We tend to hear stories of overnight successes or people who were born with a passion for saving the world. We think, “Guess I’m just destined for this life then” rather than going for what we feel passionate or excited about.
The good news is cases like those are the exception, not the rule. You can build whatever career you want, no matter what you’ve done before and where you want to go next. If you’re thinking about making a career change, find inspiration in these stories of people who made their own path to success and remember: you can do it too.
Never Take No For an Answer
Ali Payani, founder of LookinLA, has come up against many obstacles on his journey to be an entrepreneur. After starting his first company in Iran when he was 14 years old, he went on to get his Bachelors in Computer Science and Masters in IT Management—along the way he won a number of international technology competitions.
When he was ready to develop his next startup, he hit his first roadblock: “I couldn't register my startup in Dubai because Iranians were banned from starting their business! That was a bummer but didn't make me quit. I just found a solution.” That solution: starting his company in another country.
That’s when he came to I came to the U.S, where he was attending the Persian Tech Entrepreneurs summit in San Francisco. “I met successful investors and entrepreneurs and I shared my story and pitched my startup. I established Fortment, Inc., developing an air quality wearable device to monitor air toxics. I was using AI algorithms to increase detection accuracy and also developed a software solution to help COPD patients and individuals to be alarmed of toxic air changes.”
While his work is in a field that’s important, when he applied to get an O-1 (extraordinary visa) to continue his business in the U.S. at that time, there was a travel ban issued. “No more visas for Iranians even in the U.S. Same problem as before, but again, it couldn't stop me.” Instead of taking no for an answer, he applied and got the Visa after all.
While he built one company, he started another to earn income: LookinLA, A Digital Marketing Agency. “Now LookinLA is six-figure company and I'm working 14 hours a day, every day. I’ve been rejected many times, got problems, no money, no projects, but never stopped planning to grow the business.”
The Longer the Road the More Experience You Earn
Steve Furst, who is now the Director of Operations for EPOCH, a student housing organization, has held nearly every role within his industry, including General Manager, Training Manager, Area Manager, Regional Manager, and Regional Supervisor. He’s also worked across 23 different collegiate markets all before becoming a partner doing work he’s truly passionate about.
It was this windy road to finally becoming a partner that taught him everything he now uses to be successful in his career. Furst explains, “During this time, I’ve had experience working with conventional assets; conversions from conventional to student; HUD-funded properties; Affordable Housing programs; and every facet of Student Housing from new development to rehabilitations.”
What’s more, he met many mentors along the way: “I’ve had the honor of serving under a number of excellent mentors, all of whom were able to advance my knowledge and skill through their leadership.”
As Furst looks back on his career thus far, he knows it has only made him better at what he does. He says, “This variety of experience has been invaluable, but has taught me that there is always room to grow. I draw heavily on the experiential platform provided by my tenure in the industry. With much on the line, building a business from the ground up (literally, and figuratively), this experience has proven invaluable.”
While his career could have stopped at any of those other positions, he was always eager to learn more and test his skills. Now, as a partner in a growing organization, he may just stick around for a while.
Just When You Thought You Reached the Top...You Didn’t
Kevin Sneddon is now the Managing Partner of The Private Client Team at Compass Real Estate. He’s also the son of an NYC fireman and one of five children. When it was time for college, he went to a state school—”the only affordable option for me”—and secured a summer internship at American Express.
But that internship was only step one. Sneddon says, “Through the process of making connections, I was able to parlay this internship to a full-time position in a different division of the company.” Sure enough, within 10 years he had climbed the ladder to Vice President.
Despite his success with American Express, he felt something was missing. “I never felt it was my true calling. Having worked with my father in his window replacement ‘side business’ during high school, I spent a lot of time inside the beautiful brownstones of Park Slope. As it turns out, this was cultivating a real passion for real estate within me.”
He left his VP position to become a real estate entrepreneur, starting as an investor and developer, and realized there was a need for specialized residential brokerage services. “I then founded my own brokerage called Project Real Estate, where I serviced the needs of real estate investors/developers.”
What’s more, he leaned on the network he cultivated on Wall Street, while at American Express, to service high net worth individuals. “I am proud to say that I have brokered real estate transactions on behalf of some of the smartest and most successful people in the world.”
Yet his story doesn’t end there. Most recently, earlier this year, he moved to Compass where he’s able to once again marry his passion and skills. “I was introduced to Robert Reffkin earlier this year, and was completely blown away by him, his vision for Compass, where he continues to flex his skills in real estate and finance to build a life he and his father can be proud of. “I consider myself successful because real estate is who I am—not just what I do.”
A Transition from Science to Art is Possible
Patrice Gopo is the author of All the Colors We Will See, an essay collection about race, immigration, and belonging. She speaks about the power of personal storytelling and her book was recently named a Barnes & Noble Fall 2018 Discover Great New Writers selection.
Things started in a much different place for Gopo, though. She explains: “My road to success absolutely has not been a straight line. I started my career in the field of chemical engineering even though I had a passion for community transformation and the pursuit of social justice.”
After several years in the field, she finally decided to head back to graduate school for her MBA and master of public policy. Her next move: “Using my skills to work in the field of community development. From there, her journey continued to South Africa where she met her future husband.
After marrying and starting their life together in Cape Town, she hit a roadblock: she didn’t have a work permit. That’s when she discovered writing. “I discovered how sharing my personal stories around race, immigration, and belonging was, in fact, another avenue to speak into the public conversations happening around issues that mattered to me.”
Her winding journey has taught her that nothing can stop us if we’re open to growing and learning. “This mindset makes me acutely aware that while I love writing, and I’m thrilled with how writing has become the avenue to help me speak into issues of injustice, I know there may be other career stops in the future.”
What helped her get here today, breaking out of her career to try something new? “When I look back over these years, I think the key for me to get to where I am today was a willingness to take the next step and the next step without seeing a fully illuminated path ahead of me.”
Nothing Can Box You In
If you’ve spent more than 20 years as a professional chef in the food industry, you might think your career is set. Not for Kim Paciotti CPDT-KA, dog trainer and owner of Training Canines. She explains, “Working in the fast-paced food industry as a professional chef for more than 20 years is a daunting career. A career that would leave me frustrated and not sure how to carry on.”
Not to mention, it’s an industry that “builds itself with young talent and ideas.” Being 49 years old and still working 12 hour days were just a few reasons why Paciotti wanted to make a career change—not to mention, it was 2009 and “the economy was just as brutal as the job I was facing.”
So she did what no one would have thought: she took the plunge to become a dog trainer. Not only did she already love dogs, but at the time her 10-month-old English Mastiff was deemed “not trainable” so she dove right in.
She spent time in school, volunteered at rescues, and finally, after many years, received her certification through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers. When that happened, her company, Training Canines, LLC, was formed.
Now, she’s doing what she loves and specializes in early puppy development with a team of dog lovers around her. She even has a newly released book, “A Puppy’s Perspective: 101 Puppy Training Tips You Need to Know.” It just goes to show, you never know where your career can take you.
The Road to Success is Never a Straight Line
Going from chef to dog trainer or chemical engineer to public speaker may sound random, but there are no rules for your career. You make it what you want, whether you hold every job in the industry or fight through all obstacles to get to a country that will allow you to explore your passions. Your career is whatever you want it to be, so don’t hold yourself back.