Changing careers is all the rage these days. People are screwing up the courage to finally try something they've always felt a burning desire to do—often because they're facing a startling fact of life: their job is toast.
Here's my optimist's pitch: If you've lost a job, have accepted an early-retirement package, or are a retiree or soon-to-be retiree facing significantly smaller retirement accounts, what's stopping you? A turn of events is an unexpected opportunity to reinvent your own career. You may never have a better chance, or reason, to do so—to get excited about work once again.
But it helps to make a bold move by maximizing your odds: specifically, restart in a region where the economic picture is brighter, and it's cheaper to live. And so The Daily Beast crunched the numbers to find the best places to check out.
When I ran my eyes down the list, based on objective criteria, I smiled. Several of these top-ranking cities are ones I visited during my three-year trek across the country reporting my new book, What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job. I met people who had launched successful second careers and learned their deepest secrets in Washington, D.C., Seattle, Nashville, Pittsburgh, New York, and Boston.
These are college towns with thriving medical centers—both good omens for job seekers, since they tend to be recession-resistant. Washington, D.C. is home to several colleges and health-care centers, and it has those ever-present government jobs going for it. Pittsburgh, of course, has long left the steel trade, even if the Steelers still remain, and has a huge health-care economy buoyed by UPMC, western Pennsylvania’s largest employer, with almost 50,000 employees.
They're all small business and nonprofit-friendly places, too—magnetic pulls for second acters, who either are looking to run their own show this time around, or compelled to find more meaning in their working lives by giving back—either starting a nonprofit or going to work for one.
In Seattle, for instance, I met the dynamic Trish May, who launched Athena Partners. The nonprofit corporation sells Athena bottled water and chocolate and donates 100 percent of net proceeds to women's cancer research.
Lisa Eaves headed off on her own and opened an acupuncture practice in Washington, D.C. after saying sayonara to her tech job at Fannie Mae.
Tim Sheerer moved from an expensive northern New Jersey suburb, where he had commuted to work on Wall Street as an investment banker, to Pittsburgh, when he decided to enter the restaurant business and open an Italian bistro. The cost of living there—about one-third lower—allowed him to get his restaurant up and running with less financial stress.
There are some common threads that go into successful second careers: Many people I interviewed were spurred to discover what really matters to them and transform their work (and, in turn, personal) lives by a crisis or loss that starkly revealed the fleeting nature of a life. No one acted impulsively. They paused. They planned. They pursued prudent, well-researched moves.
Gallery: Best Places to Restart Your Career
Each person set flexible time horizons for his or her venture to make it. If necessary, they added the essential skills and degrees before they made the leap. They often apprenticed or volunteered beforehand. They reached out to their networks of social and professional contacts to ask for help and guidance.
They collectively work longer hours, but it doesn't matter. They only wish they had done it sooner, and yep, they truly believe that where they live has given them the base to succeed financially and more.
Bottom line: When it comes to starting a second career, lots of factors come into play, but one thing is certain, it matters where you live. The place you pick is vital to your financial future. You might even change jobs again. It's OK to have third and fourth acts, too. So, you want to live where you can get traction in your new career and admittedly, have some back up if you change course again down the road.
Nothing is forever. But if you pick the right city for you, you can improve your odds of making it today in your new career. With the current job picture, that choice is more important now than it has ever been.
Here's how our rankings work: To compile the list of the best cities to start over, we looked at how more than 300 cities across the country ranked in the following categories:
• Small business friendly, based on the rate of small business growth of companies with less than 500 employees according to the U.S. Census Bureau for 2005 to 2007.
• Ease of finding a job, based on August 2010 unemployment figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
• High income level, based on per-capita income figures for 2009, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
• Low cost of living, based on the Council for Community and Economic Research's Cost of Living Index for the second quarter of 2010, in which a 100 is the average for all places and each city's index is a percentage of the average.
• Non-profit friendly—non-profits are a key job source—based on Charity Navigator's ranking of the top 30 cities that are most charity conscious.
• Student friendly—key for retraining—based on the American Institute for Economic Research's 75 Best Colleges for Students, which ranks small, medium, and large cities, as well as college towns in terms of academic environment, quality of life, and professional opportunity.
Statistics and rankings aside, there's one more vital ingredient not to be taken lightly: personal happiness.
"As a result of 9/11, I felt a major loss," Sheerer says. "People I worked with died. In the Merrill Lynch grind, you go through every day, and you work, work, work, but that made me realize, hey, you only live once." Then his father had bypass surgery.
"Those two events caused my wife and I to really sit down and say, we're making a lot of money, but is this really where we want to be? Is this really what we want to do? Is this where we want the kids to grow up? If we don't talk about it now, 10 years will go by like that, and we're passed the point where we can really consider a move."
And now, it's a sunny Sunday in October, and Sheerer is in the midst of preparing meals for roughly 350 customers at la Cappella, his red sauce joint.
And he's cool with that. He loves to sauté.
Kerry Hannon, a career reinvention and retirement expert, is a nationally acclaimed personal finance contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report. Her latest book, Amazon bestseller What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job (Chronicle Books), is available online and in bookstores across the country. She has previously served as a reporter and personal finance columnist for USA Today and as a writer and editor for U.S. News & World Report, Money, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, and Forbes and her work has appeared in CBS MoneyWatch.com, AARP Bulletin Today, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Readers Digest, Good Housekeeping, Institutional Investor and Advertising Age.