From Terrorism Analyst to Stationery Designer: talking career change with Chanel White

Chanel White

Ever dreamt of taking the plunge and leaving your career to follow your creative passion?

While others were day dreaming, Chanel White turned her dreams into reality, leaving behind her life as a Terrorism Analyst in London to create her own stationery business,  Amelia Lane Paper.

If you’re searching for something more, or your dreams about leaving the corporate world behind are starting to take over your life, this one is for you. I was lucky enough to chat to Chanel about her journey, getting some of her best advice along the way. Here we discuss creativity, taking control of your life and career and making time for the things that truly matter.

Tell me a bit about you: what were you doing five years ago?

Five years ago I was living in London, had recently quit my job as a Terrorism Analyst and was panicking about what to do next! I always knew I wanted to start my own creative business but I wasn’t sure in what field. I was planning a move back to Sydney and simultaneously worrying and feeling excited about what the next chapter of my life was going to bring.

I’m fascinated about your life an anti-terrorism expert. How did you get into this? Is it a career path that you always wanted to take?

I have always been interested in international affairs and I had hoped to become a diplomat. During my undergraduate degree, I jumped at chances to work or study abroad undertaking internships in Korea and language study in Italy. Immediately after finishing my undergraduate degree, I moved to London to start a Masters in Intelligence and International Security, at the end of which I was fortunate enough to be selected by the United Nations to join their internship program in New York for the Department of Safety and Security. After returning to London, I started work as a terrorism analyst for a private company specialising in providing information and analysis to the defence and security industry. I felt like I was on my dream career path, until one day I wasn’t.

As someone who has also changed careers, I’m curious: was there a particular moment when you realised that you wanted or needed a change? Or did you build up to the change over time?

I think it was a slow build up and then all at once! I had been feeling like I wanted more control and freedom over my working life and that slowly chipped away at me until suddenly I realised I needed to start making my own choices about my life and stop just blindly following the path in front of me. I was working a lot, socialising a ton and living life at full speed in general when I suddenly became extremely homesick for Sydney. Other than the obvious things such as family and friends, I missed how I remembered life in Sydney to be – slower and sweeter with more nature, sunshine and outdoors. I started wondering how I could make some changes to my life to bring back more balance.  

What advice would you give to someone else who feels a bit lost in their career, or like they have chosen the wrong path for them?

First of all, know that you’re not the only one! It can feel really isolating when everyone around you is passionately pursuing their careers and you’re feeling lost and rudderless. You’re not the first to need a career change and it’s ok to walk away from where you currently are.  

Secondly, identify exactly what’s making you feel this way. Is it truly the wrong career for you or is it a bad manager / company and a simple job change could fix it? If you genuinely know you’re not on the right track and you’re not just going through a rough patch, then get to it! Figure out your next step and get started! Yep, it’s scary, financially risky and stressful but better to get started on whatever it is that inspires you now rather than waiting another year, or another year after that.

There’s no great time, there’s no perfect product, there’s no magical answer. You’ll learn as you go, make changes where needed and hopefully thrive in your new environment!

Where did you passion for stationery come from? Have you always been creative?

All along I’ve felt torn between pursuing a creative career and a more traditional ‘serious’ one – hence the extreme bizarre leap from one to the other! But even from school days and the trip to Officeworks at the beginning of a new school term, I’ve always loved stationery for what it signifies to me – a clean page, a blank slate, so much opportunity, potential and excitement about what’s to come. I think in this digital age with an app and technology for everything, the quiet and calm focus that a physical planner brings can be meditative – and more productive! There are fewer distractions than if you’re scheduling online and a beautifully designed planner can help you think more clearly and creatively when it comes to organising your life.

What has been your biggest challenge since starting Amelia Lane paper?

The biggest challenge has been self-belief – to keep going and going and working and working and having faith that it will all pay off. Also, maintaining a balance. There is always so much to do when you run your own business, and especially until you’re able to hire help, so there’s never really a great time to switch off the computer or phone and be done for the day. I know that for me to alleviate burn out, it’s crucial I plan time outs whether they are little ones such as walking the dog around the block during the day or big ones such as holidays. Needing to regain balance and manage my time more productively is what led me to create the Amelia Lane Life Designer – my best-selling product. It celebrates a ‘whole of life’ concept so it’s not all just about work but helps you consider and organise all the important parts of your life.

I read that at the heart of Amelia Lane Paper is the desire to live the life you want. What does success look like for you? How do you work to create the life you want?

For business, success for me is growing a big company but staying small. I never want to have hundreds of employees to manage. A small, committed team would be perfect so we’re still able to personally reach out to our customers but also able to help thousands of women around the world get organised and start achieving their dream lives.

More generally, the life I want involves a balance of exciting work I’m passionate about, quality time with family and friends, sunshine and beaches, good food and healthy living.

You create beautiful planners and Life Designers. How do you stay organised? Do you have any advice for anyone who is overwhelmed by their “to do” list?

I think the key to stop feeling overwhelmed is to regain control of your time. Start with the top three things you must get done each day and then continue from there. Accept that you may never get through your ultimate to-do list but that’s ok. Consider what really matters to you and how you’re spending your time. Have you left any white space in your planner to simply be? Look at all the areas of your life – your health and fitness, finances, vision board for the year and long-term goals. Does your daily schedule reflect your vision board and long-term goals? Because these should be in there as well whether that be going for a morning walk, or scheduling in 30 minutes of reading in the bath at night. Cutting back on unnecessary commitments is all well and good but some things just need to be done so being comfortable with imperfection and moving on.  

amelia lane stationery

Practically speaking, I love starting a new year with a planner (duh!). I start with a vision board for my personal life, health, work, family and relationships. It’s a mix of describing how I want that area of my life to feel and more precise goals such as completing a 1.5km ocean swim. I then break down my overall vision into monthly goals with smaller action steps. These then go into the weekly plan so that slowly and surely I’m chipping away at my goal, I’m working towards something I know I want to achieve and I’m making time for what’s important to me. They don’t have to be huge, ambitious goals. For example one of mine for this year was making time for myself. So I schedule in a night each week where I’m home – reading a book in the bath, watching rubbish tv or cooking a new recipe. It doesn’t matter so much what the goal is, but the act of deciding on it, writing it down and then making time to achieve it is the process that will help get you there.

What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

‘Get on your bike’ from my dad. As I was anxiously perfecting every small detail of my business and making miniscule changes, wanting everything to be just right (but in the meantime wasting lots of time and money), my dad wisely advised me to just ‘get on my bike’ (figuratively speaking!) and get going. To get out there and start talking to people, get out from behind the computer screen and listen to how the market responds to my products and making changes accordingly.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment and what’s next for you?

It is such an exciting time for Amelia Lane Paper! I am in the middle of the release of 2017 Amelia Lane Life Designers which have been selling extremely well, and for the first time there is a specific UK edition also that has been very popular. Next year, I’ll be launching in the USA and I’ve been secretly designing another release of products to sit with the Wedding Designers that will also be revealed in 2017. So lots of great dates to put in next year’s Amelia Lane Life Designer!

1 Comment

  • Cyn says:

    I love every story like this because I LIVED it too, this year! I quit my job early this year because I had the realisation hit me like a brick…WHY was I going down this path that was burning me out, underutilising my passions and skills, and honing other skills that I didn’t see much value or achievement in. Well done! You’ve done it! Let’s be entrepreneur Sydney friends and toast to every one of our future successes! On your bike indeed 🙂

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