How To Make A Big Career Change.
From someone who did it.
February is a month when our New Year career resolve can become damp and soggy. Stop that happening with our career-kick-in-the-pants, and the inspiring story of Kirsten Blazek; Scottish nurse turned LA Interior Designer and owner of A1000XBetter
Her career change is a story of guts, empowerment and driving your own path. And what’s most inspiring of all, it shows how change at its heart is about listening to your instincts and taking that first step…until you find you’re running on a very different path.
Be inspired, and we’ll see you in two weeks.
With love, The Jolt.
Q. Ok Kirsten, so what the heck were you before you moved into the world of Interior Design?
I was a nurse, in Scotland. Like a charge nurse, in the ICU.
Q. Tell us what you do now, in a nut-shell?
Well, I’m lots of things, but essentially, I’m a designer. I began my career change by staging houses for sale. It’s funny, 8 years ago, staging was a basic practice. People filled empty houses with furniture, with no thought to design. It was more a formula to make them feel lived in for buyers, not to create an emotion, to show the potential of a home. A home and a house are two very different things. A house is a building. A home is your life. I wanted to help people create amazing lives through their homes.
Q. What drove you to make this big career change?
A feeling. Nothing more! I knew I didn’t want to go back to nursing, and I knew in my gut that I couldn’t go back to working for someone else in a 9 to 5. I just knew it. I was not well organized in my thoughts - I didn’t have a spreadsheet with everything detailed down. I listened to my instinct. Looking back, that same instinct was the thing I used to build my social media presence. Instagram was still really young back then, but I knew it could be a great tool for my line of work because it’s very visual. I made a conscious effort to build my social media presence. To post, to comment, to build a community. It’s really paid off. Many of my community are now my friends. I just did what felt right to me, not how someone told me how I should do it.
Q. What was the first step you took to bring your passion to reality? At The Jolt, one of our Super Skills is DOING – i.e., getting shit done regardless, and not spending your life thinking about it. What were your first actions, big or small?
It was as small a first step as you can get. A friend came round my house and commented on how much they liked my design. I had no training. I just had a good eye and used it on my own home while I was figuring out what to do with my life! My friend suggested I help a friend of hers decorate their house, so I did. Then a friend of theirs liked what I did, and asked me to help them too. These were just small decorating projects at first. But I loved it. I discovered my passion. Funny, eh?
Things built from there. I got more decorating projects and started staging houses. Because staging was so basic at the time, I realized I could create a niche – stage houses as I’d like to see them. Make them look amazing. We grew fast. People who liked how we staged, started to ask us to do the interior design for them. I made a hire. I didn’t have formal design training, so I hired a young designer with the technical expertise that I didn’t have, and we built from there. Now I have 10 employees.
Q. I’m curious, was there anything you learnt in Nursing, that you took with you when you founded your own business?
I have no formal training and have never created or run a business before. But I work with people. Clients, my team. In many ways, what I do is very intimate. When you’re working with someone’s home, you’re helping them make decisions they’re going to live with for years, if not their whole life. I get to create long term relationships with people, sometimes these can be two years or more if we’re doing major design and construction. It’s not so different to nursing. Caring about people. Listening to them and getting to know them at an intimate level. Also, I don’t judge. My clients are who they are. You can’t judge a patient. You just have to help them get back to health.
Q. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being it was a “walk in the park”, and 10 being it was like “trying to thread a camel through the eye of a needle”, when you look back on the career transition you made, how easy or hard was it with hindsight?
10 for hard work but 10 for the rewards! Yes, it was hard. I had to make decisions with no real guidance, every single day. When things were busy, that’s a whole set of issues to tackle. When things were quiet, that created another set of different issues to tackle. You’re constantly adapting on the fly. I had to make tough decisions that I had no idea would turn our right or wrong, but I had to be decisive. I trusted my gut. The rewards have been beyond my dreams. I could never go back to working for anyone, ever. I was not meant to be an employee. This is what I learnt about myself. I had been an employee for so long, but it just wasn’t me. Now I can finally be truthful to myself about that. What I do, is me.
Q. What has been the biggest thing have you learnt on this career change journey?
Listen. Listen to everyone. Clients. Staff. Honoring their uniqueness and their flaws, and be fully aware of your own. I firmly know now what I like and don’t like. I’ve hired where I don’t have the skills and I delegate those things I’m not good at. This all came from listening. So, I guess my big learning is, I’m constantly learning to listen. Life is very nuanced. Design is very nuanced. Listening is a super skill. You have to hear the world you want to build. Also, my team are critical. I’ve never led a team in the traditional sense. I simply wanted to be the fairest and coolest boss I can be. To respect my team as people and make their life better. I have really low turnover so I guess that’s a vote in the right direction.
Q. What advice would you give to your younger self or anyone else who is thinking about making a career change like this?
Trust your instincts. This is at the core of any meaningful change. I listened to my gut and was truthful to myself. Even though at first, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to build something to my own agenda. I knew I had to work for myself. You don’t need it all figured out. You don’t need a massive budget. You just need to take that first step. However small. I’ve learnt that when you’re authentic, when you really work to your instincts, no-one can question you. No-one has to second guess what you do or who you are. You know, I’ve never spent a penny on marketing. Zero. Nothing. It’s all word of mouth. I’m proud of that because that’s the real vote for authenticity. I don’t have to put a spin on anything.
Q. What do you think stops most people from following a passion like you did?
Life gets in the way, for certain. People think tomorrow is the time to do something, but tomorrow never comes. I was fortunate that I had built good relationships and had a bit of money saved to act as a cushion. Having some form of financial back-up certainly helps alleviate the worry. But, remember, I started with one project. It cost me nothing. Don’t let paying bills stop you. When you set an intention, it’s funny how those things take care of themselves.
Q. You grew up in Scotland. What are the big differences between working in Scotland and America?
A lot less vacation! That said, I think the UK and America are more similar today than ever. There definitely feels to be less balance here in the US. But I could not have done this in the UK. There’s a can-do attitude in the US, the desire to make it happen and I think, certainly in LA, there’s a creative community that is very uplifting. It’s a cliche, but people certainly believe they can build dreams here. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it in the UK, but you do need to surround yourself with the people who will help pull you up, not push you down. I guess the lesson is, you can create the environment for your success, wherever you live. Follow your gut, wherever you are and whoever you are. That’s my advice.
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