Second Time Around

Big Career Changes
by Inspiring Women
By Erin Pagel
Photography by Fagan Studios

Taking a big step in changing careers can be hard but very rewarding. From a pediatric physical therapist to student of construction technology and from executive director to executive director plus alcohol and drug counseling intern, we caught up with two amazing women who are embracing the unknown and reaching for new career dreams. Here are their words of wisdom.  


After 19 years and a fulfilling career as a pediatric physical therapist, Erin Kieley was accomplished in her career. Kieley provided physical therapy focusing on pediatric incontinence and pelvic floor issues. She loved her job yet was ready for something new. 

When a friend asked Kieley what gives her energy, Kieley’s thoughts settled on a home-building project and how much she liked working through its expected and unexpected challenges. She enjoyed working with the construction team and was learning a lot along the way. Kieley was intrigued by the construction industry but didn’t know much about it. After serious self-reflection, Kieley began looking at different types of construction jobs and talking to people who work in construction. She asked about a typical day and what individuals like most and least about their roles and the industry. 

Knowing that she was leaving her medical practice in good hands, Kieley decided to quit her job as a physical therapist and enroll in the construction technology program at Southeast Minnesota State College in Winona. “The hardest part was leaving my coworkers,” says Kieley. “It’s exciting to prove to myself that I’ve still got it and can do most things I put mind to.” 

Physical therapy is a demanding and physical job, but now, as a student, Kieley spends about 30% of her time in a classroom with students (mostly young men) about half her age and about 70% of her time in her 30-pound tool belt working on a hands-on building project. “It’s invigorating and so much fun!” says Kieley. A mother of two, Kieley knows her kids are watching and learning not to let fear hold them back. “That’s so important,” she says.

Deciding to make a major career change comes with some anxiety. “I wasn’t completely confident in my ability to go back to school after 20 years,” says Kieley, “Construction is physical work. Could I physically do it?” Balancing school, family, kids and financial obligations was a concern as well. Kieley has been surprised by how much fun she’s had working alongside adults nearly half her age. “There are no expectations,” she says, “and I’ve proven to myself that I can do this.”


Regina Mustafa, founder and executive director of Rochester’s Community Interfaith Dialogue on Islam (CIDI) advocates for interfaith connections and bringing religions together. In her work with CIDI, Mustafa discovered a need to address the stigma of addiction and mental health challenges in the Muslim community. Mustafa notes a lack of culturally competent people to offer services in minority communities. 

Feeling called to a role where she could help people who are struggling, Mustafa notes that her passion “kind of found me.” Mustafa credits her supportive family and the faculty at Winona State University in Rochester for supporting and encouraging her to add to her master’s in human services coursework to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC). Currently an intern in the program, Mustafa is working through the requisite 880 hours to get her LADC license. “Every day is different, and I just love it so far,” says Mustafa. “It’s an honor to be able to help people.” 

Mustafa cites a major concern in making the decision was how to balance her new role with her home and family life. Logistics like transportation were also a concern. Though she was confident she would enjoy it, Mustafa has been most surprised by just how much she loves her new work as an LADC intern. 


Do you know someone considering a major career change? “Cheer them on, be a cheerleader, lend your support!” says Kieley, who credits her friends and family with being in her corner even when they thought she was a little out of her realm. “Support them,” Mustafa adds. “Talk about how the decision will impact their household.”

If you’re considering a major career change, Kieley and Mustafa have a bit of advice. “Do the research, meet with people doing what you think you are interested in and ask lots of questions,” says Kieley. “Be curious, and don’t forget the financial considerations.” Mustafa highlights the importance of weighing the pros and cons of the new position, as well as making sure to discuss with those important to you how their lives will likely be impacted. “Especially with immediate family members, be open,” Mustafa says. “Your decision will impact everyone. Make sure they can express themselves and how they are feeling.” 

These inspiring women felt the need to try something new, researched, planned ahead and took a big risk. “We as women think we have to go in knowing everything and don’t want to look like we don’t know what we are doing. Men aren’t like that,” says Kieley. “Keep in mind,” says Mustafa, “if you get into the new space and realize it’s not for you, then at least you know and you tried. You accomplished something.” 

Kieley and Mustafa agree that it’s never too late. “Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself,” says Mustafa. “You have a lot of life experience. You know what works for you and what you deserve—what you’re worth. Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for what you need in your new role.” “Go for it,” says Kieley.

Check out this EXTRA helpful Resource: What Job Best Fits your Life?

“Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
“What Color Is Your Parachute?: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers” by Richard Nelson Bolles

CareerForce in Rochester