5 People Who Turned A Passion Into A New Career

5 People Who Turned A Passion Into A New Career
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5 People Who Turned A Passion Into A New Career

Few musicians can claim to have worked in a Maine shoe factory, but that's where Ray Lamontagne found himself working shortly after graduating high school, with no particular plans to do anything else with his life. But one morning serendipity stepped in, when his radio alarm clock woke him to Stephen Stills' "Treetop Flyer."

The song was an epiphany for Lamontagne, who soon embarked on a new career in music, even though he never played an instrument or even gave music much thought. He taught himself to play guitar by listening to artists such as Neil Young and the Rolling Stones. He then quit his job to devote his time to writing music.

By 1999, then in his mid-20s, the young songwriter had put together a demo tape featuring 10 songs, which he sent to a music publisher. Lamontagne's talent was evident and he was given a contract and teamed with a producer. The result was the artist's first album, 2004's "Trouble." Follow-up albums soon followed, including his latest, "God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise," released last year.

Several of his songs have been featured on popular TV programs, such as "Grey's Anatomy," "One Tree Hill" and "Bones."

Lots of people dream of working for the president of the United States, but it was a reality for Ina Garten, who in 1978 was working in the White House Office of Management and Budget and -- if you can believe it -- was bored. She was looking for more creative work when she happened across an ad in The New York Times for a tiny specialty-food store, called Barefoot Contessa.

As Garten herself tells it: "My husband Jeffrey and I drove to Long Island to see the store and I fell in love." Though she had no food experience, Garten made the owner a low offer, believing it would give her ample time to think about whether she really wanted the business. To her surprise, the owner called the next day to accept the offer, and Barefoot Contessa became her baby. She ran the store for 18 years before selling it to two employees in 1996. Garten then embarked on a career writing cookbooks and books on how to entertain. Her enterprise has since spread to cable TV, where Garten dispenses recipes and advice on the Food Network.

Hollis Lewis worked as a head of safety and security at Rockefeller Center for more than 20 years. In that role, he was responsible for the well-being of some 7,000 workers employed in one of the world's tallest buildings. It was demanding work, requiring Lewis to respond to emails and texts within 15 minutes of receiving them, regardless of the time of day or night.

"My BlackBerry would go off all the d*** time," says Lewis, who lives in New Jersey. Eager for some quiet time for himself, he started studying yoga in 2001 and soon after began teaching.

He longed to give up his job, but didn't dare walk away from a steady paycheck. Ultimately it was a change in building management that resulted in Lewis losing his job nearly two years ago, just shy of his 21st anniversary. Armed with a small severance, Lewis started his own yoga business -- Happy Hollis Days -- which he began on April 1, 2011. Looking back, he says, "I thought to myself: 'This [may be] the biggest April Fool's Day prank I've ever played on myself.' But when I look back, it wasn't."

Margaret Miller learned to weave at a young age. Taught by her grandmother, the native of New York state "developed a passion for color and texture and yarn" at age 8. But it wasn't until nearly 40 years later that she embraced her love of weaving and turned to it as a way to make a living.

Miller had been working at her husband's construction business, handling office tasks -- scheduling, answering phones, etc. But after three years she realized that it just wasn't working. "I was confident in what I was doing, but I wasn't loving it," Miller says. Still, she needed a new career, but what?

A dream inspired her to start weaving again. Guided by her vision, she decided in 2001 to open a store on Main Street in her tiny Vermont village, where she had lived for nearly a decade. She called it Margie's Muse and sold her creations as well as those of other weavers. "It was a beautiful little oasis," she says. Hard times forced her to close the store in 2011, but the 54-year-old Miller still makes a living looming from her home. "I can't imagine not doing it," she says.

Amy Vernon was an accomplished journalist who had worked steadily as a newspaper reporter and editor for nearly two decades, before she lost her editor job at a suburban New York daily, The Journal News, during the "Great Newspaper Culling of 2008." Unemployed with two young children, Vernon found a new career in social media, which quickly became her family's means of support.

Prior to getting laid off, she'd already been dabbling in and seen the value in Digg, a social-news site that allowed users to vote stories up or down. For Vernon, it was a rush, since getting stories promoted to Digg's front page was wildly addictive, Vernon told AOL Jobs in 2011.

Vernon's first Digg front page was a post that she wrote on the TV show "24," which was so wildly popular that it crashed her blog. Her success continued, and Vernon, 43, has gone on to become a social-media maven, of sorts, sought out for her expertise and advice. In the now more than four years since she was laid off, Vernon has never had to apply for a job, she says. Jobs have come to her. Today, she is general manager of social marketing at Internet Media Labs, a social-technology startup, based in Manhattan.