It’s 11:30 a.m. as Alex Frazier, 23, deals his final hand of blackjack at Maryland Live! Casino. He’s been working what the casino world calls “the swing shift” – in at 4 a.m., out at noon. On this day, a Saturday, he will get relieved from duty a half hour early. Although he’s been on the clock for nearly eight hours, he’s still as energetic as when he first walked through the lobby earlier this morning.
Alex Frazier after working an eight hour shift at Maryland Live! Casino.
“Alright boys, last hand for the day and I’m out of here, let’s make it count,” Frazier said.
Frazier deals the cards to the four players sitting at his table, all of whom look like they’ve just about had enough of his “good guy” shtick. He reveals his up-card to be a six of diamonds, a card that almost any blackjack player knows leaves a good chance for a victory. As the players make their moves, Frazier bangs his fist on the table with every card he deals as they all inch closer to the ever elusive 21. All players have now made their decisions and the game switches back to Frazier, who flips over a five of spades, giving him a total of 11, a number that leaves all players holding their breath. A 10 or any face card (king, queen, jack) gives him 21.
“It’s not over yet!” Frazier yelled. “Have some faith in me!”
Out next comes a four of hearts, giving Frazier 15. The next and final card is a jack of clubs. 25. Dealer busts. Crisis averted.
Moments like these are the ones that make being a dealer special for Frazier. He shows so much excitement and joy, leading one to think this is where he was always supposed to end up.
"I love that adrenaline rush that comes with just a simple turn of a card," Frazier said. "Knowing all these people are about to love me or hate me, it's too much fun."
But dealing cards is just a stop-gap position, a job he took because he had no other choice.
Frazier’s dream job: air traffic controller.
Frazier is one of many recent college graduates who have ended up in a career different from their initial plans. According to a 2014 study done by business strategy company Accenture, while 85 percent of graduates expect to find employment in their chosen field, only 67 percent of 2012 and 2013 graduates ended up in a career in their chosen field. For the other 33 percent, that mean't sacrificing four years of hard work and dedication, all for the chance at a stable life.
Lorie Logan-Bennett, director of the Towson University Career Center, said uncertainty is the most common feeling recent and upcoming graduates experience in the early stages of their post-college lives.
“Most students I see are more often unsure about what they want to do once they graduate rather than being completely sold on one job or career,” Logan-Bennett said. “While a lot of this has to do with when we see them, sometimes it has to do with their field of choice.”
Career changes often happen because graduates cannot find a job that aligns with their major. According to an article for USA Today, Liberal Arts majors remain one of the top ten most popular college programs in the country. However, liberal arts degrees don’t always have a direct link to a specific job.
“Not every college major has a job attached to it that you can go right into after college,” Logan-Bennett said. “Think about it… how many history majors actually become historians? The number is very low.”
However, Logan-Bennett said those looking to make a drastic career change shouldn’t have to worry about what they studied in college. A lot of good jobs, Logan-Bennett said, don’t require a specific major to get an entry-level position.
“Employers these days are looking for three things out of potential hires: some type of credential (a degree), prior training and transferable skills they learned in the classroom that can apply to everyday life,” Logan-Bennett said. “Majors don’t have to dictate what those skills are.”
Logan-Bennett has seen examples of career changes from some of her own co-workers. One career adviser was a theater major before eventually taking a job at Towson University. Logan-Bennett herself graduated with a degree in sociology before settling in at the career center. She said one’s major isn't as important as most people think and that it should never stand in someone’s way of changing careers.
“A lot of what makes someone appealing for a job is outside of academics in the form of internships or recommendations,” Logan-Bennett said. “Your college degree and major should never set in stone what you’re going to be doing for your entire life, so if you feel a big change is necessary, just know that you’re not alone.”
Mark Whited, 24, considers himself a natural-born entertainer. Growing up in south Philadelphia, Whited loved to write and tell stories. He recalls a few occasions where he would take something he did during a routine day and spin it into a full-blown adventure.
Mark Whited during his junior year at Temple University. Photo courtesy of Mark Whited.
“I remember going to this coffee shop in Philly, Great Connections, and sitting with my friends and making up stories on the spot about what I did that day,” Whited said. “I’ve always considered myself a storyteller… it’s just something I’m good at.”
