Until recently, the recipe for a successful career went something like this. Graduate from college with a goal in mind, head in that general direction, work hard, and continue on an upward trajectory in your job until you arrive at the pinnacle of your career. Voila! There you have it: the definition of success. Not anymore.
These days, the average graduate can expect to have had 10 to 12 jobs by the age of 32, according to the U.S. Department of Labor; a recent study by Merrill Lynch notes that 76 percent of baby boomers plan to "retire" to new careers. Here at UNH, the Career Center reports that a third of their clients are alums, many of whom are exploring new job options. The world of work, it seems, is changing.
What's it like to be pursuing a career path--and then make a switch? Why do people do it? How do they adjust? What do they learn? To find out, we asked our readers--and you responded! We received hundreds of responses from alums with stories to tell. The six profiled here, most at mid-to-late stages in their working lives, may not have realized that they are part of a national trend--dubbed by one book "the demise of the single-career career." But they speak from hard-won experience. A diverse group, they share one thing in common: they've discovered that the goal isn't so much about arriving. It has more to do with satisfaction and fulfillment along the way, with loving the work you're doing. This, they'll tell you, is true success.
Jayne Gray Murray '79
Jayne Gray Murray '79 has a good ear for chocolate. "It's not just the taste that matters," explains the CEO of the New England Chocolate Company. "Well-tempered chocolate has a certain sound--a good, crisp snap--when you break it."
It makes sense that a former speech pathologist would know good chocolate when she hears it. Murray spent more than two decades in the public school system in Salisbury, Mass., listening closely, helping children with speech problems make themselves understood.
Today, she's got her ear tuned to chocolate. The change, she says, was unexpected. "One day they told me my position needed to be full time," says Murray, who had worked part time throughout her career as she raised her children. Murray decided a full-time job wasn't for her. "So I told them, 'OK! I'm done.'" Murray is matter-of-fact about the abrupt end to her career. "I was ready for something else. I just didn't know what."
Murray and her husband, Les Murray '90G, who is the principal of the local high school, spent hours discussing franchise possibilities. They owned a house on a piece of commercial property on busy Route 1, an ideal spot for a business. And then, one day, it hit them: chocolate! "Both of us are big fans, and there's no really good chocolate in this area," she says. Murray spent the next year in her kitchen, testing recipes and learning to temper chocolate. "This is key," she notes, rattling off the abbreviated recipe for well-tempered chocolate: Bring it to 110 degrees. Cool rapidly to 88 degrees. Then bring it back to around 90 degrees to stabilize it. "You have to get it right or the chocolate will look terrible, cloudy and dull--and no snap." She bought recipe books, spent hours doing research online, and attended a huge chocolate show in New York. And she tested her creations--over and over again. So did her friends.
Some of her most enthusiastic testers were former colleagues. "My husband would take in a test batch to the teachers' lounge," says Murray, "and they'd be gone by 8 a.m." In a blind taste test with friends and family members, Murray chose Callebaut chocolate from Belgium to use for her business. "It's more expensive, but it's worth it," she says, describing the clean, smooth taste. And she worked on developing her special fillings: orange creams, raspberry creams, coconut, peppermint, and the especially popular dark chocolate ganache: "I only make things I like," she says.
During the first few years, while she was developing recipes (and throwing away plenty of badly tempered batches), Murray also demolished a garage, built a retail store in its place, created a business plan--and worried. "There were many nights when I lay awake thinking, 'What are we doing?'" she admits. The New England Chocolate Company opened for business on New Year's Day in 2004. "And I have never regretted it," she says. "It's a wonderful business." And, it turns out, she's still part therapist: "People come through the door and will often tell you their problems. But they're coming in for their chocolate. So ultimately, they're happy! I'm not saving the world," she says, "but I'm helping to make people happy."
Michael Robinette '74
Michael Robinette '74 wields a wicked vacuum. And he doesn't want anyone trying to take over his job--especially his wife. After all, he likes to point out, she already works 60 to 80 hours a week. The house is Robinette's job. He cleans. He cooks. He does laundry. He chauffeurs his daughter Morgan, 13, to practices and chaperones school trips. He oversees homework and orchestrates bedtime. He is, in short, the ultimate Mr. Mom. And he loves it. But it wasn't always this way.
