Changing Careers from 'For Profit' to 'For Purpose' - a personal journey

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I'm not a person who gives general advice, but I am willing to share my story if it might be of interest or use to someone else. I recently received the message below from a new LinkedIn connection and I responded briefly in writing. I found it hard to codify how someone else might go about changing careers from 'for profit' to 'for purpose' because I think it's all so individual, but here is a potted summary of my trajectory, on the eve of moving into another 'for purpose' job.

"I am keen to move out of the corporate world into something a little more altruistic. Noting that you'd completed a similar transition yourself, I'm simply writing to ask if you might be able to spare me a few minutes ...  so I might understand how you achieved this & if you've any tips as to how I might do the same?"
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In order for me to leave the oil and gas industry after 20 years, it took two major illnesses in my life: breast cancer and depression. Before anyone thinks, "Depression isn’t that serious", please read my posts entitled ‘Stories from the Edge’. During my last year of turmoil at BP I started volunteering to help organisations with issues that aligned with my passions, plus building connections through events and talking with people. I got involved in helping to implement the new WA Mental Health Act as a mental health advocate and advisor to the WA Mental Health Commission, working at Foodbank WA on hunger relief and supporting a youth-led Aboriginal reconciliation organisation called ICEA. I also invested my own time and money in educating myself about topics that were of interest and relevance to me.

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It took me about a year to discover ‘the work that I couldn’t NOT do’ and be convinced to ‘do things for impact not the money’ (or any other) transitory reward. Thank you to Scott Dinsmore, who founded Live Your Legend, a career and connection platform to inspire people to discover their passion and change the world by doing the work they love. All I needed from him was his TED talk and his poster called the CREED OF LIVING LEGENDS. 

In January 2015, I took a leap of faith and left the oil and gas sector for good to become an independent consultant and coach. Once I severed my ties with the corporate sector, I 'rediscovered' myself and what mattered to me. I chose to serve small businesses, a school and not-for-profit organisations in Perth, helping to bring about people-focused change through assisting them with strategy development, planning and implementation, organisational improvements and professional growth.

However, I had to be willing to do a lot of pro bono and low paid work as a consultant and find work through referrals and word of mouth. Whenever I was given a chance to demonstrate my abilities on the ground as a consultant to for purpose organisations, I didn't have a problem showing I could add value with transferable skills, but getting those openings were hard. I think that's where volunteering and pro bono work were useful to me in the first instance.

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I then developed a small web presence, began blogging and exploring how I could use social media for social purpose. Last year, I decided to start blogging about my mental health issues at work and founded Mind People at Work as a result. I was working for a while with an amazing team of experienced mental health professionals, consultant mentors and coaches, and occupational psychologists with the collective knowledge, skills and passion to make a difference to workplace mental health. Our idea was to rapidly set up a service that promoted a mentally healthy workplace and helped people manage their mental wellbeing to remain at work or return to work, by connecting them with peer mentors with their own lived experience of mental health recovery. Learning that the market has been swamped with workplace mental health resources by much larger players, I refocused my attention on changing attitudes to workplace mental health and mental health in general.

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I initiated an anti-stigma campaign on Facebook called Mental Illness l It's Not Who I Am, which was a moderately successful social experiment involving people willing to state that they had a mental illness diagnosis, but it didn't define them. We published 16 stories, reached more than 85,000 people with over 30,000 views. Stigma is still preventing many people from speaking up about mental health issues unfortunately.

By mid 2016, a paucity of paid consulting and coaching work became unsustainable financially, I was missing working in a team, and I wanted to learn more about the social sector. I spent 4 months applying for various roles before landing a consulting role with Social Ventures Australia, a social purpose organisation that works with partners to improve the lives of Australians in need. While applying for roles in various 'for purpose' organisations, I found people were always skeptical about whether my skills and experience from the oil and gas industry were relevant and transferable, whether I could work in a different size and type of organisation, and whether I would fit in with people who had different career histories.

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My upcoming role in MercyCare arose through building a relationship with people there first as an SVA consultant. MercyCare is a leading Catholic provider of aged care, family, health, disability and community services in Western Australia, with the wonderful tag line, 'Every person matters'. I'm really looking forward to serving one step closer to the 'coal face' and contributing to developing their family and community services, whilst learning a great deal more about the social sector. 

It's been wonderful to find a social purpose organisation that values ALL of my experience from the 'for profit' and the 'for purpose' worlds. It's also important to me now that I can be authentic and honest with colleagues about my lived experience with mental health issues, and bring that as another useful experience. It's something that I think every organisation should encourage if it truly values integrity and honesty (as most do), as well as valuing the people who work for them. 

So this is my story so far, and I hope it might be of help or encouragement to someone else in a similar position. If you want to ask me any questions, or leave a comment, or share your own experience, please feel free to do so below, or contact me directly. Thank you for reading through to the end!