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From Law to Baking: How I created my dream career

I was approaching seven years with a law firm, and I was unhappier than ever.

While I was good at my job, the company culture wasn’t a good fit, we were constantly short-staffed without any relief, and there was no room for advancement. Moreover, I was neither passionate about, nor interested in the legal field. Despite going to bed in tears and waking up dreading the day, my salary, insurance, 401k, and flexible schedule made me complacent about finding a career that I loved. Change felt daunting.

For many years, I've loved to bake as a hobby, and had even formed an LLC to sell at events here and there. However, baking remained a side gig that I doubted would ever grow into anything else. Anytime a customer or friend urged me to bake full-time, I thought to myself, "Easier said than done. Don't they know how high the risks are? How much time, effort, and money it would take? Who'd run the business if my husband and I had a baby in the near future? My husband's in graduate school—we'd have to purchase our own insurance, and that sounds expensive. How would we navigate all this new territory?"

And yet, I planned bakery menus when I daydreamed. I continued to bake and learn about baking whenever I could. Whenever someone asked the age-old question, “If money weren’t an obstacle, what would you want to do for a living?” the answer was always, unequivocally: “I’d open a bakery.”

Then I got an email from the University of Virginia Alumni Association, and everything changed. They were offering a career change program in partnership with Mission Collaborative, and it sounded like exactly what I needed.

My experience in the program prodded me to confront my paralyzing fear and anxiety of leaving a comfortable career/field. More specifically, the program challenged me to ask myself what I wanted from a satisfying career, why I wanted those things, and what (sometimes terrifying) steps I was willing to take to get there. Most of the potential career paths I explored during the program were in the corporate and government realms. They felt safe and conventionally respectable, and they were the ones my career changer peers encouraged the most.

However, I also jotted down "Open a bakery???" as my last idea. The risks were significantly higher and the necessary changes were more vast. It was pretty much crickets when I asked fellow participants for feedback on that path (understandably--none of them had first- or second-hand experience with owning a food business). I admit that was a little discouraging, but I actually walked away from the program more confident than ever that I wanted to work with food and be my own boss. I realized that the risks that came with trying were more bearable than staying in a career that made me utterly miserable.

Two weeks after the program, I contacted a well-known bakery owner in Richmond. He was looking for a morning baker, and I explained my goal of growing my own baking business in the area. I got the job, and before long I resigned from my analyst position at the law firm and worked for the bakery full-time. Although I took a major pay cut and had to figure out my own insurance, I was happier than EVER! Even when the hours of lifting and standing felt long, I felt so satisfied. I saw the less glamorous and more stressful side of being a bakery owner, but I was willing to navigate those challenges.

In August, I concluded my time with my bakery mentor and signed a lease for a commercial space in the historic downtown of Hopewell, VA, where my husband and I reside. I launched a GoFundMe campaign to help offset costs, as we’re going loan-free. Now—and I never thought I’d write these words—I'm putting the final touches on my bake shop. I hope to soft-open by the end of 2019, and the city is buzzing with excitement!

The Mission Collaborative team did a stellar job of crafting, then guiding us through, each activity during the program. I felt safe, understood, seen, and heard. I felt less alone in my struggle. I felt capable. And now, I’m living out my dream career. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. If you’re ever driving south of Richmond, please stop by Wonder City Bakery in Hopewell!

Trish Honaker is the owner and founder of Wonder City Bakery in Hopewell, VA. She is a 2019 alum of Mission Collaborative’s Career Change Bootcamp.

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