RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On Wednesday's our business report focuses on the workplace. Today we look back at those who changed their work.
For the past year, in our Wednesday business segment, we've been running the series Take Two, profiling people reinventing themselves through their work. And over the year, we've heard from a great many of you who've chosen to start over or found yourselves with no choice but to begin again.
This morning we wrap up the series by looking back, with NPR's Ketzel Levine. And Ketzel, hello.
KETZEL LEVINE, reporting:
MONTAGNE: So, Ketzel, you're going to bring us an update, and we're going to hear the voices again on tape of some of the people that we've met. So where do we start?
LEVINE: One of my favorite people is Tom Taylor, who we met last spring.
Dr. TOM TAYLOR (Medical Resident, Oregon Health Sciences University): Well, let's see. I bartended at Park City, I managed a retreat center in Marin County, I brewed beer in Spokane, Washington, and I don't know if this is good or frightening, but now I'm a physician.
LEVINE: Tom started med school with absolutely no academic background in medicine. I mean, he only realized he wanted to become a doctor in his late 30s when he was studying the science of brewing beer, like he said. He's got a year and a half to go as a resident in Internal Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University, and he was a big hit among our listeners, I think, because his story is just flat-out inspiring.
Dr. TAYLOR: I think one of the remarkable things about being a human being is our ability to transform ourselves. And the circumstances can be very difficult, but if you really want to make a change in your life and you can see a path to do it, I think you should do that, at, really, any age.
MONTAGNE: And that from Dr. Tom Taylor. So Ketzel, did you find any common reasons why people decide to change careers?
LEVINE: Oh, absolutely. To find work that mattered. You know, and I'm not just talking about the people we profiled, but everyone who wrote in. Many were making decent money, but they felt that they were stuck in jobs that made them miserable. In Rick Watson's case, now, he'd been an investment banker, all he knew was that he just hated going to work.
Mr. RICK WATSON (Life coach): And I had to hear myself saying over and over again, this isn't working for me, I'm in the wrong place, this isn't what I love. Then I could start looking around and seeing what's going to fit.
MONTAGNE: He became a life coach, which translates to helping people stuck in their own careers. So how did that end up working out for him?
LEVINE: Surprisingly well. And this was no sure thing, I mean Rick had two young children and his wife's salary as a piano teacher had always been just supplementary. But his salary projections for the coming year are so solid that his wife, Suzanne(ph), recently announced it was her turn, and she's going back to school for a masters in music performance to enhance her teaching. So that's working out really nicely.
MONTAGNE: You know, earlier I said that there were also people that you talked to who had no choice but to start over, and of course it turned out hundreds of thousands of people were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Now, you profiled a woman who was hit by the hurricane and ended up moving to San Antonio.
LEVINE: Yvette Warren(ph), yeah. She was a woman in her 40s who moved with her husband and five children to San Antonio. Now, tragic as the circumstances were, they turned out to be an enormous blessing for Yvette. Because for the first time in her life, she is now realizing herself as a professional, beyond the role of wife and mother, which was all she'd ever known in New Orleans.
I don't know if you remember this story, but probably the most poignant one that we came across was told by Helen Hand, a psychologist in her 50s. Her brother was murdered. John Hand, he was the founder and president of the Open University in Denver. Helen Hand's own shock and own grief at her brother's death made it so difficult for her to continue as a therapist that she decided to take over her brother's job as the head of that school.
Ms. HELEN HAND (Head of Colorado Free University): I think some people were a little bit worried that, oh my gosh, it's, you know, it's sort of a morbid thing that she's doing. Is she trying to stay connected with her brother in some kind of strange way?
LEVINE: And what Helen had told me recently, being around people who knew her brother and who didn't just sympathize but actually shared in her loss has helped her enormously.
MONTAGNE: Of course, a lot of people would like to change careers, but they feel they can't. What do you see from this experience, talking to all these people this year, what do you see holding people back from switching?
LEVINE: No surprises. Money and health benefits. Particularly, if people have kids and their partner, if they have one, is not a big wage earner, being miserable at work is, you know, simply the price they pay for a steady income and a trip to the doctor.
MONTAGNE: Yeah, you know, early in the series I recall speaking about that, someone who went to work part time at a supermarket to get full health benefits.
LEVINE: Oh yes, that was Bob Rich. Bobby the Bagger, from Vallejo, California. And he'd worked for years with children as a speech pathologist, but he got burned out and he wanted a job that he wouldn't bring home. So he went to work at his local supermarket.
Mr. BOB RICH (Grocery clerk): And, this job, of course, when I walk out the door, I don't think about it any more. I didn't worry about anyone's eggs yesterday, I'll tell you that.
MONTAGNE: And so, did he stick with it?
LEVINE: In fact he did, and he is standing at the Customer Service counter right now. Renee Montagne, I'd like you to meet Bob Rich.
Mr. RICH: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: So, you stuck with it. The health care benefits, were they that good?
Mr. RICH: Well, the benefits are very good, and the thing that's very charming to me is the contact that I have with the people. So I get to play with people all day and I don't have to be directly responsible to them. And it's that lack of responsibility that I really, really like.
MONTAGNE: So, you have full health insurance, you have full medical, you have full dental, but how much are you working for that?
Mr. RICH: Right now, I'm working 32 hours a week, however, I only have to work 16 hours a week in order to get those benefits. My plan is drop it down to, like, 20, as my body tires from running around the store.
LEVINE: Do you dream runaway carts, Bob? Do you dream paper or plastic?
Mr. RICH: Ketzel, never. Never do I think about it. It's quite amazing.
MONTAGNE: Bob Rich, thanks for picking up the phone and joining us.
Mr. RICH: Oh, my pleasure. I'm going out to get carts now. Bye.
Mr. RICH: Take care.
MONTAGNE: That was Bob Rich, and Ketzel, thanks for joining us and looking back at this year.
LEVINE: I've enjoyed it immensely. Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: That was NPR Senior Correspondent Ketzel Levine. And if you missed any of our Take Two series, or if you'd like to listen a second, or a third, or a fourth time, you can find them online at NPR.org.