By now we’ve heard the news: the days of the company man and woman have come and gone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans born between 1957 and 1964 will change jobs more than 10 times during their lives. Gen-Xers, and the Echo Boom that followed, will move around even more.
And yet, despite all this job-hopping, it’s still rare to meet someone who has made a massive career change. We don’t mean the lawyer-cum-legal consultant, or the journalist-cum-public relations expert. We’re talking about someone who’s transformed from a marketing executive into an ER nurse. Or gone from being a stockbroker to a stand-up comedian. Or left the monastery for the hair salon.
Meet some of Baltimore’s most radical workers.
Current career: ER nurse
Former career: Marketing executive
In 1992, when Baltimore-based Procter & Gamble began downsizing, marketing executive Marian Grant looked around for a career she could pursue if she were laid off. She began volunteering at a local AIDS hospice and toyed with the idea of becoming a health care executive, but felt she wanted something more hands-on.
“I would sit in church or meet people in the health field and feel like it was something meant for me to be personally helping others,” recalls Grant, a Reisterstown resident. “Once I came up with nursing, all the lights ahead of me in life seemed to be green.”
As it happened, Grant survived the layoffs, but her backup plan became a calling. In 1998 she left her position as associate director of worldwide strategic planning for cosmetics and fragrance products at Procter & Gamble— a job with a big title and big perks— to enroll in the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing alongside fellow students young enough to be her children.
Though the change was exciting, there were moments of doubt. “I wondered if I was being realistic and whether I would really like nursing once the excitement died down,” she admits. “I was also afraid that although I’d done other things in life well, I wouldn’t be a good nurse. That seems silly now, but you have these doubts along the way when you leave something familiar for something very new.” She coped by reminding herself that she had a history of success— and an offer of re-employment at Procter & Gamble if things didn’t work out.
Then a standard rotation in the Union Memorial emergency room erased any remaining doubt. “While my classmates were totally grossed out, I was perversely fascinated,” explains Grant, who was hired by Johns Hopkins following her graduation. Besides treating everything from drug overdoses to high blood pressure in the ER, she’s training in the intensive care unit and plans to fly with the Hopkins helicopter transport team once she logs enough ICU hours. She’s also studying to be a nurse practitioner.
The only drawback Grant, 47, sees to her new career is a lack of time to pursue it. “I’m not 26, but I feel like I am,” she says. “I have at least 40 years of things I want to do in nursing and about 20 years of on-my-feet work left.”
Current career: Artist
Former career: Television announcer
Long before Greg Otto’s vibrant work gave a voice to Baltimore’s cityscape, he was the voice of Baltimore. Fresh out of high school, his voice resonated across WBAL-TV airwaves, asking, “It’s 11 p.m. Do you know where your children are?”
Television was the family business— his father, Henry Otto, was an independent producer and young Otto started acting at age 11 in commercials and live children’s shows. After graduating from City College in 1961, he joined WBAL-TV as a staff announcer and enrolled in the University of Maryland. Though art had long been an interest and a talent— he was offered a full scholarship to the Maryland Institute, College of Art— Otto chose to study journalism.
But his studies were curtailed after three unsuccessful attempts to pass Advanced Economics— a required course for journalism majors— resulted in his academic dismissal from Maryland. Realizing he was on the wrong path, he enrolled at MICA in 1964, intending to study graphic design. Visiting professor and painter Robert Moskowitz altered that course by introducing Otto to the world of fine art.
All the while, Otto continued to work for WBAL— even during a two-year stint with the U.S. Army writing, producing and narrating documentaries for Armed Forces Radio. After graduating from MICA in 1969, he knew he wanted to pursue painting. But to finance a full-time career in art, Otto also knew he needed to keep his “day job” for a few more years. He took a job at Maryland Public Television as its first staff announcer, while his work began to show in prominent New York and Baltimore galleries.
“There wasn’t a loud voice over the years telling me that art was my calling. It was a quiet sort of nagging,” he says. By the time Otto left MPT in 1973 and full-time broadcasting in 1978, his body was practically begging him to go. “I had trouble reading copy and once had a 72-hour bout of hiccups while trying to announce,” recalls Otto with a laugh. Still, he says, making the decision to leave television was “tormenting.”
Otto started with abstract drawings, exploring many styles and mediums until he began what he calls “the Baltimore imagery” in 1978. Never finding a picture of Baltimore he liked, Otto began making simple line drawings, which evolved into paintings of storefronts, skyscrapers and monuments in vibrant, pop-off-the-canvas colors. Postcards of Otto’s many Baltimore paintings are widely available throughout the city.
