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:
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.”
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