Andrea Mara - Financial Services Career to Author

“Redundancy was the best thing that ever happened. I would never have been able to trial a writing career without the redundancy package and the support of my family. “

“Although I’m writing books full-time now, I’ve had times when I felt my funds were running low.  I would panic worrying that I didn’t have enough work.  Then, the very next day I’d wake up and start to panic because I had too much work!   But that’s the way of freelancing, I think. “

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Overview of earlier career:

“I loved my job! I really liked the company and was very happy in my career.  I’d progressed through the normal promotional routes from junior positions, through to team leader and then into management over 17 years.

I enjoyed the work itself and over-time my work conditions had evolved into something that really worked for us as a family.  I felt lucky with my 4-day a week, one day from home and a precious permanent car spot.

Then the news landed that our Dublin branch was closing.  We were offered two choices: redundancy or re-deployment.  I was sad about losing my job but I was really sad about losing this wonderful work set-up which had taken such a long time to evolve and just worked really well.”

The trigger for change?

“The offer of redundancy was definitely my trigger for change.  My husband and I discussed it and agreed that it was the perfect opportunity to see if it was possible to make a living out of writing.   

The redundancy package would give us and me that window of opportunity.

When I’d pretty much made the decision to take the redundancy package, another opportunity came up within the business that threw a spanner in the works.  It caused a little wobble, mainly by my husband, who had been completely behind the idea of my career change experiment.  Perhaps the reality of our family’s income being chopped in half overnight had hit home.  Nevertheless, I realised that to accept a position I wasn’t passionate about at all felt like an all-head-no-heart decision.  Not the right thing at all. 

Other than that momentary blip, we both knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to create a new career for me.”

First steps?

As it turned out Andrea took her first steps towards a writing career without knowing, 2 years before the redundancy package was offered. 

I’d discovered that I loved writing after I’d started a blog while I was on my third maternity leave.   I started it after feeling so frustrated by the disconnection between what my friends and I were discussing as working mothers and what I saw, heard and read in the media.   I had a desire get more real conversations going which sparked enough interest to set up a blog.

I started writing on all things working mother but ended up writing about anything that took my fancy.  I’d write in the evenings after work and after the kids were asleep. People would always ask me where I found the time or if it was exhausted but honestly it became the really enjoyable part of my day and didn’t drain me at all.”

The blog grew over those two years and Andrea began to get tapped on the shoulder to write articles for other people.  So, her first steps towards a full-time career in writing, even if she didn’t know that she might write as a future career option, began out of her desire to write about something she cared about in her free-time.

“I decided almost randomly to give myself a 6-months deadline to prove that I could make it work as a full-time career or I’d go back and get a job.  I put myself under-pressure to work it around school and pre-school and I also had our youngest child at home for the first 5 months. 

I’d work mostly in the evenings and in free moments during the day.  I probably made it more stressful that it needed to be but that’s how I work.  Knowing that I had a tight time-frame was important.  It gave me a clear focus.  I could have extended the original time-frame but it would have felt like failure.  

It was absolutely exhausting looking after the kids during the day and working at night.  I put myself under a great deal of pressure to secure ad hoc freelancing work and even managed also to secure a few regular gigs.  

The timing might have been a coincidence, but I also won an award for Best Parenting Blog by the Irish Blog Awards at the 6-month mark which I felt was symbolic.  It sort of cemented the idea that this was possible.

The 6-month experiment was a success.  I knew it was possible simply because I’d done it.  I broke out the bubbly and moved my big box of work dresses to the attic.

Towards the end of the 6-month trial, my youngest entered pre-school which then meant I had 2.5hrs every morning as well as the evenings to do more work without spending any extra on child-care. 

Keeping childcare costs at an absolute minimum was and is the key to my flexibility.   The compromise is that over school holidays I don’t get to do as much work as I might want to or attend as many events as I’d like to.  But these are compromises I’m more than happy to make to enjoy the privilege of doing work that I love.”

What Andrea learned?

·         If you can, do something you love.

Not everyone can love their work every day, whether it’s paid or unpaid.  You have to be in a particular place, at a particular time, to be able to take the risk that I took with my career change.  But the risk has paid off.

·         Redundancy was the best thing that ever happened.

I would never have been able to trial a writing career without the redundancy package and the support of my family.

·         A little risk is a good thing.

Taking a little risk is worth it if you could find work that might make you happy, that might allow you to feel engaged and to find opportunities to learn.  

 ·         You might not need to do something that you love.

Doing something that you enjoy or are good enough at that you can enjoy enough work-life balance that you don’t need to lie down when you get home from can be very fulfilling.

·         Unromantic practicalities matter.

It’s necessary to focus on the unromantic practicalities to be able to make an informed decision.  Like getting a real grip on your overheads.  Your savings.  Agreeing how much you are prepared to spend on experiments.  Without the redundancy money, we couldn’t have made it work but there are other ways that we might have made it work.  I was already doing some freelance work while working full-time and it didn’t drain me.  I could have continued down that path.

·         Nothing is perfect.

There are always sacrifices and compromises.  It can be challenging enough just keeping it together on some days.

·        Employ a career coach, if you can afford it.

I was so lucky to have a career coach included in my redundancy package and she was brilliant.  The good ones aren’t cheap.  If you’re at a cross-roads but using all your energy just keeping things moving – work, home and family, it’s hard to change the way you think about work.

You often need a different perspective to help you see work from a different angle and someone to help you think through the practicalities while you take the next steps.  My career coach prompted me with great questions and re-framed some of my thoughts from a completely different angle.  That helped greatly.  I can’t recommend getting a career coach enough, if you can.

·         It can be a bit of an emotional and financial rollercoaster ride. 

Although I’m writing books full-time now, I’ve had times when I felt my funds running low.  I would panic worrying that I didn’t have enough work.  Then, the very next day I’d wake up and start to panic because I had too much work!   But that’s the way of freelancing, I think.  You don’t have total control of your earnings.   

I still work a lot in the evenings but that’s my choice.  That’s the life of someone who is self-employed. I’m happy to give up my free hours in the evenings.  Happier than I’d ever be if I was back earning a regular salary.”

How it feels on the days when Andrea knows she has made the right decision?

“Amazing!  It’s amazing every day.  I’ve never had a moment of regret. It feels brilliant!  Of course, it’s not brilliant every minute of every day.  As I sit here talking to you, I’m sitting at my kitchen table, on a sunny day staring at the undone breakfast dishes.

Some weeks I’ve got no meetings because am just writing and that can feel a little lonely - in between school runs.  But I’m still doing something I love. 

I will never go back, unless I can’t pay the mortgage!”

Regrets?

“None!”

 

Find out more about Andrea: (Please add any social media links incase anyone wants to contact you/buy books etc.)

Website: OfficeMum.ie

Twitter: @Office_Mum

Instagram: @officemum

Facebook: Office Mum – Andrea Mara

Linkedin: Andrea Mara