Work, Gender & Identity, Gender, Life Stories, Race, Science, Advice, Career Advice, Interviews

Joelle Owusu proves its never too late to follow your dreams

How one woman made the career leap from geology to publishing

As a millennial, I’m fed up with hearing how our generation expects everything to go our way. Consider instead that practically since birth, we were told a good college degree would land us our dream job and solve all our problems. Instead, many of us are faced with the harsh reality that it’s not so simple. Joelle Owusu studied geology but upon graduating, realized it wasn’t what she wanted. She went on to become a junior editor at the crowdfunding publishing company Unbound. I recently talked to Joelle about career changes, women’s roles in the workplace, and publishing.

The Tempest: For millennials, it feels like we’ve gone to college, then weren’t able to find a job or realized it wasn’t what we wanted at all. What advice would you give to someone feeling a bit lost or considering a career change?

Joelle Owusu: As patronizing as it sounds, it’s totally normal to not know what to do after university and feel lost. It is also normal to choose a different path and go searching for a new career…times have changed, and millennials have been faced with the harsh reality of unemployment, depression, and feeling like failures for not achieving such a simple (alleged) rites of passage. Furthermore, as millennials, we are also faced with a new challenge: comparing our lives on social media with people who seem to have it all.

The first thing to realize is that you are not alone with your worries and struggles. One of the first things I did during my season of post-uni unemployment was to delete my social media for a month. I know this sounds drastic, but I would spend hours scrolling through tweets and images of my agemates having amazing holidays, gap years, and starting lucrative jobs. Being offline gave me time and confidence to focus on my mental health and perfect my CV. I realized I wanted to move from science to publishing, so I found internships and made sure my CV was industry-appropriate.

Find a balance between ambition and reality. It’s very easy for me to tell others to just ‘go for it’, move to your dream city and hope things will fall into place career-wise, but that’s not often how life goes most of the time. There’s money involved and also other people to think about. Coming up with a Plan B does not make you a pessimist, it means you are realistic about life and how it’s not always easy sailing.

T T: In a previous interview, you mentioned one reason you switched from geology to publishing was that it was quite a hostile environment. Do you think this is an issue for women in the workplace in general? Since switching jobs, have you faced similar issues or has it been a good experience overall?

J O: What I have learned is that most industries are unwelcoming to driven, ambitious women. I have seen it in scientific and creative fields and it’s tiring. We are seen as abrasive and intimidating, whereas men are seen as driven and passionate. This is the kind of thing that can trigger Imposter Syndrome and guilt.

In my short time in publishing, it has been a mainly positive experience, but this is more down to me knowing what I will and will not tolerate instead of the industry being better than science. I learned from my past experiences, so people know that they cannot get away with treating me differently because I am a woman. I am vocal and confrontational when necessary, which means that people now think twice about how they approach me.

T T: How has Unbound helped spotlight authors that wouldn’t necessarily have been heard if they tried to go through traditional publishers?

J O: We are one of the few independent publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts (manuscripts from writers who do not have a literary agent). This allows people from all walks of life to get their work seen by professionals. I am incredibly proud that at Unbound, we give all our authors the same respect and support regardless of their status and experience. It does not matter if they are celebrities, award-winning writers, or first-time authors, there is no hierarchy here.

We also have our fingers on the pulse when it comes to domestic and foreign social movements, such as our ‘Repeal the 8th’ anthology, published just before the Irish went to the polls over the 8th Amendment on abortion rights. We are also publishing ‘Common People’ in the spring, which is an anthology written by numerous working-class writers.

T T: What kind of book would you want to write for Unbound if you could?

J O: I’m more into commissioning books for Unbound, but if I were to write a book, I would love to create an illustrated book about female Heads of State from around the world – even the controversial figures. I feel that even though there are many incumbent female presidents and prime ministers, we still do not know their stories, so it’s something I’d like to create.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.