Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Finding Your Second Calling

If two roads diverged in a yellow wood – like the bard Robert Frost once wrote – which one would you take? That's an answer worth exploring if you're considering a second career.
All of us are multidimensional, meaning there's an artist within a scientist or a lawyer destined to be a chef. Whichever path you choose, make sure there's a right mix of reason and passion. As they say – unless we're cats, which we're not, there is just one life to live. So why not be inspired by these people who dared to make their dreams come true?

Where Humans Fear To Tread

Sue Prihar, 43, of West Hartford, has spent the last 20 years of her life as an environmental consultant.
"I will be spending the next 20 as a high school science teacher," she said. Currently enrolled at the University of Connecticut, Prihar, a physics major, has taken a spate of qualifying courses and is now poised to obtain an advanced degree in education.

She has no intention of nabbing a cushy job. "I'm going to be available to children who are very needy, who are underperforming, and are square pegs in round holes. Kids with ADHD, anger issues, behavioral issues – I'm going to understand them," she said. "I have visions of being able to speak in a language that each child will comprehend, I will have a bowl of apples on my desk because many of my kids will come to school hungry, I know how to diffuse the anger that builds up in them."

Prihar grew up in a modest income home headed by her huge-hearted mother who bought an additional three to four gallons of milk a week for hungry kids in their neighborhood. Now a mother herself of two boys aged 15 and 13, she and her husband are preparing for an empty nest.

"My children are at an age where they are growing and will be going away from me, as they should so they can live their own life. But I'd make a terrible empty nester because I still have a lot of nurturing in me," said Prihar, whose younger son has autism.

Her inspiration to become a teacher came from her sons' teachers.

"My 15-year-old is a genius. He's always been in the gifted program and is now taking pre-calculus. But even truly gifted children don't excel in everything and I've seen how his teachers have motivated him. My autistic son is mostly nonfunctional and some of his teachers get physically hurt but still show up everyday. It's a blessing. So the philosophy in our household now is to pay it forward," she said. "I have grown from valuing money, prestige, social status and materialistic things because I've been shown a higher path by teachers."

Venturing Out On An Unplanned Journey

Remember how when you were six, you were in such a hurry to grow up so you could become a fireman and drive the fire truck? Now you're sitting in an office staring at numbers on a computer screen. There's nothing wrong with that, if you've found your soul's calling in, say, operations research. But sometimes folks chug along a path that diverges most unexpectedly to an unknown place. Gee, what'd you do?

Maggie Downie, 29, chose to explore the fork in the road. A history buff since as long as she could remember, Downie landed her dream job as Assistant Director of Education at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford. Around the same time, being an avid runner, she joined a gym to continue exercising and staying fit. Then the unexpected happened. In 2005, the gym's management asked her if she'd like to teach a Pilates class in the evenings after work. She went for it and realized she loved it. In fact, she loved it so much that she resigned from her job at the museum and launched her own Pilates company, Personal Euphoria, in 2007.

"I've always loved fitness and health and wellness, but never considered it as a career path. I'm not sure why. I think I was too preoccupied with history – that's what I have my degree in – and I always wanted to be a college professor growing up. That was the plan, but then life provided me different opportunities," Downie said. "I love Pilates. I'm getting to teach, and the historian in me researches the body the way I used to research historical events. Instead of studying history now, I study the body and the history of Pilates and fitness. It's the best of both worlds."

Downie planned her career transition step by step with minimal risk. First, she saved enough from her museum job to cover basic living expenses. Next, she paid for certification and coursework from the evening Pilates class she was teaching. She decided not to invest in equipment until she made enough money. So instead of opening a studio, she collaborated with county Parks and Recreation and colleges to offer affordable Pilates classes in towns.

"This enabled us to reach more people since our studio space wasn't stationary. First it was just me and then I added one instructor at a time. As that grew, I invested in equipment and this year I got permission to teach private classes out of my home," she said. "Working out of my home enables me to offer affordable rates for private instruction. Pilates is an expensive career in that the coursework to get certified and maintain
certification is expensive, insurance is expensive, the equipment and maintenance is expensive, but instead of taking out loans to pay for those items, I raised the money in advance and built up slowly."

Downie currently employs around eight instructors who work on a contract basis primarily in the Greater Hartford area, but also in Fairfield and Tolland counties.

"Making the leap to leave my reasonably secure job and risk starting my own company was scary. While I've never gone into debt starting the business, I did originally take an overall pay cut from my job at the museum. But I knew that was going to happen and I prepared for it," Downie said. "I think I took the leap with minimal risk at a time in my life when I needed a change and had found a career I was really excited about. And, while I've always worked with and for wonderful people, I wanted to work for myself. Finding a passion really helps." 

From Fixing Airplane Engines To Healing People

Manchester-based Jan Iyengar, 66, owner of Body-Mind Wellness Center LLC, is a homeopathic doctor, hypnotherapist and massage therapist.

Iyengar has a PhD in aerospace engineering and several patents to his credit, but had always wanted to be a medical doctor. But growing up in India, his father, who was influenced by a Hindu monk, dissuaded him from studying medicine because dissecting corpses was not acceptable.

For the next 40 years, Iyengar worked as an engineer in Canada and the U.S., retiring from United Technologies Corp. (UTC) in 2008 as Manager, Materials and Structures, Pratt & Whitney.
"I always had a passion to help and heal people, so I decided to become a homeopathic doctor," said Iyengar.

UTC, which offers one of the best employee education programs, bore the cost of Iyengar's four-year homeopathy degree followed by a two-year massage therapy certification. "Since 2001, I had a second job in the evening. I'd work till 5:00 p.m. and then do massage therapy at various yoga, chiropractic and acupuncture centers. That's how I built my client base," he said.

He subsequently saved up to invest in equipment and lease a clinic onn Main Street in Manchester. "People come for a massage but many have chronic health problems. Slowly they open up to you and if you can offer them something more – like homeopathy – you can provide better support. It's a holistic approach," he said. "It's financially very rewarding and emotionally satisfying."

Iyengar says the job requires sacrifices. "For example, this New Year's eve five people wanted a massage. You have to be there when they need you. My wife gives me wonderful, wholehearted support so I can do what I want to do."

Often, Iyengar picks up seniors from their nursing homes or houses, brings them to his clinic for a free massage, and drops them back. "I feel very fortunate to be able to help people," he said. 

Responding To The Sound Of Music

Bolton-based Debbie Shea, 55, works as a paralegal at the Connecticut Attorney General's office. She is already building a second career post retirement as a Tibetan bowl vibration healer.

Shea's rather unusual choice sprung from losing her sister to ALS, a disease affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal chord.

"One day, a hospice person came home with singing bowls and I cold see it helped my sister. She was able to relax. I felt immediately that this is what I wanted to do," she said.

Shea currently puts in an eight-hour workday as a paralegal, and performs healing sessions in the evenings.
"I saved up to buy 11 singing bowls and a gong. It's an ancient method of healing that will help supplement my retirement," she said.

Shea is passionate about her calling. She obtained a certification in Reiki, and studied West African and Native American shamanic healing, even meditating for two weeks in the Amazon rainforest.
"People come with so much stress. It's good to see them leave relaxed," she said.

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