Sunday, June 27, 2010

Changing Careers

Back in the good old days when Ozzie and Harriet Nelson were raising a couple of lads on TV, men worked 45 years for the same company and retired on a pension while their dutiful wives stayed at home and kept the household running smoothly. These days both husbands and wives can expect to bounce from job to job and even career to career several times before they’ll have enough free time to watch old Ozzie and Harriet reruns.

I have a friend named Lynn, age 63, who was a systems engineer at IBM and later a senior systems analyst for Lockheed in Southern California. After over 20 years in information technology, she spent a decade overseas with her engineer husband as a housewife. When she tried to get back into the computer job market upon returning to the states, she was shut out. So she started a new life in her mid 50s by attending nursing school and becoming a nurse.

I have a friend named Campbell, age 59, who was a marketing executive for a major grocery store chain in Charlotte, NC. He had started as a bag boy when he was a freshman in college and eventually worked his way up to the executive suite. When the company was taken over by another food chain a few years ago, he and other executives were given a pat on the back and escorted out the building. He has yet to find another job.

In today’s workplace environment, you need to be flexible. Just when you reach the pinnacle of your profession, your profession may disappear. At that point, you’re probably overqualified to even get another job.

I have a friend named Jane, age 43, who is a Microsoft Certified Engineer in Memphis. When times got tough for her, she became a certified massage therapist. Now she has a full list of regular clients that keeps her busy. She also designs websites. Her enterprising nature has allowed her to maintain a 100-acre horse ranch.

I have a friend named Dean, age 68, who once worked for others as a metal polisher. Being the sort of rebellious, vocal employee who always found better ways of doing things, he often found himself at odds with management. So he set up shop in his basement in Minneapolis a couple of decades ago and now fashions antique car parts for rich collectors and distributors. He has so much demand for his unique skill that he turns projects down.

I have a friend named Patrick, age 62, who once owned a pizza joint in Phoenix. When business turned slow a decade ago, he studied and became a stockbroker, then found a position with a major brokerage house. His wife who had also worked in the pizza joint became a successful real estate agent.

I have a friend named Stan, age 49, who was once a contract computer programmer in Chicago. He eventually tired of the stress of meeting project goals and the uncertainty of finding another contract, so he worked nights as a janitor in large office buildings. Soon he hired others to do the janitorial work and continually expanded to more and more buildings. Today he has dozens of employees and spends much of his time in the Bahamas.

There is a guy in Wyoming named Stanford Addison. At age 20, his truck went out of control as he tried to avoid hitting a herd of horses. After two long years of hospitalization with a spinal cord injury, he became a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Today, some 30 years later, Addison calls himself a "horse counselor" as he works with wild mustangs and horses with behavioral problems. Getting in the training pen with a wild horse "puts you right in there where you have to use all the gifts that the creator blessed you with," Addison explains.

I met a woman named Frankie, age 53, a couple of years ago and we have done a couple of writing projects together. A few years prior to that, she was in a serious motorcycle accident and spent many, many months in a hospital rehabilitating her broken body just to be able to walk once again. She had flourished in the corporate world as an event promoter, but changed directions after the accident. Today, the unstoppable Frankie Picasso is a radio-show host, author, motivational speaker, and professional Certified Life, Business and Master Coach Trainer.

Some people are helpless without a manager. Some people are hopeless unless they become the manager. Some people want the security of a large organization. Some people want to be self-employed. Some people want to work indoors. Some people want to work outdoors. And some people don't want to work at all. But whatever direction you choose, you need to be prepared to scramble for a cash flow simply to exist in this material world. Food, clothing and shelter are necessary items for self-preservation. And if you are foolish enough to yearn for luxury and bling-bling, you need to scramble that much harder.

I spent decades as a contract computer programmer myself until my specialty language died. But I’m not too eager to clean buildings so I wrote some novels, a highly unprofitable endeavor so far. I also wrote a weekly newspaper column and taught college computer courses for many years. I finally retired last year.

In a world of rapidly advancing technology and global financial instability, the job market is changing faster than a bullet train on steroids. You need to acquire a variety of skills and be prepared to adapt to the changing times.

Life is simple -- choose a lifestyle that makes you happy, figure out a way to make it work and do it.

The world doesn’t owe you a job. You owe it to yourself to find the correct path.

Quote for the Day -- "If you are going to have dreams, make them big dreams. It takes the same amount of effort and energy for conversion." Frankie Picasso (author of Midlife Mojo).

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where change means clean socks every full moon. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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