The tale of being stuck in a career you're not particularly passionate about is a tale that's told on repeat. It doesn't have to be a tale that ends in misery or a cloud of “what ifs," though.
Sure, you might have thrown down five digits worth of cash to secure an educational degree, and you might even have found great success in your field, after pouring years' worth of sweat into it all. But when natural fears of starting over meet fears of being perpetually stuck, perhaps it's time to press pause and re-evaluate your future. These women did so in their 30s and 40s: a time when you're supposed to have already “figured it all out" – and found great success.
Shari Keith: Graphic Designer Turned Teaching Artist
In 1995, at the age of 38, Shari Keith's family was transplanted from Colorado to Arizona. At the time, she was working as a freelance graphic designer with a solid client base whose designs were featured on billboards in town.
The Trigger: Though excited about the prospect of sights in a new state, the idea of building a fresh roster of clients was not as enticing. Additionally, in the time between graduating from college in 1980 to 1995, the process of graphic design had moved away from by-hand design, which Keith enjoyed, to computer-generated designs. Although she appreciated the new technology, she found that spending hours in front of the computer exacerbated her struggle with migraine headaches.
The Transition: “Back in Connecticut, I had been a classroom volunteer, a cub scout leader, and provided after-school art enrichment programs for the kids at my son's school. I really enjoyed working with students, and decided that I would also volunteer at my son's schools in Arizona. I was volunteering in my son's gifted classroom when the principal offered me a job as an instructional assistant, then an additional job doing crafts with kids during recess. Then she offered me a third job running the math lab at school, which meant I had three different jobs at the elementary school. I worked at that school for eight years and loved it. I felt that I was positively impacting the students, and as time went on I was given more and more responsibilities. It occurred to me that I was almost doing the job of a teacher, but I was technically just an instructional assistant.
I discussed the idea of going back to school with my husband, and he was absolutely supportive from the first time I mentioned it. I looked into different programs, and found one that would give me a Master's degree in about 18 months if I didn't take any breaks. The classes met at night so I could keep my day jobs. By now I was in my 40's, and I was the oldest student in my class. I was proud of that! When I did my student teaching, my mentor teacher was young enough to be my daughter. It was tough being a mom, working during the day and doing my school work at night, but I did it. I had a 4.0 average GPA, and although I didn't want to brag outwardly, internally I was proud of myself. It was a wonderful feeling," says Keith.
The Full Switch: After obtaining her degree, Keith was offered a job as a third-through-fifth-grade gifted math and reading teacher. This still wasn't quite the right fit, but after some careful self-examination, she sought and landed a teaching artist position, which combined her Bachelor's degree in fine arts and Master's degree in education.
“A teaching artist is different from an art teacher. An art teacher teaches about famous artists and art techniques, and a teaching artist shares their art form with students. I call myself 'The Junk Lady,' and all of my projects involve using found and discarded materials. I have invented and developed all of the programs that I present. Every project I present allows participants to create something personally unique. I visit schools, libraries, community centers, and senior centers. In addition to working with children of all ages, I have recently become involved in the field of Creative Aging which strives to give senior citizens opportunities to create," Keith describes.
Arnette Pint: Mental Health Counselor Turned Parish Pastor
For over twenty years, Arnette Pint worked as a counselor in the mental health and addictions field. Throughout her tenure, she held a variety of positions, including directing a group home for troubled teens, serving as an addictions' counselor, and working as director at a detoxification center. She was tenacious too, founding a detox center in Ontario, and starting an employee-assistance program for employees at the community hospital in Iowa.
The Trigger: “I was 44-years-old when I started thinking seriously about changing careers, and 45 when I took steps toward becoming a parish pastor. I liked my counseling work and the challenges it represented, the people I met, and my colleagues. I loved working a 40-hour week! I can only say that I truly felt called into ministry," says Pint.
The Transition: “This transition included the candidacy process within the United Methodist church – a six-year process – and return to school for a seminary degree. People in my life were very supportive, especially my husband and daughter. There are always a few people in ministry who think that women do not belong there, but I was largely supported and encouraged. The resistance comes primarily in the form of intended or unintended gender bias, which is omnipresent," notes Pint.
The Full Switch: “I am now a pastor, very recently retired from 18 years as a parish pastor. I have been privileged to walk alongside people in their most joyful and painful times. I was blessed to be appointed by the church to start a church – a real congregation – inside the walls of a prison in Iowa. And now, in retirement, I get to start a new ministry in a brand new neighborhood.
Even in my longest weeks in ministry, I was content that I had made the right decision. My advice to others who are contemplating career changes is to check out the requirements and expectations thoroughly, and talk to others who are in the field you are considering. Know what you are getting into before you make your decision, and then do it!" encourages Pint.
Laura Brenner: Dentist-Turned-Career-Coach
The Trigger: “I always thought dentistry would offer me a well-balanced life that would satisfy my desire to contribute to society in a meaningful way, while also offering the freedom to enjoy my personal time. It does offer that, for sure. It is also very rewarding, and I always felt lucky and proud to be part of an industry that cares for people. Along with the great perks, however, comes a lot of stress; that's the part about dentistry that is so misunderstood. No matter how minor some dental procedures seem, we are dealing with nature, which is imperfect and complicated. Add to that the pressures of being in the service industry, in a field that is often scary and uncomfortable for patients," says Brenner.
The Transition: "Once I found myself still feeling unhappy in my career at 31 years old, I started to seriously toy with the idea of leaving it behind. As with any new job, you give yourself time to adjust and learn the ropes. I had been practicing for three years, and while I was adjusting, growing, and doing a good job, it wasn't getting any better for me mentally. Change is hard, so I made a lot of excuses over the years. At that time, the economy was starting to take a downturn, so I rationalized that I'd never find another career in that economic climate. I also decided that I owed it to myself to try another job in the field. I even attended some of the premier dental continuing education classes in the country, in hopes that I could change myself enough to start liking it. It never really worked; the changes were always very temporary and conditional," says Brenner.
In Brenner's seventh year as a dentist, she came to terms with the fact that she “could not take it anymore." Over the course of the next three years, she connected with a career coach and therapist, who helped her set the transition ball in motion. She walked away from her career as a dentist at the age of 38.
The Full Switch: As a surprise twist to this story, Brenner had penned a blog post on dentistry several days after quitting that went viral. This catapulted her blog, which she'd been running on the side as a creative outlet, and led her into her current career as a career coach and blogger.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.