If you’ve asked me recently about what I’m reading and listening to, I’ve likely told you about the Second Life Podcast. I’m obsessed with hearing the stories of women who have reinvented themselves, finding new passion later in life and achieving great success by following their heart and gut. My enthusiasm for these stories probably has a lot to do with the stage of life I’m in, but it’s made me look back on all the jobs I’ve tried–what I’m good at and what I’m not, what I enjoy and what I dread. Where I’m talented, where I need help (whether I like to ask for it or not). The sheer number and variety of things I’ve done makes me laugh. To indulge my own nostalgia and in an exercise towards my second life, I thought I’d share my winding road. Maybe you’ll also find some inspiration here.
My first paid job was planting tobacco on our neighbor’s farm. I have a hot, dusty memory of sitting in an uncomfortable steel bucket seat off the back of tractor, placing tiny tobacco plants in a mechanical hand that turned to plant them in the ground. I was probably 10 or 11. Can you imagine? That same year, I helped my friends ‘strip tobacco’ on their family farm, and the sticky, sweet smell of the nicotine that coated my body in a thick film ensured I would never smoke. Those one-time gigs were followed by a lot of babysitting and cleaning houses during junior high and high school and a brief stint as a cashier at Ace Hardware. I bought my first car–a red 1979 Toyota Starlet–from cleaning house for my mom’s friend. I always have liked to clean.
My first full-time job, the summer after high school graduation, I worked at Fidelity Investments in Boston creating new mutual fund and brokerage accounts. For the rest of my first year in college at Boston University, I went on to become an office manager at a small investment firm. I would work 3, 10-hour days and cram all my classes into the other two days.
I went to Boston University to study broadcast journalism, because I wanted to be the next Barbara Walters. But to fulfill one of my gen ed requirements, I took ‘Biology for Health Sciences’ which ended up being a nutrition course. I had always hated science and math in high school, but I loved that course. From my experience in that class, I fell in love with nutrition and it changed the course of my life. I transferred to the University of New Hampshire (both my parents were living in Portsmouth at the time) and entered a dual degree program in nutrition and journalism. I was on track to become a registered dietitian, but I didn’t want to work in a hospital or have a private practice. I wanted to teach people about nutrition through journalism and communications. It seems commonplace now, but was revolutionary at the time.
The summer I moved to Portsmouth, I worked full-time at an aerospace and armament manufacturing plant doing some bookkeeping, marketing and public relations. I traveled to attend trade shows (aka, gun shows), which now makes me cringe. I started dating the owner–I was 19 and he was 34. I thought we were going to get married. You can imagine how that ended.
On a lark, to distract myself from my break-up, I entered the Miss Seacoast Pageant, a feed pageant to Miss America. I surprised everyone, including myself, when I won. While metaphorically wearing the crown of Miss Seacoast for a year was not a paid job, it gave me many opportunities for writing and public speaking, and to practice interviews. I didn’t stay in the pageant world for long, but the poise and concentration I learned from that experience came in handy in job interviews later in life, as did my time in ROTC.
Again, ROTC was not a paid job, but I consider that two-year experience part of my vocation story. My Dad was a career Army officer and taught ROTC for a while at MIT and Harvard, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to join Army ranks. There’s a lot to be said for receiving intensive training in leadership, teamwork and critical thinking when you’re in your early 20s. I loved the ROTC program, including the camaraderie and team building that came with 5:30 a.m. runs and physical training before morning classes.
To earn money while I was at UNH, I went to work for a friend’s restaurant, mostly doing events and marketing. I tried waitressing for a short time, but they moved me to the business side of the restaurant after I spilled a whole tray of margaritas in a guy’s lap. Then I started dating a guy who owned a plastics recycling business, and I managed his office and bookkeeping for over a year.
The summer after my Junior year of college, I almost went to Georgia to jump out of airplanes for Army Airborne school. Instead, I moved to New York City and interned at Good Morning America in their medical production unit with Susan Wagner, someone who became very influential in my life. I had the opportunity to work with Doctors Nancy Snyderman and Timothy Johnson, who were premier medical correspondents at the time. I might have gotten something like a $500 stipend for the summer. It was basically working for free. I fell in love with my job and New York City and wanted to stay. I applied, was accepted and transferred to Columbia University that same fall. GMA hired me as a freelance researcher, and I stay there for my first year at Columbia, working around my class schedule.
Since Columbia didn’t have an undergraduate nutrition program, I decided to pursue medical school instead, majoring in Biology. That next summer, I got a fellowship at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Obesity Research Center, doing clinical research with Dr. Kissileff, a pioneer in the study of eating disorders and satiety. I also helped Dr. Kissileff with the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviors (SSIB), helping write abstracts and coordinate their monthly meetings. I kept that job for the rest of my time at Columbia, and it was invaluable experience.
During those two years at Columbia–at the same time I was either working at GMA or St. Luke’s, I also taught aerobics (mostly at 5:30 in the morning) and worked in the DuPont Center for Broadcast Journalism, helping to produce the DuPont Awards. While my parents helped me as much as they could, they didn’t have a lot of disposable income to help with school tuition and living expenses. I took out a lot of loans and worked my way through school.
