CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Ready for a change?

By David Chilton
Special to The Sun

If anyone knows anything about change -- careers, continents, cultures -- it's Sarah Ritchie. Ritchie, 37, has switched from teaching English to massage therapy to ballroom dancing instruction and back to massage therapy by way of Canada, Hawaii, Tokyo and back to Canada.
Sarah Ritchie's jobs have taken her to Hawaii and Tokyo.

She wanted to travel to Africa after graduating from Queen's University with a Bachelor of Education degree -- Ritchie also has an M.A. from Trent University -- but was dissuaded by her mother who worried about her safety. Mom said, "Why don't you call the school in Tokyo where I taught 40 years ago instead?" Ritchie took her mother's advice and moved to Japan in 1992, teaching English at the Keisen Girls High School for three and a half years.

After about nine months in Tokyo, Ritchie began to feel the physical symptoms of culture shock. "I'd been going through that for a little while. Feeling tired and rundown. My stomach was bothering me." So she went to the Akahigedo Clinic, which offered shiatsu massage and acupuncture, for treatment. Impressed with the results, Ritche says she "begged" the clinic to take her on as student, which it did, and she spent 30 months all told there as patient, learner and therapist.

"It was a wonderful place," Ritchie says. "Very eclectic. The gentlemen I was studying under (used) the traditional Japanese system of master and disciple. They had long beards and wore the Japanese wooden sandals."

Ritchie came back to Canada in late 1996, just in time for another burst of serendipity, again courtesy of Mom. Ritchie's mother had retired by this time and took her daughter to an Arthur Murray Dance Studio to show her what she was learning.

Dance instructor

"I'm a teacher. I could teach dance," Ritchie remembers saying to herself. So dance instruction it was: she worked at the Arthur Murray studio in London for two and a half years. From there Ritchie worked for the Toronto School Board for a year, then through a personal connection landed an instructor's job with Arthur Murray in Honolulu.

"It was incredible living in Hawaii," says Ritchie, recalling that many of the dance students were Japanese so she -- and her trusty English-Japanese dictionary -- were frequently called on to translate instructions. And, she adds, the men who came to the Arthur Murray studio in Honolulu wore -- yes -- Hawaiian shirts.

Eventually, Ritchie headed back to Canada and enrolled at Kikkawa College in Toronto to qualify as a registered massage therapist. She spent two years there studying full time and graduated in 2003. These days Ritchie lives in Mississauga and works as an RMT at Canadian Bodyworks Fitness, a busy gym in Brampton.

"I'm definitely settled," Ritchie says, but allows she can see herself shifting into related therapies within the field of massage therapy, and in five years starting her own business. RMTs, she notes, typically have a "shelf life" of about five years and after that "their hands wear out"; therefore a therapist must take good care of herself, getting regular massages, proper rest and down time to extend the longevity of her career, she says.

Ritchie advises career changers that being self-aware is perhaps their best asset. Know your strengths and weaknesses, she says, and play to them accordingly. She also suggests career changers get some practical exposure to the occupation they are pursuing. But, she cautions, health care is different and shouldn't be idealized. "They need to ask themselves how much they have to give. You can't cure everyone."

Ultimately, Ritchie believes personal choices play a large part in creating personal success. She's right, of course. That and a timely suggestion or two from Mom.

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