Alice Adams loved numbers, having spent more than 10 years in finance as an asset manager for several London-based banks. But she also loved books and secretly wanted to write one of her own.
"I felt like it was setting out to be rock star," Adams told CNBC. "It was such a long shot."
In 2010, she re-evaluated her career and decided to take a break from the grueling world of finance.
A one-year master's in creative writing was the perfect career break, after which she planned to go back to banking.
Nearly six years and one novel later, Adams hasn't gone back — despite receiving three job offers from large banks.
After graduating from The University of Manchester in the U.K. with a writing degree, Adams took a job as a financial analyst for a university in order to have the time to write on the side. Her book, "Invincible Summer," is now sold in seven countries.
The banker turned novelist shared three key lessons from her career change, which she says are applicable to any professional.
As alluring as quitting your job immediately may be, it's important to have an exit plan.
"I did not take a huge financial risk," Adams said. "I made sure I was in a reasonably solid position before making the change."
Financial planning is key.
"If you structure your life to be reliant on continuing to earn the same money, you're wearing handcuffs," she said. "This was always pretty obvious to me, and I made saving a priority."
Setting a time goal for herself was also important. Enrolling in a master's program with an end date gave Adams the perfect window to try her hand at writing a book.
"All of it comes down to the same thing, which is you have to choose to discipline yourself," said Adams, who quickly realized that the romantic idea of easily writing a novel couldn't be further from the truth.
She described setting rules for herself, like not getting up from her desk until she hit a word count.
"Discipline is hard to learn; it's hard to impose on yourself," she said. "But it's probably the biggest factor in succeeding in what you're aiming for in life."
If you clearly ask for what you want, you'll have more opportunities to grow in your career, Adams said.
"Speaking clearly helps you to think clearly, which is as useful in making life decisions as it is in the workplace," she said. "It forces you to clearly define your own goal, which is always a good thing."
"So ask. Stop talking. Wait for an answer. The answer may be no, but at least everyone's clear."