Nicky's Career Change: From travel to social impact

Nicky’s sales background within the travel industry left her feeling unfulfilled. Determined not to settle, she completed our Career Change Accelerator and is currently exploring a career in social impact with OnPurpose. She’s constantly exploring new opportunities and building new communities.


Describe your life before you changed careers. What were you doing professionally?
I was working in the travel industry, which is ironic as lots of people want to move into this sector. I spent 7 years in an industry that swept me up. It was my first proper job, and it was exciting. There were lots of people who were a similar age and stage in life. There was a work hard, play hard ethos which kept me interested for a while.

How were you feeling at this point in time? About yourself/ about your life/about your work?
Around 4 years in, I knew I couldn’t keep aiming towards targets.  My job was sales orientated so I learnt a lot but I lacked a sense of purpose. I moved to different companies but it’s quite a traditional industry. In many ways it’s fast paced but it wasn’t moving as quickly as I wanted in other areas – like the impact the industry has on the environment. I wanted to be at the forefront of this – and bring about change for the better.  I often think I could have done that within the industry – like an intrapreneur – but I didn’t feel like I had the knowledge at that stage.

I landed at Escape at a point when I felt quite anxious. I had tried to get out of the traditional travel scene and went into adventure travel but it didn’t work out. It might have been my mindset or just the wrong time, but I felt like I’d failed. I wasn’t confident and had lost my way.

I was doing loads of research and felt like I was going in circles. I had considered studying, but didn’t know what to study. I wondered if I should change careers completely. I was asking other people for advice and getting more and more confused. I was exploring different options to a degree, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with them and I felt lost.

Why did you decide to join the accelerator? Was there a moment of truth? Was it a big commitment for you?
I saw the programme on the Escape School newsletter. At that point I’d tested out a few things. I’d tried a few evening classes, and been to an Escape workshop. I think the idea of being able to fit the course around work, as well as being alongside other people on the same journey really appealed to me. At that time money was a consideration but I also thought ‘what else am I going to spend my money on?’. I had more money than I’d ever had from doing a job that I no longer liked, so I thought I may as well put it towards my future. I spent money on lots of things, but this felt like a good investment.

When I signed up, it was actually very impulsive. I think I applied 10 minutes before the deadline. I thought if not now, when? I didn’t want to spend more years without making a change, and I liked the idea of having a support network as did it.

What did the community mean to you? How did it help? What resonated the most with you?
I realised very early that I needed to get out of my head and take action. As soon as I started having meaningful conversations with people and doing things, my anxiety lessened and I felt like I was making tiny steps towards where I wanted to be. I felt like I was making progress whereas before I’d felt really stagnant. I didn’t want to be in the same place in 20 years time, so I spoke to lots of different people and made sure I experimented. I was still juggling full time work, so it was really intense but also really beneficial.

The biggest thing with the community was there was no competition. It was such a wide range of ages, professions and nationalities and everyone was so supportive and encouraging. Everyone was always prepared to listen to what you had to say and it was a really wholesome atmosphere. We still have a Whatsapp group and shout out when we’ve reached a milestone or have a question.

The action and the support from the community were the biggest things. Getting out of my head was the biggest thing I took away, and the idea of 1% gains that tap away at bigger objectives.

How have you managed your finances whilst moving into a new career/role?
I stuck in my job until February 2019 because I knew that I needed to have a bit of a safety net. Plus one of my environmental aims last year was not to buy anything new, which helped me to save money. I also was able to reduce my living costs and cut my monthly outgoings.

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 finished the programme a year ago. I didn’t quit my job at that point, although there were lots of people on my programme who did. I’d recently been promoted and the programme had changed my attitude at work. I put myself out there more and was more self assured, even in my existing job. That soon wore off, but I then knew I had the skills to make changes.

I carried on speaking to people and experimenting – attending lots of events and volunteering to build my network further. Myself and another girl on our cohort decided we would put together a monthly catch up session with the group once the programme ended. This helped me because I was able to practice being in a leading role by organising our sessions, and allowed me to keep the momentum going.

Using this momentum and support of the group, I also really tried to push outside my comfort zone. I created a website around a startup idea, I tested out going into travel blogging by writing a few articles, I volunteered pulling together a hackathon event and I did a course in documentary film-making. It was a way to immerse myself in different careers, but also I wanted to explore being more creative, learn and build my network.

I had seen OnPurpose’s programmes on Escape’s job board. It appealed to me as I was interested in social impact and entrepreneurship but hadn’t narrowed it down enough. The OnPurpose programme takes you through leadership, social and environmental impact with training, mentors and coaches. It was a really rigorous interview process but I was offered a place on the programme which has just started.

I really wanted to be an agent of change and started at my first placement two days ago! I’m working with FrontLine, which is like TeachFirst for social work.


What does your day-to-day look like right now? How are you spending your days? 
I’m already going out to shadow and observe social workers and the team who provide the training programme. The idea is that I’ll be using my operations and management skills to look at the structure of the company. It’s early days but I’m finding my feet and meeting people. I already feel really aligned to the mission.

How are you feeling about yourself now? What are you most excited for in the coming months or years?
For me, the biggest thing coming into the programme was that I wanted to leave the travel industry as I knew there was more I wanted to explore. I stuck in one place through a lot of my twenties so hadn’t explored lots of different careers. So now I’m really excited about being able to keep learning and push myself, and to find out about new sectors.

What advice would you give to those feeling the way you did before you began your escape?
I have a few friends already that I’m trying to persuade to do the course. But if you’re feeling lost in your career, my advice is to speak to as many different people as possible. Have people around you who can hold you accountable. Expose yourself to lots of different fields and immerse yourself in that. Also try to do a little thing every day that takes the pressure off the big goal. Doing one small thing and not putting it off –  that’s what stuck with me from the course. Even if it doesn’t work out – keep trying new things and don’t hold on to regrets.

Thanks Nicky. Finally, is there anything you want to share with other Escapees?

OnPurpose is currently recruiting for their next cohort. If you want to get into social enterprises and charities that have social and environmental impact, it’s an amazing transition and there’s so much support along the way with placements and training every week. If you would like to find out more about my experience on the programme, I would be happy to have a chat, you can email me: nicky.dunlop@onpurpose.london

Nicky completed Escape’s Career Change Accelerator in April 2018. To join her in taking control of your career and designing a life that works for you, learn more here.

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