This week, we catch up with Lauretta Ihonor, founder of The Ambition Plan. As a former doctor, journalist, TV producer, one-time fashion stylist and nutritional therapist, Lauretta has found her purpose in helping other women navigate their career path. Here's her story:
Newnham: Can you tell us a bit about your background, what were you like as a child, how would your family and friends have described you?
Ihonor: I've always been a high achiever. I did really well at school, was naturally book smart and so when the time came to choose a degree, everyone assumed I would become a doctor. Coming from a family of doctors and medics, also piled on the pressure. However, the unusual thing about me was that I was good at all subjects. I could easily handle arty subjects, I did well at sports and I also enjoyed science and maths. That meant that while in the end I chose to go to uni to study medicine and become a doctor, I felt resentful about having to pick just one thing and stick to it for the rest of my life.
My friends and family would agree that I was a wildcard and also headstrong, but also a huge perfectionist. If they had to name one person who was most likely to do things her own way, it would definitely be me.
Newnham: You have had a hugely varied career from doctor to fashion, journalism and nutritional consulting. What led you down this path and what have been some of the highs and lows of your career prior to setting up The Ambition Plan?
Ihonor: Because I went into medicine with an aptitude for it but no real passion, I was always on the lookout for other fields in which my passion could lie. Once I had gotten my medical degree and started working as a doctor, the urge to find my true passion had grown instead of diminished. I knew if I didn't do it while I was still young, I never would. I quit my job as a doctor just one year into it, and I set off on an almost 10-year journey that has spanned six career fields. I went from being a doctor, to a fashion stylist, then a journalist, TV producer, nutritional consultant, and finally I became an entrepreneur when I set up The Ambition Plan.
The highs have involved getting to do some interesting jobs and having experiences I never would have done if I played it safe and stuck to medicine. Lows have been the uncertainty associated with starting from scratch so many times and feeling very alone and unsupported every time I changed careers. When I went from medicine into fashion, and also from fashion into journalism, I knew no one and felt I had to go back to uni and do a degree to be able to get my foot in the door. Not only was this expensive and demoralising (the last time I did a degree, I was 28 and found myself interning at that age too), I felt there had to be a better way for career changers to find their passion without wasting so much time and money.
That’s why The Ambition Plan was born – to support and encourage women to find the career that will give them the sense of fulfillment, passion and direction they’ve been looking for.
Newnham: Can you tell us more about The Ambition Plan? What is the mission behind it?
Ihonor: The Ambition Plan is the UK’s first career change platform for women who are stuck in a career they want to leave, but lack the clarity and confidence to do so. We provide career clarity coaching, masterclasses, hand-picked job opportunities and exclusive networking events to help women work out exactly what you want and how to make it happen. The mission is to arm women with the tools, confidence, connections and plan of action they need to break out of an unfulfilling career to reach their full potential.
Newnham: What advice would you give other women who are thinking of changing careers?
Ihonor: After years of ignoring that nagging feeling that the career you’ve worked hard to build just isn’t right for you, deciding it’s time for a career change can be incredibly liberating. However, it's also natural to feel nervous, full of self doubt and highly tempted to stay in your comfort zone.
Before making any decision about your career, it’s important for you to understand your motivations and what your end goal is. Is it to get away from a job that’s making you miserable? If so, what about the job is causing misery? Is it the company you’re at? Your boss? Colleagues? Will your experience definitely be the same if you were to do the same job at a different company? Have you tried doing so?
A change of career is usually an ideal solution if you’re being pulled to do something else rather than if you’re just keen to run from a particularly bad job. If you love the work you do but hate the way company you do it at operates, the answer lies with changing companies not career fields.
For those really struggling to work out their true motivation for considering a career change, The Ambition Plan is crammed with career clarity programmes, free resources and events designed to help them get clear about the best career for them and how to make the change.
Newnham: What have been some of the biggest obstacles you have faced with your business and how did you overcome them?
Ihonor: It's still early days with The Ambition Plan, so luckily, obstacles have been few. However, having already launched our signature online group programme and run our first big event I have already experienced how the best laid plans can go awry and the importance of staying open to change as an entrepreneur. Asking for help has been my 'secret weapon' for overcoming obstacles. I have been blown away by the level of support I have received from friends, family, fellow entrepreneurs and even strangers during my business journey.
Newnham: What advice would you give to other women looking to start their own business? What the first three things they should consider when starting up?
Ihonor: Your why...
It's so important to be clear about why you're starting a business. Entrepreneurship is hard, lonely and expensive. You'll take huge risks with no idea if they'll pay off and it can be incredibly terrifying because the buck stops with you. If things go wrong it's your name, time and money on the line. If you have a strong driving factor, you will be able to call on this when times get tough. It's this that will stop you from giving up when everyone else around you is saying it's safer to just go and get a job.
An adaptable mindset
This involves staying flexible and embracing change rather than fighting it. Things will always happen to upset your plans, and the vision you set out to achieve will rarely be the result you get. Once you learn to start seeing opportunities in change, you quickly learn that every problem has a solution. Being able to call BS on yourself is also part of having an adaptable mindset. I think all business women come up against obstacles and things they just don’t want to do. I’ve noticed that the women who succeed in their businesses are the ones who encounter things they don’t want to do but do them anyway, whereas those who fail are the ones that make excuses and use these as reasons to not even try.
Look after yourself
When you're busy setting up your business and fighting to start making money, it can be easy to work 18 hour days without getting enough sleep, eating properly, making time to exercise or even getting fresh air. However, these things make a huge difference. While setting up my business, I've found that my productivity and clarity of thought is much better when I take time to step away from the computer, go to bed at a decent hour, do some exercise and eat fresh, home-cooked meals. I may sacrifice a little work time to do these healthy things, but the work I produce when I'm being healthy is of a much higher quality.
Newnham: Which women inspire you and why?
Ihonor: I really admire self-made women who have worked hard to achieve their dreams, while remaining grounded and true to themselves. I'm a big fan of Serena Williams, Marie Forleo and the actress Taraji P Henson. Yes, they are an eclectic mix, but they are all women who ignored the naysayers, dreamed big and then worked their butts off to achieve their goals. Marie and Taraji started the careers they're best known for later in life and show that it's never too late to achieve your dreams once you know what you want.
Newnham: Finally what advice would you give a younger Lauretta?
Ihonor: Trust your gut, and don't settle.