He remembers the day, exactly, that his life changed. It was Jan. 5, 1994, 5:45 p.m. Robinette took one last look around his office at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, where he'd spent nearly nine years as a hydrogeologist. And then he locked the door and headed home to start his new job--caring for his infant daughter. "It was one of those life-changing moments when one door closes and another one opens," he says. "The house and kids became my sole job. And my wife's job was to blast ahead in her career."
The change wasn't easy at first, says Robinette. He and his wife, Muriel Steenstra Robinette '74, had two older children, ages 7 and 10 at the time. Both parents were happy with their careers. Then Morgan came along. The couple considered child care. They calculated costs. They weighed the pros and cons of balancing two work schedules, family life and the demands of an infant. In the end, they agreed one of them should stay home. But who?
"It took me a good three months of thinking about it," says Robinette, "to arrive at the conclusion that I was the one. Finally, I just bit the bullet and said, 'I'll resign.' It was a big thing." Robinette is philosophical now, looking back. His wife, who works in the private sector as an environmental engineer, had the most earning potential, so it made sense for her to keep working. "The benefits of me staying home seemed to outweigh the negatives," he says.
There are, notes Robinette, many women who view his wife with envy: a woman with a successful career who comes home to a clean house and dinner on the table--prepared by her husband. For his part, Robinette gets a kick out of putting "homemaker" on the forms he signs. "The ladies in the school office love it," he says. But he takes his job seriously and is proud of what he's accomplished. Along with keeping the household running smoothly, he's completed several major renovation projects. He also spent a couple of years homeschooling his daughter. Most of all, he's developed a special relationship with Morgan. And he's aware of how the experience has enriched his life: "Raising children is an opportunity to grow, to be more empathetic and intuitive."
Not that Robinette is finished with the working world. He's kept his hand in his profession over the past decade as an active member of the New Hampshire Geological Society. And in the next few years, he envisions heading back into the work force, this time wearing a teaching hat. For now, though, Robinette is content with his career as a homemaker. And he's so busy he doesn't have time to miss much about the working world--except maybe going to lunch and hanging out with the guys. "But on the whole, I've been really happy," he says--the sign, perhaps, of a truly successful career change.
Kathleen McGuire '70
When she heads to work each day, Kathleen McGuire '70 knows she's in for an earful. Violent felonies, automobile accidents, medical malpractice suits, robberies and drug cases--they all come through her courtroom, a steady parade of human drama and heart-wrenching stories. Of course, the superior court judge also hears a slew of more mundane civil cases. Whatever the charge, McGuire gives it her full attention. She listens to lawyers and reviews testimony. She writes opinions and carefully crafts decisions she knows will remain on record forever. And she does it all in the glare of the public spotlight. But on Tuesday mornings, McGuire steps into her chambers and closes the door. On Tuesday mornings, her work gets personal.
It might be a teenager who got arrested for stealing. It could be a woman who was using drugs or a man who stole a car. They have different stories, but all the offenders McGuire meets with have one thing in common: She believes in them. She thinks they deserve a chance to turn their lives around without going to jail. The judge is so convinced that this approach, called "alternative sentencing," can work, that she devotes her own time to supporting the program. Were they supposed to call the DMV to find out how to get their license back? Did they attend the resume writing class? How did the job interview go? "If they don't follow through, I call them on it," McGuire says. But it's the positive feedback that really matters, according to McGuire. "For most of these people, in their whole lives no one has ever said what a good job they've done. When I say, 'You're doing a good job,' it's huge."
McGuire spent more than a dozen years teaching before she returned to UNH for a doctorate in history. (She'd already picked up a master's at the University of Florida.) Her plan had been to continue teaching. Instead, she changed tack to a career she felt held financial promise and the power to effect real change. She went on to law school, graduating in 1983 from Boston College, just one month before her son was born. Law degree barely in hand, McGuire landed a job as a clerk at the New Hampshire Supreme Court, then moved on to the New Hampshire attorney general's office, where she worked as a prosecutor, often handling difficult murder cases. In 1989, just six years after McGuire graduated from law school, Gov. Judd Gregg appointed her to the New Hampshire Superior Court, where she's been ever since.
