Make a Change
Even if you enjoy your job, you’ve probably fantasized about doing something else. (Opening a wine store? Writing that novel? Giving diving lessons in Belize?) Whether practicality got in the way of your dreams after college or something new has simply piqued your interest, it’s easy to wonder, “What if?”
Of course, there are plenty of ways we keep ourselves from turning those dreams into reality. (How will we afford going back to school? Isn’t it too late to start over at this point in our careers?)
The challenges that come with making a big career change may seem intimidating, but they aren’t insurmountable. Here are 9 women who’ve done it. From a registered nurse turned photographer, to a Realtor turned acupuncturist, these women prove that second acts — in your thirties, forties or fifties — can be as successful as the first, or more.
Rae Ritke: 49, Realtor to Acupuncturist, New York, NY
After building a successful career in Manhattan real estate, Rae Ritke found that she was “dissatisfied and unhappy — not just with my job, but who I was in that job,” she says. She was weary of seeking rewards that were only financial and felt that the professional persona she needed to present was inconsistent with who she really wanted to be. “I craved a gentler, kinder, more authentic interaction with people, one where I could really take the time to listen,” she says. “Plus, my body was telling me that something had to change — I was getting migraines, and wasn’t sleeping.”
Ritke longed to find a more fulfilling career that would be a good match for her values and would allow her to serve others. She had been an acupuncture patient years before and “was fascinated by the medicine,” she says. “It amazed me how such tiny little (yes, painless) needles could cause such remarkable healing in the body.” Her oncologist sister kept sending her articles about acupuncture research and its ongoing integration with western medicine, and Ritke realized the field had great potential.
In her mid-forties, Ritke quit her job and returned to school to earn a master’s degree in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. It was challenging to live like a college student again while most of her friends were “celebrating their promotions,” she says. It was tough both academically and financially, but Ritke’s confidence soared when she completed the degree.
She launched a practice with another career-changer she met in her master’s program, and has found her new career both rewarding and humbling. “I’ve always been a bit of a science nerd, and I love researching treatment protocols and discussing Chinese medicine among my peers,” she says. “It’s been humbling in the best of ways; I feel honored every day to be a part of people’s healing journey. It has taught me about life and the process of healing, the process of letting go, of growth and change. In many ways, its a living art and changes me, as others are changed as well.”
Sara Jensen: 35, R.N. to Photography Studio Owner, The Woodlands, TX
Photography had always been Sara Jensen’s passion (she had even worked for a few photographers in the past), but she felt like she should pursue a “safer” career choice. Enter nursing.
That is, until her sister, who had just returned from a yearlong trip traveling the world, gave her the book “Spark Your Dream.” “It sparked something inside of me.”
After she and her husband had already adjusted to living on a tight income due to her extended maternity leave, Jensen decided to take the leap and start her own photography studio. It took about six months before she started seeing referrals, which she garnered through word of mouth, and the business took off from there. She admits she was lucky (though we’re sure talent had something to do with it, too).
While she makes more money now than she did before, she is also working more and says she wants to start creating boundaries in order to spend more time with her family. Still, after trading in her “safe” career choice for one that she is passionate about, she wouldn’t change a thing. “I truly think that following your heart will lead you where you belong, even if it’s not exactly the road you expected to take you there,” she says.
Petrina Hamm: 41, Attorney to Fitness Coach, Apex, NC
After losing 90 pounds, Petrina Hamm was inspired by her new, smaller shape and became the No. 1 cheerleader for friends and family members who started changing their diets and fitness regimens. At the same time, she began to feel less than inspired by her demanding job as a corporate attorney. When her youngest daughter was 2 and Hamm was wishing for more time to spend with her, her husband pointed out that she was already “pretty much doing fitness coaching for free,” so why not try to earn some money at it?
It was a light-bulb moment. Because Team Beachbody’s P90X program had helped her lose her last 50 pounds, Hamm decided to become a certified Team Beachbody coach. “I figured that at the very least, I'd be getting a discount on other home workout programs, and, at the most, I could wind up with a thriving small business — all while setting my own hours,” she says. “I was intrigued at the thought of being truly my own boss and excited at the prospect of helping others write their own weight loss success stories.”
Two and a half years into her journey as the owner of Petrina Hamm Fitness, Hamm says she feels like “this is what I was truly meant to do.” She is now a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise (and says the ACE Personal Trainer exam was more difficult than the bar exam she took to practice law).
