Search for Job Satisfaction In a Radically New Career

Most people start their careers on a certain path — and rarely veer far from it.

And then there are those who decide that the only way to happiness is to take a sharp turn. The impetus may come from the workplace or from home, from a premeditated decision or a bolt from the blue.

Here’s a look at some of the people who find satisfaction in the road at first not taken.

Opportunity Served Straight Up

Samantha Schmell says she had no intention of leaving behind a five-year teaching career when she accepted a two-week job to work with the importer of Zyr Vodka.

Ms. Schmell was relaxing at a shared rental home in the Hamptons in the summer of 2002, trying to enjoy the last stretch of vacation before she had to return to her fifth-grade classroom in New York.

One weekend, she met David Katz, the brother of one of her housemates. Mr. Katz had returned to the U.S. from a job in Russia and was planning to market the Russian vodka he had created while he was there. He had his sister’s housemates sample the product and mentioned he needed help on a coming business trip to Las Vegas.

Ms. Schmell accepted the offer. The four-day trip and the work that followed in its wake introduced her to a new world. The work was vastly different from what she was accustomed to doing. The spirits industry was dominated by men. It involved lots of travel and late nights.

“I was accustomed to coming home at regular hours,” says Ms. Schmell, 30 years old. “Now, I was in the fast lane, going to parties, experiencing the nightlife …  We were moving and shaking.”

She found the work challenging and exciting. She and Mr. Katz got along well and spent hours brainstorming about business plans and strategies for selling the vodka.

Soon after the trip, Mr. Katz asked Ms. Schmell to join the company that imports the vodka, Symphony Importers LLC, in a full-time role as vice president. He couldn’t offer her a large salary, but he offered her a small stake in the company.

The idea was appealing to her, but she had reservations, she says. The job didn’t offer much security. It meant a cut in pay. Plus, she had never even considered leaving the teaching profession.

To reach a decision, Ms. Schmell had long talks with her boyfriend, Eric, now her husband. She also spoke with her father as she weighed the pros and cons of each option.

Eric encouraged her to take the job after seeing her “on fire” with the challenges of the new position, she says. “I think he thought I was bored, that teaching wasn’t helping me to be a challenged person or an interesting person,” Ms. Schmell says.

That support was important to her, but equally so was the encouragement she received from her father. “He’s very conservative,” she says. But to her surprise, her father suggested she should take the leap.

Since making her decision, Ms. Schmell says, she hasn’t looked back. Over the past year, she has been working tirelessly to build the brand further. She has been meeting with restaurant owners, liquor distributors and club owners. Zyr is gaining momentum, she says. It is now being sold in four states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.

According to Ms. Schmell, her stake in the business has made a difference in her approach. “I walk into it like an owner,” she says. She also finds it stimulating to be accountable for all the decisions she makes, good or bad.

“I can’t say, ‘Let me go ask the principal,'” she says.

From Cop to Cook

After 20 years in law enforcement, Brad Reichenberg is a rookie again. This time, though, he wears a chef’s hat, not a policeman’s badge.

With eight years left until he could retire from the police force, Mr. Reichenberg, of Torrington, Conn., found that he no longer had the same desire to work in the career he had once enjoyed.

“I lost my interest and my drive,” he says.

During high school, Mr. Reichenberg had considered going to culinary school. But he thought the tuition was too high, and he was feeling the pull of another career; his father was a state trooper. “I was born to be a police officer,” he says. “I had a knack for the profession.”

So he followed in his father’s footsteps, first taking a job as a police dispatcher, and then working as an officer in Winstead, Conn.

Over time, the experience of being a police officer changed, says Mr. Reichenberg, 41 years old. “The training became more intense….The support of the public, the support of government agencies changed,” he says. “It just became a job. It had become routine.”

Mr. Reichenberg had never lost his interest in cooking. He found himself spending hours watching the Food Network, learning tips from Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and Martha Stewart.

Slowly, a plan began to form to go to culinary school. He checked out tuition prices and considered the class schedules. First, he thought he would wait until he could retire from the police force with full pension benefits, but his frustration with his job was growing.

“I wanted to be more content,” he says. “I wanted to get back to that feeling that I had 17 years ago when I did enjoy my job.”

The more Mr. Reichenberg weighed the decision, the more apparent it became to him that he shouldn’t wait. Besides his unhappiness with police work, he was concerned that the physical demands of becoming a cook — spending long stretches of time on his feet, something he wasn’t accustomed to — would be too great for him if he waited several more years to start. He also was worried he wouldn’t adapt as well to a new career once he was a few years older.

“Finally, I decided I should do it now, while I was young enough,” he says.

