Career change: UK charity CEO close to burnout found balance in France

Claudia Ryan-Jones, 52, moved her family to France in 2017 and swapped a stressful job in youth work for a remote admin role and loves it

Claudia Ryan-Jones
“I knew I was approaching burnout”, Claudia Ryan-Jones fast forwarded French retirement plans to find work-life balance as a remote administrator in France

After starting my career as an office manager, I moved into a more hands-on role as deputy CEO of a youth homeless charity in Blackpool in 2002.

The work was rewarding, but also stressful.

Mornings would invariably see me counselling young people who had used the emergency night shelter, trying to find them appropriate accommodation and support.

Afternoons, I would be managing my team from the office – phoning benefits agencies, the housing department, writing reports for funders and trying to solve the many issues that would arise in the day.

After almost 15 years, in 2016, I knew I was approaching burnout.

Plus, with two children to look after – Louis, now 15, and Noah, now 12 – I felt I was not giving my family enough time.

When one day my hearing completely disappeared – a result of stress – I knew it was time to move on and let someone fresh and energised take the reins.

“Shall we move to France?” I said to my husband Jason, 49, a mechanical engineering fitter.

We had always planned to move to France on retirement, but I had begun to realise how much we needed a life change sooner than that.

At the time, Jason and I were too exhausted in the evening to do anything, weekends were a blur, and our holiday entitlement was split to cover the kids’ school holidays.

Plus our eldest, Louis, was having a particularly tough time at school.

After a bit of convincing, Jason was on board. We looked at our finances and put our house on the market.

As we were not sure what we would be doing once in France, we decided to use some of our equity to purchase two rental properties in the UK. These would give us an income and breathing space when we moved over.

With an eye on our finances, we bought a modest house in Bellac, Limousin, for ourselves – although it was hard not to get seduced by French property prices and buy a chateau!

We finally moved over in January 2017.

Jason registered immediately as a micro-entrepreneur to become a handyman, but I decided not to race straight back to work.

I needed time to improve my language skills, find out what I wanted to do, and – importantly – help the children to settle.

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Once we arrived, Louis went straight to collège, and found it a struggle at first.

Noah settled in more quickly at the primary school.

Thankfully, after a year, both our boys were happy and spoke French well.

In 2019, I was still toying with the idea of work but had become quite precious about my time.

I did not want to take another job that swallowed me up and took me away from my family.

A friend suggested doing remote admin for a company she worked for in the UK. It was just eight hours a week and flexible.

I gave it a go and really enjoyed it. The role was not challenging, especially as I had lots of admin experience from my previous role as an office manager.

It really opened my eyes to the world of remote working.

Then, just as I was settling in, Covid-19 struck and we were both made redundant.

I was disappointed, but it was not long before I started to wonder – could I set up a similar company myself?

Despite having only worked for the UK firm for a short time, I had already identified areas I thought I could do more efficiently. I spoke to my friend and soon we were sketching out ideas.

In January 2021, we registered as micro-entrepreneurs and set up Assist – a virtual administration and handholding service for clients in France.

As friends, we work well together and both put in two-and-a-half days a week.

Back in the UK, it might have looked as if I had everything – a great job, beautiful house, loving husband and two lovely children.

But now I have the one thing I needed more than any of that: balance.

My working days are varied (we manage social media, monitor inboxes, help a life coach with admin, among other things).

I am working from home and am the master of my own time.

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