April 12, 2024

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Quit your stable job and take a left turn, advise these 3 Ottawans

5 min read
Quit your stable job and take a left turn, advise these 3 Ottawans

CBC Ottawa’s Creator Network is a place where young digital storytellers from diverse backgrounds can produce original video content to air on CBC and tell stories through their own lens.

Get in touch to pitch your idea, or check out our other Creator Network stories at cbc.ca/creatornetworkott.


Seated behind his laptop, Deepak Sharma sips his morning coffee as the sun rises on the pastel-coloured buildings of the Miami beachfront.

For him, it’s a reminder of how far he’s come from the cubicle view he had just two years ago as a public servant in Ottawa.

“Nothing I did there had any real impact on the world. I felt like it was all busy work,” said Sharma, who remembers monotonous workdays vacantly staring at meaningless spreadsheets. 

“I felt like a cog in the machine,” he added. “I was working for a paycheque. And I had more to give to the world.”

Just a few months before the pandemic started, Sharma began interviewing athletes and entrepreneurs for his podcast “It’s Not That Deep.” Hearing stories about regular people taking risks to reach their potential inspired Sharma to do the same. 

At 25, Sharma took a leave of absence from his government job, and never looked back. 

He moved to Bogotá, Colombia, launching his own digital marketing agency for influencers, which soon became his full-time paying job. 

“It’s like a rollercoaster. The opposite of security,” he said, adding despite the headaches, he wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Besides doing what he loves, he appreciates being able to work remotely from anywhere in the world (he’s now based in Miami). 

He also remains fascinated by other stories of those who took risks, profiling others from his hometown who took left turns for CBC Ottawa’s Creator Network — starting with his former cubicle-mate.

Soungui Koulamallah lifts weights in his Centretown gym "Soungui Fitness."
Soungui Koulamallah says along with hard work, his positive outlook on life helped him achieve his dream of owning a gym with his wife, Alycia. “A lot of people fear failure and being out of control. But the only things I can control are things within me… like how I react,” said Koulamallah. (Submitted by Soungui Koulamallah)

Left and then left again 

Back in 2018, Alycia Koulamallah was also dreaming about trading her job at Public Services and Procurement Canada for something different. 

“My passion was in nutrition and helping people achieve healthier lifestyles, said Koulamallah, but “working for the government had great pay and great benefits.”

She says a conversation with her husband helped her decide to make the leap. 

“[My husband] Soungui said to me, ‘If you’re choosing to not do something out of fear, then you’re making the wrong decision.'”

Koulamallah quit her government job to study nutrition and work in a naturopathic clinic. And she didn’t stop there. 

Soungui and Alycia
From left to right, Soungui and Alycia Koulamallah both quit their jobs in 2019 to open a gym. Because of the pandemic lockdowns, they bounced between three locations, including the now-closed Makerspace North, before opening their space in Centretown in 2022. (Submitted by Alycia Koulamallah)

In 2019, she and her husband, who played basketball for Algonquin College and moonlit as a security guard, both quit their jobs to open a gym.

That was right before the pandemic hit, making their first years as entrepreneurs “rocky.” Koulamallah says lockdowns and closures had them bouncing around from location to location — including operating out of a pandemic-closed nightclub. 

“Nothing goes on at a nightclub during the day. So I asked if I could run classes and train people there,” said Soungui. 

All in a Day12:42Quit your stable job and take a left turn, say these three Ottawans

Deepak Sharma quit government for podcasting, profiles other unexpected careers for CBC’s Creator Network

After their third gym space also closed, they even found themselves renting out their free-weights and exercise equipment to cover their bills. 

“We made it through and just figured out how to adapt,” said Koulamallah.

In 2022, they opened the doors to “Soungui Fitness” in Centretown, where they currently employ a team of fitness instructors.

For Koulamallah, despite the struggles, it’s a dream come true. 

“At the gym, there is an immediate positive effect on people’s health, which is the opposite of what I saw in my government job, because we were always eating unhealthy foods and at our desks all day,” said Koulamallah. 

“I’m waking up with purpose.”

A cat, a box, and a bucket of dirt and worms with a hand.
Akil Mesiwala credits his cat Purrcy for making him trade his career for one in vermicomposting. (Submitted by Akil Mesiwala)

He left a good salary for a career in worms

“None of this would have happened if I had not adopted my cat,” laughed Akil Mesiwala, the founder of the “Box of Life,” a worm-based social enterprise in Ottawa. 

In 2018, Mesiwala was working as a data analytics consultant in Boston when he asked himself: “Why am I doing this job?” 

“And the answer really was a paycheque,” said Mesiwala. 

Back then, Mesiwala would awaken to the sound of his cat, Purrcy, rifling through the kitchen garbage, looking for tasty scraps.

It made Mesiwala realize there were potential nutrients in what he was throwing out. He researched online and wound up investing in his first batch of composting worms. 

“It eliminated the trash and the smell of garbage. Plus, the cat was no longer interested in the trash … or the worm farm. It was a win-win,” he said.

It took some time for Mesiwala to turn invertebrates into a career. First, he decided to move to Ottawa to be with his wife, packing his bags and quitting his job. Unemployed for the first time, Mesiwala had time to think about ways he could make a difference. The solution: worms. 

In 2019, he founded “Box of Life,” designing an apartment-sized worm farm for urban dwellers to compost inside, based at first at Makerspace North (where he crossed paths with the Koulamallahs).

Hand filled with dirty with one worm wiggling about.
“Composting is a good solution for most urban dwellers,” said Akil Mesiwala, adding it can reduce organic matter rotting in landfills, which releases methane and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. (Submitted by Akil Mesiwala)

Though at times Mesiwala misses the stability of a paycheque or a boss (“having someone tell you what needs to be done is mentally such a blessing,” he laughed), he’s grateful for a chance to spread awareness about how to reduce his carbon footprint.

He says building a business has also been an interesting journey.

“I feel energized when people come back to me, and they tell me how much joy that one farm has brought in their lives, or when they say: ‘What you are doing matters.”‘

A man hugging a big tree.
Akil Mesiwala says he gave up his job as a data analytics consultant to start a social enterprise selling worm composters because he wants to show people how they can lower their carbon footprint. (Submitted by Akil Mesiwala)

It’s something Sharma also feels. Despite initially disappointing his parents by quitting the stable career, he says they are now proud he’s doing something meaningful.

His advice to others considering their own left turn? 

“Write down exactly what your ideal day looks like, and then figure out how to reverse engineer it to make it happen.” 

A man in a podcast studio
Deepak Sharma left his government job to launch a social media marketing company and to host his podcast, ‘It’s not that Deep.’ (Submitted by Deepak Sharma )

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