8.4 million Americans have have launched "encore careers," including these six Islanders.
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It’s not easy to walk away from a stable paycheck, job security and a good reputation, but the career changers we profile here did just that. They each left one successful career to pursue another, very different path … all of them willing to take the risk and heed George Eliot’s advice: It’s never too late to be what you might have been.
If you’re brave enough to consider giving up your day job to start a new career, you might consider doing so incrementally, like orthopedist turned sculptor Bernard Portner, M.D., who spends 20 hours a week practicing medicine and 30 hours sculpting, adjusting that ratio until his last child is out of college and his gallery is in full swing.
Whether they took the leap to a second career with one foot or two, these six local folks are all glad that they did.
Was: an accountant
IS: A FUNDRAISER
Lori Admiral’s world was rocked when, as a 17-year-old, she was in a car accident with her mother, who was killed. “My family was there for me, but I still had to grow up quickly and start thinking about my future.” The once-carefree teenager decided she’d better learn a solid skill and choose a secure career. That’s just what she got in the 10 years she spent as a financial auditor, traveling 80 percent of the year to perform field audits on behalf of a large corporation in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Exhausted, and somewhat disenchanted with the bureaucracy of a corporate environment, Lori took a leave of absence and tapped into her stash of frequent-flyer miles to travel the world and consider her own assets and liabilities. Culinary school in Paris was fun, as was teaching business English to foreign students in Japan. By this time, Lori had married a Navy man and had the chance to travel extensively throughout Asia, Southeast Asia and Australia.
In the course of those travels, the ex-accountant grew fascinated by art, where she found the spark for her next career in the stone temple carvings of classical Indonesia. With the encouragement of her husband, the couple moved to Hawaii in 1998, where Lori could study Asian art at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, ultimately earning a B.A. and an M.A. in art history. During an internship at the Honolulu Academy of Art through the Society of Asian Art, Lori worked with a committee to formulate ARTafterDARK. In the three years that she coordinated the monthly gathering for young professionals, attendance grew from 200 to 2,000, and the program became a model for self-sufficiency within the Academy. (Editor’s Note: HONOLULU Magazine is a sponsor of Art After Dark.)
Her fiscal orientation and her passion for art also have come together in Lori’s current position with the UH Foundation, where she fundraises for the College of Arts and Sciences (Art Gallery, Kennedy Theatre, etc.) and for the M-anoa Libraries. “From being at the top of your game to starting from scratch is a very humbling process,” says Admiral. “But,” she adds, as if considering a balance sheet, “it’s well worth the cost.”
Was: a social worker
IS: A CULINARY SPECIALIST
Daniel Leung missed his mother’s home cooking while he was away at college—particularly her steaming fish and soy sauce chicken—and made a concerted effort to learn all he could from her on visits back home to Hong Kong. For the next two decades, cooking was relegated to a hobby, while Daniel earned a master’s of social work (MSW) degree from UH M-anoa and worked with Child and Family Services overseeing programs in international adoption and immigrant
Paperwork, interisland travel, managing staff in disparate locations and writing endless grants didn’t leave much time for avocations like cooking or even for family celebrations. Daniel remembers a question his then-10-year-old son asked him one December: “Dad, are you going to lock yourself in your office for Christmas this year, too?”
With the encouragement of his wife, Jenny, the then 45-year-old father of two (with one more to come), walked away from a successful career in human services and enrolled in the Culinary Institute at Kapiolani Community College—leaving his CFS colleagues both happy for and jealous of him. Over the two years it took to earn his associate’s degree at KCC, he learned that food service—with its high risk, long hours and low margins—was no less demanding than human services. But Daniel saw another, more positive commonality: “You do it right and both fields can improve the well-being of people.”
It seems he has been doing things right. KCC hired Leung and has kept him very busy coordinating agritourism programs that promote Hawaii farm products, teaching a class called “The Joy of Choi” and leading international culinary tours (most recently to China). Daniel also found time to serve as contributing author and editor for the book A DASH of Aloha.
While he’s working harder and earning less, there’s no looking back for Daniel. He recently turned down an offer to head a local nonprofit as executive director: “No thanks,” he told them, “I’m having too much fun.”