Meet: Ashley Lam, Account Manager at RotaGeek, and a driven, intelligent, and incredibly cool Canadian living abroad in London, UK. She made her move across the pond in March 2016, leaving Ottawa with 2 degrees, a number of marketable skills, and bright ambition. With a wealth of experience in pharmacy and law, Ashley was in pursuit of a career change and new experiences. At the time of her move, she had no idea what she would be doing in London, but taking that leap has proven to be the start of a wonderful adventure.
Would you stay in London forever?
No, I want to stay longer than my visa allows (November 2017) but not forever.
So how did you end up in London?
I came to visit a very close friend, Arwa. She decided to move to London in 2014, and I came to visit
her last April, just over a year ago. I was still working at the pharmacy, and I’d already been called to
the bar, but was really unsure what to do with my life. Arwa suggested to just get the working visa
she had and to try living in London. If it didn’t work out, I could move home. She planted the idea in my head, and I like to do everything if I have the opportunity. I was coming up to a deadline, because I was almost 30 and I wouldn’t be eligible for the visa if I waited. So I literally applied for the visa 2 days before I turned 30. I thought to myself, “if I don’t get a job maybe I won’t come.” But I remember thinking, “even though it’s very expensive to move, I’d be more upset about not trying it.” So I gave it a go, and now I’m here.
Yeah, when people ask me about how I moved here, it’s kind of a random story. And if I hadn’t met
Arwa, it wouldn’t have happened. I’d been to London before, but you don’t really think about doing
this sort of thing. And Arwa showed me it can be done, and that it’s possible.
Was moving hard?
Yeah, because I’d been in my place for almost 2 years, and I had all my stuff. My birds are my most
precious belongings, they’re my babies. I had to get both of them to my parents in Winnipeg. I had
to sell things, donate things, give things away. It’s nice, because I had a lot of support, a lot of emotional support
You mentioned you had just been called to the bar. What happened there?
Well, I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, but when I hit high school I actually did some research, and
realized that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work the hours that a lawyer does. My dad is a pharmacist
and I thought ‘hey, I can do that, I like people, I like science.’ So I went and became a pharmacist,
knowing that I could always go back to law school if I really wanted to. And even in high school, I was
fairly certain I’d do two degrees.
Yes, when I finished pharmacy, I knew I could do it forever and it would be fine. But I do like being a
student, and I was still interested in law. So I decided I could go to law school and if I didn’t like it
quit. And even if I did finish law school and changed my mind, I could always go back to pharmacy.
And so that’s kind of what happened.
Unfortunately, because of the recession in 2008, there weren’t many jobs after I finished my legal
training. I could have pushed and found a job if I wanted it that much, but that would have meant
taking a pay cut compared to what I would make as a pharmacist, because at that point, I’d already
been working in pharmacy for 8 years.
Would you ever go back to either profession?
I can see myself going back to pharmacy at some point if I needed to. But I don’t think I will ever be a
lawyer. I’m far away enough from it now that I can see it’s not right for me. Pharmacy is definitely better for work/life balance – lawyers work crazy hours.
Is that the expectation?
Yeah, for many law firms. If I had stuck with law, I would have chosen to stay in a small firm and
make less money but at least kept my sanity. You can’t maintain that lawyer lifestyle, and physically
it changes you too, you’re busy, worried and stressed. You can’t sleep. I was lucky to have choices though, because I had the luxury of moving here, and the security of being able to go back to pharmacy.
So, it sounds like there are a lot of differences between law and pharmacy. What are the
Well, you’re a professional, so you’re held to very high standards. You’re giving advice, different
kinds of advice, but people rely on you either way. And you sort of play part therapist in both roles. Both roles are very people-oriented. There’s also similarities in keeping up with your license. You have to do continued learning for both roles, to be able to keep practicing. I did like law more, though.
What did you like about it?
Law is something that unites us all, it holds together the fabric of society. I have a very big appreciation for our rights as Canadians, and I appreciate that even more now that I’m living abroad. I’ve always found law interesting, but it’s different to study it than it is to practice it. Day to day life of a lawyer isn’t for me. I like to be social, I don’t want to be at the office all day. If I was forced to choose, pharmacy may be less interesting (to me) but it provides a better work life balance. I think if I had gone right to law school when I was younger, maybe things would have been different. But I was older when I got my law degree, and saw what work / life balance really means. I wasn’t ready to sacrifice that.
And what about startups. Where does startup life fit into this when you’re comparing your different careers?
Startups are very new to me. Before moving here, I didn’t know much about them.
So how did you land a job at one? What made you think it might be something for you?
Well, I was looking for things to do in London – as I do all the time! – and I found this free event about Startups in London. I knew I couldn’t be a lawyer or pharmacist because I’m not licensed here, so I figured why not? I wanted something that combined the skills I had from both of my past professions, so I went to this event and got exposed to the startup scene.
The thing about startups is that they really value someone who works hard. This was good news for me because I have two very specific professional backgrounds that I wanted to move away from.
I found out London is the third largest hub for startups in the world, after San Francisco and NYC. That’s huge! There are literally thousands of startups here. I found my current company online, and when my boss asked me in my interview what I wanted out of the role, I said ‘I want an MBA education without going to MBA school’.
I felt like that was the knowledge gap. I wanted to move away from both pharmacy and law, but I was missing the business education. I told my boss, ‘I don’t really know what I want to do in the future, but I want that missing link, and I want to have cool experiences’. And that’s how I got the job of account manager.
Thank you! It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, when you start any new job there’s always some growing pains as you get used to everything. And I really don’t like feeling stupid! But, that’s inevitable in a new job. And especially true for me now because everything about startups is new to me. Plus, going through a big change and learning a lot quickly always makes for a good experience. I’m having less of those days where I wonder why I did it, and more of the days where I’m loving it. I feel settled in London, though I still have those moments where I can’t believe I live in Europe. I’m hanging out with friends in Europe!
Great friends are so important.
I’m very picky with who I choose to spend time with. I think when you’re younger, you always have
people in your life where you’re like ‘oh, I have to put in face time’, but now I can genuinely say I’m always excited to see the people I’ve made plans with. The older I get, the more set I am in that way. You only have so much time on this planet. We all have responsibilities, whether it’s work or family or whatever. Why would you spend time with people you dread spending time with? I won’t tolerate it. If it’s my personal time, I’m not going to spend it with someone I don’t get excited to spend time with. Ultimately, I won’t become friends with someone that I’m not willing to brag about. In some ways it sounds cruel, like ‘oh you’re too good to be friend with that person’. But that’s not what I mean, it just comes down to valuing my time. I don’t want to spend time with people I don’t connect with. I firmly believe in surrounding myself with people who I love and respect, and who give that back in return.
That’s key in a friendship. What advice would you give to someone?
I guess my advice is to think about what makes you happy. And try to do your best to move towards those things. Because you never know how long you’ll have on this planet. If you have the luxury of trying something new, then I think you should. I’m aware that not everyone can do that, some people have to work to support their family and they can’t chase their dreams. But even if you aren’t in a position to make the big changes, find the little things in life that make you happy. Take time to reflect. In the day of technology and easy access, there are so many distractions. But that means it’s even more important to reflect. The amount of distractions will only get bigger, but time is a limited resource. Think about how you want to spend your time.
Interviewed by Amye Parker @amye.parker