Career

Meet the women who ditched their day jobs

Many of us have dreamed of quitting our day job to pursue something we love – but would you dare to take the plunge and make it happen?

The organic juicer

A battle with food allergies led Katie Heenan to start tinkering in the kitchen. Now she’s studying nutrition while building up a successful health business, Greenroots Juicery, with her partner, Will.

I’d been sick for years, and despite regular trips to the doctor, nobody could give me an answer as to why I had constant gastro issues.

When I was 18, I was finally diagnosed with coeliac disease. I was shocked, as I didn’t know that food could make you that ill.

I realised that if food can make you sick, then it could have the opposite effect and make you well too, so that’s where it all began.

I cut gluten out of my diet and replaced it with things like quinoa, amaranth, wholegrain rice and buckwheat, and juicing became a daily ritual. In the first three months of ditching gluten I had really bad symptoms; I was really achy, and I later heard that it may be a sign of the body releasing toxins from the tissues.

After that I noticed huge improvements – I went from feeling fatigued and sluggish to having lots of energy and mental clarity.

It also had a massive impact on my skin: my acne disappeared, eczema lessened and dark circles went away.

I had been working in sales and marketing for nine years, but had never been particularly passionate about it. I had a niggling idea I wanted to pursue a career in food and nutrition, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so I knew I had to go for it.

I was halfway through a nutrition diploma in Auckland when Will landed a good job in Christchurch, so I had to temporarily abandon my studies and shift south.

It was a hard decision and pretty distressing at the time as I knew I’d found the right path for me.

In Christchurch, I was back to working in marketing, but within a year of moving down I started our business, Greenroots.

I’d learned a lot through my own personal health issues and my studies, and I thought a lot of health products on the market were sub-standard. I wanted to create something that was accessible but really nutritious.

Will and I decided we wanted to focus the business on cold-pressed juices and superfood smoothies, and we were both still working full-time at our day jobs when we started booking spots at weekend markets.

Every Friday we’d go to bed really early, wake up at 3am on Saturday, drive to the commercial kitchen with all our produce in the car and make juice until we had to set up at 8am for the farmers’ market.

We did the same thing on the Saturday night as well – our flatmates thought we were crazy!

Soon it got too much to manage around full-time work – we were exhausted. Will is an accountant and he changed to a three-day-a-week job so
he could work on Greenroots part-time, and last August I made the move to working full-time on the business.

It was a major leap: hard work, stressful at times and a real balancing act financially. I panicked for a bit, but I always had a gut feeling it was going to work out.

From the beginning, people were a lot more receptive than we thought. The juices were more popular than the smoothies, and we got to the point where we couldn’t make them fast enough.

We decided to invest in a big hydraulic cold press, which was another huge step, as we had repayments on this enormous machine so we had to ensure we still had the demand for the products.

We wanted to use only organic produce, which we knew would be limiting, but we wanted to go as local and seasonal as possible.

It worked out well and we now have regular orders with all our favourite growers.

We didn’t set out to go into stores, but a couple of café owners tracked us down at the markets and asked if they could stock our products. We used to be exclusive to Christchurch, and now we ship throughout New Zealand.

The whole thing has been a major learning experience. We didn’t even have a business plan when we started – we just wanted to see where it would take us and be flexible with it.

We’d love to eventually have our own juice café, but we want to establish ourselves a bit more first, and for now, I’m still working on finishing that nutrition diploma.

The fitness coach

Working long hours in demanding corporate roles sent Alana Joe’s physical and mental health into a tailspin. When the relentless stress wore her down, the multisport athlete made her move towards a new career in the fitness industry.

Soon after I finished uni, I was accepted into a graduate programme with a major accounting firm, but even at that point I knew the corporate world was the wrong place for me.

I feel like 20-odd years ago, my generation had more limited career options. You could choose from being an accountant, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher… it all seemed quite clear cut.

Things like physical education and sports science weren’t [such a popular] option then. I ended up being in the corporate world for 14 years, working in the finance, tourism and telecommunications sectors.

During that time I had some very good roles, but of course with the responsibility came stress.

I have a type-A personality – I strive for perfection and take things personally – and my stress level started going through the roof.

I eventually took a role that didn’t quite match my skills, and soon after that I got a new manager who was a really bad fit for me. That was the last straw.

