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Saturday, March 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


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Smashing career-changing myths

Special to The Seattle Times

Miserable at work? Take a number.

Just half of all Americans are happy with their jobs, according to a significant study on work-force trends last year.

What's more, one in two workers would downsize their salary in order to supersize their quality of life, another recent survey revealed. And a 2006 poll found that 53 percent of America's gainfully employed consider their co-workers, well, "a bunch of monkeys."

But throw a stapler and you're guaranteed to hit a disgruntled woman who would rather eat her briefcase than think about career change.

Sound familiar? Then you may be afflicted with one of the many misconceptions we women have about switching professions — outmoded ideas inherited from overly pragmatic family and friends.

How do you start thinking outside the cubicle? Whether you're a Gen Xer or a boomer, the first step is to take a sledgehammer to the biggest myths — fears, really — of the bunch. So without further ado, let's start smashing.

Myth No. 1: I should do something practical that comes with a fancy title and fat paycheck.


Centerpoint Institute for Life and Career Renewal. Coaching, classes and retreats for career changers. 206-686-LIFE or

Community Capital Development. Business training, loans and counseling for women, minority, and low-income entrepreneurs. 206-324-4330, ext. 100.

Nonprofit Schmoozefest. Seattle's monthly nonprofit networking event. Guest speakers featured.

Seattle SCORE. Free small-businesses counseling and mentoring. Affordable workshops and networking events for female entrepreneurs. 206-553-7320 or

Washington CASH. Business loans and training to help low-income women become self-employed. 206-352-1945 or

Washington Women in Trades. Apprenticeship resources and monthly networking meetings. Annual job fair Friday, April 28, at the Seattle Center. 206-903-9508 or

Women Business Owners. Business services and networking for female entrepreneurs. 206-575-3232 or

" 'Should' is a big red flag," says local career coach Curt Rosengren. If your idea of success stems more from parental and media messages than what actually makes you happy, it's time for a little "reprogramming."

Erika Teschke, a 36-year-old Seattleite, had a nasty case of the "shoulds" when she became a legal secretary more than a decade ago. Like many college grads, she thought a job in law or medicine was the ticket to career superstardom.

But as 10 years flew by and the promotions piled up, her starry-eyed vision gave way to "this feeling that it wasn't enough." So the long-time dog lover ditched the lucrative legal world to start a dog-walking business.

Myth No. 2: If I don't secure a position at a Fortune 500 company, I could wind up a bag lady.

"It could be argued that the safe corporate job is much more risky. They could disappear on you tomorrow and take your pension with them," says local psychologist and career coach Janet Scarborough.

You're much better off casting your own safety net — by developing multiple skills, saving your beans, networking like mad (even if employed) and rolling with the inevitable changes.

Myth No. 3: Women who change career paths every few years are just foundering.

Reinvention, at any age, is the spice of career satisfaction. The 20s and 30s in particular are a prime time to sample diverse fields, "before you have the mortgage and possible family obligations," says Lisa Kivirist, author of "Kiss Off Corporate America: A Young Professional's Guide to Independence." "You don't know what kind of shoes you're destined to be in 'til you try on a bunch."

Carolyn Anderson, 33, a geotechnical engineer for the past decade, is more than ready for that new pair of shoes. "I did put a lot of thought into the career I chose, but I always assumed it would be the first of many," says the Redmond resident, who's now studying sports medicine on the side and plans to become a fitness coach.

Myth No. 4: I can't embark on career number two (or three, or five) until I'm sure I won't fail.

"Probably the single biggest obstacle to career happiness is fear of making a mistake," Scarborough says. "A healthier approach would be, 'What will I learn from this even if I don't succeed?' "

Perfectionism, too, can breed inertia. "Women expect themselves to be 120 percent competent at something before they consider themselves competent at all," Scarborough says. "Men are often more comfortable with being 75 percent knowledgeable about something before diving in."

Myth No. 5: By the time I pay my dues in a new career, I'll be well over 30, 40, even 50, and too old to start at the bottom.

When it comes to career happiness, impatience is the kiss of death. "In our MTV-generation culture, if we can't have it now, we assume we can't have it," Rosengren says.

Think "30 is the new 20," says Molly Kenny, 39, a licensed speech pathologist who in her mid-30s founded a nonprofit yoga center in Seattle. Otherwise, she says, "everything will seem too late."

Myth No. 6: I need to succeed before I breed. Once I'm raising kids, it will be too hard to zoom up the ladder or change fields.

Next steps

So you've begun to face your fears about career change. Now what?

Network: Go on informational interviews. Attend industry events. See and for lists of local networking groups.

Test drive: Volunteer and take classes to sample new fields. Community colleges and the University of Washington Women's Center offer affordable courses.

Set goals: Create a long-range plan with small, weekly action items. Add these to-do's to your calendar so you take them seriously.

Letting a rigid baby timeline bind you doesn't make sense before or after junior arrives, Scarborough says. Yes, switching careers as a parent can be tough. But tougher than dreading Mondays for 30 more years?

Plus you can't always predict how much and what type of work you'll want to do after baby's born; motherhood often changes the game plan. Worth noting: Women start businesses at twice the rate of men, and many times motherhood is a trigger. Seattle-area "mompreneurs" Jen Guyer, 33, and Krystal Perkins, 28, co-founded a real-estate staging business in 2003 while juggling day jobs and diapers. Their goal? Says Guyer: "To completely phase out our 9-to-5 jobs by the time our kids are in school."

Myth No. 7: I can't start a new career now. I've already invested so much in getting where I am.

"People always tend to focus on what they're giving up more than what they'll gain," says Julie Jansen, author of "I Don't Know What I Want, But I Know It's Not This: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Gratifying Work."

Moving on to greener pastures doesn't mean scrapping all your hard-won knowledge like yesterday's office memo. Teschke, the dog walker, never dreamed she'd put her people-management skills to work at the dog park; "I expected to leave a lot of the politics behind at the law firm, but I find that the skills I learned there still come in handy."

Myth No. 8: I can't afford to live on less money.

If career number two is important enough to you, you'll take a long, hard look at your living expenses, determine the must-haves and start making the tough cuts.

"The biggest thing for me — with a house and a mortgage — was working the numbers," Teschke says. To make ends meet her first year in business, she often housesat, even though it meant overnight stays away from her husband.

Myth No. 9: I don't have time to even think about making a change, let alone research it.

Break your goal into bite-sized pieces. "Just go buy one book on changing careers or talk to your neighbor who does something that seems interesting or update your résumé or tell your boss you're not satisfied with your job and you don't know what to do about it," says Jansen.

"For a majority of people, career change isn't an immediate thing," says Rosengren. "It's often a multi-year project." Pursuing that shiny new profession on the side while keeping your "safety job" is "like stepping off the curb rather than jumping off a cliff because you've been taking small steps all the way."

Myth No. 10: A smart career woman would map out what she's going to do for the next two to five decades. Now.

"People are too focused on a simple answer to a lifelong pursuit," says Kivirist. "A big culprit in making these life changes is over-planning and over-researching. You're never going to be 100 percent ready, you're never going to have enough money saved."

In other words, choose a direction and take that tiny step off the curb already.

Michelle Goodman ( is author of "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: A Handbook for Recovering Wage Slaves," which Seal Press will publish next year.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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