I started my professional career with my dream job as a façade engineer at Arup in their Los Angeles office. I thought I would stay until retirement! I joined the company because they had a reputation for working on iconic buildings around the world, and joining the façade team was the perfect intersection of my architecture and architectural engineering degrees. I worked on detailing the exterior facades of buildings like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi and other incredible structures around the world.
A pandemic-prompted realization
During the pandemic, my husband and I moved to Boston, and I kept working remotely for the L.A. office. With the extra time and distance, I realized I needed to make a change. It was after I’d spent another hour in a draining Zoom meeting, debating with a team of architects whether the size of a window caulk joint should be 1/2″ or 5/8″, when I realized I couldn’t do this for another 30 years. Although I’d joined the firm as a graduate engineer with the intention of rising to the top within two decades, I was no longer interested in that goal. The new question for me was, well, if being a principal engineer is no longer my goal, then what is?
Discovering my path
I spent countless hours researching options and informally interviewing professionals in other fields. I thought about going back to school for an MBA, becoming a consultant, going into finance or tech—the alternatives to my present role as an engineer were countless. As I narrowed my search, I dug deeper. What did I really want out of this career change? Why did I want to leave engineering?
For me, the answer was surprisingly simple. I wanted to spend my time doing what I loved. I wanted to find something I enjoyed doing for the sake of doing it, not because I was being paid or recognized, but because it genuinely brought me joy. I wanted to find what that was and then do it all day.
I read the self-help career guidebooks and did the follow-along exercises, trying to figure out what my next step should be. I thought back to what I loved doing as a kid: working on puzzles, color-coding my school supplies, shopping at The Container Store with my mom. Yes, I was and still am a nerd!
So I connected with the local professional home organizing community in Boston and started working part time as a home organizer. As it turns out, I love organizing. I love working with my hands and transforming a space over the course of several hours. I love visual symmetry and figuring out what fits best where. I love working with people to tangibly improve their lives.
Taking the leap
When my husband and I moved back to Austin, I started my own company. It’s called Settled In Soundly because that’s how I want clients to feel when our work is complete.
As I figured out how to start a business, I realized how much I didn’t know. There was an entire world out there that I was completely unfamiliar with, and starting from scratch was intimidating. I experienced a steep learning curve when it came to filing for an LLC, getting an EIN, and experimenting with Google Ads. I read numerous articles about SEO, designed my own website, and went to local networking events to meet other business owners and potential clients. Every day was a new challenge, and I loved the excitement of figuring out the next step.
When I sold my first $5,000 organizing package, I was absolutely thrilled. I was getting paid to do what I loved!
Initially, I felt guilty for leaving behind a technical world in which women are still underrepresented. I felt like I had invested so much in my career—6 years of a grueling undergraduate program and 4 years of work experience. I was nervous to walk away from a safe path, not to mention healthcare and a generous 401(k) match. Somehow pursuing what I loved—organizing—seemed less legitimate than finance, tech, or another office job. Organizing didn’t seem like the “serious” career I expected myself to have. But it made me happy, and I genuinely enjoyed it.
And what about that decade of specialized experience I had in architecture and engineering? Shouldn’t I be using it? I figured the only thing worse than spending 10 years on something I was no longer interested in would be staying in it for 20 more years. I decided to treat the decade as a sunk cost and move on.
Well, it turns out my architectural background has given me a unique advantage as a professional home organizer. My years of AutoCAD have proven useful in creating custom 3D models of pantry and closet designs for clients, allowing them to visualize their results before getting started. My visual communication classes help me present my ideas in a logical and clear manner. Those sunk costs turned out to be investments that still had value in a new context.
Finding your courage
Being an entrepreneur can be scary. But what’s scarier is realizing that I didn’t have to take action. I could have stayed at the firm, risen through the ranks, and never stopped to think about whether my goals had changed or if I still wanted to pursue what I started with. I hope hearing my story inspires you to have courage to pursue what you love. Don’t be scared to try something new. Dreams change! Switching careers is possible, and your skill sets will likely translate to another industry better than you think!
Katie Mark Clingman is a professional home organizer who helps busy women feel settled in soundly by unpacking, decluttering, and organizing their home. With her background in architecture and architectural engineering, she brings a unique perspective to home organization that is rooted in design principles, space optimization, and a passion for creating functional and visually stunning spaces. Follow her on Instagram at @settledinsoundly.