|StoryChat: Comment on this story|
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Gordon
At the wheel of his cab, engine idling while he waited at the back door of the Honolulu police station in the middle of the night, John Parker often concluded that he was already a legal counselor.
"I would pick up a lot of people who had fresh legal problems who just bailed out," he said. "People talk to cab drivers like they do hairdressers or bartenders. Should I do this? Should I do that? It would be fascinating to be entrusted with someone else's problems, even though I was just a driver."
But to become a bona-fide attorney at an age when most people were about to retire? The veteran cabbie figured that was a career change in the fast lane and then he said: Why not?
Now Parker is about to graduate from the University of Hawai'i law school. He's done what some people only dream of and taken a chance on reinventing himself, at age 59.
The reasons for a career change are as different as the people who make them. But they have a few things in common.
While 80 percent of people are unhappy with their jobs, the idea of change is too frightening to undertake, said Kristin Taliaferro, a career coach from Kailua.
"Changing career paths can be very scary," she said. "The fear of the unknown prevents most people from pursuing their dream career. Plus, finances are a huge factor. The majority of people are trapped by their lifestyle and need their steady paycheck to get by each month."
Age is not a limitation, she said.
"Most of my clients are in their 40s and don't have too much trouble changing careers," Taliaferro said. "The main problem is thinking you are too old to make a change. Whatever we think about tends to manifest itself. So be positive."
Parker was in a career minority: He liked his job as a cab driver. But Parker didn't think he could do it forever and wondered what he could do to change that.
He had been a cab driver since 1980. In the early years, he would cruise around Waikiki and pick up fares in his 1965 Dodge Dart. He called those "fun times," then noted that he was robbed at gunpoint on three occasions.
"I loved every minute of it," he said. "Every day was exciting. That's why I stuck it out for 25 years."
Parker had attended classes at UH during the late 1960s but dropped out. He figured his 80 credits were lost forever. Then in March 2003, one of his regular customers, a counselor on the Manoa campus, explained to Parker that he could pick up where he left off.
"That turned on a light bulb in my head," he said.
By 2005, Parker had his undergraduate degree in economics and a coveted spot at the William S. Richardson School of Law.
He said no one notices that he's two or three times older than his fellow students and, sometimes, his professors.
"When I go up there, I just forget there is an age difference," he said. "It doesn't seem to matter to anyone."
The why behind it all for Parker, a Makiki resident who hopes to defend criminal cases, may raise eyebrows. He views this as an "ideal retirement program."
"Having a law career at age 60, although I am not going to make partner at a top local firm, I can still be relevant," he said. "I can say: 'I did something today, and maybe I made a little bit of a difference.' That feeling is really important."
For Linda Dorn, a 47-year-old former actor, the change she made kept her in the world of film, but was still life-changing. Today she is an assistant professor of animation at the University of Hawai'i's Academy for Creative Media.
After acting and painting in Southern California for 10 years, Dorn reached her personal crossroads at 36.
"I had a life, but I wasn't making much money," she said.
She wanted to become an animator on feature film projects a career that built on her stage and art skills so in 1996 she enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts. Six years and two degrees later, Dorn had her choice of lucrative animation jobs. Instead, she became a professor.
"I love it, actually," Dorn said. "It had a lot to do with me being older. It is a really young field. I looked young, but on the inside, the maturity level was different, and I craved being around people my own age. And I liked academia."
Dorn moved to Hawai'i and the university's fledgling film school in summer 2006. She lives in Waikiki, works in Manoa and receives freelance animation jobs from Disney that pay "extremely well."
She credits her mid-life education for her successful change.
"I don't think I could have moved through life without feeling that success in school," Dorn said.
When Marjorie Ketcher found a new direction in her life, she was 47 and recently retired after nearly three decades of sales with AT&T.
She was living on O'ahu at the time and thought: "Geez, what am I going to do now?"
First, she rode a bicycle across the continental United States. It took 48 days.
"During that time, I was by myself and had lots of time to figure out what to do with the rest of my life," she said. "I decided I wanted to have a small inn."
Back in the Islands, Ketcher sold her condo and moved to Kaua'i to reinvent herself.
To learn more about the service industry, she got a job serving cocktails. Once, she wound up serving a table of management friends from the phone company. She startled them.
"They felt it would be beneath someone to do it," Ketcher said. "That never entered my head."
Ketcher built her inn on a hillside in Lawa'i a spot that everyone told her was a crazy location. She was going to open it in October 1992, but Hurricane Iniki arrived first and tore the roof off. It was months before she was ready again, but Ketcher persisted. She ran her three-bedroom inn for 13 years.
"I felt that I was doing one of the most important things I could possibly do," she said. "I had a lot of people coming over who were stressed out from work. They wanted a nice vacation, to get away from all their stresses."
Creating a happy vacation for her boarders was a greater responsibility than she had ever felt while working in the corporate world, she said.
"What I did was add to a vacationer's life experience," she said. "I found what I was really good at."
Ketcher sold the inn in 2005 and got married. Now 64, she insists that she's definitely retired. Sort of.
She wants to take more tours on her red, titanium bicycle, the one hand-lettered with the phrase: "Hot Flash." But hers is an expensive hobby. To pay for that, Ketcher may need to reinvent herself once more.
"I need to make money to support my addiction to bicycle tours," she said. "Hence, the possibility of another career. Yikes. At 64, enough already."
Still, a few months ago, she posed for glamour photographs. She's exploring the possibility of becoming a model.
Reach Mike Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the editor: StoryChat was designed to promote and encourage healthy comment and debate. We encourage you to respect the views of others and refrain from personal attacks or using obscenities.
By clicking on "Post Comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Service and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.