For Otto, art was an explosion waiting to happen. “All those hours I spent announcing,” he says, “allowed me a tremendous amount of time to think and build up the kind of frustration that, when it was allowed to come out, came out in this wild process.”
Note: For the past two years, Otto has tackled another city— Chicago— in his trademark pop-art colorful style. He was invited to paint the city by the American Institute of Architects/Chicago and his series of 37 paintings will be used to promote its June 2004 national convention in Chicago. The first peek, though, goes to his hometown Nov. 6 through Dec. 30, at the AIA Baltimore headquarters at 11 1/2 W. Chase St.
Current career: Salon and spa owner
Former career: Franciscan monk
Paul Skotarczak sips from a flute of champagne, marveling at the sky as it changes color. He’s decompressing after a long day of cutting hair, and also quietly celebrating transformations big and small: those of his clients, as well as his own.
“I look back over my life all the time,” he says, scanning the view from his rooftop apartment in Woodholme. “I have no regrets.”
Skotarczak used to be a monk. Now he presides over a salon-spa often touted as Baltimore’s best. That’s no great secret. But the impetus for his dramatic change isn’t something he’s often discussed.
It was sudden and simple, he says, the proverbial bolt of lightning. For six years, a monastic life in Baltimore suited him well, except for niggling details such as a disdain for teaching Latin and a longing to wear wild ties. Then, one day, he literally looked across a crowded room and fell in love at first sight with Bruce Perna, now his partner of 27 years.
“When Bruce came into my life, that was it: end of story,” Skotarczak says, adding that even as he speaks these words, he experiences a lovely déjà vu. “I adore him. I’ve got it made. I know I’ve got the best.”
Leaving the monastery to pursue a relationship with Perna was the prologue of a whole new story. “All of a sudden, I could be anything!” Skotarczak recalls. This heady feeling of freedom propelled him despite the fact that when he left, he had nowhere to go and little means of supporting himself. By day, he slept in a friend’s basement. By night, he sorted checks for a bank and tended bar.
“I was thrown into reality,” Skotarczak says. “I kept thinking, ‘They never told us at the monastery what it was like out there.’”
As luck would have it, Skotarczak had met some hairdressers who invited him to their salon for a haircut. After the haircut, he asked if he could come back the next day and watch everyone work. The third time he asked, they offered him an apprentice position, shampooing and assisting. Within three months, he was doing simple haircuts and perms and learning color.
“I came to Pikesville and got a haircut. And I never left,” says Skotarczak. “I grew fast. I knew how to be with people. I like to ‘max’ everybody. When I look at someone, I know just how they will look their best, and I want them to look that way. I want to help them transform.”
He opened Paul’s Salon in Woodholme Center in 1991 and in 1996 added a day spa. At about that time, Skotarczak made a pilgrimage to Rome to watch Sergio Russo, one of the finest hairdressers in the world, work in his salon. Skotarczak saw for himself how he and his staff compared. He came home with the goal of putting Baltimore on the hair salon map.
Though he has no regrets about leaving the monastery, for a while he had “dreams of standing behind a wrought-iron gate with the wind blowing my robes,” says the man whose tie collection now numbers in the thousands. “I loved my robes.” —Maryalice Yakutchik
Current career: Stand-up comic
Former career: Investment executive
Jody Jameson dreams of becoming the second most famous comedian with a former financial career. (Bob Newhart, C.P.A., holds the honor of being first.) Not bad company, figures Jameson, who wanted to do stand-up comedy as early as junior high, but abandoned the idea because “it just wasn’t a viable career choice.” Instead he followed a more traditional path: majoring in government and politics at the University of Maryland, earning his M.B.A. at Loyola and joining Legg Mason in 1994 as an investment executive.
But following that path, oddly enough, only re-ignited his boyhood dream. “Raymond Jones [associate professor of management and international business] at Loyola told us ‘Don’t have a passion to be rich. Have a passion to do something and the riches will follow,’” recalls Jameson. The words stuck, and when Jameson completed his broker training, he applied professional goal-setting principles to his personal life. Inspiration struck while watching a celebrity television profile of Jerry Seinfeld. “He said that stand-up is simply ‘making strangers pay to laugh.’ The next morning I went to Winchester’s Comedy Club in Baltimore and asked when open mike night was.
“I had a huge fear of public speaking, but I got a big laugh that first night,” he recalls. That was all it took— from September 1998 to March 1999, Jameson performed nearly 30 shows at the now-defunct Winchester’s. Every chance he got, he flew to Los Angeles, the Promised Land for comics. Then he quit the brokerage business in March 1999 and moved to L.A. “My whole family was incredibly supportive, but some co-workers raised their eyebrows and rightfully so,” Jameson says. He credits doubters in and out of the office with making him more antsy to prove himself. Within two months, he had landed a three-year gig at the legendary Comedy Store as the Saturday night opening act.