As an introvert, Hamm finds face-to-face networking challenging, but she has found success by harnessing social media. “I plan on going outside my comfort zone and doing more hands-on training in small-group boot camp settings locally,” she says. “But there's something pretty amazing about being able to help people all across the country and even in Canada start and finish a home workout program, so I don't plan on giving that up anytime soon. Cooler still is to witness the friendships made by women who live hundreds of miles apart in the private Facebook support groups I host for my in-home bootcampers. They help support each other and hold each other accountable well beyond the 60 or 90 days they've committed to a program.”
Not only has Hamm been able to witness all of her daughter’s milestones and attend preschool and kindergarten events, she was also one of the top two Beachbody coaches in the United States in 2012, and has “become the fittest I've ever been in my life,” she says. “I even placed No. 1 in my age group in a 5K — something I never would have envisioned at 240 pounds — and help hundreds of others make the switch to a healthier lifestyle.”
Jessica Rask: 35, Tax Accountant to Yoga Studio Owner, St. Louis, MO
Though Jessica Rask describes her previous career as “wonderful,” it required a lot of long hours and plenty of business travel. After seven years as a tax accountant, Rask began to notice how she was spending more and more time at her yoga school, unwinding. She would schedule meetings around class times, and dates with friends had to wait until after she said “namaste.”
Her decision to attend yoga teacher training occurred to her during a good friend’s visit. He noticed how much she loved yoga and suggested she take some time off from her current job and see where yoga might take her. “I had no intention of leaving the workforce for good — I thought I would just teach for fun on the weekends sometimes. [But] halfway through my nine-week training, I just couldn’t imagine returning to my old lifestyle. I simply did not want it anymore.”
Knowing she could always return to business if she had to, she took the leap. She had some money saved up and also had the support of a family member who was willing to help back her financially so she could get a bank loan to start her yoga studio. She opened her doors in 2008, just after the start of the recession. “I broke even the very next year,” she says, adding that in the years since, she has occasionally earned more than she did as a tax accountant, but more often than not, she has made far less. “It was hard to walk away from a six-figure salary, no doubt,” she says. “I had to learn again how to watch what I spend, but in the end, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Her best piece of advice for someone considering a complete career change: “Make a plan! Make a business plan, make a growth plan, make a personal life plan,” she says. “But be flexible in your plan,” she warns. “Things are going to come up, and you will have to figure out how to deal with them on the fly.”
Laura Reed: 53, Optometrist to Tattoo Makeup Artist, Meridian, Idaho
Laura Reed, O.D., had worked as an optometrist for 20 years when she decided to get permanent makeup in 2005. Tired of working for others — she had always practiced under other doctors or for pharmaceutical companies, although she originally planned to one day open her own practice — Reed had been considering a career change, but she wasn’t sure what it would be. As she chatted with the technician working on her permanent eyeliner and eyebrows, Reed mentioned her desire for a change and her lifelong hobby as an artist. The technician immediately told Reed, “You should do this! We need more people like you with medical backgrounds to raise the bar on the profession.”
“At first I thought, ‘no way,’ but the more we discussed it, the more it made sense,” Reed says. Her technician recommended a top school nearby, and Reed borrowed $7,000 through a home equity line of credit to pay for training, equipment and start-up costs. In 2006, she opened her permanent cosmetics business, specializing in permanent makeup and medical corrective tattooing. Finally, she had her own business she’d always planned to have, in a field that is “the perfect blend of artistry and medicine,” she says.
Originally, Reed’s cosmetic tattoo practice was based in Southern California, and it grew faster than expected. “As I honed my skills and people saw the quality of my artistry — and learned that my procedures were not painful — I got many referrals, plus my website drew many customers,” she says. In late 2011, Reed relocated her practice, Artistic Cosmetic Solutions, to a suburb of Boise, Idaho, for personal reasons, and she continues to experience success. Patients drive and fly in from other states to see her.
“I love what I do and hear from patients on a regular basis how much I have changed their lives for the better,” Reed says. “Yes, I could make more money being an eye doc, but that is not what I am about, or what this field is about. I truly enjoy finally owning my own business. It is one of the hardest things I've ever done, but to me it is worth it.”
Corrie Dosh: 35, Journalist to R.N., Brooklyn, NY
Corrie Dosh had a great job as a magazine department editor, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was stuck. Then in 2009, she was laid off along with thousands of others in the media industry. “I went back to freelancing and working temp positions, but my heart wasn’t in it,” she says. She decided it was time to see what else was out there.
She knew she wanted to avoid a desk job and found the combination of physical activity and mental stimulation of nursing intriguing. The career choice also appealed to her for the same reason she became a journalist: “I get to meet amazing people and families, hear their stories and help them in their struggles,” she says.
