For most people, change is difficult. We get comfortable with what we know we can do, so most of us keep doing it. It takes a special kind of person to make what I call a career 180: going out on a limb and beginning a totally new professional venture or career after mastering another field.
In this book, you’ll find the inspiring stories of ten people who, after reaching the peak of their chosen profession, pivoted to something completely different, people such as Jim Berbee, who built and sold a highly successful IT solutions company and then moved across the country to go to medical school and is now an emergency room doctor. That’s not something very many wealthy entrepreneurs would do. And people such as Anne Reed, a well-known and successful litigator in Milwaukee who gave up her long legal career to run the Wisconsin Humane Society.
I’m glad each of them agreed to tell us their stories firsthand, giving an intimate look at the motivations, challenges, and joys of venturing into the unknown. I also spoke with some of their friends and colleagues to get a better sense of what these professionals’ career changes have meant and done for them. I didn’t include people whose new careers could be considered hobbies. This book is about people who dove in and gave everything they had to building a new career and, in most cases, developing a new personal brand.
While I was writing this book, someone asked me if any common themes emerged from the ten individual stories. Was there one thing they all did or focused on while deciding to take the plunge? Was there a methodology they generally followed in evaluating the new career path they would take? Happily, the answer is no. These stories illustrate that there’s no one right way to undertake a career 180. Everyone faced their own questions, challenges, and doubts. Some were quite spontaneous: Roger Brown responded to an ad, and soon after, found himself as the new president of the Berklee College of Music. Mike Rohrkaste learned of a political opening and decided quickly to run for state office right after retiring from a career in corporate human resources. Others went through years of planning and transition: Wayne Breitbarth slowly ramped up his LinkedIn training and consulting business while he was still a financial executive in the struggling office furniture industry. He needed to prove to himself that he was good at it, and he certainly is now, as one of the global leaders in teaching LinkedIn skills.
While each career 180 path is different, most of the types of questions below came to mind for the people featured in this book. These are also likely to be questions you’ll ask yourself if you are considering making a career 180:
- Why do I want to make this major career change?
- Who will give me candid feedback and advice about making this change? How will that feedback affect my decision?
- Is my family really behind me making this move?
- How will the skills I have built over a lifetime carry over into this new career? Are there any skill gaps I need to fill to be successful?
- Can I handle the new career move financially?
- What will I potentially give up, other than money, if I make this change?
- What will I gain by making this career 180 change?
In many cases, the featured professionals in the book consulted with friends and advisors, while some spoke with a spouse or other family member. In the case of Fran Edwardson, who left United Airlines to run the Red Cross in Chicago, her husband’s sudden death was a harsh reminder that life is short and that gave her the confidence and impetus to pursue a new calling. Sue Ela decided to work with her own family to build a hard-cider company, using the family’s historic orchards, after spending thirty years in health care.
Courage, commitment, and willingness to fail were central themes in each of these stories, as well as the feeling that the real risk was in not making the career change. All of these folks expressed excitement, enrichment, and satisfaction from making their career 180s. It sure seems to have worked out well for all ten of them, even though they each had different motivations. Some did it for financial reasons, others because they heard a call, and still others because they had plateaued and needed a new challenge. Robert Finkel had grown disillusioned with the venture capital industry, so he gave up a lucrative career to open a brewpub in Chicago. Tillie Hidalgo Lima got involved in the family’s concierge services business to return it to profitability and grow the family’s wealth. And Connie Duckworth felt a strong need to help the women of Afghanistan find employment and meaning in their lives.
I hope you find inspiration in these personal journeys, and, in some small or big way, they help you if you are considering your own career 180. I am always interested in hearing about great career 180s, so if you know of any stories and want to share them with me, visit www.career180s.com to send me a lead. And, of course, if you decide to launch your own new career, I would love to hear about it!
Thanks so much for reading this book. It’s been a real pleasure to bring these stories to you. I provided some opening and closing remarks for each story to add some additional context and richness.