They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but these go-getters suggest otherwise. Meet four adults who learned brand new skills to pursue a completely different career – despite the challenges. They’re proof that you should never stop learning…

Meet Felicity Dougherty
From dental hygienist to graphic designer

What was the one thing or moment that made you decide you needed to change your career?
As a dental hygienist, your hands are your tools. Early in my career, I began to get pain in my fingers and wrist after a long day in the clinic – I put it down to fatigue and maybe some RSI. But after coming back from a year of maternity leave, the pain in my hands grew worse each day. During my next round of maternity leave I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that affected my joints. I decided I needed to change career. It was quite exciting to say to myself, “Now, what would YOU like to do?” I had always been a bit of a tech head and I loved layout and typography, so I decided to become a graphic designer. I remember telling my poor mum that I was going to change careers, with no warning, and she had no idea what to say… she thought I wanted to be a draftsperson!

What learning did you have to undertake to pursue your career change?
I went back to college and did a Diploma of Graphic Design, which was a little strange at first. Part of my clinical time as a dental hygienist had been as a tutor and lecturer at university, so here I was with post-graduate qualifications and previous university level teaching experience going back into vocational training! I arrogantly thought that it would be a walk in the park. I got a real slap down in my first semester when I realised that in order to be a graphic designer and web designer, I was going to first have to learn to be an artist and creative – new skills that I had never thought possible for me to develop. It was hard, that’s for sure! Baby #5 and a bad bout of my auto-immune condition meant I had to take some time out of the course, but it gave me time to ease myself into the new path that I was taking. I loved learning all things that I thought you had to be ‘gifted’ to do, like paint, draw and sketch. While there is a talent element to it, I learned that most people can develop the techniques – it just takes practice!

What were some of the obstacles you faced that you didn’t expect?
Having a family meant that I didn’t have endless hours that I could sit and draw to develop techniques, so I trying to squeeze it in around my life was tricky. I also didn’t expect how hard I found it to change my perception of what I did. For so many years I had been a dental hygienist – it was what I wrote on forms, how I answered that “So, what do you do?” question, it was even on my older kids’ birth certificates! Suddenly, I wasn’t that – it was a surprisingly challenging transition.

How has your career change affected your family, if at all?
When you work in a clinic, it’s hard to do part-time and often you are booked out months in advance, so if your kid gets sick you have to disappoint all your patients and reschedule. That’s not a worry anymore. If my kids are sick or there is something on at school I just work from home that day – most of my clients are very understanding and I only ever have two meetings a day so it’s not that hard to reschedule if needed.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of re-skilling to pursue a new career?
Go for it! Research what’s required in any study that you do and consider how it would fit into your life… and maybe don’t start something brand new when you have four kids under 6-years-old!

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haven is all about family, life and style in Brisbane's inner city suburbs, the Gold Coast, south to Byron Bay. We have been keeping parents in the know for over eight years, with fun, fresh and helpful stories that they can take tips from or treasure in their own library.