x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Taking the career switch plunge in the UAE

If your job isn’t making you happy, it could be time to switch paths – and help is at hand in the UAE, writes Jessica Hill.

Samia Shehadeh was an executive coach before leaving that career to open Art Beat studio with her younger sister. Courtesy of Amanda Shehadeh
Samia Shehadeh was an executive coach before leaving that career to open Art Beat studio with her younger sister. Courtesy of Amanda Shehadeh

You find yourself clock-watching from lunchtime onwards. Your mind is always wandering to where to go for your next holiday. You don’t fit in with the corporate culture … but still, the idea of changing a whole career midlife and risking losing everything is something that most people are too terrified to ­contemplate.

But some do find the courage to take a leap into the unknown. Pauline Emaure, a Dubai resident, found herself in her 30s feeling trapped in a job as a market-research analyst that didn’t satisfy her. She admits that it took her a long time to find the courage to leave. “I would find myself waking up in the mornings on workdays with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, knowing I had to go to work. But it was a painful decision to have to make. To get out of your comfort zone, it’s a very difficult thing.”

To help find a new career, Emaure turned to the Dubai-based success strategist Susan Castle, who founded Outwith the Dots in 1997 and this year set up WLP Success with her fellow coach Donna Needs.

Castle gave Emaure a questionnaire to assess where her natural talents lie and identify in which sorts of jobs she would be “in flow”, using her natural talents to their maximum potential. “We looked at my strengths and I discovered I’m very well organised and I like processes, so I can concentrate my job search on jobs that require these skills.”

Castle explains: “When you are in flow, time is suspended because you’re loving what you’re doing. And because it comes naturally to you, it’s hard work but it’s also effortless. You’re productive, incredibly empowered and the results you produce are extraordinary, because you’re working to the best of your ability.”

Castle helped Emaure to work out the next step and she is now focusing on setting up her own exhibitions company. “I’m really enjoying it so far,” says Emaure. “And it’s flexible, so I have time to do my activities, too. Every exhibition is different, which makes it interesting and I am meeting new people. It’s exactly what I was looking for. But I waited too long to do this. It’s risky and it’s not easy quitting your job because you lose your security. But if you want to be happy, you have to do what you need to, to make it happen.”

Giving up an unfulfilling job to set up your own business can be a better choice than trying to switch careers in the UAE. “In a way, it’s much harder to move out of professional careers here because you get recruitment professionals who want somebody with the postage-stamp-exact-same-CV as the job description – it’s all about ticking boxes,” Needs explains. “But to become an entrepreneur, the sky’s the limit here. It’s expensive to start a business, but there are endless possibilities.”

One woman who has left a career to do just that is Samia Shehadeh, who gave up her job as an executive coach in Abu Dhabi and a year later set up the Art Beat art studio with her younger sister, Amanda. “A big reason was to have a challenge and also to get a work-life balance, which seems crazy as in some ways it’s harder to get that in your own business. But having my sister there has made it much easier. So it means that after school in the afternoon, 90 per cent of the time, I’m available for my children.”

Another Abu Dhabi resident who left a successful career to focus on her family is Natalie Hall, 39, who was a high-level career consultant in the UK. She was consistently one of the top performers in the companies she worked for. “I got all these bonuses – spa weekends in the south of France, cases of champagne – it was very well-paid and high-powered and I thrived on winning. But I worked so hard I almost made myself ill.”

Hall moved to Abu Dhabi with her family two-and-a-half years ago, when her son Thomas was four. “I wanted to spend more time with my son and my husband, who also works less hours out here,” she says. Hall got a job as a teaching assistant at her son’s school and, six months later, the school trained her to be a swimming support teacher. “I really love working with children. It’s a complete change of career direction – less financially rewarding but more of an empathetic, caring role, and the reward comes from seeing the children be able to swim. I enjoyed my former job and I do kind of half-miss it. But I don’t miss the stress of it. Now, I am on my feet all day or in the pool, so my level of fitness is really high. I don’t think 10 years ago I would have imagined I would end up doing what I am doing now at all. The opportunity would never have come up in the UK to change careers in such a dramatic way. It’s a lot easier to reinvent yourself here, because people don’t have the same preconceived ideas about you that they might have back home.”

Castle sees many people who move to the UAE reinvent themselves, but often they end up working in jobs for the wrong reasons. “It’s a very aspirational society, where people can move up the career ladder quickly. Extrinsic motivation – salary, cars, promotion and family expectations – very quickly become normal. You get a pay rise and you go ‘Wow, look what I can do with that money’, but you raise your living standard to that level, then you need another pay rise.”

