Joe's Career Change Story: From commercial property law to being a free range human

This is Joe, Escape School Alum, ex-commercial property lawyer, eBike entrepreneur, serial experimenter, co-working professional, and father of three. Joe’s collaborative, informal, witty, seems confident but feels like a fraud, open about the struggles of life, and happy to help anyone, but like so many of us he slipped into a soul-crushing career that never aligned with his true self. After feeling trapped for years, he’s finally been able to make his escape, here he shares how…

 

Before I escaped I was commercial property lawyer – a partner in a medium-sized law firm. I was miserable. I hated going into work and I hated doing the work. I had always hated my job but I just thought it was normal to want to cry on Monday morning. I had started to look for another job in the same area but I was missing interviews and felt like a fraud. Ultimately, I was depressed.
I felt trapped largely because I’d tried to escape before – I left my job in 2004 and travelled around the world but when I returned after a year I had no ideas of what I wanted to do. I found myself sitting at home directionless with no support and as a result of that I slipped back into the same work as before. I felt that I had taken my chance to escape and wasted it. I didn’t deserve to move jobs or be happy. I’d also married and had 3 children so the pressures of provision lay heavy on my shoulders. I thought I was institutionalised as a lawyer.
However, a change did happen and the first real step towards making my escape was seeking help for my depression. As part of this, I was able to speak to people about how worthless I felt and the imposter syndrome I couldn’t shake. I was able to reach out for help and realise that I needed to make a change or it wasn’t going to end well. The depression bit is only a sideline – it was the speaking to people and seeking help that allowed me to make progress. At that point, I was doing some casual googling at work and came across Escape. I went along to a talk (with Michelle Miller the novelist who had left finance and followed her true love of writing) as well as a Tribe taster session to get a feel for how Escape work and their community, and then decided to join their 3-month career change programme (called the Escape Tribe at the time, now the Career Change Accelerator).
It was the people and support which the Tribe involved that made all the difference for me. Meeting people who understood and were able to give reassurance during and after the programme changed everything. Certainly, some the tools were also invaluable. I’m not a great reader of self-help books but things like the “wheel of curiosities” to map out potential career interests, the Pomodoro technique for productivity, the idea of ‘shipping ugly’ to get started, and the fact that things get harder before they get easier were all essential learnings. Lastly, the practical ideas were a huge help, such as sharing knowledge/skills/connections for free and working for free so as not to worry too much about money at the start, but to follow your interests and learn about the opportunities there are in new areas.
My main two blockers were money and fear of not being taken seriously as anything but a lawyer. I’m not a saver and I have a wife and 3 kids (who are very supportive), so I got by by borrowing money from my parents. It’s a loan but an investment in my future and happiness. I would have had no future or happiness had I not nerved myself to discuss it with my parents and accept their offer.
In regards to stepping away from my identity as a lawyer, I spent time speaking to people and almost reinventing myself as the person I felt I was, rather than the person I’d had to be up until that point. I came up with a few ideas and started to share those concepts and speak to new people in that context. It wasn’t important if they were super-practical or money-making, but the process showed me that I could speak to professionals in completely new industries and be taken seriously in capacities other than as a lawyer. I had also thought of being a writer, to explore this I did some free writing for a blog on a legal news website and they gave me some good feedback. Putting myself out there in new ways and connecting with people on different projects inside and outside of law built my confidence.
The Tribe experience highlighted the importance of being myself. I learnt that until I’m myself in my work I’ll never reach my potential because it won’t come naturally to me. It started by figuring out who I was away from the title of ‘lawyer’ and has since involved exploring a few different things to find what work best fits my true personality.
So since finishing the Tribe I’ve been experimenting! I tried to start an immersive music video event (doitallagain.com), I write The Legal Agony for rollonfriday.com, and I started startup-bikes.co.uk. All of these created opportunities to speak with people in different roles and industries, and each time I realised they were taking me seriously it boosted my confidence. Success or not, they all helped. I also try to keep up with my single view Instagram account – green park view – always the same photo, it’s a bit of a creative experiment. Plus, web domains are so cheap and make you feel like a professional!
I realised that I need to do some freelance law work but do it on my own terms for people I know and care about. I work from home and I know that every pound I bill comes to me. I’ve also noticed the value of small things, e.g, I recently painted the stairs and my daughter’s bedroom, a very simple activity but it showed me something concrete and complete.
Last summer I focused on 2 things in particular:
First, eBikes. I wanted to create something on the web which I could generate passive income through and work on remotely. After some pivoting, I’m now exploring blogging/influence in the same market, but always sticking to my principle of not worrying about money when it comes to these side projects. I’m meeting lots of new people and making contacts (I joined all the free industry groups etc and now get trade tickets to bike shows and things).
Secondly, I decided to investigate co-working spaces because the sector would use my property law skills but bring in a sense of community and variety, while also putting me in an industry of the future. After using my contacts and connections (at last Linkedin has a use!) and applying for jobs, I got to speak to a few workspace providers and began to feel that the workspace market was mature. Someone said I needed an “angle”. At the same time, I contacted someone featured in an article in The Standard about starting workspaces with a social enterprise angle and in not for profit companies. I emailed him, we met, and I agreed to work for free in January to see if I could help, see if I enjoyed it and get something co-working related on my CV.
1.3 years post Tribe…
I now work 2.5 days a week for the workspace provider Hartwright Stark (the founder was a founder of TheMillCoProject.co.uk). Paid and happy. We sit around industrial tables on apple macs wearing slightly too short trousers. Sometimes I’m in our building in Soho, (The Soho Studio Project) sometimes in the docks (The Silver Building), sometimes in our hotel in Wood Green (Green Rooms Hotel) sometimes I’m at home or in a cafe. All a million miles away from sitting alone in a suit in a dead office in Mayfair.
I have time to take the kids to school, and often to pick up and take them to swimming or other clubs. Yesterday I met some eBike manufactures for a test ride in Hyde Park in between working for the workspaces. Tomorrow I am at home as Sky are coming (kids channels is the driver there, not sports), and as I type I am in Patty & Bun in Soho.
Moving from the post-job elation of lunchtime drinking to the worry that I need to make progress on getting a job has been the biggest challenge for me, but I shared my feelings with people (especially my fellow escapees) and they all helped me to see that even when I felt that I wasn’t achieving anything I had been making progress and doing well.
I’m proud of myself for getting this job without any help and based on my true character. I am so positive it’s amazing. Of course, things could change but I’ve achieved so much so far I really fell like I can do anything.
If anyone wants a workspace for a creative business or artistic space or similar please email me (joe@covill.com)! Also if you want a battery powered bike…… !!

You can find my projects at:

www.startup-ebikes.co.uk

thesilverbuilding.com

doitallagain.com

shipugly.com

instagram.com/greenparkview/

I made the move when I never thought I could. I would never have done it without the tribe. In any event be kind to yourself.

 

Joe completed Escape’s career change course in December 2016. To make a change in your career and be part of an inspiring and unique community, learn more here.

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