A big change in mid-life
Career transitions are tough at any age, but what happens when they’re forced on us by COVID-19? Being laid off was just the “spiritual kick in the pants” Dee Cavalier says she needed to shift from fashion to social work. While she admits she’s still a work in progress, by writing her fears down and always looking for a resolution, Dee knows she’s found her purpose in life.
The last few months have been filled with stories about the difficult, heartbreaking and devastating impacts from COVID-19. It has wreaked havoc, often in tragic ways, on so many. When Denise ‘Dee’ Cavalier got the news in March that she was being laid off from her high-flying and glamourous job in the fashion industry, initial worry quickly dissolved into a new thought – possibility.
Maybe, just maybe, after a couple of years of wondering if she was in the right place, she could explore a long cherished dream of getting into the helping profession.
Even if you only see her on a small computer screen, as I have, the screen can barely contain Dee’s dazzling smile and vivacious personality. She is confident of her own voice but revels in building strong connections with other people. It’s no surprise that she went full force into the fashion world and it welcomed her.
Living the dream
As a young 20-something, graduating in business and fashion merchandising from Seneca College, Dee stepped into an environment that many young women only dream of. Through a professor, Dee got a job as a wholesale rep for Tommy Hilfiger and while the job was demanding, the perks more than made up for it. “Clothing allowance, car allowance, going to industry parties, meeting cool people, attending fashion shows,” she says. “I was living the dream.”
That didn’t mean success came easily. “I was the only black girl in a predominantly white office; all my clients were white. There were moments when I felt I wasn’t good enough,” she remembers. For Dee that just meant working harder to build trust. “Being able to prove my worth and build relationships really helped with my self-esteem.”
At a certain point, about a year ago, the glamour started to fade. “I felt like I was hitting a glass ceiling and couldn’t go any further,” she says. “I was in my late 40s and it wasn’t about the money or the perks anymore.” Dee started to question her career – what’s my purpose, where do I fit in?
All there – in her journal
“A personality test in my job confirmed that I’m an altruistic, empathic person,” she says. A lifelong diarist, Dee was shocked to read an early journal entry that spoke to what was then a wild idea. “I wrote about creating an organization for women, where we would collaborate and grow and mentor each other – I had written it all out years ago and completely forgot about it!” Her first thought on reading it was, how cool would it be to be able to do something like that?
Still, there was the fear of stepping away from a career that had been painstakingly built and wondering if she could still be relevant in a new field at 48. “I didn’t want to let go of something that was a constant to me. As long as the money was coming in, I was ok!”
For a while going to yoga, joining a Caribbean choir and building a strong social circle kept the doubts at bay, but the moment of truth came unexpectedly with COVID-19. “Being laid off was the trigger – it was almost like a spiritual kick in the pants! Time to get off my behind and pursue what I was put on this earth to do.”
Living a new dream
She started researching schools and selected the Community Service Worker program at the Canadian Business College. Four months into the 12-month program, Dee is living a new dream and it feels completely right. “I have no fear, I’m super stoked, because I know the shoe fits. It’s the right fit for me.” What about that old “living without a paycheque” fear? Oh, yeah, it’s still there, she laughs. But, journaling is her comfort and salvation. “I write all the time and I even have a section in my journal called Resolution to my Issues,” she says. “I write it out and come to a conclusion – ‘This is what you’re doing to do Denise.’ Once I have a resolution, I am ok.”
Dee says her formula for managing anxiety might sound crazy, but it really works. “Reading back what you’ve written helps you see that you’re over-reacting and everything is going to be fine.” More than fine. Dee makes no effort to tamp down the enthusiasm that bubbles up when she thinks about the tagline for her new life – “My goal is to serve. What a bonus to get paid for doing that!”
Here are Dee’s suggestions for making a big leap in your life:
1 - Write it down. Write down your plan, where you see yourself, what makes you happy.
2 - Start talking to people who are in the industry you want to be a part of. It if means volunteering, do that.
3 – Do your research – where is this career shift going to take me? Can I do this in my 60s and my 70s? Can I invest the 2nd part of my life in doing this?
"The key is meaning,” she says. “It’s your life. If there is a feeling in the pit of your stomach – what am I doing, why am I doing this – it’s time for you to make a change.”