Postcard From Charlotte: 6 Steps To A Successful Second Career

by Kerry Hannon

Nothing inspires people more than the story of a successful second act

 

It’s fun to motivate people, to see the wheels spinning in their  heads, and eyes light up when they start talking about what they’ve  always wanted to do, and how they’d love to find a way to take the dive  into a new career.

Whether they’re newly retired and want to keep engaged, feeling numb  from years of doing the same thing, or the rug has been pulled out, and  they’ve lost their job and need to reinvent their work life–talking  about dreams makes eyes spark and smiles spread across faces.

It’s magic.

Last weekend, I was invited to Charlotte, N.C. for a signing of my new book, What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job (Chronicle Books), at Park Road Books, an independent bookseller. It’s been there since 1977! A round of applause for all the loyal customers and great staff there.

Driving the seven-plus hours to Charlotte from my home in Washington,  DC  Friday afternoon, with two trusty black Sharpies, one-of-a-kind  bookmarks hand-painted by Kentucky artist, Lisa Williamson, and  a poster of the book jacket in tow, was, well, traffic-logged and  tedious. What was I thinking? I should have flown I kept muttering to  myself.

But the payoff the next day made that memory fade fast. From the  moment I settled in at my desk just inside the entrance to the cozy  shop, it was show time, and my audience was a receptive bunch. They were  eager to learn more about what inspired me to write this book and urged  me to pick a favorite story. Darn near impossible, of course.

Interestingly, most said they were buying What’s Next to  give as a gift to a friend, or a relative grappling with what to do with  their careers. I signed accordingly. But then, they would toss in an  extra book –just in case they thought of someone else who might find it  useful. Not for them…hmm.

Later that day, I had the opportunity to meet some curious change  seekers at two classy book signing parties. One was a sprawling  residence in Gastonia, just west of the city, where I signed books on a  one-of-a kind green marble dining room table that stretched across the  room. The other meet and greet took place in a stunning home with  manicured gardens, a flowing water fountain and an outdoor fireplace  aglow.

At both events, a champagne-sipping crowd gathered together to hear  what I had to say about new beginnings. They wanted tips and stories and  hope. I was stoked.

But the special icing on this weekend adventure–a chance to meet-up  with Deborah Langsam and her husband, Joal Fischer, two of the second  acters profiled in my book. The dynamic duo lives in the Dilworth area  of Charlotte, where they operate Barking Dog Chocolatiers, an artisanal chocolate company.

doghousetrufflesbark petite

Langsam, a former associate professor of biology and Fischer, a  retired developmental pediatrician, stir up vats of silky chocolate and  handcrafts it into mouth-watering truffles, barks, ganaches, and  pastries in a state-of-the-art home kitchen.

But that afternoon, they donned their crisp white chef jackets and  joined me at Park Road Books to offer bite-sized samples. Later, they  passed delectable sweets around at the private meet-and-greets. What a  treat, even without savoring a crunchy mint sprinkled chocolate morsel,  to spend time with the two of them.

I was reminded what great examples they are of how to change careers  successfully, to keep working in retirement years and to make a  difference in this world. Here’s what they did right:

        
  • No rash moves. They started their new business in stages and were able to gradually learn about cooking and making chocolate.
  •     
  • Get training. Before retiring from science and  medicine, the couple took a six-week pastry course at the École Ritz  Escoffier in Paris, alongside professional chefs. They journeyed around  the United States, Canada, and beyond to train with expert pastry chefs  and chocolatiers, honing the techniques of framing, molding, and  panning. Finally, they began designing their own chocolates. “It was  obvious that we needed to do some kind of training, and the training was  fun.”
  •     
  • Do the job first. Through various connections, Joal  was able to volunteer at Dean & Deluca, making chocolate. He  happened to be there on the day they needed an extra hand, and he just  stayed on.
  •     
  • Be frugal. They over-planned things financially, so  they could afford to make the change. The planning allowed this to be  an adventure that could take on a life of its own. Sensible spending  suits the couple’s sweet new lifestyle—and they had always made do on  modest salaries. They both drive fifteen-year-old Volvos and don’t  splurge on designer clothes or fancy jewelry.
  •     
  • One step at a time. They started small. At the very  beginning they made chocolate for friends and relatives. Then they sold  it at the restaurant in Charlotte. Then they started a Web site for  launching retail sales. It evolved in its own time.
  •     
  • Give back. Annual candy sales fluctuate each year, but the sweet news is that all profits go to local charities.

 

The honest truth: “At first, it scared me to give up my identity as a  professor,” Debbie says. “But the career change has allowed me to enjoy  my work and the process of creating something. Every once in a while  I’ll be on a deadline, and it reminds me of how much my life was once  controlled by deadlines. It reminds me of how much I get pleasure from  what I am doing now.”

Even better: “Now we have second acts where we are able to work hard when we want—and then take a break,” Joal says.

  


by Kerry Hannon | Monday, October 18, 2010 |

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