Looking back on her two decades in the legal profession, McGuire sees her first career as ideal preparation. "In order to teach, you really have to prepare material and present it in a logical fashion," she says. "The same is true when you prepare a case to present to a jury. And now, as a judge, I'm writing orders, organizing trials. I learned very valuable skills from being a teacher."
McGuire loves law partly because, like teaching, it's intellectually challenging. "But it's also a job where you can make things happen," she says, citing her involvement with the alternative sentencing program as one of the most rewarding parts of the job. "To see people who, given the resources and the chance and the structure, plus a judge's involvement, turn their lives around for good--I take a lot of pride and satisfaction in the part I've played in that."
The Muffin Man
Bill Moore '70
sriving south on Interstate 495 in Massachusetts, headed for the coast, Bill Moore '70 knew there was no turning back. He had 40 Japanese koi fish in the back of his pickup truck, headed to their new home on Martha's Vineyard, where Moore had recently constructed a pond on the grounds of the Admiral Benbow Inn. "I just put them in a bunch of buckets, snapped on the lids and drove like hell," says Moore, who was starting a new life on the Vineyard along with his fish.
For decades, Moore had worked as a chemical engineer, mostly for Polariod. He had a long commute and put in 12-hour days six or seven days a week. But he loved his job, thrived on the creativity and the challenge. It was what he was trained to do. Then he got laid off. He was 58. "It was tough to find a job at that point," says Moore. "Most of the work in my field is going overseas now. I was older. We started trying to figure out what we could do."
When Moore and his wife Mary hit on the bed and breakfast idea, the only thing they knew was that it made sense to choose a tourist destination. They found the Admiral Benbow Inn by chance one day, flipping through a real estate magazine as they were taking the ferry out to the Vineyard. Scheduled to look at another property that day, they made a last-minute decision to tour the Admiral Benbow while they were there--and fell in love with the gracious 1883 house.
The next day they made an offer. That was mid-May. On June 1, the new bed-and-breakfast owners opened the inn for business. "It was a snap decision," admits Moore. But we had to do it. The season was coming." Moore plunged right in, swinging a hammer, replacing broken toilets, fixing electrical problems and knocking down the occasional wall--often racing against the clock to have the work done before guests arrived.
"Something always needs fixing," Moore admits with a touch of understatement, making casual references to a new roof and new heating system. But he and his wife love their new joint career. Mary handles marketing, sales and design, using skills from her previous job designing baby gear for large retailers. Bill crunches the numbers and stays on top of the endless to-do list. Both of them enjoy getting to know their guests. "We don't make much," says Moore, who was used to a $100,000-plus salary. "But I'm relaxed and much happier."
These days, Moore wears jeans and flannel shirts to work. His only commute in the morning is down the stairs to the kitchen, where he bakes muffins for his guests. In the afternoon he might tackle a few repair projects, chat with guests on the front porch, or entertain his grandchild, who lives nearby. And when the weather's nice, he can often be found wandering the grounds, puttering in the quiet gardens, checking up on his koi in their beautiful new home.
Artisans if Antiquity
Marie Clough Oedel '76
and Richard Oedel '76
It makes perfect sense that Marie Clough Oedel '76 lives in a historic Boston brownstone that still has its original library, complete with ornate woodwork, tiled fireplace and tall windows that throw early-morning sunshine in long, dusty beams across the bookshelves that line these walls. Oedel is, after all, a woman with a passion for books--especially old ones. Often as not, though, she isn't reading them, she's repairing them, remaking them from fragile, crumbling, water-stained collections of pages into books that can be held and appreciated once again.
Buddhist texts from the National Library in Bhutan, a leather-bound 1750 set of the complete works of Shakespeare, a church Bible, a family heirloom on the history of fox hunting--each day, when Oedel sits at the workbench in her tiny in-home studio, she holds a piece of history in her hands. Each day she undertakes a process so painstaking, so exacting, it seems one slight tremor of the hand, one inadvertent sneeze could ruin the whole effort. "It's not glamorous work," Oedel says, laughing, as she unwraps her latest project, a rare edition of The Song of Solomon, whose cover is detached from its spine. "It can be tedious. You have to really love it."
