Successful career change: unleash your niche
MOST new year’s resolutions turn out to be less successful than people expect when they make them, starting with lofty goals for fitness.
But this is about people who make wholesale life changes, people with financially solid careers who risk that stability. What they share is a single-minded focus on a niche, not an overarching vision to change the world.
Monique Greenwood is one of them. She was the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine, her childhood dream job. But as she was working on a book, Having What Matters, she realised that what she really wanted was to concentrate on what had been a sideline and go into the B&B business.
“I decided I was worth the investment,” Greenwood said.
For Lisa Congdon, the change was less of an epiphany. She was working in a senior role at an education NPO and decided to take art classes on the side “with zero intention of becoming an artist; it was to balance office work”.
Some 10 years later, she left the stable job to become a commercial artist and illustrator.
Sara Bliss, the author of Take the Leap: Change Your Career, Change Your Life said that Greenwood, Congdon and the other people in her book who changed careers shared a pragmatism about how to make the change, even if their reasons differed.
“I think you have to get comfortable with risk because they knew there was risk involved and they needed to put in their all,” Bliss said.
“(About) 70% of the people are either making the same or more today, which surprised me.”
Some of the people Bliss wrote about said they felt they did not have other good options.
Judson Kauffman spent his 20s as a member of the Navy Seals, doing two tours in Iraq and ending his active-duty service as a sniper instructor. When he left the Navy in 2010, he spent two more years in a civilian role supporting Navy recruiting.
“It was very scary to get out,” Kauffman, now 35, said of leaving the Navy. “The military teaches you how to be soldiers, but there isn’t a lot of time put into the transition out.”
After casting around to find a new career, he and a fellow Navy Seal veteran started a firm, Exbellum, to help companies recruit other special operations veterans.
“I had no other options,” he said. “I quit my job and no one else was hiring me. I had to make it work. I’d begun to meet people in business and they said: ‘Boy, we’d love to hire guys like you,’ but there was a disconnect,” he said. The companies were not hiring the veterans.
His firm set out to show companies that engaging in armed conflict was only a small part of what the Special Operations veterans had done, so Exbellum highlighted how the veterans were expert at managing personnel, logistics and multimillion-rand budgets.
At the end of last year, he sold the firm to Forged Consulting in Dallas. He has since started two other companies, one that distills sotol, a plant that is native to Texas, and another that is in the submarine business.
“We had an adviser who said we could continue growing this (sotol) and could sell it for a lot to a Deloitte or a Bain,” he said of the two major consulting firms.
“I made a decision to be a happier person, which includes discontinuing things that don’t give me joy.”
The motivation to change careers was different for Greenwood. She said she had run her first B&B in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, while still working for the magazine. Her husband was also working full time.
“As we got more popular, I’d get guests who wanted to come during the week,” she said. “We’d ask them, ‘What brings you to town?’ If they were coming for a conference, we’d say yes, because they were on the same schedule as us. But if they said, ‘We’re coming for our wedding anniversary,’ we’d say we were booked because we couldn’t be there to check them in.”
Her nod to pragmatism ended up making that first B&B seem more exclusive than it really was.
By 2002, Greenwood was successful enough that she resigned as editor of Essence. She now has five inns under the Akwaaba brand.
“I have accumulated wealth,” she said. “I don’t pay me what Essence paid me, but my wealth is 10 times what it was. I have million-dollar real estate. I could sell this tomorrow, and say it’s okay.”
Others, like Congdon, made change incrementally. After moving from classroom teaching to working in an NPO in 2002, she began taking art classes to get more creativity in her life.
“I started taking classes on the side with zero intention of becoming an artist,” she said. “It was to balance office work.”
But with the rise of Flickr, then Etsy, she put her illustrations and graphic designs online, and they began to sell. She had a show in Seattle in 2006 and sold everything. In 2007, a show in New York sold out before it opened.
Whether the change was gradual or instant, they all took the plunge and pursued their long-held passion.