This is part of an ongoing series looking at Brooklyn’s economic recovery. Having already looked at sectors which are beginning to thrive, the potential impact of budget cuts and an individual story of a hair designer; we now turn to two more people forced to reinvent themselves as a result of the economy.
Portraits of a Career Change
by Joe Deaux
When Deanine Copeland’s mother died in 2004 she decided it was time to pursue a passion. That passion was Medicine.
Copeland Had graduated from high school in 1984, but says that she did not attend college because she could not afford it. She has worked as a word processing operator and administrative assistant since 1996. Now she is a part-time nursing student at Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus. “I was paying the bills, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled,” she says. “I always wanted to be a doctor and it never went away.”
Copeland says that her choice to follow her career change during the economic crisis went against conventional wisdom, because she already had a steady job. She has worked the graveyard shift at Hughes, Hubbard and Reed law firm since 2002. She was earning a good living and says that she had nothing to complain about, but she still wanted to do something else. “Giving up everything familiar and a steady paycheck, I don’t know what it’s going to be like out there,” she says.
Copeland sounds shy, but her voice conveys satisfaction. Now that she is in school, an average day for Copeland is gruelling. She begins at the law firm at 8:45 pm, leaves in the morning and eats, goes home to Queens to do school work, sleeps and then heads to clinical. Clinical is when she spends time at a hospital under the guidance of a Registered Nurse and takes care of patients and other duties. It lasts anywhere between five and eight hours a day.
The tone of Copeland’s voice becomes decidedly looser and natural when she speaks about school. “It’s so exhilarating,” she says. She never feels tired, she says, because she enjoys it so much. But Copeland studies whenever she is not sleeping or commuting. She stresses that the program is challenging, and unlike her younger peers, she takes every assignment seriously. Her time and money is at stake.
At first, she was uncertain if she could manage the workload, but she finds herself comfortable with it now. “I’m just so glad to be there in my little uniform,” Copeland giggles.
Copeland’s experience has given her bits of wisdom that she says could be useful for anyone who wants to pursue a career change: Devote yourself to your studies and make sure you have balance — you still need your family and friends. She says a lot of people around her think it is too late to shift careers. “I just don’t feel it’s ever too late,” Copeland says.
Janina Gonzalez, or “Yani” as she is known by friends, is a 33-year-old MFA student at Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, who went to school after the corporation she worked for went bust. That corporation was Bear Stearns, a place where she did administrative work. Gonzalez, a resident of Bensonhurst, says she had considered a career change for a while, and that she had always wanted to be a writer. In fact, she had tried to transition to a writing role within the company.
But then it went under. She viewed this as a perfect omen to get out. “Bear didn’t have a future,” Gonzalez says, “It’s now or never.” So she applied for an MFA in creative writing.
As part of her master’s degree, she teaches English composition to freshman. “I feel elated. It’s like ‘Yes, this is what I want to do,’” Gonzalez says. She says it is completely different from Wall Street. She doesn’t work with numbers anymore, and all the math terms she heard ad nauseum have now been replaced by poetry, rhetoric and short stories. “It’s a totally different world,” Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez speaks in an upbeat and bubbly manner. “In retrospect, the corporate world was,” she cuts herself off, gleefully laughs and continues, “The corporate world.” In her new role, she says, “It’s not just 9-5 and you go home and that’s it,” Gonzalez.
She says the decision to change careers is both easy and not easy. She says it is important to be prepared on all levels, which includes a change in finances — it can be difficult if one makes less, so save up, Gonzalez says.
She advises people to work to really understand the process they will have to go through to pursue a new life, including what sort of training and skills one must develop in a new career, Gonzalez says. She adds that a person must realize that he has to start all over again. “You gotta work your way up from the bottom,” she says.
And for people who are afraid of the unknown hurdles they will encounter, Gonzalez says not to worry. She says income should not dictate a person’s heart, and if your attempt ends in failure, don’t worry about it. It’s okay to fail because you can always go back to the field they came from.
“I’m really sad that I’m graduating. I really want to be a professional student,” Gonzalez jokes. She was in a conference all day in search for a possible Ph.D. program. The worst that could happen if she does not do a Ph.D. is that she will start her dream to work in the classroom half a decade earlier.