On the street
A Division 1 basketball coach.
This Labor Day, it has been a labor just to stay employed.
But even as jobless totals rise, there are still plenty of Lawrence workers happy with their career choices. Here’s a quick look at five.
Mike McMillen, Lawrence firefighter
Yeah, McMillen dreamed of being a firefighter when he was a little kid.
“Of course,” he says. “That’s the way it works.”
Little kids, though, don’t dream of the paperwork and all the behind-the-scenes activities that take up a large part of a firefighter’s day.
“It is kind of like comparing what you see on TV to real life,” McMillen says of how his job compares to what he dreamed about as a child. “They never show the paperwork, the sitting in class, the training. They just show the fun stuff.”
But one thing that has held true is the exhilaration of fighting a blaze, he says.
“It is amazing how relaxed you are after going out and doing your job,” McMillen says. “We want everybody to be safe, but yeah, we like what we do.”
The schedule of a firefighter can both be a positive and a negative, he says. It just depends on what day of the week it is. At Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical, firefighters work a 24-hour shift and then are given 24 hours off. Firefighters will work three shifts in a five-day period. Then, they get four days in a row off.
“I love my schedule,” McMillen says. “But you miss a lot. You miss soccer games and birthday parties. There are only so many Christmas mornings you are going to be part of.”
Susan Rickman, massage therapist/bookkeeper
What? You’ve never heard of a massage therapist/bookkeeper?
That’s what this recession will do to a person.
Rickman worked for years as a bookkeeper for a variety of businesses in town, but she was looking for a change as crunching the numbers became more of a mental drain in a down economy.
“I got into massage because I was looking for a career where I could really work with people,” says Rickman, who owns Just Massage, a business in downtown Lawrence. “With bookkeeping, I was working with people, but it is a high-stress job when you are working with other people’s money.”
Rickman says the massage business has been a good choice, from a personal fulfillment standpoint.
“I probably get as much out of giving a massage as the person does who is receiving it,” she says. “You can see the change in a person. You just feel good to help someone else feel good.”
But in a sign of the economic times, Rickman continues to do some bookkeeping work to help ends meet. But Rickman says she doesn’t regret taking the leap to a new career, even though the process can be a difficult one.
“I think the toughest part is just finding the confidence to do it and realize that you are doing it for the right reasons,” Rickman says. “I think a lot of times people change careers because they think they will make a lot of money.
“Really, though, it is about finding something that makes you happy, and is the right fit for you.”
Jean Younger, candy maker
You could say that Younger’s business is a joke. Or more aptly, the fulfillment of a joke.
“It was a joke around the office, whenever there was a bad day, I always said I was going to quit and own a candy company,” Younger says.
So, about three years ago, she did. Younger quit her job as a patent attorney and corporate lawyer for General Electric and returned to perhaps her first love.
“I loved candy,” says Younger, who now owns Sleepy Jean’s Confections. “I actually don’t eat that much chocolate now, but growing up I was a big-time candy eater.”
But as a successful corporate attorney, she didn’t have to quit her job to satisfy her sweet tooth. She could afford to buy plenty of chocolate.
“I got out because you always had a boss above you,” Younger says. “I wanted something I could do. I wanted to have my schedule to myself.”
The job has ended up feeding her creative side, she says. Each summer she works on a new product theme, with this summer’s being smoked pistachios combined with her handmade chocolate.
But the business hasn’t necessarily solved the scheduling problems that led her to think about changing careers.
“I did it so I would have time for family, but it always ends up you never have enough time,” Younger says. “I do every facet of the business.”
Jeff Hoffman, Lawrence homebuilder
You never know what you’ll have to give up when you start a career.
“You know, what I don’t like about this job is that I can’t enjoy a rainstorm,” Hoffman says. “That’s a shame because I love the rain.”
But in the business of building houses, a rainstorm often means a lost day of work that puts a project behind schedule.
In Lawrence home-building circles, though, a little rain has been the least of problems lately. The number of new homes built in the city are at levels well below anything seen over the last two decades.
“This has been the worst I’ve seen it,” says Hoffman, who has been in the business since the mid 1970s. “We have some product that people want and they can’t buy it because they can’t sell their own property. It is very frustrating.”
But not frustrating enough that Hoffman — who owns Hoffman Builders Inc. — wishes he would have got into some other type of business.
“For a long time, I built custom homes, and I really enjoy working with people on what is their prized possession,” Hoffman says.
Shelley Bock, defense attorney
Bock has been a defense attorney in Douglas County since 1987, and yes, he’s often had friends and acquaintances ask him how he can do it. How can you defend people who may be guilty of a serious crime?
“The basic answer is pretty simple,” Bock says. “What you are doing is everyone deserves the right to have a trial. You are trying to protect their rights from the state, which has pretty impressive powers. To just assume the state always gets it right, would be wrong.”
What frustrates a defense attorney also is probably pretty obvious.
“The biggest frustration is when you can’t seem to convince people that your client is not guilty,” Bock says.
But sometimes frustrations set in on the other side of the equation too.
“In other situations you get frustrated because you can’t convince your client that they have evidence on you, and you really need to consider these negotiations,” Bock says.