It’s a midlife conundrum that’s becoming increasingly common: You’re not ready to retire, but you’re tired of what you’re doing. Enter the second-act career. These encore occupations offer a chance to pursue a lifelong passion, start a business or make a difference in your community. Often, second careers aren’t as lucrative or prestigious as first-act professions, but they’re less stressful and more emotionally satisfying. The people we profile here have strayed far from their original career paths—and they’re not looking back.
In October 2004, Diana Stewart, 57, was at the top of her game. A longtime professional copywriter for pharmaceutical advertising agencies, she had received a promotion—and a big raise—to work on an account for a blockbuster drug. But she wasn’t happy.
Stewart, who lives in Montclair, N.J., spent a weekend focusing on why she was so dissatisfied, and by the end she had an epiphany: What she loved most about her job was teaching. “I loved taking the raw material, which is very boring and dry and full of statistics, and bringing it down to a level at which a doctor could get the gist of it in a short period of time,” she says.
By the end of the weekend, Stewart decided that what she really wanted to do was teach high school students. That Monday, she walked into her office and gave her employer two weeks’ notice. “Everybody was gobsmacked because I had just been handed a very successful account,” she says.
This September, Stewart started teaching language arts to high school students at the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts, in East Orange, N.J. The journey from pharmaceutical copywriter to high school English teacher was a long one. In January 2005, Stewart enrolled in Montclair State University’s graduate teaching program. Her husband had died several years earlier, and she had two boys to support, so she took classes part-time and continued to freelance. At one point, she and her two sons, now 23 and 26, were all in college at the same time. In 2010, she got her master’s degree in teaching, with a concentration in English.
As part of the program, Stewart worked as a student teacher for 11th- and 12th-grade honors English classes at a school in Newark. She also taught English classes to seniors at a school in Paterson, N.J., where she had a strong principal and a better experience. After receiving her degree, she continued freelancing and started interviewing for jobs. Stewart says her goal had always been to work at an inner-city school, but student teaching taught her that “not all urban experiences are equal.” She was determined to find a school with a strong principal like the one she had worked with in Paterson. After hearing about the Cicely Tyson School from a neighbor who was a retired teacher, she applied for a job and was called in for an interview.
Stewart says she knew she wanted to work at the school when she saw one of the security guards doing ballet turns. Sitting in the reception area, she was impressed as she watched students come in and “talk to the secretary so respectfully.” The kids seemed happy, and the teachers “were so delighted with their day,” says Stewart. A few weeks later, she was offered a job.
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Stewart says her goal is to show her students that works by writers such as Chaucer and Shakespeare are still relevant. “The classics we read are reflected in current literature, in rock lyrics and in hip-hop,” she says. “I’m looking forward to hearing about what is current from them and making them see that what they’re reading in class is just an older version of what they love now.”
Stewart advises professionals who are considering a similar mid-career change to get their financial affairs in order first. She’s making less money as a teacher than she earned as a pharmaceutical copywriter, but she can handle the pay cut because her boys have graduated from college and aren’t dependent on her anymore. “Groceries are no longer $200 a week,” she says.
All in all, says Stewart, “I don’t ever plan on retiring. This is a very good time for me.”
In Business With Each Other
Kurt and Melissa Godwin embarked on their second career soon after they got married, so they could spend more time together—and eliminate a backyard scourge. The couple, who wed in November 2012, recently became co-owners of a Mosquito Joe franchise that provides mosquito control for residential and commercial properties in Howard County, Md.
It’s a big change for both. Kurt, 50, a commercial pilot, started his career flying a private plane for Jack Kent Cooke, the late owner of the Washington Redskins. After a 17-year stint with US Airways, he returned to corporate aviation in 2005, flying private jets for two wealthy Washington, D.C., families. He still enjoys the job, but the schedule is unpredictable and he often works weekends and holidays. “When you’re a newlywed,” he says, “being away from home is not a good thing.”
Melissa, 44, worked for the state of Pennsylvania for 25 years, most recently as a worker’s-compensation claims manager. Her biggest problem was boredom. “It was starting to get very stale,” she says. She also wanted more-flexible hours so that she could spend time with her 11-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
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After investigating several franchises, the Godwins settled on Mosquito Joe, a new franchisor based in Virginia Beach. They financed the business with money from their savings and a loan from Kurt’s brokerage account. They started their business on May 13 and have two technicians on staff. Their most popular product is a spray treatment that’s designed to kill mosquitoes for 21 days. They’ve secured the rights to open additional franchises in Annapolis and the Baltimore suburbs.
Melissa handles calls and customer service for the company. Kurt is still working as a private pilot to supplement their income. When he’s not flying, he helps Melissa with the business, which they manage from their home. The Godwins expect to recoup their investment in two to three years.
Melissa has put in some long days since May, but she says she has a lot more freedom than she did as a state employee. She’s able to take her daughter to school in the morning and pick her up at the end of the day. “I love working for myself,” she says. “I control everything I do. With the government, there are so many restrictions on so many things.”
Melissa says she also believes she’s providing a much-needed service. “I’m helping our customers keep their kids safe outside,” she says. “I feel like the job I’m doing now is for a purpose.”
Kurt advises couples who are considering going into business for themselves to make sure their partnership can withstand the challenges. Already, the Godwins have had to replace two employees who didn’t work out. “You’re going to make mistakes,” says Kurt. “Your relationship has to be able to survive that.”