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Walden Magazine // Jan 01, 2010

Second Act Careers

Photograph of feet using stepping stones to navigate the beach.Through professional reinvention, four members of the Walden community achieve positive social change for themselves and others.

CAREER REINVENTION IS A HIGHLY STRATEGIC, executive endeavor, and for those in the Walden community who are penning new professional plans, social change is the intended profit. In a world in which people are living decades longer and retirement is becoming almost obsolete, more and more professionals are hungry for career transformation and are designing moves into entirely new industries—be it a switch from a 46th-floor boardroom into a middle school classroom or parlaying a passion for social change into a full-fledged entrepreneurial venture.

Preparing for the second act requires thorough planning and an unfailingly positive mindset, says Stephen M. Pollan, author of Seconds Acts: Creating the Life You Really Want, Building the Career You Truly Desire, who holds titles such as New York attorney, financial consultant, and best-selling author (and who returned to school at 58 to earn the bachelor’s degree he’d passed over on the way to law school). From the music teacher turned disabilities advocate to the young real estate broker who found his true calling in psychology, here’s how four Walden students and alumni peeled off layers of professional stagnation and created exciting second acts—so you can too.

Second Act: A life-changing endeavor that involves evaluating your deepest desires and designing a strategy to create social change and launch yourself on a more fulfilling professional or personal path.

Alyson Roth ’05, MS in Education

ON A JULY AFTERNOON IN 2000, Alyson Roth walked along a winding, Sequoia-lined path back to her BMW. With her best friend Jennifer in the passenger’s seat, Roth pulled the car out of Yosemite National Park and the women—both music education seniors at Samford University—began the drive back to Birmingham, Alabama.

At 5 a.m., Jennifer took the wheel. On a desert road 90 miles south of Las Vegas, Jennifer lost control of the car. Though she was wearing a seatbelt, Roth was ejected through the back window of the passenger’s side door—and, in an instant, she was paralyzed. Following the accident, the petite brunette struggled internally to come to terms with her disability, but vowed to transform herself from victim to outspoken advocate.

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in 2002, Roth began teaching music at a low-income school near her hometown of Atlanta. She thrived in the classroom and began to adjust to life in a wheelchair, but continued to battle the depression she kept hidden. The outspoken young woman, who had fallen in love with California during her summers at Yosemite, realized she needed a change. “The accident happened and it seemed as if all my dreams and aspirations went out the window,” Roth says. “Over time, however, I was able to see that life was still valuable and worth living and I decided to pursue that dream of living in California.”

As she re-evaluated her life and prepared for her move to the West Coast, Roth knew she wanted to do something to angle herself more competitively career wise. She had always hoped to incorporate a core curriculum, such as reading, into her music classes, so Roth began researching schools through which she could obtain a higher degree. Because she wanted to continue teaching full-time while she took classes, the violinist—who grew up with a music teacher mother—knew online classes would be ideal. “Many of my colleagues had graduated from Walden, so after doing some investigation on my own and talking with them, I knew Walden would give me the best education with the flexibility I needed,” Roth says.

In 2005, she earned an MS in Education from Walden. At a private school in California, Roth taught her music students the importance of treating people with disabilities as equals, even speaking at conferences about how teachers could better accommodate students with disabilities. But she knew there was more she could do. On a whim, Roth searched an online job site and was thrilled to find an opening for development manager at the California-based nonprofit Free Wheelchair Mission, which distributes wheelchairs to impoverished handicapped people around the world.

Through Free Wheelchair Mission, where she is the only wheelchair-bound staff member, Roth has worked with former Mexican President Vicente Fox to provide free wheelchairs to Mexico’s citizens. She has traveled to Nicaragua to work at an orphanage for children with disabilities, taught music at a school for the blind, and assisted Habitat for Humanity in building a home for a disabled Atlanta resident. She has returned to Yosemite as a member of the park’s board of directors to spearhead wheelchair-friendly enhancements, including a bus system with lifts, hand-powered bicycles, wider doorways, shower benches, and accessible guest cabins.

