When you hear the phrase “extended adolescence,” Aerosmith might spring to mind. But this is also how Barbara Moses, a career consultant and author of What Next, describes the current state of twenty- and thirtysomethings.
Moses explains that it’s a time for deﬁning your identity and what you want out of life. It’s also a time of angst and indecision. If you really hate your job, or even if you’re reasonably satisﬁed but hear a voice calling you somewhere else, you might be due for a major shake-up. Call it a premature “midlife crisis.”
Moses points out that career changes are not uncommon for younger employees. “Today,” she explains, “people in their twenties are testing themselves and trying out different roles. You also have a heightened career consciousness, which says you should be happy with how you’re spending your time. People are more cognizant of questions like, ‘Am I happy?’”
In addition, the job security of a generation ago has evaporated faster than you can say what the letters in NAFTA stand for. Some people ﬁgure it’s better to jump ship before being made to walk the plank by their employers.
By the time you’re in your twenties and thirties, your decision doesn’t happen in a vacuum, of course. You might be shacked up, married and even have kids.
Here’s a look at some people who have taken the plunge, and the impact it has had on their signiﬁcant others.
Andrew Cullen, 34
It’s not every day you talk to a guy who’s built a log cabin. But in 2003, that’s exactly what Andrew Cullen did as part of Algonquin College’s program in carpentry and millwork. After eight years of working as a production manager in the ﬁlm business, he realized that he was getting tired of underemployment in an industry bashed around by everything from 9/11 to SARS to a strong Canadian dollar.
Facing another lean winter, Andrew started thinking about a new gig. He bounced around ideas in his head, not all of them realistic: “I’d read National Geographic and think it would be great to study wolves. Stuff like that.” When he saw an advertisement for the carpentry program, three weeks later he enrolled in the two-year course. After Andrew completes his studies at Algonquin, he anticipates having to do a variety of “wood-related jobs” to pay the bills, but is conﬁdent that he’ll be happier—and better off ﬁnancially—in the long run.
The only hitch is that the program has forced him to relocate nearly four hours away from his home and girlfriend in Toronto. “Moving away has been strange,” he explains. “It’s not necessarily something I would recommend, but it’s not something I would shy away from, either.” Unlike the vague, pervasive stress of working in the ﬁlm industry, Andrew says that “the stress of being away from each other is something tangible and concrete, and you can discuss it. You can remedy it, too. I come back home almost every weekend for a visit.”
Cristina Kim, 34
Cristina Kim had a highly successful career, including a seven-year stint with a well-known communications company. She managed large teams at busy Vancouver and Toronto ofﬁces, which was not without its stresses: “Ofﬁcially, I resigned in April 2003, but I actually left prior to that because I got sick, and I got sick because I burned myself out.
“I loved the company, and they compensated me very well,” she adds, “but it wasn’t worth risking my health.” So Cristina started a venture called JumpStart Community, a social network targeting small business owners across Canada with a focus on work-life balance and a healthy lifestyle—precisely the things she was unable to maintain in her old life, and which also led to the demise of her relationship. “I didn’t have time to take care of myself. Do you think I’m going to have time to take care of a relationship?” she says.
Now she has time for both.
Nora Blackmore, 26
Nora Blackmore ﬁnished her Bachelor of Education at the University of Ottawa in 2003, and quickly found a full-time position teaching phys ed at a high school in Toronto. But within three weeks, she realized it wasn’t really what she wanted to do. “I wasn’t passionate about it,” she says. “I wanted a change.”
That change involved applying to the Toronto Police Service—a four-month program. “Policing was something I’d been interested in for a while,” Nora explains, “but it was something I’d put on the back burner.” She is hoping to eventually get into detective work, but may also look into working with the marine unit since she has already had some boating experience.
Going from teacher to cop is a big leap, but her boyfriend of three years has been very supportive. “He’s part of the reason why I made the change and actually went and did all my testing. It was something I kept talking about, and he said, ‘If that’s something that you want to do, you should just do it. Just go for it.’”
Reed Clayton, 33
Reed Clayton studied advertising and journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University, and spent several years after graduation doing both freelance journalism and advertising work. He enjoyed it, but says music was always his passion. So he and a friend created Earthmen Productions in Vancouver, which has grown into a busy studio focusing on original soundtracks for ﬁlm and television, including the score for Alienated, a series which appears on the Space station.
Reed cautions that reinventing yourself can make life seriously unstable. Although they’re currently ﬁring on all cylinders, Earthmen has not always provided a regular paycheque: “It’s been feast and famine. But we’ve done whatever it takes—we were both working bar jobs to get the studio rolling.”
Though Reed’s schedule is sometimes difﬁcult, his girlfriend of a year has been very supportive. “She loves the music and believes in my talents and abilities,” he explains. “It’s great to have a partner who’s supportive like that.” He will soon be able to return the favour: She has recently decided to change careers, too, and is in the process of ﬁguring out what her new one is going to be.
