Apr 4, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

When you think “career,” you probably think “lifetime.”  Your career in education, say, could span several different types of jobs, but all within the field. 

What about those who do some serious heavy career lifting and change their career focus entirely?  What drives them to it?  How do they know they need a change?

Forbes recently published an article highlighting five clear signs that you need a career change.  The author points to exhaustion, a lack of connection, boredom, a “wrong” feeling,” and the sense that your skills and interests might be better served doing something else.  In other words—career changers feel passionate about doing something else, despite any security that their current career offers them.

Take a closer look at six famous career changers—and maybe a page from their playbooks.


Credit: Smithsonian.com

1. Julia Child: Spy to Chef

CIA intelligence officer turned chef, Julia Child joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIA’s precursor during World War II.  She was told that she was too tall to join the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).  She moved through the ranks and quickly became one of OSS’s top researchers. 

What led her to cooking?  Shark repellent.  In Kunming, China, she was asked to solve a “shark problem,” sharks swimming too close to military apparatus underwater.  She began cooking a variety of concoctions to deter sharks—and she found her love of cooking. 

When she later married fellow OSS agent, Paul Cushing Child, and the two moved to Paris for his State Department job, her love of cooking and the Parisian palate took over.  She attended Le Cordon Bleu—the rest is history. 


Credit: PBS.org

2. Andrea Bocelli: Lawyer to Opera Singer

The defense attorney didn’t embark on his musical career until he was 34 years old.  He was born with congenital glaucoma and had vision problems for most of his childhood.  At 12, he became permanently blind.  As a young child, he loved music and learned to play the piano, flute, saxophone, drum, guitar, trumpet, and trombone. Music was clearly his passion, but to earn money, he became a lawyer.  He auditioned to sing on a demo tape for Pavarotti.  That tape got him his first agent, an album—and a new career.


Credit: entrepreneur.com

3. Martha Stewart: Model to Chef

A Chanel model in college, followed by becoming a Wall Street securities broker after, Stewart’s path towards homemaking and cooking isn’t an obvious one.  It was a family renovation project that got her going in catering and entertaining.  She started a catering business with a modeling friend, and then bought out her side of the business.  As she became more popular, she published her first cookbook—the rest came later, including television shows and other media engagements.


Credit: harparsbazaar.com.au

4. Vera Wang: Figure Skater to Fashion Designer

How did the high-end bridal wear mogul get where she is?  Wang grew up in an entrepreneurial New York City home, the daughter of wealthy pharmaceutical entrepreneurs from Shanghai.  A competitive figure skater who tried out for the 1968 Olympic team, Wang turned to fashion after she stopped skating.  She worked at the Yves Saint Laurent boutique, finished college, and was hired at Vogue as a temporary assistant.  She quickly became one of the magazine’s youngest editors, and used her business savvy to become the design director for Ralph Lauren in the mid-1980s.  As she prepared her wedding to her first husband, Arthur Becker, she realized that brides didn’t have a lot of retail options.  She took the beauty of figure skating, the entrepreneurship of her upbringing, and her design know-how to push the edges of bridal wear for women.  She opened her own boutique in 1990—and has gone on to earn more than $1 billion per year in sales.


Credit: forbes.com

5. Roz Savage: Consultant to Rower

The first woman to row across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans didn’t set out to.  In her mid-30s, successful management consultant Savage decided she’d had enough.  Her cause—the environment and the health of the planet—led her to raise awareness internationally as a rower.  One who has rowed over 15,000 miles of ocean in over 520 solo days at sea.  The biggest thing she had to overcome?  The fear of leaving a comfortable lifestyle to do what she truly believed she could and needed to do. 


Credit: thirstie.com

6. Bridget Firtle: Hedge Fund Manager to Rum Distillery Manager

As a hedge fund manager, Firtle came across a stock for a beer manufacturer that intrigued her.  She contacted the company and became a global beverage analyst, spending nearly five years researching and investing in globally traded alcohol companies.  She felt so inspired, she wanted to try her own business, too.  She wanted to do the work that she was researching—so she did.  Firtle is a self-taught rum distiller—with lots of innovative spirit and the confidence to pursue a dream.

Inspired?  You should be.  Do you what you love.  Don’t kid yourself—you’re only here once, after all. 




Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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