How I did it: Switched career paths by taking an unexpected pivot

March 29, 2023

Making a mid-career change in your profession can be scary, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Read how one woman’s unexpected events led her to take a leap into a new career, and what she’s learned along the way.

Two things converged to prompt Rachel Richardson’s journey towards a new career. First, newspaper journalism became less stable. And then her health took a sudden turn. 

Walking through Target in 2017, she suddenly felt as if she’d been whacked in the back of the head with a bat. She went straight to the emergency room, unable to turn her head. The eventual diagnosis: A tiny subarachnoid brain hemorrhage due to a rare brain malformation involving abnormal blood flow around the brain.

The first step in a new direction

“It led me to reconsider a lot of things,” says Richardson, a U.S. Bank customer who lives with her husband and cats in the Cincinnati suburb of Milford.  

One of them was her career situation. As a newspaper reporter, she had loved the adrenalin rush of tight deadlines and big scoops. She enjoyed investigating government incompetence and being a voice for the underdog. 

But when the journalism business constricted and layoffs became commonplace, her husband urged her to find something else. So she took a public-relations position at a local academic institution. It was a good job but felt tedious compared to her previous role. 

“I started to realize: I’m in a job I don’t like. I can’t stay here for 25 years. And journalism was out. Nobody was hiring.”

Around the same time, Richardson had decided as a citizen to file a complaint against her local government for violations of Ohio’s open meetings law. Someone said: Have you ever thought of becoming an attorney?

A light bulb went off. She enjoyed her volunteer work as a guardian ad litem in the courts, representing the interests of children in family cases. Law could be ideal - a way to combine her watchdog instincts with a more fulfilling career path. 

At the age of 39, Richardson took the leap.

The pivot towards a new career

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says with a smile. The amount of studying required was daunting; she would hit the books at 5:30 a.m. every morning and then head to work. In 2021 she left her PR job and became a full-time student. 

Finances were another challenge. At Northern Kentucky University, where Richardson attends, law school costs about $27,000 per year for four years, she says. She and her husband took stock of the situation and decided they could swing it. 

Among the factors that helped:   

  • They paid off a credit card, freeing up about $700 a month.
  • She cut way back on online shopping
  • She saves some money simply by not working: No more commute, monthly parking fees, lunches out.
  • She receives a $7,000 per year merit scholarship, and she took out federal student loans to cover the rest. After she pays on the loans for 10 years, the government will forgive the remainder if she has a job in civil service, she says. This aligns perfectly with her goal of becoming a public-interest lawyer. 
  • During time off from school, she takes fellowships for which she receives a stipend. Two years ago, her work with Equal Justice Works’ Rural Summer Legal Corps involved helping people with housing, employment and other legal issues related to opiod addiction. 

Richardson will graduate in May and take the bar on her 16th wedding anniversary. 

Her advice for others considering a career pivot? “It’s never too late,” she says. Think about your favorite parts of your current job, and about the other experiences that you find motivating. Is there a way to combine the two in a different career? 

“When I decided on law school, I thought back on what I loved as a reporter, and it was covering crime and courts. Exposing wrongdoing. I thought I could get the same thing out of law, but in a different capacity,” Richardson says.

Another bit of advice: It’s okay to seek true fulfillment – not just a paycheck - in what you do for a living. Some people are wired that way. 

“I’ve always found work to be an extension of who I am as a person,” Richardson says. “What I do needs to have meaning and serve the greater good.”


Ready to take the next step along your professional journey? Find tips and inspiration to help you get there.  

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