Changing to grow, growing to change

Bettina Herbert
Bettina Herbert

Stories of area people who quit their jobs to follow their bliss

Posted: January 04, 2012

To totally change one's life's work - the very definition of who we are in terms of what we do - is to take a bold step. A radical career shift can seem even more daunting in midlife.

As the blank slate of 2012 arrives, meet several men and women who have taken the leap into new, more-satisfying careers.

Bettina Herbert

Age: 57.

Used to be: Stockbroker. Worked as a securities principal in San Francisco.

New career: Physician. Director of integrative pain management at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine (www.jeffersonhospital.org/ integrativemedicine).

Her story: "Life is change!" insists Herbert, who lives in Wyncote.

That attitude helped to propel Herbert from a world of business and finance in which she was succeeding into medical school, internship, and residency in midlife. She finished her training at age 50.

A curiosity about the human body and its mysteries, and her own experience with alternative medicine for severe back pain, intrigued her. Despite having no background in medicine or the sciences, the former English major at Cornell University began studying the medical world on her own.

After 20 years in finance, she followed her belief that medicine was where she belonged.

Doubtful of even being admitted to medical school, given her age and background, Herbert was one of only two out-of-state students to be accepted at Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine in 1997.

Rewards: "Top billing goes to the opportunity to make a contribution to people's lives," says Herbert. "Patients present with incredible stories of suffering, perseverance, and courage. It's so inspiring, so motivating. Every night when I leave my office, I pause to give thanks for all that has happened there that day."

Lewis Bornstein

Age: 64.

Used to be: Rabbi.

New career: Lawyer. Partner at Morgan, Bornstein & Morgan, Cherry Hill (www.morganlaw.com).

His story: In his work as a rabbi, Bornstein often saw people confuse familiarity with happiness, people who became prisoners of their own fear of failure.

"Heeding my own counsel, I pledged that I would not choose safety, or an unfulfilled life," says the Voorhees man. "My Jewish tradition made me keenly sensitive to live the biblical lesson to 'go forward.' "

That hard-won rabbinic ordination in 1972, and 12 happy and gratifying years with a congregation in Cinnaminson, began to yield to a different dream, of studying and practicing American law.

The irony of that tug: Bornstein's father, the late Harry A. Bornstein, had taken the opposite route, leaving law as a young man to serve in the rabbinate in North Jersey for more than 50 years.

Lewis Bornstein juggled pulpit life with family life and law school at night. "There was no financial safety net, and sleep became a forgotten treasure."

Rewards: Bornstein insists that his power to do good remains intact. He has proudly practiced with the same law partner for 27 years and feels that he has positively affected many lives.

"Accepting the challenge of change professionally has not changed who I am," says Bornstein, who has represented victims of sexual abuse as part of his practice. "I'm grateful that I can offer a healing balm to the grievously injured."

 

Kayo Higashimura

Age: 39.

Used to be: Veterinarian.

New career: Florist. Runs Hana & Posy in Northern Liberties (www.hanaposy.com).

Her story: Higashimura, a graduate of Cornell University and Tufts University's veterinary school, found herself fast-tracked into a chief-of-staff position at a South Jersey veterinary hospital.

Five years into that post, she realized that she was weary of too much too fast. While her lifelong love of animals never changed, there was the sense that the next step - owning her own veterinary hospital - was not one she was eager to take.

Instead, she says, "I had transitioned in my personal life to a 'greener' lifestyle, and I had always loved flowers and plants. So an eco-friendly flower shop came into my mind."

It stayed there. And in 2009, Higashimura opened Hana & Posy on North Third Street in Philadelphia, where organic and sustainably grown flowers thrive.

Determined to maintain her "green" philosophy, this new entrepreneur sought only eco-friendly materials in every construction and design detail of her shop and its operation.

Rewards: "I love working with my hands. Whether it's a veterinary surgery or doing wedding flowers, I always find it energizing to see the end result," says Higashimura. "Change absolutely makes you grow."

Sam Katz

Age: 62.

Used to be: Public and project finance entrepreneur, mayoral candidate, venture capitalist.

New career: Documentary filmmaker. Runs History Making Productions (www.historyofphilly.com).

His story: In 1999, Katz lost the closest mayoral election in modern Philadelphia history to John F. Street. A year later, he created a venture-capital fund that invested in Philadelphia-area technology companies. Last year, Gov. Corbett appointed Katz as chairman of the board of the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.

Hardly a dull life.

Yet here he is, off on another unpredictable venture. Along with son Philip, one of his four adult children, Katz is into filmmaking. His work focuses on his passion: Philadelphia and its unique history.

