Three years ago, I had just left a miserable job with an epic commute for a new role that turned out to be even worse. By the summer, I had been made redundant and was wondering what the hell to do with my life. I’d worked in the fashion industry since I left university, in roles that were once upon a time my dream jobs. On a daily basis, I had been told that ‘hundreds of girls are queuing up to do your job for free’, as I crept off to sob in the toilets. I witnessed a thriving independent company being poached by a greedy businessman, yet also learned the perils of working for a small brand with no HR department. I was over fashion, I never wanted to work in the industry again, but what was my next move?
When I decided to try my hand at freelance writing, the main niggle in the back of my mind was that I was setting myself up for failure. I hadn’t studied English language, writing or journalism since failing an AS level (thanks to the dullest teacher imaginable), I had no formal training and didn’t have a clue where to start looking for work.
Why would someone choose me to write for them, when there were so many trained writers out there?
But I had no other plans, a small pay-out sat in my bank account, and probably my only chance ever to give it a go and jump in at the deep end. So I sat on the sofa with my laptop and googled ‘freelance writer jobs’.
Throughout my entire life, reading and writing had accompanied me. As a child, I was at my happiest with my head stuck in a book (sometimes three or four at once) and spent most of my free time
soaking up the written word. When I wasn’t reading, I was writing short stories in my constantly growing pile of notebooks, inspired by the books that I read. After university, lacking a creative outlet and feeling miserable in a shop job, I started writing my first blog, focused predominantly on fashion.
Through this blog (terrible as it was, looking back), I eventually scored my first head-office job as an E-commerce Assistant where my role included managing the fledgling company blog and Instagram account. I lucked out, having got my foot in the door through an unpaid internship, a best friend in a senior position and entering the company at a time when blogging and social media were relatively new.
I thrived in this role, securing several promotions before securing my coveted role of Content Coordinator where I oversaw all of the content for the newsletters, website, social media and blog.
The pay was crap, but had been steadily rising and I saw a career blossoming in front of me. Then, disaster hit, our company was bought by a large discount sports brand and our office was shipped off to an industrial estate that took me hours to commute to each day.
For the next two years, I slaved away with long hours, no recognition for my work, and a commute that left me exhausted. I was so stressed out and miserable that I suffered from an agonising inflammatory condition in my legs and feet, that was put down to the stress of my job.
So I left, for a dubious job working as a Social Media Manager for a vintage-inspired brand that had
moved their offices to Manchester. I recruited a team of lovely, hard-working people and started to work on improving their social media, blog and website – until they asked me to hire a Website Manager who I would be working under.
I knew things were going downhill when I felt out of my depth interviewing people for a much more senior position that involved elements of a job that I hadn’t got the foggiest about (logistics systems, anyone?). Days after the winning candidate had been hired, an external HR person arrived at our office to tell me that I had lost my job, effective immediately. Slowly, I learned that this happened to every single member of the team (including the man who implemented the redundancies).
So, there I was. Two months shy of turning thirty, unemployed, sat on the sofa in my pyjamas in the middle of the day wondering what to do with my life.
I knew that I loved to write, that I was good at it – but would anyone pay me to write for them?
My online searches led me to a now-defunct website called Elance that served as a marketplace where freelancers and clients could connect. I filled out a profile, citing my personal blog and the work I had done for my previous jobs as experience, applied for a couple of jobs and held my breath. I was lucky; from that first search I secured two regular jobs. One writing lifestyle content for the blog of a fledgling brand and the other writing travel content for a website (who I still write for now).
Once I’d began writing for these two clients, I found that more brands, websites and magazines were interested in my work. It was a risk, attempting go freelance with no experience rather than throwing myself into applying for jobs that I was qualified for. I turned down interviews and even an offer of a full-time position for another fashion brand, but I knew that the fashion industry wasn’t for me.
I’d also become disillusioned to the thought of ever working a nine-to-five job again. Once I started freelancing and got used to the freedom it offers, I wondered how anyone could spend their life working for someone else, committing themselves to long hours, dull commutes and strict office rules for the rest of their lives. I was enjoying working for myself, and realising that you don’t have to do what everybody else does in order to make money.
When I secured my part-time job, three days a week working for a lovely independent interiors brand, everything fell into place. I had the stability of a regular income with the flexibility of also working for myself. This job gradually evolved into something I hadn’t expected, and became another outlet for my creativity. I became the Creative Content & Partnerships Manager, managing the content, blog and social media as well as assisting with buying collections, styling photoshoots and arranging the showroom. The interiors industry offered much more creativity and flexibility than the fashion industry had, along with a better working environment and a more fulfilling role.
My career is still a journey; I’m still learning, my work is evolving and I still occasionally struggle to find well-paid writing work. But I’m passionate about what I do, I enjoy every aspect of both my salaried job and my freelance work, and I have the freedom to manage myself. I stuck up two fingers at an industry that treats its employees like they don’t matter, and at the idea that we all have to work nine-to-five for the rest of our lives.
Circumstances threw me into a position where I decided to follow my dreams, but I’ve never looked back.
Five tips for following your own dreams
- What is your passion in life? How can you make a living out of this passion? Answer those
two simple questions, and you will be on the right path.
- Speak to other people who have made the leap. What advice can they offer?
- Don’t worry about timing. It will never be the right time to leave your secure job and follow
- Commit. Throw in as much time as possible to research and then work on achieving your
- Don’t give up. Even when it gets hard or it seems like it’s impossible, think about what you
can do to achieve your goals.
Emma Lavelle is a freelance writer, keen photographer and slow-living enthusiast with an endless wanderlust. Based in the north of England, Emma writes about slow travel, a relaxed pace of life and timeless style.