We spoke to single parent Raji Randhawa, 41, about her brave and bold decision to leave the NHS after 20 years and retrain as a UX designer…
“A couple of years ago, I was at a workmate’s retirement drinks and I remember suddenly thinking “I just can’t do this for another 25 years”. I wasn’t getting the same sense of fulfilment from my job, but at that point I didn’t know what I wanted to do next.
“I had worked in Radiotherapy, treating cancer patients at the same hospital in London since uni, and was promoted to Treatment Floor Superintendent Radiographer a few years ago. It blended management and development while still keeping an amount of patient contact, but to progress further I would need to go fully into management and leave behind the two aspects of the job I most enjoyed: working with technology, and helping people.
“Around this time a few other things happened which made me really take stock of my life. I moved house with my daughter, out of the home I’d bought with my ex-husband years before, so that felt like a new pathway, and then my cousin died suddenly and I realised I had to make a big change. It wasn’t about immediately finding my dream job, but just summoning the courage to start something new. Because I had never done anything else, I had to get past the fact that my next move didn’t have to be forever. When I realised this it felt really freeing.
“I gave myself two years to figure out what direction I wanted to go in and realised that working in tech would combine the things I loved, so I started looking into coding courses – but obviously I didn’t know the pandemic was coming! Suddenly we were in lockdown; as a key worker, I was still working full-time at the hospital, and under uniquely stressful conditions, plus I’m a single parent to my 11 year old daughter. I often feel like her PA and spend a lot of time juggling arrangements with her dad.
“Actually, though, in many ways lockdown helped. Many of the courses I was interested in had moved online, so things that weren’t possible before – for instance, as a single parent, real-life evening classes would be a no-no – could be done remotely. After completing some coding courses through SheCodes I realised UX Design was the area I was most interested in so signed up for a dedicated, more intensive UX course with Career Foundry. It was a big commitment and I needed to make sacrifices. Like most people, I wasn’t in a financial position to just quit my job, but I condensed my hours slightly to make time to study and planned each month meticulously. As a mum, I did feel guilty about the time I was spending studying, but I knew that if this made me happier my daughter would benefit from it too in the long run.
“After 20 years in the same job, I hadn’t studied anything new for a really long time, so I had to show myself that I could do that. One thing that really helped and that I would recommend to anyone thinking of making a big change, was sitting down and thinking about what I actually did in my role. Even reading your job spec is a great way to realise all the skills you have, because when you’ve been in the same job for a long time you start to think anyone could do it. What I did was so niche that I felt a bit helpless, and this made me feel trapped. But when I looked at what I did each day – all the communication, organisation and recruitment, on top of the more radiotherapy-specific side of the job – I realised I had a lot of transferable skills, and this was a huge confidence boost. In any job there are skills that people underplay; for instance, someone who works alone all day demonstrates that they are autonomous and independent, which are big advantages for a lot of roles.
“I did feel scared about leaving though. After 20 years, I no longer had to prove myself at work; everyone knew how hard I worked and what I was like. Silly things crossed my mind; I really liked the toilets at work; what if my next job didn’t have such great toilets?! But this also felt like an opportunity to reinvent myself away from people who’d known me since I was 21 and had seen me go through dating, getting married, having my daughter, getting divorced and various other dramas!
“Being in my forties but back to looking for more junior roles and knowing I’m starting out again without as much knowledge can feel intimidating. I’m just finishing my UX training and applying for jobs and have realised I really want to work in an office, rather than from home, so I can pick things up by being around people. I’m prepared to take a pay-cut but I need to get my head around going from a clearly defined banded NHS framework to plucking numbers out of the air! The great thing is, through my courses I’ve met people doing the same thing, all with different soft skills, and all from completely different backgrounds. Quite a few of them have said that my people skills will take me a long way in tech, which has been a boost.
“I also worry about prejudices, for my age, my gender and my race! On social media I see a lot of positivity about ‘brown women in tech’ but when I’m going to sleep at night I start feeling negative about possible judgment I could face. Writing positive affirmations, which my coach at Career Foundry suggested, has really helped.
“I also sometimes feel guilty about leaving the NHS, and especially all the people – both patients and colleagues – I’ve left behind, when they’re having such a difficult period. But I feel like I’ve done my time and am ready to move on.”
If Raji’s story has inspired you to ponder your next move, give our Big Career Reset course a whirl, featuring 7 experts from the worlds of psychology, coaching and business, all on a mission to help you pinpoint your purpose and go after that dream job. Use RAJI20 at checkout to get 20% off.