A workplace trend with a catchy name — “recareering” — is becoming more commonplace.
Led by baby boomers moving toward a non-traditional working retirement and younger workers displaced from corporate America, more professionals are embracing encore careers.
A 2008 article in U.S. News and World Report cited a survey by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, a San Francisco think tank, showing that as many as 8.4 million Americans between the ages of 44 and 70 have already launched second careers “in positions that combine income with personal meaning and social impact.”
Michael Bevis, director of academic affairs at University of Phoenix, sees students like this every day. Some want to enter the nonprofit sector. Others plan to open their own business. Still others are seeking to combine two careers simultaneously.
But most of them share a common trait.
“They’re seeking an education to pursue their passion,” Bevis says.
How do they do it? Three Kane Country professionals who have launched successful second careers share their stories.
Fresh Food Start
While living for a short time in Germany, former early childhood special education teacher Rebecca Colburn fell in love with the European approach to food.
“It’s not one-stop shopping,” she says. “There’s the bakery, the meat market — everything is specialized. I loved going to the markets on Saturdays and the bakery every day. When we came back here, it was hard to adjust.”
After the birth of her second child, Colburn took maternity leave from her career in early childhood intervention and remembered her old dream of owning a European-style market.
Though she had a master’s degree in early childhood education and had invested more than a decade in the field, she sensed a new calling.
“I’d begun to feel like I was nearing the end of my career,” she says. “I was doing important work, but my passion was being drawn toward food.”
The path toward a new career wasn’t easy, especially with two young children and a husband who also worked in the restaurant industry. Colburn investigated culinary programs and found a good fit with Chicago’s French Pastry School. For six months, she took classes five days a week, from 6 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon. After she graduated, she took a position as baker with a Chicago catering firm.
In 2010, Colburn moved to Geneva, and in 2011, she opened Gracious Hall Inc., a full-service catering company that also offers fresh meals to go.
Though she’s no longer working with special needs children and their families, many skills from Colburn’s previous career have carried over into her new one.
“In special education, I had to adapt what I was doing to fit the learning style of the child, and the food industry is also very personalized,” she says. “I also work with employees, and everyone has a different style, so it’s helped me help them be successful in their job.”
The Art Of Change
In 2009, Len Bielefeldt was a successful portrait painter exhibiting at art fairs around the region, but he was beginning to have second thoughts about his nomadic lifestyle.
A serious car accident in January 2010 forced him to make a change.
“When you’re lying in the hospital, it gives you a lot of time to think and reevaluate your life. I knew I didn’t want to travel any more and miss my son’s life,” says Bielefeldt, whose son was 9 at the time.
An added concern stemmed from the repercussions of the accident. Bielefeldt’s injuries threw his entire career into question. Though not paralyzed, he had lost control of his right hand and needed surgery and months of physical therapy to recover.
Once he was able to paint again, Bielefeldt decided to concentrate on opening a show of landscape paintings, and in June 2011, he found an unused space in downtown Geneva to use on a temporary basis.
When he moved into the space, a surprising thing happened.
“People would stop in, asking for lessons,” he says. “From that, I started buying art supplies for them to purchase. By August, I had a thriving art supply store and never looked back.”
Though Bielefeldt had to move to a different downtown Geneva location a few months later, his business, The Art Box, now located at 407 Third St., Suite 174, has continued to thrive.
“It’s an art supply store, gallery and painting school,” he says. “We also offer framing.”
The store’s proximity to two restaurants that are popular for weekend brunch has boosted his foot traffic.
“There’s so much energy here, and when I set up my easel in the middle of the store, people love to come in and watch,” Bielefeldt says. “They walk around the store, see something they like and say, ‘Would you paint one for me?’”
While he’s able to watch more of his son’s games now, he still works every weekend. Bielefeldt says mastering the financial and business details of his new career remains his biggest challenge. In addition to running The Art Box, he also takes classes through the Small Business Development Center at Waubonsee Community College.
“It’s worth it though,” he says. “I love coming in here.”
Call Of The Law
John Burke was a successful stockbroker in Cleveland being recruited by several other firms when he faced a question few will ever have to answer.
“I had all of these options in front of me, and I was trying to make a decision,” he says. “Then, one day, I woke up and said to myself, ‘You have a choice. Buy a Porsche, or go to law school.’ I chose law school.”
Today, Burke is a partner with Higgins & Burke P.C. of St. Charles, practicing securities law. His new career draws upon his previous career as a stockbroker in obvious ways, and for Burke, it’s been a natural evolution into a career that’s been in the back of his mind since he was a kid.
“In my family, everyone was either an attorney or a cop,” he says. “My dad was an attorney, and I often went down to his office in the Board of Trade building. I even took six years of Latin.”
Yet, after college at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Burke took a position with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, beginning a career in financial services.
“I learned a lot, such as being able to pick up the phone and talk to someone,” he says. “I learned to listen, ask the right questions.”
An offer to enter the brokerage industry two years later put Burke on the path to a highly lucrative career. But he’d never forgotten his long-ago dream of becoming an attorney. Though he continued his brokerage career, he enrolled in night classes at Cleveland Marshall College of Law, an affiliate of Cleveland State University. He also used vacation days — one hour at a time — to take classes during the workday.
“My company never thought I’d leave, but I kept telling them I was going to school to learn how to sue stockbrokers,” he says.
Eventually, he did leave for full-time classes and a clerk’s position, then relocation to Chicago, where he married an old school friend.
Burke says the drop in income was the biggest challenge.
“I went from a very large paycheck to no paycheck,” he says. “I had to liquidate my house, cut expenses. Law school was expensive, and clerks don’t make much.”
He finished his legal education in the fall of 1991 at DePaul Law School and graduated from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He worked in Chicago for law firms practicing in securities law before joining a St. Charles law firm in 1997. With his partner, John Higgins, he established Higgins & Burke P.C. law firm in January 2000 in St. Charles.
Higgins & Burke P.C. currently has six attorneys who extensively practice in the areas of securities/financial fraud cases, business litigation and insurance defense.
“Without my experience in the securities field, it would be nearly impossible to effectively represent my clients,” Burke says. kc