Career Change

Whether you fear it or welcome it, career change will likely happen a few times in your life

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Roger Higa’s life and career path were transformed by the
death of his wife. He left his family’s business to work for
nonprofits, and now has a job at New York Life. 
Photo: David Croxford

Roger Higa, Melissa Chang, George “Chef Mavro” Mavrothalassitis and Shanah Trevenna are very different people with one thing in common: Each experienced a turning point that put them on an unexpected journey to a new calling.

For Roger Higa, that turning point was the death of his wife.

Higa is the youngest son of Zippy’s co-founder Charles Higa, and he thought he would work in the family business the rest of his life. After all, he knew the restaurant chain’s operations like the back of his hand, having worked in at least 15 jobs, from custodian to cashier to recruiter.

“I had been living in Orange County working as an accounting manager, when my wife, Michele, decided she wanted to move back to Hawaii to be closer to family,” he says. “So we moved back and I went to work at Zippy’s.”

There he stayed for 10 years until tragedy struck.

“The defining moment in my life came the day after Valentine’s Day in 2007,” recalls Higa. “It was the day Michele passed away.” She had suffered a brain aneurysm two weeks earlier and, just when she appeared on her way to recovery, a second aneurysm occurred, leaving her brain dead. She was only 40 and he was just 42.

After Michele’s death, Higa took a month off work, then plunged back into his 70-hours-plus work weeks to keep his mind off the pain of returning to an empty house.

“I was living in a daze and six months later decided I had to leave my job. I needed time to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Four years earlier, Higa had gotten a taste of the nonprofit world after starting the Kalihi Education Coalition, a charity providing scholarships for children in need. That experience steered him in a new direction.

“I liked my job at Zippy’s, but I didn’t love it,” says the 1982 McKinley High School graduate. “Through my nonprofit work, I understood what it was like to help others. So, after Michele’s death, I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life helping people.”

Although he believes his father was disappointed in his decision to leave the family business, his parents supported his choice to work first with the Aloha Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, then with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Honolulu. He also launched the Hawaii Brain Aneurysm Foundation and Hawaii Healing Hearts, a bereavement support group.

Last year, due to budget cuts, he was laid off as marketing manager of Big Brothers Big Sisters and took a job as a life insurance agent for New York Life.

Now remarried with a 3-year-old daughter, Higa says his new career, along with his continuing leadership in the nonprofit world, brings flexibility and fulfillment.

Though Higa’s turning point is not common, his career changes are, according to human resources professional Desirea Aguinaldo-Helsham, president of OneSource Inc.

When measuring career changes, the report most often cited is a 30-year study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It says that the average person born in the latter years of the baby boom, from 1957 to 1964, held 11 jobs from ages 18 to 44. Some human resources experts believe the study, called the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, doesn’t reflect today’s reality.

Aguinaldo-Helsham says older professionals today actually experience industry changes, not just job changes. “When you’re young, you can move from job to job to eight different jobs, but these are just jobs to pay the bills. This is not career change,” she says. “What we’re talking about is industry change, like going from being a mechanical engineer to an HR advisor, or from being a lawyer to a teacher.”

In response to the Labor Bureau’s study, Aguinaldo-Helsham conducted her own informal poll of 200 people, ages 20 to 50, and says she found an average of two to three industry changes, though no one had more than three.

Roger Higa changed careers after an unexpected tragedy triggered a new outlook on life. Triggers for other people include mismatched expectations, the desire to chase a dream, declining industries or an interest in an evolving field.

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Old to new | New to old
May 8, 2012 09:17 pm
 Posted by  coachjan

My passion is what led me to each of my careers. Starting out as a PE teacher, transitioning to teaching/coaching gymnastics full time I knew I'd found my true calling. Life circumstances and an injury changed all that and I was forced into a career change. It took a while, however, when I discovered life coaching the passion returned. I now work P/T as a Fitness Specialist and P/T as a Life and Wellness Coach. This combination allows me to play out my passions and work at my best.

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Jul 29, 2012 01:32 am
 Posted by  angelajshirley

A lot of people are being pushed into making some major changes in their career path. After being laid off, sometimes you can get another job in the same field. It may even take relocating to accomplish this. But when you cannot find something in the same field, or cannot relocate - this is the time to be open to change. Bottom line, find out what is needed for the area you are living in and figure out how you can meet this need. Career Counseling

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