Whited followed his passion when he decided on a career in journalism – but not without second thoughts.
“I had all these friends going for more lucrative degrees with promises of higher paying jobs at the end of their roads,” Whited said. “My family was concerned about my future too. The hardest thing I dealt with was this overwhelming fear of ‘what if they’re right?’”
After graduating from Temple University in 2013, Whited waited nearly a year before getting a job offer from The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“I had an internship there during my final semester at Temple and I remember them telling me at the end of it that they didn’t have any openings right then, but that they would remember me and keep my information on file for the future,” Whited said. “Never in a million years did I think that someday they’d be calling me back.”
Whited’s current beat for the Inquirer is high school sports. He’s been covering preps for more than a year and feels that something is missing.
“Right now, people tell me that I’m in a good spot with my own byline in The Philadelphia Inquirer and that I should be happy with that,” Whited said. “It’s just not what I hoped to be doing and not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I like the job and appreciate where I’m at, but the need to stay fresh and creative is still there.”
That’s why he’s kept an eye on wrestling – another one of his passions since he was 8 years old.
“I can remember sitting with my dad in our living room one Monday night and watching Monday Night Raw and just being completely fascinated with what I was seeing,” Whited said. “It stuck with me so much so that I used to write WWE-themed Christmas cards to my grandparents every year.”
Whited has stayed connected to wrestling while working at the Inquirer. Last year he created Wrestledelphia, a website that covers local Philadelphia wrestling circuits as well as nationally recognized promotions like World Wrestling Entertainment and New Japan Pro Wrestling. What started as a small idea turned into a tangible dream come true.
“I wanted to do something different and knew I had the skills to make something like Wrestledelphia come to life,” Whited said. “The site went from a few blog posts each day with a few hits to getting 300 hits in days where we don’t post anything at all."
Feeling reinvigorated and more interested in a future in wrestling than ever before, Whited decided it was finally time to not just write about wrestling, but hit the mats himself. In November, nearly 16 years since the first time he watched a match in the squared circle, he decided to enroll in the Combat Zone Wrestling Academy.
The Combat Zone Wrestling Ring in Blackwood, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of CZW.
Whited’s latest dream: being a wrestling superstar. He trains every Monday and Wednesday night and tries to get as much exposure as he can within the industry. His regimen: 200 squats at the beginning of his night, pushups, sit-ups, and additional cardio. The last hour of each session includes running the ropes, learning how to take bumps and becoming a better in-ring performer.
“It’s hands down the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” Whited said. “This training has made me realize how out of shape I really am. Puking has been about the most therapeutic thing for me to do at the end of each night.”
Whited training after a Combat Zone Wrestling workout at a Philadelphia Planet Fitness. Photo courtesy of Mark Whited.
While Whited is no longer enrolled at the Combat Zone Wrestling Academy, he continues to work out and train daily for a career as a wrestler, all while juggling his reporting job at the Inquirer and writing for Wrestledelphia. He realizes the obvious risks of trying to make a drastic career change, but has advice to people thinking about a career switch:
“Just go for your dream, no matter how insecure it might be or how out there it might be considered,” Whited said. “I love journalism, but it’s all about telling other people’s stories… I’m just ready to tell my own.”
Job security, or lack thereof, is one of the biggest reasons people decide to make a drastic career change. Gerry Fisher, a life and career coach based out of Baltimore, said security is more than feeling safe at one place.
Baltimore life coach Gerry Fisher used to be a technical writer before he changed careers.
“Security in a job is a trap and an illusion,” Fisher said. “In this day and age, security and stability doesn’t mean staying in the same place for 40 years. It means being able to be flexible and smart and being able to adapt to what life throws at you. The ones who can adjust and move swiftly are the ones who do well and sometimes better than staying with the ‘secure’ option.”
A 2013 study done by SEEK Learning Education and Careers reports that 49 percent of people don’t think they are in the right career. Additionally, 22 percent of those surveyed are planning a career change in the next 12 months. Terry Schaefer, another career coach based out of Baltimore, believes happiness in one’s job is relative.
“It seems that newer generations are more focused on finding satisfaction in careers than ever before,” Schaefer said. “Some people love the idea of being happy, but others want that feeling of being safe and working up the company ladder.”
According to Fisher, happiness is a universal notion that applies to almost everyone making a career change, no matter how big or how small.
