The closest I could get to a top job in the world of advertising turned out to be on the sales side – my old friend Bill Connell was now president of Whittle Communications and offered me a very high salary to handle their L.A.clients, including several movie studios. But my heart wasn’t in sales, either (in fact it wasn’t really in anything), so after about a year I quit. I took a couple of months to travel to Australia, New Zealand, and Eastern Europe and upon returning to Los Angeles looked around for a volunteer position in something that could engage my passion.
A friend who was a non-profit executive suggested I contact the executive director of a community-based clinical trials organization, SEARCH Alliance, involved in testing substances ignored by pharmaceutical companies that might be effective against the HIV virus. Within six months I was voted in as President, and worked tirelessly for three years (at no salary) raising money for the organization and keeping the pressure up to move nimbly through the extensive and complex testing procedures. But I didn’t feel sufficiently challenged, so I began to think of what I might do in the second half of my career.
I asked some friends what they thought I might be good at, and “therapist” came up repeatedly. It made sense: I was empathetic, I had good people skills, my working with advertising clients had taught me how to understand what was being said and what was NOT being said. I had lots of connections in the Los Angeles medical community, and doctors were a natural source of patient referrals. Finally, I knew that good psychotherapists could earn a decent living. There was only one problem – I had disliked psychology when an undergraduate, and was very hesitant to embark on a two year master’s degree plus a 3000 internship hour licensure program. To “test the waters” I attended an Open House at Antioch University where I had enough of my concerns allayed to enroll. I figured if I didn’t like it I could drop out after the first semester. But as the semester unfolded, and as I talked to a number of therapists about their likes and dislikes of their profession, I became surer that this was a path I would like and succeed in. It turned out that I loved it.
After being licensed I did indeed get a nice stream of referrals from physicians I’d worked with at SEARCH Alliance. But my East Coast roots started calling me as L.A. slowly began to lose its appeal: believe it or not the constant nice weather had become stultifying, the superficiality of much of the city was bothering me more and more, with most conversations centered around looks, gyms, yoga, and diet, and I was losing good friends to marriage and their moving away.
In 2004 I traveled to Washington DC to visit friends (all of whom I’d known for at least 25 years, and all of whom happened to settle in the nation’s capitol). I hadn’t been there in years, and was reminded of what a beautiful city it is. Also, my interest in politics had never waned, so it was exciting to be at the center. I hatched the idea of moving there.
It took a year and a half and a half dozen visits before I decided to sell my house in CA and move East. I was not sure about how successful I’d be as strictly a psychotherapist: I’d have no referring sources, nor any word-of-mouth to send people my way. After pondering the subject for a couple of months I decided to title myself “Life Consultant,” drawing on my strong background in business and non-profit as well as my psychotherapist credentials. I advertised in a chain of local papers emphasizing my career accomplishments and credentials; I hired an expert to create an appealing website and good web presence, I solicited testimonials from past clients….it all added up to success, both financial and emotional, success which has grown over the past 5+ years.
PRINCIPLES MY STORY ILLUSTRATES:
1) What you are “called to do” can change dramatically over time.
2) Cultivate and nurture relationships – you never know when someone you’ve worked with before will cross your path again.
3) Sometimes a change of geography isn’t running away from a problem so much as it is an opportunity to transform your identity.
4) Take a good inventory of your strengths, emphasizing especially the views of others who know you well.
5) You can (and should) explore a field from a distance before jumping into it with both feet; stick your toe in the water first.
6) Unexpected events can derail your career but…
7) You can reinvent yourself – in your 40s, 50s, or even your 60s.
8) Find a niche that you can fit into comfortably and believably.
9) Marketing yourself well is essential to significant success in a new field.