• Lauren Leopold

Career change: From burnt out to business owner

Updated: Feb 18

‘Career Change Chronicles’ is my new regular column about brilliant women who have follwed their dreams to change career and set up businesses. Here, we meet my client Pauline Gidoin, who recently started her own interior design business Millimetre Architecture. She lives in East London with her partner Jose and Maurice the French Bulldog and you can find her on Instagram @millimetre_architecture.


When did you start your business?

I launched my business just over a year and a half ago but I got stuck into two architectural

projects for house extensions. They were introduced to me by friends right after I gave my

resignation from my corporate job and being terrified to be out of a job I said yes, knowing

deep inside that it wasn't what I really wanted to do. The problem is that architectural

projects take much longer than interiors so I was trapped for quite a while. I barely had a

website, I paid for the URL as I wanted to keep the name but I never really did anything for it

as I had no time for it nor content. I had an Instagram page that was empty as I did not want

to share any of that as this was not what I wanted to do so it was inactive for over a year. I

was ashamed to share it.


Tell us about your career change journey

I spent 11 years in Hong Kong working on multi award winning architectural projects. I was

working crazy hours but was always told it was normal in our field. Then I moved to the UK

and got a job at one of the top architectural firms in the world. At first I was really proud but

slowly the long hours (regularly working 9 am to midnight -1am ) started to get to me. I felt

unhappy, not recognized despite being part of this great firm. 


During this time I bought a flat and designed it including some bespoke joinery design. I was

so happy when I was doing it - it was fun and refreshing and it was amazing to see the result.

So the idea of moving towards interior design started to emerge. I always helped friends with their furniture layout for free as well as furniture selection but  never considered until then to make it a business. Hey, after all I’d been hired by one of the 'Starchitect' firms - how could I leave this company when people are queuing to get in there?


Then in 2018, I started to physically feel the repercussion of the hours, stress level and lack of

recognition. I raised the flag to my company but nothing changed. 8 months passed and I

decided to resign. They tried everything to make me stay, telling me they couldn't lose senior staff, but I’d decided. I left with amazing reviews from my boss and am still in touch with all of them. I was really motivated to start an interior design business after taking a few months off to reset. However my body decided differently and I ended up at the hospital with an autoimmune disease that appears with high stress level. As a result I took a bit of time off and finally in mid- 2019 I was ready to start. This is when the architecture projects were introduced to me and I didn't know how to say no. So I got trapped again until March 2020.


During lock down 1 one of my architectural projects ( the biggest one) went on hold. I felt so

relieved, my health improved drastically, but a smaller architecture project restarted and we

got planning granted. I was about to sign the agreement for the technical documentation

package knowing deep inside that it will hold me back even longer from developing the

interior design business. I felt miserable, I was not happy, I was stressed and I felt trapped as

the clients were people I knew for years and the idea of disappointing them was really

painful. 


During the summer, a friend of mine reached out to design a studio flat he’d just bought in

the French Alps. They live in the French Caribbean, so with me in London we did all by

Zoom and emails. They were so happy with the result and I had so much fun doing it - Boom I was convinced  to get back to my original idea and work on Interior Design projects! In

addition it proved to me that I could do it remotely as well! So In September I was boosted with this energy. I started doing some research about online design and started to have a clearer idea of what I wanted my business to be.


In November I came across the Topology Designer’s Toolkit and it was a sign! I couldn't have asked for a better support group and meeting Lauren was also a life changing experience. The day of our first 1-2-1 I finally had the strength to tell my architectural clients, who went silent for 3month, that I wouldn’t continue their project. I was petrified of their reaction as I didn't want to disappoint them, but they actually were so nice and even sent me flowers to thank me for all the work I already did for them.


What were the challenges that drove you to change career and how were they impacting your life?

The extreme working hours and the lack of recognition made me quit the corporate world. I

couldn't start a side hustle as my contract prevented me from doing it. I wanted to have a

normal life and not only sleep-gym (when possible) work. I was constantly stressed, creating

tension with my partner as I was physically and mentally drained. I also want to start a

family and I didn't see how this would be possible with the life I had. I had barely time to spend with my partner and dog , I had to send the dog to puppy day care as I wasn't home until late so how could I have a family?