Behind her, Oedel's boxes of artisan supplies are stacked to the ceiling. Embroidery floss, clamps, buttons, Byzantine closures, fish gelatin, dry cleaning sponges--the hand-lettered labels read like fragments of mysterious poetry. And then there are the tools of her trade: microspatulas, burnishing irons, wheels, stamps, gouges and fillets; long rolls of fabric, stacks of hand-marbled paper, Japanese tissue that comes in nearly two dozen varieties, each one carefully chosen for a different purpose.
"It was very humbling," says Oedel of her early days learning to restore books at Boston's famous North Bennet Street Trade School. She had left behind a successful career in the financial investment industry, followed by a stint managing a nonprofit agency. Now she was trying to turn a longtime hobby into a career. "When you're at the top of your game in another field and then you start over as an apprentice," she says, "people don't really care who you were or what you did before." She pauses. "What's really cool, though, is learning something and getting it to a high level where someone really wants your work." Which is precisely where she's finally arrived. Along with more private clients than she can handle, Oedel is also the book conservator for Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, restoring precious editions for its collection.
While she admits to the occasional pang about her career change--especially when she talks to former colleagues who are being appointed to important boards and having dinner at the White House--Oedel has not forgotten the stress of her corporate days. "I was rushing all the time, leaving my son in daycare from 6:30 in the morning until 6:30 at night." The pace, she readily admits, was relentless. And it was hard to find time for parenting. These days, she still works long hours, but she makes her own schedule, so she is there when her son comes home from school. And she relishes the satisfaction of placing beautifully restored books into the hands of grateful clients.
"I know I made the right choice," she says. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Marie's husband, Richard Oedel '76, works on the other side of the city in another light-filled space--a giant warehouse on the edge of Boston Harbor in a shared studio space with several other fine furniture makers. While Marie spends her days making old treasures look like new, Richard designs and builds new pieces of furniture that look like beautifully preserved, exquisitely made family heirlooms. A Queen Anne chair, a mahogany gateleg table, a secretary with curved glass muntons (recently featured in the magazine Fine Woodworking), a three-piece sofa of Southern American rosewood, a reproduction of Albert Einstein's music stand. Each one of his furniture pieces is commissioned--by a collector, perhaps, a private estate, a museum or university. "The vast majority of people," Richard points out, "are satisfied to go to Ikea. But a small group of people are very interested in quality, design and aesthetics, and have the money to spend on something unique and truly special."
Richard chuckles when he muses on his career change. "You know those little drink stirrers you see at McDonald's? We made billions of those," he says, recalling his years in manufacturing when he ran the family business. "Injection-molded plastics. Countless things with low intrinsic value. Now I'm at the other end of it. I make one piece at a time without any employees." When he finally sold the much larger and highly successful business in 1999, Richard followed in Marie's footsteps and enrolled at North Bennet Street, hoping he could learn the skills to transform his longtime passion for historic homes and furnishings into a second career.
The art of creating fine reproduction furniture cannot be rushed, says Richard, who makes only a dozen or so one-of-a-kind pieces each year. When something isn't working, you simply have to stop. "You leave it where you can see it and eventually it comes to you what's not right," he says. "It's almost an osmosis problem. If you're in the same room with it, you eventually figure out that the curve isn't right or it looks awkward in some way or it doesn't stand proudly."
A number of pieces of Richard's furniture adorn the Oedels' home. One of Marie's favorites is an unassuming footstool in the library. A close look reveals that each gracefully carved leg stands on a distinctly different style of foot--all of them exquisitely carved. A project from Richard's North Bennet Street days, the footstool now holds a large white oak display box. Resting inside, and visible through its glass top, are four long narrow Buddhist texts rescued from a pawn shop in Tibet and lovingly cleaned by Marie. Lifting one from the case, she runs her fingers over the carved wood cover, opens it to pages of palm leaves covered with Sanskrit lettering, feels the weight of the past resting in her palms.Each day is the same for Marie and Richard Oedel. It could be a perfectly proportioned leg or an exquisitely bound spine; a vellum cover, cool and supple and beautifully stitched or a wooden table top so perfectly polished it feels soft to the touch. When these artisans sit down to work, they are both driven by the same thing: a love for fragile beauty, a passion for the past--and the knowledge that the power to preserve these things for future generations to cherish lies, quite literally, within their hands. ~
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