A dramatic career change at 30, from a Board position in finance to an unqualified role as a lecturer at the College of FE, was a brave move for Martine Ellis. She took a huge career gamble – and a similarly sized pay cut - when she recognised that teaching was what she needed to do. It was the right move for her, but the transition was the biggest challenge of her life, as she struggled with anxiety, depression, and exhaustion.
Her career change led to burnout, and she recognised there were other things going on behind the scenes. Specifically, undiagnosed autism and a formal diagnosis in her 40's was life changing, giving her the permission she sought to advocate for herself.
While Martine still struggles with change, she is now thriving, working part-time leading education provision for Autism Guernsey and also working independently as a writer and education consultant. She works mostly from home, with her dog for company, living and breathing by the wellbeing-driven productivity principles she recommends for us all.
Martine is Listed.
I was born in Guernsey and had my first experience of education at La Mare de Carteret Primary School. A true child of the eighties, I grew up watching Neighbours and listening to Bros albums on repeat, convinced that one day Matt Goss would ask me to marry him. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.
The next stop on my education journey was The Guernsey Grammar School, in the early nineties. Despite regular tellings off for my skirt length (too short) and tie width (too skinny), school was mostly good. I have fond memories of some incredible teachers who – although none of us knew it at the time – significantly influenced my career trajectory.
After school hours were either spent reading in my room with Nirvana or Guns and Roses blaring, or chatting for hours on the phone while my mum yelled at me to stop tying up the landline.
Weekends were for rehearsing with Guernsey Youth Theatre or GADOC and doing my Saturday job at the Co-Op; experiences that set me up remarkably well for entering the world of work.
When I look back on my early life, it was all about school. This is surprising because I was a very average student; as much as I (mostly) loved the experience, I never truly excelled at any subject. When all my friends headed off to university, I started work. While this could have put me at a disadvantage, it actually had the opposite effect. I became determined to excel at work.
My confident customer service skills – honed over several years on my trusty checkout – helped me climb the corporate ladder working for various recruitment, training, and finance companies.
By the age of 30, I was on the board of directors of an international finance company. I drove a convertible, travelled internationally, and earned a competitive salary.
Sounds perfect, doesn't it? Except it wasn't. I wasn’t happy doing a job that didn't help anyone. So, I took a huge career gamble – and a similarly sized pay cut – and left my comfortable finance job for a 1-year contract as an unqualified lecturer at The Guernsey College of Further Education.
I'd love to tell you my transition into teaching was easy, but it wasn't. I struggled with anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. I got burnt out. That first year of teaching was the biggest challenge of my life. As exhausted as I was, I recognised that teaching – helping people – was what I needed to do. But if I was going to thrive (not just survive), I needed to do things differently.
So I did.
I completed teacher training on the job, followed by QTLS, Advanced Teacher Status, and then a Master's in Education. I moved into leadership and developed a passion for professional development, coaching, and quality improvement. I worked for the College for 15 years and only recently left in favour of another huge career change (more on that in a moment).
My experience of burnout taught me that to do my job well, I needed to be well. Prioritising my health and wellbeing – putting my needs first – was essential. I quickly learned that when you adopt a wellbeing-first mindset you are more – not less – productive. When you thrive personally, you thrive professionally, meaning everyone wins.
I started writing and speaking about my burnout experience and eventually found a name for my approach to getting things done: wellbeing-driven productivity.
While it was undoubtedly a dramatic career change that caused my burnout, there were other things going on behind the scenes – specifically, undiagnosed autism. And if there’s one thing we autistic folks struggle with, it’s change.
I was diagnosed with autism in my early forties – a few years ago – but I’d known that I experience the world differently to other people for most of my life.
People often react with surprise when I tell them I'm autistic, sometimes even saying, "But you don’t look autistic, Martine". It's a common misconception that autism has a certain 'look', but in reality, it doesn't. Autism is a spectrum condition that affects people in different ways. More than this though, it's important to remember that it's never OK to tell someone they do not look autistic*.
My autism diagnosis helped me to understand the monumental effort it takes to appear efficient, organised and in control in social situations. The energy expended in presenting myself this way can be enormous.
As well as the exhaustion issue, I am noise sensitive – I struggle to concentrate in the presence of sounds I have not chosen or created. Some sounds are worse than others, for example, someone eating or talking to themselves. This makes working in a traditional office environment nearly impossible.
Other challenges include my constant inner monologue – my brain is never silent, so I am terrible at mindfulness and meditation. I also take things literally, which can cause a whole host of issues in the workplace and at home.
These and many other differences make me anxious (it’s rarely just autism, for me, it’s autism and generalised anxiety disorder).
I am excellent at masking my autistic characteristics, and this is the main reason why getting a formal diagnosis was so important for me. People struggle to believe I am autistic (unless they really know me) so that official piece of paper gives me permission to advocate for myself – to explain my needs.
*Bonus list: other things not to say to a person who tells you they are autistic:
I alluded to another big career move earlier – let me bring you up-to-date. I left the College in October 2023 to work part-time for Autism Guernsey leading their education provision, and also to work for myself as a Writer and Speaker and Educator.
As much as this change presented some challenges (autism + change = tricky) I am enjoying my new portfolio career. During the pandemic I was one of the few who thrived working from home – I now spend most of my working day in my comfortable home office, with my dog for company. I live and breathe wellbeing-driven productivity and my employer and clients undoubtedly feel the benefit.
A happy future for me is a simple one. It involves hanging out with my husband of over 20 years, Simon, our dog Penny, and our elderly cat, Shadow. I am fit, healthy, and learning something new every day. Finally, I am helping others to realise that putting themselves first – prioritising their needs – is always the right thing to do.
To do well, you need to be well.