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Some people wield mortar and a trowel to set every cobblestone on their career path. But then there are those who pick up the merest hint of a brand-new trail and choose to see where it goes.
Consider Dee King. Today, she’s chief of staff at Burrell Behavioral Health, but she started out in the hospitality industry, and later banking. But from the beginning, King knew she wanted to work in the nonprofit sector.
“I was able to find fulfillment in my sales roles, but I put out there that I could never be entirely fulfilled working for a company’s bottom line,” King says.
Or consider Colleen Sundlie. Starting out in the marketing field, Sundlie never would have pictured herself founding Date Lady Inc., which sells barhi dates and a line of products made from their syrup. In June, Date Lady was written up in The Wall Street Journal.
“If someone would have told me back in my 20s I’d be doing this, I would have said, ‘Um, I don’t think so,’” she says.
And then there’s Francine Pratt, executive director of the Missouri College Access Network and director of the nonprofit Prosper Springfield, which aims to reduce poverty. But she’s also a restaurateur, with creative partner Lyle Foster, after the 2020 opening of Queen City Soul Kitchen. There she shares food made from her family recipes, plus a few items concocted on her own.
From career and college planning to soul food?
“It’s really not a switch, in a sense,” Pratt says. “I had a very lucrative catering business in California for 20 years, and I had a restaurant.”
This, by the way, was after Pratt worked as a model from ages 15 to 30. She also has worked in state-level government in Missouri and California. It’s safe to say she is comfortable with transitions.
“My dad used to say you need to work hard when you’re young, so that you can play hard when you’re old,” says Pratt, who turns 63 this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of workers to reassess their life path, and many have chosen to swivel – to another profession, to full-time caregiving for children or parents, to retirement. A report by the Achievers Workforce Institute found 52% of workers intended to look for a new job in 2021 – up from 35% a year before. Locally, more than half the respondents to Springfield Business Journal’s 2021 Economic Growth Survey said they planned to add employees this year.
But it seems King, Sundlie and Pratt chose their unusual jobs journeys by staying open to possibilities and listening to an inner voice.
When her husband died of cancer in August 2020, King knew it was time to leave her business banking role at Guaranty Bank. She took a two-month leave, then informed her supervisor that she could not return.
“I told her, ‘You hired one person, and that person just doesn’t exist anymore,’” she says.
King had benefitted from therapy after the death of her husband, and when she became aware of Burrell, she knew it was a fit.
“Cancer had changed me so profoundly,” she says. “I knew it was time to do what I intended to do and go into nonprofit work.”
Sundlie also felt drawn to her current role – through her deep interest in food and culture.
She discovered dates as a stay-at-home mom living in the United Arab Emirates with her husband, Ryan, who was teaching college English. At the local food markets, she and her son became well known to the women who worked there.
“We kind of stuck out like a sore thumb,” she says.
The Emirati women urged her to try mineral-rich date syrup. They said it would be good for her baby. They said their Bedouin uncles used to take it into the desert, where for days on end they ate only date syrup and camel’s milk.
Sundlie started using date syrup in all sorts of recipes.
“I would serve certain things I had made with it to other people, and they would say, ‘Wow, this is really good! It doesn’t even taste healthy,’” she says.
When she moved back to the United States, she realized that date syrup is scarce here – and that’s how Date Lady was born.
Sundlie offers this advice to people who may feel stuck in a groove: “You have to find fulfillment and what you really love outside of your job, too.”
Was she following her bliss? Sundlie says she was actually being more intentional. “But still in that, I was doing what I love to do, exploring cultures and food and that kind of thing. When that came up, it was a natural inclination for me to get back into a career with the thing I love,” she says.
Pratt’s story, too, is one of intentionality. She said it is time to bring on the next generation of leaders.
“People who are baby boomers don’t need to step down yet, but they need to start grooming and helping the next in line so there will be a knowledge transfer,” she says.
Adds Pratt, “I’m spiritually guided – that’s my base. My whole goal is, ‘How can I give back?’ I’ve been blessed so much, and when you’re given a lot, there’s an expectation in my mind to give it back to others who may not have those opportunities.”
Pratt also is relishing the chance to explore her African American culture through food.
“I was not raised with the conversation about race. It was more about class,” she says. “In my later age, I’m learning more about my culture than I ever learned growing up.”
These days, Pratt is cutting back on many of her roles as she crafts the future she wants for herself.
“I want to be able to travel and hang out with my grandkids without having my laptop open in front of me,” she says.
“I know there are other things I want to do with the time I have left here on Earth.”
Urban Studios LLC, a natural light photography studio and pop-up event space, opened; the Missouri State University Foundation became the new owner of event venue The Old Glass Place; and Polk County’s dining scene expanded with the opening of Flat Creek.