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How To Retrain for a New Career

Key lessons for making a smooth transition and finding work you love.

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by Caroline Ceniza-Levine

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“Do it, do it, do it!” is Audrey Pellicano's advice to fledgling career changers, adding ruefully, “I wish I hadn't waited so long.” Becoming a grief counselor is the latest twist in a career that Pellicano, 60, has been reinventing for more than two decades. “It's wonderful to follow your passion, to make a difference in people's lives and not dread Monday mornings. I'm happy and I'm in control of my life.”

Pellicano was a nurse when she was widowed at age 38, with four young children to care for and support. Her first move was to get a masters in health education in order to work as a psychotherapist in private practice and an insurance case manager. As she fulfilled a life-long dream to go to graduate school, she was interested in grief counseling, but chose a broader masters program because it gave her flexibility. A local university offered convenient scheduling and affordable tuition, and she did her homework alongside her school-age children. When she hung out her shingle, she also took a full-time job in insurance to ensure a reliable income stream that would supplement her private psychotherapy practice.

See also: 3 Ways To Impress Prospective Employers When Transitioning To A New Career

Career change takeaway: integrate your career transition activities with the rest of your life to ensure that you can sustain the change.

Pellicano's psychotherapy work became increasingly focused on grief counseling, and eventually she decided to specialize in this area, getting an extra credential in grief recovery. “I had found what helped me during my grief, and I wanted to pursue certification to help others.”

Career change takeaway: you don’t have to decide on a specific course of retraining right away. You can opt for a general course first, and add specialty training later.

As Pellicano repositioned her business from general psychotherapy to grief recovery, she didn’t just quit one career for the next. She continued her work in insurance, moving from full- to part-time, which allowed her to gain experience and be certain that her new career choice was viable. Her business, Wise Widow, based in New York City, offers one-on-one and group grief counseling. “I went from five days a week to half-time in insurance while I built my business. I loved my new pursuit and received wonderful feedback on my work. After nine months of part-time work, I quit my day job and jumped in with both feet.”

See also: Inside Ann Patchett's Bookstore

Career change takeaway: start with small steps that enable you to test your ideas.

When she changed careers, Pellicano didn't snap her fingers and find instant success. She retrained twice. She built one business before opting for another. She supplemented her income with traditional employment. Today, she is remarried, and her four children are either in or past college. She has a thriving business she loves. “It was trial and error. I had an idea of where I wanted to go -- helping those who had lost a loved one -- but the path wasn’t straight. I took a great deal of time building my expertise along the way.” Pellicano has no regrets and is proud of being a role model. “I know I have set an example for my children.” Here are three more career-change truths her story reveals:

    • You can reinvent yourself personally and professionally despite heartbreaking setbacks.
    • The transitions may not be perfect the first time. You will probably have to adjust along the way.
    • The best option could be entrepreneurship or a traditional job--or a blend of both.


Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert with SixFigureStart®. She is a former recruiter in management consulting, financial services, media, technology, and pharma/ biotech.