In 2009, Roth was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California, and judges chose her as second runner-up in the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant. The best day of her life thus far, she says, was surfing at Huntington Beach—nearly nine years to the day after her accident—as the first disabled woman to participate in the Hurley U.S. Open of Surfing.

Roth recently finished filming the documentary Defining Beauty, which features Ms. Wheelchair America contestants and is expected to premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. She is searching for a publisher for a memoir she’s written about her journey. Through all her efforts, Roth is now educating more people than ever. “I’m not confined to four walls anymore,” she says. “I’m able to use the world as my classroom.”

SECOND ACT TIP: Focus on finding your calling.

“Once you figure out what your purpose is, it’s important to go after that,” Roth says. “If you have passion, drive, and confidence in yourself, you can carry that into your next career.”

Andrew Mogle, Doctor of Education (EdD) student

AS A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, Andrew Mogle got his first taste of the culinary arts working in a grocery store deli. He quickly moved on to restaurants, and by his senior year, he was cooking on a fast-paced sauté line in a busy hotel. Over the next 10 years, he moved to front-of-house operations at various eateries and it became clear that not only did Mogle have a talent for creativity in the kitchen, he thrived as a manager and took pride in training young employees. The man who constantly learned new recipes and experimented with ingredients realized his dream job would require him to step outside of the dining room and into the classroom.

After leaving his position as manager of an Olive Garden and returning to school at the age of 31 to earn his bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University, Mogle began teaching family and consumer sciences at Norwalk High School in Norwalk, Iowa. At the 700-student high school, he created the student-run Warrior Café, which allows teenagers to hone culinary as well as business skills in preparing meals, balancing food costs, and operating the café, which serves approximately 1,300 local residents each semester. “There are a lot of culinary programs around the country, but the business opportunity we attach to it is something different,” says Mogle.

The teacher, who incorporates his love of history into the curriculum through authentic period meals—be it a taste of the French Revolution or Civil War-era cuisine—helped students expand the café to include a catering business, through which students prepare food for Chamber of Commerce events, church functions, and even local weddings. Students who complete Mogle’s culinary program have the opportunity to transfer to the local community college having already earned six credits, which is equivalent to their first year of food labs. The student-run culinary ventures are so popular, students have moved to Norwalk because of it, and some of Mogle’s graduates now work as restaurateurs, chefs, and managers as far away as Arizona.

In 2008, the state of Iowa named Mogle its Teacher of the Year for his inventive curriculum. And reaching that pinnacle helped motivate the culinary artist and instructor to take on a new endeavor himself—there had to be more he could learn to elevate the teachings inside his kitchen classroom even further. “Every day I learn something new from the kids, but I wanted the challenge of learning something new for myself,” Mogle says. “Having a doctorate and being a high school teacher, it’s not going to get me any more money, but it will give me the opportunity to use new skills and new information I’ve learned.”

Mogle, who previously earned a master’s degree from Iowa State, enrolled in Walden’s Ed.D. program in March 2009 and says he has already been inspired by the university’s dedication to social change. He’s always known his mission to educate doesn’t stop on the soup line or in the dining room, and his classes at Walden are helping Mogle search out new ways to evoke passion in his students. The State Teacher of the Year is currently analyzing his method of transformational leadership through in-depth analysis and interviews with other leaders. Eventually, Mogle hopes to expand the results into a real-world teaching model. He’s a classically trained chef, but his recipe for leadership in the classroom is always evolving.

Don’t put off planning the move to your second act.

“The decision isn’t going to be any easier or safer down the road,” Mogle says. “Make up your mind and just do it.”

