How to earn less but feel richer...

Get off the office treadmill and try doing something more rewarding instead
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The Independent Online

Is there more to life than trudging along on the corporate treadmill? Ever considered becoming an acupuncturist, or working as a landscape gardener? For many graduates contemplating their move after university, these unusual career-choices may not seem feasible but for those individuals willing to take a risk, they can offer great job satisfaction and quality of life.

"Graduates are beginning to recognise there is no such thing as long-term security in the workplace", says Gladeana McMahon, the head of coaching at Fairplace, an executive coaching consultancy. "You're getting a number of graduates who could stay in financially lucrative jobs but are actually saying, 'is this what I want?'"

For 30-year-old fine-art graduate Gavin Williams, it was the life-changing events of a major lung operation and his father's death while working at an advertising agency that prompted a drastic change of career.

"This forced me to question mortality and life on a day-to-day basis. Looking back through my life, I came to realise that I was happiest when I was close to nature and being creative," recounts Williams.

After a bout of extensive soul-searching, Williams applied for a Masters course in landscape architecture at Greenwich University two years ago. "There were very significant sacrifices involved both financially and socially. I took a huge pay cut and consequently had to abandon my advertising lifestyle of eating out and going on holidays."

But despite the drop in salary, Williams has no regrets about setting up his own landscape gardening company, Bedrock. "I earn a lot less but feel a lot richer. It may sound idealistic but I do feel that I'm making a positive difference every time I plant a tree or encourage someone to take an interest in their garden."

Many graduates are starting to have different expectations of the workplace, comments Victoria Winkler, an advisor for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. "It's not all about salary. Issues such as flexible working and work/life balance are more important."

Take the case of 29-year-old Alistair Whitlock, who left his job working as a consulting analyst in the pharmaceutical sector to retrain as an acupuncturist at the London College of Traditional Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Now in the first year of a three-year course, Whitlock has no regrets about leaving his financially lucrative job last year. "I realised that it wasn't for me. The hours were very long and I was working until 9pm. I didn't like the culture there and the driving force was all about money and power." While working for this firm, Whitlock took up t'ai chi and yoga to cope with the stress of the job and this led to an interest in alternative therapies, particularly acupuncture. However, work colleagues didn't react favourably to Whitlock's decision to embark on a change of career. "They thought I was making a mistake and taking a huge risk. People thought I should stay with the job even if I wasn't enjoying it," he recalls.

Whitlock plans to open up his own clinic and combine it with yoga lessons and other alternative health therapies once he finishes the course. "This is a way of combining my hobby with earning a living."

Another former graduate who has embraced a completely different lifestyle is 28-year-old Isabel Blaken. An economics graduate, she worked as an estate agent in Harrogate for three years, where she undertook lettings and property-management work. "I started to feel really bored after a while and got to a point of thinking, 'where is this job going?'" recalls Blaken.

"I was always interested in health and fitness and started to read about organic food and knew I wanted to do something meaningful." She secured a job at an organic farm, Goosemoor Organics, as a fruit- and vegetable-packer and office administrator in November last year. "I'm involved in all aspects of the operation from picking the orders and making up vegetable boxes to undertaking administrative duties and processing orders."

This new lifestyle is not without its sacrifices, however. Blaken has taken a substantial drop in salary, but the perks far outweigh the disadvantages, she adds. "The best thing is working outside and getting away from the claustrophobic office environment. It's more of a lifestyle choice, as I don't have to wear a suit," she explains.

There was a mixed response from friends and colleagues when Blaken left her job as an estate agent. "People thought I was nuts to leave the money, but everyone has seen how happy I am now."

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