Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sarah Is Her Own Lady: Celebrating a Career Switch

Over the next few months, I'll be running a series about women who have embraced their own-ness by operating outside of the norm, namely by choosing not to have children, choosing to move far away from their support systems, or choosing to make a major career switch. There are many ways to be your own lady; here's to celebrating your path!

Sarah is a dear friend from high school and I remember her as one of those infectiously sweet and funny people that everyone always wanted to be around. Through the magic of Facebook, we've recently reconnected, and she was kind enough to answer some questions about how she came to switch careers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (where do you live, what do you, what is your family like, how do you enjoy spending your time?)
  • I live in South Boston in a 1100 square foot condo with my husband and my 6 month old baby. We love our rooftop deck and spend summer nights drinking on the roof. We currently have an exersaucer and playmat in the living room, a jumperoo in the kitchen, and a doorway jumper in our entryway. It's a tight squeeze but we like it.
  • I met my husband in law school and he still practices in Newton. I am the Store Manager of a women's clothing store in Braintree, MA. It's a recent store switch. I used to work downtown Boston as an Assistant Manager in a bigger store. 
  • My immediate family is an army of three. Mike, my husband, Lila, my 6 month old baby, and I are completely infatuated with each other. My husband and I are becoming more successful at work and are trying hard to balance our increasingly heavy workloads with our new role as parents. Some weeks we balance it better than other. We feel a tremendous amount of financial pressure, due to large part to our outrageously large law school loans.
  • We spend our time at restaurants in the Seaport (Boston), watching or going to movies, getting our news through the Daily Show, and taking the baby to the park or beach nearby.
2. Tell us about your career history: what jobs have you held? What jobs were involved in what you consider to be your biggest switch?
  • As a young adult, I always had jobs that involved caretaking, service, or teaching: babysitting, receptionist at a mental health clinic, teaching theater to kids, working with homeless youth. 
  • I ended up applying to law school after college in large part because I didn't know where I was going to live or how to pay for an apartment after college (my family home wasn't an option) and because I had a professor who encouraged me to go to law school.
  • After law school, I was hired as a clerk for the Juvenile and Probate Court where I would work under a Judge, but the recession hit in 2008 and my position was eliminated and my offer revoked. I stayed on with the sole practitioner I interned with during law school. 
  • As a practicing attorney at that law office, I mostly worked in what I call "sad law." The cases I spent the most time on were wrongful death and murder defense cases. Dealing with death day in and out is draining on the soul.
  • I was getting paid hourly even though I worked full-time with no benefits and it wasn't a living wage, so I got a part-time job nights and weekends at a retail store as a sales associate.
3. What was the process like during your job switch? How did it effect you emotionally? Physically?
  • I ended up working about 15 hours a week as a sales associate and within 3-4 months, I was promoted to a part-time manager position.  For a year and a half, I worked 60-70 hours a week between the two jobs. 
  • I found myself loving my part-time "extra" job and hating my full-time "real" job. It was an insane amount of work doing both, but I couldn't get myself to quit the retail job. One month I realized I had worked 21 days in a row between the two jobs but I still didn't leave. I loved the fast pace, the team I was helping build and train, the social atmosphere with clients and associates, and the fun of being around fashion.
  • In 2010, my mother was dying of a brain tumor. One day at my law job, I got a call from her in-home hospice nurse. The call lasted 2 minutes tops. In it, she informed me that she thought my mother had less than 2 weeks to live and that I should make arrangements to stay close to her. When I got off the phone, the attorney I worked for told me that "he really wished I wouldn't take personal calls at work." After that conversation, I quit my law job.
  • I called my retail job to let them know what was happening with my mother. They took me off the management schedule immediately and told me that I should spend time with my family. They said I did not need to check back in with them, that they would take care of everything. They just said to call them when I felt ready to return to work.
  • After my mother passed, I returned to the retail job into a full-time position that had opened up. I planned to try it out and likely return to a law job at some point when the market was better. I loved the full-time position and felt like it was be an insane choice to go back to a field I hated when I had found one that felt like it was tailor-made for me. 
4. Do you feel you lost anything during this switch? What did you gain?
  • In some circles, I lost a sense of prestige. My husband went to a top-tier private prep school for high school and we attend a lot of their alumni events and reunions. When I first attended with him and said I was an attorney, I felt welcomed and like I fit in. When I switched to saying I was a retail manager, I felt like people judged me. I felt like they thought it was more of a blue-collar job than a professional one.
  • In another sense, I lost my investment. I have almost $190,000 in student loans from law school for a degree that I'm not currently using. It is a crushing debt that I deal with on a daily basis. I am paid far more as a Store Manager than I ever earned as an attorney, but I am still living paycheck to paycheck and putting a decent amount of my expenses on credit cards. I think law school taught me to be more analytical, which I certainly use in my job now, but that's a high price to pay. I also met my husband in law school and while he is certainly worth $190,000 to me, that's a hell of a price to pay for a first date.
  • What I gained is priceless: I love going to work every day. What people don't realize is that as an attorney, I had very little control or autonomy. I felt intellectually bored. The work was repetitious and formulaic. As a manager, I'm running a multi-million dollar business and a staff of twenty plus people. I finally get to use the best of what I have to offer: my strengths as a leader, a teacher, a motivator. I work for a company that respects work-life balance, is more than 90% women, and that I'm proud to be a part of. 
5. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to make a career switch?
  • Take StrengthsFinder! It's a Gallup assessment that identifies each person's top five talents. It can be anything from Communication to Adaptability. Then, it suggests different careers that are a great match for those talents. I know hands down that I would never have gone to law school if I had taken this assessment earlier in my life. I think it should be required for all college students before they declare a major!
  • Life is too short to be miserable at work. We are at work a majority of our waking hours. I have friends who still say to me (SEVEN years after graduating law school) "I hate being a lawyer, you're so lucky you got out!" They say it like it's a choice they couldn't possibly make for themselves, which baffles me.  
Thank you for inspiring others to follow their passions and play to their strengths! Any questions for Sarah? Any career changes brewing in your heart?

5 comments:

  1. Love this series, Ashlie! Such a great story!

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    1. Thank you! Sarah is great and I'm so happy that she's in work where she thrives!

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  2. YES! This is great! I can't wait to read more.

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    1. Thanks Molly! There's definitely more where this came from :)

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