Real People, Successful Career Changes

At some point in their lives, most people will make at least one career change. It might be a slight adjustment, like to a different position within the company. Or, it might be a colossal change, to a completely different industry or sector.

Whatever the change may be, make sure you're ready for it. Check out the following successful career changes and see how these people made their dreams come true.

1. Tammy Trenta, wealth manager to small-business owner

Her story: Tammy Trenta worked as a financial planner and wealth manager for 13 years. Along the way, she received her graduate degree and other industry credentials, always striving for more. As she embarked on her 30s, she felt stable, but uncertain about what to do next.

"I was comfortable, but not necessarily satisfied," Trenta says.

Then Trenta developed an idea for women's career bags - something that stylish and classy and could fit everything from a computer to high heels. As she developed a business plan in her spare time, she was chosen as a contestant for season five of "The Apprentice." After launching the company, Theresa Kathryn, (, Trenta continued her day job and bag business. Eventually, the company needed Trenta more than she needed her day job, so she left her lucrative financial-planning position to concentrate on her bags full-time. Her bags have appeared in numerous publications and TV shows, and are available in 50 stores nationwide, including select Bloomingdales and online.

"I knew I had found something I was passionate about because I didn't feel like I was working," Trenta says. "It was more of a challenging project for me."

Advice for others: "Make sure that whatever it is that you choose to do is truly a passion of yours, something that will instill a relentless perseverance. Expect to take some steps back in the meantime until you can fully develop yourself in that capacity."

2. Karen Quinn, corporate finance to entrepreneur to best-selling author

Her story: After being downsized from her job at American Express after 17 years in corporate America, Karen Quinn wanted out of the daily nine-to-five. While reading a motivational book, she was inspired by the idea that if you can think of something people hate doing, there might be a business in doing it for them.

"In New York City, one of a parent's most dreaded activities is going through the admissions process to get their children into nursery school or kindergarten. It is an absolute nightmare," she says. "I had gone through it with my two children and absolutely hated it. I decided to start a business where I would make the process easier for parents."

She started Smart City Kids and after two admissions seasons of helping families through the process, Quinn burned out and sold the business. While her husband pushed her to get a job, she realized she had enough crazy stories - about parents who stopped at nothing to get their children into the best schools - to write a novel. After just three months, Quinn finished "The Ivy Chronicles," which has since sold more than 300,000 copies and is being made into a movie starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. She has written two additional novels - and she never did have to get that job.

"Even though I didn't know how to run a small business or write a book, I didn't let that stop me," Quinn says. "I was open to the possibility of failure; finally, I believed I would be successful. I think you get what you believe is possible."

Advice for others: Don't be afraid to change careers completely if you want to do something different, Quinn says. "There is nothing more invigorating than working at something you have a passion for."

3. Ross Shafer, store owner to television talk-show host/motivational speaker

His story: After college, Ross Shafer wanted to be an entrepreneur. In his small town (population 4,000) in Washington, he started Sounds OK Stereo & Pet, a store complete with everything from birds to puppies to chinchillas to stereo equipment (yes, you read that right). Eventually, Shafer got tired of working more than 70 hours per week for less than $200 and he vowed to do something different: get into entertainment.

After "haunting comedy clubs," Shafer finally landed a five-minute appearance on the "Alan Thicke Show" and earned himself the opportunity to pitch an idea for a new comedy show. It was funny enough to get a 13-week order. Shafer went on to host a TV show, "Almost Live," for four-and-a-half years and then hosted the game shows, "Love Me, Love Me Not" and "The New Match Game." In 1988, Shafer competed among the likes of Arsenio Hall and Martin Sheen for a late-night talk-show host spot - and won. Soon after, he hosted "The Late Show with Ross Shafer" for one year.

After being canceled from five network talk and game shows, Shafer now travels the country speaking to corporate groups about business growth.

"In the writing and speaking business, nobody will cancel my show as long as I continue to be relevant, provide insight, cross-pollinate ideas from other industries, and bring some entertainment to the mix. I used to think being a talk-show host was the best job in the world," he says. "I'd meet a slew of celebrities from all walks of show business, which was fun. But today, I meet fascinating world shakers...I have a front row seat to some of the most interesting meetings in the world."

His advice: "No career is perfect. Ask questions of people who are doing what you dream of doing. Ask them to describe the downside of what they do," he says. "If you must, try this new career because you'll have lifelong regrets if you don't. That's a calling, a passion. Passion and commitment will succeed in the face of all adversity."

4. Harry Slatkin, Wall Street financier to home-fragrance millionaire

His story: Harry Slatkin started his first company with his brother when he was 16 years old - a "disaster but a tremendous learning experience." A former financier, he spent eight years working on Wall Street, working his way up to a director position at Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. But it wasn't enough. Slatkin left the finance field to pursue his true passion: home fragrance.

"Funny enough, when I worked on Wall Street I cared about making money until I started my company, which is when I started caring more about the passion of the product," he says. "The money part shifted much lower down on the priority list."

In 1993 Slatkin launched his candle business, Slatkin & Co. Working out of a tiny store-front, he tinkered with formulas until he developed candles that kept their fragrance and burned slowly and evenly. He caught a break when Rose Marie Bravo (then president of Saks Inc.) visited Slatkin's store and liked what she saw. Saks Inc. began selling his candles on the same floor as couture dresses. Other high-end retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman also sold his candles.

In 2005, Limited Brand's Bath & Body Works purchased Slatkin & Co. and named Harry the president of the home fragrance division. He has since created collections for personalities like Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. And in September 2007, Sir Elton John awarded Slatkin the "Enduring Vision" award for raising millions of dollars through his Elton John home fragrance line for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

"There have been so many positive changes in my life since I have followed my passion. The fulfillment I receive through doing my work has made me continually happy," he says.

His advice: "Just go for it and never look back."

Next: How 4 Women Found Better Careers >>

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