But What About Your Pension? They were some of the very first words uttered to me by several people including my parents when I broke the news that I would be leaving my career of 17 years to go it alone.
After studying Illustration at University back in 1997 I tried to live the freelance life but at 21 all I wanted was MONEY!! So, when an advert appeared in the local paper asking for Art teachers I thought it was a great idea. Fast-forward 15 years, 2 kids, 3 houses, a wedding and a few promotions and we land in 2015. This is where Instagram kicked in for me and I had my head turned. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job, my colleagues and working with kids everyday really isn’t as bad as it sounds but I had lost my creativity and Instagram allowed me to find it again.
My Instagram journey started with images of the house, after years of collecting vintage pieces to decorate our cottage in an eclectic way I started to take pictures of my interior styling and people started liking them! In the space of 3 months I was approached by a stylist to shoot the house for a magazine, I conjured up the idea for my Vintage Styling Kits and I won a styling competition for a place on one of Emily Quinton’s workshops. My following was growing and it felt good.
I was torn, whilst I was massively enjoying this new life I was growing increasingly unhappy at work by the day, the prospect of turning 40 was just around the corner and another 20 years plus of doing the same thing filled me with dread. However, I had reached assistant head level and I was earning good money, what was a girl to do?
On December 4th 2015 something terrible happened. A much loved and very respected friend and colleague lost her fight with cancer. Renee was the most inspiring and uplifting lady I knew who had a lust for life. For years she and her husband had dreamed of retiring to their holiday home in Spain and she would keep saying “one more year” For Renee that dream was never realized and it gave me the kick up the arse that I needed. Life was clearly too short to not be doing what made me truly happy. In February 2016 I handed in my notice!!!
I had started blogging back in January 2015 under the name of The Vintage House That Could, mainly about how I styled the house, vintage treasures and things that inspired me. I loved the connection of writing and taking my own pictures, I loved that people actually read it! How on earth was this going to make me a living though? We had got married the previous year after 18 years of waiting (that’s another story…) and I still had a huge selection of props left, I had become a little more than obsessed with weddings whilst planning my own and I knew I needed to help others to create the day of their dreams. So, my plan was to launch a wedding styling business with a new website, logo and branding on my 40th birthday.
I spent the months prior to launch getting images ready, researching the industry and gathering up goodies for sale. I always knew I wanted a shop within the website as people often asked me to source them items and I loved hunting for treasures as much as styling them. The most amazing thing was that I already had 3 weddings booked in! I often get asked how these completely sane people trusted me with on their biggest day without seeing any of my work other than my own wedding. All I can say is that I am truly grateful that they did.
My site went live on the 27th April 2016, with so much support from everyone and lots of champagne. I was still working until the end of the Academic year but I fitted in as much as possible, I joined networking groups, I attended events and I worked my but off to get the business noticed.
I left my life as I knew it in July 2016, I practiced my speech and said goodbye to so many lovely friends but I didn’t cry because I was so happy.
Everyone around me could see just how much this change was needed too. The most important person in all of this is my amazing husband, at no point did he try and talk me out of it and has been with me every step of the way. Even when the realisation hit that our 2 plus holidays and spending money days were over!! Sorry Martin.
When everyone else went back to school in September I stayed at home! The weirdest feeling ever. This is I, someone that didn’t take time off and it felt like I was wagging it. I was 40 years old and I had never been my own boss, how was I going to fill my days? Well, one of the first things I did was to become a school mum, my kids had been used to early breakfast clubs and after school clubs and for my son’s final year at primary school I was able to walk him to school.
Now don’t get me wrong, my kids were not affected by this as I am sure millions of children across the world are not either and as a working mum it’s just something that I had to do. I really relished this opportunity to walk up and down the road every day. I only forgot a couple of times, I promise!
I kept myself busy and my trusty lists came out in force. I have always been a list writer, I don’t know a teacher that isn’t, so I would sit on a Sunday evening and plan out my week ahead, both big and small events. I knew it was going to be important to get a styling portfolio together so I arranged my first styled shoot with two fabulous suppliers – Lucie Brady Photography and Lisa Pocklington. I am really proud of what we all achieved that day and I still use those images now. In the run up to Christmas I styled my first wedding, exhibited at 3 wedding fairs, styled a christening and a hair salon. All the while I kept my style on brand and ensured that every single detail was top quality.
In short, my 40th year on the planet was pretty amazing, not only had I launched my own business but we squeezed in holidays (while we could still afford them) the house was featured in Style at Home magazine, I attended some fabulous events and continued to meet and be inspired by brilliant creatives and wedding suppliers. I guest wrote blog posts and worked with some lovely brands. Collaboration for me is a must, no man is an island and it is so important to elevate and help each other out.
2017 has been my first proper wedding season and I have had the best time I could squeal…and I do every time someone books me! I am both honoured and extremely thankful that so many couples trusted me to style their beautiful venues. I have been in marquees, country houses, barns and even forests. Each one an amazing experience and a delight to work with so many different suppliers. As I wrote this piece, I was getting ready to complete my last two weddings of 2017, which means I will have styled 15 in all. I know for some this will be small fry but in my first year I am so proud. I was over the moon to have a wedding and two styled shoots featured on national blogs and to top it off I only went and won an award!! ‘Highly Commended’ at The Wedding Industry Awards. I mean come on, proud isn’t the word!
Above all I can’t tell you how free and invigorated I feel. People comment on just how miserable I used to look and I suppose I just took it for granted that teaching was my life, you choose a career and you stick at it. Being self-employed was what other people did.
We had talked for years about paying off the mortgage and being financially free but at what cost? Happiness and fulfillment is everything, without it you are just living but not loving life. I was recently asked to talk at Top Drawer about ‘Living the Life you Love’. On the panel were the very inspirational Phenalla Mayall Fine & Alice Olins founders of The Step up Club and Laura Turner, owner of Hero Stores.
We chatted about being in business and the ladies gave brilliant tips for staying positive and being confident. At the end, a few different people came up to me and thanked me for being an inspiration!! Me? I’ve had messages on Instagram and Facebook saying the same and even my best friend left her career in HR to set up a food van. She claims I gave her the push, I didn’t, she would have done it anyway but I will happily take the credit.
So, they say that life begins at 40! It would be rude for me to say this as I have been blessed with a very lovely life. However, I do feel that once you reach that point things do start to become a little clearer; what’s important and what warrants your time and energy. Going it alone isn’t for everyone but the sense of pride and achievement in creating a business that not only you love but makes others happy can’t be bad. I throughly recommend it.