A career change is nearly always a disruptive, risky maneuver. It can require a considerable investment of time and even money — and possibly a few steps down the seniority ladder — for uncertain rewards. But better pay, prospects and on-the-job fulfillment can ultimately make such a transition more than worthwhile.
Fortunately for Angelenos, this city boasts world-class educational resources for adults making major career transitions. Schools such as Antioch University Los Angeles (www.antiochla.edu) and UCLA Extension (www.uclaextension.edu) offer programs designed for the specific needs of mid-career professionals seeking to change their professional path.
Antioch University offers a degree completion program as well as graduate programs in education, psychology, creative writing, organizational management and urban sustainability for adults seeking continuing education, with flexible schedules that include night and weekend classes. UCLA Extension offers more than 1,000 courses and more than 100 professional certificate programs, from architecture and interior design to English as a second language and real estate.
Mary DeChambres is a living example of how Southern California's adult educational opportunities can facilitate a successful career change. At age 30, DeChambres made the move from the security of a successful teaching career to the famously unstable entertainment industry and is now an Emmy Award-winning reality television editor.
Having graduated from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, in 1989 with a degree in arts education, DeChambres immediately started working as an art teacher in the Aldine Independent School District in Houston. She was passionate about her work, and within a decade her students were winning national awards.
"The only way for me to move up in my career would be to move out of the classroom," she explained. "And if I was going to move out of the classroom, I might as well try something different."
When DeChambres was given a teaching copy of Avid digital video-editing software, her career change was set in motion. "I actually had started to edit in my classroom with my students and I just really enjoyed it," she recalled. "The time would absolutely fly by whenever I was editing, so I thought, well, maybe I could do something with this."
So DeChambres rented a little apartment in Santa Monica for the summer of 2000 and threw herself into intensive Avid classes at the USC.
"It's not like you're enrolling in the university — it's just a summer workshop that they offer," she said. "You're there five days a week and you're working with the software and it's basically like a boot camp."
DeChambres soon parlayed the skills learned in class into an internship at a post-production music video and commercial house, secure in the knowledge that she could return to teaching in the new academic year if things didn't work out.
"I think it helped that I was willing to work for free, and it also helped that I was a teacher," she said. "They knew that I was going to show up on time. They knew I would get everything done."
With the skills learned during her internship, DeChambres — within six weeks of her USC class — snagged an entry-level position as a nighttime dubber with Van Nuys-based reality TV pioneers Bunim/Murray Productions (best known for "The Real World" and "Road Rules").
DeChambres soon worked her way up to assistant editor and then to editor and has worked on reality shows including "Jersey Shore," "Hardcore Pawn" and "Tool Academy." Her job entails editing hundreds of hours of raw footage into watchable 40-minute episodes, refining storylines and adding music. In 2009 she was part of a team of seven editors who won an Emmy for their work on "Project Runway." Now freelance, she is working on "The O'Neals," a show that follows the lives of actors Ryan and Tatum O'Neal and will air this summer on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
"I would say you do want to take risks — and it is a risk to change careers — but try to do it in a calculated fashion," DeChambres said. "I think it also helps to talk to people who are actually doing the work that you want to do — find out the steps they took to get there and then you can create your own path based on their guidance."
The lessons of Mary DeChambres' story are many: acquire up-to-date, marketable skills; be prepared to swallow your pride and take an initial financial hit; be flexible in your job expectations in order to get a foot in the door; and have a fall-back plan.
—Paul Rogers, Brand Publishing Writer