I took an Electrical Engineering course at University, mostly due to my father’s belief that engineering would be a secure and financially-beneficial career. I joined the workforce in the 1980s. It was a boom time for the Scottish electronics industry and I enjoyed the job, travelling to the USA, Germany, Italy and around the UK for work. Later, the industry went into decline and my job became increasingly tedious. The foreign trips were gone, replaced by a series of preposterously-named initiatives like ‘continuous improvement policy’, ‘key performance indicators’, and ‘total quality management’. I became disillusioned and wanted out.
In parallel with my day job I had been making increasing sums of money playing in a function band. We became so busy that we were playing most weekends, so I began to entertain thoughts of a life outside the mundanity of the 9-to-5.
On a whim I had made a spontaneous charity-shop purchase of a flute and decided to take lessons with a teacher called Marie-Claire. I chose her because she lived 10 minutes’ walk from my office. M-C was an inspired choice as not only did I achieve Grade 6 ABRSM flute under her tutelage, but we became pals, and she did some gigs with my band. One day she announced she was moving back home, but had been offered the job as saxophone tutor for Edinburgh Council’s Adult Education programme, which she would have to decline. She suggested that I do it. I had never considered being a teacher but the idea intrigued me. I contacted the administrator and was offered the job on the spot. As the course was due to start in two days I guess they were desperate! My first term was pretty scary, as I hadn’t even acquired a copy of the course book when I started. I was bluffing the whole thing but if any of my pupils noticed, they were kind enough not to say. I apparently did well enough to get asked back for a second, and subsequent terms.
Now that I was officially a semi-professional musician and music teacher, and able to start taking income from various pensions, I decided the time was right to give up the day job. I asked the HR department if there were any voluntary-redundancy programs. There weren’t, so I skulked back to my desk. A few months later I got a phone call from my big boss, asking me to come and see him that afternoon. I was handed a letter offering the opportunity for us to part company under terms which were favourable to me financially. I took the offer and have never regretted it.
I set up officially as a sole trader. My income was definitely down on my previous life, but I immediately found my new self-employed life allowed far greater freedom. Mrs W and I were able to go on far more holidays, even fitting in a 3-week adventure to Australia which wouldn’t have been possible with the holiday entitlement and inflexibility of my old job.
The greatest benefit of my career change has been downsizing my working week from five to three days. I do private tuition on Wednesdays, plus a gig on Friday or Saturday night, along with some Sunday afternoons. I used to get up at 5:30am Monday to Friday and often ended up sleep deprived. Now I get much more sleep and it’s a huge improvement. I feel lucky to have ended up where I am. I have plenty of free time, I live in a nice house and have enough money to live a comfortable life. I have never had any grand plan like so many ambitious people, I’ve generally gone where the currents take me. It’s amazing it’s worked out so well.