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How to Change Careers

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Most of us know people who have made radical career changes. From the outside, radical career changes often seem ill advised–years of education and experience are pitched overboard in search of uncharted and often rocky new career channels. But many people who have made radical career moves are glad they did so, people like Barbara Gershowitz and Tracy Titson.

All That Jazz

Forty-four-year-old Barbara Gershowitz started her career in the record business. She was the first marketing manager for a jazz group. Her job was to procure shelf space in retail stores for the group’s albums. At the ripe old age of 21, she was extremely successful in doing so and received a gold record for marketing an album for the group.

When the record industry suffered a slump, she saw an opportunity to enter into a new and upcoming industry, videocassettes. Barbara worked as a marketing representative for several video companies, marketing videocassettes to retail stores. Although she loved the work, she was on the road 85 percent of the time.

Then her last employer in the video industry laid her off. And though another major video company worked hard to recruit her, Barbara decided to get off the corporate turntable. She put her personal life in front of her career and got married. Now married and unemployed, she really needed to reinvent herself professionally. She and her husband entered into a wholesale flower business, although neither one of them had experience in that industry. Barbara worked in the back office during the day and waited tables at night to pay the bills.

Then Barbara’s husband suggested that she learn what their customers did with their flower purchases so that they could service their clients better. So she approached a well-respected floral designer and asked him for an apprenticeship. As she puts it, “I gave up my French manicures and high heels in exchange for green hands and sneakers!”

Staying Flexible, Bouncing Back

After completing her apprenticeship, Barbara returned to the wholesale business full-time. But it was the late 1980s and the economy had declined, leaving many customers in the Gershowitz’s wholesale flower business unable to pay their bills. Barbara began to take floral arranging jobs for parties and weddings in an effort to keep the family business afloat. Word spread quickly that she had a unique flair for floral designs and she soon had steady customers throughout the area. She and her husband gradually phased out the wholesale end of their business and now own a retail store. Barbara manages the store, leads the floral design team, and does much of the flower buying for the business.

“In business and in your career, you need to be flexible and change with the marketplace,” says Barbara. And she is hardly done with her exploration of new career paths; she believes that she has another seven or eight changes in front of her. “The more flexible you are and the more changes you make, the more risk-tolerant you become and the more successful you’ll feel.”

Tackle Your Dreams

Like Barbara, Tracy Titson is still reinventing herself. At age 32, Tracy finally is going to pursue the career that she thought about pursuing right out of college: psychology. She has taken quite a circuitous path to that decision, however.

After graduating from college with a degree in psychology, Tracy worked as a staffing assistant for an insurance company. She then moved into the high-tech arena, where she worked as a human resources generalist. After losing her position due to a buyout, Tracy helped to staff the temporary workforce at a large financial institution. She soon began to staff their full-time openings. After spending a number of years doing what she had come to know best, Tracy made a radical career change.

Catering to Change

Tracy had always dreamed of starting a business, but she could always find a million reasons not to make a career change. But finally, after doing extensive research, she found the courage to quit her job and start her own catering business. She went into the venture with a good attitude: “I am young, single, and in no debt, so now is the time to do this if I am ever going to do it.”

Tracy secured a part-time contract recruiting job that helped her pay the bills while she built her business. The business grew quickly, and she was soon able to focus entirely on catering. But just exactly how had she overcome self-imposed roadblocks?

“It was too overwhelming to think about how things would work over the next five years, so I broke things down into smaller chunks of time,” she says. “I just looked at six months down the road and it all seemed a lot more manageable.”

Following the Road

After being in business for more than five years Tracy is now making another career move. She has left her business and returned to contract recruiting so that she can save money to go back to school. She is applying to Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology, in the hope of pursing her original dream–becoming a psychologist.

Tracy believes that it is important to have a purpose in life that is true to who you really are. “Your work needs to be a reflection of you,” she says. She believes, and many others agree, that it may take a lifelong search to determine your purpose in life.

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