Fancy a wee sojourn in or around Florence? A tailored adventure guaranteed to scintillate your senses, tickle your taste buds, inspire your creativity, enhance your cultural understanding of this fine region?  You need Penny. That’s what she does. Yet just three years ago, Penny was on a completely different career trajectory. Here Penny shares the story on how she found her career ‘bliss’…

The opportunity of a lifetime – don’t look back – just do it! They used to say I was like a stick of rock – cut me open and I would have Bupa written inside me all the way through – and I was really proud of being the person who would work all hours to ensure that a job was completed on time and within budget – even if it did mean working till after nine at night and keeping my long-suffering husband waiting for his evening meal – I delivered didn’t I?

And that was what mattered!

Of course, as someone who could be relied on to deliver I survived several rounds of redundancies and after 33 years began to think this wouldn’t happen to me……which of course is when the plan fell apart!

The news that I had become dispensable hit me like a sledge hammer! It was all handled professionally and impeccably, after so many years at a senior level the pay-off was generous and pensionable age was just around the corner – I wasn’t going to starve – but what about my identity?

That was my crisis point – without my job I really thought I didn’t exist – the first thing people asked when we met was “How’s Bupa?” I was seen as someone obsessed with my work – which I was – so what to do now I was being scrapped?

My advice to anyone in this position is to relax.

First – take a deep breath and listen to that tiny inner voice that is actually relieved that this insane work pressure is going to stop…. the world will keep turning without you running round frantically like a hamster on a wheel ..and you might have time to notice how wonderful it is?

Second – listen to the poor HR person who is gently trying to tell you that this change is an opportunity – you are grieving – and still in the anger stage so you don’t really hear it, but the truth is that unless you have a huge unpaid mortgage and no resources you are probably not going to be on the breadline instantly – and you have been given a few months finance to consider your next steps.

Third – if you are given the opportunity to use an out-placement company – such as Right Management – do take advantage of it – even a small amount of counselling is helpful and in my case it was just exactly what I needed to kick start me into a whole new life changing career – not only in a different industry but even in a different country!

My new friend Anthony Payne at Right Management (London) was delightful – clearly used to listening an taking notes from people who feel their life has come to an end – he was carefully probing for any positive ideas I might come up with , repeating them as if they were wonderful novelties – which they most certainly weren’t – and writing them down – I actually felt bored on his behalf so uninspired were my suggestions! Then I played my most difficult card – I had a flat in Florence – and I was – sob, sob, – going to have to give it up – sob – unless I could use it in someway to build a new career…..? His pen stopped doodling and he looked up at me “What do you have in mind exactly?”

“Well I was thinking about starting an activity holiday business – using my friends to run painting and language classes – maybe a cookery school – oh! and some lectures about Vivaldi!”

“And do you have such friends?”

“Well yes, whilst in Florence on three month sabbatical in 2007 I made good friends with a local Chef, a Professional driver who took me and visiting friends on wine tours, a Maestro who specialises in Vivaldi and my best friend from when I took my Art Degree is one of the UK’s top portrait painters….it might do to get me going? – and I do love Florence!”

“Well why on earth would you even consider doing anything else?”

Job done! – I had approval that my idea wasn’t completely crazy and I was busy again working on the most ambitious project I had ever taken on.

I was now completely without the financial resources and backing of a multi-national business – but they had given me the experience and skills to know what needed to be done to set up a business – and career change always offers a good opportunity to reconsider your skill set.

For the next few months I was flying, calling in to Right Management to get the boxes ticked I used my existing home computer to work on Business plans and budgets on Excel spreadsheets,

My market research on proposed company name was run from my house, I did my initial Website design on a cheap and cheerful hosting site called Fasthosts,

My brochures were written by me and designed by another friend who had been made redundant from Bupa Miami – it felt good to be already helping someone in a similar position.

My first stage of virtually free advertising was done through what Anthony referred to as my Fan Club – all my friends got a round robin e-mail in which I asked them to tell their friends what I was up to, just in case they had trips to Florence planned.

It all worked well and I took my first group to Florence on the week after I left Bupa ……We did a couple of City Tours, an Italian lesson with a friend from my language school, a day-long cookery class, a trip to Fiesole, wine tasting in Chianti and had an exclusive lecture about the life and works of Vivaldi in a little Church that is not usually even open to the public.

I am absolutely loving my new career and eagerly embracing new ideas of things I can do to make my news friends visits to Florence a full and memorable experience – such as helping Lisa Clifford to set up and run a Writers retreat in Tuscany and helping to organise a Conference Concert and Symposium around the Feast Day of Florence’s Patron Saint St John the Baptist.

In short , to paraphrase the quote I adapted from EM Forster’s famous book about Florence – “A Room with a View” – I want them to remember a bit more than seeing a “Yalla Dog!”   http://www.beyondtheyalladog.com 

Penny in Florence

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