During the 15 months he studied at the Center for Culinary Arts in Cromwell, Conn., Mr. Reichenberg continued to work full time as a police officer. The demanding schedule wore on him, but he stayed focused on his goal, believing that the sacrifice would be worth it in the end. The days were long, with eight hours of work sometimes followed by nearly six hours of classes. A 40-minute commute to and from school made the days longer still. Plus, there was reading and studying to complete.

“That was really tough,” he says. Mr. Reichenberg, who is divorced, found support from his family during this time. “A lot of my family members applauded me for what I was doing.”

Now, he is working at the Great River Golf Club in Milford, Conn. It’s the third cooking job he has had since he graduated. With each job, Mr. Reichenberg has risen in the ranks and taken on more responsibility.

“It’s hard work,” he says. “It’s physical work. You are standing on your feet, constantly chopping.” But Mr. Reichenberg says he really enjoys putting the skills he worked so hard to achieve to use preparing food for others to enjoy. With the compliments he receives from co-workers and from customers, he no longer feels unappreciated for his work. “You could work for five or 10 years as an officer before you would get a commendation,” he says. “Now, I get recognized constantly.”

And, he says, while his new career is demanding, he is more relaxed. “It’s not as stressful for me, not like being a police officer,” he says.

A Store of Her Own

As a size 18, Cheryl Hudson-Jackson knows not everyone has the frame of a Victoria’s Secret model. With the help of her friends, she has turned that knowledge into a new career.

The seed for this career change was planted at a gathering where Ms. Hudson-Jackson and two close friends commiserated about their difficulties finding comfortable bras and lingerie that fit but didn’t look dowdy. “When your panty hose is rolling down your hips, there is no confidence in the world that will get you through the day,” says Ms. Hudson-Jackson, a 43-year-old mother of three.

The three friends decided to pool their savings to form a partnership, As Sisters We Stand LLC, which they hoped would one day be the springboard for a retail venture selling intimate apparel targeted to full-figured women. But their plans were still vague, and at that moment they weren’t ready to leave their jobs to devote themselves to developing a business, so the partnership stood dormant.

Not for long, though. Ms. Hudson-Jackson was soon confronted with a decision to either leave her human-resources job at 3Com Corp., where she had steadily been rising through the ranks, or relocate her family from the Chicago suburbs to Santa Clara, Calif.

3Com Corporation was a digital electronics manufacturer best known for its computer network infrastructure products. The company was co-founded in 1979 by Robert Metcalfe, Howard Charney, Bruce Borden, and Greg Shaw and recruited Bill Krause from Hewlett-Packard to be its president in February 1981 when it raised its first round of venture capital. Metcalfe has explained that he came up with the name 3Com as a contraction of “Computer Communication Compatibility”, with its focus on deploying the Ethernet technology that he had co-invented, which enabled the networking of computers.

“With my Mom and Dad my main source of child care and my husband traveling a good part of the time for his own career, how could I?” she says of the potential relocation. “I would have had to ask my parents to move.”

Also, the uncertainty of the struggling technology sector gave her little sense of job security. That discomfort was heightened by Ms. Hudson-Jackson’s work, which involved, in part, finding outplacement services for people being let go by her company.

With so much weighing against a move, she decided instead to take the plunge and try to get the business ambitions of herself and her friends off the ground. She handed in her resignation in January 2002 and the next day hopped on a plane to attend an apparel trade show, for a crash course on the basics of her newly adopted industry.

A few months later, Rubynesque, the partners’ first retail venture, got its start with a trunk show held at a Marriott hotel in Chicago. The friends found their first customers by spreading word of the show throughout their network of friends, colleagues and relatives. The partners have held several trunk shows since.

This spring, only a year after the first trunk show, Rubynesque will open its first store, in the Hawthorne Shopping Mall in Vernon Hills, Ill. With the store about to open, another of the three partners in As Sisters We Stand has left her job to work on the venture full time as well. The partners also have begun selling items through a Web site.

In her new career, Ms. Hudson-Jackson has found a passion for work born of her personal connection to the business. Far from the days when she was helping people cope with the disruption of a job loss, she now enjoys being able to make people happy.

“Every woman, no matter what her size, is a work of art,” Ms. Hudson-Jackson says. “We want to help them see themselves that way.”

It Began as a Hobby…

Tired of overseas assignments and a hectic travel schedule, Andrew Hollingsworth left a position as chief financial officer of UBS Global Asset Management for a job at Bank One Corp.’s commercial-banking division in Chicago. Three weeks into the new job, Mr. Hollingsworth learned it was being eliminated. To make matters worse, the announcement came during the week of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Knowing that the attacks had made struggling financial markets even weaker, Mr. Hollingsworth wasn’t optimistic he would find another position easily. Also, having spent the previous years in Tokyo, Geneva, Zurich and Wales, the Kansas City, Mo., native wasn’t ready to leave the Midwest again.

