Five more successful women who showed us it’s OK to go off the beaten path.
We talked with six women who left prestigious careers behind for the better. But a job doesn’t need to be corporate or even high-paying to be the wrong fit for you—it could be any career path that doesn’t match your life goals. Here, For Her talked to five more women who traded in their more conventional careers for something wildly different—and found a whole new level of personal success. Their stories, and their good advice, just might give you the courage to make your own bliss, too.
Keep adapting your work to match your life
Christine Silvers: from Ivy League PhD to hands-on mom.
During an internship with Hewlett Packard during her college years at MIT, Christine Tsien Silvers had a realization: though she’d been a hard worker and ambitious all her life, she knew she wanted a family of her own in the near future. And the path she was on didn’t look as though it would leave much room for that.
“I felt strongly that I wanted a life that was both professionally meaningful and personally meaningful,” Silvers says. “I wanted to raise my (future) kids and really be a part of their lives. I didn’t think that I could have the personal life I wanted in a tenure-track junior faculty position. It also didn’t seem that working in the IT industry as a PhD researcher, as I had previously thought I’d wanted, would be quite right for a family lifestyle either.”
|Her academic adviser—who assumed Silvers would continue her excellent work in academia—was baffled by her choice. But Silvers wasn’t deterred.”|
She began to wonder if, after her education, she could pursue work as a part-time physician, leaving time to raise children. As Silvers pressed on, completing both her undergraduate degree and PhD at MIT, along with an MD and residency training at Harvard, she did just that: leaving academia to work part time in local emergency rooms. Her academic adviser—who assumed Silvers would continue her excellent work in academia—was baffled by her choice. But Silvers wasn’t deterred.
In fact, she loved working two shifts a week at the ER. It allowed her to come home to be with her (now real) children. It was such a good fit, she remained part-time for ten years (during which she had three kids). But then Silvers added volunteer and consulting work to her days and the once-ideal “part-time physician/full time mom” she had dreamed of turned into longer, crazier days than she’d ever wanted.
“The urge to work hard and be productive in life permeates all that I do,” Silvers says. “My schedule became equally as full as when I’d been at MIT or when I’d worked long resident’s hours.”
Once again, Silvers found herself longing to step out of the “rat race,” even though this time it meant going back to a more academic type of job: a full-time position with a digital health start-up that satisfied her work ethic and offered flexibility.
“Today, I work full-time hours but remain highly involved with my kids’ daily lives,” Silvers says. “I often work after the kids go to bed and before they wake up, as well as when they’re occupied in the evenings or on the weekends in order to still be able to help at the school, lead the scouts, and so on. I don’t feel like I’ve re-entered the ‘rat race.’” She adds: “I love my work, and I love having the flexibility to do a lot of things with my kids. I feel very thankful each and every day for the path my life has taken.”
Silvers’ advice: Be true to yourself when it comes to what you would like to pursue in life, rather than what you think other people want you to do. Even if that someone is a peer or an adviser.
Slow down, and return to the basics
Esther Emery: from theater director to homesteading YouTuber
As a theater director, a stage manager, and a celebrated storyteller, Ester Emery had a dream job, one that gave her fulfillment and a “theater family.” But she found after her first child was born, her actual family suffered. Emery worked long days, going years without time off. “I often kept many jobs going at once—as many as seven shows in some stage or another,” Emery says, “to make ends meet and fulfill my own career ambitions.”
But then a marriage crisis told her something needed to change. “If you think of being a working mom as a juggling act, keeping career and marriage and kids all in the air, then I would tell you that I spectacularly dropped them all,” Emery says.
It was a wake up call that she needed to change, and she decided to do something drastically different: “I took an intentional separation from the world in the form of a year without Internet,” she says. She used the time for, “deep soul inquiry.” In that year, Emery says, she established her faith, became intentional about homemaking, and, she says, “I saved my marriage.”
|In God’s plan there is Sabbath. In God’s plan we do stop. And in that moment of rest we understand things about peacefulness and justice and solidarity that we didn’t understand when we couldn’t stop running.”|
A re-commitment to faith and living off the e-grid led Emery and her husband to explore “homesteading,” which typically means self-sufficient living without modern help. It’s something her mother, Carla Emery, author of The Encyclopedia of Country Living, had been well-known for, so, to Emery, this new path was “more like returning to a family tradition than breaking one.” Emery and her husband took three years to research and prepare carefully financially and emotionally before deciding to live in a 314-square-foot yurt on three acres of Idaho woods with their three children. Without that planning, Emery says, “it would be just a lark, and not a life. Our goals were intentional living, relationship with the natural world, a close-knit family and producing more and consuming less.”
Though they expected their off-grid life in a yurt to be temporary, Emery says, “I found a kind of rest and relief in the absence of electronic appliances that I had never felt before.” When they returned to “in town” living a year later, Emery says they missed more about their unplugged life than they ever missed about the “connected” life.
“Homesteading is both challenging and incredibly satisfying. It give us the ability to truly rest,” she says. “It’s backwards from what we’ve been taught, which is that if you’re not consuming or producing every minute of the day you’re lazy and good for nothing. But in God’s plan there is Sabbath. In God’s plan we do stop. And in that moment of rest we understand things about peacefulness and justice and solidarity that we didn’t understand when we couldn’t stop running. Before this, it feels like we never heard a sound besides our own running feet and running mouths.”
Emery’s advice: Say these words to yourself: “There’s no running away from who you are.” The best lifestyle change is one that makes you more authentically who you really are. The rest is too much work. Try to cut out the things in your life that don’t feel genuine.
