Cabin crew one moment, drag performer the next: How to nail the career pivot

This article is authored by Gary Nunn and is originally published by The Age.

Having sashayed across his kitchen in women’s clothing, miming Beyoncé’s Listen, cabin crew flight manager Daniel Floyd now sits opposite his smartphone camera, crying.

He’s recounting the day his dad started rebuilding their strained relationship, shortly before his death.

This intimate show – a combination of candid raconteur and glamorous drag queen performer – is done alone to camera. The Facebook live-streamed show receives hundreds of thumbs up emojis, floating like digital whoops across the screen.

The 44-year-old from Sydney is one of many Australians making a sudden professional pivot. With work drying up due to COVID-19, people are finding creative new ways to make money.

Floyd is on stand-down leave without pay from his full-time job for Virgin Australia. All he ever wanted to do was be a flight attendant, he says, but he doubts he’ll be back in the air for some months.

Initially bored in isolation, the videos were an extension of Floyd’s drag queen persona, Penelope Tration. Then a passenger from one of his flights suggested he include a Paypal link for tips.

After the first show, Floyd was overwhelmed. “I saw $80 in my Paypal account. I thought, people are so generous.”

Then a $500 tip landed. “I contacted them and said, you’ve made a mistake. You must’ve meant $5? They said no. I want to give you $500 for entertaining us all at such a crazy time. Then I sobbed,” Floyd says.

His shows, Tration In Isolation, are now daily. “On Friday, it’s give a drag queen 10 drinks, stand her in her lounge and see what happens.”

High-end Melbourne florist Victoria Whitelaw, 53, has done a similar pivot after flower sales plunged. She’s become a fruit-and-vegetable box deliverer.

Desperate to look after her 23 staff, Whitelaw had the realisation that while people might not need fresh flowers anymore, they still need fresh food

Her idea was up and running within four days. “I just went into survival mode,” she says.

Whitelaw says it has been a success, and she has even been able to hire three extra staff.

“A lady yesterday ordered $2500 worth of my food boxes to send to her close family,” she says.

“We thought this was just COVID-19 business, but I honestly believe it’ll keep going.”

Danielle Norton, 45, is at the embryonic stages of transitioning from a freelance travel writer and substitute teacher. But the transition somewhat surprised her: it was baking cakes.

It began when a friend was organising the birthdays of two of her children.

“She knew I love making children’s cakes, so she offered to pay me to make them,” Norton says.

Career transition expert Sandy Hutchison, who is currently working with Virgin’s employees, has advice for people out of work. “Reskill, take online courses, build contacts, research industries that’ll be hiring again soon.”

Those who have suddenly transitioned must take the work seriously, she says: “Think of it as your career right now. Don’t devalue the work. Remember this’ll pass, but the way you make people feel in this crisis will be remembered. Your personal brand can make all the difference for your career prospects.”

She says the sectors that are hiring include retail grocery stores, call centres, the healthcare and aged care sectors and financial services.

Beware, though, of being too hasty under stress. “Making a big career change at this time can be slightly risky as the job market will be very tight, so preference will go to those with the most experience. At the same time, if you find yourself out of work, it may be a great time to upskill so you’re ready to make a pivot when things return to the new normal.”

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