Jacki is now a chilled-out yoga teacher

Above and right: civil en­gi­neer Gemma is now find­ing her in­ner artist in Florence. Be­low: Alix loves the free­dom and travel op­por­tu­ni­ties be­ing a free­lance writer al­lows

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