A consultation with an outplacement officer helped Mr. Hollingsworth resist the urge to find a new position as quickly as possible, and instead to try to relax and think about what he really wanted to do next. The consultant “encouraged me to think outside of the box, to pretend I was a kid again and ask, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up?'” says Mr. Hollingsworth, 41 years old.

To help clear his head, he first packed his bags and headed to Costa Rica for a vacation, and then to Europe to visit friends. Although Mr. Hollingsworth’s financial career had spanned 15 years, he allowed himself to explore all of his interests and options.

He quickly realized that he wanted to pursue a career that would allow him to be creative. Drawing on his longtime interest in design, he considered architecture and fashion, going so far as to sign up for some courses in fashion design. An avid reader, he also considered writing. But none of these felt right, in part because he had no experience in any of these fields and was reluctant to start a new career from the bottom.

Eventually, he hit upon a field where he had more of a grounding. He decided to turn more than a decade’s worth of collecting Nordic furniture and decorative accessories into a career by opening a gallery in Chicago. The Andrew Hollingsworth Gallery is now holding its first exhibition — featuring the designer who made the piece that started Mr. Hollingsworth’s own collection.

Mr. Hollingsworth says he is now glad he gave himself a chance to experiment with other careers in order to find one that energizes him. “You’ve got to give yourself room to explore, to go through a process of elimination,” he says. “That is what allowed me to explore a passion I could make into a business.”

Lessons in Compromise

When Joseph Freeman made the switch from being a part-owner of a growing chain of bagel shops to teaching eighth-grade Spanish, he left one job he loved for another he now enjoys. But the decision that led to the change wasn’t easy.

Mr. Freeman was putting in long, hard days overseeing the production of bagels and other baked goods for three Bagel Station stores in the Winston-Salem, N.C., area. The job was demanding. In little more than a year, the business had grown from one store to three, and Mr. Freeman and his partners had opened a factory to make dough for the stores. Along the way, there were staff to train and many organizational details to sort through.

“It was very exciting, but it was logistically insane,” Mr. Freeman says, adding that it wasn’t unusual for him to log a 20-hour workday. Still, he had no intention of leaving behind the business he was carefully building — but he had fallen in love with a woman who lived in New Jersey, and that created some complications.

“We decided we were going to get married, but we decided that before we got around to deciding who would move,” says Mr. Freeman, 35 years old. “I thought she would, but I turned out to be wrong,” he says. The choice came down to where the couple would be happiest together, he says.

“The hardest thing was breaking it to my partners,” Mr. Freeman says. “They brought me in to expand the business. We were in the process of consolidating the expansion. To leave them in the middle of the process, that was not at all what I intended. I felt like I was letting them down.”

But the decision had its rewards. Mr. Freeman had long considered a teaching career, but when he graduated from Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., with a degree in Latin American economics, he wasn’t yet ready to enter the profession, he says. Shortly after moving to New Jersey in early 2001, Mr. Freeman began a lengthy process to get certified as a substitute teacher.

He expected he would return to school for a master’s degree in education and full-time teaching certification. In the interim, he thought the substitute position would give him some classroom experience. However, after he was working as a substitute for a while, a full-time position as a Spanish teacher opened up. He decided to interview for it, and he got the job.

Mr. Freeman had already passed a state test to teach Spanish, and he met the other qualifications for an alternate-route program, which allows candidates to switch from other careers into teaching by allowing them to work and earn their teaching certification at the same time.

One requirement of the alternate-route program is a four-hour class candidates must take twice a week. This class, along with the rigors of learning to work with his students, learning to write lesson plans and grading papers, returned Mr. Freeman to long workdays. He also had layers of administrators watching his work and providing him with direction.

Other teachers, including Mr. Freeman’s wife, had warned him the first year would be difficult, but he found it more challenging than he imagined. Some of the candidates in his alternate-route class quit before the year was over. But Mr. Freeman stuck it out and found the work became easier as he gained experience.

Of course, it also helped that he enjoyed teaching. Mr. Freeman says he likes being in an environment where he is learning new things and watching his students make progress as they learn.

“The students teach you new things all the time,” he says. “They ask questions you never thought to ask. I feel there are intellectual fringe benefits.”

— Ms. Cheddar Berk is a reporter for Dow Jones Newswires in New York.


By Christina Cheddar Berk

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