Reboot on Life
For some, a makeover means a new wardrobe. Others dig deeper. Style talked to six people who changed their entire lives
From keyboard to hoe
The makeover: From young urban professionals in Ottawa to organic vegetable farmers (Chelsea Gardens) in Rupert, near Wakefield.
What inspired the transformation? Says Leela Ramachandran, now 33: “Brad was a storm water planner at the City of Ottawa and I was a sustainability, education resources co-ordinator with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. But our jobs weren’t allowing us to reach our potential — it was just paper pushing. I’d always been a gardener, but I just thought, ‘Oh, I’ll have a big garden when I retire.’ We decided if we didn’t try this now, we would never know if it could work.”
Says Brad Wright, now 32: “My decision came when I received my pension report. It said, ‘Eligible to retire in 2044.’ I thought, ‘I just can’t do that.’ I’d studied soil science, and farming was a chance to apply it and have my hands in the dirt.”
How did others react? “Our parents thought we were a little crazy, but they were supportive,” Leela says.
How long did the transition take? “It was surprisingly fast,” she says. “Last March, Brad quit his job and I took a leave of absence. We sold our house in town and rented a half-acre market garden with a couple of other people; I did that while Brad worked all summer as an apprentice at another organic farm. We’re negotiating to scale up to two acres this summer.”
What was the biggest challenge? “Getting over my fear of failure,” Leela says.
“I’m very ambitious, so setting a realistic goal for the first year was important,” Brad admits. “Fortunately, the amount of land available was limited.”
How has the rest of your life changed? “I’m more risk-averse than Brad,” Leela says. “It’s forced me to be open to crazy ideas.”
“This has made us work on our communication,” Brad says. “We’ve learned we really do work well together.”
From the TSX to newborn nursing
The makeover: From successful, 43-year-old financial adviser to a happy neonatal nurse in the special care nursery of The Ottawa Hospital, Civic campus
What inspired the transformation? “Financial advising is really about helping the wealthy, and I started to feel I wanted to help the little guy,” recalls Lesley Cook, now 54. “I’d actually looked at becoming a nurse 20 years earlier, but my mother was one and talked me out of it. When I made the change, I also felt that God was leading me away from what I had been doing.”
How did others react? “I had a very supportive husband (they’ve since split), but we did have to refinance the house,” she says. “Some of my clients were disappointed.”
How long did the transition take? “It was very quick. I was driving home — it was RRSP season in 2000 — and I knew Algonquin College was offering a three-year program, and I thought, I should just try this.’ I enrolled right away. I didn’t sit and stew about it.”
What was the biggest challenge? “I hadn’t studied like that in 20 years.”
How has the rest of your life changed? “In sales, I worked all the time. I’m not living my work anymore.”
From class/boardroom to barista-ville
The makeover: From thriving careers in education and high-tech to owning Neat, a community-focused business in Burnstown, west of Ottawa, specializing in fresh, roasted coffee, wholesome food and live entertainment.
What inspired the transformation? “We were DINKs (double income, no kids), both in our 40s, making really good money, but we didn’t feel any strong connection to our community,” explains Kim McKinty, a former vice-principal with the Renfrew County District School Board. “It’s easy to just go to work, come home and close your door. I was looking for something more reflective of my values.”
“When there were profits and we had to identify people to go, I had a hard time explaining that… that for me was the ‘ah-ha’ moment,” says her husband, Adam McKinty, 44, former high-tech director of product development at Corel.
How did others react? “People said, ‘Why would we give up a pension and security?” Kim, 47, says.
How long did the transition take? “We actually started thinking about a better way to make a living in the early 2000s and began the business in 2008. We worked our old jobs and ran the business until 2010; Adam packed in his old job first and then I did,” Kim says. (Adam was laid off in 2010, but declined career services offers. He’d already decided how he would move on.)
What was the biggest challenge? “Having faith in ourselves because there’s no security net,” says Kim.
“Finding employees who would take on challenges when we couldn’t afford to pay all that much,” says Adam.
How has the rest of your life changed? “We don’t take care of ourselves as well as we used to,” Kim says. “And our wine cellar from when we had our other jobs is just about depleted.”
“We’ve given up our consuming behaviour, but we don’t miss it now,” Adam adds.
From inert civil servant to triathlete
The makeover: From desperately out-of-shape senior civil servant who was pushing 40 and had bad knees into a triathlete.
What inspired the transformation? “I was sitting in my living room three years ago and I just suddenly said to myself, ‘I should run 5K in the Ottawa marathon’,” recalls Christine Burton. “I finished it in just under an hour and I was still upright. Eighteen months later, I said to a friend, ‘I could do a triathlon.’ She said, ‘Sure you could,’ like, you could sprout wings and fly, too. But having said the words ‘I could do this,’ it became real.”
How did others react? “I come from a family of complete non-athletes, so they were all gobsmacked,” she says. “Now they brag about me.”
How long did the transition take? “I joined the Ottawa Triathlon Club a year ago. In the spring, I did the Try A Tri, the basic level, and swam 100 metres, biked 10.5 kilometres, and ran two kilometres. I did more last summer and in the fall, I wrapped a trip to Hong Kong around a triathlon in Australia. This year, I’m doing the Sprint, the second level of triathlons, and I’m walking/running a half-marathon (21 kilometres).”
What was the biggest challenge? “Changing my perception of myself, saying, ‘I can do this’.”
How has the rest of your life changed? “I’ve inspired others,” she says. “A friend in my choir who hadn’t run in five or 10 years has started again. The choir director had never run and now he is and is looking at a marathon. I’ve become the poster child for, ‘If she can, anyone can’.”