I asked how to handle this massive upheaval and I was deluged with advice.

When Ritula Shah left the BBC after 35 years it felt like a bereavement. And whilst she did her best to follow the suggestions she was given for managing such a major change, things didn’t quite work out as planned.

I was in a daze by the time I arrived in A&E. The pain in my stomach was so severe that I could barely walk and I was sweating profusely but shivering at the same time. Despite all the NHS horror stories, I was quickly swept away for treatment by a gaggle of doctors.

It was supposed to be my second day in the second week of a new job and I definitely wasn’t going to make it in.  This was also only my second employer, I had been with the last one for almost 35 years and this wasn’t quite the fresh start I had imagined.

Joining the corporation

I joined the BBC in Birmingham after graduating. My career was to take me from making documentaries to working in radio and television news and eventually becoming a presenter on the World Service and Radio 4. I mainly worked evenings and nights, so sleep was often at a premium, especially with a young family. I went to New York after 9/11, I covered elections all over Europe and in places like Iran, Mexico and India. When I was in the UK, I was able to speak to politicians and decision makers about the issues of the day and had a big say in which stories we covered. It was fascinating, exhilarating and demanding. So what’s not to like?

Quite a lot by the end. I was part of a group of women who fought the BBC for Equal Pay and while in some ways we ‘won’, the battle itself was bruising and left a bitter taste.  My main programme, the World Tonight, was subjected to severe cuts which made it harder and harder to get on air everyday. I was no longer sure whether I was valued within the organisation or was just a reliable voice to fill a slot in a rota. I began to think about leaving but there were years of prevaricating. There was too much I continued to enjoy and value about my job. However, by the time I hit my mid 50s I realised if I didn’t jump, there would be no time for a second act. So in April 2023 I closed the door on an institution I cared about and a career I had mostly loved. And, despite the fact I was leaving on my own terms, it still felt like a wrench, a bereavement of sorts.

Life after the BBC

As I gingerly launched myself into my post BBC life, I posted on Linked In, asking how I should handle this massive upheaval and there was a deluge of advice. A recurring theme was ‘take your time before leaping into something else’. I happen to think that is a very wise idea – the more drastic the change you are making, the more important it is to take stock, understand your  motives for making the change, try out different work ‘personas’. A pause can also be time to retrain and learn new skills. The more you interrogate yourself and what you want, the easier the transition is likely to be.

But even a pause requires planning – how much time is enough, how much can you afford? For many of us, money is the limiting factor, both in the time spent contemplating our next step and whether we can actually go from dull, safe job to exciting, new, perhaps not as secure, alternative.

The marvellous Lisa Unwin, a Noon advisor, recommended I read Working Identity by Hermina Ibarra. This provided lots of constructive advice on how to reframe some of the inevitable doubts and to navigate many of the practical issues that inevitably arise from such a big career shift.

I would also recommend talking – a lot. Ask for advice from people you trust, from a career coach, other people in your industry, ask for their thoughts on your ideas. A fresh take can provide a useful reality check and you can always ignore what people say. You just have to be willing to reflect and consider why they may not be as convinced by your decision to give up dentistry for dancing or whatever next step you are weighing up.

Having said, that, beware the friends and relatives who undermine you – I found myself, on several occasions, justifying my decision to walk away from what ‘other people’ deemed to be a prestigious role. This wasn’t constructive advice, it was judgement and I had to learn to laugh it off and move swiftly on.

Theory and practice

I did try to do everything I have suggested above but in practice, I ignored that first, crucial piece of advice, to take things slowly because a fabulous, new opportunity came along that was simply too-good to ignore. Hello ClassicFM. Sometimes, whether it’s your health or your career, you can’t control the timing.

It’s now more than three months since I left the BBC and I don’t regret my decision. I definitely needed to shake up my life, to take on a new challenge and I have succeeded in doing that.  I feel fortunate to have found another brilliant job so quickly – and to have new colleagues who were incredibly supportive when I spent time in hospital just days after starting.

But I don’t think the process of making the career transition has finished for me. I suspect it will take a long time to wean myself off the addiction to adrenaline that comes with live broadcasting and breaking news. I now need to find the new rhythm of my working life – it’s still an evolving fresh start.

Written by Ritula Shah

2 responses to “I asked how to handle this massive upheaval and I was deluged with advice.”

  1. Laura Walker says:

    Hi Ritula. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s both unique and familiar. My research into midlife career reinvention uncovered some fascinating insights too – some of which overlap with your article. Three key findings were it’s a dance with fear and confidence; contextual readiness is key; and you need to begin with discovering (who you are now, what matters most, what you’re good at). Pausing is useful, but not for too long. Thinking about dancing is not dancing. You need to try out some new steps – as you are now. Be reassured, a major forced change usually takes 3 to 8 years – you’re off to a great start.

  2. No matter what you do next, you are in charge of your own legacy. Look forward to uncertainty, to being able to navigate, but not plain-sail, to find out what you are capable of doing. You are in charge of the ship of your life and you can take it wherever you want it to go.

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