Career Shifting

by Barbara Ridpath

Posted: 01 Mar 2017

St Paul's Institute is committed to helping people think about how to find meaning in their work.For some, that may mean significant changes mid- or late-career. On Tuesday 21 February, a small group of us were fortunate enough to spend the evening in conversation with journalist Lucy Kellaway, who recently announced that after 31 years she would make a major career change. She will be stepping down from the Financial Times (FT) to take up maths teaching and found Now Teach, a charity to train second career teachers. This article summarizes Lucy's approach and considers the extent it might be applicable to other endeavours where people are considering their future.

Now Teach as a Case Study

Lucy observed that her peers in the City were beginning to look exhausted or bored by 50 to 55 years of age, whether because their motivations had changed or because the excitement and money meant less to them than it used to. She was also envious of her daughter doing Teach First, a programme to rebrand teaching to the smartest university graduates, and the satisfaction she was getting from it.

The idea only became reality after the death of her father made her stop to think about whether her current job was what she was meant to be doing for the rest of her life. Everyone she spoke to was hugely supportive. Hedge funds gave her money to get the programme off the ground. Between her initial announcement in FT and a spot on Radio 4's Today programme she has received over 800 applications to date.

The programme has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. Having aimed for an initial group of 8, the programme is now looking at a first cohort of 20-25 teachers for challenging London schools who can teach science, engineering, technology or maths (STEM), modern languages or geography. Applicants spend a week observing in a comprehensive school, go through an interview process and will spend two weeks in summer school learning to deal with the technology now used in schools and behaviour management before starting to teach this September. Training will be on the job with a teacher qualification earned after a first year of a light teaching load and much of the time spent observing other teachers, and endless feedback. At the end of first year, this cohort will come out as 'newly qualified teachers.'

These teachers will bring experience, help on thinking about careers, contacts for placements, and speakers. In turn they will need support from existing teachers, mentors and their cohort, as there is the potential for a high drop-out rate among the teachers, particularly if they are not entirely reliant on this single income source to live.

Having made her decision so public, Lucy has no choice now but to carry it through and make it a success. This adds a frisson of danger to an already high risk change, by making the risk of public failure possible. In what ways might Lucy's example provide a road map of what to do, and what not to do as each of us look at our mid-career or late-career choices?

Is this a Model for other Career Changes?

First, Lucy let her idea percolate for four years before her father's death gave her the impetus to act on it. During that time, it had no doubt had time to gestate and she had had time to work through the idea in her mind. It was not nearly as impetuous a choice as it may have seemed to readers.

Going public in the way she did might not necessarily suit everyone. Some of us need that public pressure to keep us going; others might prefer the option to see if a new route succeeds for us before telling anyone, let alone the entire British public. Nonetheless, like sticking to a diet or stopping a bad habit, sometimes telling the world helps us keep our resolve.

Among the critical steps toward success, Lucy considered carefully where there was a gaping need to fill that suited her skills, interests and passions, and what she could bring to that role that no one else could. Theory tells us that finding the sweet spot between talent, passion, an unmet societal need, and someone willing to pay you to fill it is the epitome of purpose.

What makes her case so interesting is not only did she make a job change herself, but she is also trying to encourage others to follow her. She also used her skills and connections to find funding for the idea from sources many of us would not think to try and tap. She looked at other business models to get ideas of what works and how. She has connected a new audience of funders to concepts they have not previously been presented with. Lucy's idea took off because of her ability to gain access to a wide audience, to think differently about a concept and apply an entrepreneurial spirit, and to look for creative funding sources.She found a way to communicate both the idea and her enthusiasm to a receptive audience and she told a personal story that inspired others and resonated with them. Her example is just one of many routes to career change. However, it should provide encouragement to all of us to think differently about how we can use our skills, creativity and wisdom to find solutions to other unmet needs in society. May her story inspire others to do likewise.

Resources for those interested in pursuing teaching:

Now Teach website:

Tough Young Things: Reality television show on Teach First on BBC 3. It does not appear to be available on either iPlayer or DVD.

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B Rosenberg

Mindset by Dr Carole S. Dweck (in particular Chapter 7)

L'enfant et la peur d'apprendre by Serge Boimart

Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup); it includes a free voucher for taking the Strengths Finder questionnaire

The Compassionate Classroom by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson

Life-Enriching Education by Marshall B Rosenberg


About this author

Barbara Ridpath is the Director of St Paul's Institute.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.