Though he’s back to trading stocks during the day, Jameson is adamant that it is only to pay bills. He continues to perform around L.A., perfecting his routine and working toward full-time stand-up.
Jameson prefers not to deem his new career as destiny. “I think ‘delusional’ is the right word,” Jameson says. “Certainly everybody thought I was delusional and that only motivated me to be more successful.”
Current career: Restaurant manager
Former career: Medical scientist/engineer
Hindsight being what it is, Jane Yu looks back on her childhood and sees her new career in the restaurant business staring her in the face. Her favorite childhood pastime— making breakfast in bed for her parents, complete with hand-drawn menus— encompassed everything she loves. “I love the creativity of entertaining, but I also love tackling problems in a methodical way,” says Yu, 32.
But Yu’s academic achievements— and the pressures that can come with such promise— pushed her into scientific fields. Dulaney High School valedictorian for 1988 and champion of “It’s Academic,” the WJZ-TV quiz show, Yu went on to study aerospace engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then entered the M.D./Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University. “When I started medical school, I thought that’s what I wanted to do,” explains Yu. “My first year, I knew something was missing, but I convinced myself that I loved it. You just rationalize it away.”
That feeling only grew stronger as she completed medical school and continued her Ph.D. studies in biomedical engineering and auditory neurophysiology. “In an incredibly intense academic environment, you have to be completely dedicated,” she says. “I liked medicine and working with patients but I didn’t have a passion for it. I willed it to click, but it just didn’t.”
To relieve stress, Yu cooked. And cooked. “It became an intense hobby for me,” she says. Friends would comment on how focused she was in the kitchen, a feeling she wanted from science but never found. In 2002, while working on her thesis, Yu took a job at A Cook’s Table in Federal Hill. “It was the first time that I really loved being at work,” Yu recalls. There she met Michael Marx, owner of Blue Agave Restaurante Y Tequileria. He needed help in the office, and in October 2002, Yu went to work for him part time.
“I fine-tune the technical aspects of the restaurant,” she explains. “I get to be a mathematician and engineer in a setting I love.” Her dream is to create her own franchise one day.
Yu’s desire not to disappoint her family and colleagues made the decision to leave medicine particularly difficult. But when she looks back over the past 11 years at Hopkins, she has no regrets. “If I had to do it all over again, I would have done it the exact same way,” she says.
Current career: Yoga instructor
Former career: Window washer
Eric Reid loves to teach Downward Facing Dog or Revolved Triangle Pose— graceful yoga stances that are a far cry from his last career’s main pose: Balance with Squeegee, executed while harnessed to a skyscraper 40 floors above downtown Baltimore.
For 15 years, Reid washed the windows of the William Donald Schaefer Tower, BWI Airport and several other commercial and residential properties through his business, Watermen Services. “I’ve always liked being in high places,” he says with a laugh. “Other people’s hearts jump, but I’ve always felt quite at home.”
As a boy of 7 in his native Liverpool, England, he managed to scale the roof of his elementary school. When he was 10 and his family moved to Maryland, he found his way to the roof of every school he attended. In 1989 he founded Watermen Services, adding to an already eclectic list of careers that included tow truck driver, shoe salesman, indoor softball arena manager, and beer vendor at Memorial Stadium (in the nosebleed section, naturally).
Alas, Reid’s love for heights was the very thing that led to his grounding. While bouldering in 1988, Reid fell 10 feet and broke his back. Doctors told him he would be in pain for the rest of his life, a condition he refused to accept. “After the back brace came off, I joined a yoga class and just kept going,” Reid recalls. His back pain disappeared, and Reid was soon teaching a few sparsely populated classes.
“I thought I would like to make it a career,” he recalls. “But back then, it wasn’t a way of making a living.” He continued to teach part time and continued to wash windows, and as yoga’s popularity grew, so did his desire to make a career change.
“With washing skyscraper windows, you make one mistake and you’re done,” deadpans Reid, 46, who says he’s not afraid of falling— only landing. “I got to the point where I began to think window-washing was better for younger people.” Now the owner of Oella Mill Yoga Center, he dissolved Watermen Services in 2001 and began teaching full time, a decision that came without regrets. “It was a joy to teach yoga and the timing was right. Fortunately, the dollars, to some degree, followed.”
But Reid’s addiction to heights didn’t end with the end of his window-washing career. “I still go rock climbing to get my jollies,” he says.