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.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.