An Interview with my childhood friend / sister Wendy Burleigh…
We are constantly evolving and our lives are constantly changing. Depending on who we are, those could be the scariest words ever written / uttered, OR the most re-affirming mantra ever. Some folks just don’t do well with change, so the thought of leaving something familiar though unsatisfactory, is scarier, than the rewards of possible happiness out in the unknown. Whatever your current situation is, be it professional or personal…if you are constantly feeling and thinking that you are not satisfied with your current position, and your current direction, It means that you need to pull out your compass and redirect.
Do I think that this is going to be something easy,..God No!! ,.. This might be one of the hardest things anyone could ever do, especially when from the outside looking in, the facade of success and happiness beams bright, to yourself and to others. Think about having a job / career that pays really well, affords you the lifestyle and comfort that you want, but it takes every ounce of your inner strength not to slit your wrists, or stab yourself or a co-worker in the eyes, when you walk into the professional setting.
Moving forward in life, usually involves making tough decisions. Whether you are just redoing the roof, or you’re knocking down your life to the foundation, it’s difficult to see any thing you’ve built, no matter how unstable, get taken down.
However, embrace the moment. Embrace the change and accept what it is and what you have to do, to go from having a life of just going through the motions, to living your best life.
I had several conversations about this, with one of my close childhood friends, who embarked on a similar journey with her career. She was a success on every level. On paper, life was good, she had a job with a salary of most people’s dreams, but something was missing. This is when change can be particularly difficult. How do you leave something that is technically ‘good’ or ‘good for you’? This is Wendy’s story…
1. What was your previous career?
I’ve lived in the Washington, DC metropolitan area for over 20 years and worked for the US Federal Government for 15 and a half of those years. During that time I held a few different professional positions, including Budget Analyst, Senior Accountant, and Management & Program Analyst. My career was primarily centered on federal financial administration, which encompasses the overall fiscal management, accounting, and financial reporting for a US Federal Government agency.
2. What was it about your previous career that wasn’t working?
Although I felt privileged to have such a sort after career, with a six-figure income, I was internally conflicted. I felt like my work was becoming more and more mundane. Also, I wanted to work in an environment with less bureaucracy. I wanted to be challenged and have more flexibility to schedule my time (essentially have more control over my daily activities). Most importantly, I wanted to do something I was passionate about (or at least intrigued by).
3. Why did you choose that career in the first place?
At the time I moved to the US, I had just graduated high school. It was the early 90’s (I’m giving my age away). I decided to attend Howard University. There I discovered that I loved analysis. I was very comfortable with numbers and enjoyed solving complex problems (both in theory and real-life situations). You know that gratifying feeling of solving mathematical equations? I aced Calculus. Yes, I know that’s weird, but true! After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, with a Major in Accounting, it just made sense to work for a large private corporation or the Federal Government. I was looking for an opportunity to develop my analytical skillset. So, I thought it would be a good fit.
Also, moving from a small island (Antigua) to the US, I realized that my initial narrow-minded concept of what’s considered career success was strongly influenced by my family (especially my parents). I feel this is true of many, many islanders. It’s the idea that career success is pretty much limited to becoming an Accountant, Doctor, Lawyer, or maybe a Politician. In retrospect, I realize that this is the furthest thing from the truth. I will admit this inaccurate idea strongly influenced my decision to stay in an unfulfilling career for too many years.
4. Was there a shift in your life that prompted your career change? Was there a change in your core values?
I wouldn’t say there was a “change” in my core values, but more so the realization that my core values were not truly being acknowledged. Although I was good at crunching numbers, I started to feel like other talents that I yearned to explore were always placed on the back burner. My interests were not strictly limited to working for an agency in the Federal Government, but as I advanced in my career inevitably the tendency was to pigeonhole me in a particular discipline, and that felt really one-dimensional. As a result, I felt like I was neglecting my true self. I’ve always considered myself to be multifaceted and multidimensional in the context of having more than one talent or interest. I could no longer ignore my desire to pursue my creative talents. I love the arts and “artsy” things (whether it is music, dancing, drawing, painting, writing, traveling, fashion, foreign languages, natural healing… etc.). The truth is I’m a “creator” at heart and I could no longer ignore this fact. So, I finally made the decision to leave the Federal Government (and financial security) to pursue Entrepreneurship.