One of the first signs that I was super-stressed was sleeplessness. I found myself not being able to turn off – it was as if I wasn’t giving myself permission to have a life outside of work. I also lost my sense of self-worth, and any rational decision-making went out the window. I was getting into work at 7.30am, working until nine or 10 at night, and going in to work at the weekend as well.

People around me were concerned and it got to a point where my sister said, “You just have to leave – I’ll help you with your resignation.”

Had she not guided me with a bit of force, I’m not sure what would have happened. I’d reached a point where I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

In the end, I walked off the job – I basically just walked out! I’d only been in that particular role for six weeks, but there was just no point hauling myself over the coals anymore.

With some time to rest, I realised how ill I was, and as I got better, I started to focus on the things that I loved. I had long been interested in multisport, and over the years I’d put in large amounts of training to compete in ironman and other races.

Building on my interest in sport, I got some text books out of the library and started working on upskilling myself in basic anatomy and physiology.

I was often online reading late into the night, so I decided I should study towards something. I’m now in my final year of a Bachelor of Health Science with a major in exercise and sport physiology from Massey Wellington.

I’ve chipped away at it for about six years, while working as a personal trainer. It’s been really hard, but amazing.

I’ve been a personal trainer at Les Mills for more than four years, and I also run a multisport and youth team coaching business.

A common thread I see with my clients is that when we’re really stressed, we lose our confidence and self-belief.

When people are in a dark place, exercise is often the first thing to go. But I encourage my clients to take some time out to get moving – it doesn’t have to be slogging away in the gym, just something that gets the blood pumping.

I often get text messages from people saying how great they feel after exercising, and it gives me such a buzz. I’m finally feeling content and passionate about life again.

And although not everything is perfect, I understand that it doesn’t have to be. I’m at peace with where I’m at.

The happy yogi

Losing her mum to cancer made yoga fan Kara Sweney evaluate what was important in life. Retraining as a yoga teacher was the first big move, and a mere six months later, she went a step further and purchased her own studio.

I worked in London for 17 years at a marketing and events agency, and I enjoyed it, but I eventually got sick of the London hustle and bustle, the late nights and the long hours.

When the opportunity for a short-term secondment came up in the Melbourne office, I jumped at the chance, and my boss was supportive of me because he knew I wanted to move closer to home.

Three months later, I was back in New Zealand and working in PR. Life at the agency was really full-on, but I saw it as a good way for me to get settled.

Sadly, about 18 months after I moved back, my mum died of cancer. Her illness got me thinking about what’s really important in life and made me realise there must be more out there than the high targets and hectic schedule I was facing at work.

I was suffering from anxiety and really needed a change of pace. I ended up quitting my job before I had something else to go to. It was a bold move, but I knew that I somehow always landed on my feet.

I’d done yoga consistently throughout my 20s, so I decided to become a yoga teacher.

The training was really intense, with lots of self-enquiry. I wanted to pull out at first because I didn’t know how I’d cope with it having just gone through losing my mum.

Only six months after I’d finished my teacher training, a friend tagged me in a Facebook post about a yoga studio that was up for sale.

I thought, ‘Yeah right’ and saw it as a joke at first, posting it to my friends like, ‘Hey, who wants a yoga studio?’ And then I realised, ‘Well, actually, I do!’

Taking over the Yoga Ground studio in Auckland was so daunting. I didn’t even teach for the first year, as I was worried the class would judge me. There were about seven other teachers working there, so I stayed behind the scenes and put my PR skills to use rebranding the business.

Then it got to Christmas and I needed to start taking some classes to fill in for teachers who were away. It was a real ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ sort of process.

I had to have a word with myself, but deep down I knew I was ready. You have to do these things in your own time.

Having the studio has allowed me to do a lot of personal growth, and these days I’m feeling a lot more like myself.

I teach two classes a week and also like to do a lot of my own yin yoga practice at home, because in the studio it can be hard for me to switch off – I’ll be lying there and I’ll think, ‘Look at all that dust on the windows.’

I definitely think New Zealanders are getting more interested in holistic health. We see people of all ages and abilities at the studio, including pregnant women, those who are there for general fitness and people who come along to classes as a way to add some balance to a busy life.

It’s great to see more guys giving yoga a try, too.

I know how intimidating it can be when you’re new to yoga and you don’t know what you’re doing, so getting everyone involved and creating a community is the best part of it for me.

Words: Sara Bunny

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