Investment banker and nightclub DJ. The two jobs may seem worlds apart, but they’re two jobs that feature on the CV of Annie O. When the Berlin-based banker-turned-DJ found that her high-flying job in the City (of London) didn’t give her the fulfilment she imagined it would, rather than embarking on a frantic job search, she threw herself into a hobby, which ended up becoming her job. So, if your dream career something that seems wild, crazy or unrealistic, read on to discover how to make that career change a reality.
Name: Annie O
Job title: DJ
Years since changing path: 11
TAP: You currently work as a DJ in Berlin. What does your job involve on a day to day basis?
AO: One of the great things about this job is that there is no day-to-day routine. Every week(end) is different: I play in different clubs, in different cities and to different people in different contexts. One day I may play at a fetish club and the next day I’ll play at a formal corporate event. My free days are spent on admin (handling my bookings, marketing, organising upcoming travel, preparing DJ sets, etc), self-care (including training for a marathon), socialising with friends and working on my new project – an electronic live act that involves adding piano, vocals and percussion to my sets.
TAP: DJing is a world away from your previous career as a banker. Why and how did you switch from working as an investment banker to a DJ?
AO: To give you some background, I grew up in Germany and when the time came to go to university, I was accepted into the prestigious private business school WHU (Otto Beisheim School of Management). As part of that, I was given the opportunity to do an internship with Merrill Lynch in London and I jumped at the chance. That internship led to a job offer, and that’s how at the age of 22, I started working as an investment banker for Merrill Lynch.
I decided to quit banking because it didn’t give me the validation I thought it would, and I felt so caged in and suffocated that my urge to escape got too strong to ignore. My decision wasn’t really aimed TOWARDS something. For the most part, my main motivation for leaving investment banking was to get AWAY from the status quo. When I quit, I had no idea what to do next – my passion for music just started to blossom around that time and it took several years for it to develop from a hobby into something professional.
TAP: Walking away from a well-paid, prestigious job that many people desire to enter an industry that’s as uncertain as music is a bold move. How did you know you were doing the right thing?
AO: How does a person decide what the ‘right thing’ is? On the one hand, there’s what society, media and/or your parents consider to be the right thing – and that’s mostly focused on security, status and success. On the other hand, there’s what you feel is the right thing deep down in your gut. And because we’re all different, this ‘right thing’ can literally be anything. Only you can know what the right thing is for you. Finding this out can be a process that involves questioning all the external expectations you may have subconsciously taken on. When I left banking, I didn’t know what the right thing would be, but I was open to finding out.
TAP: So, how did you go about discovering the right path for you?
AO: I first got into music by playing the drums in a band. It was something I did purely out of passion – I love being on stage and speaking to people through the language of music. It was five years later that I switched to DJing. In the early years, I didn’t really care if I was paid for performing or not, I just felt honoured to be given the opportunity and didn’t even think about the possibility of making money from it. As I wasn’t making enough money from music at first, I spent many years doing other jobs on the side to pay my bills. But what I found was that when you do something out of passion over many years, you naturally become more experienced and better at that thing. And as that happens, your skill becomes increasingly valuable and you gradually start to get offered money for it. It actually felt uncomfortable when I first started being paid to DJ because deep down I knew that I would have done it for free and couldn’t believe that someone would pay me to do something that served my needs. But after a while, I got used to putting a price on my skill, and over the years it changed from being a hobby to becoming a profession. The biggest turning point happened three years ago when I suddenly found I was earning enough from DJing to give up all my other jobs.
TAP: What were your initial fears and how did you overcome them?
To be honest, I wasn’t afraid at all. I felt so out of place in the banking world and had no motivation to fit in and be successful. All I wanted was to get out of that situation and gain freedom and autonomy instead. I wasn’t afraid of what it meant for my CV or the consequences of giving up the high salary. (I never was in it for the money anyway and I only worked in banking for a total of eight months so I never got used to a high standard of living.) Many people automatically assume that it must have taken a lot of courage to quit – but courage is only needed when there is fear. If there is no fear, the decision feels clear and natural.
That is not to say that I’m a fearless person, I certainly do experience anxiety and fears – I just didn’t in this particular case.
TAP: What is the one thing you do every day that helps you continue to succeed and grow?
AO: There isn’t really anything that I consciously and purposefully do to progress professionally. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I don’t have any goals and I’m not working towards anything in particular. Instead, I’m just going with the flow and taking chances as they come along. In my business studies I learned all about strategic thinking, business plans and entrepreneurship, but these days I’m doing pretty much the exact opposite. I just do what feels right and say no to what doesn’t feel right. My private and professional selves are so intertwined (in fact they are one and the same), that I have the luxury of not having to think strategically – I just live my life, do what I enjoy and trust that one thing will lead to another.
On a personal level, I started undergoing psychoanalysis over a year ago and I’ll continue doing so for probably a long time. I’m doing it to free myself from old, unhelpful patterns and unearth more of my authentic self in my personal life.
TAP: What are three resources that are invaluable for anyone who wants to DJ for a living?
AO: Firstly, you need to have a real passion for music. This doesn’t mean you need to understand it or be able to play an instrument or write a song, it means that you inherently appreciate music as something that touches you and others in a way that words or other forms of communication can’t.
Secondly, you need to be intrinsically motivated. You need to want to do it simply for the love of doing it, for the joy it creates within you and others, rather than for achieving any particular external goals.
Thirdly, there are a few additional skills that may help you progress more quickly:
1. Musical talent and/or musical knowledge (this can help you to add some depth and complexity to the musical journeys you create)
2. Being social – if you network and go to parties, you’ll find it easier to get gigs
3. Being able to read people and their body language (this will help you captivate and entrance people on the dance floor)
Everything else (what technical system you’re using, what musical style you play, etc.) really is secondary. Let your music, your style, your professional image, your skills grow from within you rather than constructing them artificially. Start (s)low and go with the flow.
TAP: What would you say to anyone thinking of changing career?
AO: Why are you just thinking about it rather than doing it? What part of yourself is hindering you? I believe a block in this respect may have to do with an internal conflict, so, first of all, you need to find out which part of your thoughts and motivation come from your head and which come from your gut. Does your head want the change but your gut doesn’t? Then you may not be ready and may just be chasing an ideal that is not rooted (enough) in your actual needs. Does your gut want the change but your head doesn’t? Then you need to be courageous enough to really reflect on and confront your mind-based fears in order to get to the core block and work on resolving it. When your gut and your mind are in harmony, you will clearly feel what is right for you.
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