By Helena Tavares Kennedy
Things are always changing around us, and whether we like it or not, we change as well. In fact, according to The Balance, a personal finance website, the average person switches jobs 10 to 15 times during his or her career. Career changes often come with a life change—a child is born, a family member becomes disabled or ill and needs care, or we wake up and realize the dream we had when we were younger somehow got lost over time.
Working to pay the bills is necessary, but some see their careers as extensions of themselves and their personalities. Here are some stories of people in our region who made a career change based on a life change. Sometimes it was an easy, straight path, but more often than not, there were challenges along the way, and persistence was key. These dynamic people offer tips for managing the transition if you are looking at changing your career path to better accommodate your current life stage.
Taking Care of Your Career While Taking Care of Children
One of life’s major changes is having children. While two-income families have become more common in the last few decades, better technology and increased flexibility have allowed some families to work from home while raising children.
Nina Lomax started her home-based business, Body Conscience Personal Training, just six weeks after her daughter was born in 1992. At the time, personal training was just emerging as a separate fee service offered by local gyms. As a single mom, it was important to her to be there for her kids and remain engaged in their lives, through their school, church and community activities. With her own business, she managed to have a home and put her kids through college, and her kids, now adults, both continue to
live a healthy lifestyle.
So how did she do it? “I found that all my volunteer activities served to provide me with relationships that led to client recruitment,” said Lomax. “I attended Prince William Professional Networkers Group meetings and Prince William Chamber of Commerce events to widen my community.” Most importantly, through those early years of raising two children and building a home-based business, Lomax learned that “it is important to have faith and confidence in what you know and stick to it with conviction. Be a model in your field of excellence and live your passion.”
Some parents take a break from their careers to take on the fulltime job of raising their children. Margo Davies from Manassas Park left her job in the military and government contracting to do just that. Working in linguistics for the U.S. Army provided Davies with a great career and a way to pay off student loans and move ahead in life. But once she got married and started having children, she and her husband had to decide which of them would stay home to raise the children. The decision came slowly, but was
clear once her husband starting moving up in his job while her position didn’t look like it was going to be a long-term option. The practicalities of nursing also played a part as her workplace didn’t have any good accommodations for nursing moms. “My husband and I laughed when we made the decision for me to
stay home because we thought it was kind of old-fashioned,” said Davies, “but we knew it was the right choice for us.”
Now that her children are in school, Davies said it definitely was the right decision as she has been able to attend and volunteer for school and church activities, ensure they eat meals together, be there for their children and manage household needs. “I thought that once the kids went to school, I’d go back to work, but haven’t yet as I still feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing—caring for my family,” Davies said. Her future plans for when her children are older are in the works and may include pursuing highly needed teaching positions.
Her advice for parents thinking about becoming stay-at-home moms or dads includes getting involved in parent groups and community organizations so that you aren’t isolated and “so you can find your place to bloom,” said Davies. “The lack of income can be frightening, but if you make the choice to stay at home
based on what’s important to you, you need to be steadfast, not fear it and find ways to handle the money part, like temporarily cutting back on certain things.”
Kelly Muzzin, owner of Muzzin Music Studio in Manassas, is new to working full-time after raising her two children. She used to teach piano lessons, work in a music store and was a Warrenton church music director before having kids, but becoming a mom made Muzzin want more flexibility to be home with her children, so she switched to teaching piano part-time from her home.
This January, however, she made another switch and big life change as her children are now grown, with her youngest having just graduated high school. It was time to move back to fulltime employment.
But what type of full-time job, she wasn’t sure, so she did what she calls the 4 a.m. test. “If you wake up and it’s dark at 4 a.m., everything seems worse, so I’d think about what I wanted to do with my career at 4 a.m.” said Muzzin. “I considered cybersecurity, project management, and FEMA work related to my volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol. It all seemed exciting during the day, but nothing was passing the 4 a.m. test.”
That is, until she had lunch with a friend who told Muzzin, “You love music; you should do music.” “I had always hoped I could teach full-time when my kids were older,” said Muzzin, “but I hadn’t found a way to earn enough.” At her friend’s advice, she began to seriously consider music again, especially after it
passed her 4 a.m. test. She tapped into piano teacher and studio owner social media groups as resources and took a class on using technology to accelerate learning. This January, Muzzin started teaching music full-time at her new rented space at the Bull Run Unitarian Universalists building in Historic Manassas.
