First Hand — Writer Sarah Trounce on why pursuing change is always a good idea
The decision to extract yourself from your comfort zone and embrace change is not an easy one. Neither is it always a quick one, as Sarah Trounce knows only too well. Graduating from Birmingham University with a BA in English in 2007, Sarah embarked on a series of roles – from working as a project manager at YCN, to being the Architecture Foundation’s office manager and most recently, heading up accounts at brand and design agency dn&co. But today, Sarah is once again a student, and pursuing her passion for writing on an MA at Goldsmiths – a choice that proved to be several years in the making. Retracing her steps over that time, Sarah shares the journey that led her to unearth her true calling – from feeling unfulfilled at university and her first steps into industry, to how a revelatory trip to New York helped kickstart her career change.
Step 1: Leaving university and interning
Unemployment to money work to design job
There are many paths to get to where you want to go. Waiting it out, staying still, can be comforting. It can also be creatively barren and unbearably lonely. This is a story about overcoming my fear of changing direction, even when it felt like I’d come a long way and I worried that I’d be leaving something good behind. But that’s the point of it all, isn’t it? To leave something good behind.
“I was unmoved by my studies. Perhaps I should have been more imaginative and taken matters into my own hands back then.”
I studied English at Birmingham University between 2004 and 2007 and while those were happy years, I was mostly unmoved by my studies. Perhaps I should have been more imaginative and taken matters into my own hands back then, but I didn’t and there you go.
After graduation, I headed to Bristol where I endured two months of unemployment followed by six months as a ‘security receptionist’ at a corporate law firm, before moving to London. I applied to an ad on the Arts Council jobs site and found myself in an editorial internship at YCN, thanks to the good will of my boss Nick who took a chance on someone with zero knowledge of the design industry.
Step 2: Exploring multiple roles
A new challenge as account director
I was at YCN for two years, graduating from intern to project manager. Despite all the fun and friendly faces, still the most useful (and most terrifying) experience I had was cold-calling a daily hit list of marketing directors to ask if they would be interested in sponsoring a brief as part of the student awards programme. Later on, chasing new business would become one of my favourite occupations at work.
From YCN I went on to The Architecture Foundation to be their new office manager. My time at the AF was a transformational period for me, regularly finding myself in exciting situations and around exciting people that admittedly I was often too timid to speak to. No matter. I was soaking it all up and the world of design was revealing its true self to me: to be about people and how they live.
“I knew what my calling was: communication! Though it had taken me six years to figure it out.”
In late 2014 I became an account director for dn&co, a brand and design consultancy. I loved the bustling atmosphere of a commercially successful agency, the dazzling flurry of pitches and people moving at such a pace.
There was also no hierarchy between management and creative at dn&co. They gave me the freedom and blessing to take on whichever challenges I chose to: whether account handling or coming up with ideas for design challenges.
Step 3: Acknowledging unfulfillment
The slow trickle of change began during a trip to New York. I was alone and free, roaming the vast avenues, exploring the museums and dawdling along the High Line. After my wandering drew to a close for the day, I often found myself lying on my bed in my hotel, while the rest of the city partied beyond the wood-panelled walls of my miniature room.
Apart from one night, quietly, disbelievingly, watching Clinton and Trump in the pre-election debates on TV, I read books. I read books for the first time in ages, an embarrassing hiatus that I told myself was the result of a busy job and equally busy social life. But really, when I thought about it, hadn’t I been hiding from books? Hiding from their pleasure, their discomfort, their truth? My own truth was that I was unfulfilled, but the truth was also that there was a world of beauty, in all its complexity, that I was choosing not to see, and denying myself the opportunity to be a part of.
“My own truth was that I was unfulfilled. That there was a world that I was denying myself the opportunity to be a part of.”
I had a hunch that my life was not as fulfilling as it could have been but I wasn’t exactly sure why since everything had panned out so well. I asked myself, what is it that makes me feel truly excited? I knew there was a thing out there for me. Yet I was too scared to do anything about it.
I carried out some preliminary investigations. I did some reading, wrote some words on a page. I had a suspicion that I had stumbled on the thing that would make me feel most alive. I went to an expensive evening class to make sure I didn’t stop thinking about the thing. In three months I had read more than I had read in my entire life, even during my three year English degree.
Every week I wrote something and other people gave me feedback on it. The thing I knew I wanted to do – writing – was actually happening. The evening classes finished and I was bereft. I realised that I needed to change something big to make more room for writing in my life.
Step 4: Making a plan
I told myself the plan every night before I went to sleep. I went home to see my parents, and I felt scared when I told them. But they were kind and supportive and I couldn’t believe my luck. So I told other people about the plan. I got scared again, thinking, it might go wrong and then they will all know I’ve failed. I told myself I had to be brave.
The plan was to quit my job and do an MA in Creative Writing. I worried – or perhaps, I hoped – this would be the decision that would irrevocably change my life. But I took some comfort in the fact that the decision was probably not actually irrevocable. I was frightened but I was going to do it anyway.
I finished my job in August and I felt sad, confused, still very much interested in the projects I was working on. It was a great job, no doubt about it. I am only just beginning to feel my way into my new daily routines, my new identity. Change is hard and change is exhilarating. It’s never not a good idea to pursue it.
Sarah Trounce is a freelance writer studying for an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths University of London.