Our dreams don’t come to us when it is convenient. They demand attention during office hours and nag us during our daily commute. They whisper “what are you waiting for?” when we are tired and trying to sleep. While many people actively ignore these hints and nudges, a brave few dare to acknowledge the possibility of “what if?” We speak to three business people who have ventured beyond their comfort zone in the pursuit of a new career and a new adventure.

Zukiswa Pikoli: online editor at a publishing company to a full-time caterer

From the world of books to the world of cooks

At some point in life, we all feel like we need a change of direction and possibly a new career path. We speak to three business people who have dramatically changed their careers and chat to them about their reasons for doing it, lessons learnt and successes.

On the eve of her 30th birthday Zukiswa Pikoli did something that so few people manage to do in a lifetime: she decided to change her life and follow her passion. Abandoning the comfort of her publishing job, she decided to set her sights beyond what she deemed the mediocre, “I realised that I had to chase and build my own dream and at 30 years old I had no plausible reason not to. So I did”. Patient and methodical, Zukiswa spent months planning and researching before she finally handed in her resignation letter. Conquering the fear of change by confiding in close friends and family, she says: “they were very encouraging and supportive, it would have been a lot more difficult to have done so without them”.

Venturing from the cerebral world of books, Zukiswa entered the kitchen with a dream stemming from her grandmother who “made every meal an event”. However, Zukiswa’s catering company, Tulip’s Catering is only the first step and ultimately she plans to open a restaurant to share her passion and talent, she explains: “The social aspect that comes with eating it is a form of stopping, if only for a little while, to nourish the body but also connect with loved ones, build memories and feed the soul, I honestly cannot think of anything better”.

What have been some of the most important lessons that you have learned in changing the direction of your career?

I have learned that when running a business it is important to be consistent, organised and pedantically methodical. Excellent customer service is equally important. Everyone wants to feel significant so it is important to customise customer experiences as far as possible. Oh yes, and never let them see you sweat! It’s very important that you always inspire confidence.

What have been some of your biggest achievements in your new career?

It is a highlight more than an achievement, but it would have to be when Tulip’s catered for a film set. I did so much with little to no budget and I think I was able to surprise even myself with what I achieved. It was a very rewarding experiencing because the great thing about the food industry is that the feedback is immediate and having the cast and crew constantly look forward to what their next meal would be made me do a happy dance on the inside every time. Of course, it wasn’t always good and there were times where I had to grow an extra layer of skin but that is just par for the course and an opportunity to do and be better.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a major career transition?

I would say that they would definitely need to plan, plan and plan! That way, while the transition will definitely still be scary, you will have an arsenal of preparation to refer to in times of doubt. It is also important to cultivate a very strong support system because they will buoy you up when things get rough and believe me things will get rough. But if you believe wholeheartedly in what you are pursuing that will keep you going. And then you know just generally Carpe the heck out of that Diem!

Jesslynn Schlamm: full-time strategic planner at an advertising agency and now part-time skincare brand owner

From big brands to a beautiful hobby

Making the most of her free time, Jesslynn Schlamm does what no regular nine-to-fiver would be caught dead doing: working overtime. When she’s not working as a strategic planner at an advertising agency, she works in her lunch break, after hours and even during weekends on her natural, handcrafted skincare brand, Lulu & Marula. What began as a hobby quickly grew into a business that doubles as a creative outlet “it give me time to feel inspired and take ownership of something that I can be proud of” Jesslynn says of her “career path by accident”.

Admitting that she still struggles with the fear of pursuing her dream, her sunny attitude means that she also acknowledges the fear for what it really is: fuel for the journey, “it’s something that keeps me moving forward” she says. Moving onward and upward, Lulu & Marula has become something of a cult product amongst beauty junkies in the know, using only “pure botanical oils, extracts, waters and a dose of awesome” recently the natural products were a hit at the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair. Despite the kind of success that would prompt many to give up their day job, Jesslynn remains committed to her career in advertising “I find that it compliments my personal brand, and I’ve learned so much that I have been able to apply to Lulu & Marula”.

What have been some of the most important lessons that you have learned in changing the direction of your career?

To just go for it. Don’t get too caught up in the planning and the logistics of things otherwise you’ll never get there. You can always achieve more than you think you can.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a major transition?

Don’t over think it, just go for it. You always get the help and support you need if you ask nicely! People are always willing to help out a young entrepreneur, which is amazing.

What would you do differently if you could do it again?

Everything that’s gone wrong has gone wrong for a reason. I’ve learned more from my mistakes than I have from my achievements, so I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Hilton Dennis: civil servant, diplomat and now B&B owner on sabbatical

“I had no fear because all my life I’ve dealt with change, my life has never been a linear equation” says Hilton Dennis when asked if he was perhaps intimidated by his initial inexperience in the hospitality industry. With that unwavering confidence as his ally, as well as the driving force of his wife Thoko and his family’s support, what began as a three-bedroom B&B run by his mother in his home village is now an eight-bedroom B&B and wedding venue with a restaurant on the way. Found hidden in the rugged hills of southern Kwa-Zulu Natal, Hlutankungu B&B is a labour of love that has experienced surprising growth in the five years that have passed since Hilton and Thoko first stumbled upon the idea on a Christmas holiday in the Eastern Cape.

Dedicating much of his life to service, Hilton who previously worked as the South African ambassador to South Korea, was driven by the desire to “give back to society” saying: “I’m motivated by an emotional need to boost my ancestral village and to contribute to the local economy of my home”.

What advice would you give to someone who was considering pursuing their passion in the hospitality industry?

I would advocate the hospitality industry because the driving purpose of the work is to make people happy. When you’ve worked hard and you are coming close to retirement, all you do want to give back to society and so the hospitality industry is such a perfect fit for those who just wants serve society.

With regards to your B&B venture, what would you do differently if you could do it again?

I’ve learnt in life not to regret decisions but rather to learn from experiences. I entered this field knowing nothing about the hospitality industry and yet the B&B has grown steadily over the years. That being said, given by public service background, I don’t think that we have marketed the B&B sufficiently.

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