"My life plan as a young man was to spend 20 years in the commercial world, then some time in elected office, and then entering an era of research and writing," said this Philadelphia native son.

But in this case, the child was father to the man.

"Philip always has had an interest in filmmaking, and he convinced me that we could start a company together." They are currently producing a series called Philadelphia: The Great Experiment.

The adventure began in 2008, just as the recession descended.

"I'm still active commercially and still coach political candidates, but this is definitely center stage," says Katz. Father and son have already created films on the life of Richard Allen, Stephen Girard, and the founding of the Union League, with Sam Katz handling business development, research, cowriting, and coproducing.

Rewards: "I'm experiencing the visual arts and even music in new ways. It's unexpected, it's wonderful, and it's humbling."

John Doyle

Age: 42.

Used to be: International financial analyst.

New career: Co-owner of John & Kira's Chocolates (www.johnandkiras.com).

His story: After graduating from Middlebury College and traveling, it was on to Manhattan for Doyle. "I woke up two years after I'd landed a very good job in finance and realized that I wasn't doing anything that was of service to others," says the Mount Airy resident. "It was all about money. I was living the classic Manhattan lifestyle that felt unrewarding and selfish."

Doyle decided to pause and figure out what he really wanted to do. He quit his job, and soon the lightbulb went on: Being around food and cooking had always made him happy.

He took a position as a line cook in an upscale Manhattan restaurant, and then took a job with well-known Philadelphia restaurateur Judy Wicks at her famous White Dog Cafe to learn about environmentally and socially responsible business practices.

On a trip to New England, Doyle came upon a chocolate shop in Cambridge, Mass. It stopped him in his tracks: It was exactly the kind of thing he was looking for.

In 2001, he and his wife/business partner Kira Baker-Doyle launched John & Kira's Chocolate, with the goal of making artisanal chocolates using sustainable and local ingredients whenever possible.

Just a year later, Ruth Reichl, then editor of the now-shuttered foodie magazine Gourmet, put John & Kira's chocolates on the cover. The couple have never looked back. Their chocolates, sold online and through their catalog, now have a national following.

Rewards: Life is sweet for this Philadelphia candy man. "I'm producing something in which I have enormous pride," says Doyle. "And I think I'm making life happier for a lot of people."

Hilary Beard

Age: 49.

Used to be: Corporate manager.

New career: Freelance journalist, editor, book collaborator (www.hilarybeard.com).

Her story: Growing up in Cleveland as the daughter of civil rights activists, Beard flirted with notions of being an artist, a writer, maybe even an interior designer. Those dreams were deferred, she says: "In the Midwest, black girls growing up in the 1970s were steered to doing more practical things. So I buried that artistic side."

At Princeton University, practicality moved into the foreground when Beard's father had a debilitating stroke and couldn't work. Beard carried an enormous emotional burden as she worried about the future of her younger siblings, and was more determined than ever to seek a secure job in the business world.

"In my 20-year-old mind, I was going out there to earn money," she says. "I would honor my parents with success. Art could wait."

So she worked with major companies such as Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, and Johnson & Johnson. She drove company cars and had the right corporate wardrobe, and for the next decade and a half, until she was in her mid-30s, creativity did wait.

Beard made stabs at reclaiming her passion with dance classes and art classes in what she called her "leftover spaces." She already knew for certain that the corporate world, despite its perks, was not a natural fit. "But I didn't know how to navigate change, and I was terrified by it."

In 1997, at age 35, she took the leap. It coincided with the death of her mother from breast cancer - her father had already passed away.

Living on carefully squirreled-away savings, Beard took 18 months to find her true path, taking care of herself spiritually and plunging into creative-writing courses.

"God pulled together miracles," says Beard, who initially landed a job in publishing with a health magazine, and found a caring mentor who introduced her to freelance writing. She has been at it ever since as a self-described "accidental entrepreneur," who is never without work.

She has edited and ghostwritten books ranging from Angela Bassett's love story to a popular diet book to one about life written with Venus and Serena Williams, along with numerous health features and other articles. Beard now also mentors and coaches others and leads courses on how to navigate change, a subject she knows well. In her workshops, she says, "I help people navigate the faith walk between the life they're outgrowing - or are being kicked out of - and the life they desire."

Rewards: The message that the deeply spiritual Beard wants to share is that self-fulfillment is not the impossible dream. "As I navigated this transition, landed on my feet, and created my new life," she writes on her website, "I realized that it's completely possible to do what you love, live purposefully and healthily, and make a decent living, even in a creative or otherwise unconventional field."

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