How To Reinvent Yourself: Alumni Show You How It's Done

After 12 years of selling biometric desk blotters, wristwatches, and massage chairs, Brad White ’81 had reached the top tier of management at the Sharper Image Corporation. As director of worldwide business development, he was opening stores from South Korea to Saudi Arabia, launching Internet sales, and helping revenue for his division grow by $60 million.

But something was missing: White wanted to market his own products and spend his time earning money for himself, on his own terms.

Captain Brad White

Above: Brad White '81 in Clearwater, Florida. Photo by Jessica Leigh

“I was working my tail off to make hundreds of millions of dollars for the company, whereas I could exert the same effort and energy establishing my own brand with my accrued marketing skills,” White says. So in 2006, White, a longtime yachtsman, founded New England Burials at Sea. “I left the boardroom for the ocean,” he says, “and haven’t looked back.”

Most Americans change careers three or more times in their lifetime, a number that is expected to increase as corporate culture has shifted away from workers being tied to one company for decades. This trend is reflected in a 2012 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found that people born toward the end of the baby boom held an average of 11.3 jobs by the age of 46. The bureau also found that the average person stays in the same job only 4.6 years.

Alumni Infographic

Gone are the days when people worked for the same company for 30 years.

“Organizations are less loyal, and workers today need to be much more flexible, which means they need to take on many different roles in their career,” says John Bradac, career services director at Ithaca College.

For IC alumni who have reinvented themselves, their new careers often stem from interests that emerged in childhood but were left unfulfilled. They report that returning to their earliest passions was unexpectedly gratifying as they stepped off their career tracks and discovered new ways to use their skills.

Read about five IC alumni who made inspiring career changes:

Brad White '81: From Corporate Development to Sea Burials

- Cheryl Moore Brinkley '75: From Actor To Elocution Coach

- Marsha Eger ’70: From Speech Therapist to Chanting and Meditation Teacher

- Matthew Ponichtera '07: From Production Assistant to Beer Brewer

- Sarah Rolleston '07: From Musical Theatre to Dessert Tours

Are You Thinking About Changing Careers?

Alumni considering a career switch can consult with the Office of Career Services. The office offers career planning assistance, including networking advice, résumé and cover letter preparation, and assessments to help narrow down career options. Alumni can also sign up for the alumni mentoring network, which will match them with other IC graduates through a LinkedIn group.

“We have always provided services for alumni, but we want to increase those services,” says Bradac. “We want to make it clear that career services is for a lifetime.”

Over the past several years, the number of alumni who have contacted the Office of Career Services has increased significantly, Bradac says. In the 2013–14 academic year, 3,638 students and 202 alumni participated in counseling sessions, either in person or long distance.

Among the alumni Bradac worked with last year is a graduate who had been downsized from a marketing position and wanted to focus on digital marketing. After some training and creating a network of professionals in the field, Bradac says she found a job in New York City within six months.

The office also offers to alumni a series of webinars that cover a broad range of career-related topics, such as networking, career development, social media, and personal branding. You can view a list of upcoming webinars and watch past webinars on demand

Tips For Changing Careers

When wanting (or needing) to make a career change, Stacey Zackin ’92—a personal and executive coach with her own practice, The Coach 4 You—says that there are three things you must do: First, identify what you do. Second, know who you are while doing it. And third, communicate that information to others. Here are some tips to help you do all three:

As a personal and organizational coach, Zackin helps individuals articulate their strengths, identify what makes them unique, and understand what values need to be fulfilled for them to feel empowered, engaged, and productive.

The best jobs provide the opportunity to do tasks that you are good at and that you enjoy. Reflecting on your attitude helps you understand how you are approaching the process. Are you feeling dejected and desperate, or is this an exciting opportunity ripe with possibility? If you identify with the second perspective, your energy will take you far. However, if you feel stuck in the first attitude, then your challenge is to be compassionate with yourself and make accommodations to ensure that your resistance does not result in sabotaging behaviors.

List the people who will be willing and able to help you clarify and reach your goals. Look through your contacts, alumni networks, Facebook friends, and Twitter feeds. Join groups on LinkedIn, and participate in conversations relevant to your desired career. Reach out to people who might have information or opportunities for you and request a phone call or meeting— always remembering to ask how you can be of service to them as well.

No idea is too big or unrealistic as this is just part of the process of understanding your interests, finding the appropriate use of your skills, and enhancing your attitude.


More stories in the Spring issue of ICView:

Learn how being well at work can help you find inner strength and reach your true potential...

Read how three alumni have thrown caution to the wind by working extreme jobs...