Life as an Elective Orphan: Interview with Sarah K Brandis

 In Ask the Author, Blog

Time to Rise – Ask the Author Series
Sarah Brandis works with Life Coaches and Solopreneurs to support them in marketing their small business and finding their next customers.

However, she didn’t discover her passion for marketing until years after having an existential crisis before the age of 30, that completely changed the path of her life.

Sarah’s story, Finding My Why, in Time to Rise begins with her having that crisis, and the journey to figuring out her purpose and passion.

However, while you can choose your friends and your career path, you can’t choose your family. Coming from an abusive home and entering the adult world without any parental guidance, things got worse before they got better! It’s all been a really big adventure.

Dr. Andrea – So your story in Time to Rise is about the existential crisis you had at 28 years old. But I’m really interested in the backstory too. I’m fascinated by how you left home at 16 and took a circuitous path to eventually finding your passion. You mentioned in the book that you were completely overwhelmed when you first left home, because suddenly you were responsible for your own care.

So what kinds of job are available for a 16 year old in the UK?

Sarah – The very first job, and the one that help me leave home, was actually a “live-in” job at a horse riding school. I was really into horses at the time, and I knew that sometimes stables had live-in staff. So I thought that would be a really good way to get a roof over my head and get an income.

Unfortunately it was a total nightmare and the job only lasted two weeks for me. The head girl was a bully, and I was really vulnerable when I left home – so an obvious target. It’s funny, living with my slightly intimidating and unhinged parents, I thought that was the worst I was going to experience in life. But entering the real world, suddenly I realised there were a whole load more adults out there who also had their issues and would take them out on other people.

So 2 weeks later I’m back on the coach heading for my hometown. I stayed with a friend for a few weeks until I sorted myself out with a new job and rented a room in a shared house.

I got by on very low-paid retail jobs for a few years, then tried bar work and customer service in a call center. Then somebody put the idea in my head about becoming a table dancer at Spearmint Rhino.

Dr. Andrea – Can you define table dancer for us? That brings to mind strippers and lap dancing.

Sarah – It’s almost lap dancing, but just a little more reserved – more British I guess! To explain the difference, lap dancers get very close to their customers. A table dancer performs standing next to the drinks table – hence the name.

Dr. Andrea – And how little clothing did you have on?

Sarah – Well, I kept my shoes on!

Dr. Andrea – So who was it that told you about this job?

Sarah – It was a boyfriend at the time, and boy did he regret saying this, because he didn’t want me to do it, he was just making a joke. I don’t remember why he made that joke, but it came out of his mouth, and it landed with me. I just remember thinking about how much money I could make, without being chained to a desk or touching people’s sweaty feet in a shoe shop. The idea was so exciting!

Dr. Andrea – So how long did this last? And was the money really better?

– I did it for 3 years. And yes and no with the money. It’s funny how quickly you adapt to earning more and start living to your means. So as soon as you have more money coming in – if you don’t know how to handle it – it goes out the window! And that’s so true of life in general.

It doesn’t matter how much comes to you; energy, money, education… If you don’t know what to do with it, then it gets wasted.

I wish I could tell you that I made a load of money and invested it in property! But no, I just spent as much as I earned. On shoes, clothes, partying, and all the silly things you do when you are in your early twenties.

So life was really just the same, except I had gone from working days to nights, and now I answered to a stage name.

Dr. Andrea – Ooh, what was the name?

Sarah – I had a few and the first one was Eve. But then as I moved around to different clubs I switched it up; sometimes I was Rachel. That name was inspired by Rachel Weiss, as I always liked her. I’m never going to grow Rachel Weiss eyebrows, sadly, but I could borrow her name for a while!

Dr. Andrea – Then how did you get out of table dancing after those 3 years?

Sarah – It was a gradual process. I realized that it wasn’t a good thing to have on my resume! So I thought that I should start taking on some other part time work in a bar, to build up my work history with more acceptable examples. There was a bar right next door to the club that took me on.

The bar work actually became my next career move.   I got more experienced at the bar, then I ended up talking my way into a management role, in a central London music venue.

Dr. Andrea – So you’re quite the crafty one, aren’t you?

Sarah – I was! That job probably shouldn’t have been mine. At first I went for the assistant manager role, which was enough of a stretch. I’d been a bar supervisor in Bournemouth, a little seaside town. So going from there to London, and straight into an assistant manager role was tough.

It was 6 weeks into that assistant role that my manager took me out for lunch to break some news – I thought he was going to fire me! But actually, he told me he had been promoted to area manager, and so his role needed to be filled. He told me it was me, or else he would have to hire somebody new if I didn’t think I could handle it. So I decided to handle it.

That was an experience! He was a good boss though and helped me learn my new role – I was lucky there! And he was also the same boss at the later job (we moved companies together) where I had my existential crisis that I wrote about in the book.

Ultimately this job wasn’t meant to be. As I have since discovered, my purpose was something else entirely.

Dr. Andrea – Absolutely! So not many people will know that you do some of my marketing and social media at Make Your Mark Global.

But there is more to the story before that. After your existential crisis you put yourself through University, and even trained as a life coach. You’ve been all over the block!

