Presto Change-O!

On average, you will have at least three careers in your lifetime. With the right preparation, the transitions can be like magic.

to the States in 1992. Four years later, after completing his dissertation, he was hired by Lehman College.

James’ strategy was different because he had none. "All my career decisions were arbitrary," says the assistant professor of English and black studies. "I wouldn’t tell someone to necessarily do what I’ve done. I had interests in certain things and pursued them. But I sacrificed my family to get here," says James, who has three children — including sons Robert and Elliot — from two marriages. Nonetheless, James echoes the sentiment of so many multiple careerists. "I don’t know if I’m finished yet. This profession suits me now, but at some point, I may decide to do something else."

In 1974, R. Lucia Riddle and her husband moved to Des Moines, Iowa, and the medical technologist had a hard time finding a job in her field. When she saw the classified ad for an insurance claims processor at what was then Bankers Life of Iowa, her wheels started turning. "I thought health claims and medical technology fit, and so did they," recalls the University of Missouri graduate. She was hired, and her experience supervising a lab as a chief chemistry technologist catapulted her into the management trainee program.

"I noticed that many people in my department had titles. I asked my supervisor what title I should use," recalls Riddle. "He laughed, but then told me about the corporate structure, to become involved in the community and what he would expect of me in order to promote me. It turned out to be some of the best advice I’d ever gotten."

Even when one has the drive to thrive, they also need a little help from the outside: mentors, confidantes, coaches. "You need a board of advisors who can lead the way and help you overcome your fears," notes Smye. "Choose people who can offer you new skills and perspectives. If you want to go from accounting to sales, you’ll want the kind of backup that mentors in sales, marketing, advertising and distribution can give you."

In 1974, when Riddle’s company changed its name to the Principal Financi
al Group, she was ready for change and set her sights on being a manager, then an officer and then a second vice president. She kept a log of her goals and accomplishments and set up a time frame in which these successions would occur. After becoming an assistant manager in 1977, she gave herself two years to become a manager. When she hit that landmark, she factored in five years for a junior officer position and three more before she’d be a director. By 1997, with an M.B.A. from Drake University in Des Moines, Riddle had moved across customer service and operations to become vice president of government relations.

"I had been working in Washington, D.C., on public policy when I started to seriously think about being a lobbyist," says Riddle, 50. When you’re

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