Erin Thorndycraft, 31
Erin Thorndycraft was running her own marketing company in Bermuda when she met her future husband. After they got married, they decided it would be neat to ﬁnd a career that they could pursue together. At the same time, they were looking for a home.
In this case, it meant exchanging their sun-drenched island setting for Ottawa. The pair bought a historic building in the heart of the trendy ByWard Market and opened Allure (1-877-339-8837), a four-room bed and breakfast.
Their long-term plan is to get Allure into a position where it’s turning a proﬁt, and then return—at least for part of the year—to Bermuda. They’re excited about the B&B business and how it ﬁts their lifestyle: “You’re bound only by your own schedule and you can make your own choices as to when you want to have people here,” says Erin. “Flexibility was a really big thing for both of us.”
Mark Magee, 29
Mark Magee thought he had it all career-wise: After several years of freelance writing, he was hired to edit a home-video magazine called Premiere. Soon after, he says, “I got hired to be the editor of Famous Kids, which was kinda cool because it was a new magazine. I got to create it from the ground up. It was actually like a dream job.”
He loved the subject matter and the creative control, but something was missing. “I didn’t know why I wasn’t loving going to work every day. It was kind of like, ‘This is exactly what I always wanted—so why am I not happy?’” He realized there was something he wanted more: “I decided to go back to my ﬁrst love, which was teaching.”
He quit his mag job, enrolled in the primary/junior stream of the Elementary Preservice Teacher Education Program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) and hopes to be teaching kindergarten or Grade 1 by the fall. “I see myself being in this for the long haul because I do really love it.” His wife’s reaction to his decision to switch careers? “She was unbelievably supportive,” he says. “She really knew that this was something I wanted to do. And I had helped her out in the past, so she looked at it as an opportunity to return the favour.”
Jay Ginsberg, 29
Before becoming a real estate agent, Jay Ginsberg didn’t really have a “career” per se—“unless you call years of following the Grateful Dead around and being part-owner of a record store a career,” he jokes. After a trip to Thailand, he says, “I had my ﬁrst ﬂash of reality, and realized I had to do something.” When someone asked what he did for a living, he couldn’t really answer. “It was getting a bit embarrassing,” he recalls. A mortgage is also a sobering wake-up call: Jay and his ﬁancée recently bought a condo in Toronto. “I had to have a profession,” Jay says.
Real estate was something he thought he could do well, and he eased into it with related work doing part-time property management for his father while completing his real-estate certiﬁcation. He thinks he’s found his niche. “This is what I’m meant to do,” he says. “I totally enjoy it.”
Jay knows he would eventually have settled into a career, but being in a relationship sped up the process: “Answering to your family—there’s always bullshit lines you can give. But you can’t give those lines to your partner.”
Khadijah Cartland, 33
Khadijah Cartland was a busy music-video and commercial producer and production manager in Toronto when she found out she was pregnant with her ﬁrst child. She took time off work to be with her new son, Cobi, but after a year away, she was starting to plan a return to the workforce. An extra salary could sure buy a lot of Huggies.
But that plan quickly fell through when she found out she was pregnant again—her baby girl, Soleil, was born this past winter. Khadijah’s partner, Bruno, has continued to work at a busy clip, but whenever possible, he gives her a break from the all-encompassing world of diapers and drool. About once a month, she hits a “total breaking point,” and he’s always there to catch her fall and to make sure she gets out of the house to unwind. “I’m sure it’s not true for everyone,” she says, “but having children has really strengthened our relationship.”
While making the most of her time with the two kids, Khadijah doesn’t plan on remaining a stay-at-home mom forever. “I’ve really enjoyed being home with them, but I am looking forward to some other kind of stimulus.” That could include another career change, as Khadijah says her hope is to someday open her own yoga studio.
Scott Petrie, 35
Scott Petrie was relatively happy with his career running a web design shop in Toronto, but that changed when he decided to train to become a yoga teacher. He wanted to advance his knowledge of yoga, and ﬁgured he might be able to teach from his home and make some extra money on the side. He hoped that his studies would also create more balance at work; instead, he became miserable because he realized that he wasn’t the person he had set out to be ﬁve or six years earlier. “Teacher training got me to look at my life in a different way,” explains Scott, who decided to leave the design shop in July, 2002.
His work ethic—he currently teaches seven days a week—made it easy for his girlfriend of nine years to support him during his transition. There was a period of about six months when money was tight, but she offered unconditional support. “She saw that I was happier, and that made her happier. And she saw how hard I was working,” says Scott. “It’s not like I was on the couch watching soaps.”
Greg Bolton is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He quit his job in web design last September.
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