Creating a Second Act Strategy

Preparation is the key to designing a new career, says Stephen M. Pollan, author of Second Acts: Creating the Life You Really Want, Building the Career You Truly Desire. In sharing his advice for Walden graduates, Pollan suggests viewing the job change through an executive lens. “You do a second act the way you do a business,” he says. “When you create a business plan, one of the things the business plan does is it helps test feasibility. When you prepare a plan for a second act, you’re going to really know if it’s possible because you’re going to be out in the marketplace, looking to see how practical it is, looking to see how feasible it is.” Whether it’s fueled by necessity or desire for personal growth, it’s becoming more and more common for people to reassess their goals and enter new industries as they delve into second, third, even fourth acts. Here are some of Pollan’s tips for creating a successful second act:

  • Write down your favorite places, most memorable life experiences, passions, and goals—no matter how impractical—to begin to distill the second act dream.
  • Analyze your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Develop a second act mission statement.
  • Find a mentor. Reach out to people who may be able to help you get started on your new career path. Asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness.
  • Resolve not to settle on your second act. You may be tempted to compromise your dream for the sake of practicality, but you’ll never be truly fulfilled if you only go half way.
  • Think about the closed doors you’ll face during your reinvention—whether it’s fear of failure or feeling like your age could hold you back—and plan now for how you’ll overcome them.

Levon Margolin ’08, MS in Psychology graduate and PhD in Psychology candidate

HE WAS A HIGH-POWERED, Boston real estate broker six figures at the age of 24. But as he closed major deals and dabbled in the stock market, Levon Margolin couldn’t escape his deep-seated desire to influence people in a more profound way. “I had this urgency to do something to help other people out, but it really wasn’t developed,” he says. “It was just kind of lingering.”

Growing up, friends and family had always told Margolin that because of his confidence and his ability to put people at ease, he’d be a natural in the business world. But when he began taking undergraduate business courses at Babson College, Margolin’s grades fell so low that he was suspended from school. The staunch business acumen that echoed through lecture halls didn’t resonate with Margolin, who constantly showed up late to class and failed to complete assignments. “I really kind of rebelled against it,” he says of his business studies.

Still, after earning his bachelor’s degree, Margolin’s entrepreneurial spirit took reign and his real estate company—which he operated with only a car and a Web site—quickly flourished. The Moscow native so impressed homebuyers with his knowledge and professionalism that he was closing more sales than real estate veterans twice his age.

With each deal, Margolin tried to calm anxious clients and was much more drawn to the meaning behind the emotions they felt than any numbers on a contract. After taking a few psychology courses at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Margolin thought seriously about his future. “I said, 'What if I was making 10 times what I’m making now and was the ultimate businessman? Would I be happy with myself? Would I feel like I was achieving something significant in my life?’ And the answer to that was no.”

When he decided to leave real estate and pursue his second act in psychology, Margolin was drawn to Walden because of its dedication to societal impact. He was accepted to Walden on probationary terms and soon discovered instructors were willing to look past his poor undergraduate grades if he was willing to prove himself in their classes. Margolin found their open-mindedness refreshing and he excelled in his coursework, earning an MS in Psychology in 2008, with a 4.0 GPA, and a prestigious Presidential Scholarship to apply toward a doctoral degree at Walden.

Margolin is now working toward his PhD, with a specialization in Clinical Psychology. He says the field of psychology is at a turning point now and needs to place more emphasis on how it can help medical patients and not just those who seek counseling. “If psychology is going to move forward instead of becoming stagnant, it’s going to have to become more scientific, it’s going to have to become more medical,” he says.

When Margolin, now 27, completes his doctorate, he plans to search for work in private practice in California. A self-described city person, he recently moved to Los Angeles, which he considers a perfect metropolis to put real-world, psychological applications to use. He ultimately hopes to work with medical doctors to offer mental health services to people who have limited access, as well as to patients who are being treated for physical ailments. “People with cancer, people with heart disease, people who have pain … can benefit greatly from psychosomatic and psychoeducational interventions. Integrated care is the way forward,” Margolin says. “I know that’s an area I need to target.”

And through his practicum at Aurora Charter Oak Hospital in Covina, Margolin has already applied his persuasion skills for a higher purpose. When a suicidal man called the hospital during one of Margolin’s shifts, the psychology student calmed the caller (after consulting with his supervisor) and convinced him to drive to Aurora for treatment. “He said it was the last call he was going to make, and after that, he would’ve committed suicide,” Margolin says. “He shook my hand and was very grateful. Something small like that, showing someone you care, it’s already the start of their treatment and it automatically puts them on the path toward greater health.”

