From the Navy to a career of curiosities

by Paul Coverdale

Paul began his escape from the Royal Navy 5 years ago. He’s since built up a portfolio career of freelance work and personal projects: “I look up to people who want to make a difference, experts in their fields and polymaths in particular; those who are almost professionally curious.” Here he shares a little more about how his journey’s been…


I used to be an officer in the Royal Navy. It was exciting for quite a few years, but it became all-consuming – much more than a job. There was little freedom to do any personal development, high pressured roles in a deeply rigid and hierarchical culture. No opportunity for experimentation or independent thought. Thankfully, I moved away from this fixed mindset as soon as I became a civilian again!

Whilst in the navy I felt very frustrated about that lack of freedom and utterly institutionalised. When thinking about doing something different I didn’t fear making a change – I had already made a few big life choices prior to joining Escape – I just wasn’t sure what the changes would be in terms of my career. There was a fear to experiment and try new things that was holding me back from taking any action to find a new path.

Eventually, I joined The Escape Tribe (now the Career Change Accelerator) at Escape the City. I’d known about Escape for a while, and to be honest, I thought that a Tribe would be perfect for me until I realised the cost! However, after a couple of months of drifting and not making any progress in conventional job hunting, I changed my mind and decided it would be worth it. I now consider it an investment in me rather than a cost, and it’s impossible to put a figure on that personal investment.

The Tribe gave me the freedom to focus my next courses of action based on my values without fear. Creativity and innovation were both demanded, and it was what I needed to get unstuck. I began to overcome my career change blockers by not over thinking it. The supportive, permissive environment of a Tribe played a huge part in making that possible. In addition to this; shining in public, hustling, personal resilience, experimentation and fast failure, have all played (and continue to play) a huge part in my escape. In essence, it’s the importance of a growth mindset.

Since finishing Escape’s career change programme I’ve started a blog and wrote my own website, which was really useful for capturing the essence of what is important to me and sharing it in a public way. Those actions set me on a path of many, many collaborations and connections to people who share my curiosities. I started to volunteer at several organisations, started my own project, Future Debates, worked occasionally, learned a great deal and met some really interesting people!

Now every day of mine is different, though there is some structure to my week. I don’t work at present but spend 3 days a week on my projects when my 3-year-old daughter is at nursery. The other 2 + the weekend is family time, though I manage to do bits and pieces here and there. The time spent on projects is a mixture of networking, research, learning, attending events, planning and my voluntary work. It’s largely determined by personal choice and self-imposed deadlines.

Since finishing The Escape Tribe I’ve found developing resilience to be the biggest challenge when making a change. Accepting that people are not necessarily interested in my content, skills, or ideas. Whether it’s submitting job applications, writing a blog that nobody reads, cold calling, making suggestions or offering to help, you often don’t get the outcome you would like.

At times it’s been dispiriting and frustrating, but it shouldn’t stop me from trying. I’ve become more resilient, and I’ve learned that there are a whole host of reasons most of which are beyond my control! It could be that people are busy, or my pitch just wasn’t right for them. My Tribe and partner are my support network, which is important.

Finances can be a big blocker for anyone looking to make a change, I was very fortunate that I had a sufficient “Escape Fund” when I left the Navy to pay for my degree. My partner’s job provides the income for our family so from a financial perspective I have the freedom to not work. I appreciate that I am extremely lucky to be in this situation!

Looking back 5 years my life was radically different than it is today. The shift in how and when I work and has taken some getting used to but it has made me a lot happier and contented. My leading project, Future Debates, was created to catalyse open, inclusive conversations about the things that matter to you. Up to 12 people – friends, colleagues, strangers – get together for 45 minutes to talk about something that matters to them. The next step is to take the idea into companies, it can be used for ideation, strategy, problem-solving, conflict resolution or even to simply talk about something other than work. I’m also keen to connect with anyone who does work around the UN Sustainable Development Goals or anyone who’d like to learn more about how to make an escape.

Lastly, the great thing about Escape is that they set the right background conditions for people to flourish emotionally and practically whatever their past or dreamed of future. The accelerators do just that – accelerate the process of attaining a growth mindset. This is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve, but in my opinion is the most important work you do: individuals influence communities and networks, which influences society. 1,000,000 fulfilled people will be a powerful force for good!

Paul completed our Career Change Accelerator (formally known as The Escape Tribe) in March 2016. If you’d like to learn more about the programme and how it can help you make exciting changes happen, find out more now.

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