5. What does your new career offer that your previous career didn’t?
I decided to pursue a new career in Professional Real Estate Staging, which is essentially styling a property before it is marketed for sale. Think “model home” or HGTV’s hit show “Property Brothers”. I’m the person that comes in to dress up a home or commercial property with modern décor (furniture, textiles, lighting, ornaments, and other accessories).
I truly enjoy being able to create breathtaking designs for each property; and no two properties are identical. This can be challenging, but it brings something new to each project (never a dull moment). When compared to my prior career, it’s like day verses night. There is no comparison. I left a very rigid environment for one that is more flexible and free flowing (autonomy, independence, freedom). Today, I control my own schedule (booking clients according to the projects I want to take on). Further, there is much more room for creativity and exploration. However, this is not to be misinterpreted as easy. In fact, now I work harder than I’ve ever had to work in my previous career. Yes, being an Entrepreneur is really challenging. It keeps me on my toes, but I wouldn’t change it for anything!
6. How did your previous career help you in this new role?
My previous career helped me to implement important strategies for projecting a “professional image” when building a brand. It is important to show your potential clients that you are competent, have the necessary experience and expertise to handle their project, and will provide exceptional customer service. Although I was completely new to the property staging industry, I was not new to the business world (in fact, I have started other business ventures before this one).
7. What did you do to transition from your previous job to your current? Did you have to go back to school or do any training before proceeding?
I was able to transition by applying business techniques I had learned over the years to this new endeavor. Education played a key factor as well. While working for the Federal Government, I simultaneously obtained a Master’s Degree in Public Management from the University of Maryland (this was long before I decided I wanted to leave the government). Although I did not pursue the Master’s Degree for the purpose of starting a staging business, it was useful knowledge that I applied to my start-up business. In addition to many other things, the masters program taught me the importance of dedication and work ethic.
You may be wondering if I have any formal interior design education or training. I do not. I turned a hobby into a new career. The word “formal” sounds daunting. It implies that attending school is the only official method of learning. I did not pursue a degree in interior design. Instead, I taught myself how to decorate. Fortunately, a formal degree is not currently required to become a stager. I started staging part-time, while still working full-time for the Federal Government. Then, I reduced my hours working for the government to part-time. Then, I transitioned completely to working for myself full-time as a Professional Real Estate Stager.
8. Did your family and friends support your new career endeavor?
Although it wasn’t easy to leave such a solid career for one that could be less sure, I was confident it was what I wanted to conquer next. There is no turning back. I was able to convey to family and friends how important it is to me. They may still be a bit skeptical about my decision, but they are all very, very supportive.
9. Did you know anyone within the staging industry that gave you an honest “insider’s” perspective?
No I didn’t. I guess you can say I took a leap of faith? Or more accurately, I’m not risk-averse. I jumped in headfirst. However, I understand the importance of having that insider knowledge of an industry. So, once I was eligible, I joined the Real Estate Staging Association, which is a community of professional stagers, re-designers, decorators and real estate agents committed to advancing excellence in the staging industry. After I had been a member for a few years (at the national level) a local chapter was formed in the Washington, DC area, where I currently reside. I am now serving my second year on that board as Treasurer.
10. What are the long-term opportunities associated with your new career? Is this career move just one step in a larger plan?
There is potential to grow a staging company to a very large corporation (which is an option for me long-term). Also, I have interests in real estate beyond decorating it. I am currently exploring other complementing areas of real estate such as agency (sales), investing, and even providing staging start-up education to others. Honestly, the opportunities are endless. Likewise, there is also the option to pursue another one of my many interests (am I right?). Today, I think outside the box. I don’t believe in being caged in, especially since I feel like I have so much more to offer (and I also want to have more opportunities to give back – becoming an educator is one such avenue). As the late Earl Nightingale said, “success is the progressive realization of any worthy goal or ideal.” As far as I’m concerned, there are still numerous interests left to consider and vast opportunities to explore!
Please check out some of Wendy’s beautifully staged homes on her website:
Also, check out a few of her staging pictures…