– I really didn’t know what I was doing! I’d found stuff that I was passionate about, like the psychology and neuroscience that I studied at University. That was wonderful. But my degree wasn’t a vocational one – so it doesn’t set you on a path for a specific job.

When I graduated I didn’t know what I was going to do next. And there was so much expectation on me at that point. I’d just spent £30,000 to get a qualification that would make my life better – I really had to make my life better now! It really felt like starting all over again on the career ladder.

I’d thought about becoming a therapist, but I knew that meant more years of University, and more money I didn’t have. Considering that this all started from an existential crisis – I didn’t feel I had more time to spare. I was in my early thirties at this point. To some degree I think I am always in a bit of an existential crisis – I always worry that I’m not living up to my potential.

Then I came across life coaching, and this seemed an ideal way to be in a helping role, and with a shorter time to get qualified, less than a year in fact. It felt like the obvious path for me to take. So I started studying with a life coaching school.

This is where things got interesting! I’d started to realize through working with practice clients that I really wasn’t meant for this kind of work. Coaches listen, they facilitate, but they don’t advise, and they don’t get involved. Guess what I prefer to do?

I’m a bossy, hands-on person, so being the coach wasn’t sitting well with me. Although I absolutely love being coached, and I do still get regular coaching for myself.

At the same time this was going on for me, a position became available at the coaching school, and being fresh out of University I really needed a proper job. The school needed someone to help with social media marketing. At that time I had no work experience as a marketer, but I did have one card to play.

During my time at University I had written and self-published my own book, The Musings of an Elective Orphan. This was my story of running away from home at 16 and becoming an ‘elective orphan’, as I call myself. So how I got the social media marketing job was that I came to the interview with a PowerPoint presentation of everything I’d learned about marketing through promoting my own book. Also, as luck would have it, there was only one other applicant to beat! I’d been lucky again and walked away with the job.

I’m really glad I’d started learning marketing, even though it had originally only been with a view to selling copies of my book. I ended up discovering a passion.

Dr. Andrea –
And from that first job you’ve moved on to working with some fabulous people – but I suspect there is even more to come from you!

So your chapter Finding My Why in Time to Rise is all about the existential crisis that led you to the decision to go to university. We do all at some point ask those big questions about why we are here – what’s our purpose…

So can you take us to that point where you were asking why you were on the planet?

Sarah – I’d had quite a past! I had left home at 16 for my own safety, and so I’d been in the working world full-time since that age. That was just about surviving day to day, keeping the roof over my head. This discomfort had been building up inside me for years. So at 28 I was getting divorced, life was moving on, but I was still doing these jobs that I’d been doing for the last 12 years. All that my work did was keep me going, paycheck to paycheck. But I felt no sense of purpose.

I knew I wasn’t filling my potential, and I was so frustrated. So I really hit the wall.

Dr. Andrea – So you’re 28, sitting at your desk having a melt down. What happened next?

Sarah – I really needed to find some inspiration from somewhere as I hadn’t a clue what my next move was. Somebody I looked up to back then was my friend Karin. She had just graduated and honestly, I was a bit jealous. I’d missed out on University when I was ‘student age’, because I was working just to survive. At the time I didn’t know there were finance options, and I guess I just wasn’t that resourceful when I was younger.

But at 28 I worked at a computer and had the internet at my fingertips, so I started searching for ways to get myself to University. I loved the idea that my full-time role would be study – and more importantly, something for my, not for my boss. And I knew I could find part-time work to see me through.

Then I found the course that really interested me the most, Cognitive Neuroscience BSc, and it felt perfect for me. I’d always been fascinated with psychology, even since childhood. Coming from that weird family dynamic that I’d had to escape from, I always wanted to understand more about what drives people to do the things they do. So I applied for the course. Then I waited…

Dr. Andrea – So what do you think it is in your character that made you persevere and find a way, rather than just being jealous and bitter.

Sarah – A bit of British stubbornness! And also this is where personal development has really saved me. When I started reading books from authors like Dave Pelzer and Fiona Harrold, this gave me a mindset shift that started to dig me out of my rut and get me taking action.

Dr. Andrea – In addition to personal development, in your chapter in the book you also touch on the importance of mentorship.

Sarah – Having the right people around me has been essential to me finding the right path in life. When I was younger I had the wrong people around me, and the results spoke for themselves.

The further I’ve got into personal development world, the more I’ve been encouraged, and the more I’ve seen my potential. So mentors make all the difference.

Dr. Andrea – Well how awesome is that, especially from whence you came, where there was not a lot of hope or positivity. But it seems this circuitous path has led you to where you are today. I think your story will help a lot of people put into perspective that just because we have a rocky start in life, that doesn’t mean you can’t pick yourself up. You can allow yourself to stumble through and find your way until you find your thing that lights you up.

Sarah – I’ve been to some dark, silly and crazy places on my way – and I’m fine now. What I most want people to know is that you can find your way. Stay positive; get some good role models and mentors. Just keep going forward. If I can do it then anybody can.


If you would like to learn more about Sarah’s work, you can visit her site here:

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