How long had you been thinking about it and what made you decide to finally do it?

It was there in the back of my head for a while, I always helped my friends and family to do

their layouts, picking their furniture colour selection, styling etc. I also did some interior

design packages in my architect work and I always loved it. It became crystal clear when I

purchased my flat and designed it entirely. It was exactly what I wanted to do. It took me 2

years to finally take the steps.


How did you make the change? 

As an architect and having done free interior design advice for as long as I started to work it

naturally came to me I would say. However I still needed to do it for my own flat to convince

me that I was capable of doing it. I actually discovered this was the imposter syndrome

despite being an architect and working in this field for years. Thanks to Lauren for naming it

and explaining what this was! I started the business by myself but got lost quite fast with all the legal aspects and other hats that you must have when you run your own business. (accounting, legal, PR, etc) I also started to search on Google and met a girl who started her business and helped me with some of the legal action to set up the company as I was completely clueless. However I didn't do any research on marketing, promotion etc as I spent all my time on the extension projects I had, so didn't work on the interior part at all for most of that time. As you can read above what a roller coaster it has been! 


But everything fell into place when I joined the Topology Designers Tool Kit Facebook Group. In just 2 months of being part of this community I’ve had photos taken of my flat, I’ve launched my Instagram and website, completed 3 online designs and hopefully will soon sign an onsite one. The support of this gang has been life changing and I feel motivated and less alone. It is hard when you are by yourself, having a group of like minded women around is so helpful. Being able to share experiences or ask questions that you think are stupid and realize that actually lots of people are asking the same is so helpful. I’m now looking forward to starting my 12 week coaching programme with Lauren to get things moving forward to the next step! 


What is life like for you now that you're running your own business?

I feel extremely motivated and have a constant to-do list to do. I also feel terrified some days

but I guess it is part of the process. Some days I feel like I wouldn't make it and I am not good enough but it is night and day compared to a year ago. The stress level is much more

manageable. I am finally proud to share it with everyone and get out there. I’m even going to do my first bids this week! Everything seems to fall into place now, I managed to sort out some personal things that I’d been postponing for months. I feel boosted and wake up every day eager to tackle my tasks list. I am looking forward to what the future has to offer now.


What have been your biggest achievements? 

  • I learnt to say no 

  • I created a website from scratch

  • I had 2 of my photos shared on made.com and liked by over 11, 000 people 

  • I completed 3 e.Designs since the beginning of 2021

What are the challenges and how do you deal with them? 

  • All the marketing, e.g. USP, SEO, promotion, etc. It's a new world for me and I have A LOT to learn still, but I’m doing it step by step. Rome was not built in a day.

  • Tradesmen liaison can sometimes be complicated but that is why we are here!

What have you learnt along the way?

  • The importance of setting goals and breaking them down to make them achievable

  • To reach out to people who have expertise to ask tips when I get lost instead of freeze

What 3 tips would you give to people wanting to do the same thing as you? 

1. Do not accept something that you are not comfortable with and stick to your plan

2. Reach out to people who have been through what you’re going through

3. Get help through a coach and / or support group.


How has having a business coach helped you along the way?

Lauren has been incredible and before our 1-2-1 I was scared to speak about my issue to someone, I felt ashamed that I didn't take the lead earlier to the point I was not sure to actually do the session wiht her. How wrong I was! Lauren helped me set goals and understand how important it was. She allowed me to dream. I was blocked completely and now value my work. The main thing I’ve learned is to accept that I am an overcoming perfectionist and ‘Done is better than perfect’. I’m slowly starting to accept messy imperfection. I've now signed up with Lauren for 12 week's coaching and I am so excited.


Do you feel unfulfilled in your job like Pauline did and need some focus and clarity to start a side hustle? Or maybe you already run a side hustle or business and want to take it to the next level. Either way, book in a free discovery call to see if we vibe!


Meet Lauren

Career Change & Business Coach and Side Hustle Queen

Hi, I'm Lauren. I burnt out, hit rock bottom and used the experience to manifest my dream life. I now help passionate and ambitious women change career, start side hustles and grow businesses. I'm living proof that you can - and deserve to - have it all.


Find out how I can help you.


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