So Dosh set out to accomplish her new goal. She found a roommate to help with monthly expenses and took out multiple loans to help her finance her new education. “Everything was step by step,” she says, noting how she carefully weighed each decision she made. Even still, she maintained a good attitude. “I tried to enjoy the process,” she says. “I’m OK with uncertainty.”
Now at work as a full-time nurse, Dosh is making more money than she did as an editor. “My income doubled, and my debt quadrupled,” she says. “I still freelance in the media industry, so I make some extra income.” She enjoys writing more now that she’s not so dependent on the money: “Work stress now is literally about life and death, not about missing deadlines and pleasing advertisers,” she says.
Her advice for potential career changers? “Try to save up some money. Ask for help. And you don’t have to be afraid.”
Laura Douglas Robinson: 53, Police Sergeant to Avon Lady, Freeport, NY
As a high school student, Laura Douglas Robinson started her first business, selling Avon products to family and friends. After graduation, Robinson attended the New York City Police Academy to begin a law enforcement career. While she gave up her Avon business to rise through the ranks of the NYPD, she occasionally returned to selling Avon when she wanted to make extra money or spend some time with her family. When Robinson retired as a police sergeant in 2002 after 20 years, she decided to return to selling Avon full-time. “I loved the idea of never having to put on another uniform, plus I enjoyed being my own boss,” Robinson says.
While the business and the products were familiar to her, becoming self-employed full time was a transition for Robinson. “My personality had to be transformed from being a cop to an Avon Sales Representative,” Robinson says. “I had to revert back to being a civilian. That was tough [because] I spent most of my life in law enforcement.”
For Robinson, making the transition was worth it because selling Avon allows her to “remain retired and still have enough money for my family,” she says. “Avon is a good fit for me because I enjoy people, and I love to be able to help people. Avon fits my personality and it always was an attractive business to me, that's why I kept coming back. Now I'm not going anywhere."
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell: 49, Account Manager to Freelance Writer, North Central, AR
In the fall of 1998, Citibank, the company where Fivecoat-Campbell worked for 10 years, was undergoing some changes. “My job was discontinued,” she says. And she couldn’t have been happier. “While others around me were lamenting over what they were going to do, I felt like I had been paroled from a long prison sentence!”
A longtime lover of the written word (she had written novels in grade school, wrote for her high school newspaper and took writing classes on the side while she worked at the bank), Fivecoat-Campbell decided it was finally time to see if she could make it as a full-time professional writer. And so, thanks to six months of unemployment benefits, eight months of full salary severance and the support of her husband, she embarked on her new journey.
She launched her business January 2, 1999, and was showing a profit in the first month. “My business is divided into a third of travel and business writing, pet writing and writing about living a sustainable life in 480-square foot cabin in the woods.”
Though she has yet to — and admits she probably never will — make what she used to as an account manager, she is more than OK with that. “I’m happier not having to sit and stare at gray pod walls each day and actually getting to do what I felt I was born to do,” she says.
Heather Hegle: 44, Mortgage Lender to Probation Officer, Apple Valley, CA
Ever since she was a teenager, Heather Hegle has been interested in criminal justice. She had hoped to become a detective, but when she began supporting herself at 19, “a job was more important than school,” she says. She landed in the mortgage industry, and while it paid the bills, after 10 years, the job “was no longer a challenge for me and I didn’t feel like I was making a difference,” she says. When it became clear that Hegle and her husband would divorce and she would be responsible for raising her two teenagers, she knew she needed to make a change, not only to become more fulfilled but also to earn more money and find a job with benefits.
“When I filed for divorce, I signed up for college the same month,” Hegle says. “I was an emotional mess and thought signing up was a crazy idea, but also knew I had no choice. I was the only responsible parent, and my plate was about to overflow. I wasn’t making enough to support two teenagers, and my only other option was a better job, which would require a degree. My first day of class was basically the first day of the rest of my life and career.”
Before completing her degree, Hegle was hired as a probation correctional officer in her county. She put schooling on hold to focus on her new job and care for her sick mother, but plans to return this year and take the last seven classes to earn her bachelor’s degree. In the meantime, working as a probation officer has been ideal — never easy, but always rewarding.
“My new job has been a great fit for me because I have raised teenagers and I have seen their emotional and financial struggles,” she says. “In my position I deal with teenage criminals from broken homes. I try to influence the juveniles in a positive way and let them know their life will not always be like this. Some of them are too hardened to change, but each day is another challenge to show them this is just a stepping-stone and a lesson in disguise. This job requires having a tough heart because some of these crimes are horrendous. This position is not for someone with low self-esteem, as I have been called names I’ve never even heard of. [But] some of the kids have even asked me to adopt them, so they don’t have to go to foster homes.”