Don’t be afraid to give up external rewards, such as money or prestige, to pursue a new, more enlightened, career path.

“You’re going to have to give up money right now, you’re going to have to give up this business right now, but the reward may be greater,” Margolin says. “Who knows if it will be monetarily greater, but it will be greater psychologically.”

Ronald Paige ’07, PhD in Education

RONALD PAIGE’S LIFE IS A STUDY IN SECOND ACTS. English teacher, bartender, magazine publisher, photo lab owner, salesman, advertising exec, restaurateur—there isn’t much Paige hasn’t tried. And for him, the transitions always occurred organically. “There is not a single career move I made that was difficult and the reason was, at the time, I had no idea I was making a career move. Everything was an evolution of what I was doing,” says Paige, now the director of instructional technology and media services at Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tennessee.

And though he wasn’t aware of it at the time, Paige unintentionally began research on his award-winning dissertation, The Relationship Between Self-Directed Informal Learning and the Career Development Process, when he was in high school. As a teenager in western New York, Paige spent summers working in a factory that manufactured partitions. There, he became fascinated by the learning styles of employees at the factory, several of whom dropped out of high school but were bright and incredibly quick to pick up new tasks.

The man who has made approximately 15 job changes over the years and counts Studs Terkel’s Working among his most influential reads began considering the evolution of his career arc as he set out to work on his Ph.D. in Education. “I became very, very aware while at Walden of some of the unique paths I had followed,” he says. Paige realized his career transitions were born out of circumstances at the time.

When he bought a building to house his photo company, for example, and one of the four storefronts in the building didn’t rent, Paige launched a vegetarian restaurant in the empty space. His only venture into hospitality at the time had been working as a bartender in the Catskill Mountains, but Paige knew he would acquire the knowledge he needed. “I often put myself in a position where I don’t have any choice but to learn what I’m going to learn,” he says. “When it’s your livelihood, you sink or swim, so you know you have to learn it.”

For his 400-page dissertation, which received Walden’s Harold L. Hodgkinson Award for Outstanding Dissertation in 2007, Paige employed a unique, narrative research methodology, through which he analyzed stories recounted from people of various backgrounds. “The stuff that kept popping up in story after story began to really fit my own patterns of where I was most successful in my own learning,” Paige says. The technology director discovered through his research that much of what people learned was self-directed. More importantly, those who were successful utilized clear strategies, multiple resources, and they often times worked with a mentor. “Very few people were successful in isolation,” he says.

Analyze the evolution of your career to realize the direction in which the professional compass is pointing you next.

“If people can see the evolution and they have confidence in their ability to self-direct the learning they need to proceed, by all means, they should make the move,” Paige says.

Walden Resources for Career Reinvention

When it comes to breaking into a new industry, connections are paramount. “Networking is the number one way people get jobs,” says Lisa Cook, director of Walden University’s Career Planning and Development Center. “It’s not just about professional networking—it’s about social networking.” And with an alumni base that spans thousands of people across the U.S., Walden provides a large networking pool from which to create relationships that could help shape your second act. The Career Planning and Development Center offers a wealth of services for Walden students and alumni to help get you started on your new path:

  • Join the approximately 1,000 members of Walden’s LinkedIn site to make new contacts in your desired industry.
  • Visit Walden’s Career Planning and Development Center Web site at to view sample résumés and curriculum vitae to learn how to best highlight your skills and achievements as they apply to the second act. Through the Web site, you can research topics such as networking, interviewing strategies, and professional development.
  • Schedule a one-on-one telephone counseling session with a Career Planning and Development staff member through the online scheduling system on the Career Planning and Development WIRE.
  • Stay up to date on Walden’s Career Planning and Development blog, which often highlights stories of alumni who have reinvented their careers.
  • Visit Walden’s Web site to view archived, bimonthly Career Planning and Development webinars on topics such as how to get an online teaching job, online social networking, workplace diversity, and the nonprofit industry.

Learn more about Second Act Careers.