A Leap of Faith: Midlife Career Changes
“I loved my job and had no intention of leaving, but when I saw that ad, I knew it was the job I was meant to have,” Tom Gorski prefaced his remarks about his decision to embark on a second career. Seven years ago at the age of fifty-five, Gorski—who during his thirty years at TWA had moved from the position of ticket agent in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to that of vice president of airport operations in the United States—took a pay cut to become vice president of Catholic Charities in St. Louis, Missouri.
Melvin Ishii, who once commanded a field-artillery battalion, had achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel by the time he retired from the U.S. Army at the age of forty-five. He prepared for his second career by enrolling in a master’s program—his second—more than a year before his retirement. Last June he completed eleven years as a high school special-education teacher and administrator in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Three years ago Theresa Wilson, now thirty-eight, was a high-powered television journalist who had won nine Emmy awards. Following a “personal crisis”—her divorce in 1999—she started a project from her home in Edwardsville, Illinois, to help impoverished Third World basket weavers rise out of poverty. By 2004, however, the demands of her lucrative career, caring for her family, and nurturing what has become the Blessing Basket Project became too much. After much discussion and prayer, she left television and a considerable salary to focus on her rapidly expanding international effort.
Switching careers is not uncommon in today’s business world. According to Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, young adults entering the workplace today can expect to have an average of nine to thirteen jobs and to make three to five radical career shifts during their working life. But Gorski, Ishii, and Wilson did not make a midlife career change to get off the merry-go-round of corporate life, to start a new business where they could be in charge, or to find self-fulfillment. They did so to give back to others.
In 1979, Tom Gorski was ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago, Illinois. During the ordination ceremony, he stepped into the aisle and, according to the ritual, responded, “I am ready and willing.” That statement, combined with the class motto, To love and to serve, became a powerful motive in his life. “From that moment on, I thought that if I could find a way to combine my business and management skills with my ministry in the Church, I would do it,” he said. But for twenty years, nothing materialized.