career career

Nurse, Social Worker, Solicitor, Coach – The Story of a Career Changer

Choosing a career always seems like such a momentous, finite decision. However, it certainly does not have to be. Collette Bryson, founder of Engage Life Coaching, shares her story.

When I grow up…

Did you always know what you wanted to be when you grew up?  When well-meaning adults asked you what you wanted to be, did you pipe up immediately and confidently with the one and only career you considered pursuing?

For years I answered, without doubt or a second thought “Nurse” to anyone who asked me. 


I have no idea.  I just had this notion. 

There were no nurses in the family and no-one “encouraging” me down that road.  It was just a feeling I had.  I played nurse.  I was interested in it. It stayed with me until my teens. It was accepted within my family that that was what I was going to be.  

Beware the voices! (yours and others’)

However, at a parent teacher meeting, my parents were told that I “could do better than nursing”. And so began the seeds of doubt. 

Have you experienced these?  The voices in your head saying “Am I cut out for this?” or “Maybe there’s something else for me”?  The opinions of others, especially people who you think must know about this stuff (i.e. teachers) seep into our sub-conscious and start planting thoughts.  Same goes for well-meaning parents. And others who may tell you, for example, to become a teacher because you come from a long line of teachers, or to become a doctor because you shine at science.

So, I began to look at other options and decided that Social Work was for me. I applied for third-level sociology courses (not knowing much about this subject or career, other than the noble act of “helping” appealed to me).

Fluke events and assumptions

Suddenly, a fluke event led me down a road where I would spend 20 years as a general practice solicitor. A career I had never considered (law appearing too “hard” or demanding and requiring high grades to get in). 

An A Level teacher went to a conference and came back with brochures on a new degree course which hadn’t made it to the centralised application system, so was accepting direct entries.  BA (Hons) Government and Law at the University of Ulster (as was). 

It looked interesting! Some law subject, some government subjects and an economics module.  I applied, obtained the grades and was accepted on the course. 

Student Life

I thoroughly enjoyed my 3 years studying for that degree, but without too much thought as to what I might become, or where it might lead me.  The option then arose to apply for the solicitor’s training course in Northern Ireland.  This involved two 3-hour exams of an aptitude type basis and for which there was little preparation you could do.  I found that I actually enjoyed this type of practical “apply the law” scenario, and I got a place on the solicitor’s training course.

From there, I had to get an office to take me on as an apprentice solicitor.  Again, a bit of a fluke involved in where I ended up training, as it was quite difficult to get a master! (Especially if you didn’t have any contacts in law, which I didn’t, so I had to grab what was out there).

So that is how I ended up becoming a solicitor and spending 20 years as a general practice solicitor.  And I lived happily ever after, right?  Career sorted!

A career for life?

As I enjoyed very much working as a solicitor, the time flew. And as the years went by, the Celtic tiger roared and life was good.  Not a thought was lost on my career path or where I wanted to end up.  I just kept on going and kept on working merrily away. 

I loved it (most of the time!).

Until that is, I returned from my second maternity leave in May 2008.

The world had changed. 

My secure job was not so secure, and the employment market was on its knees.  It sometimes takes a crisis to get us thinking about life, the universe and everything.  The economy, together with my own family and personal circumstances, got me thinking.  By the time a voluntary redundancy was on the cards in 2012, I was ready to go.  I needed a different work-life balance.  A break.  A different way of working.

I didn’t know what it was, but I was ready for a change.

So… I jumped!

The comfort zone

So, this is when I staged a career change. Right??


Ten months later, having been a stay at home mum by choice, I got a bit itchy. 

I needed to do something. 

The job market was still not so great, so when a job very similar to my last one came up, I took it. 

In retrospect, this wasn’t the right move for me then.  It was a nice job, with a nice employer and ticked a lot of boxes for me.  But it didn’t address that old feeling of unease, work-life balance, the different way of working that I knew I needed when I had left my previous job.  At the time it was easier for me to slip back to the comfort of what I knew.  I knew I could do that job and I wanted back to work. So, I ended up back where I started – as a general practice solicitor in a small firm with all that encompasses.

When to leave the comfort zone

So, after 4 years, (and with the help of coaching), I decided to leave law. 

For good?  Who knows! 

Through coaching, I discussed my issues as I saw them.  At that time, it was practical family stuff and how my full-time, full-on job just didn’t fit this time of my life.  We looked at my work values.  What was important for me to have from a job? The answers to that became my guiding light, enabling me to make decisions.

I handed in my notice, and set about making a career change. 

Values guide decisions 

If you are having trouble making a decision, I would recommend that you examine your values and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is important to me right now?
  • And what is the most important thing?
  • How can I make sure that these important things (values) are being honoured in my life?
  • Is there something that I am doing that is mis-aligned with my values? And if so, what can I do about that?

Embrace change

Our values can change as we go through life.

What is important to us at 20, may not be important to us at 40. So it’s only natural that our career needs may change as well.  This may mean that what you wanted to do as a child doesn’t suit you anymore. Fluke events may have meant you ended up somewhere by chance. Assumptions and expectations of ourselves and others can guide us down a road… And we may find, when we get there, that it doesn’t look like what we expected it to look like. 

Things change. The economy changes. Technology evolves and therefore careers can change, become obsolete and new areas can emerge. 

But don’t panic – All of the skills and experience gained over your various jobs, careers and life events will stand to you in any future move.

Identify themes

Look for the themes or trends for you.  For me, you may think that nursing, social work, law and coaching are a random selection of career areas. But the overriding theme for me is working with people, helping, listening and communicating.  

What’s your theme?

Collette Bryson is a Life and Career Coach and founder of Engage Life Coaching.  She is a mum of two, and a career changer, having formerly worked as a solicitor for 20 years. Collette offers :

  • One-to-one career and life coaching
  • CV service
  • Psychometric assessments (career decisions and leadership)
  • Workshops
  • Webinars
  • Online coaching programs.

Looking to get into something new? Have a look through the courses you can do to help you find your dream career.