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Career Shift: When Your Field Has Seen Better Days

When a pro photographer's income kept fading, she refocused and opened Mindful Transitions to help others deal with moving and downsizing

“I’m done.” I had said it more than a few times. My 20-year career as a professional architectural photographer in Boston and Atlanta had been a long, slow fizzle.  
I’d been fortunate, though, to have a job doing something I love. Both my commercial work and artistic photography were interesting, enjoyable and — for a while — they paid well. I never had the name recognition of Annie Lebowitz, but I was happy to say I was a pro photographer.
Rethinking a Photography Career
The question, “What next?” had been in the back of my mind for some time as I endured the changes and diminishing income in my chosen profession. As a self-employed person with an entrepreneurial spirit, I wasn’t afraid of a challenge and, being in my 50s, I was too young to retire.
(MORE: How Women Can Reinvent Their Careers After 50)
My about-face career change finally became a reality last November when my business partner, Tina Chen, and I launched our San Francisco-based company, Mindful Transitions, to assist individuals and families with all aspects of residential moves, estate settlements, downsizing and relocations. (In her new book, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+, Next Avenue blogger Kerry Hannon recommends becoming a senior move manager to ride the “age wave.”)
My waning career as a photographer happened to coincide with my mother’s move into an assisted living facility in Pittsburgh. It was a challenging time. My brother, three sisters and I were scattered around the country and needed to coordinate this huge transition, which took more than a year.
How Her Mom Kindled Her Career Shift
Helping to orchestrate moving a person into a 500-square-foot apartment after living in a six-bedroom home for more than 30 years made a deep impression on me. I didn’t know it at the time, but the experience planted the seeds of what would become my second act. Tina had helped arrange a similar relocation for her parents, so she brought a personal connection to the business, too.
She and I had discussed many potential businesses over the decade that we’d known each other. We settled on the idea behind Mindful Transitions because so many friends, acquaintances and relatives could use this type of service and we figured many others could, too. We’ve seen how emotions and memories associated with a family home can cripple some people.
(MORE: 3 Great Jobs to Ride the Age Wave)
It would be a second career for both of us. With a background in finance, Tina had worked at Microsoft as well as in her parent’s Chinese restaurant. We realized that her experience would be an excellent complement to my creative side.
Smart Startup Advice from SCORE
As we started noodling about the fledgling business, we sought guidance from our local SCORE chapter. SCORE, a nonprofit affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration, is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs get their companies off the ground, grow and achieve their goals. (Next Avenue has published many instructive SCORE articles on entrepreneurship.)
Our mentor at SCORE, Jim Cogan, saw us twice a month, helping to develop a business plan and provide marketing pointers. We discussed how to avoid the typical pitfalls of startups and cater to customers of a service business.
Thanks to Cogan’s advice and our financially conservative approach, Mindful Transitions is already profitable. My earnings so far, however, are much smaller than what I was making as a photographer, but I'm optimistic about the future.
(MORE: How to Create a Profitable Second-Act Career)
Recently, our SCORE chapter ran a publicity campaign featuring local small businesses, including Mindful Transitions. It wasn’t until we were interviewed for the article that I realized how much Tina and I had already accomplished.
How She Feels Today
Am I happier?
Like most people who’ve been forced into making a career shift, the answer to that question is complicated. But I think the Japanese proverb on my desk reflects where I am. It says: “The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.”
Joanne Devereaux, a professional photographer, is the co-founder of Mindful Transitions, a San Francisco-based company that assists individuals and families with all aspects of residential moves, estate settlements, downsizing and relocations.

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