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Mid-Career Change Can Be Fulfilling, Frustrating

March 17, 1985|JOHN M. LEIGHTY | United Press International

SAN FRANCISCO — Herb Jackson, a former chief prosecutor in the state capital, packed up his law books two years ago and opened a coastal pizza parlor just north of the Golden Gate.

James and Judy Gabriel, computer programmers, left their well-paying jobs in San Francisco to grow fruit trees on a 14-acre farm in rural Sebastopol, Calif. Jackson and the Gabriels are among about 4 million Americans who, according to labor statistics, each year make an occupational change between the ages of 35 to 55. Some of the moves are into similar jobs, but many people make mid-career switches to new frontiers that can be both rewarding and frustrating.

The decision to make a career change occurred for Jackson when he lost his bid for reelection as district attorney of Sacramento County in 1982. Although he could have returned to a lucrative law practice, he did some "soul-searching" and wound up creating pizzas in the resort town of Stinson Beach.

"I knew that the legal profession had changed drastically over the years since I was practicing and I was not too pleased with its direction," Jackson said. "Also, I felt returning to private practice would be a step down.

"I decided to change."

Jackson said he looked around at potential businesses before converting an old grocery store into a pizza parlor called the Bungalow in an area of western Marin County that he had been visiting since he was a child.

"I embarked on a new career making pizza and sandwiches," Jackson said. "I obviously wasn't changing to make money. In fact, I've poured an awful lot of money into the business. It's been quite an experience."

Jackson, whose former law partners, Hugh Evans and Anthony Kennedy, have gone on to become state appellate and federal appellate judges, respectively, said he found himself developing tasty soups, making his own recipes for pizza dough and grinding his own sausage.

When the Gabriels decided to leave computer programming at Pacific Telephone & Telegraph in 1979, they headed to Sonoma County and bought a small farm about 80 miles north of San Francisco.

"We were looking for a better life," said James Gabriel, who grew up in a rural area near Marysville, Ohio. "It obviously wasn't for the money. There's something special about working for yourself. It's hard work compared to sitting at a desk."

He said the farm has an acre of raspberries, 3,000 apple trees, and 1,500 pear trees. Gabriel planted most of the acreage himself.

"Farming is a crazy business. It's risky. A big freeze would wipe us out. But, there's potential to make money. We can see it and have hopes of it. We plan to stay."

His wife, Judy, said the move was difficult at first, especially since they had both enjoyed their former jobs. She said she read everything she could about horticulture and now writes a weekly garden column for the Sebastopol newspaper.

Career consultant Charles Prugh, who has helped thousands of people make job changes, said the first step for those contemplating transitions is usually a self-appraisal and self-inventory--what they have to offer a new employer.

"One's aspirations can be pure hallucinations," he warns.

However, if the decision to change is then made, the second stage is to develop a plan. This can be as simple as using present skills in another job or preparing for the switch with educational classes or self-study.

The third step, he said, is to apply the plan at the right time.

"Don't change jobs from November to January," he warns. "People don't think much about hiring during that time."

Prugh, who has counseled about 3,000 people in his career transition workshop, "Up, Over, or Out?" at Indian Valley College in Novato, Calif., said there is an explanation why adult Americans switch jobs about five times in their lifetime. "It's kind of simple," Prugh said. "More is the key word--more satisfaction, more options for personal self-development, more tangible steps in career advancement and sometimes more pluses from the work environment. And, more money, but that's not necessarily at the top."

Plans to Sell Out

Although the Gabriels are satisfied with their move to a farm, Jackson has found the pizza-making business frustrating and less rewarding than he expected. He now plans to sell out.

"I've enjoyed the respite but I guess it's not in my making to be as laid-back as this community demands," he said of the Stinson Beach residents. "I guess I really miss the fast pace."

Jackson said he might go back to Sacramento, where he has friends and which he considers the "hub" of Northern California--close to the mountains, seashore and Nevada gambling resorts.

"I'm taking one step at a time. I might go into a different type of law practice or start another business. First, I'm putting the Bungalow on the market and then I'll decide what to do.

"It is after all, time for another career change."

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