Tweak That Job!

Sometimes a small change is all it takes to reenergize your career and find a new job that makes you happy.

By Heather Millar

Reinvention, Part One

In 2000, when she became pregnant with her second child, she decided to cut back on travel and long hours. She knew that most securities-related arguments are settled outside a courtroom with the help of a professional mediator, a job that seemed to fit her requirements for flexibility. So while she was on maternity leave from AIG, she got certified and then took a weeklong advanced mediation course at Harvard. She also started calling her contacts in the financial and legal fields. When her daughter was 18 months old, she quit AIG and hung out her shingle. "When I launched, after the tech boom and bust, demand was so high," Fitzenhagen says, "it only took a year to get things really rolling."

Reinvention Redux

After several years, Fitzenhagen started to feel isolated in her one-woman business. When a former colleague asked her to join him in a new financial firm, they became partners. Now she’s chief operating officer of US Asset Management and is phasing out her mediation practice. "I don’t think anyone ever stops transitioning," she says. "Change is inevitable. I’ve always tried to plan for that."

See a Need and Fill It

Elizabeth Landsverk | 46 | San Mateo, California

The job: Doctor

The tweak: Geriatric specialist-consultant

What Wore Her Out

Nine years as a primary care doctor — fighting office politics and overscheduling — left Landsverk tired and frustrated. One day an elderly man came in complaining of chest pain. When Landsverk tried to do an EKG, the man started hitting everyone within reach. "I had to ask the staff to take him away," she says. "It bothered me that I didn’t know what to do."

Finding the Path

The incident inspired her to take a geriatrics fellowship at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, where she became interested in the mental health problems of old age. When her husband landed a job in San Francisco in 2001, Landsverk joined the geriatrics division of the University of California at San Francisco. "I wasn’t getting the exposure to teaching residents that I really wanted," she says, so she started moonlighting at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto and making house calls for a home-visit medical practice. She became passionate about alternative ways of treating the elderly — for example, using sedating drugs as little as possible and emphasizing behavior modification and lifestyle changes.

Making It Happen

In May 2006, she left UCSF and divided her time between house calls and a part-time job as a medical director of a hospice. By early 2007, her private practice had grown so large that she was able to leave the hospice and work full-time at her own business, ElderConsult, which coordinates the complicated medical, social, and psychological issues confronting elderly people. "Letting go of a steady paycheck was terrifying," she says. "But I tried to focus on what really matters to me: helping these really frail, difficult patients."

How It’s Working Out

Her business has become so successful that she’s been able to hire a secretary, a bookkeeper, and a nurse practitioner; more staff will follow as demand grows. Her gross income has more than doubled in a year. "I haven’t had to do any marketing — people just find me," she says. "It’s really nice to practice medicine the way I think it should be done."

Don’t Do, Teach

Holly Rice | 59 | Houston, Texas

The job: Dental hygienist

The tweak: Associate professor of dental hygiene

Why She Needed a Change

After Rice spent 22 years as a dental hygienist, her body rebelled. "My neck hurt, my back hurt, my hands hurt," she says. "I was spending all my money at the chiropractor."

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