After I graduated from college, I went home for the summer, because my job didn’t start until August. In the meantime, I worked with my mom in her interior design business, helping her with projects for her clients. We had so much fun working together, I almost thought about giving up the job I had accepted and staying to work with her. Instead, we loaded up a U-Haul and drove to Washington, D.C to move me into my new apartment, my first time living by myself.
I graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Biological Sciences and an offer for my first ‘real’ job as an Account Executive at The Lewin Group, a health care consulting firm outside of Washington, DC. It’s a long story as to why I decided not to go to medical school and instead went to work for a health care consulting firm. The short version is that I passed out or almost passed out several times during my clinical work at St. Luke’s when I had to work with needles and started to dread invasive procedures. I had a roommate getting her MBA and pursuing management consulting, and that career sounded fun and exciting. Thus, I decided to go into health care consulting. At the Lewin Group, I had a title, a salary and benefits, and I was ecstatic, on top of the world. It was really fun being young and single in Washington, D.C. during the Clinton administration, the height of his scandals. The owner of the Lewin Group took me under his wing and I started to travel and work on exciting strategic planning projects for large hospital systems. However, I wasn’t really passionate about the work, so I stayed at The Lewin Group for only a year before leaving to became an Account Exec at Fleishman-Hillard, in their Public Affairs office, working on public relations projects with military clients, a fateful move.
While I was at Fleishman-Hillard, I met my first husband, an Air Force officer, at a conference. Before I knew it, I was living with him in Germany and working part-time at a child development center at Sembach Air Base. Surprised? I’m surprised myself. I would love to go back to my 24-year old self and have a good heart-to-heart.
We then got stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, outside of Dayton, Ohio. I did some substitute teaching in the Dayton schools while I looked for a full-time job, one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever attempted. I ended up accepting a position at Wright State University’s Center for Urban and Public Affairs, where for five years I led projects in community health research and health planning, facilitating strategic planning and helping to lead implementation projects in communities, mostly around youth. I spent a lot of time in the community and schools, working with teams of youth and adults. It was rewarding work. I did a lot of writing and public speaking, which I enjoyed. I especially loved the strong relationships I developed through that position. I felt like I got to use a lot of my diverse skills and really make a difference in the community and individual lives.
After about a year of living in Ohio, my first husband and I got married, and four of my five step-children came to live with us. I became an instant ‘mom’ to four teenagers and young adults. I was 26. That was certainly the most challenging ‘job’ by far–to figure out how to nurture these ‘kids’ who were so close to my own age. They were and are lovely and loving, intelligent human beings. We went through some challenging circumstances, but we figured out how to build this new family together.
While I was at Wright State, I also went to school at night to get my MBA, which took about three years. After I got my degree, I ended up teaching some classes in the Public Administration program, too.
After we had been in Ohio for five years, my then-husband (who had retired from the Air Force and was working as the CIO of a local hospital) accepted a job at a hospital in Seattle. We moved west. Luckily, my mom was living in Tacoma at the time, and so I worked with her and my stepdad briefly as furniture manufacturer reps (which is how I met Elie, but that’s another story) while I figured out what I wanted to do next.
Because of my background in community development work, I accepted a job at Harborview’s Injury Prevention and Research Center, helping them establish a designated driver program. Although I loved the people I was working with, the job didn’t feel right. I was ready for a change.
I haven’t talked much here about my love of food, but gathering people around the table and feeding people has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. My parents always loved good food and they entertained a lot. I would always help my Mom set beautiful tables or shape the tender crescent rolls. I would stand in the kitchen wanting to help, hovering over platters of leg of lamb, scalloped potatoes and broccoli casserole. It was the 80s. Even in high school, I would host dinner parties at home or offer to cater events at school. I remember once making chicken cordon bleu and beaf bourguignon for about 75 people at a French Club party, transporting food from my own kitchen to school, highly questionable.
So, I had always been passionate about food and nutrition and now I really wanted to change careers to follow that passion. I quit my job at Harborview and (after a brief time as a sales rep for Chukar Cherries and a lot of research and some volunteering with other personal chefs) started a personal chef business, batch-cooking meals for people in their homes and catering small events. After about six months or so, I had built my business up to where I was busy half-time. I was having fun and finding success. But then I saw a posting for a short-term position in Development and Donor Relations for Seeds of Compassion, a five-day event in Seattle to foster compassion in the world. It was a research-based, multi-generational event and it would be headlined by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other dignitaries, along with a concert by Dave Matthews. Something compelled me to apply.
I got the job, not really realizing the extent of the full-time commitment I was making. I put my personal chef business on hold and worked almost around-the-clock for six months with an amazing team of people to help produce this event, an experience which changed my life. It was not unusual for me and a team of volunteers to be up all night long working. It’s the first time I’ve ever pulled an all-nighter. Through my work on Seeds of Compassion, I was personally and professionally challenged on every level, had a private audience with the Dalai Lama, expanded my views on spirituality and religion and compassion, and developed incredibly rich relationships through this transformational experience.
