As few days go by without a reference to the Great Resignation and employees quitting their jobs in droves - one survey of Australian workers suggests 38% plan to leave in the next 12 months - James’ own story gives him a unique perspective and could offer a salutary lesson to those contemplating a career change.
While many of those reassessing their work-life balance in the wake of the COVID pandemic, marketing company owner James’ own hand was forced after heart surgery due to a genetic defect.
It set him on the path to realising he needed to look after himself, he says, acknowledging the stresses and strains much of the population has endured during the past 20 months.
“At the time I was working 12, 14, 16-hour days - out the door at 6am, in at nine, 10pm - round the clock meetings, heavily caffeinated.
“I was a walking cliche, long lunches, all that sort of stuff.”
While he kept fit riding his bike, he’d “had enough” and having the operation was the major turning point.
“It changed my outlook on life. It changed my outlook on my family. It changed my outlook on my work predominantly, because that's who I was. I was 100% work,” he says, explaining how he took up baking as a hobby and as part of his recovery after the surgery nine years ago.
But after turning that hobby into a business, he admits he ended up working those same long hours to start. Now with a clutch of Royal Agricultural Society prizes to his name, James’ Staple Bread and Necessities bakery has grown to have 50 full and part time staff at three outlets around Sydney’s northern beaches. And he doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
So is the template looking for an alternative to the commute to the CBD?
“I was working harder at the start than I was in my corporate job, but I loved what I was doing, and so it never felt like work,” he says.
“It's that old cliche, you never work a day in your life if you love what you do.
“I don't have a working week anymore. Days just roll into one another. I’ll be in the bakery on a Monday and a Sunday and a Saturday, Tuesday, whatever, but I get to do fun bits now.
“That was important for me. If that passion becomes a grind then you are losing it.
If you found your thing, life's short, get on with it.”
While he is nervous about offering advice to those looking for alternatives to corporate life, he does tell them to follow their passion - whether it’s baking bread or fixing cars.
“I felt like they wanted to do something more awesome and that was going to be their answer to everything,” he says.
“But I don't think it is. Because we've got bills to pay and we've got kids to support, and families. And I think you have to be very careful what you say in that environment. People come to me and talk about wanting to resign from their jobs, having a burnout.
“What happened with the lockdowns over the last two years is that just amplified that for people because people were literally working themselves to death.
“Working from home has a great concept behind it, it sounds glorious, but I think the realities are completely different. I've got friends in corporate jobs literally pinned to their desk for 14 hours a day.”
But, he concludes:
“I’d just tread carefully. The grass is always greener, everyone talks about that. I think there are other ways to find happiness and sense of purpose and meaning, that doesn't have to just come from your job.
“Leaving a perfectly well paid job when you're supporting a family is a big, big step and you need to back yourself.
“But you need a family and a group of people that can support you in that process.
"So if you've got that, but I think also if you've got the passion for it.
"I think people with passion for anything make things happen, they're not bothered about the nine to five, they're not living in the nine to five, they're living in the thing that drives them and excites them."