When’s the best time for a woman to reinvent herself vocationally: Before she starts a family? After the kids are grown? While she still likes her first career? Or when she can’t stand the thought of one more Monday in the same field? The answers are very personal, as four St. Catherine women can attest.
For Jeanne Unemori Skog ’72, reinvention was always the necessary product of larger circumstances. Graduating with a teaching degree into a job market that could not absorb new teachers, she pivoted to banking, government and high-end retail. Then, lacking the necessary criteria for employment in Hong Kong, where her husband’s work had taken them, she started her own interior design service.
When the Skogs returned to Jeanne’s home state of Hawaii with two children and her husband’s budding architecture practice, she answered a posting for a secretarial job. Fast-forward 33 years. This June, she’s retiring as president and CEO of the Maui Economic Development Board, the nonprofit whose ad she answered so long ago.
As she reflects on her somewhat accidental transitions, Skog says all of her earlier careers contributed to her success in economic development. “If I were doing things again,” she says, “the only real change would be to make it home for dinner more. Creating the right balance isn’t easy, but I think it’s tremendously important.”
NEVER SAY NEVER
Therese Whalen Dlugosch ’92, MAOT’13, came to the same conclusion about balance, but not without some pain. Having started her career in the insurance field, she recalls being pregnant with her second child while “working 60 or 80 hours a week and with my husband traveling 80 percent of the time.”
Dlugosch reached a turning point when she realized she and her husband were arguing about who should stay home with a sick child. Since her husband enjoyed his work and she could not say the same for hers, she decided to resign.
The reinvention to stay-at-home mom was difficult for Dlugosch after her demanding career. “It really helped that I was volunteering very actively at St. Kate’s,”she says, “because it made me feel like I had more purpose.” As it turns out, returning to her alma mater also introduced Dlugosch to a new career as a registered and licensed occupational therapist — an interest sparked by meeting OT graduates on campus.
Now three years into her work with burn survivors at Hennepin County Medical Center, Dlugosch counsels: “Take the risk, and never say never. I never thought I’d be a stay-at-home mom, I never thought I’d work in healthcare. But it’s been great for me and for my family.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
For Mary Shearen ’75, taking a risk meant moving beyond her parents’ loving but restrictive views, including their gender stereotypes. Her father, in particular, would say things like, “You don’t want to grow up to be a lady lawyer” — which of course, was exactly what she wanted to do. But she chose nursing, influenced by her mother’s nursing career and her dad’s heart attack when she was a teenager. There was also a practical reason: She planned to marry her high school sweetheart and needed a family-friendly vocation while he trained to be a doctor.
As it turns out,Shearen was a good nurse, and later, a good head nurse. Still, when she took leave to have her second child, she was ready for a break. Or so she thought.Even with two children to occupy her time, Shearen began to pine — or whine, as she recalls — for intellectual stimulation, and for law school in particular. She finally jumped in when her husband noted that it wasn’t going to be easier to fit in later. Pregnant with their third child,she took the LSAT, then started attending law school at night, relying on a neighbor and a friend to babysit.
Now 64, Shearen has been practicing estate law for nearly 30 years at Best & Flanagan LLP in Minneapolis. With no plans to retire, she’s going full steam ahead, still relying on the communication and problem-solving skills she learned at St. Kate’s and as a nurse.
“I think I always knew that I wanted to do law,” she says. “There were just some other things I had to do first.” Her advice? “It’s wrong to think you can only do one thing. People need to know it’s normal to change careers.”
LEAP OF FAITH
For Kim Myers, currently a student in St. Kate’s spiritual direction program, the decision to transition careers meant taking a significant leap: Quitting her corporate job at age 53, with no income, no spouse and absolutely no idea what she wanted to do next.
“I felt the need to do something more spiritually centered, where I was serving others,” she says. “I remember praying and saying, ‘God, I can’t quite figure it out. I need help.’” Shortly after, she decided to leave her job of 25 years “while I was still well-thought-of.” She adds, “I drove to work and I told my boss. She was stunned. I think I was stunned too.”
Over the next two years, Myers lived on savings while seeking a new vocation. Finally, her career counselor pressed her with questions until she blurted out, much to her surprise, “I want to be a spiritual director!” That breakthrough led to her enrollment at St. Catherine University, and eventually to her current position as parish administrator for St. Stanislaus Catholic Church.
Even though she’s much happier, Myers says she will never regret the corporate career that made it possible to raise two children on her own. And yet, she’s equally certain she needed to resign. “I think we have to ask if we’re doing our work because of somebody else’s template or because it’s what we want to do,” she says. Then, spoken like a true spiritual director, she adds, “There’s a real role for discernment in your life.”
Amy Lindgren held 50 different jobs by the time she was 23, then she started Prototype Career Service in St. Paul to help others find the right work.