From a career change at 30 to winning Best Hairstylist at 40

I am the winner of Best Hairstylist in the UK Wedding Awards. These words float around my brain and fill me with a childlike giddiness even weeks after hearing the news. It really took me by surprise.

Amidst all the emotions and excitement, hearing these words made me stop and reflect on the last 10 years of my life. Would it surprise you to know that I used to manage an orthodontist practice office? Would it shock you to know that it took me until my 30th year on this planet to realise that I wasn’t made for the traditional office job? As I looked at the words: Congratulations, you have won Best Hairstylist of the Year, I realised that it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

Hair & Makeup by Gabrielle

Leaving it behind

I was an office manager at orthodontist practice in London. It paid the bills. It was stable. Yet, I was aware that I had a creative side that was at rest during the hours of 9am to 5pm. This part of me was packed up inside as I processed and organised, and managed people and appointments.

Alongside my work tasks, it had become part of my daily routine to be the listening ear for a colleague. She was really unhappy in her job and needed someone to hear her. Sometimes I credit her with helping me follow my own dreams. The more I listened to her, the more determined I became to follow my heart and live a life doing what would bring me happiness and release my captive creativity.

What is your comfort zone?

There was no question that my passion lay in hair styling and makeup. I had always found joy and expression in transforming appearances. I took a makeup class when I was 17 just to learn how to apply my own, properly. After that I’d always practice on my patient friends 🙂  That was before my career took me into business and management.

This is what had become my ‘comfort zone’: my monthly income and my routine. Taking a step out of this is harder than it sounds. It’s not just a step; it’s a leap into the unknown.

It was a scary step but I felt complete happiness in my decision. I’ve got to say, it takes some inner steel at this point to stay true to yourself. I had a lot of questions from a lot of people. Why would I give up my job to be a hairdresser? Surely 30 years old is too late to change my mind? How would I pay for it? Questions flew thick and fast. Yet I was determined and ready with a plan.


The first steps

I knew I didn’t want to take the college route. Hairdressing and makeup is a ‘doing’ job, so I took a route that would teach me the practical skills as I learned: I started an apprenticeship. I also knew I had to keep my existing job on a part-time basis in order to fund my dream career. So, I embarked on the start of my journey working long hours, in two jobs, and with complete determination.

I was really lucky with my salon, and I learned a huge amount from them. When I’d finished my apprenticeship they offered me a job. Was this it? Was this the start of my dream career? I took the role. Yet still, that little niggling feeling popped up again. It told me that this wasn’t my dream. I still had further to go.

Stay true to your dream

This part of the journey was probably even harder than making the decision to change careers. Part of me was disappointed in myself for not wanting to stay at the salon. I had to look long and hard at my goals, and what was important to me in a career. As it turned out, my destiny was still a little further down the path. I took another leap of faith and into my future and set up Hair and Makeup by Gabrielle. That meant turning down the salon and taking my career into my own hands.

I’m going to be really honest now. Running your own business is challenging, not least when you’re not in your home country. I’m not from the UK, so the system, the language, and the culture were all part of the learning processes, as well as the day to day elements of being self-employed. But I have put my all into the career I have now.

For me, it’s always been about the clients. I love working with the wonderful women I meet every day. I love being part of their wedding days and special events. Transforming someone’s appearance to let their inner beauty shine is one of the most rewarding jobs I ever had, and I’m blessed to have been doing it now for nearly 10 years.

As such, I’ve never really considered entering a competition.

Not until one of my brides put me forward for one.

Now, I’m so glad I took another leap of faith (entering a competition is nerve-wracking in itself). It’s humbling and exciting to be recognised for your efforts. It just goes to show that the journey is never over.

UK Wedding Awards 2019

Chasing dreams is better than chasing your tail

Following your dreams can be daunting. However, you know yourself better than anyone in this world. I knew that this career would make me happy and fill me with purpose. Yes, I still have off days and hard days where I feel overwhelmed. But, you know, that’s normal. Sometimes, when I worry, I remind myself that it’s because I care. I’m lucky to have a job I care about.

Gabrielle at her computer

Four steps to consider

As someone who has made the leap, I have four pieces of advice for anyone thinking about making a career change (and that’s any career, not exclusively the hair and makeup sector):

  1. Check in with yourself. Do you feel passionate about what you want to do? If the answer is yes, then go for it.
  2. Be prepared to experience incredible highs and sometimes very harsh low points. The positives far outweigh the negatives, but following your dreams isn’t the easy road – it’s the interesting one with all the bumps in it.
  3. Be realistic. If you have to keep your 9-5 to pay the bills (as I did), then do. I only left the security of a monthly salary when I was confident that I could match it with my own earnings. Follow your dreams but keep yourself grounded in reality.
  4. Get support. The people around you who believe and encourage you will be your champions and your support. For me, this was my family and friends. My husband was my rock through all the difficult times and the times of celebration. I am also part of groups of female entrepreneurs and businesswomen. Having that business-level network is invaluable for ideas, encouragement and self-development.

Gabrielle and blossom

You have the potential

I’ve written this post as a little insight into my journey in the hope that it will inspire and encourage others. So, I’ll leave you with one last nugget. Remember to be your own champion. That means having faith in you. It means giving yourself holidays and rest. It means recognising the hard work you put in and not letting anyone darken your light.

It means going for a competition if you feel like it… You never know what might happen.

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