Have you ever considered quitting your job? Starting over and changing you career completely?
Making a career change is a big topic of conversation for a few of my friends lately. We’re on the cusp of our 30’s and already have a few regrets about the career choices we’ve made. But the idea of starting all over? Well, it seems too daunting. Some of us feel the need to stay where we are because there is security in the familiar.
I recently met with Dawn Laing, who drastically changed her career (more then once). She then risked it all to be a part of the team that has built the successful Nuvango Art Gallery and Goods on Queen Street West.
Dawn’s stimulating career insight is an attribute of her diverse resume and MBA from the Ivey Business School at Western University.
Talking to Dawn was both instructive and refreshing. Our conversation surpassed my usual topics of career insights and running a business. She went on to cover the growing pains of being a 20-something female in Toronto.
Describe in a Nutshell what Nuvango Art Gallery is?
Our gallery is made-up of a small team of designers, makers, business-minds, and communicators that work as a collective to bring art and design to the public in an innovative, non-intimidating way. We offer locally made products like clothing and accessories, while showcasing design from around the world.
What did you consider before taking the plunge and leaving your job to invest yourself full-time into your gallery?
Honestly, the answer was simple: You only live once and I knew I had the skills to support the business on this next iteration in it’s growth. No one could market and communicate our brand story better than I could, so I jumped in. Both feet.
What type of training did you need to complete to be in the career field you’re in now?
Oddly, I think the best training I’ve had that has directly contributed to success I gleaned from being a part of a military family. I moved a LOT, went to more schools than I can count on my two hands, and learned about trust and relationships. I’m in a field built on relationships and strong communication. By understanding how people want to be spoken to and what THEY need to be successful has been my strongest asset in getting things done (for our team, our community of artists and our customers). Also, that MBA from Ivey School of Business didn’t hurt either.
What are some aspects of your job that people might not consider before entering it as a career?
I left a lucrative federal government position for next iteration of my career. I said good-bye to golden handcuffs, a stable income, vacation days, and leaving work at the office.
No one told me how intoxicating the challenges of entrepreneurship could be, but I had an inkling. It’s a different ballgame when you start putting in your own personal investment on the table. But no one tells you that helping to build a company can become an addiction.
What are your day-to-day habits that have helped develop your career?
Wake up early… to smell the coffee, walk the dog and clear your head for the day.
Say thank you, often. I have a team that I love and each of them supports our goals in a different way and I’m big on feedback. I may be busy, but when I’m pleased about an outcome, or a project, I let my team know. That said, I’m also vocal if I’m displeased.
Don’t be afraid to ask WHY? This is so important. I think I ask ‘why’ several times a day. Sometimes it’s because I’m genuinely curious and other times I want to hear someone support his or her actions. WHY is a reasonable question, don’t be afraid to ask it (just don’t come off like a bratty toddler).
How does social media impact your career?
Personally, I get to try out techniques and strategies on my own platforms before implementing on the company platform. I also have the chance to reach out on a more personal level to artists I love and would like to work with.
Professionally, I’ve been supporting our company’s social off and on since 2013. When I first jumped in, I doubled our following on 3 of our major platforms in less than 30 days just by tweaking how we post. It was at that moment I knew that I just ‘got’ social media.
Now I use social media all day everyday. I teach beginner courses (to creatives, entrepreneurs and artists) as well as build strategies for charities and other volunteer initiatives I’m close to.
What type of female would you recommend going into your field?
This job isn’t for someone who wants a stable 9-5, or hates face-to-face communication, or dreads going to events and making small talk (over and over and over).
The type of person who would excel in a role like mine needs to be an extrovert who can find the rainbow in any situation (no matter how dire a situation may seem). You also need to be organized and armed with a plan B, C, D and so on. There’s a lot of risk and uncertainty in your everyday let alone your 1-year or 5-year plans.
A close friend once told me you need to, “live in the tension” and although it was a comment about negotiations, I feel it applies across the board to someone who has put everything they own on the line for what they believe in.
Who are your career role models?
Trail Blazers. I find Sheryl Sandberg’s personal and professional story/trajectory compelling and strong. She’s a true role model for young women who aspire to be strong leaders and change makers, while also building a family and life. Woman, maybe we can do it all?
Sheryl Sandberg wrote the best seller Lean In, where she shares her personal stories, shines a light on gender differences, and offers practical advice to help women achieve their goals.
