Career switchers find fulfillment in new routines

Workers turn to second careers sometimes led by choice, sometimes forced by circumstance

Workers turn to second careers sometimes led by choice, sometimes forced by circumstance

March 08, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

People change careers for different reasons.

Life circumstances change. Illness forces a redirection. Some people are compelled by something deep inside to take up a new calling.

In 1998, Jo Giese published her book "A Woman's Path," a collection of stories about women who have found joy and found themselves in their work.

Included among the dozens of accounts are the stories of Fulton County, Pa., residents Cass Peterson, a former Washington Post reporter turned organic farmer, and Jean Pepple, an auctioneer.


Giese, a special correspondent for "Marketplace," National Public Radio's daily business show, is sharing stories of career change on the radio in her occasional feature, "Starting Over."

She recently interviewed jazz singer Ren Marie, formerly a bank customer service trainer in Virginia. Marie - who has performed at the Renfrew Jazz Festival in Waynesboro, Pa., at the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Pa., and at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. - had sung as a teen, married young, had kids and sang in her kitchen. She began her new career at age 40 and has three solo CDs. No one could stop her from singing, Giese says.

Hagerstown resident Betsy Lang's career change was in an opposite direction. From 1967 to 1990, Lang was a music teacher to students of all ages in public and private schools and in private lessons. Now she's an oncology social worker, and she says her new career is not so different.

People are the common denominator. Lang enjoyed the interaction with her music students. She enjoys the interaction with the people she works with at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center at Robinwood Medical Center in Hagerstown.

A native of Frederick, Md., Lang says she was interested in social work as a high school student, but didn't think her parents would be too approving of that as a career choice.

And music was so easy for her, she says.

She received her undergraduate degree - she studied voice, piano and organ - at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, now Shenandoah University. She earned her master's degree in music from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

She taught for more than 20 years, then decided to change careers. With support from a lot of people, Lang was able to go back to school and earn her master's in social work.

She says she always was interested in medicine but thinks one reason she chose oncology social work is that she has a family history of cancer. Lang grew up fearing that cancer would "get" her. Her work has let her face her fear.

"I get to do what I love here," she says.

Lang does a lot of education and provides therapy to patients, helps them with transportation, home health care and hospice care.

People worry about what to say to people who are ill and dying.

"You need to just listen," Lang says.

There's a small tile hanging on the doorknob of Lang's office. It's message is simple: "hope."

Lang says her faith is very strong. But she knows, and tries to help her patients know, that dying and death are part of life.

A dulcimer - a heart on either side of the strings on the instrument's face - hangs on the wall behind her desk. A patient who has since died made it for Lang. All the people who have died have touched her in some way, Lang says, adding, "I'm so much richer because I knew them."

An urge to help people also has driven Candice Wagaman in her different careers.

The Hagerstown resident worked in the human services field for 12 years. She was project director for Western Maryland Resources for Families and Children, a child-care resource and referral service for working parents which also enhanced the quality of child care by providing training to local child-care providers.

Her life changed. Her priorities changed.

She had her youngest child when she was 38.

She had hit the "glass ceiling" in her human services career.

"I felt different," she says.

Wagaman learned about Weekenders USA, a women's fashions direct sales company that started in Canada and operates in 11 countries. Wagaman, now a senior sales manager with the company, laughingly admits that she originally joined because she wanted to get her clothes at a deep discount.

Her career change has provided much more than that.

Her sales force of independent distributors has won company honors for achieving more than $650 million in sales in its fifth year. Her income is substantially higher. There are opportunities for travel; Italy and France are among places she's visited.

And although no career is without challenges, Wagaman says her work is rewarding.

She values her human service experience and sees her new career as a vehicle for her personal goals. It has opened doors for tremendous growth - for herself and others.

"I feel like I'm in the business of building women," she says.

Wagaman's new career has afforded her more time to be involved in her community. Now on the boards of local nonprofit organizations, she says she feels like she's come full circle.

Her career change was a risk she's glad she took.

"I've never looked back," she says.

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