8.4 million Americans have have launched "encore careers," including these six Islanders.
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.”
Was: a school nurse/counselor
IS: A POLICE PSYCHOLOGIST
Four years ago, Carol Goldblatt was a school nurse and counselor for elementary and high school students at ASSETS. One of the many things she loved about her job was witnessing how kids with learning differences tend to think outside the box. “I tapped into their natural resilience,” says Carol, who became sufficiently intrigued to pursue a doctorate in psychology at night over six years while working full-time at ASSETS and raising three children.
Carol herself is an out-of-the box thinker, readily describing her style as ADHD, which helps explain how her doctorate in clinical psychology from Argosy University joins the doctorate of law (J.D.) and master of public health (M.P.H.) she earned from UH along the way, after a bachelor’s degree in nursing (B.S.N.) from the University of Miami.
Ultimately, Carol found the perfect job for her multidisciplinary background, her stop-at-nothing attitude and her early interest in criminal justice: police psychologist for the Honolulu Police Department. The area of expertise—only recently recognized as its own proficiency by the American Psychological Association—is one that suits Carol well. As the first post-doctoral police fellow at the HPD, where she is now a permanent employee, Carol’s work is as varied and as intense as she wants it: whether she’s counseling police officers and their families, assessing new recruits, teaching at the academy, getting called to the scene to help deal with a mentally ill individual, or accompanying the HPD hostage negotiation team.
While the difference between helping kids versus cops may seem vast, when seen through the therapeutic lens of Carol it is not. “I bring in all of my skills to help one individual at a time in a space that is safe and sacred.” It is thanks to her own quest for a good fit that many others seeking counsel feel like they’ve found one in her.
Was: a professor
IS: A PAINTER
It’s a good thing roger whitlock’s book manuscripts never got published … or he might not have morphed from an English professor into one of Hawaii’s—indeed, one of the nation’s—premier watercolorists. Though he always loved both painting and prose growing up in Seattle, Roger didn’t touch a paintbrush for 25 years while he pursued a successful career teaching college-level English—even winning the Regent’s Medal for Excellence in Teaching at UH, where he taught for 31 years. “Undergrads were especially fun to teach; many of my students became friends.”
In a funk about his own writing, Roger signed up for a beginner’s painting class in 1985 that met every Thursday night at the Honolulu Academy of Arts—and he re-took the same class for five years! An art student by night and an English professor by day, Roger began to dream not about stories he would write but about images he would paint. It was when a fellow student asked to buy one of Roger’s early watercolors and, later, when he won top prize in the first Hawaii Watercolor Society competition he entered, that the leap from professor to painter took hold.
After retiring from UH in 2001, he continued to refine his painting skills, studying with Robert E. Wood and financing his travels by selling paintings of places he’d visited. He’s had more than 20 solo shows since 1994, gained national recognition and was recently named one of “Nine Hawaii Artists to Collect” by this magazine (March ’08).
In the face of his success, there’s a humility about Roger and a sense that he can’t wait to get started each morning: “I feel incredibly lucky to be doing what I love.” His first love, teaching, has been a through line in Roger’s second career. He still teaches an advanced watercolor class at the Academy once a week and insists that he learns a lot in the process. There’s one lesson Roger will tell anyone who is contemplating a career change: “Don’t wait until you retire to pursue your passion; it will take time to grow into … so start now.”
Was: a spa owner
IS: A REAL ESTATE BROKER
Having spent 27 years in the spa industry, Dawn Marie was a pioneer in the field long before spas became prevalent and treatments became accessible to more than just the traveling elite. She studied both in the U.S. and Europe to earn credentials as an esthetician, a massage therapist, an aromatherapist and something called a Manual Lymph Drainage therapist.
Along the way, she opened the first day spa in Honolulu in 1990. It wasn’t simply her technique that gained attention; it was also her business savvy and professional integrity. “It’s all about trust,” says Dawn, “trusting that I want the same thing for my clients that they want for themselves.” She opened a spa consulting company soon after selling her day spa, and added Molokai Ranch to her client list.
You’d think that success in the spa industry would keep her there, but one of Dawn’s spa clients turned out to be a realtor who started clamoring for her help in marketing his own business. That she was effective in transferring her skills to the real estate industry was her first surprise; that she actually enjoyed it was her second. The transition from managing spas to selling homes came about suddenly, when the realtor who hired Dawn was killed in a car accident, and she made the decision to get herself licensed and handle some of his transactions. “It was a leap of faith to be sure,” says Dawn, “but there seemed to be an alignment of opportunity and energy that felt right.”
Eight years later, as a successful broker with Kahala Associates, the instinct has proven correct. Though she no longer provides facials or massages, Dawn thinks of her role as nurturing buyers and sellers through the real estate process, and takes a similarly holistic approach to her work. “This is about so much more than peoples’ properties; it’s about their lifestyles and dreams.” Where once she literally held clients in her hands, she’s now metaphorically holding their lives in her hands—and still hoping to enhance their well-being.
Was: a pastor
IS: AN ENVIRONMENTALIST
When he graduated from yale Divinity School in 1987, David Turner had his sights set on becoming a pastor, which he did, for five rewarding years at the Kapaa United Church of Christ on Kauai. Eventually, he found a different way to minister, serving as chaplain at Punahou School for 11 years. It was during a 2001 sabbatical in New Mexico that he began to think about linking his spiritual work with his long-term commitment to the environment. Viewing the two as “caring for God’s creation,” the pieces began to coalesce.
Much as he valued his work as a religious leader and was deeply valued for it, David didn’t want to pick one passion over another. Besides, he strongly believed in the interconnectedness of humans and the environment, of social justice and sustainability. David left Punahou without another job, describing his leap with a parable he told students at Chapel:
It’s getting dark as a rock climber reaches the summit of a mountain he has climbed, when his hand slips and he falls the full length of the rope he is now dangling from. “Help me figure out what to do,” he pleads with God, who responds by saying, “Cut the rope.” “Are you nuts?” thinks the climber in the pitch-black night. The next day, the climber is found dead, dangling only 10 feet from the ground, where he would have fallen to safety.
David took the leap in 2005, with the full support of his wife, Kirsten, who he calls “the real hero of this story.” The pastor turned preservationist struggled for several years with part-time consulting gigs, and ultimately landed a full-time position with Wind Energy Corp., a startup that is installing vertical-access wind turbines—including one at the National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kauai.
Returning to the island where he served as an enthusiastic young pastor, 51-year-old David Turner sees his step away from the church as helping him to find a mission that will benefit not just one congregation or population of students, but “the entire world, with a renewable energy solution we desperately need.” Spoken like a man of faith.
Jana Wolff is a well-known writer and an unknown ghostwriter, based in Honolulu.