After that, my then-husband accepted a job as the CIO of a hospital in Toledo, Ohio. So, we packed up and went back to Ohio. This was in 2008 in the midst of the economic crisis, and there were no jobs to be found. I tried to transfer my personal chef business to Toledo, but that model didn’t work in that economic environment. So, I diversified and started a ‘lifestyle consulting’ business, where I did a little bit of everything. I did some catering, taught in-home cooking classes, did some home organizing and interior design projects, was a regular contributor to the local morning television news on lifestyle topics. and opened a wine bar. That last one was really fun. I had met this couple that wanted to expand their wine shop into a wine bar, so I helped them. I designed the interior, ordered all the furniture, designed a custom bar, set up the kitchen, developed a menu, hired the staff. All of it. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I did a good job.
At the same time, I had decided to go back to school to finish my nutrition coursework to become a registered dietitian. Bowling Green State University, close to Toledo, had an accredited program. I had already done most of the coursework during my undergraduate years, and I just squeaked in under the time requirements since my courses had been taken. All my previous coursework was accepted along with some exemptions for professional work. I finished the requirements needed and started applying to dietetic internships, which is a one-year, unpaid program. Bastyr University in Seattle was my first choice.
My first marriage was not a happy one, and the morning that I opened my computer and saw that I was matched to Bastyr, I knew I was leaving. I packed up my car and my two cats and drove across the country to start a new life.
Since my mom and stepdad still lived in Tacoma, I was able to live with them during my internship, an incredible blessing. My first morning at Bastyr, I met McKenzie Hall (now McKenzie Jones) who would become my dear friend and business partner. We felt immediately like sisters, and almost from the beginning of our internship, we started planning the business we would start as soon as we became licensed. If you’re ever thinking of dietetic internships, Bastyr is ideal, because I really got to design a personalized program to my interests, working in private practice, developing a menu for a local brewery and learning to brew beer, analyzing nutrition data for a whole foods school lunch program, and even an internship at the Dr. Oz Show with my old producer from Good Morning America. It was a dream.
During my internship year, Elie and I started dating. We had known each other for years, and our love story is one for another post. Perhaps I will share one day. I was wholly, madly, deeply in love, and–as cliche as it sounds–I knew we were meant for each other. Elie was not quite so sure, and he took a little convincing. But at the end of the year, I moved to Bellingham, where Elie lived and owned a furniture store.
At first, McKenzie came with me. We both temporarily moved into Elie’s condo as we planned and dreamed of Nourish RDs, our nutrition consulting and communications firm, and made it reality. We wrote a business plan, got funding, formed an LLC, and by the end of the summer, we had our first big client–Clif Bar. We were elated.
McKenzie left Bellingham for sunny California, and we ran our business virtually. Within two years, we had paid back our initial loan and had a full-time client load–a mix of social media, marketing and public relations; private counseling; cooking classes; workshops and public speaking; and corporate consulting. I worked locally on-site at the BP refinery for about two years. It was so fun and felt like the culmination of a dream.
If you’ve been following along here for a while, you’ll know that when Elie and I got married, we didn’t plan on having children. Although I’d always wanted a child of my own, Elie had never wanted to be a father. Until he changed his mind. So, in May of 2015, with the help of Seattle Reproductive Medicine, we conceived Theo. He was born in February of 2016, and so began the best job of my life, the one of mama to Theo.
As Theo’s due date approached, I decided to take three months off of work to evaluate how I felt about working after Theo was born. Once he arrived, I knew. I wanted to devote myself full-time to nurturing and loving this little human being.
It was a hard decision, to give up Nourish. But, I knew I would never get this time with Theo back, and there would always be an opportunity to find fulfilling work. McKenzie took over our client accounts and then eventually went on to work full-time for the public relations company we did a lot of work with, Wild Hive. McKenzie and I are still the best of friends, and she and her husband, Evan, are actually welcoming their own little girl into the world next month.
Now, here I am, over three years later, starting to think about my second (or third or fourth) life. Theo will soon be back in school, and I’m starting to itch for meaningful work. Not anything full-time, not anything that will take too much time and energy away from my family, because they will forever be my first priority. But I have an idea of how to use my time and talents to make a difference in my own small way. So, stay tuned. I’m keeping it under wraps for right now while I work out the details in my own mind. But writing this piece was one of the first exercises in helping me put together the pieces. What do I enjoy doing? What lights me up and brings me joy? Where do I shine? Where do I need help? Where is the opportunity, a gap with a need I can fill?
I look back on all my jobs and I can clearly see when my cup was full–in bringing people together, in feeding people, in hosting, in planning events, in sharing my story, in creating opportunities for meaningful relationships. That is where my heart lies.
So, if you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading! And if you’re searching for your second life, try this activity for yourself. What are all the jobs you’ve held and what have you learned from them? What fills your cup? What sparks joy? What are you passionate about now? What’s keeping you from pursuing your dreams? It’s never too late to embark on your second life.