This bold career switch took major rewiring


Three years ago, electrician Davina River decided to trade in her hard hat, work gloves, and steel-toed boots for a career in travel.

While she admits she misses the workout that came with her stint on the high wires, in the end she was glad to say goodbye to those power-line lunches - and her lunch box.

"I feel like this is much more of a rounded career path for me," says Ms. River, a sales agent for Houston-based Continental Airlines. "I much more look forward to going to work each day."

River spent 18 years being an electrician.

She started working in the steel mills of Pittsburgh right out of high school. But when the industry crashed in 1982, she and many of her relatives and neighbors lost their jobs.

So she packed up her Mazda RX-7 and headed to Texas.

"I heard Houston was booming because the oil industry was prospering," River recalls.

She eventually landed a job at Houston Lighting and Power. She was the first female electrician the company ever hired.

After a three-year apprenticeship, she wound up in charge of maintaining the equipment that generated electricity for downtown Houston.

"I enjoyed it," she says. "I had a high level of responsibility. It was very challenging - physically challenging. It was a learning experience every day. And the money was good."

To say the work was "physical" is an understatement.

"We had to work storms a lot," she says. That meant going up and down ladders replacing high power lines in the wind.

Being the only woman in a crowd of men wasn't easy either. "It was a good-old-boys' system," River says.

She felt that if she knuckled down and exceeded the performance that was expected of her, that would all fall by the wayside. "But it never happened," she says. River stayed with the company for 14 years.

Throughout those years, however, she harbored a desire to work with people. So she started working some nights and weekends at a local florist as well as a caterer.

"I really enjoyed being in touch with the public," she says.

She finally realized that the culture at the electrical company wasn't getting any better. So she made a big decision.

In June 1996 she put her finances in order and put in her two weeks' notice. She took a three-week trip to Europe. When she returned, she signed on with a career counselor who had been recommended by a friend.

"It was a very scary notion to leave something I had pretty much known all of my adult life and make a complete change."

After a series of tests and talks, "everything was pointing to working with the public," she says, "which I already knew. I just lived to do that."

The travel industry came up as a natural fit. Whenever she had extra income, she had always headed for the nearest airport or train station.

River took an unpaid internship with a local tour company for three months, setting up bus trips into Louisiana and Texas.

Six months had passed since she left the electric company. She'd been living off part of her retirement money.

To restart her cash flow, River decided to take two part-time jobs that paid: She delivered packages for FedEx in the morning and worked at the reservations counter at Continental Airlines in the afternoon.

Before long, she decided to work for Continental full time. "I kept asking, 'How do I get to the sales department?' "

Continental laid out a three-year career path - but River made it to her current post in two and a half years.

Since last November, she's been responsible for a $30 million budget and an account base of 240 travel agents from Virginia to Florida. Her job: to get agents to book passengers on Continental.

No doubt one of her biggest perks is the travel: She has to know what she's selling. That means regular trips to places like Prague and Rio de Janeiro.

"That's all on their dime," she says, "which is the best."

Her advice to those thinking of making a switch: Set up a cash reserve "so you can relax ... and be open to the right path that is calling you. Then go for it."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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