Whilst most of us prefer to float safely along, others like to grab the reigns and turn everything on its head. The whole shebang. Mieke Dumortier and Julien Mourlon are just two examples of daredevil dreamers who’ve rebuilt their lives and started anew. We spoke to the former career consultant turned soup delivery service owner and the civil engineer turned new media consultant about their impressive u-turns.

Mieke Dumortier, from senior career consultant to soup delivery service owner

For seven years, Mieke Dumortier worked as a senior consultant for Randstad where she helped others to find employment and convinced companies to work with the agency. She was on the road to managerhood. But just before that happened, she took a turn, ditched her old job and opened an organic soup shop in Antwerp. Mieke cooks everything herself and then delivers the food by bike. About one month ago, she also opened a lunchroom. Doing well, then?

Photography Hans Vercauter

When did you realise you wanted to change something? How was the idea of a soup delivery service born?

In 2008 Randstad was hit by the economic crisis like many other companies and in January 2009 they asked us employees if we wanted to take a sabbatical. I agreed to do it and all of a sudden I had a whole year of free time in front of me. I travelled for a while, and after about 6 months I started asking myself: “Do I want to go back? What do I want? What am I good at?” I knew I wanted something intense, something busy, a sporty job that keeps me on the move. And I knew it had to be related to food. I had become interested in organic food and cooked a lot and that’s how the idea of a soup delivery service by bike was born. But even though I had this concept in my head, I went back to Randstad after the sabbatical to be completely sure about my decision. On my first day back there, by 2 o’clock I already knew: I had to leave, and so I did, a few months later.

Many people are afraid to actually take the final step and really start over. What made you do it?

I guess it’s in my character to take risks. And I thought: you can always stop and go back if it doesn’t work. I left Randstad on good terms, sure that they’d take me back if I wanted to.

Any advice for those out there thinking about quitting it all?

You need to know exactly what you want to do. You need a business plan, you need to know how much you’ll have to pay for things, how much you need to sell, etc. The more you know, the less scared you are! Be honest with yourself. And a back-up is important. You have to find your thing and you have to be sure you’ll really like it. If you become an independent like me, you should, for example, be aware how much administrative work you’ll have to do.

Have you ever regretted your choice?

No, never. Of  course it’s hard sometimes, because I work all the time and I’m responsible for everything. I never know if the next day I’ll still have customers, if they’ll buy again! Sometimes I think: “What have I done?!” Especially when I opened the lunchroom. Even more work and responsibility! But that doesn’t happen often. I enjoy what I do so much and I get so much positive feedback, which really motivates me. I have all the responsibility on my shoulders but I also get all the compliments for myself!

What are your plans for the future?

I really want an electric bike. With one of those, I could easily increase my deliveries by 25% or more!

www.soepmie.be

Julien Mourlon, from civil engineer to new media consultant

Since he was a kid, it’s always been clear to Julien Mourlon that one day he’d be a civil engineer, just like his grandfather. But during his time in university, he already felt he was at the wrong place, and when he started to work as a project manager at a software company he instantly knew he had to change something. Now Julien is his own boss as a full-time new media consultant, advising clients such as the Belgian post, the European Commission, and NGOs. He’s also the creative mind behind the music platform Laid Back.

Photography Grégoire Pleynet

When did you realise you wanted to change something?

I studied civil engineering and computer science and already during my studies I was thinking about stopping. But there was a lot of family pressure and, after all, it promised a safe job. I got a job right away at a software company. But there was no connection with the people and I was missing something – creativity. Engineers are problem-solvers. So I decided to follow my dreams instead.

How did you get the idea to be a new media consultant?

It was a long evolution. The first thing I did was start my own radio show online. I had already been working on it when I was still at the software company. Music had always been a big thing for me, maybe because I played basketball and the whole culture around it was closely connected to music. I did a lot of mixtapes for my friends. So I developed a website, did podcasting, developed a radio player, wrote a manifesto about the future of the radio and started getting invited to conferences. Finally a company hired me to advise their clients on new media, but I quickly realised that I wanted to be my own boss and now I work as an independent.

Many people are afraid to actually take the final step and really start over. What made you do it?

I was dead afraid that it wouldn’t work out. But I think the key was that I did everything step by step. From finishing my studies to working as a freelancer took eight years. It was a slow process but I constantly made little changes. And every time I am afraid of something, I push myself to do it anyway, and afterwards I’m always happy about it.

Any advice for those out there thinking about quitting it all?

Just go for it! People tend to think too much and see everything too black and white. Of course, it won’t work if you stop abruptly and have no money. You should try out things to be sure about what you want and make a slow transition. Sometimes, we just think that the grass is always greener on the other side. You also need to be flexible. In software development there’s a term called ‘agile development’: be open to everything, don’t hesitate to readjust your project.

Have you ever regretted your choice?

No. the instability is sometimes scary, but I do what I love. It was the right thing to do. But it did take a lot of time for others to understand that I’m in a different place now: some still contact me as a civil engineer.

What are your plans for the future?

I definitely won’t go back to my old job. I have established myself in Belgium now as a new media consultant and was able to build a good reputation. But I would love to extend my work to other countries, and go to Berlin, Paris, London, … I’ve also made peace with the fact that a part of me is an engineer and I’m thinking about developing an iPad application or a new website. And a proper office space would be nice, right now it’s just me, my laptop and my cell phone. But I’m not in a hurry.

www.ldbk.eu