Reprinted from the Williamson County Sun

 

The Sunday Sun Georgetown, Texas April 24, 2005

 

If you had it to do all over again

 

Mid-life career changes help employees find fulfillment, connect with community

 

 

By TREY McLENDON

 

How about trading in the computer for a circular saw? Or instead of waiting in line at the airport, waiting in line at the movie theatre - with your family at your side? How about a change in careers, just for the sake of a change?

 

More and more people, especially those in mid-life, are opting out of their first choice in work and finding alternatives, for a variety of reasons.

 

"When you talk about changing careers, you're talking about me," said Laurie Locke, a 54 year-old who decided a few years ago to give up restaurants to become a psychotherapist.

 

In her practice, she has seen a trend in people leaving their jobs for new horizons, she said. "It takes many people until their 30s or 40s to come to an understanding of what they truly want to do career-wise," she said, "apart from what they were encouraged or expected to do by their families."

 

After a brief stint as an elementary school teacher, Ms. Locke quit to raise three children - her "second career" - and thus occupied herself for 12 years.

 

"After a divorce, I found myself in the position where I had to go back to work, I didn't have a choice in the matter then," she said. "I couldn't afford to go back to school."

 

Leveraging a love of food and catering, she launched a successful restaurant, making a profit from the start. When she sold out several years later, she had two locations and 12 employees.

 

I had always been interested in psychology, especially Jungian psychology, so I decided to do something more fulfilling to my intellectual side," Ms. Locke said.

 

With the proceeds from her sale, she enrolled five years ago in Pacifica Graduate Institute at Santa Barbara for a master's degree in counseling psychology.

 

While getting started was difficult, she has established a private practice in Georgetown, with a steadily increasing patient load. "It takes time. You have to be able to weather the lean years, including a long internship, but I love it," she said.

 

As a licensed professional counselor, Ms. Locke has found a career she can pursue into old age, she said. "As long as I can hear, I can do this," she said, "and psychotherapy is a profession where life experience is a distinct advantage ... It is very stimulating intellectually, with wonderful conferences and ongoing training."

 

 

Jim Kelton, 41, worked more than 20 years in the grueling high tech world. He programmed computers, then managed programmers, then directed managers - ultimately spending all his time in meetings with a list of business problems that grew as fast as he could help solve them.

 

"I had 20 years in it, and I looked forward and saw another 20, and felt like the fun had run out of it," he said.

 

With the support of his wife Betzi, he cast about to find an alternative life. They looked into the restaurant business before deciding on a deck-building company.

 

"My dad was very handy, and I had grown up watching him and learning all those general building skills, plus I had built decks for myself and helped friends," said Mr. Kelton.

 

So he resigned from his software company in December of 2003 and started Kelton Deck. More than a year later, he still has a feeling of optimism about the new venture.

 

"It was scary and great at the same time to leave high tech," he said. "It was a little unnerving, but I'm very happy so far."

 

The couple had money saved, enough to "carryover a couple of years," but it was imperative that the business become a going concern, Mr. Kelton said.

 

"We really scaled back our spending. We don't go out to eat as much, we don't buy new cars, there's a lot less extras," he said. "But now I spend much more time with my family and that makes it worth it . . . My wife is behind this because she saw what my old job was doing to me."

 

 

Bill Stanley is now vice president of community relations at First Texas Bank. But not long ago, he traveled 60 percent of the time, negotiating contracts and keeping tabs on a nationwide sales force.

 

As a sales and marketing executive for a major consumer packaged goods corporation, his life was hectic and he felt disconnected from values that were coming to mean more to him, he said, including family and community.

 

Then, when the investors who owned his firm decided to break it apart and sell off sections, he found himself scrambling.

 

"I tried a couple of high-risk ventures with some people I had worked with before, but we could not grow the business fast enough to satisfy the investors," said Mr. Stanley.

 

In one venture, he and his partners tried to form a company to supply fresh food to convenience stores. "These weren't start-ups like with three guys in a garage," he said. "They were pretty large concerns from the start."

 

But what initially sounded promising became problematic - the new company found numerous difficulties in delivering fresh food to all the different locations, because each store didn't handle enough volume to make trucking logistics cost-effective, he said.

 

"We knew that it was very high risk, but then the rewards would have been there if it had worked," Mr. Stanley said.

 

Already a resident of Georgetown, he became weary of the industry and began searching for another job that would allow him to spend more time at home and in the community.

 

"I was looking for a job that had a purpose," he said. "I was exploring working for not-for-profits."

 

After some initial contact, he took the position with First Texas Bank. In the first year, he said, he has found his new organization to be well aligned with his own sense of involvement and integrity.

 

"It's a very community-centered bank, focused on giving back to the community," he said.

 

As vice president of community relations, Mr. Stanley helps with marketing and customer relations and serves with area organizations, including The Georgetown Project.

 

"I'm done for good with IPOs," he said of risky start-up companies. "I've been burned twice, and I'm tired of moving around and always being in airports."

 

In his new gig, he gets to spend more time with his wife Lois. Their two children are grown and for the most part on their own, he said.

 

"Working at the bank allows me to combine a job in the business world while still getting involved in the community," he said.

 

 

Bob Bousquet retired last December from Merck & Co. pharmaceuticals after 33 years and a career that took him from coast to coast.

 

"I was very happy with Merck," he said. "They always took very good care of their employees, and tried to do the right thing."

 

But now, at age 53 and comfortable from years of steady income and diversified investments, he has decided to pursue his epicurean passion by opening Chantal's Bistro and Wine Bar near the Square.

 

''After working a lot of years for a corporation, I had learned to feel a sense of safety," he said. "We had great products and were doing very well."

 

Now, he said, he feels more "exposed," which is worrisome on the one hand but liberating on the other.

 

Even before Mr. Bousquet's retirement, he had purchased a historic house at the corner of Eighth and Church streets with the aim of renovating it and opening a quality restaurant.

 

"I have been actively planning this for five years. I think one of the things I learned in the corporate world is the need for careful planning," he said.

 

Now that he has more time, he has accelerated the work on his new business and hopes to open in July. His mission will be to offer good food, good service and a dining experience people will remember and want to repeat.

 

"I have always loved good food, wine and conversation," he said. "I want to create a quiet, relaxed place that people will enjoy."

 

As owner, he sees his duties as part entrepreneur, part technician and part manager.

 

''A lot of mom and pop businesses are getting edged out, because they don't have a business plan like the big corporations," he said. "I want to take what I learned before and apply it here."

 

His wife Trini, a nurse, will help some with the Chantal's, but she'll continue in the career she loves, said Mr. Bousquet.

 

"Even if I hit the lottery, I would still open this restaurant," he said. "It's not just about the money, it's about being accountable, and delivering on a vision."

 

 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has never attempted a formal study on the number of times an American adult changes careers. But with a changing economy and more mobile society, few employees expect to stick to the same line of work for a lifetime.

 

"Many people these days change careers in mid-life ... the 40s to 60s mainly," said Ms. Locke.

 

The Swiss thinker Carl Jung thought that in the first part of life, people seek individuality and uniqueness, while later in life they tend to adopt an understanding of themselves as part of the whole of humankind, Ms. Locke explained.

 

"So it's not unusual to find people in the second half of life entering fields ... that have more of a focus on reaching out to others," she said. "Everybody is different, and people have all sorts of capabilities.