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CAREERS

Plan B

Convinced they were in the wrong jobs, they took a leap of faith (and in some cases a pay cut) and started over.

TIM ALLEN 48 | | | CHESTNUT HILL

* OLD JOB Executive vice president of IT for Fidelity in Boston

* NEW JOB Grease monkey and majority owner of European Auto Solutions in Waltham

* WHY THE CHANGE? "I'd lost that fire in the belly," says Allen. "There was one god-awful day [in 2002] when we installed a new systems upgrade and it broke." Suddenly the job seemed more burden than challenge. "I said to myself, 'This is a young man's job.' " At the same time, he realized that playing political games had become more integral to his success than doing systems work. "I had no stomach for that." Allen consulted an executive-placement firm looking for a new direction. Because he enjoyed working with his hands and seeing tangible results, he pitched the idea of an independent service shop for high-end cars to two mechanics and a service manager he knew. They formed a partnership and opened for business last summer and, at the end of year one, they're turning a profit.

* WAS IT WORTH IT? "Ask me in three years," Allen says - by then, he hopes, his plans for expansion will rev up. Right now, he makes less than he once did and his family wishes he'd take some vacation time, but he believes those downsides will resolve as business grows. Allen keeps the books for the shop - "I never thought I would like accounting so much," he says - but nothing makes him grin broader than suiting up in a mechanic's uniform and getting covered in brake dust and motor oil. "I love it," he says, "And I'm an absolute mess. For the first time in 10 years, I love going to work every day." MARSHA WISE "PRE BABY BOOMER" | | | ROXBURY

* OLD JOB Director of community programs for a battered women's shelter in Rhode Island

* NEW JOB Instructor at FINE Mortuary College in Norwood

* WHY THE CHANGE? A good experience working with Roxbury funeral director Rebecca Ridley after the death of her father got Wise's mind churning. "I had never met a female funeral director before," she says. "I was impressed by her professionalism." As they became friendly, Wise realized that her advocacy work for victims of domestic abuse was similar to Ridley's work. "You accompany a person on an intimate journey at a difficult time, guiding them," she says. Wise also thought she had the right mix of traits: "I can keep a level head at a tough time, talk slowly and reassuringly, and I'm respectful of people in crisis." Although Wise felt challenged and fulfilled in her last job, the constant heartbreak wore her down, and at times there was imminent danger. So Wise planned to become a funeral director - but before she graduated from mortuary school, the college offered her a job.

* WAS IT WORTH IT? "Teaching was a surprise," she says. "I didn't know I'd like it so much." She thrives on the student interaction and the content of the courses she leads. A bonus has been a more flexible schedule - teaching and tutoring three or four days a week, at irregular hours - which allows her to care for her disabled mother. Wise knew she'd made the correct leap the first time she witnessed an autopsy. "I wasn't afraid," she says. "It was humbling to see the intricacy of the human body and how incredible we are." MICHELLE HOWARD 35 | | | OAKHAM

* OLD JOB Market research analyst and accountant for an energy company in Worcester

* NEW JOB Farmer, pesto maker, and co-owner of Linabella's Gourmet Garlic Farm in Oakham

* WHY THE CHANGE? Howard (shown here with her daughters) soured on her first career back when she was an accountant in Boston in the late 1990s. "I was working 60 hours per week, sometimes from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m. My boss would ask, 'Are you coming in on Saturday?' " Howard did work weekends but felt she wasn't being recognized for her dedication. "When you put your heart and soul into something, you want to be appreciated," she says. "But you'll never be fully appreciated unless you work for yourself." Howard and her husband, Jeff, had bought 3 acres in Oakham in 1998, and together decided to farm the central Massachusetts property. To learn the trade, the couple called on other garlic farmers and consulted with food scientists at Cornell University. In 2003, Howard left the corporate world; her husband still works as a financial analyst but plans to join her as a full-time farmer in three years. They made their first few batches of pesto at a community kitchen but have since spent $20,000 to construct one in their home.

* WAS IT WORTH IT? "When we're picking basil at 10 p.m., I think we must be crazy," Howard says. But trading nylons and heels for work boots and jeans has been gratifying. "Seeing the business grow is exciting." She's up at 5 a.m. to work the land from spring to fall (her husband joins her for about three hours before leaving for his workday). "It's so peaceful," Howard says. "It's my favorite part of the day. We hear the roosters crowing, see the sun rise. Working with Jeff, I feel blessed that we get along so well." Although they're up until midnight making pesto and on weekends they're running tastings at fairs and in grocery stores, she still wouldn't go back to the world of guaranteed paychecks. AUSTIN LIN 39 | | | CAMBRIDGE

* OLD JOB Technology guru at Harvard Extension School in Cambridge who helped orchestrate online courses

* NEW JOB Social worker at Brookline High School

* WHY THE CHANGE? After 15 years of working in high tech, Lin felt his career lacked meaning. "It was more insidious than an epiphany," he explains. He had worked for Yahoo in California at the right time - cashing out with hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock options - but felt a vacancy. "I remember describing my work at one point as feeling my soul leaking away." By 2000, he rekindled a longtime desire to become a therapist, first hatched during his adolescence. In 2003, upon hearing that the majority of therapists in Massachusetts were social workers, Lin investigated several master's programs. He had an undergraduate degree in psychology from Harvard and felt the pieces of his life might soon fit together. He applied to Simmons College's two-year socialwork program and graduated in May.

* WAS IT WORTH IT? Even though Lin already has those first-day-of-school jitters about starting his new job at the end of this month, he feels a sense of inner calm. "It's the first time I'm 100 percent behind what I'm doing." Despite a serious pay cut - Lin's previous salary hovered around $90,000, and he'll now fetch a teacher's salary - he says it's an honor to be working with people during their crucial teenage years. "There is so much suffering in the world," he says. "I believe everyone can suffer less, if not be happy. hope to help them experience more moments of happiness."

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