The Leap Stories #84: Polly Shanahan from customer service to woodworker

Earlier this year Polly Shanahan quit her day job in a very public facing customer service role, and retreated to the solitude of her workshop to put to use the woodworking skills her handyman father taught her. The result is Wah Works, an online store selling wooden objects handmade by Polly, from reclaimed and sustainable materials. She also recently started accepting commissions.

Polly’s roles in retail and customer service demanded she expend a lot of outward energy, leaving her feeling depleted most evenings.  She found herself without much to offer her personal life or relationship and knew she had to make a change. She drafted her resignation letter but waited six months before she finally sent it.

The chasm between knowing we need to make a change, and actually doing it is the nature of a leap. When we outgrow what we once were our vitality shifts, and we’re invited to stand at the edge. Sometimes, we’ll stand there for a long time before we summon the courage. Some people will stay there, waiting for the conditions to be perfect. But as marketing guru Seth Godin says:

You don’t need more time, you just need to decide. – Seth Godin

Check in on your values, beliefs, priorities, resources and skills. They absolutely change over time. If you find your vitality waning, your mindset cloudy, and your outlook broody, it’s a good indication that a leap of some type is forming, because what you once held true maybe no longer. Take notice, recalibrate, decide and do.

GIVEAWAY! To celebrate Polly’s launch, we’re giving away one of her beautiful Jupiter Scatter bowls to one lucky reader. Head on over to Instagram this week to enter.

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Polly Shanahan made the leap from working customer service at Melbourne Zoo to woodworker and founder of Wah.Works. Photo by Samara Clifford Photography.

What did you want to be when you grew up and why?

An astronaut. I dreamed of adventure as a child. The thought of discovering something for the first time still excites me. If you asked me this question 200 years ago, I would have said explorer.

What did/do you study?

I have jumped from course to course. I have always admired academia and wished that it was an environment that I could thrive in. This idea led me to study sociology, history, archaeology and anthropology. These remain passions of mine but I find myself truly content when doing physical work. The act of creating something with my hands and learning new techniques is where my heart lies. I will never tire of learning new skills in this way.

What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?

Without a doubt quitting my full-time job to start my own business. It was terrifying but I found that there was no decision making in this process. I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted, the feeling of relief that came with my resignation felt like a drug. I had myself fooled for many years thinking that retail and customer service was where I wanted to be. I had my resignation email drafted for six months, then one day I was standing at a tram stop in Melbourne and realised I had to send it. I pulled out my phone right then and there and pushed send.

What were you doing before you made your leap?

I was working in the visitor services department at Melbourne Zoo. It involved a lot of talking to humans, but most of the time I felt like I was working with the animals.

Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?

My mum. She showed me through her lifestyle that it is possible to work from home and create the work/life balance you desire.

My dad. He is my knowledge bank and problem solver.

My husband. He has always worked for himself and shown me you only get out what you put in. He works a lot harder than I ever will.

Dani Knox. We made our leaps together, leaving the same workplace to pursue our own business endeavors. We meet regularly to keep each other on track as getting up in the morning can be hard sometimes when you are your own boss.

What did you have in place before you made the leap?

Just my business name. I have been figuring everything else out since then.

What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that led you to the leap?

I don’t think there was one moment. It was more of a slow build-up of moments until it all got too much. Then one day I realised I was lucky enough to be in a position to make the leap I desired.

How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?

I didn’t choose courage. I made my leap out of fear. I was working a job that was emotionally exhausting. I would spend all my days talking to people and being ‘on’ for the public. This led to an inability to do anything outside work hours. I would come home, sit on the couch and not be able to talk to anyone. I dreamed of working alone.
There was also a fear of standing still. I did my job well but I was far from satisfied. The idea of staying there any longer started to make me feel ill. I had my resignation letter drafted for six months before sending it. When I finally felt I didn’t have the energy any longer I hit send.

How did you fund your leap?

With a small amount of savings and some long service leave from my previous job.

What other leaps have you made?

Everything in my life up until this point felt completely natural. I wasn’t exactly floating from one thing to another without a care in the world but nothing took anywhere near as much effort as starting my own business has. Since that point I feel like every day contains its own little leap. Running a business requires you to put yourself out there in so many different ways. It has been hard but also the best time of my life.

What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?

To be honest this is the first real leap I have made in my life. I have certainly challenged myself but nothing I have come up against until this point has felt like a choice. I am going to keep working on this one and hopefully, it will work out!

What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?

Not being good enough. And I’m not sure I do deal with it all that well. It can become quite crippling at times. However, having people around that can show me the reality of a situation helps. There is also the feeling of completing a commission for a satisfied client.

How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.

It changes every day. All I can say is it is consistently above the level of happiness I was experiencing before. Right now I am happy to say it is a 10/10.

What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?

Making my own hours. It is in no way an opportunity to slack off but if I work hard when I need to I can also take the time off that I want. This has been such an improvement in my well-being coming from working the unsociable hours of customer service.

What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?

Nothing. There certainly are stresses that come with working for yourself and it has been a very steep learning curve. But the stresses are nothing compared to how down I felt about myself and my life before. I feel more alive than ever.

What might be your next leap?

Going back to school to get a trade. Everything I know I learnt through my handyman father, trial and error or YouTube. I would like to have the confidence that those skills will give me.

Beautiful Wah.Works creations by Polly. Check them out here.

What are your favourite words to live by?

‘Be mindful of the work you leave for others.’ John Hodgman.

Who do you admire who also made the leap?

Samara Clifford. I see her doing work she loves and making it a sustainable business. This is what I strive for.

A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?

Do it, but build yourself a support network first. If it wasn’t for a small amount of money and some amazing people behind me my stress levels would be much higher.

What question did I miss about your leap? And what’s your answer?

I would want to know how making a leap has affected those closest to the leaper. The person most affected from my leap is certainly my husband Nic. I know he struggled with my negative emotions and social exhaustion when I was in my old job. Being a musician, a lot of his work takes place at night in crowded venues. Previously I did not have the energy or emotional capacity to join him out most nights. Now that I am working for myself and not in a customer service role I have much more energy to go out, enjoy myself and support him. We are both happier now that I am able to share that part of his world.

Right now I’m:

Hearing: Podcasts while I work. My current favs are: Radio Lab, Judge John Hodgman, Reply All, Invisibilia, TED Radio Hour, 99% Invisible, Criminal, The Story Collider, My Favourite Murder, Imaginary Worlds, The Allusionist
Eating: Laksa to keep me warm.
Drinking: Coffee, endlessly.
Reading: The People in the Trees – Hanya Yanagihara
Loving: Autumn.

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A thought to ponder on this week… what’s waiting for you to finally press ‘go’ on?  What are you waiting for?

Lovingly,

Kylie x

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