Crazy or confident?

Caroline Gosling shares her experience of jumping from a secure, high-flying job at GlaxoSmithKline into a small, high-growth consulting firm called Rubica 

Do you ever dream of a more fulfilled work life? Or wish you could get off the corporate treadmill? Well, this is what Caroline Gosling (former Head of Executive Communications for GSK) has done and I want to share her story with those who have similar dreams to show that you really can make these dreams a reality.

Following a career in PR consultancies, Caroline had been at GSK for five years and in that time held three different jobs. To an outsider, this seemed like great progression – and she enjoyed the variety of the roles she took on – but something felt not quite right. Despite the seeming progress, she still felt dissatisfied, like there had to be something more.

When she moved to a global internal communications role she felt at first that this was a narrowing of scope, having been used to a wide and varied brief in previous positions. So she used her experience, knowledge and network to learn about how more progressive organisations were thinking about how they interact with their employees and how they value them. Her interest was sparked and she began to evolve how she, and the organisation, thought about engaging with employees. When a new CEO was appointed at GSK, Caroline moved to a newly created role as Global Head of Executive Communications and Engagement Strategy. She built up a team of four people whilst also delivering. She was succeeding in her role, she was getting great feedback and she felt some satisfaction that progress was being made for the business, but there was still something missing for her.

Then one day, at home, she was reading Brené Brown’s book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ and she says “My life, in one moment, just changed!”. She had a dawning realisation that things that brought her joy were not actually things she was getting from her job at GSK. She says “One thing I realised was I thought I should have a high status, high profile job but in reality what I got enjoyment from was creativity and making things happen.  Status and profile were what I thought was expected from me as a ‘successful’ woman. But I was prioritising this over the things that truly brought me fulfilment – like time with close family and friends, or time spent outside in nature. My current job was fulfilling the first aspect, but operating in a corporate environment, in such a massive organisation was sucking all my energy and I wasn’t enjoying life.”

With the inspiration from Brown’s book, Caroline decided to invest some time in her own personal development with an organisation called ‘One of Many’ and after doing a retreat all about being fulfilled at work, she resigned from her job – without anything to go to.

I asked Caroline how that felt and she said she had total confidence that she was good enough to find something else, even though she didn’t have anything to go to. Part of the work at the retreat was listing out who could help her in her network. She was blown away by the realisation that she had a ready network that could help her, if only she asked. She had a big realisation that she didn’t have to go from zero to hero and that there were lots of different ways she could make money. 

As she worked out her long notice period, it wasn’t all rosy thoughts. She was hit by the fear of losing status and income. But she was also reminded that she and her husband had always managed their money well enough and they’d never been in a position where they hadn’t been able to pay bills, so why should a different ‘work’ path make this any different?

When she resigned in July, she felt liberated and a weight lifted from her shoulders. Her husband said that he saw the person she used to be. Carefree and happy. She felt intuitively that it was the right choice. But then, she had a massive wobble! GSK were a good employer and were keen for her to stay and she was worried she’d leapt too soon. But she kept reminding herself about the feelings she’d had and the excitement of what new opportunities could be out there that were more aligned to what truly made her heart sing and filled her with contentment.

She was still not sure what she was going to do workwise – she had a lot of ideas and a number of opportunities on the table, but was very aware that she wanted to make the right decision. However, on holiday she had a moment of realisation that actually it didn’t have to be black and white. It wasn’t a forever decision, and one thing could lead to another. So, she ignored all the ‘yeah buts’ from her inner critic, listened to her gut again and accepted an offer to become a partner in a small, but growing consulting firm called Rubica.

She had re-evaluated her list of needs, and this position ticked all of the boxes. She wanted more control over her time and energy, wanted to be her own boss and not an employee, she wanted to prioritise home before work and wanted to be geographically mobile if needed. It offered this plus a salary from day one. Caroline says: “The reason it was a difficult decision was because I kept thinking it had to be forever. Once I had stopped beating myself up about this, it was very simple!”  

She adds: “My biggest learning from this whole experience was to stop putting things into an ‘either/or’ category and start to embrace some ‘AND’”.

So, after four weeks in her new job I was interested to see how she was feeling.

“This week things are slotting into place and it’s starting to feel like I hoped it was going to feel. I was in a bit of a dream world when I expected the first day to feel like I’d walked into a new, amazing dream life. This week, I have had a really great mix of seeing clients, pitching (buzz, creativity), co-working and development time with team.  I have also managed to make school assembly! I feel like I have control over my working week which is so refreshing.

I still have a temptation to fill every space, and I have to force myself to leave space in my diary. This is key to avoid falling back into being ‘superwoman’ and ensure I keep the balance just right.”

If you are in the same boat as Caroline and thinking of leaving your corporate job, do join our Facebook community ‘Business Women with Impact’ and learn from others like Caroline who have made a transition like this.

Joy Burnford