Careers LIFESTYLE  >  Mid-Life Career Switch

Mid-Life Career Switch

Mid-Life Career Switch
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BY GAYLE THOMPSON

Question: What do Ernestine Shepherd, Carmen Ware and Julia Child have in common?  Answer: They each switched careers at the age most people are at least contemplating retirement – and became widely successful in their new roles.

Ernestine Shepherd is a body-builder, fitness trainer and model, who happens to be 75 years young. She was a self-admitted “prissy” woman for most of her life, working as a school secretary and shunning any type of physical exercise. She may have continued in her sedentary life, if not for a fateful shopping trip with her sister, Velvet, when she was 56 years of age. The women found themselves laughing as they tried on swimsuit after swimsuit, realizing how out of shape they were.

The moment may have been funny, but they both realized their bodies were in serious need of improvement, so they joined a gym together, hoping they would find enjoyment in the shared activity. Unfortunately, Velvet died of a brain aneurysm not long after they began their work-out regiment. The tragedy was so devastating, that Ernestine gave up her hopes of getting in better shape, until a friend convinced her that improving her health was a way to honor her sister’s life. Those words were all she needed to become even more determined than ever to become a healthy, strong woman.

Today, the Baltimore resident holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of the oldest competitive female body-builder in the world – which is even more impressive considering she started competing at the age of 72. She runs about 80 miles a week, participates in races from 5K up to marathons, and strength-trains four days a week. She teaches several classes, mostly to senior citizens, and competes regularly in body-building competitions.

Carmen Ware is not the typical rags to riches story. She had a successful early career as a registered nurse – a deviation from her original plan to become a doctor when she found herself a single mom at the age of 18.  Excelling at her studies, she became a nurse in ICU, and was loved by both her fellow co-workers and her patients, who often requested her instead of other nurses.

After 20 years of enjoying her job, she longed to do something different, that also offered more money, so she could help her ailing mother. Realizing she no longer had the desire to become a doctor, she considered what else might inspire her, and quickly decided on law, specifically medical malpractice. Unfortunately, the road ahead of her was difficult and filled with obstacles, including attending her first year of school away from home, and also struggling under her mountain of debt while studying full-time.

Carmen pressed on, even eating in soup kitchens when money was scarce, before deciding to continue working full-time while attending school full-time as well , and then soon added a valuable internship to her rigorous schedule as well. But her hard work paid off. Graduating law school, she landed a job with a prestigious law firm, focusing solely on her desired area of medical malpractice, and soon found herself arguing before the Supreme Court of Tennessee, with her eye on someday gaining a spot on the United States Supreme Court.

Ernestine and Carmen may not be household names, but Julia Child is. The celebrated chef penned 18 cookbooks, as well as appeared on several TV shows, including her long-running show, “The French Chef,” which ran for ten years beginning in 1963. But the eccentric woman with the easily-recognizable voice, didn’t start with dreams of a career in the kitchen. She worked first as a copywriter, and then landed a coveted job as a researcher for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II.

Julia may have never been known to the world, if not for a fateful meal in France, which was so delicious, she determined to learn to cook for herself, and promptly enrolled in the famous culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu. Her passion for cooking led her to join a cooking club, where she met two other women, who were writing a cookbook, and Julia latched on to their plans, and the rest is history.

Her first cookbook was published in 1961, when she was just shy of turning 50, and a new career was born. Later residing in Massachusetts, Julia is credited with changing the way America considers food, by taking fancy food and making it accessible to everyone. She won several awards, including an Emmy and a Peabody, and continued her passion for teaching and cooking until her death at the age of 92.

Their stories are entertaining, but also inspirational. What these women did is follow their passions first, and did not allow any excuses or obstacles to get in their way. Success is attainable at any age. These stories clearly illustrate that it’s never too late to pursue what ignites our hearts.

Click here to read more about Ernestine Shepherd.

Click here to read more about Carmen Ware.

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