Her advice for someone looking to transition from being a stay-at-home parent to working full-time outside the home is to…solicit advice. “I talked to everybody—random parents, friends, people in interesting fields and fellow volunteers at Civil Air Patrol meetings,” said Muzzin. “I told them I am looking for my full-time job and asked them what I had to do to get into their field. Everyone was thrilled to talk about what they do.” Muzzin also encourages people to research all the options and look into what
education or training is required for the fields they are considering, the associated costs and whether they know anyone who can help them get into that field.
A New Career for a New Stage in Life—Retirement
Ann Hempen, owner of Manassas Junction Bed and Breakfast, wasn’t always a B&B owner. Hempen worked for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) delivering mail for 30 years. “When I was younger, I thought that I would like to live in the country in an old house and have an organic, environmental farm on 300 acres, and teach people to live in harmony with nature,” Hempen said. But as a single, divorced, mother with two children, it just wasn’t the right time or stage in her life to follow that dream.
In 1981, she remarried, and “as I delivered mail around Manassas, the idea formed of realizing my dream of living in an old house by having a B&B,” said Hempen. “So when I was within five years
of retirement, we bought a Queen Anne Victorian home on 1.25 acres in Historic Manassas. We both like to cook and work in the yard, and we like people. I like antiques, decorating and gardening, so having a B&B is a good fit. Our dreams have morphed—smaller yet easier for us!”
Both husband and wife work full-time at the B&B now that her husband, Mark, retired last year from USPS, and they have been busy expanding their offerings. “We just opened the Nelson Cottage, which used to be a sign-painting shop and is named for the Nelson family that lived here for 40 years,” said Hempen. “We now have three spaces to choose from, which is perfect for a small wedding party.”
Her advice to someone facing a life stage change would be to do what you love. “Evaluate what is meaningful to you and work around it,” said Hempen. “Mull it over—give it lots of thought, but most of all, follow your heart!”
For 35 years, Sue Wilson of Manassas was a special educator for various Prince William County schools where she assisted students with intellectual, emotional and learning disabilities and autism. As an educator, she used organization skills to handle the significant workload, and when she retired, she wanted to transfer those skills to people’s homes and offices. That, and her desire to focus on a new career in retirement, led Wilson to start her own small business, Tidy Sue, where she helps clients with
organizing, decluttering and staging of homes and offices. As she built her business, she expanded to include move in/move out support and maintenance plans to help individuals manage their organized spaces.
It wasn’t a quick and easy process to start her own business, however, as it took five months of research, thoughtfulness and planning. “I love helping others transform their living and office spaces into an environment that is a pleasure to look at and decreases the stress in their lives,” said Wilson. “I have met so many wonderful and intelligent individuals who, for one reason or another, have been unable to manage their homes or offices and have given me the opportunity to assist them in ways that are
compatible to their needs.”
While change can be uncomfortable—even positive change—the planning and forethought that went into Wilson’s retirement career move was intentional as she started by seeking out the knowledge of other organizers and began participating in the Prince William Professional Organizers Meetup group. “So much reflection is needed to go forward: Can I afford the changes? How will these changes affect my family? How can I successfully implement this plan?” said Wilson. “The best advice I can offer is to be informed and learn as much as you can about the area you want to pursue as you move forward into a new phase of life.”
So embrace your life stage and adapt, since one thing is certain in our lives—change.
Tips for Changing Careers When Your Life Stage Changes
- Communicate—Talk to everybody you know and let them know you are looking at making a change and seeking out resources.
- Research—Conduct online research for your potential new field, find out if there is training or education you need to get for it and the associated costs.
- Volunteer—Spend some time in the potential new field as a volunteer to see if you could really imagine yourself in that field.
- Beef up your resume—Use volunteer experience and personal life experience if you don’t have direct experience in the area you are pursuing.
- Do it—Take that first step in actually making it happen and don’t let the idea of change remain just an idea.