“People are just looking to be happy in their careers and have some sort of meaning,” Fisher said. “Everyone wants a sense of purpose and wants to be assured they’re spending their time wisely. Sometimes being really good at something doesn’t mean it’s the right career for you. That’s when a change can be necessary.”
This quote, according to Fisher, is what people should keep in mind when looking for a career.
Frazier, the casino dealer, has long been fascinated with the prospect of being a pilot. He majored in air traffic controlling at Fairmont State University in West Virginia, but in fall 2011 learned that the university was dropping his major.
“I was definitely depressed when I got the news,” Frazier said. “I had a huge debate with my parents about if I even wanted to pursue the major somewhere else.”
Frazier transferred to the Community College of Baltimore County, where he got his associates degree in air traffic controlling and worked part-time at a local food auction after graduating in May 2013. He patiently waited for the hiring panel by the FAA, scheduled to take place in October 2013. But yet again, he got bad news. The government shut down, forcing the FAA to cancel the hiring panel, leaving Frazier with no realistic shot at his dream job.
The waiting game continued. Frazier kept working a full-time job he took in January 2013 at BWI Airport loading suitcases onto airplanes. It was something, but not at all what he wanted. Almost a year later, another opportunity arose.
Helen Whitehead, a career coach based out of Mount Airy, Maryland, said it’s never too late – or too early – for a career change.
“Younger clients obviously have fewer responsibilities and are able to re-locate easily and chase their passions,” Whitehead said. “They have the ability to be flexible and even step back if they were to fail in making a career change. Older clients usually have financial responsibilities or family obligations, but that doesn’t always mean they won’t try to make a change anyway.”
Susan Diaz, 61, is an example of a late-career switcher.
Susan Diaz worked within the journalism industry for nearly 20 years.
She worked as an anchor at WJXT in Jacksonville and WPLG in Miami, where she would spend 10 years, culminating with a regional Emmy win.
“I thought to myself, this is my crowning moment,” Diaz said. “It was so surreal.”
Everything changed for Diaz after meeting her future husband Fernando and getting married in 1987. They soon moved to Fernando’s home of Chile, forcing Diaz to leave her career behind.
“I loved these jobs and everything they taught me,” Diaz said. “It was the toughest decision I’ve ever made in my life. There’s always going to be some regrets that I couldn’t stick it out.”
After having two kids and holding several part-time jobs, Diaz moved with her family to Baltimore in 1991. After years as a stay-at-home mom, she decided it was time for a new career that offered a new challenge – and health insurance. She decided to pursue nursing, as her two sisters were both nurses and always seemed to have a lot of time with their kids, something that was a must for Diaz.
Diaz had her first job in the medical field as an assistant in shock trauma at a local hospital. She went back to school and earned an RN from the Community College of Baltimore County in 1997, working several different hospital jobs along the way.
It wasn’t until 2006 that she joined Johns Hopkins, where she has worked ever since. She currently works in the labor and delivery and post-partum departments, helping deliver babies, performing physical inspections and teaching the new mothers the proper skills they need to take care of their children.
While family may have driven her to a new career, she says she’s finally settled in and has no plans on leaving.
“I’m 61-years-old, I’m not going through another orientation!” Diaz said. “I love what I do now and while I’ll always miss the journalism world, I’m not going back. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had and wouldn’t change my journey one bit.”
The news that would change Frazier’s life took nearly two years. A new co-worker told him about an amazing an opportunity that was a lot of fun and paid really well: a casino dealer.
He enrolled in dealer school in February 2014, where he spent the next two months learning the ins and outs of becoming a dealer: two weeks devoted to blackjack, two for roulette, two for carnival games and two for baccarat. Soon after being certified as a dealer, he was hired by Maryland Live! in May 2014.
Frazier has already been approached about an upcoming management position that will be available at a Live! Casino being built in Philadelphia. Although taking it would be a sign of staying, Frazier says he’d leave in a heartbeat if another FAA hiring panel opens up.
“If air traffic controlling doesn’t work out, I’d have no problems working within the casino industry for the rest of my life,” Frazier said. “I know it’s really different, but it’s less stressful and still pays well. I’ve just put so much time and effort into controlling that if I had to choose, I’d go back to it. It’s still my dream career.”