By Natalie Vilkoff
Uncertain about her career, Erica Romaniuk sat her parents down and told them that she wanted to change her occupation.
“I have an idea. It’s kind of crazy,” she told them, as she suggested the idea of starting a Toronto walking tour company—a complete turnaround from her engineering job.
At the time, Romaniuk, who graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University’s mechanical engineering program in 2021, was working as a mechanical engineering consultant at the same company where she completed her internship during school—a job she just recently quit. But even before considering a career change, she found it hard to adjust to the workplace environment, which was largely due to the isolation she felt because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was a really stark difference to being in school. I feel like, no one really warns you,” she said.
For Romaniuk, the shift away from school was a challenge. “When you graduate you go from having this amazing, supportive community and you have all these events that are constantly going on…and then all of a sudden, there’s none of that,” she said. “You’re just working for a company.” She added that she mostly worked remotely at her job and had days where she wouldn’t interact with other people.
“I’m not gonna lie, it was really hard,” she said. “For the first time in my life, I started dealing with mental health issues—I have anxiety—and that got really bad at my job.” At work, Romaniuk found herself daydreaming about other possibilities and thinking that engineering wasn’t for her.
She began brainstorming other career ideas in a notebook, taking into consideration her skills and the things she liked and disliked about her current job. Even though she was interested in math and sciences, Romaniuk said she wanted something that incorporated her creative side and didn’t require her to spend her days in front of a computer. She then asked herself which of those aligned with what she thought would make her happier.
“When I was in high school, I was always planning day trips for my friends and I just really love that,” she said, adding that she also loved reading and history.
“I was looking at things I thought would be realistic…things that I thought would bring me happiness and things I wanted out of a job and was trying to look at the intersecting points of that,” she said.
That’s how Romaniuk landed on the idea of starting a tourism business, dedicated to walking tours of Toronto’s Old Town and Market District, featuring iconic landmarks such as the St. Lawrence Market, Old City Hall and the Gooderham Building.
Romaniuk’s company, Step by Step Tours, launched its website on March 17, which also happened to be during National Engineering Month.
But despite feeling like she made the right decision to step away from engineering, Romaniuk said a part of her was still grieving her past self. “That part of me that was this proud woman in STEM,” Romaniuk explained. “And I’m not writing off engineering entirely.” She said she came to the realization that the particular part of engineering she was in—consulting—wasn’t for her.
Despite the uncertainty of leaving a career she was excelling in, Romaniuk was determined to pursue what she had been daydreaming about. She said starting her tour business took a lot of planning and being honest with herself when it came to what she wanted from a job and things that she could realistically achieve. This was especially true when it came to the business aspect of her new endeavour, which she said she learned from her mom’s advice and through internet resources.
“I spent a couple of months doing a ton of market research, seeing what was out there,” she said. “And then honestly, saving up a good amount of money.”
Romaniuk explained that she began working on starting her company while still working as an engineer and once she figured out the “back end” company logistics, she started doing test tours with family and friends.
“Then the final piece of the puzzle was for me to quit my engineering job and make the leap,” she said. She finally quit her job in early March.
No matter how drastic, Romaniuk said her advice for anyone considering a career change is to be honest with yourself.
“Sit down and look at what you want out of your job. Like all the things that make you feel fulfilled as a person,” she said.
“By something making you feel fulfilled, that will then translate to you being able to do it for a long period of time and be able to put the energy into it that will make you successful.”