Meet 6 Famous Aussies Who Had Drastic Career Changes

It's OK to change your mind.

Brought to you by Swinburne University of Technology

We know what career ready looks like.

Does anyone really start at square one with an answer to the question: “What am I going to do with my life?” Maybe. Do people change their mind about that answer? All the time.

Look closely, and you’ll see that a lot of the most successful people didn’t hatch a grand scheme to get them from A to B. A great career might involve a tour of the whole alphabet and doesn’t boil down to a single choice. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind.

That’s what we’ve learned from these high profile Aussies who have made drastic career shifts. We’re diving into their stories to see what can happen when you embrace change.

Garth Davis

Photo: Garth Davis/Wikimedia Commons

Garth Davis is a hugely successful TV and film director whose career recently catapulted to new levels thanks to his work on the film Lion, which has now been recognised in every major award show internationally. His other claim to fame? Co-directing Top Of The Lake with Jane Campion.

But Garth didn’t start at day one with a master plan to become an accomplished director. Originally, he completed a bachelor degree studying graphic design at Swinburne University of Technology. According to Davis, he was first exposed to filmmaking while studying directly opposite the film school at university and observing all the fun. He started “mucking around” with film cameras and the rest is history.

It’s easy to think that changing paths means time has been wasted but that wasn’t the case for Davis. He’s adamant that the thorough understanding of design and art he gained in his studies “shaped [his] understanding of everything”.

Tomek Archer

Photo: Tomek Archer/Twitter

Most people probably know Tomek Archer as the drummer from the Aussie electropop band Van She. The band reached levels of success that most musicians can only hope for. But now Archer has closed the book on his music career to pursue his passion for architecture and industrial design. Turns out he’s got killer skills in this industry, too.

After switching to architecture and design, Archer won the inaugural SOYA365 (Spirit of Youth Award) for design and now he’s director of his own architecture and industrial design studio in Surry Hills.

Archer’s career change is solid evidence that you can be great at more than just one thing. Life is long and there are options to make time for different passions, if you’re prepared to dive headfirst into change.

Claudia Pickering

Claudia Pickering is a comedy director and writer who is reaping international success, including widespread festival acclaim for her feature film Frisky (made on a budget of just $5000).

Basically, she’s killing it. We spoke to her about leaving a successful career in architecture to go after another passion.

It turns out Claudia started out studying science, with the intention to transfer to dentistry, before switching to architecture and realising that she wanted to get into film.

“In a fairly large YOLO move, after a year of working at a great architecture firm in Sydney, I moved to Los Angeles and took charge of that career change I’d been yearning for.”

She told us, “Change your goals if the old ones don’t fit anymore. Don’t stick to a plan ‘just because’.”

“I weathered the storm of ‘…but what are you doing with your life?!’ and now I spend every day working on projects that I love in an industry that excites the pants off me.”

Lee Crockford

Photo: Lee Crockford/Shot by Daniel Boud

Lee Crockford’s path to becoming a leading advocate for social change and men’s mental health has been anything but linear. He completed a Bachelor of Composition before switching lanes to work on curriculum development in the education sector. Now, he’s the CEO and co-founder of Spur Projects, which works to prevent suicide.

Lee told us about feeling intimidated by those who seemed to have “a laser focus on the single career path they wanted in life” while he sometimes felt like he had ‘flip-flopped’ his way here.

But Lee now recognises that “the core motivation behind why I enjoyed each of those careers was common to all three”, so he’s soothed that it will guide any future career changes.

Gemma O’Brien

Photo: Gemma O’Brien/Website

Gemma O’Brien is a Sydney-based artist whose work has shown all over the world and has been commissioned by a slew of high profile brands such as QANTAS, Heinz, The New York Times and Smirnoff. We spoke to Gemma about ditching her law degree to pursue art.

Her original choice to study law was guided by an internalised pressure to choose a ‘smart’ career. Now past the tunnel vision that can overwhelm prospective uni students, Gemma says, “Looking back now, I realise how crazy this was!”

“As soon as I made the switch to design, my excitement and passion started to translate into career success.”

Ollie Henderson

Photo: Ollie Henderson/Shot by Daniel Boud

Ollie Henderson was gaining momentum as a model when in 2014 she made a splash at Australian Fashion Week with her politically provocative T-shirt launch. Aware of the public attention at the event, Ollie printed and distributed 100 t-shirts that each featured a positive, unique, political message like ‘save the reef’, ‘love is love’ or ‘sexism sucks’.

This started her on the path to becoming a high-profile activist and founder of House of Riot, a Sydney-based not-for-profit aimed at getting young people engaged with political issues. The organisation takes on social issues like climate change, gender inequality and the treatment of asylum seekers.

By making this change, Henderson is defying the notion that you have to stay within the career ‘lanes’ that supposedly confine you. She’s carved out her own definition of a career and changed her life. And now she’s changing the world.


Lead image: House of Riot


Trying to pick a uni? How about one that won’t be fazed if you want to change course midway through? Meet the team at Swinburne during Advice Nights to find out exactly how to make your own uni adventure.