Real Career Changes: 3 Stories
3 career-changers talk about how they made layoffs into lemonade, explored new careers and turned desire into reality By Kristina Cowan
Irina Patterson From Physician to Balloon Artist
Balloon artist and former physician Irina Patterson with a balloon sculpture of Borat.
Irina Patterson, a 47-year-old special event entertainer in Miami, offers a different take on career transitions. Patterson changed careers several times: she was a medical doctor in Russia, where she grew up. Later, she worked in public relations in Miami, until three years ago, when she took up balloon art.
Patterson said she wasn't looking to change jobs when she discovered balloon art, but she was instantly intrigued by the creativity involved. She started working part-time as a balloon artist, on the weekends, and ended up quitting her PR job. Patterson now runs her own business. She said she enjoys the creative freedom, as well as the ability to be her own boss and set her own schedule.
"I fell into balloon art by accident. I think I would’ve gotten sick or had a nervous breakdown [if I hadn't]," Patterson said. "People can't carry on professionally as unsatisfied for very long because it’s not healthy or good for you. You have to fix it somehow - it doesn't matter how old you are!"
From Program Manager to Administrative Assistant
A little over a year ago, Tracey Rechtin landed a gig she’d long hoped for: program manager at Maritz Travel Co. in Fenton, Mo., where she’d spent nearly half of her life and planned to retire.
But a few months later she was downsized, and out of a job. At first, Rechtin said, "it was devastating, it was almost like a death. I felt betrayed." She'd never considered other careers or employers.
After the initial shock, Rechtin regrouped. She started doing temporary work, which led her to Maryville University, working as an administrative assistant in the institutional advancement office. "I just fell in love [with the job]," she said. About six weeks later, she took a full-time job at Maryville - where she says she couldn’t be happier, despite the $15,000 pay cut. The change has enabled her to spend more time with her daughter, she's gaining an entirely new skill set, and she thoroughly enjoys her coworkers.
"The tradeoffs you just can’t put a dollar value on," said Rechtin, 41.
Rechtin is one of many Americans who transition to a new career each year. Lucy Gee Human Resources Consultant to University Career Services Director
Lucy Gee of Chicago found herself in a situation similar to Rechtin’s. Gee worked for more than 8 years as a human resources consultant, initially for Howard Johnson & Co., which was bought out by several different firms, and ultimately by SHPS Inc., based in Louisville, Ky. In March 2004, SHPS announced it would close the Chicago office the following March, offering Gee and the other employees the option of moving to Kentucky or taking a severance package.
Gee opted to take severance - and to stay with SHPS until March 2005, when the Chicago office closed. During that year, Gee didn't think much about where she would transition.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was burnt out emotionally, and I really was not able to think about it until after I left," said Gee, who is 32.
She did some informational interviews with another HR consulting firm, which solidified her belief that she didn’t want to stay in the business.
"That's when I had the realization that I wanted to do something totally different," Gee said.
Following her love of education, mentoring and working with students, Gee sought out more informational interviews, this time with her alma mater, Northwestern University.
Those conversations helped her realize she'd like to work in higher education, particularly in career services. She began scanning the job ads each day at local universities, and ended up landing at the University of Chicago. She now works as the associate director of employer relations in UC's Career Advising and Planning Services office.
Like Rechtin, Gee took a significant pay cut, but she's pleased with her new gig and all that she's learning.
"So much of your work happiness has to do with the people you're working with. I work with really great people, they're nice, willing to teach me what I need to know. I’ve never felt overwhelmed," Gee said.
Do you dream of changing careers? Find out how much your dream job pays
|Job Title |
Annual Salary (US Average)
|Public Relations Account Executive |
|Program Manager, Travel |
|Administrative Assistant, College or University |
|Human Resources Consultant |
|Associate Director, College or University |
Kristina Cowan is the senior writer for PayScale.com. She has over 10 years of journalism experience, specializing in education and workforce issues. Email Kristina Cowan.