Taking a Leap: Making a "Later in Life" Career Change
by Matt Stieber, Simulation Operations Specialist, Mirro Center for Research and Innovation, Parkview Health
I was 50 years old and had hit a wall. I had worked in the same position for the past 24 years and I not only lost any passion for my job, I had also lost any interest in it. In high school, my interests always seemed to steer toward a career in healthcare. Maybe x-ray, maybe nursing, mostly unsure. Through my school’s vocational program I placed into a position as a co-op student, working in a hospital in the morning and taking classes in the afternoon. I loved it and I learned a lot. One of the things I wasn’t expecting to learn was that maybe healthcare wasn’t my career path. The right side of my brain was calling and I declared a major in Radio, Television and Film. I kept working at the hospital because it was a good job and helped me pay for a lot of my tuition. In my junior year, I received a job offer for my first real job in video production and I jumped at it. I resigned from the hospital and began my career as a videographer and producer/director. It was a blast…for a while. I traveled a lot. A few out of town trips here and there turned into sometimes a day or two at home a week. It felt like I passed by my wife at the doorway.
As luck or fate would have it, I got a call from someone who worked in the same line of work, video production, who just happened to work at, you guessed it, the hospital. The video services department had an opening for a newly approved position for a videographer/director. The wife and I were planning our family and the stability of a corporate job and the benefits drew me back. I would spend the next 24 years producing and directing training, educational and marketing videos. I would also learn a new and emerging field of audio-visual design and installation. It would serve me well in the future.
Some of those 24 years sped by, others lasted an eternity. But in the end, it was 24 years. The job was changing. The part I had enjoyed most, systems design and construction projects were going to IT. I thought long and hard and asked myself, “Can I do this for another 15 years?” The answer always came back, “if I have to I will, but...” My EMT-B certification pretty much qualified me to ride an ambulance as a volunteer at the services I served on, which honestly is why I trained for it, but it had no real avenue towards employment. I looked into facility maintenance. In general, a good day for me is when my hands are in a tool box, but those jobs were slim and probably included a pay cut. My boss, who was also a friend, knew how I was feeling and attempted to coach and help me find what I was looking for. In one of our regular meetings, which generally evolved into, “What’s going to make me happy again?” I asked, “What can you tell me about a Simulation Technology Specialist?”
Her reaction to my question was “Oh my God! Oh my God!” She knew that I loved anything technical and mechanical. She knew I was an EMT for about five years, something I did just for personal satisfaction and that I had worked in some semblance of healthcare most of my working life. I looked deeper into it and it sounded interesting but also looked like it would probably involve a pay cut. I discussed it with my wife and she said she just wanted me to be happy again. She’s much smarter than me. The past three years had included the death of my dad, my mom and settling mom’s estate. I was juggling all that while going to a job I was dreading more every day. Something needed to change.
One of the scariest things I’ve done in my life was changing my career at 50 years of age. It also turned out to be one of the single best things I’ve ever done. Not just for myself, but for those who care for me. I found work that I don’t consider work. I’ve found not only a new career, but a new passion. I’ve found a community of people from around the world who feel the same as I do. As a friend calls it, her ‘sim tribe.’
I’ve also learned that sometimes you really need to take that leap. Step out from the cold comfort you know into something with possibility. It may blow back in your face or it may be one of the best decisions of your life.