Needs adds: “It’s a very short-term way of being satisfied. I love having my new car, but it will be a short-term fix. Whereas when we are intrinsically motivated, we are connected with the purpose behind what we’re doing.”

One of Castle’s clients, the former Dubai resident Sara Moseley, 42, left extrinsically motivating jobs in publishing and advertising sales and took a leap into the unknown to become a professional photographer. “I was really sure I wanted to do something with photography, but in all honesty I had no idea as to how to go about it and whether I had the courage to leave an established career and start something completely new.

“Susan [Castle] was so invaluable to me – she questioned my motives and we really dug deep to see where my barriers were and how to break through them. This gave me huge awareness of how I felt about everything and what my fears were. Once we’d identified those self-imposed barriers, we were able to break them.” Now, Moseley runs two successful photography businesses in the UK.

“I have never been happier than I am now, fuelling a real passion as well as making a living from it,” she says.

Castle and Needs’ method is not to advise clients on what jobs they should be doing, but to ask the questions that clients don’t dare to ask themselves to enable them to uncover their values and base decisions about their future on those values. Needs explains: “Once we’ve uncovered the values, everything from that moment on is pointing back to the values. So I ask: ‘Which values will you be honouring by taking this job?’”

Castle stresses the importance of making mistakes in life. “You learn a lot more from when something goes wrong, because you learn what doesn’t work. So when you’ve done all the learning you need, you then get success.

“Imagine a man watching a fabulous moth trying to get out of its chrysalis, and he wants to help it, so he cuts the chrysalis with scissors to get the moth out. But the moth is then stunted, because it’s the process of the moth struggling to get out of the chrysalis that gives it the blood flow to enable its wings to develop, so it can fully fly. And by helping the chrysalis open before it was ready, that moth will never fly. So when we’re going through real struggles, what we’re actually doing is building the muscle we need and if we don’t, we don’t have the muscle, the resilience and the strength.

“I had a very left-brained, very stressed accountant as a client. He hated his job, but he thought he hated the place he worked, not his actual job. When I asked him what he would do when he retired, he said he wanted to run an organic farm in India. But he ended up leaving his job and getting another job in the same industry and realising he hated that job, too. But my job as a coach was not to tell him ‘don’t do that’. I had to let him go through that process, though it was quite painful for me to watch him make that mistake. The new job looked fabulous on paper, but he ended up with the same issues. So he was able to say: ‘Hang on, I’m going in the wrong direction here.’

“He is now happily organic farming in India. He contacted me six months after he moved there, to ask: ‘Why didn’t you tell me not to take that job?’ I said: ‘You would never have made that decision a year ago.’ There’s a phrase we use quite often in coaching: You’ll see it when you believe it.”

Needs thinks that men often get trapped in what they think of as prestigious, high-powered careers, whereas more and more women these days are able to recreate themselves. “A traditional career path for men is often go to university, get a good job, get married, get promoted, have kids, get promoted again – then what often happens when they are in their 30s and 40s is that they stop and think: ‘I don’t even know who I am anymore and why I’m doing what I’m doing.’

“‘Midlife crisis’ is the catchphrase, but it really is true. They get the big house, the nice car, the kid’s schooling and they end up feeling trapped. But you always have choices, though they might be painful. They look at their masculinity and don’t like to feel they are not the breadwinner – that can be scary. I know men who have put their suits on and said they’re going to work every morning, when they’re not – until the money runs out,” she says.

One man who has been able to try a completely different career path is the 27-year-old Emirati Saeed Al Madani, who is taking a break from his accounting job to invest his energies in creating artwork as a fellow on the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Emerging Artists programme.

“My job required a lot of facts, using the left side of my brain. It’s something I excel at, but at the same time, the right side of my brain pushes me to create art,” Al Madini says. “I was frustrated in my job before, because I didn’t get enough time to practise art. At the moment, I am at a crossroads and I am considering making a living out of art. It’s a big jump.”

Al Madini proudly holds up the artwork that he’s been creating. It seems that he has been “in flow” while working. “I have this internal need to just kind of go into my own world and enjoy what I’m doing,” he says.

“When you’re living your life’s purpose, you’re doing the things you’re meant to be doing, in alignment with your natural talents,” Needs says, “and the gratification doesn’t come from stuff – it comes from the things you’re doing.”


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