Listeners' Letters on Changing Careers

Many who have heard our series Take Two, on established workers who are changing their careers, have written in with their own stories. Many cite their own lifestyle priorities, challenges and rewards — and what they've gained by branching into a new line of work:

Leaving the Library for the Dogs

Last September, my husband and I left our jobs at the University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library to become owners of The Canine Club, Northern Nevada's Premier Dog Daycare and Training Center in Sparks Nevada. Whew! Now THAT's a mouthful!

I had been a paraprofessional library assistant exactly 1 month shy of 20 years. My husband, Greg, had been the Library's computer network manager for about 12-13 years.

I am 48 years old, with a bad back and I moved from a sitting, desk type job to one that is very physically demanding. Oh, and left a decent health insurance plan for no health insurance. Scared? You bet. Excited? You betcha.

I am happier than I can remember being, doing something I love and believe in to better the lives of dogs. Although we hit the Reno area during a time where housing is hard to find, and we are currently living in an RV on my sister's property with 4 big dogs and 3 cats, I wouldn't change a thing.

It doesn't get much better than this.

Thanks for giving me a place to say so.

— Robin Baizel, Co-owner and Training Director, The Canine Club, Sparks, Nev.

An Engineer Turns to Writing

I used to be a rocket propulsion engineer at an Air Force Base and am now a freelance writer making approximately one tenth of my former salary.

I am happier and more fulfilled than I ever have been. This change comes in part from my friends Beth and Chip Ramsey, who decided to start up a brand-new weekly newspaper and asked me to come on board. It is an adventure, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

— Mary Hiers, Staff Writer/Photographer, The Saturday Independent, Tullahoma, Tenn.

Software Salesman Leaves the Big Bucks

I have been in software sales for 23 years, progressively taking on more responsibility, making more money and wearing weightier titles. While I enjoyed the money, stock options and perks, the work experience had become an increasingly joyless charade.

The addiction to the money and position was intoxicating for both my wife and me, but the pressures and work conditions took a real toll on me emotionally and physically. My blood pressure shot up with the stock prices. I began to know that I had to leave but dreaded telling my wife that I was considering leaving. The sudden disappearance of that kind of money was scary.

Finally, I informed my management that I was leaving. I made the decision without emotion and felt a massive weight melt away when i finally announced it.

I spent some time doing some consulting for a couple of pre-IPO startups, but the energy and passion for the work just wasn't there anymore. It has taken a lot of time to sort out what I was passionate about rather than what I did well. It's a clear, but difficult, distinction to make.

I have always loved cooking and had always fantasized about a restaurant. So, I've entered culinary school. I' m the oldest in my class by 20 years, find myself talking to students my kids' age, but I 'm enjoying what I'm learning and have begun looking for work in the industry for some extra cash and experience.

I've wanted to leave the tech biz for 10 years and have discovered the only way to do it was to take myself completely out of the orbit of technology.

— Charlie Clements, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Laid Off at 64, Beginning Again

At the age of 64, my husband Maynard L. Blake, Jr.was laid off from his corporate job. While age might have been a factor, the company was, in fact, facing bankruptcy and he had already survived 6 layoffs.

Instead of retiring, he sat down and looked at all his options and did a lot of research; trying to blend his education, training and interests. He went back to class, found a job (an interesting side light by itself), and is now a Level 2 Certified Addictions Counselor working full time for Denver Health. He loves the change and, at the age of 67, is happier in his job than he has been in years. He has passed all his classes to be certified as a Level 3; all he lacks is the hours worked in the field requirement.

Needless to say, I am very proud of him.

— Sara Blake, Denver, Colo.

Trading Academia for the Cafe Life

Eighteen months ago, Nancy and I left our positions at the University of Florida (I was director of the Institute on Aging and Professor of Medicine and she was a clinical professor in the College of Nursing) to open three businesses in Munising, Mich., on the shores of Lake Superior.

We rehabbed two of the original buildings built in 1897 (removing 55 tons of trash and building material!), and now have a wonderful place, the Falling Rock Café & Bookstore, that is both a community gathering center and a stop-off point for tourists and travelers.

Munising is a lovely community and our choice to make this dramatic change was for many of the reasons addressed in the story this morning. Family history, beautiful surroundings, etc., brought us to this place. Our county, Alger, is large, but has no stoplights — although it has three blinking lights. We get between 200-300 inches of snow each year (quite a change from Florida!). It is a lovely place and the community is terrific.

— Jeff Dwyer, Munsing, Mich.

From IT to Golf Pro

I am close to finishing my re-invention from frustrated IT worker to golf professional. For 25 years, I have worked in IT — starting as a programmer, working up to management positions, and back to programmer. Last year I decided to make a complete change. More and more IT jobs are moving off-shore, so the prospects in IT look bleak. In fact, two of my previous employers in Arizona no longer exist and the third just announced that its IT operations are moving off-shore.

Today I work as a contract programmer from my home. I enrolled in the San Diego Golf Academy with the goal of starting a career in the golf industry. I attend the Arizona campus and have just completed semester 3 of a 4-semester program. At the end I expect to work for a management company that operates one of the many golf courses in the Phoenix metro area. That's a job that won't be going to India.

— Bill Sobbing, Phoenix, Ariz.

From Trading Bonds to Comedy Clubs

I just heard your story about the bellydancer, and I have to say, Manon seems really normal to me.

I have a MSEE in Electrical Engineering. I worked at a bond-trading floor on Wall St. and six years ago, I quit my programming job at IBM to perform comedy. I was at the halfway point in my life, and I decided it was time to find out if my writing was really funny enough to do my passion.

In 1991, when I was laid off from New York Telephone, as a way of trying to cope I wrote novels, plays and short stories, most of which were humorous. I continued writing, and in 1998, facing another downsizing, I told my husband I was going to do comedy.

I went to every comedy club, open mic and bar in the Tampa area to get stage time. I drove 12 hours for an audition at a comedy club in South Carolina. I worked my way up from emcee to feature and headliner, and worked clubs all over the U.S. In 2004, I debuted my one-woman show, "PAIN: So Funny It Hurts," and toured the U.S. and Canada.

When you make a decision like this, it turns your life upside down. Most of the people I know are professionals, now running departments, becoming instrumental in their organizations, while I'm saying, "Wow, I got a job and made 75 bucks!"

But I went from making rich people richer to bonding with people. When you get somebody to laugh, for a moment they are not thinking about their problems. People who would not normally talk to me but have seen me perform smile at me and say, "That funny girl!" You can't put a price on it when a woman comes up to you after a show and says, I haven't been out since my husband died three months ago, and you made my night." It just doesn't get any better than that.

— Suzanne Willett, Tampa, Fla.

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