Think about what you wanted to do before adulthood
Theresa Polley: from marketing executive to retreat owner
As the first person in her family to earn a college degree, Theresa Polley lived into the expectation that she achieve big things. For a long time, she did, first in advertising, then landing a big marketing position with her local YMCA. Although life was exhausting her—doing things like driving an hour to breastfeed her second child over lunch—Polley says, “I just felt like as a working woman I was expected (by myself and society) to keep going no matter what the cost.”
But a layoff changed all that. Though Polley assumed she’d get right back up and land another advertising or marketing job, as she scanned the classifieds and networked, Polley realized none of the jobs appealed to her. At all. She finally asked, Why am I doing this? “When I realized it wasn’t good for me or my family, I changed directions.”
As a teenager, she’d longed for a career that would help other women. Polley began to incorporate this dream with her love of exercise and yoga, which she says, had taught her “to slow down, to breathe, and to stop being so hard on myself. Those practices saved me from myself.” Soon, Polley was envisioning a place where women could get away to find “peace and joy.” With a bit of faith and lots of hard work, Polley made this dream a reality and founded Retreat in the Pines. Money was tight, and during the first few years of the business she did everything from cooking to accounting at the retreat (she now has staff for these roles, she says), but the payoff was huge.
“I am happier than ever before,” Polley says. “Through my business, I have an effect on thousands of people. As one woman is transformed and discovers a new perspective, self-love or gratitude, she goes out and shares with her world. I believe there is a ripple effect. I am living my dream of making a difference in the world. One retreat guest at a time.”
Polley’s advice: Keep moving in the direction of your dream. Sometimes you’ll move sideways and sometimes you’ll have to back track, but know you’re still moving toward your dream. There’s not always a simple straight line to get there. Listen to ideas and advice from friends and family members, but in the end, trust your intuition. You, more than anyone, know exactly where you’re going, even if you’re not quite sure on how to get there.
Give yourself permission to explore limbo
Karen Cordaway, nationally syndicated personal finance writer and podcast guest coordinator. Photo courtesy of Karen Cordaway
Karen Cordaway: from teacher to mom and financial writer
When her daughter was born, Karen Cordaway assumed she’d send her daughter to day care “like everyone else” and go right back to her beloved teaching job. But after a time of doing this, Cordaway was struggling. Though she knew others managed the rigors of teaching after being up all night with a baby, Cordaway was still fresh into her career and felt exhausted by managing both. And she felt a strong desire to be present for her child’s “milestones.”
“While I applaud people who do go back to work,” Cordaway says, “I didn’t like leaving my child to work with other people’s children. Ironically, if I had worked in an office job that handled paperwork instead of kids, I might have felt less guilty and stayed.” She says it was surprising, even to herself: “I loved working. I always wanted a fulfilling career but everything changed when I had my child.”
So Cordaway made the decision to leave teaching to stay home with her daughter. She assumed she’d tutor and find part-time work as a way to keep a “toe in” the teaching world. A little while later, a chance opportunity for part-time work arose: to help an author with a book launch project.
|I get the best of both worlds: I have career satisfaction, and I’m there for my family when they need me.”|
“I would pitch people to feature her on their website to promote her book,” Cordaway says. “She told me I was really good at it and that I should work in PR.” It sparked an idea. Cordaway began pitching article ideas of her own. Soon, she says, “a few gigs snowballed into becoming a syndicated personal finance writer.” Her work has since appeared in US News and World Report, Clark Howard, and Huffington Post, and she has been featured on Yahoo Finance, MSN, and in Money magazine.
Though Cordaway says not everyone understands her choice to step away from teaching into something less stable, Cordaway says, “I am happier now with a more flexible schedule. I don’t have the stress that I had before when I was rushing to drop my kids off and pick them up on time. I get the best of both worlds doing this. I have career satisfaction, and I’m there for my family when they need me. I also still get to ‘teach’ people through my articles.”
Cordaway says, “I’m much more relaxed. Life isn’t just one big blur of rushing all over the place. I’m grateful for that.”
Cordaway’s advice: Unless you know exactly what you want to do, give yourself permission to explore while you’re in limbo. You still have a goal of finding where it is you want to be, but you don’t want to add any stress or pressure. If you need to take a temp job or waitress for a while to make ends meet, do it. It’s only temporary and you can use any bit of the experience to get you to where you want to be. In the meantime, write down one or two small things to do per day to get you closer to you’re big goal if you have one.
Be open to moving somewhere new
Susan Schenk: from public school teacher to Ecuadorian retiree
Though she loved her job, between dealing with administrators, students, and parents, Susan Schenk says many days she felt like she was “gearing up for combat duty” as a public school teacher. Schenk worried about some of the health issues she saw her fellow—older—colleagues facing and wanted to avoid the affect continued stress would have on her health. So she took advantage of an opportunity to retire early—at 55. However, early retirement meant a lower pension, one she didn’t think would go far in the United States. So Schenk did some research and found Cuenca, Ecuador, which she calls “the ideal spot in terms of cost of living, community, climate, culture, using the U.S. dollar, stable politics, and much more.”
After hiring an attorney to secure her a visa in Ecuador, Schenk made the move. As a world traveler, Schenk was prepared to face the culture shock but was surprised at how easy a transition it was.
“Having traveled to and/or lived in India, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Europe and other countries in Latin America, I found the modern life in Ecuador to be similar to the U.S. (‘like the 51st state as I say) and not hard at all to adjust to,” Schenk says.
The move also gave her time to write and, as she says, it “spiritually transformed me as I am out of the rat race on steroids (which public school teaching is), and I am free to be me. I consider myself at the happiest point in my life, with more self-confidence than ever.”
Schenk’s advice: Life is SHORT, so follow your heart and do what you love. Make a list of all the things you are passionate about, but also note what others say you’re good at—then start the ones that you think you could make some money at. Choose one of those hobbies as a trial part-time job before you quit your day job.
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