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Career Change Doesn’t Stop: From Reporter to Mom to Computer Scientist to SculptorBy David Corbett & Richard Higgins
At 40 Jean Proulx Dibner reinvented herself once. At 56, with the help of self-assessment, she did it again, turning a hobby into a new career.
Jean Proulx Dibner is a profile in the power of assessment. Jean, now a highly regarded sculptor in the Boston area, came to New Directions in 1999 after leaving her job managing a large department at Avid Technology. Her career included earlier stints at IBM, Apple Computer and Digital Equipment Corporation. Jean had reinvented herself before. After working as a reporter right after college, she married and settled into her role as a mother of four children. In her late thirties, as her last child entered school, Jean took an aptitude test and scored off-the-charts high on engineering and spatial intelligence.
Jean consulted with her family and then enrolled in a computer-science degree program at a university at night. She earned her degree at age 40 and was hired by Digital. Although she hardly knew it, Jean had already gained leadership skills doing community and volunteer work, including raising money for local parks and starting a kindergarten for underprivileged children. She rose quickly from engineering to managing a small group. Over a ten-year period, she was steadily promoted at Digital as a manager and executive. In her last position, as a vice president, she oversaw 500 employees responsible for 120 products.
While she was at Avid in late 1999, an economic downturn began in the industry. Layoffs were on the table. Jean feared that younger engineers, perhaps with children, would bear the brunt of the reductions in force. “I was ready to do something else anyway,” she said, “so I went to the CEO and ‘volunteered’ to be let go.”
Jean Proulx Dibner in her studio
Jean already had a passion for sculpture by that point. “One of the things that came out of the aptitude test is that I can easily see and design in three dimensions,” she said. She had also taken an adult education course in pottery and found she had a knack for it. She was thrilled to create things from scratch, she said, slowly shaping something with her hands in clay as the idea took form in her mind.
Jean took her love of pottery to work. “I started sitting my engineers down during lunch hour and sculpting their profiles onto mugs,” she said. They were a big hit, and she realized what she wanted to do was figurative sculpture. She began more formal training and started sculpting on weekends to satisfy this new passion.
Hobby or Career?
I recall that when Jean came to New Directions, she was keen about moving on fairly quickly. We urged her to slow down and take the assessment process seriously. She did, and as a result, she realized that sculpting, instead of being just a hobby, was something she wanted to do in a serious way. One clue emerged as she reviewed her life story. Jean recalled that in fifth grade she would create little paper sculptures in spare moments as other children completed work or at other points in her daily schedule. She carefully put these folded treasures in her pocket. “I thought they were precious and didn’t want to throw them out,” she said, “so I carried them around for days. I saw this as another sign of an interest that was there all along.”
Jean has since devoted herself full-time to sculpting, showing her work in galleries, museums and private collections. She has developed a business of selling her pieces. She also started a sculpture center where she teaches others. And her work has gained national recognition, meriting a one-woman show in New York in late 2006.
“Sculpture is a way to comment on what I experience in life,” Jean said. “And creating something others find moving is also a way for me to give back to the world. This is the most fulfilling time of my life.”
David Corbett and Richard Higgins are the coauthors of “Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion After 50.” Corbett is the founder of New Directions, Inc., on Boston’s historic waterfront, which offers planning in career and post-career fulfillment to accomplished individuals. Higgins is a writer and editor. A Harvard Divinity School graduate and former Boston Globe writer, he edited More Than Money magazine.