Justina's Career Change Story: From environmental policy to coaching & entrepreneurship

Justina is a coach, facilitator and environmentalist. She’s moved from working in environmental policy-making to helping people and micro-businesses reach their full potential, and be a force for good in helping our society thrive.

What career change have you made? What are you up to now?

I transitioned from environmental policy-making into private sector and entrepreneurship. I now support people who want to start and grow their business or change careers.

Describe your life before you changed careers. What were you doing professionally?

I used to be an environment and climate policy adviser and worked on a number of interesting projects, including negotiating an international agreement, developing European and UK laws, and organising international events.

How were you feeling at this point in time? About yourself/ about your life/about your work?

I had mixed feelings of gratitude and disillusionment. Working on international climate policy had been my dream since teenage years, and it was a privilege to be in the jobs that I had; but I quickly realised that the work wasn’t what I imagined it would be. I felt that I couldn’t fully express my views and use my creativity because of processes and protocol. I wasn’t able to make a difference as much as I wanted.

What main blockers were stopping you from changing careers before joining the Startup Accelerator?

My main blockers were fear and guilt. For years I based my education and life choices around this career so I had absolutely no clue what to do next. I’m someone who always has a plan so suddenly losing direction was very uncomfortable. I was also afraid of losing my ‘status’ and identity – my career could be said to be prestigious, respectable and it came with a sense of righteousness. I feared that when I left I wouldn’t feel ‘special’ any more.

Then, when I discovered a passion for startups, there was guilt. I believed (and still do) that environmental issues is the most important challenge we need to address, so deciding not to dedicate my career to it felt like a self-indulgent betrayal.

How did you start to overcome your career change blockers? Some of the blockers you might still be dealing with, explain how you’re managing them now?

It took time to overcome my barriers. Even knowing that my job wasn’t right for me, I still continued in my career path for a few years, trying my best to fit in, because it was such a big part of my identity. It was causing me a lot of anxiety so I started seeing a counsellor and eventually accepted that there just wasn’t a point in having a ‘purposeful’ job if I felt stifled in it. I realised that unless I was feeling genuinely passionate I wasn’t going to do my best work and I wasn’t the best person for the job.

How have you managed your finances whilst moving into a new career/role? What has been the best advice you’ve received/most helpful thing you did?

I didn’t want to leave my job before I cleared my debts, because I was expecting to take a big pay cut. Ironically, the more miserable I felt, the more I wanted to buy nice things and trips away so it was hard to save money. Shout out to Oli from the Escape community – after not making much progress for a year I attended Oli’s session on managing personal finances and then dealt with my debt in a few months. Check out his Moneycado project.

What have you been up to since finishing Escape’s course? Include all the projects (big or small) that you’ve been a part of. How can you connect the dots looking backwards?

I joined the Escape Startup course because I wanted to start a sustainable fashion business. I also attempted to start an ethical wedding advisory service but neither of these worked out. Then I wanted to spend more time thinking about my career transition and to test the idea of consulting, so I went to India for a couple of months with Social Starters to work with a local social enterprise. I also submitted a number of failed job applications and did a bunch of courses on coaching, career change, marketing, UX and even coding, I read a lot and joined various events to expose myself to new ideas. I was meandering, reflecting and exploring.

What did the community mean to you?How did it help? What resonated the most with you?

Having a resourceful and supportive community when going through a life change is very important and I’m really grateful to be part of the Escape, which has been a key element of my career transition. It’s all about learning, making connections and sharing opportunities, and as one thing leads to another, new doors keep opening.

What are you doing now? What does your day-to-day look like right now?

Now I support people who want to start and grow their business or change careers through a number of roles. I work at Enterprise Nation as a programme and policy manager, where I’m designing and evaluating training programmes and looking for ways to best support small businesses. I started the Quest Lab to coach people through their career transition, using what I learned on my journey. With my partner we’re starting a web design and development agency called Code & Picture. I also facilitate coaching and entrepreneurship courses with the MOE Foundation and am involved in the TechMuses mentorship programme to inspire the next generation of women leaders.

What has been your biggest challenge since joining Escape? This can include during the accelerator or after – what’s been the hardest part? How are you dealing with this challenge? How do you make it through the hard times?

My biggest challenge has always been choosing what projects to work on and maintaining balance. I try to use the “if it’s not a ‘hell yes!’ then it’s a no” rule and to be strict with my working hours.

Another challenge is the imposter syndrome which is quite common among career changers. It’s the feeling that you’re a fraud because you don’t have enough years of experience or the right degree, you don’t know enough, etc. I need to constantly remind myself that if I am delivering value to someone then that’s what matters.

How are you feeling about yourself now? What are you most excited for in the coming months or years?

I feel more like myself now, my life feels more authentic. I think to feel fulfilled you have to align your activities with your values, and as your values evolve, you’re never really done. I’m really excited to continue this journey and keep on creating projects that express what I care about.

What advice would you give to those feeling the way you did before you began your escape?

Changing your career is about reinventing yourself, which inevitably means transforming some deep held beliefs. The ‘inner work’ can be tough, especially on your own – find a tribe or a coach to support you. Learn from others but don’t compare yourself with them and their pace – it doesn’t matter if a transition is quicker or slower, as you never get ‘there’ anyway.

Before her career change, Justina completed the Startup Accelerator in the summer of 2016. Find out how the Escape School can help you design a career you love.

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