UAE Real Life: How Four People Changed Their Careers
Old Career: CEO of a research company
New Career: Founder of The Sameness Project
“For every unique feature that makes you different from the seven billion other people in this world, there’s one feature that makes us the same – we’re all people, and we’re all worth the same. It’s quite simple really,” says Lina Nahhas, Founder of The Sameness Project, which organises outreach initiatives here in Dubai.
It’s a big departure from the management position she held for over six years at a Media City-based research company. “After returning from a trip to my home country of Palestine I knew that I had to do something different, something more, something to help,” says Lina. “I had a highly paid job, but my heart was no longer in it.”
Rather than set up 'just another charity', Lina wanted to do something “funky”. Thus the Sameness Project was born, incorporating a number of projects that bring humanity together. Probably the best-known project here in Dubai is entitled Water for Workers. Each month, Lina and her volunteers hand out thousands of bottles of water to labourers. “This is about far more than offering refreshment,” says Lina. “It’s about interacting with humanity. We hang around and exchange our life stories.”
Bringing strangers together is the aim of all her initiatives. Soles for Stories sees domestic workers in Dubai decorate blank TOMS shoes and benefit from their eventual sale; We’ve Got Your Back engages with taxi drivers and encourages them to keep fit; The Conversation Chair encourages strangers to exchange views and meet in the middle – a concept that has been picked up and is being used in New Zealand.
Old Career: Journalist
New Career: Yoga and Pilates instructor and freelance journalist
Canadian Emilie Goldstein moved to Dubai in 2008 to work as the editor for Thai Airways in-flight magazine. But when she lost her job the next year due to the financial crisis, she returned to freelance journalism and was finally given the incentive to make Pilates her career. Emilie had already used Pilates to regain her strength following two bouts of back surgery for debilitating disc pain in 1993 and 2006.
“I had gone on to teach Pilates in South Africa and in Thailand, where I lived previously, and loved it, but stopped teaching when I arrived in Dubai as I just couldn't find the time,” she says. Emilie returned to practicing yoga and teaching Pilates from home while working as a freelance journalist, but it wasn’t until she became a mum to son Max that she realised it was what she wanted to do full-time.
“I found that not only did the practice give me my pre-baby body back in just a matter of months, it also made me realise I'd taken a detour on my path to teach yoga and Pilates, and that I'd been sidetracked for too long.”
Emilie soon landed a slot teaching Pilates at Zen Yoga in Dubai, and in June 2013 got her 200-hour yoga qualification with US-based YogaWorks. More recently, following her amazing career change, she has undergone a whole life change, moving with Max and husband Marc to San Francisco, where she now teaches yoga and Pilates full-time.
Luckily, it’s the number-one city in the US for yoga, and she continues to combine teaching and learning – she’s currently enrolled in the 500-hour advanced teacher training programme. Fitting everything in can be difficult. “There aren't enough hours in the day, but I've managed to find balance and I'm enjoying every aspect of it,” she says, despite taking a pay-cut to follow her dreams. “What I’ve lost in income, I’ve gained in happiness, easiness and freedom. Despite the long hours, I love the mix of chaos and peace I’ve managed to achieve. Money can’t buy that. Although my heart still skips a beat when I see a pair of hot Louboutins in a shop window…”
“You’re stronger than you think. Sometimes we don’t go for something because we are scared of the consequences, but the biggest disappointment would be not to do something.”
Old Career: Head of marketing
New Career: Fitness Studio Owner
When Chelsea Gregory moved to Dubai in 2006 it was to work for a publishing company as General Manager of retail marketing. Her job was to maximise sales. But after having a baby two years later, her outlook changed. “I decided I didn’t want to go back to a very structured corporate life that I didn’t necessarily enjoy,” she says. “When you become a mother you don’t want to be stuck at a desk. I wanted the freedom.” So, Chelsea – who’s originally from Australia’s Gold Coast – studied for a diploma in photography and landed a job as general manager of a portrait photography company in The Dubai Mall. Though she loved seeing happy families get their treasured snaps, she still wasn’t fulfilled.
“People don’t have a photoshoot every week and it’s not cheap,” she says. “You’re constantly marketing for new clients. I found that challenging and quite stressful, and I didn’t own the business.”
However, Chelsea was always attending fitness classes, and was such a fan of her instructor, Monica Pulgarin, that she approached her with lots of ideas. Following several email conversations, the pair decided to open their own studio. Chelsea used money she’d inherited and the pair now run DanceFit on Sheikh Zayed Road. After just a year they’ve had 3,000 women through the door.
She says the hardest thing has been the pressure of the responsibility. “You can’t just say 'I’m ringing in sick today'.” Although she now works harder than ever, she can fit it in with her life. “I get to work very early, pick my son up from school, go home and then go back to the studio. I think I work about the same hours, but more on my own terms.”
“With a small business, it’s imperative you have staff who are passionate about their work. Most of our marketing comes from word of mouth and the power of giving good service.”
Old Career: Petroleum engineer
New Career: Fashion designer
Even as a child being brought up in Libya, Fadwa had a passion for fashion. However, her family pushed her into pursuing a ‘safer’ career. “When I was a little girl I used to cut up my mother’s curtains to make my dresses – not always successfully and not always welcomed by my mother,” says Fadwa. “But a career in fashion was not something my family could see me making a living from and, certainly in Libya in the Seventies and Eighties, there weren’t exactly a lot of opportunities to get into the fashion business. I was pushed to choose between law, medicine and engineering. I couldn’t see myself dealing with blood, and I couldn’t stand the thought of reading endless legal books, so I chose engineering.”
After 10 years of working as a petroleum engineer in various locations around the world, Fadwa eventually got a chance to change her life and pursue her childhood dream. “I reached a junction in my life and was lucky to have the support of my family to leave work and train as a fashion designer. It was a scary decision, but I knew it was an opportunity that I just had to grasp.”
The result is that Fadwa is now a fashion designer with her clothes label Baruni (www.Baruni.co) sold online and in Salam Stores in Mirdif City Centre, Rivaage in Sunset Mall and The Dubai Mall, and in Bebo e Mio boutique on Jumeirah Beach Road. With long hours, a lot of stress and a huge learning curve, it hasn’t been easy. “It was very challenging to start a new business in a new field with no experience of the fashion business – especially during one of the worst economic recessions in the past hundred years. You have to be very determined to succeed. It’s still more about hard work rather than design inspiration, though clearly that matters too.
“As the business grows there’s a constant pressure to surpass the last collection and do a better job than last time.” However, for Fadwa the pros of being a designer far outweigh the cons. “The best aspect of making a change like this is the sense of independence that it brings,” she says. “It’s my life now and it's hard to imagine doing anything else.”
“You really need to be willing to devote yourself to your new career to make a success of it. You need to have absolute passion, not just seeking an alternative to a boring job.”