Do you have any lessons learned that you would like to share?
1) Make someone earn your trust, don’t just give it to them.
2) When building teams find people that support a skillset you don’t possess, so you can focus on what you do well.
3) Change is good.
4) Stay off your phone an hour before bed and it will set the stage for a good sleep.
5) Having an office dog has the potential to REALLY bring a lot of happiness and love into a work space.
Social networking events you recommend?
For Fashion I’ve found the FGI events to be awesome for making strong connections over fashion and entrepreneurship. It’s local and the crowd is 99% woman, all interested in making it in the fashion industry. I’ve had the chance to meet experienced and emerging women and it’s just so nice to hear the opinions of others.
For Art… GALLERY SHOWS! Local, international, it doesn’t matter. Get to the openings early for a chance to speak to artists and gallery owners/managers. I’ve weaseled my way into VIP Gallery Openings just by being early for an opening. A notable experience was showing up early to an art opening in Shanghai and meeting the VIPs who then referred me to another opening in Hong Kong where I became the special guest from CANADA.
For entrepreneurship … I’ve personally found ALT SUMMIT to be an incredible opportunity to network and talk to other people trying to make something, or build a brand. It’s a three-day conference, and beyond just being inspirational they give you a lot of time between sessions to actually talk to other attendees. Last year I met with Sarah Michelle Geller and had the chance to talk to her about what it’s like to completely pivot a career. She changed paths from acting to entrepreneurship in the food space and me from science/government to entrepreneurship in the Creative Space. These moments are priceless.
SMG recently started the creative baking business Foodstirs which you should all check-out! Also, Netflix now has the complete series of Buffy, so go watch that after you’re done reading this. #mrpointy
Any other pieces of info you would like to say to a budding young professional?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I’ve had 3 major careers before landing where I am now, and my past is what paved the way for where I am. If you’re unhappy doing what you’re doing, you’re not doing your best work. Take time and make a plan and figure out what you need to do to get to where you think you’ll be happiest and do those things.
What are your thoughts on Fast fashion?
I get it. I get why people love it. Those necklaces you can only wear once from Forever21 before they break or the super cheap tees from Joe Fresh that complete your latest look. I get it. Looking good and being on trend is important to some people.
BUT when people step back and take a real look at the COST it’s not cheap at all. Fast fashion is expensive. The end consumer just doesn’t see those translated costs because they are somewhat ‘intangible’ to their experience.
When you’re shopping you’re not thinking about the fact that you are voting with your dollars. When you make a purchase you’re casting a vote saying, ‘It’s okay that someone else on the other-side of the world is suffering for your cute outfit’.
I know it’s hard to shop when you’re on a budget. I am a culprit myself, but these days I got that extra mile to source out a Canadian Designer or a vintage shop. At Nuvango we make everything in-house, our production team gets fair wages and works in a light filled studio. I’m always up for giving a tour, so if any of your readers would like a visit have them drop a line to email@example.com and we’ll set something up.
Also recommend watching this film The True Cost.
You mentioned student loan repayment, any advice on handling debt when pursuing a career?
Avoid using credit cards as much as you can and get a financial advisor. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I ended up getting a financial advisor who helped me make a plan for paying off my student line of credit. It took me 7 years, but by the time I was 29 I had finally paid off my student loan. Just in time for me to take on a small mortgage and then again to take on another student line of credit when I embarked on my EMBA.
Bottom-line: Have a plan to pay off your debt. Have a plan for paying off your debt so you can get on with your life. Your first condo or your next round of school debt can cause alot of anxiety if you don’t gain control. But what makes it worse is the impromptu shopping trips, using your credit card to pay for dinner, or an LCBO run. If you can’t pay for it now, can you pay for it in the future? Make sure when you are using credit you are investing in something that will move you forward.
What’s next for you?
For me, I thrive on making things happen. I’m a problem solver, leader and community builder. My next adventure, next freelance project, next big step needs to be completely different than the worlds I’ve dabbled in. I want to spend more time with start-ups, social entrepreneurship, creative spaces, and with growth focussed companies or NGOs. I’ve got a knack for planning, execution, digital strategy, social media and I truly love people.
What would you say to someone who is not enjoying their career and is considering making a change?
Do it. It will NEVER be a good time. There is always going to be a risk, but there is no better time than now. It might take a lot of planning and scheming, but if you want it badly enough – you can and will figure it out.
You only live once you might as well do what will make you happy!